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Title: Above the Snow Line
Author: Dent, Clinton Thomas, 1850-1912
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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                           ABOVE THE SNOW LINE

                           LONDON: PRINTED BY
                 SPOTTISWOODE AND CO., NEW-STREET SQUARE
                          AND PARLIAMENT STREET

  [Illustration: THE BIETSCHHORN. FROM THE PETERSGRAT]



                          ABOVE THE SNOW LINE

                         MOUNTAINEERING SKETCHES
                         BETWEEN 1870 AND 1880

                                   BY
                              CLINTON DENT
                    VICE-PRESIDENT OF THE ALPINE CLUB


                                       “_Celui qui n’a jamais ses heures_
                                    _de folie est moins sage qu’il ne le_
                                                       _pense_”—LA BRUYÈRE



WITH TWO ENGRAVINGS BY EDWARD WHYMPER AND
AN ILLUSTRATION BY PERCY MACQUOID


LONDON
LONGMANS, GREEN, AND CO.
1885

_All rights reserved_



                    THESE SKETCHES OF MOUNTAINEERING
                              I DEDICATE TO
                                T. I. D.
                IN THE HOPE THAT A BOOK WITHOUT A HEROINE
              MAY, AT LEAST, ACQUIRE SOME FEMININE INTEREST



                                 PREFACE


Some of the following sketches do not now appear for the first time; but
such as have been before published in other form have been entirely
re-written, and, in great measure, recast.



To the writer the work has afforded an occasional distraction from more
serious professional work, and he cannot wish better than that it should
serve the same purpose to the reader.

CORTINA DI AMPEZZO:
_September 1884_.



                                 CONTENTS


CHAPTER I.
AN EXPEDITION IN THE OLDEN STYLE
                                                                    PAGE
Buried records—_Litera scripta manet_—The survival of the unfit—A      1
literary octopus—Sybaritic mountaineering—On mountain
“form”—Lessons to be learned in the Alps—The growth and spread of
the climbing craze—Variations of the art—A tropical day in the
valley—A deserted hostelry—The hotel staff appears in several
characters—Ascent of the Balfrinhorn—Our baggage train and
transport department—A well-ventilated shelter—On sleeping out:
its advantages on the present occasion—The Mischabelhörner family
group—A plea for Saas and the Fée plateau—We attack the
Südlenzspitz—The art of detecting hidden crevasses—Plans for the
future—Sentiment on a summit—The feast is spread—The
Alphubeljoch—We meet our warmest welcome at an inn
CHAPTER II.
THE ROTHHORN (MOMING) FROM ZERMATT
The Alpine dramatis personæ—Mountaineering fact and romance—The       31
thirst for novelty and its symptoms—The first ascent of the
Moming—Preliminaries are observed—Rock _v._ snow mountains—The
amateur and the guide on rocks and on snow—The programme is made
out—Franz Andermatten—Falling stones in the gully—We smooth away
the difficulties—The psychological effects of reaching mountain
summits—A rock bombardment and a narrow escape—The youthful
tourist and his baggage—Hotel trials—We are interviewed—The
gushers
CHAPTER III.
EARLY ATTEMPTS ON THE AIGUILLE DU DRU
The Alps and the early mountaineers—The last peaks to                 56
surrender—The Aiguille du Dru—Messrs. Kennedy and Pendlebury’s
attempt on the peak—One-day expeditions in the Alps and thoughts
on huts and sleeping out—The Chamouni guide system—A word on
guides, past and present—The somnolent landlord and his
peculiarities—Some of the party see a chamois—Doubts as to the
peak and the way—The duplicity of the Aiguille deceives
us—Telescopic observations—An ill-arranged glacier—Franz and his
mighty axe—A start on the rocks in the wrong direction—Progress
reported—An adjournment—The rocks of the lower peak of the
Aiguille du Dru—Our first failure—The expedition resumed—A new
line of ascent—We reach the sticking point—Beaten back—The
results gained by the two days’ climbing
CHAPTER IV.
A DAY ACROSS COUNTRY
The art of meteorological vaticination—The climate we leave our       96
homes for—Observations in the valley—The diligence arrives and
shoots its load—Types of travellers—The Alpine habitué—The
elderly spinster on tour—A stern Briton—A family party—We seek
fresh snow-fields—The Bietschhorn—A sepulchral bivouac—On early
starts and their curious effects on the temperament—A choice of
routes—A deceptive ice gully—The avalanches on the Bietschhorn—We
work up to a dramatic situation—The united party nearly fall
out—A limited panorama—A race for home—Caught out—A short
cut—Driven to extremities—The water jump—An aged person comes to
the rescue—A classical banquet at Ried—The old curé and his
hospitality—A wasted life?
CHAPTER V.
AN OLD FRIEND WITH A NEW FACE
Chamouni again—The hotel _clientèle_—A youthful hero—The             130
inevitable English family—A scientific gentleman—A dream of the
future—The hereafter of the Alps and of Alpine literature—A
condensed mountain ascent—Wanted, a programme—A double
“Brocken”—A hill-side phenomenon and a familiar character—A
strong argument—Halting doubts and fears—A digression on
mountaineering accidents—“From gay to grave, from lively to
severe”—The storm breaks—A battle with the elements—Beating the
air—The ridge carried by assault—What next, and next?—A
topographical problem and a cool proposal—The descent down the
Vallée Blanche—The old Montanvert hotel—The Montanvert path and
its frequenters
CHAPTER VI.
ASCENT OF THE AIGUILLE DU DRU
“_Decies repetita placebit_”
Disadvantages of narratives of personal adventure—Expeditions on     169
the Aiguille du Dru in 1874—The ridge between the Aiguilles du
Dru and Verte—“Défendu de passer par là”—Distance lends
enchantment—Other climbers attack the peak—View of the mountain
from the Col de Balme—We try the northern side, and fail more
signally than usual—Showing that mountain fever is of the
recurrent type—We take seats below, but have no opportunity of
going up higher—The campaign opens—We go under canvas—A spasmodic
start, and another failure—A change of tactics and a new
leader—Our sixteenth attempt—Sports and pastimes at Chamouni—The
art of cray-fishing—The apparel oft proclaims the man—A canine
acquaintance—A new ally—The turning-point of the expedition—A
rehearsal for the final performance—A difficult descent—A blank
in the narrative—A carriage misadventure—A penultimate failure—We
start with two guides and finish with one—The rocks of the
Dru—Maurer joins the party—Our nineteenth attempt—A narrow escape
in the gully—The arête at last—The final scramble—Our foe is
vanquished and decorated—The return journey—Benighted—A moonlight
descent—We are graciously received—On “fair” mountaineering—The
prestige of new peaks—Chamouni becomes festive—“Heut’ Abend
grosses Feuerwerkfest”—Chamouni dances and shows hospitality—The
scene closes in
CHAPTER VII.
BYE-DAYS IN ALPINE MIDLANDS
1. _A Pardonable Digression._
On well-ordered intellects—The drawbacks of accurate
memory—Sub-Alpine walks: their admirers and their
recommendations—The “High-Level Route”—The Ruinette—An infallible
prescription for ill-humour—A climb and a meditation on grass
slopes—The agile person’s acrobatic feats—The psychological
effects of sunrise—The ascent of the Ruinette—We return to our
mutton at Arolla—A vision on the hill-side.
2. _A Little Maiden._
Saas in the olden days—A neglected valley—The mountains drained      236
dry—A curious omission—The Portienhorn, and its good points as a
mountain—The chef produces a masterpiece—An undesirable tenement
to be let unfurnished—An evicted family—A rapid act of
mountaineering—On the pleasures of little climbs—The various
methods of making new expeditions on one mountain—On the
mountaineer who has nothing to learn, and his consequent
ignorance
CHAPTER VIII.
A SENTIMENTAL ALPINE JOURNEY
Long “waits” and entr’actes—The Mont Buet as an unknown              266
mountain—We hire carriages—A digression on a stationary vehicle—A
straggling start—The incomplete moralist—The niece to the
moralist—A discourse on gourmets—An artistic interlude—We become
thoughtful, and reach the height of sentiment and the top of the
Mont Buet—Some other members of the party—The mountaineers
perform—How glissading ambition did o’erleap itself—A vision on
the summit—The moralist leaves us for a while—Entertainment at
the Bérard Chalet—View of the Aiguille Verte—The end of the
journey
CHAPTER IX.
A FRAGMENT
An unauthentic MS.—Solitude on the mountain: its advantages to       291
the historian of the Alps—A rope walk—The crossing of the
Schrund—A novel form of avalanche and an airy situation—A
towering obstacle—The issue of the expedition in the balance—A
very narrow escape—The final rush—Victory!—The perils of the
descent—I plunge _in medias res_—A flying descent
CHAPTER X.
THE FUTURE OF MOUNTAINEERING
Mountaineers and their critics—The early days of the Alpine          300
Club—The founders of mountaineering—The growth of the
amusement—Novelty and exploration—The formation of
centres—Narrowing of the field of mountaineering—The upward limit
of mountaineering—De Saussure’s experience—Modern development of
climbing—Mr. Whymper’s experience—Mr. Graham’s experience—The
ascent of great heights—Mr. Grove’s views—Messrs. Coxwell and
Glaisher’s balloon experiences—Reasons for dissenting from Mr.
Glaisher’s views—The possibility of ascending Mount
Everest—Physiological aspect of the question—Acclimatisation to
great heights—The direction in which mountaineering should be
developed—The results that may be obtained—Chamouni a century
hence—A Rip van Winkle in the Pennine Alps—The dangers of
mountaineering—Conclusion

                               ‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐

ILLUSTRATIONS
THE BIETSCHHORN FROM THE PETERSGRAT                        _Frontispiece_
THE AIGUILLE DU DRU FROM THE SOUTH                     _to face page_ 169
A VISION ON A SUMMIT                                            "     282



                           ABOVE THE SNOW LINE



                                CHAPTER I.


                     AN EXPEDITION IN THE OLDEN STYLE


    Buried records—_Litera scripta manet_—The survival of the unfit—A
          literary octopus—Sybaritic mountaineering—On mountain
    “form”—Lessons to be learned in the Alps—The growth and spread of
      the climbing craze—Variations of the art—A tropical day in the
      valley—A deserted hostelry—The hotel staff appears in several
        characters—Ascent of the Balfrinhorn—Our baggage train and
     transport department—A well-ventilated shelter—On sleeping out:
    its advantages on the present occasion—The Mischabelhörner family
         group—A plea for Saas and the Fée plateau—We attack the
     Südlenzspitz—The art of detecting hidden crevasses—Plans for the
           future—Sentiment on a summit—The feast is spread—The
           Alphubeljoch—We meet our warmest welcome at an inn.


There exists a class of generously-minded folk who display a desire to
improve their fellow-creatures and a love for their species, by referring
pointedly to others for the purpose of mentioning that the objects of
their remarks have never been guilty of certain enormities: a critical
process, which is about equivalent to tarring an individual, but, from
humanitarian considerations, omitting to feather him also. The ordeal, as
applied to others, is unwarrantable; but there is a certain odd pleasure
in subjecting oneself to it. Now, it is but a paraphrase to say that the
more we go about, the more, in all probability, shall we be strengthened
in the conviction that the paradise of fools must have a large acreage.
The average Briton has a constantly present dread that he is likely to do
something to justify his admission into that department of Elysium. The
thought that he has so qualified, will wake him up if it crosses his mind
even in a dream, or make his blood run cold—whatever that may mean—in his
active state. Thus it falls out that he is for ever, as it were, conning
over the pass-book of his actions, and marvelling how few entries he can
find on the credit side, as he does so. It is asserted as a fact (and it
were hard to gainsay the sentiment), that _Litera scripta manet_. No
doubt; but how much more obtrusively true is it that printed matter is as
indestructible as the Hydra? It has occurred sometimes to the writer, on
very, very sleepless nights, to take down from a shelf, to slap the cover
in order to get rid of a considerable amount of dust, and to peruse, in a
volume well-known to all members of the Alpine Club, accounts written
years before, of early mountain expeditions. To trace in some such way, at
any rate to search for, indications of a fancied development of mind has a
curious fascination for the solitary man. Effusions which an author would
jealously hide away from the eyes of his friends, have a strangely
absorbing interest to the man who reflects that he himself was their
perpetrator.

(M1)

We most of us, whatever principles we assert on the matter, keep stowed
away, in some corner or another, the overflow of a fancied talent. The
form varies: it may, perhaps, be a five act tragedy, possibly a
psychological disquisition, or a sensational novel in three volumes of MS.
It is a satisfaction to turn such treasures out from time to time when no
eyes are upon us, even if it be only to thank Heaven devoutly that they
have always lain unknown and uncriticised. “Il n’y a rien qui rafraichisse
le sang comme d’avoir su éviter de faire une sottise.” Of work done, of
which the author had no especial reason to be proud, a feeling of
thankfulness in a lesser degree may arise from the consciousness that, if
ever recognised at all, it is now, happily, forgotten. So have these early
effusions sometimes amused, not infrequently astounded, and at the worst
have nearly always brought the wished-for slumber; and yet in Alpine
writings the same accounts were for the most part as faithful
representations as the writer could set down on paper of impressions made
at the time. It has often occurred to me to ask what manner of description
a writer would give of an expedition made many years before. How would the
lapse of time influence him? Would he make light of whatever danger there
was? Would the picture require a very decided coat of varnish to make it
at all recognisable? Would the crudities come out still more strongly, or
would the colours all have faded and sunk harmoniously together in his
picture? The speculation promised to be interesting enough to make it
worth while to give practical effect to the idea. Now the expedition
narrated in this chapter was made in 1870, and possibly, therefore, if a
description were worth giving at all, it had better have been given fresh.
We can always find some proverb tending more or less to justify any course
of action that we may be desirous of pursuing, and by distorting the
meaning of a quotation manage to serve our own ends. Of all the ill-used
remarks of this nature, surely the most often employed is, “Better late
than never;” the extreme elasticity of which saying, in the application
thereof, is well evidenced by the doctor who employed it in justification
of his late arrival when he came on a professional visit to the lady and
found the baby learning its alphabet.

(M2)

When an aquarium was a fashionable resort, amongst a good many queer and
loose fish, we became familiar with a monstrously ill-favoured beast
called a cuttle-fish: and may have had a chance of seeing how the animal,
if attacked by his physical superior, resorted to the ingenious plan of
effusing a quantity of ink, and, under cover of this, retreating hastily
backwards out of harm’s way. There are some, less ingenuous than the
Octopus, who retreat first into obscurity and then pour out their effusion
of ink. But it is more common to use the flare of an epigram or of a
proverb, as a conjurer does his wand, to distract attention for the moment
and divert the thought current from matters we do not wish to be too
evident. At any rate, I must in the present instance lay under tribute the
author of Proverbs, and add another straw to the already portentous burden
that they who wish to compound for literary sins have already piled on his
back. Apologising is, however, a dangerous vice, as a well-known writer
has remarked. The account, though a sort of literary congenital cripple,
has still a prescriptive right to live. Besides this expedition was
undertaken in the pre-Sybaritic age of mountaineering, and before the
later refinements of that art and science had taken firm hold of its
votaries. What would the stern explorers of former time have thought, or
said, if they had perceived persons engaged on the glaciers sitting down
on camp-stools to a light refection of truffle pie and cold punch? Such
banquets are not uncommon now, though precisians with a tendency to
dyspepsia still object strongly to them. In those days, too, mountaineers
were not so much differentiated that climbers were talked of by their
fellows like cricketers are described in the book of Lillywhite. “Jones,”
for instance, “is a brilliant cragsman, but inclined to be careless on
moraines.” “Noakes,” again, “remarkably sure and steady on snow, fairly
good in a couloir, would do better if he did not possess such an
astounding appetite and would pay more attention to the use of the rope.”
“Stokes possesses remarkable knowledge of the Alps; on rocks climbs with
his head; we wish we could say honestly that he can climb at all with his
hands and feet.” “Thompson, first-rate step-cutter; walks on snow with the
graceful gait and unlaboured action of a shrimp-catcher at his work: kicks
down every loose stone he touches.” Thus different styles of climbing are
recognised. “Form,” as it is called in climbing, was in the old days an
unknown term, and yet it is probable that the “form” was by no means
inferior to any that can be shown now-a-days. The reason is obvious enough
and the explanation lies simply in the fact that the apprenticeship served
in the mountains was then much longer than it is now. People did not so
often try to ride a steeple-chase before they had learnt to sit in a
saddle, or appreciated that the near side was the best by which to get up.
When this particular expedition was made (towards which I feel that I am
an unconscionable time in making a start) I had been five or six seasons
in the Alps, during the first two of which I had never set foot on a
snow-slope. There had always seemed to me from the first, to be so much
absolutely to learn in mountaineering: there is no less now, indeed there
is more, for the science has been developed, but it seems beyond doubt,
that fewer people recognise the fact. Like most other arts, it can only be
learnt in one way, by constant practice, by constant care and attention
and by always doing everything in the mountains to the best of one’s
ability. Too many may seem to think that there is a royal road, and fail
to recognise that a plebeian does not alter his status by walking along
this variety of highway.

(M3)

Time rolled on. The fascination of climbing spread abroad, and it followed
with the increasing number of mountaineers that more and more difficulties
were experienced in attempts to diversify the sport in the Alps alone, and
in emerging from the common herd of climbers. Then a new danger arose. The
sport grew fashionable—a serious symptom to its true lovers. Books of
Alpine adventure readily found readers; novels, and other forms of
nonsense, were written about the mountains; accounts of new expeditions
were telegraphed at once to all parts of the world, and found as important
a place in the newspapers as the Derby betting, or the latest reports as
to the precise medical details of some eminent person’s internal
complaint. Still further did the craving for novelty spread, and more
strange did the means of satisfying it become. The mountains were ascended
without guides: in winter; by people afflicted with mental aberration who
wore tall hats and frock coats on the glaciers; by persons who were
ignorant of the laws of optics as applied to large telescopes; in bad
weather, by wrong routes and so forth. Then, too, set in what may be
called the variation craze. This is very infectious. For those who can see
no beauty in a scene that some one else has gazed on before it is still a
passion. We may still at times, in the Alps, hear people say, “Oh yes,
that is a very fine expedition, no doubt, but I don’t think I care much
about undertaking it; you see so and so has done it; couldn’t we manage to
strike out a different line?” The result is a “variation” expedition. The
composer when hard driven, and not strongly under the influence of the
Muse, will at times take some innocent, simple melody and submit it to
exquisite torture by writing what he is pleased to call variations.
Sometimes he will not rest till he has perpetrated as many as thirty-two
on some innocent little tune of our childhood. The original air becomes
entirely lost, like a sixpence buried in a flour bag, and we may marvel,
for instance, as may the travelled American, at the immense amount of
foreign matter that may be introduced into “Home, sweet home.” Even so
does the climber sometimes practise his art. But for one who entertains a
strict respect for the old order of things, and for the memory of an age
of mountaineering now rapidly passing into oblivion, to write in any such
strain would be intolerable. And so, even as a theatrical manager when his
brilliant play, stolen, or, as it is generally described, “adapted,” from
the French, does not run, I may be allowed to raise the curtain on a
revival of the old drama, a comedy in one short act, and not provided with
any very thrilling “situations.” The “scenarium” lay ready to hand in the
leaves of an old journal, which may possibly share, with other old leaves,
the property of being rather dry. But we are meandering, as it were, in
the valleys, and run some risk of digressing too far from the path which
should lead to the mountain in hand. There is a story of a clergyman who
selected a rather long text as a preface to his discourse, and finding,
when he had read it at length a second time, that his congregation were
mostly disposed in attitudes which might be of attention, but which were,
at the same time, suggestive of slumber, wisely concluded to defer
enlarging upon it till a more fitting occasion, and dismissed his hearers,
or at any rate those present, with the remark that they had heard his text
and that he would not presume to mar its effectiveness by any exordium
upon it. _Revenons._

(M4)

In the early part of August 1870, our party walked one sultry day up the
Saas Valley. The dust glittered thick and yellow on our boots. Many of the
smaller brooks had struck work altogether, while the main river was
reduced to a clear stream trickling lazily down between sloping banks of
rounded white boulders that shone with a painful glare in the strong
sunlight. The more muscular of the grasshoppers found their limbs so
lissom in the warmth that they achieved the most prodigious leaps out of
sheer lightheartedness; for they sprang so far that they could have had no
definite idea where they might chance to light. On the stone walls busy
little lizards, with heaving flanks, scurried about with little fitful
spurts, and vanished abruptly into the crannies, perpetually playing hide
and seek with each other, and always seeming out of breath. The foliage
drooped motionless in the heavy air and the shadows it cast lengthened
along the dusty ground as steadily as the streak on a sundial. The smoke
from the guides’ pipes (and guides, like itinerant nigger minstrels,
always have pipes in their mouths when moving from the scene of one
performance to another) hung in mid air, and the vile choking smell of the
sputtering lucifer matches was perceptible when the laggards reached the
spot where a man a hundred yards ahead had lighted one of these
abominations.

To pass under the shade of a walnut tree was refreshing like a cold
douche; and to step forth again into the heat and glare made one almost
gasp. Flannel shirts were miserably inadequate to the strain put upon
their absorbent qualities. The potatoes and cabbages were white and
piteously dusty. Even the pumpkins seemed to be trying to bury their plump
forms in the cool recesses of the earth. Everywhere there seemed a
consciousness as of a heavy droning hum. All of which may be concisely
summed up in the now classical opening remark of a well-known comedy
character, one “Perkyn Middlewick” to wit, “It’s ’ot.”

(M5)

When within a little distance of the hotel I enquired whether it was worth
while for one of the party to push on to secure rooms. The guides thought,
on the whole, that it was unnecessary, and this opinion was justified
subsequently by the fact that we found ourselves the sole occupants of the
hotel during the week or so that we remained in the district. It was the
year of the war; ugly rumours were about, but very few tourists.
Selecting, therefore, the most luxurious apartment, and having given over
to the care of one Franz, who appeared in the character of “boots” to the
hotel, a remarkable pair of cowhide brogues of original design, as hard as
sabots and much more uncomfortable, I sat down on a stone slab, in order
to cool down to a temperature that might permit of dining without fear of
imperilling digestion. So pleased were the hotel authorities at the
presence of a traveller that they exerted themselves to the utmost to
entertain us well, and with remarkable results. I find a record of the
dinner served. There were ten dishes in consecutive order, exclusive of
what Americans term “fixings.” As to the nature of nine it was difficult
to speak with any degree of certainty, but the tenth was apparently a
blackbird that had perished of starvation and whose attenuated form the
chef had bulged out with extraneous matter. Franz, who seemed to be a sort
of general utility man to the establishment, had thrown off, with the ease
of a Gomersal or a Ducrow, the outward habiliments of a boots and appeared
now as a waiter, in a shirt so hard and starched that he was unable to
bend and could only button his waistcoat by the sense of touch. The repast
over, Franz removed the shirt front and unbent thereupon in manner as in
person. Assuming engaging airs, he entered into conversation, disappearing
however for short intervals at times, in order, as might be inferred from
certain sounds proceeding from an adjoining apartment, to discharge the
duties of a chamber-maid. Subsequently it transpired that he was the
proprietor of the hotel.

(M6)

We agreed to commence our mountaineering by an ascent of the Balfrinhorn,
a most charming walk and one which even in those days was considered a
gentle climb. There are few peaks about this district which will better
repay the climber of moderately high ambition, and it is possible to
complete the expedition without retracing the steps. There is no danger,
and it is hard to say to what part of the mountain an enthusiast would
have to go in order to discover any: so the expedition, though perhaps
prosaic, is still very interesting throughout and quite in the olden
style. The solitude at the hotel was somewhat dull, and the conversational
powers of the guides soon exhausted if we travelled beyond the subject of
chamois hunting, I did indeed try on one occasion to explain to them, in
answer to an earnest request, the military system of Great Britain. But,
with a limited vocabulary, the task was not easy and, as I could not think
of any words to express what was meant by red tape, circumlocution, and
short service, my exposition was limited to enlarging on the facts that
the warriors of my native country were exceeding valiant folk with very
fine chests, that they wore highly padded red coats and little hats like
half bonbon boxes cocked on one side and that they would never consent to
be slaves. Burgener, anxious for some more stirring expedition, suggested
that we should climb the Dom from the Saas side or make a first ascent of
the Südlenzspitz. We had often talked of the former expedition, which had
not at the time been achieved, and, in order to facilitate its
accomplishment, divers small grants of money had been sent out from
England to be expended in the construction of a hut some five hours’ walk
above Fée. In answer to enquiries, the guides reported with no small
amount of pride, that the building had been satisfactorily completed and
they were of opinion that it was ready for occupation. At some length the
process of building was described and it really seemed from their account
that they had caused to be erected a shelter of unduly pretentious
dimensions. It appeared, however, that the residence was equally well
placed to serve as a shelter for an ascent of the Südlenzspitz and we
decided ultimately to attack that peak first. Great preparations were
made; an extensive assortment of very inferior blankets was produced and
spread out in the road in front of the hotel, either for airing or some
other ill-defined purpose, possibly from some natural pride in the
extensive resources of the hotel. Then they pulled down and piled into a
little stack, opposite the front door, fire wood enough to roast an ox, or
convert an enthusiast into a saint.

(M7)

One fine afternoon we started. The entire staff and _personnel_ of the
hotel would have turned out to wish us good luck, but did not actually do
so, as he was engaged in a back shed milking a cow. Laden with a large
bundle of fire wood, I toiled up the steep grass slopes above Fée, leading
to the Hochbalm glacier. The day was oppressively hot, and I was not
wholly ungrateful on finding that the string round my bundle was loose and
that the sticks dropped out one after another: accordingly I selected a
place in the extreme rear of the caravan, lest my delinquencies should
perchance be observed. The sun beat mercilessly down upon our backs on
these bare slopes and we sighed involuntarily for Vallombrosa or Monaco or
some equally shady place. The guides, who up to that time had spoken of
their building as if it were of somewhat palatial dimensions, now began
rather to disparage the construction. Doubts were expressed as to the
effects certain storms and heavy falls of snow might have had on it and
regrets that the weather had prevented the builders from attending as
minutely to details of finish and decoration as they could have wished.
Putting this and that together, I came to the conclusion that the erection
would probably be found to display but indifferent architectural merit.
However, there was nothing better to look forward to. “Where is it?” “Oh,
right up there, under the big cliff, close to where Alexander is.” In the
dim distance could be distinguished the form of our guide as a little dark
mass progressing on two pink flesh-coloured streaks, striding rapidly up
the hill. The phenomenon of colour was due to the fact that, prompted by
the sultriness of the day, Alexander had adopted in his garb a temporary
variation of the Highland costume. A few minutes later he joined us,
clothed indeed, and in a right, but still a melancholy frame of mind.
Shaking his head sadly, he explained that a grievous disaster had taken
place, evidently in the spring. The forebodings of the
constructively-minded rustics we had left below, who knew about as much of
architecture as they did of metaphysics, proved now to be true. They had
remarked that they feared lest some chance stone should have fallen, and
possibly have inflicted damage on the hut. Why they had selected a site
where such an accident might happen, was not at the moment quite obvious,
but it became so later on. Burgener told us that the roof had been carried
away. Beyond question the roof was gone; at any rate it was not there, and
the rock must have fallen in a remarkable way indeed, for the cliff above
was slightly overhanging, and the falling boulder, which was held
accountable for the disaster, had carried away every vestige of wood-work
about the place, not leaving even a splinter or a chip. However, to the
credit of the builders, be it said that they had tidied up and swept very
nicely, for there was no sawdust to be seen anywhere, nor indeed, any
trace of carpentering work. The hut consequently resolved itself into a
semi-circular stone wall, very much out of the perpendicular, built
against a rock face. The chief architect, evidently a thoughtful person,
had not omitted to leave a door. But it was easier on the whole to step
over the wall, which I did, with as much scorn as Remus himself could have
thrown into the action when seeking to aggravate his brother Romulus. So
we entered into possession of the premises without, at any rate, the
trouble of any preliminary legal formalities.

