I’ve long preferred sunrise to sunset, and being a morning person never had to force myself to reconcile the difficulties in waking up and stepping outside before the first light strikes the horizon with the beauty and stillness that embrace the early riser. But waking up early, even in the middle of winter when the shadows are at their longest, doesn’t come easily, and sunsets sometimes offer the more attractive solution, especially when the ski lifts stop humming and the pistes are empty but for the snow groomers. The Riedberger Horn brims with activity during the day, but during either twilight a beautiful silence descends on its slopes.
It seems no matter where I am, I end up focusing more on writing about exotic, abroad travels than about where I am locally. In retrospect, while this year has been a busy travel year, I was able to romp around in my own backyard pretty often. We had a brilliant summer in general, and stable weather on weekends meant a good amount of mileage into the higher surrounds of Kempten.
Travel in 2017 ended not with wistful excursions to Nice and Riffelsee but rather with the standard home trip to the US. After a month without much snowfall, I left the Allgäu in the middle of a snowstorm and left myself plenty of time to get to Zurich Airport. It turns out I planned in too much time, as I arrived before the parking garage opened. I decided to circle the arrivals area, but I forgot I was in Switzerland; of course they would charge drivers to pick up arriving passengers. I drove to the garage after 5 CHF paid for my fifteen minutes of shame, turned on my blinkers, and stubbornly blocked one entrance to the parking garage until I could enter, thinking I had left the snow behind until I got back to the Allgäu in January. Boy, was I wrong.
2017 has been a varied year for travel. Although I ventured as far away as New Zealand, I didn’t wander far often, and I certainly didn’t feel like I was all that active at home, either. But there is a huge expanse behind where I live, and though I can’t see it from my windows or when the weather turns moodily misty, there is plenty to be photographed in my increasingly-native Allgäu, too.
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.