FEELING THE MOUNTAINS
‘Breath-taking landscapes’ is probably the most given way to describe the mountains. What if someone couldn’t see the mountains, would it still be worth going? What else is there for those who go to the mountains, apart from ‘breath-taking landscapes’?
Gabriel proceeds cautiously but regularly. The path unwinds up a scree, and you may not always find something stable under your foot. Vittorio precedes him two steps ahead, and Matthias follows at a short distance. “Root on the left” Vittorio mumbles. Gabriel acknowledges immediately and slightly modifies his trajectory to avoid the obstacle. Matthias, behind, makes sure that the change in the route is sufficient to go round the obstacle.
Light and shadows
Have you ever tried feeling the mountains, perceiving everything they have to offer, beyond the ‘breath-taking landscapes’? This is Gabriel’s world, his mountain. Because for Gabriel Tschurtschenthaler ‘breathtaking landscapes’ simply do not exist. He found out as a child that his eyes did not work like everyone else’s. During his adolescence things did not improve, on the contrary: the world became progressively more opaque, blurry, reducing to a jumble of light and shadows. And it is for this why Gabriel loves sunrises and sunsets: not because of the colors they turn the sky, or the incredible shades they turn the rock, but because when there is less light like at dawn and dusk he is able to distinguish the light and shadows.
A tried and tested procedure
The procedure is repeated, step after step, stone after stone, avoiding any tripping. Their destination is obvious, imminent and obvious – a steep and sharp ridge that cuts through the sky – yet for Gabriel, it’s more of a feeling, a sense of anticipation. Hintergrat, one of the most beautiful ridges of Ortles. A long sequence of gullies and chimneys of sharp rock. There are vertical sections, and sections of ice, - but this poses no problem for this group of friends. Gabriel loves climbing on vertical ice and it is exactly on ice that he met Vittorio and Matthias: when rock climbing, you need to find specific holds, read them in a logical sequence in order to move across while keeping your body balanced. Whereas on ice, when you are strong you are able to maneuver with ice axes and crampons, all you need to do is rely on a few centimeters of steel, stuck in frozen water. It’s simply a question of trust.
An exceptional roped party
Have you ever tried to really concentrate - on the wind’s breath in the mountains? It sounds and feels different to when it moves freely on the plains. On the sensations of your feet moving over the ground. On the balance within your body?
If you can’t see very well those feelings are everything, and you have to learn to trust those feelings. You have to learn to listen to them, to read them clearly and quickly. You have to trust what your feet, your skin, and your inner ear have to say. And you have to trust your climbing partners, a radical kind of trust which exceeds the one of a normal roped party. In fact, this is an exceptional rope team. When Vittorio leads, Gabriel and Matthias climb close to one another, especially on more difficult sections. When Matthias leads, it is Vittorio’s turn to climb next to Gabriel, giving him the hints that his feet, skin, and inner ear fail to grasp.
Feeling, not contemplating
Close your eyes, next time. Have you ever tried perceiving the vastness of the earth? To feel the rock, the walls, the ice – to feel, not contemplate? It doesn’t matter how much time you have spent in the mountains. It doesn’t matter if it is a recent discovery or an old love. It doesn’t matter, try and feel, feel with everything except your sight. It will be different, unexpected. It will be something that will complete you.
It’s because of this that Gabriel, Matthias, and Vittorio are an exceptional roped team: because it is not simply the rope that connects them. There is a radical trust which you need when you cannot see, and there is the opportunity of learning to see but not by using your eyes. And there is more: from the city roads to the summit of Ortles, as far as the wild peaks of Patagonia, where the three alpinists recently achieved a series of important ascents (including Cerro Torre), there is a clear awareness that perseverance, determination, and motivation can overcome any obstacle.
Our limits? They are nothing but the ones we choose to have. That is what we learn when we learn to listen to the mountains.