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HARD WAY OVER A HIGH ROUTE
John Skow
April 27, 1970
The path across the alps runs along the edge of danger, through avalanches and exhaustion—a good part of it to defiant cries of 'Healthy are we!'
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April 27, 1970

Hard Way Over A High Route

The path across the alps runs along the edge of danger, through avalanches and exhaustion—a good part of it to defiant cries of 'Healthy are we!'

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At about 8:20 we crawl into the igloo, cook tea and Ovomaltine and pass around bits of chocolate and cheese. There are five of us in our end of the igloo, layered with a space blanket and nylon bivouac shelters. The sleeping technique is to sit shoulder to shoulder and sag forward, held from collapse by the same arch principle that supports the igloo. It works imperfectly, but a stupor that is almost sleep sets in, and two hours pass. Then a general restlessness spreads over the igloo, and everyone sits up, grunts, does what stretching is possible and eats candy. The igloo roof is melting slightly: the inside temperature must be a few degrees above freezing.

Feet are cold now, and the stupor comes less easily. I look at my watch every 45 minutes, then every 15. At 2:15 everyone is still alive, unfrozen and cheerful, or nearly so, but we have had enough. We heat more tea, chew bacon and cheese and squirm out the igloo crawlway into the chill. In another five minutes we are on skis, ghosting down the glacier by starlight.

There is a 9½-hour forced march into Zermatt, over three passes, with four of the highest and hardest hours spent in a wild, eye-stinging snowstorm. But the descent past the snow line to Zermatt becomes a serene walking tour through Z'mutt, a tiny village of log houses that cannot have looked different centuries ago. Sweet springwater flows through a field of mountain flowers.

Then over the Adler—a pass at 3,802 meters nearly as high as the Grossglockner, the highest mountain in Austria—and down. A long, white-hot run to the Britannia Hut, eyes smarting from the noon sun.

Overnight, then down the last time: an hour's easy swing to Saas-Fee. One more huge outdoor breakfast in a hotel garden, with two waitresses running for more eggs and ham and more beer. The Kelheimers are there, too, and someone says, "What are we?" No one yells the response. We are all cheerful and pleased to be done with a hard 14 days, but the impulse to howl about our good health has stayed behind somewhere, up above 3,000 meters.

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