summer alps

Summer Trek, traverse at 2,600 meters the central European Alps. This photograph was made in the middle
of August. Notice that it's not only entirely snow-free, but also the small glaciers and fernsnow fields in the
distance, across the valley, are also losing snow and ice at a high rate. Unusually hot summers in the high
mountains of Europe are one of the primary factors of what is called a "
snow deficit", that is,
little snow in summer = the more glacier ice is being melted = the glacier gets smaller or
retreats. (The area in the foreground of this photograph just 50 years ago was covered with
a massive sheet of ice, which has since disappeared.) That the glaciers have been receding
in this way in the Alps since 1912 is in principle not that unusual. There have been historically
many periods of waxing and waning of the area covered by ice, but the tempo at which
the melt is occurring, as well as a host of other weather anomalies, seems to strongly point
to a general warming of the climate. My own intuitive feeling, one which I feel very
strongly about, is that the climate is not just getting warmer, but rather that it
is being driven into
degenerative chaos by the byproducts of industrial culture. This
means that change would not just be gradual, and in one direction only. Change
would rather become more like a random back and forth of sharp extremes.

I have trekked over many, many different passes, ridges, peaks, etc. throughout
the Alps. I can tell you that developing an "eye for ice", which I certainly don't have,
is the work of a lifetime. It really is like a marvelously mute and silent book, just
waiting for us to read. Or for me personally then, more like a great and complex
musical score. I had the very good luck of having excellent teachers in the mountain
farming community where I've lived in this area. We might be out looking for stray
ewes or lambs, even at this altitude, or out on the chamois hunt in the fall. And then stop
someplace flat for lunch. That's when all the old stories would come about how things
were in the not-that-distant past, including the snow and glacier ice which one filled
a quarter of a valley used for summer grazing, and is now completely gone. Now
that's a dramatic change indeed!

| To read more about this world of granite, ice and snow, go to the little Walking
the World
essay at Above Treeline. |

Glissando!     basic forms Basic Forms,
Last Light

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Photograph by Cliff Crego © 2002