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Alpenglow

Just after sunset on a recent January night the snowy Absaroka Mountains in the Paradise Valley glowed with a beautiful pink light.

I referred to the sight as alpenglow, a word I had heard used before to describe the scene. My wife said she had never heard that term and asked what it meant. So I did some research and here’s what I found out.

Alpenglow is an English version of the German word Alpenglühen. Broken down, alpen refers to the Alps, Europe’s highest mountain range. It’s also where we get the word alpine, another word for high mountains. One of the English words for glühen is to glow. Put the two together and you get Alps glow, or alpenglow.

The word didn’t show up much in the English language until around the late 1800s.

Italians have their own word for a specific alpine glow: enrosadira. Their word is for the early morning and evening light on high mountains, called the Dolomites, in northeast Italy.

On the internet the word alpenglow is a topic for photographers. They like to capture that pink-orange-red glow for photographs they take of mountains or other scenery. The best time to see that is just before sunrise or shortly after the sunset.

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True alpenglow, some argue, has to be light reflected off of clouds or the sky and down onto the mountains or other scenery. That’s one of the reasons the light is so pink-orange-red, they say, because after traveling such a long way through the air the color blue disappears.

January seems to be a great month to look for alpenglow. It helps that the sun sets early enough that you are still up and able to see it. It also helps that the mountains are covered in snow, which reflects the warm light.

— Brett French, french@billingsgazette.com

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Montana Untamed Editor

Montana Untamed editor for the Billings Gazette.