(M8)

In the matter of sleeping out, all mountaineers pass, provided they keep
long enough at it, through three stages. In the early period, when imbued
with what has been poetically termed the “ecstatic alacrity” of youth,
they burn with a desire to undergo hardship on mountains. Possibly a
craving for sympathy in discomfort—that most universal of human
attributes—prompts them to spend their nights in the most unsuitable
places for repose. The practical carrying out of this tendency is apt to
freeze very literally their ardour; at least, it did so in our case. Then
follows a period during which the climber laughs to scorn any idea of
dividing his mountain expedition. He starts the moment after midnight and
plods along with a gait as free and elastic as that of a stage pilgrim or
a competitor in a six days’ “go-as-you-please” pedestrian contest: for
those who have a certain gift of somnambulism this method has its
advantages. Finally comes a stage when the climber’s one thought is to get
all the enjoyment possible out of his expedition and to get it in the way
that seems best at the time. Now again he may be found at times tenanting
huts, or the forms of shelter which are supposed to represent them. But
his manner is changed; he no longer travels burdened with the impedimenta
of his earlier days. He never looks at his watch now, except to ascertain
the utmost limit of time he can dwell on a view. With advancing years and
increasing Alpine wisdom, he derides the idea of accurately timing an
expedition. His pedometer is probably left at home; he eats whenever he is
hungry, and ceases to consider it a _sine quâ non_ that he must return to
hotel quarters in time for dinner. Nor does he ever commit the youthful
folly of walking at the rate of five miles an hour along the mule path in
the valley or the high road at the end of an expedition, gaining thereby
sore feet and absolutely nothing else. When he has reached this stage,
however, he is considered _passé_; and when he has reached this stage he
probably begins really to appreciate to the full the depth of the charm to
be found in mountaineering.

But I digress even as the driven pig. A miserable night did we spend
behind the stone wall. About 9 P.M. came a furious hail-storm: at 10 P.M.
rain fell heavily: at 11 P.M. snow began and went on till daybreak about 4
A.M. At 5 A.M. we got up quite stiff and stark like a recently killed
villain of melodrama, when carried off the stage by four supers. By 6 A.M.
I had got into my boots. At 9 A.M. we swooped down once more on Franz at
the hotel at Saas, persuaded him to relinquish certain scavenging
occupations in which he was engaged, and to resume his post of waiter. A
day or two later we sought our shelter once more. No luxurious provisions
did we take with us. Some remarkable red wine, so sour that it forced one
involuntarily to turn the head round over the shoulder on drinking it,
filled one knapsack. The other contained slices of bread with parallel
strata of a greasy nature intervening. These were spoken of, when we had
occasion to allude to them, as sandwiches. The fat was found to be an
excellent emollient to my boots.

(M9)

The Südlenzspitz, though tall, labours under the topographical
disadvantage of being placed in the company of giants. Close by, on the
north side, is the Nadelhorn (14,876 ft.), while to the south, at no great
distance, the Dom towers far above, reaching a height of 14,942 feet. In
the Federal map of Switzerland (which is not very accurate in its
delineation of the Saas district), the height of the Südlenzspitz is
marked as 14,108 ft. North and south from the Südlenzspitz, stretch away
well-marked, but not particularly sharp ridges, the northern being chiefly
of snow, and inclined at a moderate angle. To the east, a sharper rocky
ridge falls away, terminating below, after the fashion of a “rational”
divided skirt, in two undecided continuations which enclosed the Fall
glacier. Climbing up by this ridge, Mr. W. W. Graham ascended the mountain
in 1882. The “variation” is described as presenting very serious
difficulties. But in our day, the old-fashioned custom of ascending
mountains by the most obviously practicable way was still in vogue, and we
decided, therefore, to make for the northern buttress. Leaping over the
wall enclosing the ground-floor of our bivouac, we descended on to the
Hochbalm glacier, made our way across the upper snow basin, and in good
time reached the foot of the slope no great distance south of the
Nadelhorn. The view during this part of the walk is very characteristic of
the range. From almost any point of view, the traveller is surrounded on
three sides by a clearly marked amphitheatre of very beautifully formed
mountains. On the right, the shapely little Ulrichshorn rises up in a
self-sufficient manner, like a single artichoke in a vegetable dish. In
front is the mass of the Nadelhorn and Südlenzspitz, while, looking back,
the view of the mountains on the east side of the Saas valley is one of
great and varied beauty. It must be confessed that these statements are
derived principally from a contemplation of the map, for, to tell the
truth, the recollection of the panorama we actually saw is rather
indistinct. This much, however, I may record with confidence; that in all
parts of the Saas district, the views struck me, in a day when I did not
very much look at them, as possessing strong individuality and the
greatest beauty.

(M10)

The Zermatt district may be still more striking, and they who have no time
to visit both, no doubt do wisely to seek the more hackneyed valley. But
for such as do not look upon guide-book statements as the dicta of an
autocrat, and can exercise a thousandth part of the independence of
judgment they manifest in the ordinary affairs of life, a brief deviation
to the Saas country will come as a revelation. After the crowd, dust, and
bustle of the highway to the recognised centre of the Alps, to turn aside
to this region is a relief, like stepping out of a crowded ball-room on to
a verandah, or gliding away in a gondola from the railway station at
Venice. Look, too, at the architecture of the great mountains here, and
the spectator will perceive how nature has succeeded to perfection in
achieving what all artists fail in doing; that is in designing, and in a
manner that precludes criticism, a pendant; and a pendant too to the
Zermatt panorama. The necessary object in the foreground of the
picture—which we all know to be an hotel—is provided. Who but nature would
think of framing a pure white picture in a setting of the soft green
pastures below, and the deep blue sky above? but here it is, and it is
perfect. Yet the blue of the sky is repeated in the picture, for the
towering séracs throw azure shadows on the satin-smooth snow slopes at
their feet. Rest, strength, eternal solidity above in the mountain forms
and crags; repose, softness, and the charm of a brightness below that must
yield and fade before long to gather force for fresh development and
renewal. No need to seek far for a parallel in our human world. Between
the two districts, Zermatt and Saas-Fée, there is but the difference
between the man who impresses at once by the force of character, and the
man who has to be studied and learned before we recognise that he is
something beyond the ordinary run of our fellow-creatures.

(M11)

Before leaving England we had made tolerably minute inquiries, but had
failed to discover any record of a previous ascent of the Südlenzspitz,
though, as suggested by Mr. W. M. Conway, the mountain may have been
previously climbed by Mr. Chapman. Some uncertainty, therefore, whether we
should find any traces of previous climbers, gave the required piquancy to
the expedition. We made at once up the slope for a long rocky buttress,
and towards a part of the mountain down which the guides asserted stones
had been known to fall in the afternoon. This statement was probably made
with a view of encouraging their charge to greater exertions, for an old
sprained ankle compelled me to the continual necessity of putting my best
foot foremost in walking over difficult places. Still, the rocks were at
no point very formidable, and progress was rendered somewhat easier by the
fact that no critical companion was with me, so I felt at perfect liberty
to transport myself upwards in any style that happened to suit the
exigencies of the moment. I had not at that time quite passed the stage of
believing all that the guides asserted with reference to the climbing
capacities of the individual who pays them for assisting his locomotion,
and had a distinct idea that I mastered all the obstacles in a
particularly skilful manner. They said as much in fact, but reiterated
their compliments so often that I somewhat fear now that I must frequently
have given occasion for these remarks of approbation; remarks which I have
since observed are more frequently called forth to cover a blunder than to
praise an exhibition of science. Probably my progress was about as
graceful and sure as that of a weak-legged puppy placed for the first time
in its life on a frozen pond, or a cockroach seeking to escape from the
entrapping basin, for I had not then developed, in climbing rocks, the
adhesive powers of—say the chest, which longer practice will sometimes
furnish. We were accompanied by a porter of advanced years whose
conversational powers were limited by an odd practice of carrying heavy
parcels in his mouth. The day before he had carried up a large beam of
wood for the camp fire in this manner. I never met a man with so much jaw
and so little talk. He had apparently come out in order to practise
himself for the mastication of the Saas mutton, for at the end of the day
he would accept of nothing but a sum of two francs, for which I was very
thankful. Similar disinterestedness in men of his class is not often met
with nowadays.

(M12)

After awhile we left the buttress of rock and turned our attention to a
snow slope and made our way up its crest. Here steps were necessary but
there was no particular difficulty, for the slope resembled a modern
French drawing-room tragedy, in that it was as broad as it was long. We
had but to feel that the rope was taut, and could then look about with
security. In good time we stepped on to the ridge, and a glance upwards
showed that the way was easy enough. We could not but feel that if we were
to achieve the honour of a first ascent, such honour would be principally
due to the fact that we had subdivided the secondary peaks of the chain
more minutely than other travellers. The principle has been carried still
further in these latter days, and as any little pale fish that can be
caught and fried is considered whitebait, and any article that ladies
choose to attach to their heads is termed a bonnet, so any point that can
be climbed by an individual line of ascent is now held to be a separate
mountain. A considerable snow cornice hung over on the northern side of
the arête and great care was necessary, for the ridge itself was so broad
and easy, that less careful guides might have made light of it; but
Burgener, though he had already acquired a reputation for brilliancy and
dash, never suffered himself for one moment to lose sight of the two great
qualities in a guide, caution and thoroughness. At each step he probed the
snow in front of him with all the diligence of a chiffonnier. It followed
that our progress was somewhat slow, but it was none the less highly
instructive. The accurate sense of touch in probing doubtful snow with the
axe requires and deserves very much more practice than most people would
imagine. The unpractised mountaineer may climb with more or less ease a
difficult rock the first time he is brought face to face with it, but long
and carefully acquired experience is necessary before a man can estimate
with certainty the bearing power of a snow bridge with a single thrust of
the axe. Indeed many guides of reputation either do not possess or never
acquire the muscular sense necessary to enable them to form a reliable
opinion on this matter. As a rule, if the rope be properly used and such a
mistake be made, somebody plunges through, is hauled out again and no harm
is done; but there are occasions when serious accidents have happened,
when probably lives have been lost owing to want of skilled knowledge in
this detail of snow mountaineering. I have known guides who never failed
when they came to a treacherous-looking bridge, to give it one apparently
careless thrust with the axe and then walk across with perfect confidence;
and I have seen others do exactly the same and disappear suddenly to cool
regions below through the bridge; and _vice versâ_. The unskilful prober
will make wide detours when he might go in safety, and the man of good
snow touch will avoid what looks sound enough: till in returning, perhaps
you see that the hard crust concealed but rotten things beneath: as in an
ill-made dumpling. It needs no small amount of training to judge between
the man who quickly and with certainty satisfies himself of the safety of
a particular snow passage, and the man who is too careless properly to
investigate it; yet without such experience the amateur is not really able
to decide whether a guide be a good or a bad one.

(M13)

Here and there along the ridge short rock passages gave a welcome relief
and at length we stood on the highest point of the ridge which culminates
so gently in the actual peak of the Südlenzspitz. Our first care was to
scrape about and hunt diligently for traces of any previous party. No
relic of conviviality could be found, and as all the flat stones about
appeared to be in their natural state of disorder, we piled up some of
them into a neat little heap, and came to the conclusion that we had
performed very doughty deeds. But we were younger then. The sun was out,
there was a dead calm, and we lay for a while basking in the warmth and
planning a serious expedition for some future year. It may seem strange in
these days of rocket-like mountaineering when the climber, like the poet,
_nascitur non fit_, but the peak whose assault we discussed was none other
than the Matterhorn. It was no longer thought that goblins and elves
tenanted its crags; but although these spectres had not yet been
frightened away and turned out of house and home by sardine boxes and
broken bottles, some trace of prestige still adhered to the mountain. It
had not then, like a galley slave, been bound with chains, or, even as a
trussed chicken, girt about with many cords. Nor was the ascent of the
peak then talked about as carelessly as might be a walk along Margate
pier. Alexander Burgener had never been up the peak, though he was most
anxious to get an opportunity of doing so. I can remember well the advice
that was given to me on the top of the Südlenzspitz to practise further on
a few less formidable mountains before attacking the fascinating Mont
Cervin itself. Alas for the old days and the old style of mountaineering!
It may be doubted whether such discussions often take place nowadays; but
then it was only my sixth season in the Alps. The following year we did
hatch out the project laid on the top of the Südlenzspitz to climb the
Matterhorn together. To this moment I can remember as I write every detail
of the climb and every incident of the day as vividly as if it were
yesterday; and what a splendid expedition it was then. The old, old
fascination can never come back again in quite the same colours; better,
perhaps, that it should not. Is it always true that “a sorrow’s crown of
sorrow is remembering happier things”? Surely there is a keenness and a
depth of pleasure to be found in recalling happiness, though it may never
return in its old form; and the memory of pleasure just toned with a trace
of sadness is one of the most profound emotions that can stir the human
heart. Go on and climb the Alps ye that follow: nowhere else will you find
the same pleasure. But it is changed, and in this amusement the old
fascination will never be quite the same to you. It may be, it will be,
equally keen, but as there is a difference between skating on virgin ice
and that which, though still good, is scored by marks of predecessors, so
will you fail to find a something which in the olden days of
mountaineering seemed always present. Go elsewhere if you will, and seek
fresh fields for mountaineering enterprise in the Caucasus, the Himalayas,
the Andes. There you will find the mountains have a charm of their own:
the mark is as good, but it is not the Alpine mark. That has been taken by
others. _Beati possidentes._

(M14)

Judging by the nature of these sentiments it would seem that we must have
become pensive to the verge of slumber while on the summit. In descending,
we followed our morning’s tracks, and scorning the seductive shelter of
the hut made straight down for the hotel. On this occasion we found Franz,
who was a man of varied resources and accomplishments, hanging his shirt,
which apparently he had just washed, up to dry. Our unexpected arrival
appeared to disconcert him a little, for the straitened nature of his
wardrobe precluded him, to his great disappointment, from appearing at
dinner in full costume. He conceived, however, an ingenious, though
somewhat transparent subterfuge, and made believe that he had got a bad
cold in the chest which compelled him to button his coat up tight round
the neck. In honour of our achievements he said he would go down to the
cellar and bring us up a curious old wine. The cellar consisted apparently
of a packing-case in a shed. Old the wine may have been; curious it
certainly was, for it possessed a strong heathery flavour and seemed to
turn hot very suddenly and stick fast in the throat like champagne at a
suburban charity ball. But nevertheless, with the remnants of the
blackbird or some other _rara avis_ made into a species of pie, we feasted
royally.

A few days later we crossed over to Zermatt by the Alphubel Joch, a heavy
fall of snow having prevented any idea of making our contemplated assault
on the Dom. A Swiss gentleman of a lively nature and excessive loquacity
accompanied us. He was not an adroit snow walker, and disappeared on some
five or six occasions abruptly into crevasses. The moment, however, that
he got his head out again, he resumed his narrative at the exact point at
which it had been perforce broken off without exhibiting the least
discomposure. The subject to which his remarks referred I did not succeed
in ascertaining. We parted at a little chalet not far from the Riffel,
leaving our friend lying flat on his back on the grass contemplating the
sky with a fixed expression, with his hands folded over his waistcoat. He
may have been a poet inspired with a sudden desire for composition for
aught I know, or may have assumed this attitude as likely to facilitate
the absorption of a prodigious quantity of milk which he took at the
chalet.

As we drew nearer to the odd mixture of highly coloured huts and
comfortable hotels that make up the village of Zermatt, a sense of
returning home crept over the mind, a consciousness of friends at hand, of
warm welcomes, mixed with the half presentiment that is always felt on
such occasions, that some change would be found; but happily it was not
so. The roadway was in its former state; the cobble stones a trifle more
irregular and worn more smooth, but still the same. The same guides, or
their prototypes, were sitting on the same wall drumming their heels. The
same artist was hard at work on a sketch of the Matterhorn in a field hard
by. The same party just returning from the Görner Grat. The same man
looking out with sun-scorched face from the salon window and the same
click from the self-willed billiard balls on the uncertain table below.
Ay, and the same unmistakable heartfelt greetings and handshakings at the
door of the Monte Rosa. Churlish indeed should we have been if we had
sighed to think that we had met our warmest welcome at an inn.



                               CHAPTER II.


                    THE ROTHHORN (MOMING) FROM ZERMATT


     The Alpine dramatis personæ—Mountaineering fact and romance—The
       thirst for novelty and its symptoms—The first ascent of the
      Moming—Preliminaries are observed—Rock _v._ snow mountains—The
     amateur and the guide on rocks and on snow—The programme is made
     out—Franz Andermatten—Falling stones in the gully—We smooth away
     the difficulties—The psychological effects of reaching mountain
       summits—A rock bombardment and a narrow escape—The youthful
       tourist and his baggage—Hotel trials—We are interviewed—The
                                 gushers.


The writer of an Alpine narrative labours under more disadvantages than
most literary folk—if authors generally will permit the association, and
allow that those who rush into print with their Alpine experiences have
the smallest claim to be dignified with such a title. One drawback is that
their accounts necessarily suffer from a paucity of characters. A five-act
tragedy supported, to use a theatrical expression, by two walking
gentlemen, one heavy lead and a low comedy “super,” might possibly pall
upon an audience, but in Alpine literature, if I may be permitted to push
the metaphor a little further, not only is this the case but the unhappy
reader finds the characters like “barn stormers” playing now comedy, now
tragedy, and sometimes, it may possibly be added, dramas of romance.

(M15)

Again, in all matters absolutely relating to mountaineering in the Alps,
the narrator feels bound to stick to matters of fact. The drama of romance
must be excluded from his répertoire, or, at any rate, very cautiously
handled. I knew a man once, who on a single occasion went a-fishing in
Norway and caught a salmon. Naturally he was proud of the achievement, and
when in the company of brother sportsmen, would hold up his head, assume a
knowing air, and take part in the conversation, such conversation
relating, of course, to the size of the various fish those present had
caught. Such unswerving and prosaic veracity did my friend possess, that,
though sorely tempted as he must have been on many occasions, for ten
years he never added a single ounce to the weight of his fish. A writer,
an Alpine scribbler at any rate, is perhaps justified if he introduces
incidents into an account of an expedition which may not have happened on
that particular occasion, but which did happen on some other; and surely
he may, without impropriety, romance a little on such part of his work as
is not strictly geographical; for example, he may describe a chalet as
being dirty, when according to the peasant’s standard of cleanliness it
would have been considered spotless, or describe a view as magnificent,
when as a matter of fact he paid no attention to it, but he would be
acting most culpably if he asserted that he got within fifty feet of the
summit, well knowing that he was not fifty feet from the base of the peak,
or if he stated that rocks were impossible, or an ice-fall impracticable,
when the sole reason for his failure consisted in his being possessed with
a strong desire to go back home. Of course a writer can only give his own
impressions, and these are much tempered by increased experience and the
lapse of time, but in taking up old accounts of Alpine work one not
unfrequently finds a good deal of description that requires toning down.
In these sketches I have striven honestly to render all that relates
intimately to the actual mountains as accurate as possible, and would
sooner be considered a dull than an unreliable historian.

It is no easy matter to reproduce almost on the spot an account of a climb
with absolute accuracy, however strong the desire may be to do so.
Besides, a climber does not pursue his pastime with a note book
perpetually open before him. If he does, his mountaineering is more of a
business than he is usually willing to admit. The guide often, the amateur
commonly, fails to recognise exactly from a distance a line of ascent or
descent on rocks, though but just completed. Still more difficult is it to
work out the precise details of a particular route on a map or photograph.
The microscopist knows that the higher powers of his instrument give him
no additional insight into the structure of certain objects, but rather
mislead. Even so may my readers be asked to employ but gymnoscopic
criticism of these sketches.

(M16)

In September 1872 our party reached Zermatt from Chamouni by the
“high-level” route, a series of walks which no amount of familiarity will
ever deprive of their charm, and concerning which more will be found
elsewhere in this work. All Alpine climbers were then burning as fiercely
as they ever did to achieve something new. They had just begun to realise
that the stock of new peaks and passes was not inexhaustible, and that the
supply was wholly inadequate to meet the demand. This feeling showed
itself in various ways. Climbers looked upon each other with something of
suspicion and jealousy, and if any new expedition was being planned by any
one of their number the others would quickly recognise the state of
affairs. If an Alpine man were found secreted in obscure corners
conversing in a low voice with his guides and intent on a study of the
map, or if he returned evasive answers when questioned as to his plans, he
was at once set down as having, probably, a new expedition in mind. As for
the guides, they assumed at once airs of importance, as does a commencing
schoolboy newly arrayed in a tall hat, and exhibited such mystery that
their intentions were unmistakable. Their behaviour, indeed, may have been
partly due to the fact that the natural efforts of their comrades to
extract information was invariably accompanied by somewhat undue
hospitality, and their brotherly feelings were usually expressed in an
acceptably liquid form. As a rule such hospitality did not fail in its
object. Whether due to a certain natural leakiness of mind on the part of
the guides or not, I cannot say, but certainly the information always
oozed out, and the intentions of the party were invariably thoroughly well
known before the expedition actually started to achieve fresh glory. Every
one of the first-rate peaks in the Zermatt district had been ascended,
most of them over and over again, before 1872, but the Rothhorn was still
out of the pale of the Zermatt expeditions. Messrs. Leslie Stephen and F.
Craufurd Grove, who first climbed the peak, ascended it from Zinal, and
descended to the same place. It seemed to us, therefore, that if we could
prove the accessibility of the mountain from Zermatt, we should do
something more than merely climb the peak by a new route. The rocks looked
attractive, and the peak itself lay so immediately above Zermatt that it
seemed possible enough to make the ascent without sleeping out or
consuming any great amount of time.

We went through all the necessary preliminary formalities. We assumed airs
of mystery at times; why, I know not. We inspected distant peaks through
the telescope. At other times we displayed an excess of candour, and
talked effusively about districts remote from that which we intended to
investigate. We climbed up a hill, and surveyed the face of our mountain
through a telescope, thereby wasting a day and acquiring no information
whatever. We pointed out to each other the parts of the mountain which
appeared most difficult, and displayed marvellous differences of opinion
on the subject, owing, as it is usually the case, to the circumstance that
we were commonly, in all probability, talking at the same time about
totally distinct parts of the peak. With the telescope I succeeded in
discovering to my own entire satisfaction a perfectly impracticable route
to the summit. Finally, in order that no single precaution might be
omitted to ensure success, we sent up the guides to reconnoitre—a most
useless proceeding. We had new nails put in our boots, ordered provisions,
uncoiled our rope and coiled it up again quite unnecessarily, gave
directions that we should be called at an unhallowed hour in the morning,
and went to bed under the impression that we should not be object in the
least to turn out at the time arranged.

(M17)

It is on the rock mountains of Switzerland that the acme of enjoyment is
to be found. Not that I wish to disparage the snow-peaks; but if a
comparison be instituted it is to most climbers, at any rate in their
youthful days, infinitely in favour of the rock. Of course it may be
argued that there are comparatively few mountains where the two are not
combined. But a mountaineer classifies peaks roughly as rock or snow,
according to the chief obstacles that each presents. A climber may
encounter serious difficulties in the way of bergschrunds, steep couloirs,
soft snow, and so forth; but if on the same expedition he meets with rocks
which compel him to put forth greater energies and perseverance than the
snow required, he will set the expedition down as a difficult rock climb,
simply, of course, because the idea of difficulty which is most vividly
impressed on his mind is in connection with that portion of his climb, and
_vice versâ_. An undeniable drawback to the snow peaks consists in their
monotony. The long series of steps that have to be cut at times, or the
dreary wading for hours through soft or powdery snow, are not always
forgotten in the pleasure of overcoming the difficulties of a crevasse,
reaching the summit of a peak, or the excitement of a good glissade. It is
the diversity of obstacles that meet the rock climber, the uncertainty as
to what may turn up next, the doubt as to the possibility of finding the
friendly crack or the apposite ledge, that constitute some of the main
charms. Every step is different, every muscle is called into play as the
climber is now flattened against a rough slab, now abnormally stretched
from one hold to another, or folded up like the conventional pictures of
the ibex, and every step can be recalled afterwards with pleasure and
amusement as the mountain is climbed over again in imagination.

(M18)

But there is more than this; on rocks the amateur is much less dependent
on his guides and has much more opportunity of exercising his own powers.
It must be admitted that on rocks some amateurs are occasionally wholly
dependent not on, but from their guides, and take no more active share in
locomotion than does a bale of goods in its transit from a ship’s hold to
a warehouse. Too often the amateurs who will not take the trouble to learn
something of the science and art of mountaineering are but an impediment,
an extra burden, as has been often said, to the guides. The guides have to
hack out huge steps for their benefit. The amateurs wholly trust to them
for steering clear of avalanches, rotten snow bridges, and the like. The
amateur’s share in a snow ascent usually consists, in fact, either in
counselling retreat, insisting on progress, indicating impossible lines of
ascent, or in the highly intellectual and arithmetical exercise of
counting the number of steps hewn out to ensure his locomotion in the
proper direction.

