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Tuesday
Dec282010

Cerro Paine Grande in Perspective

Avalanches spilled from the upper slopes where a grand serac sat in the summit's saddle—the Glaciar del Francés. The southern sun had melted much, but the Patagonian winters lavished the mountain's broadness. Whereas its neighbors' verticality held snow as ornamentation, this peak wore its whiteness like a dress. What had gone by now, midsummer, was either fresh and bright in piles at its base, or a contribution to the lake between it and me, Lago Pehoé.

The avalanches are not obvious. The mountain is massive with many slopes. A low rumble, like thunder, is the alert. Just after the fact. Look up and all that is left is a splash of white—maybe off a hip or over the feet. Exhilarating nonetheless. After seeing the evidence of the first, I waited hopefully for another. Nothing. For a long, patient while: stillness. But my ears opened to the quiet.

From all over the mountain came sounds. Whoosh. Clunk, clunk. And a knocking I know only from when large rocks collide and roll in a river. These are the sounds of an avalanche. Winds, ice sheets cracking, snow fields moving. Delicate sounds, actually. They mingle and hint. There is little to see, but the mountain is alive. It is moving. Being shaped. It is mostly subtle—happening, but not.

When the glacier finally did break away grandly, it was a calm spectacle. Snow poured down a gully and off cliffs. A bloom of powder exploded—very slowly. The event, which so enthralled, occupied just a pocket of the mountain. The roar did then come across the water. Absent of activity it was unsettling, grounding me in a sensation distant from and blind to what caused it. But like the mountain, the sound is what I'm left with. The wild beauty of an avalanche being not movement but perspective.

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