Visiting Morteratsch Glacier

Morteratsch Glacier

Mountain… unlimited source of inspiration. Unlimited source of beauty. Unlimited surprise…

I’ve been in the mountains for almost all my life. Seen so many beautiful places, washed face in so many alpine lakes, touched so many trees, climbed so many rocks. It is my love, my passion, my life. Mountains already craved my mind and my thoughts in the best possible way. And then, from time to time, Nature decides that I am ready for a new lesson. Ready for the new lessons about the beauty of life.

This is the story about one of those moments…

The day began as the days start when you have a lot of desires and so limited time to fulfill them: it started with a complete disaster.
We were unpacking our bicycles from the van, getting ready for another day in the mountains. Our plan was to ride 40 miles, climb some peaks, and spice up the day with amazing “Apfelküchlein” (traditional Swiss apple pie). Couple Weisse Beers on our way not to mention. The morning was beautiful and full of promises. If I was more Disney kind of guy, I would be singing some ‘Life is Beautiful’ song for sure. But being a grumpy old biker, I was more than satisfied mumbling ‘Wherever I May Roam’ by Metallica. Everything was perfect except my friend was constantly swearing and cursing. I am not that easily offended, and I can be a source of really bad language as well, but it was just not the place and time. So I came to see what’s bothering him. Seconds later I joined him – he broke rear derailleur. He didn’t pay attention where the chain was when he started to pedal after mounting the rear wheel, and good old Murphy put chain in the worst possible place – stuck between cogs. As he is a very gentle man, his rear sifter decided to Rest in Pieces… many pieces… 🙁

Not to worry. It is a simple malfunction and quite easy to fix… when you are: a) in civilization, b) have tools, c) have spear parts. Luckily, we were 50 miles away from nowhere with just a few basic tools. Spare tires were only ‘spare’ we had. We were painfully unprepared for that breakdown. He requested that we go to ride, and he will… do… something… Probably find friendly marmot with tools and spare bicycle parts 🙂 After some time spent arguing, we packed our bikes and went back to civilization. Hey, how hard can it be to find another 9 speed rear derailleur compatible with the Sram direct sifters? It will take us only half-hour to get back to Livigno, which is a known cyclist paradise. We’ll buy a new part and mount it in no time. We will be back in saddles in an hour or two.

Simple isn’t?!? 
Nope… absolutely not!!

My friend likes his bike. It is a masterpiece, to be honest. He bought and put together every single part on that bike. It is a full carbon Specialized. One of the kind, hand made by … well by him, as I said. But, most of the components on that bike are pretty old. How old? Let me tell you this way: how many top-of-the-class mountain bicycles today have a 9-speed cassette? I am gonna tell you exactly how many – none! Not a single bicycle manufacturer building a 9-speed configuration anymore. That’s why from one shop to another we found only a surprised look and nothing more. There were no spare parts that we could use.

It was almost 12 o’clock when we finally found somebody who was not surprised. It was a local cop, in serious uniform, with some nasty tattoos and a big gun on his belt. With something like a grim smile (Italian cops do not smile, it must be forbidden by some law or whatever) he told us that he is also a bike repairman. He can fix our bicycle after he finish his ‘cop’ duties. In morning cop, on evening biker… well, I’ve seen worse than that to be honest.

So we went to a local open bar, ordered some drinks and spent the rest of the morning discussing why Italian girls look so darn beautiful in everyday clothes. Finally, a couple hours later, our friend went out of his ‘cop phase’ and started to repair the bike. It took him only 20 minutes or so, but when he was over, my clock was showing 4 PM and our 40 miles track could only be forgotten. But, my friend had a surprise in his sleeves. With a smile in his eyes, he asked me – How would you like to see one glacier?
C’mon man!!
I am really not into climbing!
Especially not on ice!
And my doctor was really serious when he said ‘no climbing’
And we do not have proper boots!
And I hate ice…

I could go for days like that, but he just waved and said – Climb the damn bike, we go!

