Notes on alpine swimming

L1020795We drove as far as it was possible up the road, which twisted between pine forest. The owner of the hotel had warned us that the pass would be closed and soon enough the road ended in a bank of snow. We parked up. The snow was still over a metre high. Carrying our picnic (breakfast rolls, Slovenian prosciutto, emmental cheese, chocolate), we followed a path through the snow to the edge of a lake. The water was very still but near the shore the surface bristled with the business of spring water, flowing up in energetic columns from cracks in the rock.

More alpine silence. Mountains are empty places and no humans means little noise save what nature has to offer (crows, duck, water). But the immensity and obstacle of mountains, the way they loom over humanity and create an atmosphere of beautiful menace, calls for music and shouting. A wooded slope rose sheer from the far side of the lake, abandoned the tree line and ended in a sharp-toothed ridge line. Still water. Melting snow. Oh for an automatic rifle to fire pointlessly into the air and break the tyranny of silence! Sound graffiti – rude and inappropriate, rolling on forever down the valley. Un-armed, we yodelled instead; my 3 year old daughter delighted by her distant, light-hearted echo.

Overhead, blue sky without a cloud. The sun hot overhead glanced off the snow. We lay down, closing our eyes against the glare. Occasional aeroplanes – aluminium-bright in the sunlight. The local air traffic was mallard – four males wearing royal blue iridescence on their head-dresses, pursuing a brown female.

We ate our sandwiches and chocolate and afterwards came to swim. The girl howled with displeasure as I ducked her, but afterwards she paddled at the water-line, bright pink and singing to herself. One boy howled and spluttered but I distracted him with a snowball fight and half an hour later it took a bribe of a grape-flavoured mentos to get him dressed.

I swam three times, further each time and on the last occasion a crawl but it was always in the shallows and it was never for more than thirty seconds. The water was fiercely cold and tasted of snow. As we drove away we spotted a sign forbidding swimming. “We never swim in that lake, even in the summer. It is too cold” said the hotel owner that evening.

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