Place the unpaid climber, on the other hand, on rocks. Here the
probability is that a slip will entail no unpleasant consequences to
anyone but the slipper. The power of sustaining a sudden strain is so
enormously increased when the hands have a firm grip that the amateur can,
if he please, sprawl and scramble unaided over difficult places with
satisfaction to himself and usually without risk to anyone else; that is,
as soon as he has fully persuaded the guides (no easy task, I admit) that
the process of pulling vehemently at the rope, possibly encircling his
waist in a slip knot, is as detrimental to his equilibrium as it is to his
digestion. Guides, however, as has been hinted, do not acknowledge this
fact in animal mechanics, and their employers frequently experience as an
acute torture that compressing process which, more deliberately applied,
is not regarded by some as hurtful, but rather as a necessary
accompaniment of fashionable attire. When the amateur has succeeded in
overcoming the natural instinct of the guides to pull when there is no
occasion to do so, he becomes a unit in the party, a burden of course, and
a hindrance to some guides, but nothing to what he was on the snow.

Sentiments similar to the above have not unfrequently been set forth in
print: they seldom, if ever, actuate the minds of mountaineers when
actually engaged in their pastime or when describing their exploits to
less skilled persons.

There is great satisfaction, too, in translating one’s self over a given
difficult rock passage without other assistance than that provided by
nature herself, and without surreptitious aid from one’s neighbour in the
shape of steps. Then again, snow mountains are as inconsistent as cheap
aneroids. One day each step costs much labour and toil, and almost the
next perhaps the peak will allow itself to be conquered in one-tenth of
the time. Not that the writer seeks to argue that there is no pleasure to
be derived from snow mountains. It is to climbing _per se_ that these
remarks apply. After all, everyone has his own opinion; but he who has not
tasted the pleasures of a really difficult and successful rock
climb—especially if it be a new one—knows not what the Alps can really do
for his amusement.

(M19)

An expedition of suitable magnitude and difficulty was suggested by the
guides, viz. an ascent of the Rothhorn (or Moming) from the Zermatt side.
Mr. Passingham of Cambridge was at the time staying at the Monte Rosa
Hotel, and it was soon arranged that we should combine our forces. The
guides, on being asked their opinion as to the projected climb, reported
diplomatically that, given fine weather, the ascent would be difficult but
possible. This is the answer that the guides generally do give. We decided
to attempt the whole excursion in a single day, considering that a short
rest in the comparatively luxurious beds provided by M. Seiler was
preferable on the whole to more prolonged repose in a shepherd’s hut; for
the so-called repose means usually a night of misery, and the misery under
these conditions is apt to make a man literally acquainted with strange
bed-fellows. At 2 in the morning we sought for the guides’ room, to
superintend the packing of our provisions. It was not easy to find, but at
last we discovered a dingy little subterranean vault with one small window
tightly jammed up and covered with dust. Of this den there were two
occupants. One was employed silently in eating large blocks of a curious
boiled mess out of a pipkin. The other was smoking a very complicated
pipe, and sitting bolt upright on a bench with half a bottle of _vin
ordinaire_ before him. Why he was carousing thus in the small hours was
not evident. From these signs we judged correctly that the apartment was
devoted to the guides as a dining, smoking, club and recreation room.

Our staff was already in attendance, and it struck both of us that the
success of the expedition was a foregone conclusion if it depended on the
excellence of our guides—Alexander Burgener, the embodiment of strength,
endurance, and pluck; Ferdinand Imseng, of activity and perseverance,
alone would have sufficed, but we had in addition a tough, weather-beaten,
cheery companion (for he was always a companion as well as a guide), Franz
Andermatten, ever sagacious, ever helpful and ever determined. It would be
hard to find a successor adequately to fill our old friend’s place. It is
impossible to efface his memory from my mind, nor can I ever forget how on
that day he showed all his best qualities and contributed mainly to our
success.(1) The prologue is spoken; let us raise the curtain on the
comedy.

(M20)

The guides had already made their usual preparations for packing up—that
is to say, they had constructed a multiplicity of little paper parcels and
spread them about the room. As to the contents of these little parcels,
they were of course uncertain, and all had to be undone to make sure that
nothing had been omitted. A good deal of time was thus lost, and nothing
much was gained, except that we corrected the error of packing up a
handful of loose lucifers and two tallow dips with the butter and honey in
a glass tumbler. Then the parcels were stowed away in the knapsacks, the
straps of course all rearranged and ultimately replaced by odds and ends
of string. Eventually, at 3 A.M., we started, leaving the two occupants of
the guides’ room still engaged in the same manner as when they first came
under observation, and walked up the narrow valley running due north of
Zermatt and leading towards the Trift Joch and the base of the mountain
for which we were making. Having journeyed for about half an hour, it was
discovered that the telescope had been left behind. Franz instantly
started off to get it; not because it was considered particularly
necessary, but chiefly on the ground that it is not orthodox to go on a
new expedition without a telescope. We stumbled up the narrow winding
path, and close below the moraine called our first halt and waited for
Franz’s return. I selected a cool rock on which to complete the slumber
which had been commenced in bed and continued on a tilted chair in the
guides’ room. After waiting an hour we decided to proceed, as no answer
was returned to our frequent shouts. Presently, however, a distant yell
attracted our attention, and we beheld, to our astonishment, the cheery
face of Franz looking down on us from the top of the moraine. Stimulated
by this apparition, we pushed on with great vigour, clambered up the
moraine, whose extreme want of cohesion necessitated a treadmill style of
progression, and having reached the top passed along it to the snow. Here
we bore first to the right, and then, working round, made straight for a
sharp-topped buttress which juts out at a right angle from the main mass
of the mountain. Arrived at a patch of rocks near the commencement of the
arête, we disencumbered ourselves of superfluous baggage; that is to say,
after the traditional manner of mountaineers, we discarded about
three-fourths of the impedimenta we had so laboriously dragged up to that
point, and of which at no subsequent period of the expedition did we make
the slightest use. Next, we prepared for such rock difficulties as might
present themselves, by buttoning up our coats as tight as was convenient,
and decorated our heads respectively with woollen extinguishers like unto
the covers placed by old maids over cherished teapots.

It is a grand moment that, when the difficulty of an expedition opens out,
when you grasp the axe firmly, settle in to the rope, and brace up the
muscles for the effort of the hour: a moment probably the most pleasurable
of the whole expedition, when the peak towers clear and bright above, when
the climber realises that he is on the point of deciding whether he shall
achieve or fail in achieving a long wished for success, or what it may be
perhaps allowable to call a cutting-out expedition (for even mountain
climbers are prone to small jealousies). The excitement on nearing the
actual summit often rather fades away than increases, and the climber
lounges up the last few steps to the top with the same sort of nonchalance
that a guest invited to drink displays in approaching the bar.

(M21)

Dividing into two parties, we passed rapidly along the snow ridge which
abuts against the east face of the mountain. The cliffs of the Rothhorn
seem almost to overhang on this face, and were from our point of view
magnificent. On the right, too, the precipice is a sheer one, to employ a
not uncommon epithet. Without much difficulty we clambered up the first
part of the face of the mountain, taking a zigzag course towards the large
gully which is distinctly visible from the other side of the valley, and
which terminates above in a deep jagged notch in the ridge not far below
the summit. Gradually the climbing became more difficult, and it was found
necessary to cross the gully backwards and forwards on several occasions.
In so crossing we were exposed to some risk from falling stones; that is
to say, some chips and bits of rock on a few occasions went flying by
without any very apparent reason. In those days mountaineers were in the
habit of considering these projectiles as a possible source of risk. A
later generation would pass them by as easily as the stones passed by us,
and it is not now the fashion to consider such a situation as we were in
at all dangerous. It is difficult to see the reason why. Perhaps people’s
heads are harder now than they were then. For the greater part of the time
we kept to the left or south side of the gully, and reaching the notch
looked right down upon the commencement of the Glacier du Durand, a fine
expanse of snowfield, singularly wild-looking and much crevassed. Turning
to the right, we ascended a short distance along the ridge, and then a
halt was called. The guides now proceeded to arrange a length of some
hundred feet of rope on the rocks above to assist in our return. The
process sorely tried our patience, and we were right glad when the signal
was given to go on again. We had now to leave the arête, to descend a
little, and so pass on to the west face of the mountain, and by this face
to ascend and gradually work back to the ridge. No doubt during this part
of the climb we made much the same mistake in judgment as had previously
been made on a memorable ascent of the Matterhorn, and crossed far more on
to the face than was really necessary or advisable. The mountain has since
the time when these lines were originally written passed through the
regular stages of gradual depreciation, and it is more difficult now to
realise that we considered it at the time very difficult. Probably,
however, subsequent travellers have improved considerably on the details
of the route we actually followed; at any rate the ascent is now
considered quite proper for a novice to attempt, at any rate by the novice
himself. We worked ourselves slowly along in the teeth of a biting cold
wind, and without finding the fixed rope necessary to assist our progress.
Reaching the ridge again, the way became distinctly easier, and we felt
now that the peak was at our mercy. Presently, however, we came to a huge
inverted pyramid of rock that tried rather successfully to look like the
summit, and we had some little difficulty in surmounting it. By dint of
strange acrobatic feats and considerable exertion we hoisted our leading
guide on to the top. It was fortunate for him perhaps that the seams of
his garments were not machine-sewn, or he would certainly have rent his
raiment. Finding, however, that the only alternative that offered when he
got to the top of the rock was to get down again on the other side, the
rest of us concluded that on the whole we should prefer to walk round. The
last few yards were perfectly easy, and at 1.30 P.M. we stood on the
summit enjoying a most magnificent view in every direction.

(M22)

It is a somewhat curious phenomenon, but one frequently remarked, that the
mountaineer’s characteristics seem abruptly to change when he reaches the
summit of a peak. The impressionable, excitable person instantly becomes
preternaturally calm and prosaic, while those of lymphatic temperament
have not unfrequently been observed to develop suddenly rather explosive
qualities, and to yell or wave their hats without any very apparent
incitement thereto. Individuals whose detractors hold to be gifted with
poetic attributes have been heard to utter quite commonplace remarks, and
I have even known a phlegmatic companion so far forget himself, under
these modifying circumstances, as to make an excessively bad pun and laugh
very heartily at it himself, quite an unusual occurrence in a wag. Others
find relief for their feelings by punching their companions violently in
the back, or resorting to such horse-play as the area of the summit allows
scope for. Directly, however, the descent commences the climber resumes
his normal nature. The fact is, that in most cases, perhaps, the chief
pleasure of the expedition does not come at the moment when the climber
realises that he is about to undo, as it were, all his work of the day.
There is no real climax of an expedition, and, as has been said, it is
quite artificial to suppose that the enjoyment must culminate on reaching
the top. But still it is considered proper to testify to some unusual
emotional feelings. Some of the most enjoyable climbs that the mountaineer
can recall in after life, are not those in which he has reached any
particular point. Guides consider it becoming to evince in a somewhat
forced way the liveliness of their delight on completing an ascent. But
such joy as they exhibit is usually about as genuine and heartfelt as an
organ-grinder’s grin, or a Lord Mayor’s smile on receiving a guest whom he
does not know and who has merely come to feed at his expense.

The wind was too cold to permit of a very long stay on the summit, and
having added a proper number of stones to the cairn, a ceremony as
indispensable as the cutting of a notch in the mainmast when the
traditional fisherman changes his shirt, we descended rapidly to the point
where it was necessary to quit the ridge. Down the first portion of the
steep rock slope we passed with great caution, some of the blocks of stone
being treacherously loose, or only lightly frozen to the face.

(M23)

We had arrived at the most difficult part of the whole climb, and at a
rock passage which at that time we considered was the nastiest we had ever
encountered. The smooth, almost unbroken face of the slope scarcely
afforded any foot-hold, and our security almost entirely depended on the
rope we had laid down in our ascent. Had not the rope been in position we
should have varied our route, and no doubt found a line of descent over
this part much easier than the one we actually made for, even without any
help from the fixed cord. Imseng was far below, working his way back to
the arête, while the rest of the party were holding on or moving but
slowly with faces turned to the mountain. Suddenly I heard a shout from
above; those below glanced up at once: a large flat slab of rock, that had
afforded us good hold in ascending, but proved now to have been only
frozen in to a shallow basin of ice, had been dislodged by the slightest
touch from one of the party above, and was sliding down straight at us. It
seemed an age, though the stone could not have had to fall more than ten
feet or so, before it reached us. Just above me it turned its course
slightly; Franz, who was just below, more in its direct line of descent,
attempted to stop the mass, but it ground his hands against the rock and
swept by straight at Imseng. A yell from us hardly awoke him to the
danger: the slab slid on faster and faster, but just as we expected to see
our guide swept away, the rock gave a bound for the first time, and as,
with a startled expression, he flung himself against the rock face, it
leapt up and, flying by within a few inches of his head, thundered down
below. A moment or two of silence followed, and then a modified cheer from
Imseng, as subdued as that of a “super” welcoming a theatrical king,
announced his safety, and he looked up at us with a serious expression on
his face. Franz’s escape had been a remarkably lucky one, but his hands
were badly cut about and bruised. In fact it was a near thing for all of
us, and the mere recollection will still call up that odd sort of thrill a
man experiences on suddenly recollecting at 11 P.M. that he ought to have
dined out that evening with some very particular people. Had not the rock
turned its course just before it reached Franz, and bounded from the face
of the mountain over Imseng’s head, one or more of the party must
unquestionably have been swept away. The place was rather an exceptional
one, and the rock glided a remarkably long distance without a bound, but
still the incident may serve to show that falling stones are not a wholly
imaginary danger.

(M24)

It would have been difficult, with the elementary knowledge of
mountaineering that I now see we possessed at that day, to have descended
without using the attached rope, and quite out of the question for anyone
possessed of a proper respect for his suit of dittos to have done so. In
this latter respect we had to exercise economical caution: for we had no
very great store at the hotel or many changes of raiment. It is generally
possible to gauge pretty accurately an Alpine traveller’s experience by
the amount of luggage he takes on a tour. Some tourists, following the
advice given in the “Practical Guide Book” (a disconnected work written in
the style of Mr. Jingle’s conversation, but much in favour at one time),
were in the habit of travelling with one suit of clothes and a portable
bath. The latter, though they took it with them, they seldom took more
than once; at the best it was of comparatively little use as an article of
apparel, but imparted an aromatic flavour to anything packed up in its
immediate neighbourhood. In those youthful days we considered, forsooth,
that a little leathern wallet adequately replaced a portmanteau, and in
transporting luggage did not always act on the sound commercial maxim that
you should never do anything for yourself which a paid person might do
equally well for you; consequently a heavy rain shower reduced the
traveller to inactivity, and an oversight on the part of the laundress
entailed consequences that it is not permissible to mention.

Meanwhile our turn had come to move on. A zigzagging crack, which was too
narrow to admit of anything but a most uncomfortable position, afforded
the only hand and foot hold on which we could rely. Our gloveless hands,
clutching at the rope, cooled down slowly to an unpleasant temperature
that rendered it doubtful whether they were attached to the arms or not,
and we began to wish we had gone down the Zinal side of the mountain.
However, Imseng wormed himself along the rocks, to which he adhered with
the tenacity of a lizard, and finally reached the end of our rope and a
region of comparative safety. We followed his example slowly, and, having
joined him, seated ourselves on some rocks inappropriately designed for
repose, and finished off the food we had with us. Climbing carefully down
the east face of the mountain, we reached the snow ridge and passed
rapidly along it, our spirits rising exuberantly as we looked back on the
vanquished peak. As usually happens, the guides had entirely forgotten the
place where they had concealed our baggage on the ascent, and in fact had
hidden it so carefully that they had some difficulty in finding it when
they came to the spot. It is curious to note how often the instinct of
guides, so much talked about, is at fault in this matter, and how
systematically they are in the habit of carrying up on the mountains
superfluous articles, hiding them with entirely unnecessary precautions,
and subsequently forgetting the whole transaction.

(M25)

While they searched about for their cache we enjoyed the use of tobacco,
if such an expression be allowable in the case of some curious stuff
purchased in the valley. Still, as the packet in which it was contained
was labelled “Tabak,” we considered it to be such. Being indulgently
disposed, and not being profound botanists, poetic license alone enabled
us to imagine that

                “We soared above
  Dull earth, in those ambrosial clouds like Jove,
  And from our own empyrean height
  Looked down upon Zermatt with calm delight.”

(M26)

It may have been so; it gave me a sore throat. Descending rapidly, we
reached the Monte Rosa Hotel at 7 P.M., in an exultant frame of mind, a
ragged condition of attire, and a preposterous state of hunger. The whole
time occupied in the climb was sixteen hours. Of this an hour was wasted
while we were waiting for the telescope, and three-quarters of an hour was
spent in arranging the rope, by the aid of which we descended. Probably in
actual climbing and walking we employed rather under thirteen hours; but
the snow was in excellent order, and we descended on the whole very
rapidly. Our trials were not over for the day, when we reached the hotel.
Two arch young things had prepared an ambuscade and surprised us
successfully at the door of the hotel. Sweetly did they gush. “Oh! where
had we been?” We said we had been up in the mountains, indicating the
general line of locality with retrospective thumb. “Oh! wasn’t it
fearfully dangerous? Weren’t we all tied tightly together?” (as if, on the
principle of union being strength, we had been fastened up and bound like
a bundle of quill pens). “Oh! hadn’t we done something very wonderful?”
The situation was becoming irritating. “Oh! didn’t we have to drag
ourselves up precipices by the chamois horns on the tops of our sticks?”
“No indeed——” “Oh! really, now, that guide there” (a driver with
imperfectly buttoned garments who was sitting on the wall with a vacuous
look) “told us you were _such_ wonderful climbers.” It was becoming
exasperating. “And oh! we wanted to ask you so much, for you know all
about it. _Do_ you think we could walk over the Théodule? Papa” (great
heavens! he must be a nonagenarian) “thinks we should be so foolish to
try. Could you persuade him?” “Well, really——” “Wouldn’t the precipices
make us dreadfully giddy?” “No, no more than you are now.” “Oh! thank you
so much. And you really won’t tell us what awful ascent you have been
making?” It was maddening. “After dinner perhaps?” “Oh! thank you. Oh!
Sustie” (this to each other; they both spoke together: probably the names
were Susie and Tottie), “won’t that be delightful?” By dexterous
manœuvring we escaped these gushing Circes during the evening. Happening
to pass later on by the open door of the little _salon_, the following
remark was overheard: “My dear, the conceit of these climbing objects is
quite dreadful. They do nothing but flourish their nasty sticks and ropes
about: they want the whole place to themselves” (we had been sitting on
wooden chairs in the middle of the high street, near an unsavoury heap of
refuse), “and they talk, talk, talk, my dear, all day and all night about
what they have been doing in the mountains and of their nonsensical
climbs. And what frights they look. I think they are perfectly horrid.”
Can the voice have been that of the gusher?



                               CHAPTER III.


                  EARLY ATTEMPTS ON THE AIGUILLE DU DRU


          The Alps and the early mountaineers—The last peaks to
      surrender—The Aiguille du Dru—Messrs. Kennedy and Pendlebury’s
     attempt on the peak—One-day expeditions in the Alps and thoughts
       on huts and sleeping out—The Chamouni guide system—A word on
         guides, past and present—The somnolent landlord and his
      peculiarities—Some of the party see a chamois—Doubts as to the
         peak and the way—The duplicity of the Aiguille deceives
     us—Telescopic observations—An ill-arranged glacier—Franz and his
     mighty axe—A start on the rocks in the wrong direction—Progress
        reported—An adjournment—The rocks of the lower peak of the
      Aiguille du Dru—Our first failure—The expedition resumed—A new
    line of ascent—We reach the sticking point—Beaten back—The results
                    gained by the two days’ climbing.


(M27)

Accounts of failures on the mountains in books of Alpine adventure are as
much out of place, according to some critics, as a new hat in a crowded
church. Humanly speaking, the possession of this head-gear under such
circumstances renders it impossible to divert the thoughts wholly from
worldly affairs. This, however, by the way. Now the pioneers of the Alps,
the Stephenses, the Willses, the Moores, the Morsheads, and many others,
had used up all new material with alarming rapidity, I might say voracity,
before the climbing epoch to which the present sketches relate. There is
an old story of a man who arrived running in a breathless condition on a
railway platform just in time to see the train disappearing. “You didn’t
run fast enough, sir,” remarked the porter to him. “You idiot!” was the
answer, “I ran plenty fast enough, but I didn’t begin running soon
enough.” Even so was it with the climbers of our generation. They climbed
with all possible diligence, but they began their climbing too late.
Novelty, that is the desire for achieving new expeditions, was still
considered of paramount importance, but unfortunately there was very
little new material left. It is difficult to realise adequately now the
real veneration entertained for an untrodden peak. A certain amount of
familiarity seemed indispensable before a new ascent was even seriously
contemplated. It had occurred to certain bold minds that the aiguilles
around Chamouni might not be quite as bad as they looked. In 1873 the
chief of the still unconquered peaks of the Mont Blanc district were the
Aiguille des Charmoz, the Aiguille Blaitière, the Aiguille du Géant, the
Aiguille Peuteret, the Aiguille du Dru, and a few other minor points. All
of these have since been captured, some of them bound in chains. Opinions
differed considerably as to their accessibility. Some hopeful spirits
thought that by constantly “pegging away” they might be scaled; others
thought that the only feasible plan would be indeed to peg away, but were
of opinion that the pegs should be of iron and driven into the rock. Such
views naturally lead to discussions, sometimes rather heated, as to
whether mountaineering morality might fitly tolerate such aids to the
climber. Of all the peaks mentioned above, the Aiguille du Dru and the
Aiguille du Géant were considered as the most hopeful by the leading
guides, though the older members of that body held out little prospect of
success. It is a rather curious fact that the majority of the leading
guides who gave their opinions to us in the matter thought that the
Aiguille du Géant was the more promising peak to attack. Subsequent
experience has proved that they were greatly in error in this judgment.
The Aiguille du Géant has indeed been ascended, but much more aid than is
comprised in the ordinary mountaineer’s equipment was found necessary. In
fact, the stronghold was not carried by direct assault, but by sapping and
mining. There is a certain rock needle in Norway which, I am told, was
once, and once only, ascended by a party on surveying operations bent. No
other means could be found, so a wooden structure was built up around the
peak, such as may be seen investing a dilapidated church steeple; and the
mountain, like the Royal Martyr of history, yielded up its crowning point
at the scaffold. We did not like the prospect of employing any such
architectural means to gain our end and the summit, and, from no very
clearly defined reasons, turned our attention chiefly to the Aiguille du
Dru. Perhaps the prominent appearance of this Aiguille, and the fact that
its outline was so familiar from the Montanvert, gradually imbued us with
a certain sense of familiarity, which ultimately developed into a notion
that if not actually accessible it might at least be worth trying. It
seemed too prominent to be impossible; from its height—12,517 feet
only—the mountain would doubtless not attract much attention, were it not
so advantageously placed. Thousands of tourists had gazed on its
symmetrical form: it had been photographed, stared at through binoculars,
portrayed in little distorted pictures on useless work-boxes, trays and
other toy-shop gimcracks, more often than any other mountain of the chain,
Mont Blanc excepted. Like an undersized volunteer officer, it no doubt
made the most of its height. But in truth the Aiguille du Dru is a
magnificent mountain form, with its vast dark precipices on the north
face, with its long lines of cliff, broken and jagged and sparsely
wrinkled with gullies free from even a patch or trace of snow. Point after
point, and pinnacle after pinnacle catch the gaze as we follow the edge of
the north-west “Kamm,” until the eye rests at last on the singularly
graceful isosceles triangle of rock which forms the peak. It is spoken of
lightly as merely a tooth of rock jutting up from the ridge which
culminates in the Aiguille Verte, but when viewed from the Glacier de la
Charpoua it is obviously a separate mountain; at any rate it became such
when the highest point of the ridge, the Aiguille Verte, had been climbed
by somebody else. The cleft in the ridge on the right side of the main
mass of the Aiguille du Dru is a very deep one as seen from the glacier,
and the sharp needle of rock which is next in the chain is a long way from
the Aiguille du Dru itself. North and south the precipices run sheer down
to the glaciers beneath. The mountain has then four distinct sides, three
of them running down to great depths. Thus, even in the prehistoric days
of Alpine climbing, it had some claim to individuality and might fairly be
considered as something more than, as it were, one unimportant pinnacle on
the roof of some huge cathedral. Perhaps, however, repeated failures to
ascend the mountain begot undue veneration and caused an aspiring climber
to look with a prejudiced eye on its dimensions.

(M28)

So far as I know, the mountain had never been assailed till 1873, when
Messrs. Pendlebury and Kennedy made an attempt. Mr. R. Pendlebury has
kindly furnished me with notes of the climb, which I may be allowed to
reproduce nearly in his own words:—Two parties started simultaneously for
the expedition. One was composed of Messrs. Kennedy and Marshall, with the
guides Johann Fischer and Ulric Almer of Grindelwald; the other party
consisted of the Rev. C. Taylor, Messrs. W. M. and R. Pendlebury, with the
guides Hans Baumann, Peter Baumann, and Edouard Cupelin. The
first-mentioned party slept at the Montanvert, while the others enjoyed
themselves in a bivouac high up on the side of the Glacier de la Charpoua
between the Aiguille du Dru and the Aiguille Moine. This Glacier de la
Charpoua, it may be mentioned, is sometimes called the Glacier du Chapeau.

(M29)

The bivouac appears to have been so comfortable that Mr. Pendlebury and
his friends did not take advantage of their start. The Montanvert
detachment, who found no such inducement to stay one moment longer than
was absolutely necessary(2) in their costly quarters, caught them up the
next morning, and the whole party started together. Mr. Kennedy’s guides
kept to the left of the Glacier de la Charpoua, which looks more broken up
than the right-hand side, but apparently proved better going. This,
however, it should be observed, was in 1873, and these hanging glaciers
alter marvellously in detail from year to year, though always preserving
from a distance the same general features. On the same principle, at the
proper distance, a mother may be mistaken for her daughter, especially by
a judicious person. But on drawing near, however discreet the observer may
be, he is yet conscious of little furrows, diminutive wrinkles, and
perhaps of a general shrinkage not to be found in the more recent
specimen. Speaking very generally, I should say that these glaciers are,
on the whole, easier to traverse than they used to be: at any rate my own
personal observation of this particular little glacier extends over a
period of some years, and the intricacies—it is hardly proper to call them
difficulties—were distinctly less towards the end of the time than they
were at the beginning. Of course a different interpretation might be put
upon such an opinion: with the evolution of mountaineering skill the
complexity of these crumpled up snow-fields may seem to have disentangled,
but I am assured that in this particular case it was not so.