And the ride was exactly what we needed. We started somewhere at Passo del Bernina on the edge of the Swiss border, running down across fields, scaring cows while passing by. Minute after minute, climbing across glacier looked like not so bad idea. Or simply adrenaline said – relax and hold my beer. Some miles later we entered forest beneath the Diavolezza area. Forest was so beautiful and the ride was so technically demanding, that I completely forgot about the glacier story until we found the exit from the forest. Then I found out that we are not going across the glacier. The road lead us to the foot of Morteratsch glacier. We are going to see its end.

Weather was pleasant and the night was still far away. Uphill was so stubborn, that after a few minutes we were all sweating and losing our breath. Starting altitude was somewhere around 1800 meters and my navigation showed that we are climbing constantly. Then, when number on my GPS was at 1900 meters I stopped to pay attention to altitude. I had something else to think about. The area around us started to change… And to change drastically. 

Our ride started from rich, green forest, beautiful and full of sounds of springs and small waterfalls. As we followed the river, the forest thinned out and became bushes. A few dozen meters later, bushes disappeared and all I could see was grass. Pretty soon bare stones appeared… Around me, nature was changing really fast with every step. It was unreal. Something was screaming in my head – Swiss does not look like this !!! It’s green and beautiful and… bare sharp stones at the low altitude… No vegetation… with all that water around… it cannot be… what the…

I felt like I am climbing into some other world. Scars of avalanches were everywhere. The road was excellent, but around that obviously well-maintained gravel, the area looked like a scene from Mars. Colors started to fade, everything become gray. Only the distant green peeks assured me that the problem was not in my eyes. Nature has lost its colors in this valley. All of them were washed away, and only exposed stones endured. For sure, I was on a different planet.

Even though the scenery was devastated, it was beautiful. Everything was so raw and basic. There were no trees, no bushes, no grass. Just stones, broken, with edges so sharp that sun rays were shining on them. There was no birds, no insects. Only rocks and milky white river. It was unreal.

Then we reached the end of the road. The source of the mighty glacier river was in front of us. Its origin was one large cave at the mountain slope. Gray and ugly mountain slope. But again, slope which looked so beautiful that I didn’t have words to describe it. There, in a large cave, waters from Morteratsch glacier were born with sounds of thunder. A few hundred meters above the cave, sparkling white glacier glittered on the sun. We reached The End of Morteratsch glacier.

It must be that up, a few hundred meters above the cave, the ice is melting and flow through the cracks to the cave where I stand and where the mighty river is born – I thought.

I looked around. The scene was really from another planet. The only color was gray. The grey water, the gray mountain and the grey stones. Stones… from smallest rock to those with the size of a big house were all sharp, raw, fresh… almost like somebody just broke them. Like the time didn’t have a moment to touch their edges.

I realized that I am shivering… completely. It was very cold, but that wasn’t a reason. I was full of adrenaline, but it was not the reason. River sounded like thousands of thunders, but that wasn’t the reason for shiver neither. I was feeling small, very small… but that wasn’t it…
Something was wrong…
Something was out of place…
I had the feeling that I am missing something…
Something big…
Something so big and important about this place…

I was at only a few meters from that wonderfully ugly mountain slope, almost at the entrance to the cave. And then I realized. That not a mountain! That’s not a stone!! That was the glacier!! That is the ice!!
The end of the glacier was not a few hundred meters above me. The glacier was there, at the reach of the hand. I could touch it.

I was standing there trying to find the reference, anything in my life I can compare with that moment… nothing… I’ve got nothing… I could not understand where I am. I was lost… No references, no previous experiences… Absolutely nothing…

With weak knees, I was standing next to hundreds of years old ice. I reached with my hand and touched it. I do not know if it was my mind playing games or it was really really cold. Colder than you expecting from melting ice… or any ice. Hundreds of years cold. Ancient cold! With my mind singing, I was touching the end of a glacier while just a few steps further milky-white, ice-cold, thunder-storm, the wild-and-young river was being born. It was the end of the road for the glacier and the beginning of the road for the newborn river. Poetically or not, at that moment I knew that it is the end of the road for old me and beginning of the road for new, more completed, more alive me…

Deafening noise was around me, but I never been in a quieter and more peaceful place. Calmness was in my mind, complete and deep. Somewhere inside, I knew, I wished, I wanted to stay there forever. I wanted to stay there just to watch ice melting and listening to the songs of the river.

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Author: Vuckovic Dejan

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