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Too Many Blessings (by Martin Volken)

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Too Many Blessings 

Joachim Apitz is an educated man; he is old now. At the time of the story I am about

to tell you he had just reached retirement age and I was a punk in my mid twenties.

Joachim’s problem was that he had not grown up in the so-called free world. He was

born in Dresden, East Germany, eventually grew up to be an engineer and dreamt

his entire life of seeing and maybe climbing the Alps.

That is where I grew up.


He had done quite a bit of climbing himself in the east german climbing mecca of

Elbsandstein, which has been a protected area since 1956 thanks to some visionary

people. It was later popularized by Climbing Star Bernd Arnold.

It kept him sane – he said. I had just become an aspiring Swiss Mountain Guide. After

“the Wall” came down in 1989 he started saving his Deutschmarks and in 1994 he

made his dream come true. He and his wife Else were on their way to the Swiss Alps.

That is how he and Else walked into my fathers post office in the little town of

Stalden which is located about a half hours drive south of Zermatt and the famed

Matterhorn. They had just come in for directions, but a nice conversation a couple

glasses of wine later, my parents offered up their little studio apartment in Saas-Fee;

yet another amazing mountain town one valley east of Zermatt.


I met Joachim a few days later in Saas-Fee after I had just come down from the easy

glacier summit of the Allalin. Joachim and Else had been hiking on the trails below

the majestic peaks. He kept asking me questions about the mountains above and

told me that there had been a photo of the Matterhorn hanging above his desk for 30

years. For the most part, he had tought that he would never get out of East Germany,

let alone see the Matterhorn. There was no way he was going to be able to climb it

now at his age, let alone afford a guide. I was young, had extra time and there was an

amazing honesty about this man; so I offered to take him up the Allalin. I did not tell

him that we were going to have an amazing view of the Matterhorn from the

summit. I got him equipped in town and the next day we made it up the Allalin in

perfect conditions. Just as we crested the summit ridge, we got this clear view of the

Matterhorn and when Joachim reached the summit, he touched the cold metal

summit cross and fell to his knees and cried. Through his sobs I could hear him say:

“Dear God, I cannot believe, you are letting me live this day…..”. It was maybe for the

first time in my life it became clear to me that I had lived a life of too many blessings

and not enough appreciation. He had waited literally his entire adult life for a moment like this deprived of all the

freedoms we enjoy on a daily basis.

Many thank you’s later we parted way in Saas Fee. I have not seen him or Else since,

but my parents kept in touch and apparently they have not stopped travelling since.

He is 84 now.


I moved to the US a couple of years later and discovered the savage beauty of the

North Cascades. The first time I travelled deep into the rugged valleys, I felt like I

might have found what I had been missing in the Swiss Alps. In my naïveté I thought

it simply was untrammeled American Wilderness and I remained oblivious to the

fact that many resource extraction companies had had their eyes on some of the

most beautiful valleys in the Cascade Range. Had it not been for men and women

with great Conservation foresight – I might not have had the level of inspiring

experiences – the ones I had imagined for years.


Once I started having kids, I started telling them about mountains of raw beauty in

their own backyard and it started painting a picture in their mind.

Recently my now almost adult daughter returned from a trip to Hidden Lakes Peak.

It was her first solo foray into the mountains she had heard so much about and just

like Joachim and myself, what she found was even more impressive than what she

had imagined – thanks to men and women who fought for our blessings.



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