(M30)

This digression must be pardoned. It arose naturally from the circumstance
that the route Mr. Kennedy adopted would have proved, at any rate in later
years, a digression from the best way. Mr. Pendlebury’s party went
straight up, keeping, that is, to the right-hand side of the glacier.
Towards the upper part the snow slopes became steeper, and soon some
step-cutting was required. The object in view was to reach the lowest
point in the ridge between the Aiguille du Dru and the Aiguille Verte. It
was thought that, by turning to the left from the col, it might be
possible to reach the summit by the eastern arête. The col itself from
below seemed easily attainable by means of a narrow zigzagging gully,
interrupted here and there, that runs down from the summit of the ridge.
Ascending by the rocks on the left of the gully the party made for some
little way good progress, but then a sudden change came over the scene.
After a consultation, it was proposed that the guides Hans Baumann, Peter
Baumann, and Fischer should go on a little by themselves and make for the
ridge, which they estimated lay about half an hour above them. They were
then to examine the rocks above and to bring back a report. The rest of
the party remained where they were, and disported themselves as
comfortably as circumstances would permit. Hour after hour, however,
passed away, and the three guides seemed to make but little progress. They
returned at last with the melancholy tidings that they had climbed nearly
up to the ridge and had found the rocks very difficult and dangerous. (It
should be noted that the line of attack chosen on this occasion—the first
serious attempt on the peak—was devised by Hans Baumann, and it says much
for his sagacity that this very route proved years afterwards to be the
right one.) Questioned as to the advisability of proceeding upwards, the
guides employed their favourite figure of speech and remarked that not for
millions of francs would they consent to try again. Hans Baumann asserted
that he had never climbed more difficult rocks. This opinion, as Mr.
Pendlebury suggested at the time, was probably owing to the fact that the
cliffs above were covered with snow and glazed with ice, and this
condition of the mountain face made each step precarious. The amateurs of
the party were of opinion that the ridge would prove attainable later in
the season or in exceptionally fine weather. As to the possibility of
climbing the rocks above—that is to say, the actual peak—none of the party
were able to come to any very positive conclusion. At a rough guess it was
estimated that the party halted between two and three hundred feet below
the ridge. On the presentation of the guides report the whole caravan
turned back and reached Chamouni safely, but not entirely without
incident, for the monotony of the descent and Mr. Taylor’s head were
broken by the fall of a big stone. This little accident, Mr. Pendlebury
remarked with disinterested cheerfulness, was but a trifle. I have not
been able to ascertain Mr. Taylor’s views on the subject.

When our party first essayed the ascent we knew none of the above
particulars, save only that some mountaineers had endeavoured to reach the
ridge but had failed to ascend to any great height. Of the actual cause of
their ill success, and whether it were owing to the unpropitious elements
or to the actual difficulties encountered, we were unaware.

(M31)

At the time of which I am writing, a somewhat novel mode of ascending
mountains was coming into vogue, which consisted in waiting for a suitable
day at headquarters, starting at unheard-of hours, and completing the
expedition in one day—that is, within twenty-four hours. It was argued in
support of this plan, that it was economical and that bivouacking was but
a laborious and expensive method of obtaining discomfort. There are, said
the advocates of the method, but few mountains in the Alps which cannot be
ascended with much greater comfort in one day than in two. The day’s climb
is much more enjoyable when it is possible to start from sleeping quarters
in which it is possible to sleep. The argument that repose in hotel beds,
though undoubtedly more luxurious, was of comparatively little use if
there were no time to enjoy it, was held to be little to the purpose. Some
enthusiasts were wont to state that passing a night in a chalet, or those
magnified sentry boxes called cabanes, constituted half the enjoyment on
the expedition. This is a little strong—like the flavour of the
cabanes—and if it were actually so the whole pleasure would be but small.
The camper out arises in the morning from his delicious couch of soft
new-mown hay in a spotty and sticky condition, attended with considerable
local irritation, and feeling like a person who has recently had his hair
cut, with a pinafore but loosely tied around his neck. Porters, like
barbers, exhibit a propensity for indulging in garlic immediately before
pursuing their avocation, which is not without discomfort to their
employers. (And here I may note as a psychological fact that one action of
this permeating vegetable is to induce confidential propensities in the
consumer. The point may be deemed worthy of investigation, by personal
experiment, by botanists and students of materia medica, men who in the
interests of science are not prone to consider their personal comfort and
finer sensibilities.) Again, in unsettled weather a fine day is often
wasted by journeying up in the afternoon to some chalet, or hovel, merely
to enjoy the pleasure of returning the following morning in the rain.
There is some force too in the argument that but little actual time is
gained by the first day’s performance, for it is very difficult to start
at anything like the prearranged hour for departure from a camp. An
immensity of time is always spent in lighting the morning fire, preparing
breakfast, and getting under way. On the other side, some little time is
undoubtedly saved by discarding the wholly superfluous ceremony of
washing, a process at once suggesting itself to the mind of the Briton
abroad if he beholds a basin and cold water.

The sum of the argument would seem to be that camping out in some one
else’s hut is but an unpleasant fiction; that if the climber chooses to go
to the expense, he can succeed in making himself a trifle less comfortable
in his own tent or under a rock than he would be in an hotel; and that he
is the wisest man who refrains from bivouacking when it is not really
necessary and is able to make the best of matters when it is: and
undoubtedly for many of the recognised expeditions it is essential to have
every possible minute of spare time in hand.

(M32)

We were naturally rather doubtful as to the successful issue of our
expedition, at any rate at the first attempt, and we therefore impressed
upon the guides the necessity of not divulging the plan. The secret,
however, proved to be so big that it was too much for two, and they
imparted consequently so much of the information as they had not adequate
storage for in their own minds to any who chose to listen. Consequently
our intentions were thoroughly well known before we started. There were in
those days, perhaps, more good guides, at any rate there were fewer bad
ones, in Chamouni than are to be found nowadays. We could not, however,
obtain the services—even if we had desired them—of any of the local
celebrities. As a matter of fact, we were both of opinion that a training
in climbing, such as is acquired among the Oberland and Valais men by
chamois hunting and constant rock work, would be most likely to have
produced the qualities which would undoubtedly be needed on the aiguilles.

The question of the efficiency of the Chamouni guides and of the Chamouni
guide system, a question coeval with mountaineering itself, was burning
then as fiercely as it does now. The Alpine Club had striven in vain to
improve matters; they had pointed out that ability to answer a kind of
mountaineering catechism did not in itself constitute a very reliable test
of a peasant’s power; they had pointed out too that the plan of electing a
“guide chef” from the general body of guides was one most open to abuse,
one sure to lead to favouritism and injustice, and one obviously ill
calculated to bring to the front any specially efficient man. But
unhappily the regulations of the body of guides were, and still are,
entangled hopelessly in the French equivalent for red tape. Jealousy and
mistrust of the German-speaking guides, whom serious mountaineers were
beginning to import in rather formidable numbers, were beginning to awaken
in the simple bosoms of the Savoyard peasants; and our proceedings were
consequently looked upon with contemptuous disfavour by those who had any
knowledge of our project.

(M33)

On August 18, 1873, we started. Our guides were Alexander Burgener as
leader, Franz Andermatten, the best of companions, our guide, our friend,
and sometimes our philosopher, as second string, while a taciturn porter
of large frame and small mind, who came from the Saas valley, completed
the tale. Of Burgener’s exceptional talent in climbing difficult rocks we
had had already good proof, and no doubt he was, and still is, a man of
remarkable daring, endurance, and activity on rocks. I had reached then
that stage in the mountaineering art at which a man is prone to consider
the guide he knows best as, beyond all comparison, the best guide that
could possibly exist. The lapse of years renders me perhaps better able
now to form a dispassionate judgment of Burgener’s capacity and skill.
Both were very great. I have seen at their work most of the leaders in
this department. Burgener never had the marvellous neatness and finish so
characteristic of Melchior Anderegg, who, when mountaineering has passed
away into the limbo of extinct sports, such as bear-baiting, croquet, and
pell-mell, will, if he gets his deserts, even by those who remember
Maguignaz, Carrel, Croz, and Almer, still be spoken of as _the_ best guide
that ever lived. Nor was Burgener gifted with the same simple unaffected
qualities which made Jakob Anderegg’s loss so keenly felt, nor the
lightness and agility of Rey or Jaun; but he united well in himself
qualities of strength, carefulness, perseverance and activity, and
possessed in addition the numerous attributes of observation, experience,
and desire for improvement in his art which together make up what is
spoken of as the natural instinct of guides. These were the qualities that
made him a first-rate, indeed an exceptional, guide. _Nunc liberavi animam
meam._ There is an old saying, involving a sound doctrine, that

  When you flatter lay it on thick;
  Some will come off, but a deal will stick.

The porter proved himself a skilful and strong climber, but he was as
silent as an oyster and, like that bivalve mollusc when the freshness of
its youth has passed off, was perpetually on the gape.

(M34)

A hot walk—it always is hot along this part—took us up to the Montanvert.
The moonlight threw quaint, fantastic shadows along the path and made the
dewy gossamer filaments which swung from branch to branch across the track
twinkle into grey and silver; and anything more aggravating than these
spiders’ threads at night it is hard to imagine. What earthly purpose
these animals think they serve by this reckless nocturnal expenditure of
bodily glue it is hard to say: possibly the lines are swung across in
order that they may practise equilibrium; possibly the threads may serve
as lines of escape and retreat after the male spinners have been a-wooing.
The atmosphere through the wood was as stuffy as a ship’s saloon in a
storm, and we were right glad to reach the Montanvert at 3.30 A.M. Here,
being athirst, we clamoured for refreshment. The landlord of the
ramshackle hostelry at once appeared in full costume; indeed I observed
that during the summer it was impossible to tell from his attire whether
he had arisen immediately from bed or no. He seemed to act on the
principle of the Norwegian peasant, who apparently undresses once a year
when the winter commences, and resumes his garments when the light once
more comes back and the summer season sets in. Our friend had cultivated
to great perfection the art of half sleeping during his waking hours—that
is, during such time as he might be called upon to provide entertainment
for man and beast. Now at the Montanvert, during the tourists’ season,
this period extended over the whole twenty-four hours. It was necessary,
therefore, in order that he might enjoy a proper physiological period of
rest, for him to remain in a dozing state—a sort of æstival
hybernation—for the whole time, which in fact he did; or else he was by
nature a very dull person, and had actually a very restricted stock of
ideas.

The landlord produced at once a battered teapot with a little sieve
dangling from its snout, which had been stewing on the hob, and poured out
the contained fluid into two stalked saucers of inconvenient diameter.
Stimulated by this watery extract, we entered into conversation together.
The sight of a tourist with an ice axe led by a kind of reflex process to
the landlord’s unburdening his mind with his usual remarks. Like other
natives of the valley he had but two ideas of “extraordinary” expeditions.
“Monsieur is going to the Jardin?” he remarked. “No, monsieur isn’t.”
“Then beyond a doubt monsieur will cross the Col du Géant?” he said,
playing his trump card. “No, monsieur will not.” “Pardon—where does
monsieur expect to go to?” “On the present occasion we go to try the
Aiguille du Dru.” The landlord smiled in an aggravating manner. “Does
monsieur think he will get up?” “Time will show.” “Ah!” The landlord, who
had a chronic cold in the head, searched for his pockethandkerchief, but
not finding it, modified the necessary sniff into one of derision, and
then demanded the usual exorbitant price for the refreshment, amounting to
about five times the value of the teapot, sieve and all. We paid, and left
him chuckling softly to himself at our insane idea, as he replaced the
teapot on the hob in readiness for the next arrival. That landlord, though
physically sleepy, was still wide awake in matters of finance. He once
charged me five francs for the loan of a secondhand collection of holes
which he termed a blanket.

(M35)

We got on to the glacier at the usual point and made straight across the
slippery hummocks to the grass slope encircling the base of the Aiguille
du Dru and the Glacier de la Charpoua. The glacier above gives birth to a
feeble meandering little stream which wanders fitfully down the mountain
side. At first we kept to the left, but after a while crossed the little
torrent, and bearing more to the right plodded leisurely up the steep
grass and rock slope. We had made good progress when of a sudden Franz
gave a loud whistle and then fell flat down. The other two guides
immediately followed his example and beckoned to us with excited
gesticulations to behave in a similarly foolish manner. Thereupon we too
sat down, and enquired what the purport of this performance might be. It
turned out that there was a very little chamois about half a mile off.
Knowing that it would be impossible to induce the guides to move on till
the animal had disappeared, we seized the opportunity of taking an early
breakfast. The guides meanwhile wriggled about on their stomachs, with
eyes starting out of their heads, possessed by an extraordinary desire to
miss no single movement of the object of their attention. “See, it moves,”
said Franz in a whisper. “Himmel! it is feeding,” said Burgener. “It must
be the same that Johann saw three weeks ago.” “Ach! no, that was but a
little one” (no true chamois hunter will ever allow that a brother
sportsman can possibly have set eyes on a larger animal than himself).
“Truly it is fine.” “Thunder weather! it moves its head.” In their
excitement I regretted that I could not share, not being well versed in
hunting craft: my own experience of sport in the Alps being limited to
missing one marmot that was sitting on a rock licking its paws. In due
course the chamois walked away. Apparently much relieved by there being no
further necessity to continue in their former uncomfortable attitudes, the
guides sat up and fell to a warm discussion as to the size of the animal.
A chamois is to a guide as a fish to the baffled angler or the last new
baby to a monthly nurse, and is always pronounced to be beyond question
the finest that has ever been seen. To this they agreed generally, but
Franz, whose spirits had suddenly evaporated, now shook his head dismally,
with the remark that it was unlucky to see a single chamois, and that we
should have no success that day. Undaunted by his croaking, we pursued our
way to the right side of the glacier, while our guide, who had a ballad
appropriate to every occasion, sang rather gaspingly a tremulous little
funeral dirge. We worked well across to the right, in order to obtain the
best possible view of the Aiguille, and halted repeatedly while discussing
the best point at which to attack the rocks. While thus engaged in
reconnoitring close under the cliffs of the ridge running between the
Aiguille Moine and the Aiguille Verte, a considerable block of ice,
falling from the rocks above, whizzed past just in front of us and capered
gaily down the slope. Hereupon we came rather rapidly to the conclusion
that we had better proceed. Half an hour further on we reached the top of
a steep little snow slope, and a point secure from falling stones and ice.
Recognising that we must soon cross back to the rocks of the Dru, we tried
to come to a final conclusion as to the way to be chosen. As usual,
everybody pointed out different routes: even a vestry meeting could hardly
have been less unanimous. Some one now ventured to put a question that had
been troubling in reality our minds for some time past, viz. which of the
peaks that towered above us was really the Aiguille du Dru. On the left
there were two distinct points which, though close together, were
separated apparently by a deep rift, and some distance to the right of the
col which the previous party had tried to reach, a sharp tooth of rock
towered up to a considerable height. Evidently, however, from its position
this latter needle could not be visible from Chamouni or from the
Montanvert. Again, it was clear that the mass comprising the two points
close together must be visible from the valley, but which of the two was
the higher? Alexander gave as his opinion that the more distant of these
two points, that on the right, was the higher, and turned to the porter
for confirmation. That worthy nodded his head affirmatively with extreme
sagacity, evidently implying that he was of the same opinion. Franz on the
other hand thought the left-hand peak was the one that we ought to make
for, arguing that it most resembled the Dru as seen from the Montanvert,
that there was probably little difference in height between the two, that
our ascent would not be believed in unless we were to place a flag on the
point visible from Chamouni, and finally that the left-hand peak seemed to
be the easier, and would probably be found to conceal the sharper point of
the right-hand summit. Having expressed these views, he in turn looked
towards the porter to ascertain his sentiments. The porter, who was
evidently of a complaisant temperament, nodded his head very vigorously to
intimate that these arguments seemed the more powerful of the two to his
mind, and then cocked his head on one side in a knowing manner, intended
to express that he was studying the angles and that he was prepared to
find himself in the right whichever view prevailed. We did not find out
for certain till some time after that the right-hand summit, though
concealed from view by the Montanvert, is very distinctly visible from
Chamouni: excusable ignorance, as most of the Chamouni people are unaware
of it to this day. Professor Forbes, as Mr. Douglas Freshfield has kindly
pointed out to me, with his usual accuracy distinguished and also measured
the two summits, giving their heights respectively as 12,178, and 12,245
feet.(3) Knowing little as we did then of the details of the mountain, we
followed Franz’s advice and made for the left-hand peak, under the
impression that if one proved accessible the other might also, and there
really seemed no reason why we should not, if occasion demanded, ascend
both.

(M36)

Leading up from the glacier two distinct lines of attack presented
themselves. The right-hand ridge descends to the col very precipitously,
but still we had some idea that the rocks did not look wholly impossible.
Again, on the left of the Dru the rocks are cut away very abruptly and
form the long precipitous ridge seen from the Montanvert. This ridge was
so jagged that we could see no possible advantage in climbing to any part
of it, except just at the termination where it merges into the
south-western face of the main mountain. The choice therefore, in our
judgment, lay between storming the mountain by the face right opposite to
us or else making for the col and the right-hand ridge; but the latter was
the route that Messrs. Pendlebury and Kennedy had followed, and we could
not hope to succeed where such giants had failed. Burgener indeed wished
to try, but the rest of the party were unanimously in favour of attempting
to find a way up the face, a route that at the worst had the merit of
novelty. We thought too that if a closer acquaintance proved that the
crags were ill arranged for upward locomotion, we might be able to work
round on the face and so reach the col by a more circuitous route. With
the naked eye—especially a myopic one—the rocks appeared unpromising
enough; while viewed through the telescope the rocks looked utterly
impossible. But little faith, however, can be rested in telescopic
observations of a mountain, so far as the question of determining a route
is concerned. Amateurs, who, as a rule, understand the use of a telescope
much better than guides, have not the requisite experience to determine
the value of what they see, while but few guides see enough to form any
basis for determination. Moreover, the instrument we carried with us,
though it had an extraordinary number of sections and pulled out like the
ill-fated tradesman’s trousers in a pantomime, was not a very remarkable
one in the matter of definition. Still it is always proper and orthodox to
look at a new peak through the telescope, and we were determined not to
neglect any formality on the present occasion.

(M37)

We were now rather more than half-way up the Glacier de la Charpoua. To
reach the most promising-looking point at which we might hope to get on
the rocks, it was necessary to travel straight across the snow at about
the level on which we stood. Now, this Glacier de la Charpoua is not
constructed on ordinary principles. Instead of the orthodox transverse
bergschrund it possesses a longitudinal crack running up its whole length,
a peculiarity that vexed us hugely. Half a dozen times did we attempt to
cross by some tempting-looking bridge, but on each occasion we were
brought to a stand by impassable crevasses; then had to turn back, go up a
little farther, and try again. It was already late in the day and we could
ill spare the time lost in this to and fro movement. Eventually we reached
a little patch of rocks not far from the head of the glacier. No sooner
had we reached these rocks than the guides hunted up a suitable place and
concealed some utterly worthless property as carefully as if they expected
evil-minded marauders to be wandering about, seeking what they might
pilfer. Having effected the cache with due care, Franz once again burst
into a strange carol, the burden of which was unintelligible, but the
chorus made frequent allusion to “der Teufel.” We now saw that, after all,
the only feasible plan would be to cut our way still higher up a steep
slope, and thus to work right round, describing a large curve. An
occasional step required to be scraped, for the glacier is in shadow till
late in the morning, owing to the Aiguille Verte intervening and cutting
off the sun’s rays. Throughout the day our second guide had been burning
with a desire to exhibit the good qualities of the most portentous ice axe
I ever saw, an instrument of an unwieldy character resembling a labourer’s
pick on the top of a May pole. Its dimensions were monstrous and its
weight preposterous: moreover, the cutting spike had an evil curve and,
instead of hewing out blocks of ice neatly, preferred to ram a huge hole
in the slope and stick fast therein, while a quiver ran through its mighty
frame and communicated itself to the striker, who shuddered at each blow
as after taking a dose of very bitter physic. However, Franz was so proud
of his halberd that we were obliged to sacrifice rapid progress to the
consideration of his feelings, and he was accordingly sent on to cut the
steps which were now found necessary. With no little exertion did he
construct a staircase of which the steps were about the size of foot
baths, and with no slight impatience did we watch his gymnastics and
athletic flourishes, which were a sort of mixture of tossing the caber and
throwing the hammer combined with a touch of polo. Ultimately we were able
to quit the glacier for the actual face of the mountain, at a point
probably not very much below that struck by the previous party; but it was
our intention at once to bear off to the left.

(M38)

We blundered a little on the rocks at first after the long spell of
snow-walking. A cry from Franz caused us to look round, and we perceived
that he had got entangled with the big axe, the spike of which was
sticking into the third button of his waistcoat, causing him, as the
strain on the rope above and below folded him up in a rather painful
manner, to assume the attitude of a mechanical toy monkey on a stick.
Fearing that he might be placed in the condition in which cats’ meat is
usually offered for sale, we slackened the rope and saved him from
impending perforation, but with the result that the axe bounded off down
the slope, turned two or three summersaults, and then stuck up defiantly
in a distant patch of snow, looking like a sign-post. While Franz went off
to recover his loved treasure we huddled together on a very little ledge
of rock, and sat there in a row like busts on a shelf—if the simile be not
considered anatomically inappropriate. But these delays had wasted much
time, and already success seemed doubtful. Little time could now be
devoted to consultation, and little good would have come of it; now that
we were on the rocks the only thing to do was to go straight on and see
what would happen. At the same time we had a dim consciousness that we
were considerably to the right of the best line of ascent. Our “general
idea”—to borrow a military phrase of which, by the way, it may be remarked
that the idea in question is usually confined to the general and is not
shared in by the troops—consisted in making for the left-hand side or
Montanvert aspect of the final peak. We set our teeth, whatever that may
mean, then fell to with a will and for some two hours went with scarcely a
check. And a rare two hours’ climb we had. The very thought of it makes
the pen travel swiftly over the paper, as the scene comes back in every
detail. How Burgener led the way without hesitation and almost without
mistake; how our second guide chattered unceasingly, caring nought for a
listener; how they both stuck to the rocks like limpets; how the big axe
got in everybody’s way; how the rope got caught on every projecting spur
of rock, jerking back the unwary, or when loose sweeping down showers of
small angular stones from the little platforms and ridges, thereby
engendering ill blood and contumely; how the silent porter climbed
stolidly after us, and in the plenitude of his taciturn good-humour poked
at us from below with his staff at inconvenient moments and in sensitive
places; how at one moment we were flat against the rock, all arms and
legs, like crushed spiders, and at another gathered into great loops like
a cheese maggot on the point of making a leap; how a volley of little
stones came whistling cheerily down from above, playfully peppering us all
round; how our spirits rose with our bodies till we became as excited as
children: of all these things it boots not to give any detailed
description. Those who can recollect similar occasions need but to be
reminded of them, and, to tell the truth, the minutiæ, though they are so
graven upon the mind that a clear impression could be struck off years
afterwards, are apt to prove somewhat tedious. Two facts I may note. One,
that the rocks were at first very much easier than was expected; another,
that we should have done better had we discarded the rope on this part of
the climb: the rocks were hardly a fit place for those who could not
dispense with its use. Ever and anon the guides’ spirits would rise to
that level which may be called the shouting point, and they would jödel
till they were black in the face, while the melodious roll of sound echoed
cheerily back from the distant cliffs of the Aiguille Moine. And so we
journeyed up.

(M39)

Meanwhile the weather had changed; black clouds had come rolling up and
were gathering ominously above us; it was evident that we had no chance of
reaching the summit that day, even if it were practicable, but still we
persevered desperately in the hope of seeing some possible route for a
future attack. Progress, however, on a rock peak is necessarily slow when
there are five on the rope, and we should probably have done more wisely
if we had divided into two parties. We kept well to the left to a point on
the face where a huge tower of rock stands four-square to all the winds of
heaven that blow; and above us, as a matter of fact, there seemed to be a
good many winds. This landmark, very conspicuous and characteristic of
these aiguilles, seemed to be close to the ridge, but on reaching it we
found that there was still a stiff passage intervening between us and the
point from which we could overlook the other side of the mountain. Now we
bore to the right and the climbing became more difficult. We made our way
straight up a very shallow gully and finally reached a point on the
western ridge overlooking the Montanvert, close to where this ridge merges
into the corresponding face of the peak. Here a halt was called, for two
reasons. In the first place a few flakes of snow were softly falling
around and the gathering clouds betokened more to follow. Secondly, so far
as we could judge through the mist, it was apparently impossible to ascend
any higher from the place we had reached. So we cast off the rope and
clambered separately to various points of vantage to survey the work that
lay before us. The summit of the peak, enveloped in thin cloud, appeared
to tower no great height above us, but we were too close under the cliff
to estimate its elevation very correctly. At the time we thought that if
we could only keep up the pace at which we had been going, an hour’s climb
would have sufficed to reach the top. We found, it may be remarked
parenthetically, that we were egregiously in error in this estimate some
years later. The shifting clouds made the rock face—that is, the small
extent of it that we could see at all—look much more difficult than in all
probability it actually was. Through the mists we made out, indistinctly,
a formidable-looking irregular crack in the rock face running very
straight up and rather to our left, which apparently constituted the only
possible route from our position to a higher level. But from where we
stood we could not have reached the lower end of this crack without a
ladder of about fifty feet in length, and the mist entirely prevented us
from judging whether we could reach it by a détour. The choice lay between
hunting for some such line or else in trying what seemed on the whole more
practicable, viz. working round by the north-east face again, so as to
search for a more easy line of ascent. But the latter alternative would
have involved of necessity a considerable descent. While we debated what
course to take the mists swept up thicker and thicker from below, and in a
moment the peak above us was concealed and all the view cut off. A
piercingly cold wind began to rise and a sharp storm of hail and sleet
descended. Hints were dropped about the difficulty of descending rocks
glazed over with ice with a proper amount of deliberation. It was
obviously impossible to go up and might soon become very difficult to go
down. The question was not actually put, but, in conformity with what was
evidently the general sense of the meeting, we somewhat reluctantly made
up our minds to return. A dwarf stone man was constructed, the rope
readjusted, and half an hour’s descent put us out of the mist and snow. We
stopped again and stared upwards blankly at the leve line of mist hanging
heavily against the peak. Burgener now came forward with a definite
resolution and proposed that we should stay where we were for the night
and try again the next day. This was referred to a sub-committee, who
reported against the suggestion on the ground that the stock of provisions
left consisted of a tablespoonful of wine, four rolls, and a small piece
of cheese which had strayed from the enveloping paper in the porter’s
pocket and as a consequence smelt of tobacco and was covered with hairs
and fluff. These articles of diet were spread on a rock and we mentally
calculated the exact proportion that would fall to each man’s share if we
attempted, as proposed, to subsist on them for a day and a half. But
little deliberation was required. We decided at once to return. The porter
gathered the fragments lovingly together and replaced them with other
curious articles in his side pocket. By 8.30 P.M. we were back at
Chamouni, having been out a little under twenty hours.

