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During the last years, I witnessed various cases of extraordinary resistance - most of them while on mountain but others in even harder environments, like hospitals. Although well remembered and absolutely remarkable, none of such events was captured by my camera. This time is pretty different - and you may see the brute force of Nature, crashing at full speed against a small, undefended scrap of life. I only regret, not to have better focus lens.

March 16, 2014. A quiet, sunny, strong-winded and perfect Sunday morning just under the magnificent Eastern Wall of the Monte Rosa Massif, Western Alps, Northern Italy - near the Italian-Swiss border.

With my two friends Audrey and Myo I left Pecetto (Macugnaga) and paced upwards, surrounded by shining 3000-meters ridges and peaks, heading toward the massive icy triad in front of us: the Gnifetti, Zumstein and Dufour summits. All well beyond 4000 meters height, surrounded by icy halos of snow crystals.

Climbing along the ski runs we soon reached the snow-capped Zamboni Zappa hut, at 2070 meters. We intended to proceed towards the Lago delle Locce, a nearby alpine lake, when Audrey - walking in front of me - suddenly froze. The place looks like a giant circle, modeled in the far past by the immeasurable, inhuman forces of the glacier in a toy-shape hollow, whose vertical walls reflect sounds as in a close room. So I could not immediately realize the exact position of the thunder’s source, but Audrey owns a fairly unique “alert” system - a rare instinct or attitude. She was already watching behind me, yelling, her scream lost in the following roar while I turned my head. Like in the worst B-series horror movie, the monster will always appear behind you.

She wore glacier-proof mirrored sunglasses, so at least I was spared of her widening eyes’ sight.

Organic Life’s Resilience - Part I

When you’re used to climb, to walk on mountain, when you belong to this kind of environment, you become quite accustomed to its hidden aspects and means.
Loving mountains, and what will always drive you up there, is not easy to describe in human words - sometimes I think it’s like to fall in a desperate love with the most fascinating, savage, distant, cruel, lovely lady of the world. You know she would not care a damn of your death, no more you worry about insects, and being still so badly attracted, you become accustomed to her moods.

Séracs. Crevasses. Storms. Avalanches, too.

Organic Life’s Resilience - Part II

Deep inside my brain my own inner software, forged by all the intense scares and dangers our human race had to survive during the last 100.000 years, already told me that we were out of range. Skiers and trekkers shouted and screamed all around, lost words in the roaring echoes bouncing everywhere in the giant glacier’s circle.

They shouted and jumped, but I saw something just under that horrible sword of Damocles.

  • March 16th, 2014

Organic Life’s Resilience - Part III

“A chamois”, I said, unheard. I grabbed my Canon, full zoom, focused and yes: that little black dot was there. I took two shots at Warp speed, very quickly, set on automatic - right boot deep in the snow to maintain balance and not daring to breath.

Click, click, said the black polarized EOS.

  • March 16th, 2014

Organic Life’s Resilience - Part IV

Still roars, as the giant gained speed and mass. “What the…?”

“A chamois. There. Under. That. Thing”, I muttered, just clicking.
Then, even before, the bulk of falling snow hit the slope. At once I read in a book the description of such a thunder - “like a train crash”, or the fall of “giant trunks” from a trailer.
Well, believe me or not - it was nothing like that.
Nothing on that comforting, reassuring human scale.

  • March 16th, 2014

Organic Life’s Resilience - Part V

When you watch from a safe point, an avalanche seems encircled by soft, dazzling innocent whirls of snow, funny white tufts of hairs in the wind.
Hundreds of small evanescent tentacles, waving goodbye at you. Happy little curls of wind and white dust everywhere.

But then the bulk, the heavy mass strikes the ground - and when the mountain gods tear your well domesticated physics apart, the entire world trembles. We were about 500 meters away from that thing, from that immediate one-way turn towards the nothingness of void, and its blow took less than one second to hit us with a single gust of cold air.

Hiroshima, Nagasaki, the Vajont dam - we were only luckier.

