Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Foehn call

18 January, Pizol: up on the summit, the foehn was blowing and you could see forever. Bernina, Palü, Roseg .. the old man pointed out the summits on the horizon, his arm sweeping through the four points of the compass … Falknis, Alvier, Gonzen … he didn’t say so, but he’d probably climbed all of them. Then he ambled off down the snow. No crampons, no ice-axe, just perfect balance, honed over a lifetime.

The foehn is a manic depressive of a wind. He blows up from the southwest ahead of an incoming front – that’s the depressive part. When he’s in a bad mood, he uproots trees and blows you off your feet. Mostly, though, he’s an artist manqué. Roll clouds, cirrus, foehn walls, these are his stock-in-trade.

Today he puts on a virtuoso performance. Like a prestigitator whipping cloths from fully laden tables, he drives the clouds across the peaks in fretwork patterns of ripples, waves, bars, vortices.

Towards evening, there’s a brief display of iridescent clouds, fragile and evanescent as memories. Tomorrow the depression will set in.

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