Normally I climb and hike to the accompaniment of cow bells. Their multi-pitched donging, resonating around mountain valleys, evokes a cellular rather than cerebral response and is at once calming and uplifting. Like an odour, it reaches something primitive in me.
The BB and I had taken the cable car up Piz Trovat, Switzerland.
We shared the car with a large group of tourists who ‘oooooh’ed musically as it dipped suddenly after a support tower to reveal this icy lake. Their childlike pleasure was delightful.
The snow slumbered under its blankets.
The path from the cable car station to the base of the via ferrata (“iron way”) provides an excellent view of the commanding sweep of the glacier.
And then we were on. Partway up, the route forks to meet again at the top. We chose the grade K 2-3 which means “easy to difficult, partially strenuous and exhausting, exposed spots exist” because of my height. I come in under the 160cm stated on the website as required. This was the first time we had encountered such restrictions but, coupled with the spectre of the 30m overhang also touted, it was not a way for me, as many of you know.
Our route took us over this bridge. The harder version involved a flying fox farther along the chasm. The whoops of thrill-induced pleasure were almost enough to make me regret our decision.
The ferrata was easier than its rating suggested and about an hour and a half later we broached the top. For those wanting the intimacy and the glory of the mountains without too much exertion this is the via ferrata par excellence.
Snow-scattered mountains lumped off into the north-east…
while others hulked in the west under a carpet of white.
A shelf of ice, possibly an avalanche in the making, clung, impossibly large, above a nearby slope. What an experience that would be – to witness in safety, that juxtaposition of roaring might and harmlessness.
Unbeknown to us, another force of an entirely different nature, was gathering. We tracked them as they trailed like ants across an incongruously rounded hill. I was glad to be alone with The BB, rather than part of a seething mass. I find I’m more attuned to a landscape when I’m by myself or in a small pod.
We ate, took photos and chatted to the family who had ascended the harder route. The mother’s arms were aching but it was quite do-able. The smallest child was about my height and had managed too. The dreaded 30m overhang was merely a short bulge. The BB and I discussed the possibility of looping around for another go.
When I looked back at the ant people, they were clustered in rough rows divided by an aisle down the middle. One voice floated over to us. I could almost make out the words. It entered the fabric of the landscape like a cowbell – full, round and belonging.
And then the singing began – a swelling of voices amongst the peaks. The BB had gone on ahead but I needed to be still and allow it to settle around me.
I had not expected the moment to transcend itself but perfection is a fluid state. A soloist emerged – a sweet, warm soprano laid over the deeper buzz of the rest of the congregation. She threaded the air with that most appropriate of songs, Amazing Grace. And I was filled.
The singers on their hummock and we climbers on our edge had brought ourselves to flow through ways meaningful to us. As they sang me down the mountain I understood the intersection of our experiences and saw how even the crowd, albeit at a distance, may illuminate the individual’s experience.
The Diavolezza cable car is 45 minutes by car south of Bergun and 17 minutes from St Moritz. The train stop along the superb Bernina line is Bernina Diavolezza. The first cable car is at 8.30am. It runs at half hour intervals until 10am then every twenty minutes after that. The last descent is at 5pm. Via ferrata gear can be hired at the Diavolezza bottom station. The Piz Trovat is 3146m high. The route starts at around 2850m.