One of the objectives of the project was to expose the drawings at sites where archaeology has been found. The first of these was Tsanfleuron, near the Sanetsch pass.
Markers on the walk up the valley are a stark reminder of just how far the glacier has receded in recent years ( the rock on the RH side of this photo has a marker of 1947, the galcier is barely visible from that vantage point). The steep moraine towering above us evidences the scale of its retreat since the last glacial maxim. The glacier abuts limestone lapis, its weathered crevasses of erosion themselves seemingly taking on the form fossilised glacier.
The path has been used for centuries as a route between valleys, cattle grazed of the opposite side of the valley, crossed the glacier. In 1942, a couple from Saviese, Dumoulin, lost their lives on the glacier. They were found only in 2017 as the glacial ice receded. These belongings were donated to Valais museums. Their shoes among items I’d drawn.
Drawings of these shoes were taken to the glacier. It was too cold for any perceptible melt. But the drawings appeared ghostly and vulnerable under the ice cave, small and exposed, stranded on the surface amid ice, rock, mud that forms the glacial terminus.
Sites of ancient passage
Valais canton is home to two significant sites for ancient glacial archaeology, both on the borders with the canton Bern. The Schnidejoch and Lötschenpasses are sites on ancient routes between valleys, from times when steep mountain terrain limited transit routes across northern and southern Europe to a few key passable points. Both have revealed finds dating to prehistory, that I’d been able to view and draw last summer at Canton of Bern Archaeology services.
Again it was drawings of these artefacts that were taken to the sites. It felt emotionally loaded to be crossing the pass, waking the routes taken by people whose belongings were lost, reflecting on the people who’d been before. What has they seen, or felt? What an exposed place this was, and even more so for them without the modern outdoor equipment, or safety of a mountain refuge nearby?
The visit to the Lötschenpass followed a day of rain in the valley, which fell as snow higher up , drifting across the gullies, freezing the alpine lakes. At the pass, winds of -5 degrees whipped up the drawings, whistled through clothing, and drawings floated on ice.
Nearby a few alpine flowers poke through the snow and droop into the ice. I’m told that they are newcomers, twenty years ago, no flowers found this high.
I am grateful for Philippe Curdy and Pierre-Yves Nicod for taking Rebecca Birch and I to Tsanfleuron. I’m also grateful to archaeologists Regula Gubler and Marcel Cornelissen for accompanying me to the Schnidejoch pass, and providing information about the Lötschenpass.