The thudding and clonking rumbles riotously through the carriage. Ardent skiers in heavy boots, like armed troops, stomp into the small cogwheel train that in just under an hour will put us on the gelid peak of Rochers-de-Naye. It is the start of the Winter holidays and everyone wants to enjoy what is left of the season.
Green sloping hills set a background for a handful of remote houses as we continue to slither up to the summit. The temperature drops the higher we go, and the landscape changes entirely. A thick blanket of snow conceals every last bit of grass and soil. Like a bed of nails, tall, jagged pine trees pierce the icy mantle. In the distance, shrouded in thick, murky clouds that seem to be slowly lifting, Rochers awaits patiently. As if doused in white chocolate, snow cascades down its steep sides and leaves behind waving concertina-like ripples. The radio tower on the very tip of the mountain protrudes up bare and cold like a dart.
We had first attempted getting to the top by foot a couple of weeks earlier, but due to my vertigo and harsh, somewhat dubious conditions near the end, we called it quits and turned back. Mountains are deceitful – from the base, they never seem too high to climb; it is only when you start to ascend that the sense of scale rekindles and you suddenly realise their enormity.
The visibility on the summit is still feeble. We decide to wait in the cafe for the clouds to scatter. When the blue sky eventually breaks through, we gather our belongings and head out into the bitter frost. Skiers and visitors emerge instantaneously – they look like ants crawling on top of a wedding cake. From above, Montreux seems like a toy set – small and frail. The dazzling panorama of the Alps stretches out before us as far as the eye can see. It reveals mountain peaks, many of which rise more than four thousand meters tall. It feels like another world, a different planet – possibly one of the ice giants in our solar system, Uranus or Neptune. Here, at an elevation of just mere two thousand meters, in my imagination, I travel back in time. An upheaval of the earth’s crust raised a mass of schist, gneiss and limestone to form underlying layers of the Alps range. It is hard to imagine this moonscape was born 770 million years ago. I stand atop, looking into the distance as if trying to understand the secrets of the universe, yet I know so little about my own world. Life was given to us only about two million years ago. Ever since, humans have controlled rivers’ flow, dried out lakes and cut down entire forests, dug gigantic holes and tunnels in the ground, and erected all kinds of edifices that reach high above the clouds and spread over thousands of square miles. But though we have ravished them in every possible way, we are yet to move a single mountain. Not much has changed since the creation of these rocky giants. The intervention of people is quite insignificant in such terrain; as we continue to terraform the rest of the earth, mountains remain in place, unbothered, strong as they have always been.