Last year, a friend from Seattle and I met up in Zermatt for some hiking fairly early in the alpine summer season, so I made an effort to get some hiking in both after work and on weekends. This year, neither my work schedule nor the weather has been particularly cooperative, so in addition to being rarer, ascents if the sun has even peeked around some clouds have been… moodier.
Two of the biggest benefits of being in Germany are the Munich and Zurich airports nearby, which serve destinations on several continents without needing a layover. This has made traveling to distant lands remarkably straightforward, but I haven’t neglected the seemingly infinite number of mountains and places to explore around my doorstep. Well, not entirely neglected, anyhow.
Between my seven visits to Zermatt, I’d say that I’ve learned this corner of the valley pretty well for a visitor. But ask about the valleys that surround Zermatt, or the mountains that ring Zermatt, and I can only identify the immediately recognizable. (Indeed, from my photos one would think I could only pick out the Matterhorn!) Beyond that valley, my knowledge is even rustier. The figurative breathlessness of the Alps is not limited to Switzerland; the breadth of these is imaginable but is practically unrealizable for those removed from alpine business, so it is with great happiness that I live so close now to the unimaginable vastness. While most of my hikes have been solitary, somehow the magic of the mountains burns stronger when a friend comes to visit.
The first mountain I was really drawn to was Mt. Rainier. Looming above the Puget Sound, it’s an emblem for the Pacific Northwest. The Matterhorn, too, stands tall above its valley. Here in the Allgäu, the familiar symbol is the Grünten: far from the tallest mountain in the region, but among the most recognizable because it’s among the northernmost mountains above 1500 m, a respected sentry to the Allgäu proper.
One might conclude from the last several blog posts that there are no mountains, or possibly even no life, in southern Germany, but this would be false. The mountains here are as rugged as any I’ve hiked — I’ve just been sitting on the photos for some time.
This has been a rather odd start to the year — for one, it’s the first time I’ve lived abroad in winter, but beyond that my trips have come rather unexpectedly quickly and furiously. Somehow, a trip to another German city was snuck into the itinerary, though only thanks to a visiting college friend who found time during his work trip to meet me in Nürnberg. Unfortunately, we were about a month late to make it in time to see the Christkindlmärkte, so we decided to check out the museums instead.
Perhaps surprising to some, German — or more specifically German spoken by Bavarians (… and Austrians and sometimes the Swiss) — features rolled Rs in speech, and more so when expressing extreme persuasion, like when finally convincing someone of a point you’ve been making (“R-r-r-r-richtig!“). It’s something I’m not particularly good at; Mandarin doesn’t have the sound whatsoever and French uses a guttural R, a sound which for some unknown reason I can make. But my lack of familiarity with the local treatment of the letter is not just with its phonetics: extrapolating the scientific certainty that two data points are always enough to determine a trend [n.b.: sarcasm], mountains whose names begin with R also seem to pose a problem.
The first several weeks of my assignment were hectic, from both the perspective of getting settled / moved in and that of the amount of work I’ve had. Fortunately, the workload has since decreased, so naturally to take the place of working breathlessly I’ve chosen to be literally winded: “The mountains are calling,” so the saying begins, but conveniently the strain of getting to be in the mountains is left to the imagination.