A Flow with No Beginning — Page 2
Story and photos by Gillian Kendall

Mountain Tops

I'd noticed the pure air and the quiet even in Grindelwald, a small hikers' and climbers' town at 3,400 feet. Despite the cars and train line, there was little noise other than the tinkling of cowbells. Jetlagged one night at the Hotel Belvedere, I woke in the dark and went to stand on my fourth-floor balcony. A few little white lights showed where houses lay on the slopes below and across from me over the river, and the massive Jungfrau lay like a backdrop. The deep silence was overlaid by a tremulous, soft, high, white swishing coming from all directions. After listening for a long time, I realized what it was: the snowcaps melting. This, I thought, was how the earth sounded before there were people. I loved the silence with the desperation of someone who lives in a resort area that never shuts up.

Now, in the even quieter and higher village of Gimmelwald on the new/old trail, recognizing the stone bench, I raise my camera to take a picture of the seat of my belief... and hear thunder. Startling and sudden, it sounds like a Florida storm, and I turn, searching for gray masses in the white cloud above and below me, but instead I witness an avalanche.

On the mountain-face opposite, snow is dropping and cascading like a waterfall, taking rocks and earth with it, the sound booming around like overhead fighter jets. I can see the beginning of the cascade, a wild, white line of falling snow dropping down the steep face. The whole upper tenth of the mountain has been snow-covered, but as I watch, a huge snow field funnels away, shooting in a white torrent down the side of the cliff. Where there was snow seconds before, there is now no snow.

Gimmelwald Avalanche

The afternoon sun must have melted some crucial snow-structures. Still the top tenth of the mountain remains white, and many patches of white lie draped across the folds of cliff, but from one huge area, bare stone emerges from the clouds of snow-steam. The movement throws up swirling white clouds, and the snow drops and drops and drops. At the top it's a trickle then lower down a torrent like a deep rocky river, and then a waterfall, down and down the side of the mountain.

Over five minutes or so, the top rock-fields emerge, free of snow, and the supply grows smaller, like flour falling through a funnel. It seems there is nothing left to come from that slope, and yet the snow-river still drops down and down the side of the huge cliff, a flow with no beginning.

The sound lessens, but I am still and awed and wary. Even with the avalanche so far away, even though the snow has fallen down an uninhabited cliff, not apparently hurting any animals or trees, had it had happened near me it would have swept me from the world. Even at a safe distance I still feel its power and mystery.

Switzerland Village

There, standing on the place I'd first believed in God, I once again realized how everything can change in a beautiful place if I stop and pay attention, if I'm willing to take myself to new places and see new things. Once again, I'm grateful.


To make your own plans for the region, start with the Jungfrau Regionofficial website.

Gillian Kendall is the author of Mr Ding's Chicken Feet, a New York Times Review Notable book. She also edited the anthology Something to Declare: Good Lesbian Travel Writing. Her work has appeared in The Sun, Glamour, Curve, Girlfriends, and many other magazines, and she's won a number of obscure awards. See more at GillianKendall.org.

Photos by Gillian Kendall except where indicated.

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Related Features:
Journey Through the Ice by David Lee Drotar
Yellowstone by Air in the Freezing Winter by Garrett Fisher
Crossing Labrador by Foot With Noah by Jerry Kobalenko
In Search of The Scream in Norway by Chris Epting

See other Europe travel stories from the archives

Read this article online at: http://www.perceptivetravel.com/issues/0816/gimmelwald.html

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Mr Ding's Chicken Feet

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Something to Declare

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