(M40)

A day or two later we made up our minds to start once more. Great
preparations were made for an early departure, the idea that we should
find it distasteful to start at the hour at which a London ball begins
being scouted, as it usually is over-night. We impressed on an intelligent
“boots” with great earnestness the absolute necessity of waking us
precisely at midnight, and then went to our repose, feeling about as much
inclined for sleep as a child does during the afternoon siesta intended to
prepare it for the glories of a pantomime. The “boots” did not fail; in
fact he was extra-punctual, as our departure was the signal for his
retiring. At midnight the party assembled in the little courtyard in front
of the hotel, but a dismal sight met our gaze. Under the influence of a
warm sou’-wester, thick black clouds had filled the valley, and a gentle
drizzle reminded us of the balmy climate of our own metropolis in
November. Our Alpine tour for the season was nearly at an end, and we
gazed despondently around. Ultimately one practical person suggested that
if we did not go to the mountain we might as well go to bed, and the
practical person endorsed his suggestion by walking off. A scurvy
practical joke did the clerk of the weather play on us that night. In the
morning the bright sunbeams came streaming in through the window, the sky
was cloudless and the outline of every peak was sharply defined in the
clear air. A more perfect morning for the expedition could hardly have
been chosen. Some ill-timed remarks at breakfast referring pointedly to
people who talk a good deal over-night about early starts, and the deep
concern of the “boots” at our presumed slothfulness, goaded us to
desperation. We determined to start again and to have one more try the
next day whatever the weather might prove to be. Once more we found
ourselves in the small hours of the morning on the path leading to Les
Ponts. Had it not been for the previous day’s lesson we should probably
have turned back from this point, for the whole of the mountain opposite
was concealed in thick drifting mist. The guides flatly refused to go on
as matters stood. We were determined on our side not to give it up, and so
a compromise was effected. It was agreed to wait for an hour or two and
see if matters mended. So we stretched ourselves out on a damp sloping
rock, prepared to resume our journey at the slightest indication of a
change for the better. Rest at such a time even under these hard, not to
say stony, conditions is seductive, and, as we lay half dozing, strange
heretical thoughts came crowding into the mind. Why toil up this mountain
when one can rest in luxury on these knobby rocks? Why labour over the
shifting moraine, the deceitful glacier, the slippery rock? What is the
good of it all? Can it be vanity or——“Vorwärts!” The dream vanished as the
cheery cry broke out from the guide engaged on outpost duty, and as we
rose and stretched ourselves the whole aspect of affairs seemed changed. A
distinct break in the clouds at the head of the Mer de Glace gave promise
of better things in store, and we felt almost guilty of having wasted an
hour or more at our halt. The break became larger and larger, and before
long the great cloud banks resolved into one huge streamer flying from the
summit of the peak. I fancy that, at any rate in the early stages of
mountaineering, many good chances are thrown away on such days, for guides
are as a rule somewhat prone to despondency in the early morning hours.
Once started, however, they became wondrously keen, complained of our
delay, and even asserted with some effrontery that they had predicted fine
weather all the time, and this without a blush; still some one rather
neatly defined blushing as a suffusion least seldom seen in those who have
the most occasion for it, and guides share with politicians a certain
power of manipulating their opinions to suit the exigencies of the moment.
The traces of our former attempt assisted us materially on the glacier.
Our plan of attack consisted in getting on the rocks at our former point,
but working on this occasion much more directly up the face. Burgener
conceived that by following this line of assault we should be able to
ascend, by means of a gully which existed only in his own imagination, to
a more practicable part of the peak. Between the two summits of the
Aiguille du Dru may be seen, at any rate in photographs, a
tempting-looking streak of snow: it seemed possible, if we could once
reach the lower point of this streak, to follow its line upwards. The
lower peak of the Dru is well rounded on its eastern face, and the rocks
appear more broken than in other parts of the mountain.

(M41)

If we could but once reach the cleft between the peaks there seemed every
chance of our being able to reach the lower summit. At the outset progress
was fast. We followed our former line till we were in sight of the rock
tower and then at once bore off to the right. The climbing was rather more
difficult, at least it seemed so to us in those days, than on the other
part of the mountain with which we had previously made acquaintance. A
series of short flat gullies had to be climbed, but there were exceedingly
few inequalities to help us. The rope was of little or no use and might
perhaps have been laid aside with advantage. We soon found that we had
reached a higher point than at our previous attempt, and as the leader
constantly returned favourable reports our spirits rose; so elated in fact
did we become that the exact formalities to be observed on reaching the
top were seriously discussed whenever the occasion offered for
conversation, which was not very often. Old Franz chattered away to
himself, as was his wont when matters went well, and on looking back on
one occasion I perceived the strange phenomenon of a smile illuminating
the porter’s features. Howbeit, this worthy spake no words of
satisfaction, but pulled ever at his empty pipe. By dint of wriggling over
a smooth sloping stone slab we had got into a steep rock gully which
promised to lead us to a good height. Burgener, assisted by much pushing
and prodding from below and aided on his own part by much snorting and
some strong language, had managed to climb on to a great overhanging
boulder that cut off the view from the rest of the party below. As he
disappeared from sight we watched the paying out of the rope with as much
anxiety as a fisherman eyes his vanishing line when the salmon runs.
Presently the rope ceased to move and we waited for a few moments in
suspense. We felt that the critical moment of the expedition had arrived,
and the fact that our own view was exceedingly limited made us all the
more anxious to hear the verdict. “How does it look?” we called out. The
answer came back in patois, a bad sign in such emergencies. For a minute
or two an animated conversation was kept up; then we decided to take
another opinion and accordingly hoisted up our second guide. The chatter
was redoubled. “What does it look like?” we shouted again. “Not possible
from where we are,” was the melancholy answer, and in a tone that crashed
at once all our previous elation. I could not find words at the moment to
express my disappointment: but the porter could and gallantly he came to
the rescue. He opened his mouth for the first time and spoke, and he said
very loud indeed that it was “verdammt.” Precisely: that is just what it
was. Having made this short speech, the porter allowed the smile to fade
away from his features, shook out some imaginary ashes and proceeded to
light some visionary tobacco, sucking at a lighted match through the
medium of an empty pipe. It seemed hard to believe at first that we were
to be baulked when so near the summit, and it was not till the guides had
tried again and again to storm the almost vertical wall of smooth rock and
had shown the utter impossibility of turning it either right or left, that
we felt we were really beaten. One more forlorn chance remained: we might
try the west face of the mountain from the spot we had reached at our
first attempt, when the weather had prevented us from making any further
progress. Had there been more time at our disposal we should have done
better to try another line of ascent more to our right, that is, nearer to
the col, and it might be possible to reach the cleft between the two
summits by this means. As for the snow streak which looked so tempting at
a distance, it is a delusion and a snare, if the latter term be applicable
to a place which appears to be much more difficult to get into than it
probably would be to get out of. We had already pretty fully realised that
the mountain was more difficult to ascend than we had ever contemplated,
and it seemed advisable at the moment to make for some definite point
which at any rate we felt sure of reaching and to study the peak in detail
to the best of our ability; so we made towards our cairn, though with
little hope of gaining much knowledge thereby.

(M42)

Without much difficulty, but not without some little danger from falling
stones (though on the whole, the mountain is remarkably free from these
annoyances, there being as a matter of fact but few loose stones to fall),
we reached our former point and were able to judge distinctly of how much
higher we had reached at our second attempt. We saw also that upward
progress from the point on which we stood would not be possible, but it
must be remembered that we were able only to see a small strip of the
mountain lying directly above. Every crag that was not absolutely vertical
appeared to overhang, and the few small cracks that might have afforded
hand and foot hold led nowhere in particular. Altogether the view was
depressing although limited. There was no time to hunt about for other
routes, or we should certainly have done so, for we felt that though
beaten our discomfiture only arose from the fact that we had chosen a
wrong line of ascent. Possibly within a few yards of us lay a feasible
route, but we knew not on which side it might be. Here it occurred to the
porter for the first time that his pipe was empty and had been so all day:
he thereupon made his second remark, which consisted in an audible request
for something to put in it. We had dragged up with us (as a matter of fact
the porter had carried it the whole time) some 200 feet of rope, thinking
it might help us in the descent, but the part of the mountain on which we
were presents no more difficulties in this respect than does Avernus.

(M43)

Arrived on the snow slope opposite the rock face on which we had been
climbing during the day, we stopped, extended the telescope, and tried to
make out our exact line, and endeavoured also to discover what had been
our error; no easy task, as any persons of experience will admit. At any
time the appearance of this peak is deceptive, and the outline no more
guides you to a knowledge of the natural details than does the outline of
a fashionable lady’s dress. But as we looked the mountain seemed flattened
out by reason of a blue evening mist which obscured all the
irregularities. So we turned and resumed our journey down, running hard
across the Mer de Glace, for the shades of night drew on apace, and
reached Chamouni at 8.30 in the evening, leaving the guides at the
Montanvert with half a bottle of thin red wine between three of them. We
were overtaken by Edouard Cupelin, one of the best of the Chamouni guides,
at any rate on rock mountains, on our way down, and he gave us a rather
sensational account of his own adventures on the peak. In justice to him
it should be mentioned that he was almost the only Chamouni guide who
seemed to think the ascent possible, and in his opinion the general line
that we had adopted was the correct one. Our second expedition thus from
first to last occupied about 20½ hours, but the halts were not nearly so
numerous as on the first occasion. The experience of our two days’
climbing led us to the conclusion that Cupelin was right. From the
peculiar character of the rocks and the fact that our climbing lay chiefly
along short flat gullies we were unable, as already remarked, to get a
very clear idea of any part of the mountain except that on which we were
actually engaged, and we were led to the opinion that the only plan to
find a possible route would consist in trying in succession from below the
different parts of the southern face. The final peak, which from this side
shoots up clearly defined from the great mass of the mountain, seemed to
us tolerably easy of ascent provided one could reach the base. A sort of
depression extends three parts of the way round, and the edge of this
shallow moat appeared to be defended by an inaccessible belt of vertical
rock. The actual rocks were wholly unlike any met with elsewhere in our
experience. Great vertical slabs were fitted together with an accuracy
which was beautiful in its perfection, but irritating beyond conception to
the climber. Progress upwards, when above the level of the col,
necessitated a series of fatiguing gymnastics like swimming uphill, but
the rocks where they were possible proved invariably firm and good. On
both occasions we were stopped by sheer difficulty and probably saw the
mountain at its very best. The snow on the rocks, which proved such a
formidable difficulty to Mr. Pendlebury’s party, had almost entirely
disappeared before our assault. The rocks were warm and the weather on the
second day was perfect.

(M44)

Such is the history of our first two attempts to climb this mountain. They
served but to whet our appetite for success, but it was not till years
after that we were fortunate enough to meet with that success.



                               CHAPTER IV.


                           A DAY ACROSS COUNTRY


     The art of meteorological vaticination—The climate we leave our
      homes for—Observations in the valley—The diligence arrives and
    shoots its load—Types of travellers—The Alpine habitué—The elderly
       spinster on tour—A stern Briton—A family party—We seek fresh
     snow-fields—The Bietschhorn—A sepulchral bivouac—On early starts
    and their curious effects on the temperament—A choice of routes—A
     deceptive ice gully—The avalanches on the Bietschhorn—We work up
    to a dramatic situation—The united party nearly fall out—A limited
        panorama—A race for home—Caught out—A short cut—Driven to
     extremities—The water jump—An aged person comes to the rescue—A
       classical banquet at Ried—The old curé and his hospitality—A
                               wasted life?


The summer season of 1878 was one of the worst on record. Meteorologists,
by a species of climatic paradox, might have had a fine time of it;
mountaineers had a most wet and disagreeable time of it. The weather
prophets easily established a reputation for infallibility—according to
the accepted modern standard of vaticination—by predicting invariably evil
things. They were thus right five times out of six, which will readily be
acknowledged as very creditable in persons who were uninspired, save by a
desire to exalt themselves in the eyes of their fellow tourists. But, as
in the case of that singularly hopeful person Tantalus, the torture was
rendered more artistic and aggravating by sporadic promise of better
things. One day the rock aiguilles were powdered over and white-speckled
with snow. The climber looked up longingly at the heights above, but
visions of numbing cold and frost-bitten fingers caused him to thrust the
latter members into his pockets and turn away with a sigh, to put it
mildly, and avert his gaze from the chilling spectacle. Then would he
follow his daily practice—his thrice-a-daily practice in all
probability—of overeating himself. Perhaps, while still engaged at _table
d’hôte_ in consuming, at any rate in masticating, the multiform dish
generically named “chevreuil,” the glow of a rosy sunset, and the hope of
brighter things in store for the morrow, would attract him to the window.

(M45)

The next day would produce scorching heat, a clear sky, a rising
barometer, and a revival of spirits; diet, as the physicians say, as
before. The powdered snow would disappear off the ledges and, melting,
distribute itself more uniformly over the rocks, which as a result
presented a shining appearance, as the morning face of a schoolboy or the
Sunday face of a general servant. At night a clear sky and a sharp frost
in the high regions, and the next day the mountain would be more
impossible than ever. Still, recognising that another few hours of
grateful sunshine would cause the thin film of ice glazing the rocks to
melt and evaporate, the energetic climber (and we were very energetic that
year) would summon his guides and all his resolution, pack up his traps,
and start for a bivouac up aloft, to return, in all probability, at the
end of twenty-four hours, in a downfall of rain and in the condition of
steamy moisture so tersely described by Mr. Mantalini. Such, during July
1878, was our lot day after day in the glorious Alpine climate. We paced
up and down, with the regularity of sentries, between our camp on the
Aiguille du Dru and Couttet’s hotel at Chamouni. Occasionally we ascended
some distance up the Glacier de la Charpoua and took observations. Once or
twice we proceeded far enough on the rocks of the Aiguille du Dru to prove
the impossibility of ascending them to any great height. Still we were
loth to depart and run the risk of losing a favourable opportunity of
assaulting the mountain with any chance of success. It fell out thus that
we had good opportunities of observing our fellow creatures and the
various types of travellers who, notwithstanding the weather, still
crowded into Chamouni; for it was only on rock peaks such as the Aiguille
du Dru, or difficult mountains like the Aiguille Verte, that climbing was
impossible. This condition of things did not affect to any very
appreciable extent the perambulating peasants who constitute the vast
majority of the body known as guides in Chamouni. These worthies merely
loafed a little more than they were wont to do, if that be possible.
Perhaps the gathering invariably to be found, during twenty hours out of
the twenty-four, at the cross roads near Tairraz’s shop was still more
numerously attended, and there was some slight increase in the number of
sunburnt individuals who found intellectual exercise sufficient to
apologise for their existence in wearing their hands in their pockets,
smoking indifferent tobacco, expectorating indiscriminately, and uttering
statements devoid of sense or point to anybody who cared to listen. The
weather had no effect on them; whether wet or dry, cold or warm, they
still occupied themselves from June to September in the same manner. Once
in the early morning, and once again about five o’clock in the evening,
were they momentarily galvanised out of their listlessness by the arriving
and departing diligences.

(M46)

On the arrival of the caravan the contingent was usually reinforced by
some of our own countrymen. The proper attitude for the English visitor at
Chamouni to assume, when watching the evening incursion of tourists,
consisted in leaning against the wall on the south side of the street, and
so to pose himself as to indicate independence of the proceedings and to
wear an expression of indifference tinged with a suggestion of cynical
humour. This was usually accomplished by wearing the hands in the pockets,
tilting the hat a little over the eyes, crossing the legs, and laughing
unduly at the remarks of companions, whether audible or not. Some few
considered that smoking a wooden pipe assisted the realisation of the
effect intended: others apparently held that a heavy object held in the
mouth interfered with the expression. I have observed that these same
onlookers were bitterly indignant at the ordeal they had to pass through
on returning to their native shores viâ Folkestone, when clambering
wearily with leaden eyes and sage-green complexions up the pier steps. Yet
the diligence travellers, begrimed with dust, stung of horse flies,
cramped, choked, and so jolted that they recognised more bony prominences
than previous anatomical knowledge had ever led them to expect they
possessed, were none the less objects of pity. Still human nature is
always worthy of study, and those who arrived, together with those who
went to see them arrive, were equally interesting under the depressing
climatic influences which so often forbade us to take our pleasure
elsewhere.

(M47)

It was curious to note how, day after day, the diligence on its arrival
released from the cramped thraldom of its uncomfortable seats almost
exactly the same load. As the great lumbering yellow vehicle came within
sight, one or two familiar faces would be seen craning out to catch the
first sight of an old guide or mountain friend. These _habitués_ as a rule
secured for themselves the corner seats. We knew exactly what their
luggage would be. A bundle of axes like Roman “fasces” would be handed out
first, with perhaps a little unnecessary ostentation, followed by a coil
of rope which might have been packed up in the portmanteau, but usually
was not; then a knapsack, with marks on the back like a map of the
continent of America if the owner was an old hand, and a spotless minute
check if he were only trying to look like one. The owners of the knapsacks
would be clad in suits that once were dittos, flannel shirts and the
familiar British wide-awake, the new aspirants for mountaineering fame
decorating their head gear with snow spectacles purchased in Geneva. Very
business-like would they show themselves in collecting their luggage
before anybody else; then, with a knowing look at the mountains, they
would make their way to Couttet’s. Next, perhaps, would follow a party of
some two or three spinsters travelling alone and as uncertain about their
destination as they were of their age. To attract such, some of the hotel
proprietors, more astute than their fellows, despatched to the scene of
action porters of cultivated manners and obsequious demeanour, who seldom
failed, by proving themselves to be “such nice polite men, my dear,” to
ensnare the victims. Burdened with the numerous parcels and odd little
bags this class of traveller greatly affects, the nicely mannered porter
would lead the way to the hotel or pension, probably bestowing, as he
passed, a wink on some friend among the guides, who recognised at once the
type of tourist that would inevitably visit the Montanvert, probably the
Chapeau and possibly the Flégère, and recognising too the type in whom
judicious compliments were not likely to be invested without satisfactory
results. Such people invariably enquired if they could not be taken _en
pension_. Somewhat frugal as regards diet, especially breakfast, but with
astounding capacities for swallowing _table d’hôte_ dinners or such
romance as the guides might be pleased to invent on the subject of their
own prowess and exploits. Charming old ladies these often were, as pleased
with the novelty of everything they saw around them as a gutter child in a
country meadow. Their nature changes marvellously in the Alps. Scarcely
should we recognise in the small wiry traveller in the mountains the same
individual whom we might meet in town—say in the neighbourhood of
Bloomsbury. I have noticed such a one not a hundred miles from there whose
energy for sight-seeing when in the Alps surpassed all belief. Yet here
she seemed but a little, wrinkled, bent-in-the-back old woman, flat of
foot, reckless at crossings, finding difficulty on Sunday mornings in
fishing a copper out of her reticule for the crossing sweeper, by reason
of the undue length of the finger-tips to her one-buttoned black kid
gloves, and accompanied on week days, perhaps for the sake of contrast, by
a sprightly little black and tan dog of so arrogant a disposition that it
declined to use in walking all the legs which Providence had furnished it.
Next, perhaps, the British paterfamilias, who might or might not be a
clergyman, most intractable of tourists; ever prone to combine instruction
with amusement for the benefit of his bored family, slightly relaxing on
week days, but rigid and austere on Sundays beyond conception. And then
the foreign sub-Alpine walker or “intrépide,” clad in special garments of
local make and highly vaunted efficiency, garrulous, smoky, voracious, a
trifle greasy, and dealing habitually in ecstatic hendecasyllables
expressive of admiration of everything he saw. Next the family party,
possibly with a courier, with whom the younger members were, as a rule,
unduly familiar: the boys wearing tailed shooting coats, consorting but
ill with Eton turn-down collars, groaning under the burden of green baize
bags containing assorted guide books, strange receptacles for the
umbrellas of the party, and with leathern wallets slung around their
shoulders, stuffed with the useless articles boys cherish and love to
carry with them; the girls awkwardly conscious and feeling ill at ease by
reason of the practical dresses, boots, and head gear devised for them at
home, looking tenderly after a collection of weakly sticks tipped with
chamois horns and decorated with a spirally arranged list of localities;
the whole party in an excessively bad temper, which the boys exhibited by
pummelling and thumping when “pa” was not looking and the girls by little
sniffs, head tossings, and pointed remarks at each other that they had no
idea what guys they looked. It will be observed that the constant bad
weather induced a cynical condition of mind.

(M48)

We made up our minds, notwithstanding the attractions of this varied
company, to quit them for a while, to seek fresh snow-fields and glaciers
new, and to leave the rocks of the Aiguille du Dru for a time unmolested.
At the suggestion of Jaun we betook ourselves to the Oberland for a
contemplated ascent of the Bietschhorn by a new route. Under a tropical
sun we made our way by the interminable zigzags through the Trient valley
down to Vernayaz, where we met again, like the witches in “Macbeth,” in
thunder and in rain. Our project was to ascend the Bietschhorn from the
Visp side and descend it by the usual route to Ried. This form of novelty
had become so common in mountaineering that a new word had been coined
expressly to describe such expeditions, and the climber, if he succeeded
in his endeavour, was said to have “colled” the peak. The phrase, however,
was only admissible on the first occasion, and it was subsequently
described by any who followed, in more prosaic terms, as going up one side
and down the other.

(M49)

We did not experience any unusual difficulty in leaving Visp tolerably
early in the morning. The chorus of frogs, who were in remarkably fine
voice that night in the neighbouring swamps, kept us awake, and the proper
musical contrast was provided by the alto humming of some hungry
mosquitoes. Our plan of assault was to camp somewhere at the head of the
Baltschieder Thal, which is a dreary stony valley with only a few huts
that would scarcely be considered habitable even by a London
slum-landlord. The living inhabitants appeared to consist of three unkempt
children, two pigs, one imbecile old man, and a dog with a fortuitous
family. On the whole, therefore, we came to the conclusion that nature
would probably provide better accommodation than the local architectural
art, and a short search revealed a most luxurious bivouac, close to the
left moraine of the Baltschieder Glacier, under the shelter of the
Fäschhorn and a little above the level of the ice fall. A huge, flat slab
of rock formed the roof of a wedge-shaped cavity capable of holding at
least six persons, if disposed in a horizontal position. The space between
the floor and the roof, it is true, was not much more than three feet; but
the chamber, though well sheltered, demanded no ventilating tubes to
ensure a proper supply of fresh air. Having a little spare time and being
luxuriously inclined, we decided to sleep on spring beds. First we swept
the stone floor, then covered it with a thick layer of dry rhododendron
branches, over which were laid large sods of dried peat grass, and the
beds were complete. The pointed ends of the twigs showed rather a tendency
to penetrate through the grassy covering during the night, but otherwise
the mattresses were all that could be desired. About two in the morning we
got up—that is, we would have got up had it not been physically impossible
to do so by reason of the lowness of the roof. A more correct expression
would be perhaps to say that we turned out, rolling from under the shelter
of the slab one after another. By the dim light of an ineffective candle,
poked into the neck of a broken bottle, we found it no easy matter to
collect all the articles which the guides had of course unpacked and
stowed away as if they were going to stay a week; indeed, a certain bottle
of seltzer water will probably still be found—at any rate the bottle
will—by anyone who seeks repose in the same quarters.

(M50)

We started in the usual frame of mind—that is to say, everybody was
exceedingly facetious for about three minutes. In about ten minutes one of
the party, who would slake his thirst unduly at a crystal spring near the
bivouac the previous evening, found that his boot lace was untied;
circumstances which do not seem associated at first sight, but are not,
nevertheless, infrequently observed. So again have I often remarked that a
good dinner overnight develops in an astonishing manner admiration for
distant views when ascending on the subsequent day. Within a quarter of an
hour the amateurs of the party ceased to indulge in conversation, their
remarks dying away into a species of pained silence similar to that which
is induced in youthful voluptuaries by the premature smoking of clay
pipes. The guides, however, seldom if ever desisted from dialogue, and
never for the purpose of listening to each other’s remarks. Still, the
respiratory process is governed by the same conditions in the case of
guides as in other mortals, and though they would scorn to stoop to the
boot-lace subterfuge, and feel that a sudden admiration for scenery would
deceive no one, they yet found it necessary before long to distribute
their burdens more equally; a process achieved by halting, untying several
strings, taking out several parcels and replacing them in the same
positions. By these various methods we acquired what athletes call “second
wind” and stepped out more strongly. We crossed a moraine of the usual
inconsistency—however, the subject of loose moraines has been, I fancy,
touched upon by other writers. The Baltschieder Glacier sweeps at a right
angle round a mountain christened, not very originally, the Breithorn.
This particular member of that somewhat numerous family blocks up the head
of the Baltschieder Thal. We skirted the north base of the Breithorn,
passing between it and the Jägihorn, and arriving at the top of a steep
little slope came in full view of the eastern slopes of our objective
peak. At this point Maurer gave vent to a dismal wail of anguish as it
suddenly occurred to him that he had left the bottle of seltzer water down
below. With some difficulty did we persuade him that it was not necessary
to return for it, although the idea of repose was not wholly distasteful,
but we felt that we had probably all our work cut out for us in one sense,
and that the days were none too long for such an expedition as the one we
had in hand. Two distinct lines of attack appeared to offer themselves.
One route, more to our right, led upwards by a gentle curved ridge,
chiefly of snow, connecting the Baltschieder Joch with the northern arête
of the mountain. In 1866 Messrs. D. W. Freshfield and C. C. Tucker, as we
learnt subsequently, attained a high point by this way and were only
prevented from accomplishing the actual ascent by bad weather, though they
did enough to prove the practicability of the route. However, this way,
which appeared the easier of the two, was evidently the longer from our
position. The other route had the advantage of lying straight in front of
us. Its attraction consisted of a broad long gully of snow enclosed
between two ridges of rock. By the dim morning light the snow appeared
easy enough and was evidently in suitable condition: howbeit, long snow
couloirs, at the summit of which rocks overhang, are not usually to be
recommended when the mountain itself is composed of friable material. Now
it would be difficult to find in the whole of the Alps a mountain more
disposed to cast stones at its assailants than the Bietschhorn, a fact of
which we were fully aware. Every ascent of this disintegrating peak so
rearranges the rocks that the next comers would not be wholly without
justification if they pleaded that the details of their ascent were to a
great extent new. Still, mountaineers up to the present have not been
quite reduced to such a far-fetched claim to novelty, although in these
latter days they have at times come perilously near it. Judging by the
direction of the strata, we felt certain that the rock ridges must be
practicable, and the problem in mountaineering set before us consisted in
finding out how we might best ascend without subjecting ourselves to the
inconveniences experienced by some of the early martyrs.

