He had my full attention: Beautiful and hidden?! I must promise never to lead anyone there, or the beauty would be destroyed forever.
Hand on heart, I gave him my word, good at sixteen and for as long as I live.
We had just climbed a peak in the Bernese Oberland roped with a few others. Tomorrow we'd traverse to another climb after over-nighting at the high Alpenhütte.
He was my friend, a Swiss Mountain Guide. The few Guides who make it, train long and arduously like Special Forces, though with milder vocation.
The other climbers had their sweaty wool-socked feet by the hut's little woodstove, sipping spicy mulled Glühwein.
I'd slipped outside to watch deep blue shadows rise from the verdant-green valley floor and perhaps catch a glimpse of rosy alpen-glow on the glaciers.
"This is the perfect moment," my friend advised, "with the sun slanting." He slipped the coiled climbing rope over a shoulder, across his chest, and checked for pitons on his belt.
Ah, thought I, that sort of adventure. We quietly moved out of sight of the hut, across scree. I breathed in the wild fragrance of high elevation Daphne and felt all but air-borne with excitement.
We came to the foot of a cliff. My eyes widened.
"I found it on a practice climb... some tricky stretches."
We roped up. I pulled on leather gloves to let out the rope as he climbed, rope over one shoulder and around my back against the cliff, my feet braced. I heard him drive a piton above me and felt the thud through the rock.
" Come now."
I stuffed the gloves into my anorak pocket and felt with fingertips for the holds, the rope taut at my waist, till I stood by him on a barely perceptible ledge. He nodded and started up again.
Two or three pitons brought us to the secret. He would remove them on our way down and smooth away our tracks.
He looked me in the eye, the westering sun full in his face. "Ja?"
I nodded steady-gazed, that I would never reveal the route.
He stepped aside and pointed me to the other, either side of a cleft not visible from below. A small cavern!
What?!! Neolithic rock paintings?... A journey to the heart of the mountain? He gestured for me to let light enter as I leaned around to peer in.
Oh, and may I see it again when it comes my time to die.
I was all but blinded by light in the darkness. The cleft opened into a great sphere of crystals refracting the setting sun.
My friend is dead now, but my promise is not. He died on the North Wall of the Eiger, pulled away from his hold by an idiot climber who did not stand his ground, but climbed after, willy-nilly.
I heard about the fatal fall on my next visit to Grindelwald and sat sobbing on a high wildflower meadow.
At the base of the ogre-mountain, I carried a bouquet of wild forget-me-nots, primula, and daisies. Left it in a wee cleft, in gratitude for my friend and his once-in-a-lifetime gift.