Mountain Tango

   Empty path

Picking my way along narrow, steep mountain paths in the French Alps, I found that I was being accompanied by tango music from our Melbourne Sidewalk Tango classes running through my head. The beat gave a rhythm to my steps which were often up and down and around awkwardly placed rocks. My peripheral vision was of an ongoing rock garden filled with Alpine flowers or snowy peaks or the valley below. However, my attention was always on my feet and the path they were about to walk on – too much scope for accidents otherwise. So I’d stop and stand still if I wanted to look up from the path.

It came to me gradually that I was dancing a sort of tango with the mountain as my partner. I embraced the mountain leaning slightly forward, feet placed firmly and cleanly. Grasping the walking poles, I took care to plant them one at a time in a steady balancing position. There is a direct contact with the mountain. The gaze varies according to the difficulty of the path.

Mountain tango

In the open embrace, when the walking is fairly straightforward with the poles used quite lightly, the gaze is centred in a widish circle slightly ahead of the feet and monitoring where to step. The close embrace is used when the path is steep and rocky. Here the gaze becomes intent on the actual area of the feet and path and the pole grip is firmer and closer to the body. It’s intense and focused. I realized that when I was lifting my foot and leg cleanly and neatly over and around rocks so as not to trip, I was actually doing Decorations.

There’s a closeness between me and the mountain path where I have to be attentive to its every configuration and follow its lead. Sometimes it leads me in a steady, smooth walk, sometimes it will ask me to step over a rock, or, with more complexity, ask me to choose a series of short, safe foot places in a short rock climb.

My body and mind are totally engaged in this tango with the mountain.

 

You’ll note the dress code is very different for mountain tango.

 

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Tango,the Mountain and the Entrega.

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Picking my way along narrow, steep mountain paths in the French Alps, I found that I was being accompanied by tango music from our Melbourne Sidewalk Tango classes running through my head. The beat gave a rhythm to my steps which were often up and down and around awkwardly placed rocks. My peripheral vision was of an ongoing rock garden filled with Alpine flowers or snowy peaks or the valley below.

However, my attention was always on my feet and the path they were about to walk on – too much scope for accidents otherwise. So I’d stop and stand still if I wanted to look up from the path.image.

It came to me gradually that I was dancing a sort of tango with the mountain as my partner. I embraced the mountain leaning slightly forward, feet placed firmly and cleanly. Grasping the walking poles , I took care to plant them one at a time in a steady balancing position. There is a direct contact with the mountain. The gaze varies according to the difficulty of the path.

In the Open Embrace, when the walking is fairly straightforward with the poles used quite lightly, the gaze is centred in a widish circle slightly ahead of the feet and monitoring where to step.image.

The Close Embrace is used when the path is steep and rocky. Here the gaze becomes intent on the actual area of the feet and path and the pole grip is firmer and closer to the body. It’s intense and focused.image.

I realized that when I was lifting my foot and leg cleanly and neatly over and around rocks so as not to trip, I was actually doing Decorations.

There’s a closeness between me and the mountain path where I have to be attentive to its every configuration and follow its lead. Sometimes it leads me in a steady, smooth walk, sometimes it will ask me to step over a rock, or, with more complexity, ask me to choose a series of short, safe foot places in a short rock climb.

My body and mind are totally engaged in this tango with the mountain.

You’ll note the dress code is very different for mountain tango.

Pfingstegg Walk. Grindelwald. 1991 and 2014.

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1991

We did this Grindelwald walk in 1991 when we were travelling with our two daughters aged twelve and nine and a half. We were staying in a red and white gingham curtained family room in the Youth Hostel on Terrassenweg. This walk seemed a good choice because it was served by the cheapest cable car and we figured we could buy the Up ticket and walk down. It was the first mountain walk I’d ever done and we set off in everyday jeans, runners and a back pack with some snacks and water

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The cable car was fun and we set off on the signed path which quite soon became narrow and wound up and down through fir trees, under towering, grey cliffs and around bends. All the time, we climbed higher and higher above the glacial valley below.

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Th girls walked and skipped on ahead and occasionally we had to say things like,’Be careful’, when the drop became even more noticeable. I was surprised by the lack of railings and liked the way we were trusted to look after ourselves.

Eventually we rounded a corner and there up the grey valley lay the glacier dropping away from the snowfield above and crawling down the stone valley it had carved for itself in older,stronger days.120 years ago it had filled the entire valley to the height of where we were standing. Now, the valley lay empty, the moraine the monument to its former presence.image.

I was excited to see a glacier up so close, to see the cracking ice on its flanks, it’s snout nosing down the valley and the moraines and rocks on its surface. Just as I’d learnt at school. I had loved ‘doing’ glaciers and here I was, looking at one.

Suddenly, and oldish woman wearing brown lisle stockings, boots, a woolen skirt and jacket caught up with us. She carried a large pack and greeted us with a ‘Gruss Got’ as she overtook on the narrow path. By the time we had clearly emerged from the fir trees onto the alpine meadows above, she was up there in the distance.

We walked and walked, eye to eye with the glacier, curving around with it, and saw ahead a small brown building , a couple of small trees and some umbrellas. A cafe! Up here! It was, and it had a handsome dachshund in the fenced garden. And there was the woman in the lisle stockings unloading her pack. She had just made a delivery of soft drink cans.

We did walk all the way back down to the valley and then the Youth Hostel. My knees really complained but we made it and never forgot that walk.

2014

Now it’s twenty three years later, and we’re in a hotel in Terrassanweg looking across at the same glacier which has shrunk even further up its valley.

I wrote that account from memory and am looking forward to checking my diary from that trip to see what I wrote at the time.

Today we did the same walk but were unable to finish it due to very strong winds up on the meadows. Apparently the cafe has fallen into the glacial valley and a new one been built higher up. We’ll have to walk up there another time.

Now, we walk in: walking shoes,walking socks,walking trousers, fleece, goretex, day packs, bumbags, hats, sunglasses and carry all sorts of ‘Just in case things’ and carry walking poles. Today, as we left the cafe at the top of the cable car, an Australian woman remarked loudly,’ They go in for these poles a lot, don’t they! I suppose they’ve got some use’. I said nothing but remembered that I used to think just that. Now, I don’t go without them. Why would I not value another pair of legs which is pretty much what they give you.

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Today, we know much more about alpine flowers, we walk more slowly and carefully but still remember the excitement of that first alpine walkimageimage.

Mürren and Tony Judt’s,’The Memory Chalet’.

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Tony Judt, in his memoir,’The Memory Chalet’, writes of his childhood holidays at Mürren in Switzerland. He describes the warmth and protectiveness of the interior of the hotel that his family stayed at for a number of years. I was intrigued by his description of a village reached only after a long and climbing train trip and which could only be reached by train and which had no cars.

I imagine that a hotel like the one above could have been his ‘memory chalet’.

The village is perched on the edge of a cliff high above a deep valley. There is a terrace where you can sit and look at the view. It is separated from the drop by a gently rusting wrought iron fence which could have been there in his time.

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However, the hang glider would definitely not have been there. Nor the thumb which has been very persistent.

A Valley and its Cloud: Grindelwald.

It had been raining for a day when we arrived at Grindelwald and the light was a yellow green over the grass and the opposite mountains were a shadowy presence. The path down to the station was shining and deserted.image.

During the evening, the rain stopped, twilight deepened and a soft cloud  formed and floated in the valley.

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The cable car wires stood out against the whiteness and the glacier had emerged.

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