We start at sunrise. The snow is creaking underneath our skis, as we move up the mountain slope. The air is cold. Whenever I draw in a breath my nostrils stick together. Yet, soon the sun will be high enough to reach us and we will realize that those many layers of clothing were too much after all.
Slowly we glide on, our breath condensing before our faces. We cross a burbling mountain stream; flowing water, unaffected by the cold, only a few rocks are covered with snow and there are small patches of ice where the water is moving more slowly. We pause when we spot a white-breasted dipper. It's standing on a shelf of rock and ice, ready to dive into the freezing cold again. They're amazing birds. They hunt their prey under water, running on the streambed against the flow.
Snow softens yet roughens the landscape around us. Here a powder snow avalanche has come down after the large snow falls a few weeks ago. The smell of freshly split pines and firs surrounds us as we cross a scene of destruction. Splinters, broken pines, torn firs, earth and rocks are mingled with jagged snow. Only the larches were resilient enough. Bowing to the avalanche they withstood its anger and are now waiting for the sun and spring to melt away the heavy snow and ice so they can straighten themselves out again.
Winter is a harsh season. As we move on across the white plain we notice tracks a hare has left in the snow. Converging with these are the ones of a predator, a fox, or a lynx. At the point of convergence the surface of the snow is tainted red. The hare's tracks end here.
The sun has caught up with us. We are sweating now despite subzero temperatures. After having shed most of our warm clothing, only keeping on thermo-underwear and a jumper, we enter the forest. Again there is the scent of pine, but here it is less strong than on the avalanche. The snow has softened a bit and doesn't creak anymore. Instead there is a soft swooshing sound as the skins of our skis slide over it, followed by a click when our feet hit the binding. Swoosh, click. Swoosh, click.
I have found my rhythm now. My breath and the swoosh-click of my skis combine into a soothing rhythmic pattern, on and on. We hear a coal tit and a few red crossbills. Looking up I see proud pine trees contrasting against the bluest sky imaginable. Looking down along their curved stems I see their gnarled roots clawing deeply into the steep and rocky soil, clinging on for dear life. In the hollows underneath them, there are icicles growing in delicate curtains from snow-covered rocks and roots, waterfalls frozen in midair. The sun is reflected in them. Orange and red, and blue and green.
We are above the tree line now. Breathing thin air. Sweating. My rhythm changes - the snow is drier up here, wind-pressed with a hard cover. Each glide I now end with an affirmative pressure to the ground to ensure that the skins catch hold in the snow. Swoosh - click, crunch. Swoosh - click, crunch. I have slowed down, the slope is steeper, the air thinner, the sun hotter.
Blue, white and black surround me. Blue is the wide expanse of the sky above our heads. The snow and the sun are white and almost aggressively bright. Black is the occasional rock on the slope; or, the birds in the sky, crows and alpine choughs; or, the roof of an alpine hut peaking out from underneath metres of snow; or, towards the valley, the forest. Any other colours are a memory to us. Black, and white, and blue, and black. Three colour vision.
There is no room for thoughts. There is nothing but the rhythm of breathing and walking. One step after the next after the next. Inside, there is music in my ears. My heartbeat, the pounding flow of blood in my veins, the cold air I breathe and the gliding of my skis blend into an ancient rhythm reverberating my body. Outside, however, there is complete and utter silence.
I pause. And listen. And listen to the silence. One does not find this silence very often. Only in the desert really. Or up here, in the snowy desert, where mountain peaks line the horizon. I pause and wonder. The world consists of snow and mountains, the sky, the sun and me. My breath, salty sweat on my lips. Me.
I move on, resuming the rhythm. Forcing my aching muscles to move. Swoosh, click, crunch - breath, pole. Swoosh, click, crunch - breath, pole. The music continues.
We come across more tracks in the snow. I recognize mountain goat and ibex and... This one puzzles me. Long claws, fur between the toes, yet the steps are very close to each other - it can't be a fox. Cannot be a lynx either. A badger maybe? No, they are hibernating. Three paws have left distinct marks in the snow, the fourth impression is only very light. Winter is not a good time to fall ill at these heights.
Trudging on, slowly. The sun is burning from the sky above and from the snow's reflection below. Up. Up. Up. Until there is no 'up' anymore. We have reached the mountaintop. A break, we're enjoying the beauty of blue and white around us, marvelling at sundogs while our breaths slow down to normal. Eat a simple meal, drink hot tea. Regain strength. Remove the skins from skis, wrap ourselves up warmly and start an exhilarating descent.