(M51)

An early breakfast put fresh strength into us. It is a common mistake of
mountaineers not to breakfast early enough and not to breakfast often
enough. If it be desired to achieve a long expedition when there is not
likely to be too much spare time, the wise man will eat something at least
every two hours up to about 10 o’clock in the morning, supposing, for
instance, he started about 2 A.M. It is astonishing to notice how the full
man gains upon the empty one on fatiguing snow slopes. We strode rapidly
across the basin of snow called the Jägifirn and arrived at the foot of
the gully. But now we could see that our suspicions were more than
verified: ugly-looking marks in the snow above indicated falling stones,
and the snow itself was obviously in a condition prone to avalanches. This
danger must always be present in couloirs to a greater or less extent in
such seasons as the one we were experiencing. There had been sufficient
power of sun to convert the contents of the gully into what would have
been, in fine weather, a glistening ice slope. But much fresh snow had
fallen recently. It but rarely can happen, when snow has fallen late in
the season or during the hot months, that the new and the old layers can
become properly amalgamated. If, therefore, there is too great a thickness
of fresh snow to allow of steps being cut through this into the ice
beneath, such couloirs are unsafe. The mark of a single avalanche due to
the sliding off of the fresh snow on the ice beneath—a mark easily enough
recognised—would deter any save an unwise person or a novice from
attempting such a line of ascent. The marvellous hereditary instinct so
often attributed to guides in judging of this condition really reduces
itself to a matter of very simple observation and attention, and one
within the reach of anybody. But travellers in the Alps too often appear
to treat their reasoning faculties like they do their tall hats, and leave
them at home. The question then was, Were the rocks right or left of this
snow gully practicable? We all agreed that they were, and proceeded at
once to test the accuracy of our opinion.

(M52)

We crossed the bergschrund—that godsend to writers on mountaineering in
search of material to act as padding—and without dwelling on its insecure
bridge longer than we need now dwell on the subject made swiftly for some
rocks on the left. Scarcely had we gained them when a rush of snow and
ice, of no great dimensions, but still large enough to be formidable,
obliterated all the tracks we had just made. This settled the point at
once, and we felt that by the rocks alone would it be proper to force the
ascent. While on the ridge we were safe enough, and had the advantage as
we clambered up of a most commanding position from whence we could view
the frequent avalanches that swept by. The rain of the previous night,
though it had only lasted for an hour or two, had evidently had a great
effect on the state of the snow, and the avalanches seemed to pour down
almost incessantly: probably some forty or fifty swept by us while we
climbed by the side of the gully, and our situation gave rise to that
feeling of somewhat pained security which is experienced when standing on
a railway platform as an express train dashes by; we certainly felt that
some of the downfalls would have reduced our party to a pulp quite as
easily and with as much unconcern as the train itself. The guides, who do
not perhaps tax their memories very severely for a parallel on such an
occasion, asserted, as they generally do, that they had never seen
anything like it in the whole course of their lives. They then fell to
whistling, laughed very gaily, and borrowed tobacco from each other.

(M53)

Gradually our difficulties became more pronounced, and conversation on
indifferent topics was discarded, the remarks being confined to brief
exclamations such as “Keep it tight!” “Don’t touch that one!” “Hold on
now!” “You’re treading on my fingers!” “The point of your axe is sticking
into my stomach!” and similar ejaculations. Once in a way we ascended for
a few feet by the snow, though never quite losing touch of the rocks, and
sank waist deep in the soft compound filling up the gully. Then we went
back to the rotten rocks for a brief spell, well content to be more out of
the reach of chance fragments of ice falling down the shoot. It is
wonderful to note how quickly time passes in an exciting climb of this
nature; but our progress was actually rather rapid, so fast indeed that we
did not fully realise at one period that we were getting into difficulties
and that we had without doubt strayed, Christian-like, from the narrow
path which was evidently the right one. Throughout the day we were
conscious that the climb was too long to be completed if we made any
serious mistake involving the retracing of steps. Quite suddenly, our
situation became critical: a hurried glance up and down along the line
revealed the fact that each member of the party had to do all he knew to
preserve his position. The attitudes were ungainly enough to suggest
instantaneous photographs at an ill-selected movement of four individuals
dancing a “can-can.” Maurer was engaged apparently in an extremely close
and minute inspection of the toe of his right boot. Another member of the
party was giving a practical illustration of the fact that he could, by
extreme extension of his arms, stretch more than his own height, while a
third was endeavouring to find out why the power of co-ordinating his
muscular movements was suddenly lost to him, and why he could not persuade
his left leg to join his right. For a few moments Jaun, who was leading,
hung on by his finger-tips and the issue of the expedition hung in the
balance. But our leader, by dint of some complicated sprawls, transferred
himself over a passage of rock on which we had no earthly reason to be,
and assisted the rest of the party to regain a more promising line of
ascent. For those few minutes the situation was dramatic enough, and the
thought crossed my mind that the curtain might not improbably descend on
it; a solution of the difficulty which commends itself to the playwright
when he has involved his _dramatis personæ_ in difficulties, but which is
not without its objections to the climber. On the whole the rocks on this
face of the mountain are much more difficult than on the other, and,
writing now after the lapse of some years, I am disposed to think that
these are perhaps the most difficult crags of any that I have ever met
with to climb properly, that is with a minimum of risk to one’s self and
to one’s companions; as a good proof of this I may say that the ascent
would probably have appeared fairly easy to a novice and that it required
some little Alpine experience to realise their real difficulty and their
treacherous nature. There was scarcely time to test adequately all hand
and foothold, and examination of rocks by what surgeons term palpation is
a _sine quâ non_ in rock climbing. Undoubtedly the mountain was not in the
best possible order. We may possibly have rearranged the rocks in our line
of ascent in a more convenient manner for those who follow. Certainly we
may fairly say that in our actual line of ascent we left no stone unturned
to ensure success.

(M54)

Close below the ridge—within perhaps ten feet of it, for if I remember
aright our leader had actually reached the crest—came the climax to what
was perhaps rather a perilous climb. The first and second on the rope had
met in their upward passage a huge cube of rock whose security they had
carefully tested, and to surmount which it was necessary to stretch to the
fullest extent in order to gain a respectable hold for the hands. We were
all four in a direct line one below the other, and the two last on the
rope were placed perforce directly beneath the treacherous crag. By an
extension movement which conveyed some notion of the sensation experienced
by those on the rack, I had reached a handhold pronounced to be of a
passable nature by those above. By this manœuvre I succeeded in getting my
feet exactly to a place on which the others, who were much heavier than I,
had stood in security; without rhyme or reason the block of stone, which
was about the size of a grand pianoforte, suddenly broke away from under
me; a huge gap seemed cloven out in the mountain side, and Maurer, below,
had only just time to spring aside, enveloped in a cloud of dust, and to
throw himself flat against the rock, while the rope was strained to the
utmost. Fortunately the handhold above was sound and I was able to hold on
with feet dangling in the air, searching in vain for some projection on
which to rest. Those above were too insecure to give any efficient help,
and in fact possibly viewed my struggles, inasmuch as they were not fully
aware at first of what had happened, with as much equanimity as a person
inside a boat contemplates the gymnastic performances of a bather trying
to climb over the edge. As the cloud of dust cleared off, however, and
Maurer’s face gradually beamed through it like the sun in a fog, for the
excitement had made him the colour of a cornet player giving vent to a
high note, they began to realise that something abnormal had happened,
while the distant thundering reverberations of the falling mass assured
them that it was no ordinary slip. Meanwhile Maurer planted his axe so as
to give me some foothold, and with a push from below and a pull from
above, fortunately simultaneous, I succeeded in planting my feet where my
hands were, and subsequently undoubling found that we were within a few
feet of the ridge, that the panorama beyond was undoubtedly magnificent,
but was thrown out in strong relief by deep blue-black thunder-clouds
advancing towards us.

Jaun now removed his empty pipe from his mouth and replaced it by a
lucifer match, which, either as an aid to reflection or possibly for
medicinal purposes, he chewed as he contemplated the ridge. A miserably
cold wind with a remarkable knack of detecting all the rents in our
raiment whistled around; above, the summit of the mountain was enveloped
in driving thick mist and cloud. Still the final ridge looked fairly easy,
and indeed proved to be so. The snow was deep and soft, and the stones
below were so arranged as to remind us forcibly of a newly mended road in
our native country; big and little, all seemed loose, and all arranged
with their sharpest points and edges uppermost. The ridge is moderately
broad, and we were able to flounder along with fair rapidity. Spurred on
by the unpromising look of the weather and stimulated by the cold wind,
which rendered any halts so unpleasant as to be out of the question, we
set to work in earnest and found ourselves at the base of the final little
snow and rock cone earlier than the length of the ridge had led us to
expect. As we stepped on to the summit we experienced the curious
sensation usually arising when climbing through clouds, that the mountain
itself was sinking away rapidly from under our feet. The panorama was
wholly composed of a foreground consisting of mist, and presented
therefore comparatively few attractions.

(M55)

It was already so late in the afternoon that we could not have afforded to
stay in any case, and, as we felt that serious difficulties might possibly
be encountered in descending, we set off at once, visions of a warm
welcome and a hot bath at Ried rising before our minds. The idea of
descending by way of the Baltschieder Joch was negatived without a
division. The northern ridge of the Bietschhorn is a counterpart of the
one by which we had ascended, with the solitary advantage in our case that
we had to go down it and not up. The snow slopes leading down to the Nest
Glacier were much broader, and we were strongly tempted more than once to
quit the ridge for this western face of the mountain. Ultimately,
persuaded that the condition of the snow justified us in so doing, we
struck straight down on to the Nest Glacier, skirted round the ridge of
rocks dividing the Nest Glacier from the Birch Glacier, and catching sight
of a little green patch some way below, threw off the rope and rushed
precipitately down to it. Misguided by a few gleams of sunshine breaking
out between the driving clouds, we conceived the idea of repose and
thought that we might as well be aired and dried. Below, the hotel at Ried
was in full view, and it seemed but an hour or two from us: but our
troubles were not yet over. The five minutes’ halt on such occasions not
uncommonly expand into five-and-fifty, and we rather deliberately averted
our gaze from the western view of the valley, up which the thunder-clouds
were advancing steadily in close formation. Eventually we decided to move
on, in order to avoid getting once more wet through. Vain hope: rapid
though our descent was to the level of the forest it was not rapid enough.
We ran furiously down the rough slopes, but, as the storm advanced and we
perceived that we should be caught, the agitation of our minds gradually
equalled the agitation of our bodies. We seemed to get no nearer Ried,
while the darkness increased rapidly around us. Knowing the proclivities
of guides on such occasions, my companion and I agreed that nothing should
induce us to leave a path, should we perchance find one. Now, in a dim
light it is exceedingly easy to discover paths, but extremely difficult to
discover that variety of track that leads anywhere. Determined, however,
to stick to our resolution, we found ourselves continually pursuing level
stretches right and left, only to find that, as routes to any particular
place, they were snares and delusions; that there was a path with long
zigzags we knew, and indeed, finally, a shout from the guides, who skipped
about downhill with an utter disregard for the integrity of their joints,
and adopted that curious cantering gait considered on the stage to express
light-hearted joy, announced that they had discovered the way. With
characteristic inconsistency, they had no sooner found what we had been so
long searching for than they proposed to leave it and make short cuts, so
called; but we were inflexible, and determined not to leave our path or be
seduced by the attractions of a perpendicular descent through an unknown
territory. The hotel lights were no longer visible, but we knew that they
lay straight below us. The question was whether we should turn right or
left. The guides settled the matter by darting off ahead, ostensibly from
a perfect acquaintance with their situation, but actually as we suspected
to avoid being worried with unpleasant topographical questions. Gradually
as we followed the track our stern purpose began to waver, for it was
pointed out by some one that the path, though undoubtedly a good one in
point of construction and general purpose, had two distinct disadvantages
from our present point of view; one being that it led uphill, and the
other that it ran in the wrong direction. There are certain contingencies
in life in which the Briton finds but one adequate method of relieving and
expressing his feelings, such, for instance, as when he finds himself
bespattered with mud from the passing hansom on a carefully selected
shirt-front and a white tie that would have moved to envy; or when, again,
as the last to leave his club at night he finds the only remaining
head-gear to consist of a well-worn beaver many sizes too large, with fur
under the brim and a decoration of little rosettes and bobstays. It is
hard to see why the ejaculation of any particular monosyllable should do
him good at such a juncture. Hard words unquestionably break no bones, but
neither do they mend the broken collar-stud or the ruptured bootlace; and
yet if he swallows the expression down it will certainly ferment within
him, and fermentation is characterised by multiplication. If, on the
contrary, he articulates his feelings, the whole situation suddenly
appears changed, and he can view the most untoward circumstances once more
with a calm serenity of temper. But the remedy, though potent, specific
almost, is too valuable to be resorted to constantly, and should be
reserved, like Thursday’s razor, for the most special occasions.

(M56)

Our situation on the present occasion fully justified us in resorting to
the source of relief vaguely alluded to, and we employed it simultaneously
with the happiest results. Now the guides triumphed, and such was our
accommodating mood that we actually acceded to their counsel and embarked
on a perilous descent down a vertical gully. Scarcely had we turned into
it when the storm broke and the rain came down in sheets, and very damp
sheets too. Some one now suggested that the wisest plan would be to remain
under shelter till the rain had passed off. It was argued against this
amendment, and with a certain amount of force, first that there was no
probability of the rain stopping, and secondly that there was no shelter:
so we went on. Gradually, as we became more wet, we grew more desperate,
and before long floundered down as regardless of bumps as a bluebottle in
a conservatory: at one moment slithering over wet slabs of rock to which
damp tufts of moss were loosely adherent, at another climbing carefully
over gigantic toothcombs of fallen trees, then plunging head
foremost—sometimes not exactly head foremost—through jungle-like masses of
long grass and dwarf brushwood. Soaked to the skin, steamy, damp, and
perspiring like bridegrooms, we went on, utterly reckless as to our
apparel, and haunted by a perpetual idea that we should find ourselves
ultimately at some place whence further descent would be impossible.

(M57)

Within a few minutes the party divided and Jaun and I found ourselves
together. By the lightning flashes I saw him from time to time; on one
occasion he suddenly disappeared from view, and on joining him cautiously
a little while after I found that he had just previously seated himself
abruptly on a flat rock, immediately underneath a miniature torrent. The
fact that we did not at every ten seconds run against large trees
confirmed the idea that we were now almost out of the wood; accordingly we
halloaed, as the occasion seemed suitable, but no answer was returned from
our companions. Now came the question of how we were to cross the torrent
which we knew lay between us and the hotel. Jaun cheerfully remarked that
the best plan would be to find the bridge. This was obvious enough, but he
confessed that he had forgotten at what part of the river’s course the
bridge lay. However, keeping close together, we made towards the right, on
which side the stream lay. The slopes were here more level and less
carelessly laid out. Our hopes revived, for the hotel could only be a few
minutes off, and between the peals of thunder we could hear the roar of
the torrent and could hear also the hollow sound due to the boulders
rolling over its stony bed. Of a sudden we came on to its banks, and
formidable enough the stream looked. The idea of searching for the bridge
seemed childish, for the whole of the frail wooden structure had probably
been carried away long before down to the Rhone valley. The hotel was only
a few yards off, and again the situation was exasperating enough to
justify a resort to extreme measures, if it were an extreme measure to
express forcibly a wish that the torrent might be—well, temporarily
stopped up at some higher point. Jaun now volunteered to wade across. It
was quite unnecessary for him to divest himself of any clothing for the
purpose, and in fact when he had succeeded very pluckily in reaching the
other side he was not in the least degree wetter than when he started. He
shouted some observations from the other side, which I took to mean that
he would go on to the hotel and procure a lantern. Accordingly I seated
myself to await his return, selecting unintentionally a little pool of
water, which however did just as well as anything else.

(M58)

Before long a flashing light advancing indicated that Jaun had been
successful, and two forms were seen dimly on the opposite side, one with a
light. The bearer of the lantern was an aged person in shirt sleeves and a
highly excited frame of mind. The aged person, on the distant shore,
gesticulated as violently as a marionette doll when its wires have got
hitched up wrong, and then, seemingly possessed of a sudden fury, rushed
violently down a steep place and beckoned frantically with his lantern.
This seemed to mean that I was to descend to a point on the bank opposite
to where he stood. It now appeared that there was a bridge within a few
yards of us, if a single spiky, submerged, and insecure trunk could be
considered such. The old man embraced me warmly when I had made my way
across, slapped me hard on the back, and then laughed very loud and
suddenly. Then he darted off with the agility and abruptness of movement
of an elderly lady from the country crossing in front of an omnibus, or a
hen, a foolish animal that always waits to the last moment before running
needlessly to the wrong side of the road. Guided by the lantern which the
impulsive veteran flourished wildly in every direction, so that no one
dared approach him, in another ten minutes we reached the hotel and found
ourselves, with the exception of our companions, who had arrived a few
minutes before—Heaven only knows how, for they did not—fortunately the
only occupants of the hotel. The volatile sexagenarian calmed down, put on
his coat, put out his lantern, and retired to repose in an outhouse, a
shelter to which I fancy he was relegated owing to certain physical
infirmities.

(M59)

It was eleven o’clock, and we had been pretty actively employed for
twenty-one hours. The idea of food and a change of raiment was not,
therefore, distasteful. A middle-aged female with an excessively
“rational” and hygienic waist, who said she was the waitress, volunteered
to serve the banquet, but the change of raiment necessary was naturally
beyond her means, while the idea of borrowing from the aged person’s
wardrobe did not commend itself to us, so we ordered in a large stock of
towels. “But,” I remarked, “you can’t go about in a bath towel”—the truth
of which assertion was immediately evident, for they were so small that it
was difficult to fasten them with any degree of security; accordingly
blankets were requisitioned, and a very classical effect in costume was
thus produced, though what the Romans did when there was a gale of wind I
do not know. To keep up the delusion we arranged the chairs after the
fashion of couches, and appeased our hunger with a curious repast of
stewed apples and mixed biscuits, the sole articles of food that could be
discovered. However, to anticipate, we fared better the next day at
breakfast; for though Bright Chanticleer proclaimed the morn at 3 A.M. he
did not proclaim any subsequent period of time, as he was captured and
cooked for our repast. The waitress while we supped was busily engaged in
stoking up the stove, and seized upon our damp raiment with avidity to
have it ready for the next morning; so energetic was she in fact that we
felt it necessary to remonstrate, foreseeing the probability that our
clothes might have to be brought back to us in a dust shovel: we remarked
that, though sorry for our misdeeds, we would limit for choice the
repentant nature of our apparel to the sackcloth we were then wearing and
would dispense with the adjunct of ashes. The unreliable nature of the
fastenings of our costume prevented us from accompanying our forcible
remarks with properly impressive gestures. The remonstrance, however, had
the desired effect, and our garments the next day, though somewhat
shrivelled and inconveniently tight here and there, still proved that they
had resisted effectively the fire as well as the water.

(M60)

The amount of luxury found in the Lötschthal since those days has
materially improved. Time was when the only accommodation for the
traveller was to be found at the humble tenement of Mons. le Curé, a
worthy old creature as I remember him, who appeared to keep an apiary in
his back drawing-room and was wont to produce the most excellent honey and
the most uncompromising bread; the latter article, as one might judge, was
baked about as often as the old gentleman washed himself. But the milk of
human kindness flowed strongly in him (as it may be said to do in those
who have been made the subjects of transfusion), though, to tell the
truth, it was somewhat decidedly flavoured with garlic, and it needed much
resolution to attentively listen to the confidential communications he was
in the habit of whispering. A man of education and gentle refinement—at
any rate of mind—his was a hard lot, buried away in a squalid little
parish, with no earthly being to talk to possessed of more than one idea;
yet he slaved on contentedly enough with no thought beyond the peasants in
his own district and of how he might relieve their condition, too often at
the expense of his own welfare; isolated more than any ascetic, for his
mental existence was that of a hermit, from circumstances and not from
will. The thought of solitary confinement is terrible, but utter mental
isolation is hideous. Yet, while he entertained us hospitably with fare
which, though rough, was the very best he could offer, he would not join
in the repast: not, probably, from lack of appetite, but from a feeling
that, owing to prolonged seclusion and association with the peasants, the
more fashionable and accepted methods of preparing food for consumption
and conveying it to the mouth, with subsequent details, were somewhat dim
to his recollection. Yet his conversation flowed fast and he talked well:
the while any reference to friends and fellow-travellers would cause him
to pause for a moment or two, look upwards around the room, and fetch a
rather long breath before he recommenced. A curiously gaunt old creature
he seemed at first sight: with wonderful, bony, plastic hands capable of
expressing anything; grotesque almost in his unkempt rustiness; provoking
a smile at first, but sadness as one learnt more of him. And how closely
are the two emotions associated. In truth Humour was born a twin, and her
sister was christened Pathos.

I can recall that he accepted a sum of ten francs when we parted in the
morning. His eyes glistened with pleasure as he took the coin and
straightway made for a ramshackle hovel on the hill-side, where lay an
aged person “très-malade.” Possibly after his visit there was left a happy
peasant in that tumble-down cabin—an emotional object more often described
than witnessed. But all this took place years ago, and as we passed the
collection of dilapidated tenements in one of which our old friend once
lived, I failed to recognise his former dwelling-place. The timbers grew
old and worn, the bands rusty, and one day the wheel which had worked
steadily for so long stopped. Yet the stream which had moved it ran on as
if nothing had happened. Was it a wasted life? Who can say if there be
such a thing?

  A few can touch the magic string,
    And noisy Fame is proud to win them:
  Alas! for those that never sing,
    But die with all their music in them.

We passed on: in a few minutes the houses were lost to view and there was
left but the reflection of how much more, worthy of study, there was in
this old curé’s nature than in the majority of Swiss with whom
mountaineering brings us in close contact.

(M61)

As we descended the Lötschthal to Gampel the air seemed to thicken. The
excessive warmth allowed our garments to stretch once again to their
wonted girth, and we became less thoughtful. The vignette of the ancient
curé dissolved away and was replaced by a view (mental only, unhappily) of
our aiguille at Chamouni, black and bare of snow, inviting another attack.
Gampel does not tempt the traveller much to seek repose, and we therefore
caught the first train that came crawling along the valley and shaped our
course for Chamouni in a second-class carriage tenanted by a _pension_ of
young ladies out for a holiday apparently, who all chirped and twittered
and wrangled for the best places till the going down of the sun, like the
Temple sparrows.



                                CHAPTER V.


                      AN OLD FRIEND WITH A NEW FACE


         Chamouni again—The hotel _clientèle_—A youthful hero—The
     inevitable English family—A scientific gentleman—A dream of the
       future—The hereafter of the Alps and of Alpine literature—A
    condensed mountain ascent—Wanted, a programme—A double “Brocken”—A
          hill-side phenomenon and a familiar character—A strong
     argument—Halting doubts and fears—A digression on mountaineering
      accidents—“From gay to grave, from lively to severe”—The storm
       breaks—A battle with the elements—Beating the air—The ridge
     carried by assault—What next, and next?—A topographical problem
     and a cool proposal—The descent down the Vallée Blanche—The old
        Montanvert hotel—The Montanvert path and its frequenters.


It was the summer of 18— and our old quarters at Couttet’s hotel knew us
once more. As we drove into the village of Chamouni we turned our heads
carelessly around to note the various new hotels that might have arisen
since our last visit. Observing that they were four or five in number, we
rightly conjectured that we should find all the hotel keepers complaining
bitterly of the hard times and the want of custom. Also we wondered in how
many ways it was possible to build a house without any particular system
of drainage, a deficiency which was at that time becoming very marked in
Chamouni, but has since, I believe, been improved. Yet the place itself
had not altered essentially. New buildings of imposing exterior and little
else do not materially alter a place that leads a life like that of modern
Chamouni. The population, which throughout the summer appears to pass its
time in the streets with its hands in its pockets, was still amusing
itself in the same way. The tone of the village was just the same as we
had always known it, and even M. Couttet himself had not succeeded in
imparting any marine flavour by building an odd little lighthouse with an
iron flag on the top which the architect had ingeniously represented as
streaming permanently in a direction indicating a wind favourable for fine
weather. We knew that we should find the same denizens in the hotel; and
they were there.

(M62)

There was a very young man with a very parti-coloured face from exposure
on the glaciers, who had recently completed the thousand-and-first ascent
of Mont Blanc and was perpetually posing gracefully against the door-post
or in a lattice-work summer-house a few steps from the hotel, gazing
towards the mountain and rather eagerly joining in any conversation
relating to the perils of the ascent. There were three or four young
ladies of various periods of life who gazed at him with admiration and
enquired at intervals if he wasn’t very tired; to which the young man
replied carelessly that he was not, and inwardly thought that the
discomfort of sunburn and the consequent desquamation was on the whole
cheaply bought, the while he wished the expedition had not cost so much
and that so many others had not thought of making the same ascent. And
then there came a lithe, active lady walker who had been up Mont Blanc and
a great many other mountains too, and paid no more attention to the
guides’ stereotyped compliments than a suspicious dog does to those of a
nervous visitor: so the young man’s nose was put out of joint and he would
have laughed scornfully at the fickleness of hero worship had not the skin
of his face been in danger of cracking, and he wished his shirt collar had
not been starched and thumped by the village washerwoman into the form of
a circular linen saw.

