An impressive mountain massif in eastern Silvretta. A famous name. A fascinating piece of Alpine history. The portrait of a mountain and its name.
Firstly, the indisputable facts. The Fluchthorn is a mountain massif in the eastern part of Silvretta. It is 3 399 metres high and located exactly on the border between Austria and Switzerland. The massif has three peaks, the northern, the middle and the southern Fluchthorn.
But where does the Fluchthorn get its name from? On maps from the early 19th century, what we know today as the Fluchthorn is instead still marked as “Wälsche B.” Towards the middle of the 19th century, this description disappeared and was replaced by “Border Peak”.
This was, by all accounts, based on the suggestion of the Swiss topographer Johann Wilhelm Fortunat Coaz. Coaz was largely involved in drafting the Dufour map, the topographical map published by the Swiss Confederation in the years 1845 to 1864. The Dufour map showed the whole of Switzerland on a 1:100 000 scale and was recognized as Switzerland’s first “official map series”.
In the course of his first ascent, the alpine explorer Johann Jakob Weilenmann referred to the fact that on the map, his goal was labelled “Border Peak”. His companion, the mountain guide Franz Pöll, who tended sheep in Lareintal and hunted wild animals in the heights as a Kaiserjäger (member of the Tyrolean Rifle Regiment), called the massif “Breitkopf” or broad head – from his perspective, the mountain range did actually look similar to a broad head.
In his records, Johann Jakob Weilenmann, the well-travelled co-founder of the Swiss Alpine Club, noted some revealing details about the mountain and the name “Fluchthorn”, which had appeared in the newest editions of the map.
“The Fluchthorn does not belong to Switzerland alone,” wrote Weilenmann, “as it shares with the Tyrol its soaring rocky ledges, its jagged prongs. So that both parties are treated fairly, the border line goes over its ragged crest, so each is allocated exactly half of the valuable terrain – the eastern side to Switzerland, the western to its neighbours.”
Weilenmann then asked himself where the “Fluchthorn”, “the mysterious unknown” was actually located. He concluded, sharp as a whip, that the mountain he was planning to climb was not known to very many people under this name: “Some people call it the Border Peak, others don’t know it at all.”
Weilenmann explained the “mysterious” name “Fluchthorn”, examining it briefly. “The name,” he wrote, “is not in fact particular to this mountain. Any heights which provide refuge to the chamois in the hunt are called “Fluchtspitze” (flight peaks”) by hunters in this region. The word “horn” as the name of the shape of the mountain is not common there, or indeed further eastwards.”
So the “Flucht” – flight – is meant to be that of the wild animal escaping the hunter. And the “horn” is a name that slipped into a new generation of the topographical map.
Weilenmann dedicated an especially dramatic piece of mountain climbing prose to his goal: “There now, as a backdrop to these three valleys, hardened by eternal winter, in this remoteness inhabited only by bears and chamois, where the deathly silence is only broken by the crack of avalanches, the howling of the whirlwind about the weathered jagged peaks and the rare pop of a rifle, rises enthroned the terribly ragged rock formation of the Fluchthorn. (…) It arises itself from a powerful ridge, surrounded on all sides by corn snow and glaciers, which roots it to the mountain range which separates Paznaun from Unterengadin..”
On 12 July 1861, Weilenmann and Pöll successfully completed the first ascent of the Fluchthorn. This brought attention to the mountain – and the name “Fluchthorn” shone in the reflected glory of the mountain climbers’ achievement.