  • March 16th, 2014

Organic Life’s Resilience - Part VI

“It’s falling, the slope… Everything. Up there. Look!”, I hear the girls while still spraying the scene with thick Canon gunfire.

They were right: outside the small camera’s viewfinder, the bulk of snow had dredged up the whole wall in height. At least three hundred meters, maybe more, deeply clawed by an invisible paw to reveal rocks and cracks unseen from the last summer. Vertical rivers of snow, all falling down like in a giant, deadly Niagara fall.

Thin dust covered us all, filtering sun rays - hairs and mouths, down the collars of our mountain gears, while the Canon strap smacked my face. White particles everywhere, above all on my camera lens as it always happens.

  • March 16th, 2014

Organic Life’s Resilience - Part VII

“Poor critter”, said I, grimacing behind the viewfinder, “poor beast. What a rotten luck”. As an alpinist, I truly sympathized. I could not see the chamois anymore, but surely he or she was gone - definitively gone.

I saw avalanches able to break stone banks like toy cubes, to gain speed and plane entire wooded slopes - and this one fall almost vertically, from a very steep side. I saw at once a 3-meters high steel safe fence, broken like matchsticks on just a 20° inclined slope.
No chances whatsoever.

  • March 16th, 2014

Organic Life’s Resilience - Part VIII

Large streams of snow, strangely similar to a pure white lava, were now steering on the lower slopes in a wide, gentle curve. Hundred tons of snow at once clinging vertically, transferred down there in less than three seconds of thunder and dust. A white boiling river, dotted here and there by sand-dust-debris contrails, was slowly descending behind the ancient moraine.

End of the story. Then…
“Look! Look there. Can’t believe. Can’t f… believe!”

I soon adjusted the range. Focused. Zeroed on it. “Unbelievable!”
Few millimeters down from my own viewpoint, maybe a good hundred meters on the slope, something brown and amazingly four-footed was leaving the vast snow river. Leaving a soft, almost invisible curve wake, our little friend was moving again. He, she… Would ever know. The luckiest chamois on Earth. How the hell could this ever happen? It was like to see, to feel the full blow of a nuclear blast at close range, annihilating a valley, a hollow - and then to discover that those bunker’s little occupants were still alive.

We watched him, or her, barely leaving ground zero. Our little chamois disappeared behind the snowy moraine, probably wounded but still alive. Moving. A small brave icebreaker crossing an inclined icepack.

Like all of you, I saw impacts and car crashes, accidents and so on. Saw things fall and hit, but I have never seen - or even dared to imagine - such a powerful, inspiring and completely unexpected act of force. Pure game of choices and luck, unknown life-saving forces in the dark core of the avalanche, pure resilience. I would never understand what this chamois experienced down there, under that immense pressure.

I still feel incredulous and honored to have been able to see this incredible struggle.

(This story is dedicated to Stefano Priori and family, for their warm welcome yesterday evening, as well as to Audrey and Myo, for their friendly hospitality and friendship up there).

  • March 16th, 2014

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Lauren Thibodeau  about 4 years ago

Oh my Marco! this is incredible story! As I was reading I kept on saying "oh my goodness!" As Meika said you have written as to make me feel as if I was there with you. What an amazing adventure, so glad you were not hurt! I am glad the Chamois made it out alright too. You capture some spectacular images of the death defying occurrence. Thank you for sharing my friend!

Marco Soggetto  about 4 years ago

You are really welcome, dearest Lauren. It was such a fascinating story, I could not describe it in any different way - just as it happened. Glad to know you appreciated it! Surely my most impressive adventure of this winter.

Mieka Bee  about 4 years ago

I was breathless and my heart was beating like when watching a horror movie while reading this story marco! And i think you wrote it in such an absolutely exciting way. the words and pictures in language you use to describe your feelings and the avalanche are superb. So cool you where aware of the moment and grabbed your camera to catch this amazing story on foto also! big compliment!

Marco Soggetto  about 4 years ago

Thanks indeed Mieka, very kind! A great moment, indeed. You can imagine the noise!

Nancy Elera  about 4 years ago

wow it's amazing