(M63)

Then there was an excitable Englishman of impulsive habits, with a large
family who were perpetually playing a game of follow-my-leader with their
parent, and who were under orders to weigh anchor on the following morning
at five o’clock for the Montanvert and the Mauvais Pas. The boys were
stoking up for the occasion with raw apples, and the girls were occupied,
when not pursuing their restless father, in preparing a puggaree for his
hat. There was a gentleman who affected the curious untidiness of raiment
not unfrequently noticed among Sunday frequenters of the Thames, and who
sought to establish a mountaineering reputation by constantly gazing at
the peaks around in a knowing manner and wearing a flannel shirt of an
obtrusive pattern destitute of any collar. There were guides about, who
were on the point of being paid for their services and who were
exceedingly polite and obsequious; others whose “tour” had just passed,
were, proportionately, less deferential. There was an elderly lady whose
whole soul appeared bent on a little stocking from which she never parted,
and who turned the knitting needles to more account for toilet and other
small purposes than I could have conceived to be possible. There were two
or three mountaineers who appeared anxious only to avoid everyone’s gaze
and who might be seen in byways and odd corners talking to bronzed guides
who looked like business. Finally, there was a gentleman of statistical
and scientific tendencies, much given to making quietly astonishing
statements of astronomical facts and gently smiling as he rolled over his
tongue and enjoyed the flavour of the vast numbers with which it was his
pleasure to deal. He absolutely revelled and wallowed in figures.
Buttonholed in a corner and compelled to listen with deferential
attention, I secretly writhed as he crushed me slowly with the mere weight
of his numerals. He shared with others of his frame of mind the
peculiarity of always keeping something in hand and skilfully working up
to a climax. Such and such a star was so many millions of miles off. We
opened our eyes to the proper degree of width and observed, “Bless me!”
or, “You don’t say so?” Instantly he would rejoin, “Ah, but that’s nothing
to so and so,” and then favoured us with a still more immeasurable
distance. We expressed a slightly greater degree of intelligent amazement.
Thereupon he nodded his head, gently inclined it a little to one side, and
smiled softly. It gave him such evident pleasure to have a listener that I
attended with due reverence to his enthusiastic computations; knowing my
man, I felt sure that he was keeping back a real staggerer to finish up
with, and was prepared to assume varying degrees of surprise up to the
moment when it should come. Unfortunately I misjudged its advent, and
feeling that I had somewhat lost in his estimation by evincing undue
astonishment at a comparatively small array of figures, I sought to turn
the conversation by requesting to know how long he thought it might be
before the great rock peaks around us would have crumbled away to their
bases. The calculation was too trivial and the number of millions of
generations too small to interest him much, but he vouchsafed an
approximate estimate.

(M64)

I let him babble on and fell a-thinking. The peaks were crumbling away bit
by bit no doubt, the glaciers shrinking. At a bound the mind leapt into a
future which, after all, might be not so very unlike a past. The Alps
things of the past! What, I wondered, when the mountains were all levelled
down and smiling valleys occupied the troughs of the glaciers of to-day,
would some future commentators make of the literature so industriously
piled up by the members and followers of the Alpine Club? Imagination ran
riot as in a dream, and I fancied some enthusiast exploring the buried
city of the second Babylon and excavating the ruins of the “finest site in
Europe.” I pictured to myself the surprise in store for him on digging out
the effigies of some of our naval and military heroes, and the mingled
feelings with which he would contemplate the unearthed statue of George
IV. It seemed possible that in that far-off epoch to which my friend’s
calculations had borne me, the Alpine Club itself might have ceased to
exist. Pursuing his explorations in an easterly direction, the excavator
might perchance have lighted on a strange tunnel, almost Arcadian in its
simplicity of design, and marvelled at the curious and cheap idols of wax
and wood which the people of that ancient day had evidently worshipped.
Turning north again, this Schliemann of the future would pass by the ruins
of S. Martin’s Church, eager to light upon the precious archives of the
historic Alpine Club itself. How eagerly he would peruse the lore
contained in the Club library, anxious to decipher the inscriptions and
discover what manner of men they were who lived and climbed when mountains
and glaciers were still to be found on this planet. Human nature would
probably not have changed much, and the successful explorer might even
have been asked to favour a scientific society of the future with the
result of his discoveries, to which in all probability he would have
acceded, with a degree of reluctance not quite sufficient to deter the
secretary of the society from pressing him.

(M65)

An abstract of his description of our sibylline leaves I fancied might run
somewhat in this style:—After commenting on the fact that the maps and
illustrations did not usually correspond in number with the list set forth
in the index of the volumes unearthed, he might proceed thus:—“In pursuit
of their great and glorious object these ancient heroes appear to have
undergone vast personal discomfort. It is difficult therefore to realise
fully why so many engaged in this form of exploration. Instances have been
given by other learned antiquarians who have studied the habits of this
people, of a similar purposeless disregard of comfort, such as the
four-wheeled wooden boxes in which they travelled about, the seats in
their churches, &c. The outset of their expedition was almost invariably
characterised by a display of bad temper, attributed to early rising.
After a varying number of hours of excessive toil the travellers were wont
to arrive at some fearsome chasm spoken of as a ‘bergschrund.’ On this, if
the subject-matter of their narrative was insufficient in quantity, they
were wont to descant and enlarge at length; sometimes, as we judge, in
their descriptions they enlarged the bergschrund itself. They then crossed
it. Immediately after this incident they were in the habit of eating, and
the minute and instructive details commonly given enable us to form a
tolerably accurate opinion as to the nature of the diet with which they
supported their exhausted frames. Next they traversed strange localities
for which there appear to have been no adequately descriptive expressions
in their own language. In fact the difficulty of deciphering these records
is greatly increased by the fact that the writers were versatile
linguists, for they constantly make use of words of a hybrid character.
They were evidently practised meteorologists and took much interest in
this subject, as may be gathered throughout from their writings. At length
they reached summits, of the nature of which we in our time can have but a
feeble conception. So great was their relief at the termination of their
self-imposed but toilsome task, that they habitually burst forth into
language characterised by a wealth of imagery and a fervour of poetic
description which unfortunately conveys but little idea to us in our day
of what they actually saw. In descending they were all commonly within an
ace of meeting with a violent death. The mode in which the danger attacked
them varied within certain restricted limits, but it always occurred and
the escape was always narrow. The peril over, they remarked that they
breathed freely again, and then at once fell to eating. Arrived at a
successful termination of their wearisome labour, they advised others to
do the same. They dealt out unsparing satire to their companions,
unlimited praise to their guides, and unmeasured ridicule to their porter.
They commonly expressed throughout their descriptions grave doubts and
uncertainty as to the issue of the expedition: a curious and noteworthy
fact, for the heading of the accounts always divulged at the outset their
ultimate success. The construction, therefore, of their narratives was in
accordance with a well-recognised model and appeared capable of little
variation. The only other facts that we can glean are that they were
prodigious eaters, were much pestered by some extinct species of insects,
and that they make frequent allusions to a substance termed tobacco. The
constant repetition of these incidents stamps upon their writings the
impress of unexaggerated veracity. Still they were not universally held in
favour, indeed were regarded with disapprobation by some individuals of
their own race. It would seem indeed from internal evidence that, had it
not been for frequent and sharp criticism of their proceedings, their
pastime might never have inveigled so many persons with its seductive
fascination.”

Now at the time at which these prophetic fancies were conjured up we had
just completed an expedition which it seemed might be worthy of attention,
solely on the ground of its very contradictoriness. For the features of
this climb were most opposed to those already mentioned, and in fact
mention of it scarcely seemed admissible in an Alpine narrative. We took
no porter with us to fill the rôle of first low comedy man. We had very
little to eat; our stock of wine ran out through a leaky gourd; our
tobacco was wet and there was no bergschrund, and yet all this happened on
a mountain close to Chamouni.

(M66)

“Some vast amount of years ago, ere all my youth had vanished from me,” as
the poet says, at a date therefore which for obvious reasons it is
inexpedient here to mention, I found myself, as already mentioned, at
Chamouni. With me was an old mountain friend and fellow climber, J. Oakley
Maund. We were both burning with desire to add to the list of the many
successful expeditions we had made together, but, as a matter of fact,
were somewhat gravelled for lack of suitable matter. Like a ministry on
the eve of a general election or a gentleman without a sixpenny-piece at a
theatre, we were sorely in need of a programme. The locality was somewhat
unfortunately chosen for those in whom the ancient spirit was not yet
quite extinct and who wanted to do something new. Ever since the days when
Jacques Balmat, Dr. Paccard, and the great De Saussure had donned strange
apparel and shown the way—that is to say, for nearly a hundred
years—people had been climbing mountains in the district, and it was not
to be wondered at if it were hard to find some expedition which nobody
else had thought of, or, worse still, had achieved. We gazed at the map
and made thumb marks all over it. In every conceivable direction ran
little lines indicative of previous explorations. We studied the _carte en
relief_, but without much hope of getting any information of value from
this inaccurate and lumpy absurdity. Mont Blanc, which, according to this
work of plastic art, was modelled out as some eight or ten thousand feet
higher than any other point of the chain, had had all the snow worn off
its summit by much fingering, so that the component pasteboard showed
through. Rivers ran uphill in this map, and lakes were inclined at an
angle; bits of sticking plaister represented towns and villages, and the
whole article was absolutely bristling with little spikes and points like
the old panoramas of London or the docks at Liverpool. Still a
considerable number of people seemed willing enough to pay fifty centimes
for the pleasure of indicating elaborate expeditions on it with their
fore-fingers, and appeared to derive pleasure from gazing on a pasteboard
misrepresentation when they could by looking out of window see the real
thing for nothing. We abandoned the _carte en relief_ and took Jaun and
Kaspar Maurer into our confidence. The only suggestions that they could
make were the Aiguille des Charmoz and the Dent du Géant. The former of
these two peaks we had both tried to ascend in former seasons, without
success. Jaun did not think then that it was possible, and without sharing
his opinion we gave way to it. With regard to the latter mountain we all
thought at the time that an undue amount of what is vaguely termed
“artificial aid” would be necessary to ensure success, an opinion
confirmed by subsequent events, for when Signor Sella achieved the honour
of the first ascent he was only able to accomplish it by somewhat
elaborate engineering appliances. Some bold person of an original turn of
thought suggested of course a variation of some way up Mont Blanc, but the
utter impossibility of discovering the slightest deviation from any
previously ascended route and the utter uselessness of trying to find one
caused a general shout of derision, and the bold person thereupon withdrew
his suggestion and ordered some coffee. Besides, the weather was fine;
every day swarms of tourists could be seen, crawling up the sides of the
monarch of mountains, in numbers as many as the flies on a sugar loaf in a
grocer’s window on a hot day.

One evening we sat in front of Couttet’s hotel staring pensively at the
familiar outline of the row of aiguilles, and wishing we had lived in the
days of Albert Smith, the best friend Chamouni ever had. At any rate, at
that time the natives were unsophisticated and the mountains about were
not all done to death. The valley between us and the chain was filled with
a light haze, not sufficient to conceal the outline of the mountains but
yet enough to blot out their detail and solidity. As the moon rose behind
the chain we saw a strange phenomenon. A silhouette was thrown forwards on
to the curtain of haze and photographed on it with sharp and clear
definition, so that we could recognise, at an immense height, the shadowed
peaks looking almost as massive as the actual mountains. Nor was this all;
a second curtain of mist seemed to be suspended, in a vertical stratum, in
front of the former one, and the shadows were again marked out on this,
infinitely more magnified and less distinct, but still perfectly
recognisable. As a result we were able to see the semblance of three
distinct tiers of mountains one above the other, looking so massive that
we could scarcely realise that they were but transparent ghosts of the
peaks; and the phenomenon, a double “Brocken,” must have lasted for more
than half an hour. However, we desired something more of the nature of the
substance than the shadow, and ultimately came to the conclusion that it
was absolutely necessary for our peace of mind to accomplish something on
the morrow, and as it really mattered but little what that something might
be, provided a good climb was afforded, we must yield to circumstances and
perforce adopt the latter-day necessity of all mountaineers. If we could
not find the right way up some new mountain we could at least take the
wrong way up an old one.

(M67)

So the next morning we walked up to the Pierre Pointue as a preliminary
step—a good many and rather arduous steps—towards the object in view. The
exertion of toiling up the zigzags or the more rarefied atmosphere had a
remarkable effect on one of the party, whose face when we reached the
chalet was found to be wreathed in smiles and wearing an expression of
great intelligence. He had in fact become possessed of an idea. Bubbling
over with self-satisfied chuckles, he suggested that we should ascend the
Aiguille du Midi by the face directly in front of us and then descend on
the other side, thus making a col of the mountain. The idea found favour
instantly, and the intelligent person was so much pleased that he ordered
a bottle of wine, plastered over with a very costly variety of label, and
regretted it. Investigation of the cellar revealed only two casks of wine,
but the “carte” comprised a long list of various vintages. Fired with
enthusiasm and inflated with _limonade gazeuse_, we left the chalet and
strode vigorously up the hill in order to prospect the route and
reconnoitre the rocks. The exertion and the pace soon told upon us, the
sooner that it was a hot, enervating day; the kind of day that makes one
perforce admire the ingenious benevolence of nature in fashioning out on
the grassy slopes rounded inequalities, exactly adapted to those of the
human figure in a seated or recumbent position. The heated air rising from
the ground gave flickering and distorted views of distant objects, like
unto marine phenomena viewed through the cheap panes of a seaside
lodging-house window. The grasshoppers were extraordinarily busy; the bees
droned through the heavy air; the ants, overcome apparently by the
temperature, had given up for the time straining their jaws by their
foolish practice of carrying large parcels about without any definite
object, and had retired to the shady seclusion of their own heaped-up
residences; the turf was most inviting. It now occurred to us that there
was no absolute necessity for the whole party to ascend on the present
occasion, and that perhaps the guides might go up quicker alone. The
details of this suggestion were acceded to on the part of the amateurs of
the party with astonishing alacrity and unanimity. We laid the scheme
before the guides, and they also thought it a very fine one. Thereupon,
with much parade and ceremony, they braced themselves up for great
exertion, borrowed the telescope, remarked that they expected to be back
some time during the night, and started upwards with somewhat over-acted
eagerness. My companion and I disposed ourselves comfortably in the shade,
and resumed an argument which had originally commenced some days
previously. I waxed eloquent on the subject under discussion and with much
success, for such was the force of my logic and the cogency of my
reasoning that I bore down on my opponent, and reduced him in a short time
to absolute silence, from which he did not awake for nearly two hours.

(M68)

About this time the guides, who in all probability had also been
comfortably asleep within a short distance of us, returned and gave a
favourable report concerning the mountain. Elated by this news, we climbed
a short distance further up, and met there a large party of ephemeral
acquaintances who were taking an afternoon’s pleasure on the hills. After
the manner of people when so engaged, they set forth with great energy and
climbed up a steep little rock tump a few hundred yards distant. Arrived
at the summit, they roared out unintelligible remarks to us, and we did
the same to them till we were hoarse; we waved our hands and hats and they
flourished their handkerchiefs as if they were our dearest friends on
earth, just setting out on an emigrant ship for the Antipodes. The party
then descended; the nearer they came the less friendly and demonstrative
were we, and by the time we met the warmth of affection recently
manifested on both sides had wholly evaporated, and we conversed in
ordinary tones on indifferent topics. Then they set out for another little
hill, and we were moved, apparently by some uncontrollable impulse, to go
through the same idiotic performance. Emotional behaviour of a similar
kind is not infrequently observed in the mountains. We journeyed together
back to the Pierre Pointue, viewing each other with distrust and
suspicion; and when it was found that we had bespoken the beds—if the
exaggerated packing-cases lined with straw bags could be considered
such—we parted on terms the reverse of friendly. So frail are the links
that bind human affections.

(M69)

Standing in front of the hut was a type of character very familiar in
these tourist-frequented districts. His exterior was unpromising; his
beard of a fortnight’s growth, or thereabouts, somewhat fitful withal and
lacking in uniformity of development. A hard hat, with a shining green
veil folded around its battered outline, decorated his head; his raiment
was black and rusty, his legs cased in canvas gaiters fastened with many
little girths and buckles, and in his right hand he grasped a trusty
three-franc pole made of wainy deal, and surmounted at the top by a brown
knob similar to those which come out suddenly when we try to open a chest
of drawers in a cheap lodging. He fidgeted about for a while, asked
questions in a rather loud tone of voice at us, and we felt that it was
his intention to enter into conversation. It was even so. After a while he
sidled up and requested with much diffidence to be informed what we
proposed to climb on the morrow. Now the true mountaineer, however amiable
his disposition, always shrinks up into his shell when such a question is
put to him on the eve of an expedition. My companion indicated by a sweep
of the arm a space of territory extending about from the Mont Buet on the
one side round to the Aiguille de Gouté on the other. Our friend surveyed
from end to end the extensive panorama suggested, then looked seriously at
us and observed that we should probably find it a fine walk. We expressed
gravely the opinion that he was quite right, and then went in to dinner,
while our composite friend expatiated on the project to his companions as
an expedition but little out of the ordinary run, and one that he was
perfectly prepared to undertake himself if so disposed; then he resumed
his contemplation of a rock some ninety feet or so in height jutting out
through the glacier above, which he was under the impression was a lady
descending from Mont Blanc. We did not learn his name, but the individual
may, nevertheless, possibly be recognised. Some points of the argument
were still unsettled when we climbed over the edges of our respective
boxes and vanished into the strawy depths below. The clear moonlight
streamed in through the window and prevented sleep; so I lay in my wooden
box thinking over the recent discussion, but with such a distinct
intention—like little Paul Dombey with Mrs. Pipchin—of fixing my companion
presently, that even that hardy old mountaineer deemed it prudent to
counterfeit slumber.

In the small hours of the morning we got under weigh. For some time we had
been leading a life of sloth in Chamouni, and the delight of finding
ourselves once more on the mountain path, and making for a rock climb,
entirely precluded that fractiousness which, as all readers of Alpine
literature know, ought properly to be described at this period of an
expedition. The path was irregular and demanded some equanimity, for the
stumbling-blocks were innumerable and artfully placed to trip up the
unwary in an aggravating manner. Feeling it unfair that all the work
should be thrown on the guides, I had volunteered, rather magnanimously,
to bear part of the burden, and selected the lantern as my share. By this
means it was not only possible to walk in comfort over a well-lighted
track, but the bearer was enabled also to regulate the pace to a speed
convenient to his own feelings. Before long, however, we reached the lower
snow patches of the Glacier des Pélèrins, and the light was no longer
necessary.

(M70)

We made straight across the crisp snow to the base of a promising-looking
rock buttress lying to the right of the snow gully that runs up the side
of the mountain, feeling sure that either by the rocks or the snow a way
up could be found. And now I am painfully conscious of a glaring defect in
this Alpine narrative. A mountain ascent without a bergschrund is as tame
as a steeplechase without a water jump, but candour compels the admission
that no bergschrund was visible. Either we had hit on a spot where the
orthodox chasm was filled up for the time, or else this particular glacier
was an exception to all others previously treated of in mountain
literature. In a few seconds we found ourselves on the rocks, delighted to
exchange the monotonous mode of progression compulsory on snow for the
varied gymnastic exercises demanded on rocks. The sun had risen, the axes
clanked merrily against the stones, the snow was in good condition for
walking, everything seemed favourable, and we gazed down complacently on
the distance already traversed. Above us the mountain was broken up and
easy, and we climbed on rapidly, each in the fashion that seemed best to
him. So good was our progress at first, that we were already far up the
buttress, and could barely see our morning’s tracks in the snow beneath,
when a halt was called for breakfast, and we had time to look around. Now,
however unconventional this expedition may have been in many respects, the
sagacious student of Alpine literature will know that it must be wholly
impossible to omit all reference to the weather. As soon might one expect
two prosaic persons of slight acquaintanceship to abjure the topic at a
chance meeting. The western sky wore a rather ominous look of half
mourning, and heavy grey and black clouds were whirling about and forming
up in close order in a manner suggestive of rising wind. Even at this
stage of the proceedings the thought crossed our minds that the storm
which was evidently brewing might possibly overtake us, and that perhaps
we ought at once to turn back.

(M71)

One thing was evident; that we must decide quickly, whatever we did. We
determined to push on for a while, and with that intent girded ourselves
with the rope and worked our way on to the top of the first buttress. At
this point, further progress directly upwards was impossible, and we were
compelled to cross the gully and make for the rock on the left-hand side.
Considerable care is always necessary in crossing, horizontally, a gully
filled with snow, where the rope is rather a source of danger than of
security. We had to give all our attention to the passage, and when we
reached the rocks opposite, the climbing, though not formidable, was still
sufficiently difficult to occupy all our thoughts for the moment, and we
had but little leisure, and perhaps but little inclination, for
meteorological observations. At the top of the rocks a promising snow
slope, stretching upwards with gentle curves and sweeps, seemed to offer a
fair prospect of rapid progress. Such snow slopes are at all times a
little deceptive. Even when the climber is close to them they look
oftentimes much easier than they immediately after prove to be. From a
distance, say from under the verandah of a comfortable hotel, when the
climber _in posse_ indicates the way he would pursue with the end of his
cigar, they are absurdly easy. So, too, are obstacles in the
hunting-field, such as stiff hedges and uncompromising gates, easy enough
when the Nimrod studies them as he whirls along in an express train.
Subsequently, when immediately associated with a horse, these same
obstacles assume a different guise. Then are the sentiments of the hunter
prone to become modified, and compassion for dumb beasts becomes more
prominent in the thoughtful votary of the chase, till finally it may be
observed that the little wits jump sometimes more than the great ones.
Even so does the mountaineer often discover, on a nearer acquaintance that
the snow incline up which he proposed to stride merrily is inclined at a
highly inconvenient angle. However, at the commencement of our slope we
found the snow in good condition, and advanced quickly for some little
distance, but before we had got very far it was necessary to resort to the
axe, and we had then ample opportunities of looking round. The clouds were
lowering more and more, but as they were swept up by a sou’westerly wind,
the intervening mass of the mountain prevented us from seeing thoroughly
what might be in store for us. The wind, too, was growing stronger every
minute, and my companion, who was still pursuing his argument, and, as it
appeared subsequently, making some rather good points, had to exert
himself considerably in order to make his voice heard.

Presently we halted for a few minutes on some spiky little rocks, and
again looked about. The weather prospects were just in that doubtful state
that prompts every member of the party to ask the others what they think.
Maurer looked exceedingly vacant and made no remark. Jaun put a bit of
snow in his mouth, but declined to give an opinion. We, not to be outdone,
assumed very profound expressions, as if prepared to find ourselves in the
right whatever happened, but, following the example of Lord Burleigh in
the famous tragedy, we said nothing either. At last, some one suggested
that we might go on for a little, and then see. Accordingly we went on for
a little, but then as a matter of fact the mists swept up around us and we
did not see anything at all. It was, no doubt, inconvenient that we were
unable to penetrate with our gaze to the regions above, but still we felt
that there was one slight counterbalancing advantage, for there was
present the haunting consciousness that the gigantic telescope of Chamouni
was pointed in our direction, and at least the enveloping mist ensured
that privacy which is not always accorded to climbers pursuing their
pastime within range of these instruments of science.

(M72)

In the hope that the condition of the upper snow might be good, and
perhaps rather mistaken in the height we had already reached, we made up
our minds to push on, with the view of reaching at any rate the top of the
ridge before the storm broke. Every now and again a rent in the clouds
above, lasting for a few seconds, showed us that the wind was blowing with
great force, as thin clouds of loose snow were swept up and whirled along
the face in curling wreaths. The spectacle might not, at first sight, have
been thought highly diverting: yet as we pointed upwards to the ridge and
watched the racing snow-drifts driving over the slopes we were making for,
we all laughed very heartily. So universal is the tendency to be amused at
the sight of discomfort that it even extends to the contemplation of its
occurring shortly to oneself. In the paulo-post-future the experience is
exhilarating: in the actual present it is less laughter-moving. Laughter
in the presence of events that are, in the true sense of the word,
sensational, comes almost as a reflex action (to borrow an expression from
the physiologists), and the sympathetic distress that follows takes an
appreciable time to develop. I can recall once being a witness with some
others of a ghastly accident by which several people were precipitated,
together with a mass of broken timbers and débris of all sorts, from a
great height. A door was burst open and the ruin met our eyes suddenly. To
this day I can remember sounds of laughter at the first view—hysterical if
you like to call it so, and not mirthful, but still laughter. In a few
seconds the realisation of what had happened came, and then came the
distress and with it expressions of horror, as all worked manfully to help
and rescue the sufferers. The sequence of emotions was perfectly natural,
and only they who have never passed through such an experience would speak
of inhumanity. There is no want of humanity in the matter. The suddenness
of the impression begets the train of emotions, and the brain grasps the
facts but slowly. To take another instance: I have been told by a man
whose quickness and presence of mind were remarkable—a man who as a
schoolboy won a Royal Humane Society’s medal—that on one occasion he
witnessed a friend fall over a staircase from a great height. The accident
was in the highest degree unexpected: and the witness walked leisurely on
as if nothing had happened. But in a few seconds came like a severe blow
the sudden realisation of what had taken place. Thought is not always
quick. We can no more exert our minds to their fullest capacity on a
sudden than we can put forth our utmost physical strength on a sudden.
Action when almost instantaneous is independent of the higher mental
faculties, and is but a reflex. The experience of those who have been in
railway accidents will be of the same nature. In climbing up a very steep
or difficult place if a man falls all are prepared more or less for such
an accident. The whole attention is given to guarding against a probable
contingency, and it follows that the mind can instantly realise its
occurrence. And that such is the case I have been unlucky enough to
witness, though most fortunately the fall was attended with no serious
consequences. On the same principle, to take a more trivial example, on
difficult rocks it is the rarest possible accident for a man to sprain his
ankle or knee. The muscles are always prepared for a possible slip and
kept in tension on the alert. On the loose moraine, when walking leisurely
or carelessly, such an accident is a thousand times more likely to occur.

(M73)

Our leader worked away with a will, but the snow got harder at every step.
The growing force of the wind, which in nautical language had increased
from that vague degree known as a capful to the indefinite force of a
stiff breeze, and the increasing steepness of the slope, compelled Jaun to
make the steps larger and larger as we ascended. It soon became evident
that the storm would overtake us long before we could hope to get on to
the ridge, and that we had deliberately walked into something of a trap.
The steps had been cut so far apart that to descend by the same line would
have involved the construction of a fresh staircase, and on actually
turning, we found that what was a stiff breeze behind us was a half gale
when it met our faces. It was certainly easier to go on than to go back;
so we went further and fared much worse. The slope became steeper, the ice
harder, the half gale became a whole gale, and the delay between each step
seemed interminable. Suddenly, as we passed from under the lee of a
projecting slope on our right, a tremendous gust of wind, which seemed to
have waited for a few moments in order to collect its full forces, swept
suddenly down and almost tore us from our foothold. With that a torrent of
hail fell, and for a few moments we had enough to do to hold on where we
stood. Even my companion’s conversation slackened. He had astutely
selected a place in the caravan immediately behind me, and as the gale was
blowing directly on our backs was enabled to fire off his remarks and
arguments without any possibility of response. Anything that I said in
answer was audible only to our leader, who took not the smallest interest
in the discussion. Unfortunately, too, it was difficult to listen with any
attention; for as the gusts came on we were forced to swing all our faces
round like chimney cowls instantly in the same direction. The squalls
became more frequent and more violent, the thunder and lightning played
around merrily, and as the wind howled by we had to throw ourselves flat
against the slope, adopting the undignified attitudes of a deer-stalker
nearing the brow of a Scotch hill—attitudes which bring somewhat unduly
into prominence the inadequate nature of the national costume.
Fortunately, as has been said, we were screened from view; and our poses,
though possibly ungraceful, were at any rate uncriticised. The big
hailstones, falling softly around, filled up the steps as they were made,
and our feet were buried up to the ankles in a moment. In a minute or two
the hurricane passed for the time; then we arose, shook ourselves, smiled
at nothing in particular, and the leader would find time during the
comparative lull to hack out three or four fresh steps. Certain sounds,
not accounted for by the elements, coming up from below, may have been
suggestions or may have been arguments, but they were knocked out of all
intelligible shape before they reached the head of the caravan. Not even
the porter at Lloyd’s or the captain of a merchantman could have made
himself audible in that cyclone. Upwards we went, fighting for each step
and for each yard gained as hard as if we were storming a fortress. Even
while the leader had his axe in the air ready to deliver a fresh blow a
distant roar would betoken another onslaught, and we instantly fell flat
down like tin soldiers struck with the well-directed pea, and disposed
ourselves at a convenient angle of resistance; and so we went on, when we
did go on at all. If the relation is wearisome it is also realistic, for
we found that the actual experience was far from being lively; but all
things must have an end, including even the _feuilleton_ in a Parisian
newspaper or the walk up to the Bel Alp on a hot day, and the termination
came almost unexpectedly.

