THERE IS NOBODY
There are moments in which you have to dig deep within yourself. This can only happen when you climb up a mountain, on your own.
”Who knows how many valleys are like this one” I ask myself as I climb up. I think out loud, I always do, when I am on my own. I push the two halves of my splitboard one after the other, no rush, following my rhythm.
”But then, one could easily ask oneself what this valley is like.” I am inside a cloud, its vapour mingles with my breathing, freezing onto my beard into improbable shapes. Visibility is only a few metres and you can’t hear a sound, except for the skins scraping prickly on the fresh snow. “It’s like being in a deprivation tank, or inside a cup of milk”.
In the right place
I know the place. I don’t need to follow a trail. I recognize the trees, I could call each one by its name, it doesn’t matter how much snow covers them. I study what I can decipher from the terrain’s gradient, and I correct my direction by a few degrees towards north. “There it is, it just goes to show”. From the sea of white, same colour with two consistencies, the trace of a geometric outline. That is all I need, just an extra confirmation. “I’ve only been here twice, or three times, in this mountain hut, eh…” Bizarre. In truth I’ve spent entire seasons, here. “Just imagine, I am talking to myself and I feel like joking, as if I have to entertain a friend. What idiocy”.
I walk along the surrounding fence, avoiding the picket which just emerges. “Hic sunt leones, the old maps said. Here there are lions, or dragons, depending on the inspiration of those geographers. While beneath those words there was nothing but unexplored land”. And anyway what will that ever mean, unexplored land. I look around me.
There are no tracks, neither human, nor animal. I know the mountains, their positions, but if a giant had stolen one it wouldn’t surprise me.
”I ask myself what this obsession for unexplored land is all about”. I stop, getting my breath back and I quickly gulp down a drop of water. “Every land is unexplored, in the right conditions” muttering, looking at the nothingness which surrounds me. I continue my ascent, now following a trace of a wall, to my right. I am following the right couloir; I am sure of it.
”Without considering that… “ I continue, my breathing becoming deeper as the terrain gets steeper “there are literally millions, of pieces of land on which no human being has ever set foot, before. It is pure probability”.
I am coming out of the cloud. I know this even before I see it, I feel it in the way the light is changing around me. Always milky, but increasingly intense, almost irritating my eyes. “Time to put my sun glasses on”. I rummage through my back pack.
I make the most of the break to change my uphill mode. My Zs keep getting narrower, and are no longer efficient. I take my skis off, put my crampons on, ranting a bit as I adapt them to my large boots. My ice picks come out, upwards.
I traverse to the left. The snow is harder, almost ice, it helps my ascent. The crampons bite in nicely, with each hit the picks make icy sparks fly into the air. One, two, three, four. Repeat, pick, pick, crampon, crampon. I look down: it would be a long sledge ride down, if I were to slip. Straight, straight down to the scree, two hundred metres above the mountain hut. I shake my head, and continue.
This is where you rope up
I reach the small plateau near the wall. Well, “plateau” is too generous a definition: there is room for one tent, a camping stove, a couple of people. “A small terrace, is more appropriate” I tell myself.
This is where you rope up. This fact, in its simplicity and immediacy, hits me like a rock fall. Today I do not have a partner, not even a rope. Not even a bit of cord to tell the truth, the kind you keep at the bottom of the back pack because you never know, another matter altogether. I place my picks, take my back pack off. I don’t need it, to climb up. Many things are not needed, to go up. We are the ones that bring them with us, for this or that reason. I look at my stomach, right there where in other circumstances my hands would have made those movements, by now automatic, tying a figure of eight knot.
”Funny. Sometimes you perceive absences, strong and clear, as if there were a presence”.
I know these rocks, I have climbed them a thousand times. I don’t need a partner to hold my fall.
I start. Slowly, at the beginning, increasing the rhythm a bit at a time. I don’t have to stop. I don’t have to add protections. I don’t have to wait, set up anchors, recover. It is just me. I overcome a first corner, reaching a leaning slab. I take a deep breath, first looking behind me and then inspecting the ridge which I will go down. The wind is picking up, I feel it breathing on me with an amiable liveliness. I shake my head, I start climbing up again. The silence is complete, once the wind, the sharp hitting of the picks and crampons are taken away. It is a journey: the more I climb, the more I dig deep inside.
”Why alone?” I ask myself. “Why not. I like people, after all and in small doses, I have excellent partners with whom to rope up with, dear friends. But every now and then, being on your own is good for you. It is when you are on your own that you manage to consider absence as a presence. It is when you don’t have something – or someone – that you really understand its true value”.
Where you choose to be
I am on top. I sit down, I look around. The wind has picked up, now it is a more sustained breeze. Not dangerous yet, but worth keeping an eye on to see what happens to the snow. I would like to have someone here to high five, someone to hug, someone to take a photo with. Instead there is nobody. Moreover: there is nobody because that is what I chose.
“It’s not where you come from, but where you choose to be that makes you who you are” I tell myself. Someone would say that citing oneself is not very elegant, but here there is no one to listen to me, apart from the wind.
There is nobody
I take a photo. I shrug my shoulders, I start to follow the ridge, delicately and with care. There are a couple of sections which I will have to abseil down, for sure. A lifetime later I am back at my small terrace, my back pack, my splitboard. The valley’s cloud has risen, opening up a stretch of untouched powder, except for my uphill tracks. “You almost feel guilty, leaving a sign/mark on this masterpiece” I tell my board as I take the skins off, I join the two halves up and I reposition the bindings. “Well, almost is the key word”. Two deep breaths, and I lift powder with each turn. There is nobody.