The Bristen towers up above on one side while trains rush past along the Gotthard mountain route on the other. The view from the window at his home in Amsteg looks over the very things he feels connected to: the mountain and the railway. The mountains are a natural part of Peter Amacher’s everyday life as an Urner. For this geologist, mineralogist and crystal enthusiast, the mountains are his daily bread. “I live on, with, off and in the mountain,” is how he explains it.
“You’re the first to see the beauty of the stones before the daylight reaches them. It’s an insight into the heart of the earth. Indescribable.”
He describes the “on” part in a matter-of-fact way. It refers to his eleven years’ experience working as a hut keeper in the Leutschach valley and as an amateur crystal and mineral hunter in the Gotthard and Aarmassif. When he talks about the “with”, his pride is evident. “I read the mountain. I observe the rock, interpret it and draw conclusions from what I see.” Those able to master these skills will recognise the natural hazards as geologists and find crystals as crystal enthusiasts. He says the latter is a magical moment: “You’re the first to see the beauty of the stones before the daylight reaches them. It’s an insight into the heart of the earth. Indescribable.” He believes this is humanity’s fascination for hunting and gathering at work. These activities have to be balanced with patience. In real life, Peter Amacher is rather more abrupt. “This doesn’t always go down well,” He says, referring to his foray into politics. “As a member of the Cantonal Parliament, I tended to rub people up the wrong way.” He wasn’t a friendly politician by any means. “Well that’s enough of that,” he says, moving the conversation on to
talk about the “off”. He briefly sums it up with the words: “I have to live off something.” The “in” is last up. While the Gotthard Base Tunnel is being built, Peter Amacher is working on behalf of the canton of Uri as a mineral supervisor. Being given this task was like winning the lottery jackpot. His delight is tempered with the envy of other experts. “Thankfully I have a tough skin.” Speaking of tough: from the beginning of construction work in 1999 through to the breakthrough in 2008, he has shouldered his rucksack a staggering 3,500 times in order to document mineral crevices and use his expertise to determine their contents. The work on the tunnel dictates his rhythm of life. There is a small window for his work each time a crevice is bored. After this, the tunnel wall is secured and covered with concrete. “You’re on call night and day. The working temperature inside the mountain is around 34 degrees and the route from the entrance to the drill head is pretty treacherous.”
Peter Amacher has written a book about his experiences as a mineral supervisor. Stories of meeting miners and tunnel workers, of dangerous moments and times of joy and the project close to his heart – documenting all the crevices. He considers scientific guidance very important to his work. For him, an ongoing dialogue with the research team at the University of Basel is essential. He likes to talk shop. What geologists and mineralogists know about what has been going on inside the mountain over the past 20 million years is far beyond a layman’s understanding.
The recovered treasure is more tangible. The unearthed objects are now open to all in an exhibition at Schloss A Pro in Seedorf. 250 collector’s pieces all vie for attention: glittering gold pyrrhotite crystal, Faden quartz as clear as glass and snow-white laumontite. “Seeing these cultural treasures on display makes my job worthwhile,” says the 61-year-old. The construction of the Gotthard Base Tunnel has given Peter Amacher the chance to unearth treasures and discover new scientific knowledge. It’s just as he says: the mountain and the railway.
Text: Lisbeth Epp-Huwyler
Photos: Markus Bühler-Rasom