A bergschrund is a single large crevasse or series of crevasses that develop at the head of a glacier. When Bergschrund is used as a German noun, it requires an initial capital letter like all German nouns. When bergschrund is treated as an import now anglicized, then it does not need a capital. We choose the latter. A bergschrund is where ice pulls away from the bedrock wall of the mountain top against which the ice accumulated. In winter, such a crevasse may fill with avalanche snow from above. In spring or summer, the yawning, spooky cleft gapes open again, presenting at times an unsurpassable obstacle to alpinists.
“Schrund,” as mountaineers sometimes abbreviate the word, can indeed be a danger fatal to climbers who stumble into bergschrunds that extend down to bedrock more than 100 metres deep, ice-slippery Ur-vaginas of Hell from whose benumbed fathoms no plunging wretch ever rises for one, last, icicle-stabbed gasp of frozen air.
Bergschrund is a German compound noun made up of Berg ‘mountain’ + Schrund ‘crevice, cleft, splitting.’
Etymology of Berg
The German word for mountain Berg is cognate with the English word barrow. Both refer to heights. Both stem from a widespread Proto-Indo-European root *bherg ‘height.’ As the Oxford English Dictionary tersely points out, the root word referred to lower and lower eminences as the word traveled through history.
In Sanskrit b’rhant and Zend barezant, it was an adjective that meant ‘very high.’ In Old Irish brigh was already a mountain; likewise in Old Teutonic *bergoz was a mountain. In contemporary German Berg means both mountain and hill. Ditto for Dutch berg. In its present-day English reflex as barrow (Old English beorg), it can mean mountain, mount, hill, hillock, even grave-mound. A barrow may name a tumulus of stones erected in ancient times over a grave site.
Eek! A Barrow-wight!
The now obsolete word barrow-wight was a supernatural superintendent of lonely graves. In olden days throughout parts of the Danelaw in England, country folk whispered that grizzled, mead-drooling, Norse ghosts skulked as guards near grave-mounds of fallen Viking invaders and thus no mortal ought ever to disturb the bones of dead Danes.
But let us now rappel from the precipitous cusps of die Berge deftly bypassing death by crevasse. We shall not be sucked down to doom in a bergschrund. But we shall rise wraithlike from the shallow depths of barrows, to promise more recondite snow lingo tomorrow.
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