14 November 2020

GQ: “The Ghosts of the Glacier”

Two people were at her front door. Journalists, they said, from a Lausanne daily called Le Matin. They’d learned that two mummified bodies had been found on the Tsanfleuron glacier, and while there had been no positive identification, they cross-referenced the known details with a list of people who’d gone missing.

We think they found your parents, one of them said.

Marceline was quiet for a moment. Then she whispered, maybe to herself or maybe out loud, Dieu merci. Thank you, God.

She was at once happy and filled with a great sense of peace. It is like a wish, she said, finally coming true.

For 75 years, she believed her parents were frozen on the mountain, buried beneath the ice and the skiers and the snow buses. But she never knew, not for certain, because their bodies were never found.

Sean Flynn

Moving story about victims of a glacier in the Swiss Alps, whose bodies are now slowly returned to the world by global warming. It is fascinating to think how much the world has changed in the three quarters of a century since the couple featured in the article suddenly disappeared up the mountain – and how much and how fast it will change again in coming years because of the warming climate.

Marcelline Udry-Dumoulin at her parent's funeral
Marcelline Udry-Dumoulin at her parents’ funeral. Olivier Maire/Getty Images

For all their historical value, for every relieved family, each of those discoveries is still horrifying—not because they are especially gruesome or because they are final, definitive proof of individual tragedies but because they are direct evidence of an epic and existential catastrophe. There were never any demons; the mountains were never cursed. There were just rocks and ice and snow, and people didn’t understand enough of anything.

But we do now. See that brownish snow? Tschannen points to a faintly beige patch below and to the right. A dusting of sand from the Sahara, he says, swept up in storms and carried on high-altitude winds to Switzerland. And that patch over there, the one sprinkled with something fine and pale red? That's pollen from an unusually warm and early spring that had all the flowers and trees popping at once.

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