(M74)

We had got thoroughly tired of perpetually clinging on by the simple force
of adhesion to the storm-swept slope, and felt almost inclined to give up
the struggle against the elements and to go straight on trusting to
chance. Maurer, below, wore the expression of frowning discontent best
seen in amateur tenors singing a tender love ditty. Jaun had remarked
half-a-dozen times that the very next squall would infallibly sweep us all
away, and his cheerful prophetic utterances really seemed on the point of
being fulfilled, when, almost suddenly, the snow seemed to vanish from
under our feet, and we found ourselves on the summit of the ridge; at
least directly above us no more ascent appeared to present. It was
difficult to realise adequately the exact direction in which we were
facing, but I suppose that as the ridge runs about north and south by the
compass, we were facing a little south of east. This was an important
matter to decide, as the mist was gathered thick around and the idea of
descent had to be at once considered now that we had got to a position of
some degree of definiteness. At our feet the snow slope fell away in a
manner so distinct that we were without doubt really on the top of some
portion of the ridge. The difficulty was to estimate how far to our right
the summit of the Aiguille du Midi itself lay. However, we felt with
relief the truth of somebody’s remark that we had at length succeeded in
getting somewhere; so far, no doubt, matters were satisfactory. Howbeit,
our pleasure was somewhat modified by the discovery that the gale blew
with considerably more force on the south-east side than it did on the one
by which we had ascended. We looked towards the south and endeavoured to
gather our wits together to elucidate the geographical problem that
presented. At the foot of the slope must lie the upper basin of the Vallée
Blanche and the Glacier de Tacul; unfortunately there seemed to be a
prodigious storm going on in that basin, and clouds of loose snow were
whirling about in all directions. It was impossible to understand these
winds; one might have thought that Æolus had just stepped out to attend a
committee meeting of the gods, and that all his subordinates were having
high jinks during his absence.

(M75)

The possibility of actually completing the ascent of the mountain seemed
out of the question, and the hope that we might have crept under the
shelter of the ridge to the final little rock cone of the Aiguille was
literally thrown to the winds. Here again, therefore, this narrative is
highly unconventional, for it is impossible to consult M. Roget’s
“Thesaurus” and indulge with its aid in any grandiloquent description of
the view from the summit, although my account has now reached the stage at
which such word painting ought properly to be inserted. We turned to our
right, the direction in which the peak lay, and walked some little way
along the ridge till we got under shelter of a rock; now we were able once
more to stand upright and, huddled together, took the opportunity which
had been denied to us for some hours to interchange views. All agreed that
the situation was vile; that word, at least, may be taken as the resultant
of the various forcible epithets actually employed. All agreed that the
cold was intense, the prospect doubtful, and the panorama _nil_. There was
but one redeeming feature: extreme discomfort will reveal humour in those
in whom that quality would not be expected _a priori_ to find a
dwelling-place, and to each one of us the spectacle of his three wobegone
companions seemed to afford, if not amusement, at least an inkling of
complacency. Maurer removed the pack from his shoulders, and it was then
perceived that our cup of misery was full, and our sole remaining bottle
of wine completely empty. We had originally started with two, one white
and one red, of an inferior and indigestible quality, but had left the
white wine down below on the snow; we had previously drunk it. The other
bottle had broken against some projecting rock in climbing up, and the
resulting leakage had led to the formation of a very large circular red
patch in the small of Maurer’s back, wherever that anatomical region might
be situated in our squat and sturdy little guide. After muttering together
in patois for a little while the guides seized their axes and suddenly
commenced with great vigour to hack out a large hole in the ice. We fell
to also, and for some few minutes all worked away with the best of good
will; the splinters and little blocks of ice flew around under our blows,
and before long we had excavated a flat basin capable of holding water. At
the least, the exercise had the effect of warming us, and Maurer, who
previously, from the effects of the cold, had been the colour of a
congested alderman in the face, gradually assumed a more healthy hue. We
now inquired what the object might be of preparing this cavern. Thereupon
Jaun gave vent to the ingenious suggestion that we had better remain where
we were and sleep in it. The idea seemed too likely to lead to permanent
repose to be commendable, and we received his proposition, as befitted its
nature, with some coolness, remarking that on the whole we should prefer
to go home. This view led to further conversation; ultimately we descended
a few feet on the south-east side and then made our way along the face of
the slope in a south-westerly direction towards the hut on the Aiguille du
Midi. The snow was soft, and we went on for some distance without
difficulty, till we again reached the ridge on the south-west side of the
Aiguille, having thus passed round the base of the final peak of the
mountain, which consists of a comparatively small rocky cone jutting up
from the main ridge. We were still of course a long way from the hut, but
as in this situation we were much more sheltered, we took the opportunity
to review the state of affairs and to consider our position, which for the
moment, like that of the pocket of a lady’s ball dress, was indeterminate.
What were we to do? As with the diners at “Prix fixe” restaurant, there
were three courses for us: we might go down on one side, we might descend
on the other side, or we might remain where we were. The latter
alternative was as distasteful now as it had been just previously, and it
was negatived decisively. “Very good,” said the guides; “if you won’t stay
here we must go down that way,” and they pointed in a direction westerly
by the compass. My companion and I were opposed to this plan for two
reasons: one that the route would, if it led anywhere in particular, take
us down to the Glacier des Bossons, where we did not want to go, the other
that by reason of the marvellous fury of the hurricane it would have been
altogether impossible to follow at all the line indicated. We were only in
fact able to dart out from under shelter of the rock and peer down into
the misty depths for a few seconds at a time, for the gale took our breath
away as completely as in the “cavern of the winds” at Niagara. To have
climbed down a new and difficult rock cliff in the face of the numbing
cold would have been little short of suicidal.

(M76)

It is Artemus Ward, I think, who describes the ingenious manner in which
Baron Trenck, of prison-breaking fame, escaped on one occasion from
durance vile. For fifteen long years the Baron had lain immured, and had
tried in vain to carry out all the sensational methods of escape ever
suggesting themselves to his fertile brain. At last an idea occurred to
him. He opened the door and walked out. By an intellectual effort of
almost equal brilliancy and originality we solved the difficulty that
beset us: we turned towards the south-east and walked quietly down the
slope for a hundred feet or so. Simplicity of thought is characteristic of
great minds. Why, nevertheless, it had not occurred to us before to escape
by this line I can no more explain than I can give the reason why all the
ladies in a concert-room smile, as one woman, when a singer of their own
sex makes her appearance on the platform, or why itinerant harp players
always wear tall hats. Immediately the complexion of affairs brightened
up. The wind was much less furious than it had been on the ridge, and the
hail was replaced by snow. Jaun now gave it as his opinion that the best
line of descent would consist in crossing round the head of the Vallée
Blanche and the upper slopes of the Glacier du Géant, so as to join the
ordinary route leading from the Col du Géant to the Montanvert. But in the
thick mist it would have been far from easy to hit off the right track,
and we thought it possible to make a short cut to the same end, and to
find a way directly down the Vallée Blanche towards the rocks known as the
Petit Rognon. We had no compass with us, but the direction of the slope
indicated the proper line of descent to follow. In most years it would not
be easy to discover the way through the complicated crevasses of the
ice-fall situated between the “Rognon” and the easterly rocks of the
Aiguille du Midi; but in 18— so much snow had fallen early in the spring
and so little had melted during the summer, that we experienced
comparatively little difficulty in descending almost in a straight line.
During this part of the expedition the good qualities of our guides showed
once more to advantage. Unquestionably while on the ridge they had put
forward suggestions which were rather wild in character, and which were
proved now to be mistaken. The intense cold and the beating of the storm
seemed rather to have paralysed their usually calm judgment, and it is an
odd fact that guides, even when first rate, are oftentimes more affected
by such conditions than are the amateurs whom they conduct. We could no
more, with such experience as we possessed, have led the way aright as our
leader did with unerring sagacity, than an untutored person could write
out a full orchestra score. We could only insist on a given line being
taken if in their judgment it were possible. Once fairly started, we felt
that we must push our plan through, employing the same form of argument as
the man did in support of a bold statement that a certain beaver, closely
pursued by a dog, had climbed up a tree. It was not a question now whether
we could do it, or could not do it; we had to do it. The day was far
spent, there was possibly much difficult work before us, and the exertion
already undergone had been tolerably severe. The temptation was therefore
great rather to scamp the work of finding the best and safest track
through the ice-fall, but our leader displayed as much care and
thoroughness as if he were strolling over snow slopes with a critical
Chamouni guide behind him. A momentary glimpse of the familiar form of the
Aiguille du Géant right in front of us confirmed the judgment that we were
on the right track. In descending the ice-fall we passed to the right of
the Petit Rognon, and at the base of the Séracs halted and thought we
would have something to eat. Maurer produced our stock of provisions,
which consisted of one roll studded with little bits of broken glass and
reduced by the action of wine and water to the consistence of a poultice.
The refection was, therefore, as unsatisfactory as a meal out of a loosely
tied nosebag to a cab horse. And now for another departure from
time-honoured custom. All mountain narratives at this period of the day
make reference to the use of tobacco, the well-earned pipe, and so forth.
But the sleety rain, which for the last hour and a half had replaced the
snow, had soaked everything so thoroughly that an attempt to carry out the
orthodox proceeding did not, like most failures, end in smoke. So we
trudged on again empty and unsolaced.

(M77)

As the shades of night were falling, four dripping and woe-begone
travellers might, to borrow the novelist’s common mode of expression, have
been observed toiling up the steep path towards the old Montanvert
hotel—that is, they might have been observed by anybody who was foolish
enough to be out of doors on such a detestable evening. We entered the
familiar little room, an ingenious compound of a toyshop and a barrack,
and notwithstanding that we were viewed with marked disfavour by the other
guests therein assembled in consequence of our moist and steamy condition,
we seated ourselves and called for refreshment. The atmosphere in the
stuffy den called the salon was a trifle pungent, and having contributed a
little additional dampness to the apartment we set off again. That
familiar old room with its odd collection of curiosities, in which the
fare was on the whole more disproportionate to the price than at any other
institution of a similar kind in the mountains, has ceased to exist long
ago. I fancy that it did not require much pulling down. It is happily
replaced now by one of the best managed and most comfortable mountain
hotels to be found in the Alps, a sure sign of which attraction is to be
found in the fact that it is, at any rate, spoken of with disfavour by the
inhabitants of the village below or by such as do not hold shares. Another
hour’s descent and we passed through the few scattered houses just outside
Chamouni. The attractions on the way down had not diverted us from our
stern purpose of reaching Couttet’s hotel as soon as possible. We had
politely declined the invitation of a perennially knitting young woman to
view a live chamois. The spasmodic smile called up by each approaching
tourist faded from her countenance as we passed by. Four times did we
decline the gentle refreshment of _limonade gazeuse_, once did we sternly
refuse to partake of strawberries, and twice to purchase crystals. It was
dark as we neared the town; it may have been my fancy, but I cannot help
thinking that I perceived our old friend the blind beggar with the
lugubrious expression which he wore when on duty, and with the tall hat
which served the purpose of an alms’-box, and which he did not wear when
on duty, enjoying himself in a very merry manner by the side of a blazing
fire. Notwithstanding that night had fallen there was still a little group
by the bridge round the one-armed telescope man, anxiously crowding to
hear the last news of the two insane Englishmen who had without doubt
perished that day miserably on the rocks of the Midi. A project had
already been started to organise an expedition on the morrow to search for
the bodies; and we might very possibly, if we had cared for the
excitement, have been allowed to join the party.

(M78)

As in a play the most striking situation is by the discreet author
reserved to the conclusion, so in this contradictory chapter the most
glaring deficiency comes now at the end. My readers, if they have
generously followed me so far, will recognise that we not only went on
something of a fool’s errand, incurring considerable difficulty and
perhaps risk in that mission, but that we never got up the mountain at
all. The force of contradictoriness can no further go. Still, it may be
pointed out that we did actually accomplish all that was novel in the
expedition. Once on the ridge, the remaining portion of the climb is, in
fine weather, easy and well known, so the fact that the Aiguille du Midi
can be ascended by this line by any one consumed with an ambition to do
so, is beyond doubt. We were not probably at one point more than twenty
minutes or half an hour from the actual summit. I cannot honestly advise
anybody to follow our tracks; but in all probability, if someone should
desire to do so, he need not, under favourable conditions, contemplate
meeting with any unsurmountable difficulties.

  [Illustration: THE AIGUILLE DU DRU
  FROM THE SOUTH]



                               CHAPTER VI.


                      ASCENT OF THE AIGUILLE DU DRU


                                              “_Decies repetita placebit_”


     Disadvantages of narratives of personal adventure—Expeditions on
    the Aiguille du Dru in 1874—The ridge between the Aiguilles du Dru
           and Verte—“Défendu de passer par là”—Distance lends
     enchantment—Other climbers attack the peak—View of the mountain
      from the Col de Balme—We try the northern side, and fail more
        signally than usual—Showing that mountain fever is of the
      recurrent type—We take seats below, but have no opportunity of
    going up higher—The campaign opens—We go under canvas—A spasmodic
         start, and another failure—A change of tactics and a new
     leader—Our sixteenth attempt—Sports and pastimes at Chamouni—The
      art of cray-fishing—The apparel oft proclaims the man—A canine
      acquaintance—A new ally—The turning point of the expedition—A
    rehearsal for the final performance—A difficult descent—A blank in
      the narrative—A carriage misadventure—A penultimate failure—We
        start with two guides and finish with one—The rocks of the
    Dru—Maurer joins the party—Our nineteenth attempt—A narrow escape
       in the gully—The arête at last—The final scramble—Our foe is
    vanquished and decorated—The return journey—Benighted—A moonlight
     descent—We are graciously received—On “fair” mountaineering—The
       prestige of new peaks—Chamouni becomes festive—“Heut’ Abend
     grosses Feuerwerkfest”—Chamouni dances and shows hospitality—The
                             scene closes in.


It is to some extent an unfortunate circumstance that in a personal
narrative of adventure the result is practically known from the very
beginning. The only uncertainty that can exist is the actual pattern on
which the links of the chain are united together, for the climax is from
the outset a foregone conclusion. The descriptive account will inevitably
conduct the reader along a more or less mazy path to an assured goal.
There is certainly one other variety, but that takes the less satisfactory
form of an obituary notice. Even in a thoroughly well-acted play a
perceptible shudder runs through the audience when two actors select each
a chair, draw them down to the footlights, and one announces “’Tis now
some fourteen years ago.” The expression in its pristine dramatic
simplicity may still be heard in transpontine theatres, but modern realism
insists usually on a paraphrase. The audience cannot but feel, however
thrilling the story to be told, that at any rate the two players have
survived the adventures they have to narrate, and on the whole a good many
wish they hadn’t. There sit the heroes, and exert themselves as they will
their recital is apt to fall somewhat flat. In like manner I will not
attempt to conceal the fact that the ultimate result of our numerous
attempts on the peak which forms the subject of this chapter was that we
got up it, and the fact may also be divulged that we came down again, and
in safety. Indeed, it seems difficult now to realise the length of time
during which our ultimate success oscillated in the balance—at one time
appearing hopeless, at another problematical, at times almost certain, and
then again apparently out of our reach.

(M79)

In 1874, with two guides, of whom Alexander Burgener was one, we started
for the Montanvert with the intention of making for the ridge between the
Aiguille du Dru and the Aiguille Verte, with the object of further
investigating the route which Messrs. Pendlebury, Kennedy and Marshall had
essayed on an occasion already described, when the bad condition of the
rocks frustrated their hopes. The mountain was probably in a very
different state on this occasion, and we experienced no very great
difficulty in discovering a fairly easy route up the rocks. The chief
trouble consisted in the fact that the rock gully by which the ascent is
chiefly made was extensively plastered over with ice, a condition in which
we nearly always found it. The last part of the climb up to the ridge
affords a most splendid scramble. The face is so steep on either side that
the climber comes quite suddenly to a position whence he overlooks the
northern slope, if slope it may be called, and looks down on to the
Glacier du Nant Blanc. Seen in grey shadow, or half shrouded in shifting
mists and coloured only with half-tints, the precipice is magnificent;
huge sheets of clear ice coat its flanks, and the almost unbroken descent
of rock affords as striking a spectacle as the mountaineer fond of wild
desolation can well picture.

  If you would see this slope aright,
  Look at it by the pale grey light.

On the left the mass of the Aiguille du Dru cuts off the view of the
fertile regions; far away on the right the huge tapering towers of rock
form a massive foreground stretching away to the base of the Aiguille
Verte. The spectator too seems strangely shut off, so that, gazing around,
on either side he can see but a narrow extent of the mountain. We looked
down and did not like what we saw; we looked up and liked it less. The day
was fine and the mountain in good condition. I can recall now that our
eyes must have wandered over the very route that ultimately proved to be
the right one, and yet to none of us that afternoon did it appear in the
least degree possible. Unquestionably the crags of the Aiguille du Dru
looked formidable enough from this point of view, and we could not but
think that nature must have provided some easier mode of access to the
summit than this face seemed to afford. We climbed along the ridge till we
were almost against the face of the mountain, but then we had to turn our
gaze so directly upwards that matters looked still worse. Then we faced
about and climbed in the other direction. The rocks seemed to grow bigger
and bigger the more we looked at them. What the guides actually thought I
do not quite know, but at the moment my own impression was that it would
be impossible to ascend more than two or three hundred feet: so we turned
and came back. Even while we yet descended the thought came that this face
of the mountain was perhaps not so utterly hopeless as it had appeared a
few minutes previously, and in my own mind I decided that, should we fail
in discovering some much more promising line from another point of view,
we would at least return to the ridge often enough to familiarise
ourselves with this aspect of the mountain, with the idea that such
familiarity if it did not succeed in breeding contempt might at least give
birth to a more sanguine frame of mind. The farther we got from our point
of view the more hopeful did the mental impression seem to become, and by
the time we reached Chamouni we had all separately arrived at the
conclusion—somewhat selfish perhaps, but justifiable under the
circumstances—that if asked what we thought of the possibility of
ascending by the face we had tried, we would give honestly the opinion we
had formed while on the ridge, and not the opinion at which we had arrived
subsequently.

(M80)

Other explorers were meanwhile at work on the mountain, but so far as I
could learn all their attempts were made on the south-western peak. At any
rate they followed more or less the line we had first struck out. Some
thought that the lower peak alone was feasible, others that the higher
peak was attainable only from the south-western side. So thought Mr. E. R.
Whitwell; so again, Mr. J. Birkbeck, jun., both of whom reached probably a
much higher point on the south-western face than we succeeded in obtaining
in 1873.

In 1875 we were making our way once more by the Col de Balme to Chamouni,
and being in somewhat of a reflective mood, induced by the consumption of
a soup-tureen full of bread and milk at the hotel at the top of the pass,
we sought a shady spot hard by whence a good view of the Aiguille du Dru
could be obtained, and contemplated the precipices as seen from this point
of view. The northern slope leading up to the ridge over which we had
looked lay well before us. The upper part of the mountain looked
distinctly different as far as accessibility was concerned. It seemed just
possible, if a way could only be found up from the level of the ridge to a
certain ledge some distance above, that the final mass might be feasible.
There appeared to be a sort of gully sloping upwards in a direction curved
away from us, in which the snow lay so thick that the rocks on either side
could not, we thought, be very steep. At the least it seemed to be worth
our while to make for this gully, which was obviously unattainable from
the ridge itself, for it was here cut off by a belt of straight rock.

(M81)

A few days later we carried the idea into effect. It was necessary to
engage some one to carry the tent, and Burgener was deputed to search for
a porter of a willing disposition and suitable physical conformation.
Presently he came back in company with a shambling youth of great length
of limb and somewhat lanky frame. We inquired if he were willing to come
with us, whereupon the young man was seized with violent facial
contortions, and we perceived that he suffered from an impediment in his
speech. Not wishing to render him nervous by our presence, we took a short
turn in the garden, leaving him where he stood. On our return the young
man’s efforts culminated in the remark, “How much?” We said, “Twenty-five
francs,” and then started off to consult the barometer. On coming back
after this interval we found that the young man had just previously
succeeded in articulating “Yes.” The practical result of this one-sided
colloquy was that the next day the tall young man was laden with the tent,
with directions to carry it up to a point immediately opposite the
Montanvert below the Glacier du Nant Blanc. The tall young man shouldered
his burden and started off with great activity. We followed him somewhat
later under the rather transparent pretence of going to hunt for crystals
next day. Making our way up by a long ridge lying between the Glacier du
Nant Blanc and a little snow patch dignified in some maps by the
appellation of the Glacier du Dru, we skirted round the base of the
Aiguille looking constantly upwards to find some practicable line of
ascent, and hoping that we might discover one which would conduct us up on
to the main mass of the mountain before we had got opposite to the point
by which we had made our ascent from the southern side. It soon became
evident that we were very unlikely to find a way. Far above jutted out a
little horizontal table of rock. Burgener observed that if we could only
get there it would be something. So far his remarks did not appear
inaccurate, but it was perfectly clear before long that there was no
chance of getting any higher, supposing we could get on to this platform;
yet a little further, and we perceived that we could not even get to it.
Ultimately we discovered that the platform itself was an optical delusion.
It did not seem worth while to make any attempt to reach the summit of the
ridge from the side we were on, even if we could have done so, which I
doubt. The day may come when the climber will seek to discover some
variation to the route up the peak; but mountaineering skill will indeed
have improved out of all knowledge if anyone ever succeeds in getting up
this northern face. From every point of view we surveyed it, and from
every point of view, in our opinion, it was equally impossible. So in the
evening we came back once more to the tent, from the door of which
protruded a pair of thick boots. These encased the feet articulated to the
lanky legs of the tall young man, who had been enjoying a siesta of some
ten or twelve hours’ duration. Kicking gently at a prominent bulging of
the canvas on the opposite side to the door had the effect of waking our
slumbrous friend, who was exceedingly sarcastic at our want of success;
so, at least, we judged by his expression of countenance. For a long while
his efforts yielded no verbal result. But his words seemed as it were to
stick fast in an endeavour to bring them out three or four abreast through
a portal that was capable only of allowing egress to them in single file.
Of a sudden the jostling syllables broke down the obstructing barrier, and
he startled us by pouring forth a string of remarks with precipitate
volubility. Knowing, however, that it would be some time before we could
hope to try the peak again, we were not loth to leave him under the
impression, to be communicated to his friends at Chamouni, that we had
come to the conclusion that the mountain was inaccessible.

(M82)

It was not till 1878 that we were able to revisit once more the scene of
our many failures.

During the winter months, however, the thought of the stubborn Aiguille
had been from time to time discussed, and when J. Oakley Maund and I came
back to Chamouni we had very serious intentions. This time we were both
possessed with one fixed determination with regard to the Aiguille. Either
we would get up to the top or, at the worst, would, as far as lay in our
power, prove that it was inaccessible by any line of attack. By my wish,
our first attempts were to be made by the old route leading towards the
lower peak; not that we were very sanguine of succeeding by this line of
ascent, but rather because we felt that no very great amount of
exploration would be necessary to determine whether the higher point could
or could not be reached from this side; but though our intentions were
good we were scarcely prepared for the difficulties that met us from the
beginning. The elements seemed to have set their faces against us. Time
after time when all was ready for a start we were baulked by snow, wind,
or rain. Day after day we sat waiting in vain for the favourable moment,
sometimes at our bivouac high up above the Mer de Glace, by the side of
the Glacier de la Charpoua, till hope deferred and a series of _table
d’hôte_ dinners combined with want of exercise to make the heart sick and
the individual despondently dyspeptic. Perhaps the wind would shift round
a point or two towards the north and a couple of fine days occur.
Straightway we set off for the tent which we left concealed at the
bivouac. Then came the rain again, and we had to return soaked and
dejected. Sometimes it rained before we got to the Montanvert and
sometimes after, and in fact we seemed to be making perpetually fitful
excursions from the kitchen fire at the Montanvert to that at Couttet’s
hotel. On hydropathic principles we found the state of the elements no
mean form of cure for the mountain fever. Still, like the hungry butler,
we reflected that everything comes to him who waits, and seizing every
possible opportunity did manage to achieve some climbing during the rare
intervals of moderately favourable weather.

(M83)

The campaign was opened with an attempt made with Jaun and Andreas Maurer
as guides. A youth of hollow visage and weak joints (a relation, possibly,
of our friend with the one defective articulation), who did not much enter
into the spirit of the expedition, and who seemed by his expression to
echo Hamlet’s interrogation as to the necessity of bearing fardels,
carried our tent up to the grass slopes by the Charpoua glacier. Here, on
a smooth, level patch of turf surrounded on three sides by rocks, we
established a little country seat, though we scarcely realised on this
first occasion how often it would be our lot to run up and spend the night
there, and to return to town the following morning. There are many and
excellent camping places about these slopes; dry dwarf rhododendron bushes
abound, and water is plentiful. There was no difficulty in rising early
the next morning, for at some time in the small hours the spindle-legged
porter was seized with terrible cramp. Under ordinary circumstances his
lower limbs were imperfectly under his control, and when thus affected
they became perfectly ungovernable, so that the neat order in which we had
disposed ourselves overnight for slumber was rudely disarranged, and we
were forced to rise and turn out till the spasms should have subsided.
Under the influence of gentle friction the spasms quieted down, and when
we left he was troubled only with a few twitching kicks, such as may be
observed in a dreaming dog. At 2 A.M. we started and wended our way up the
glacier, every step of which seemed familiar. To our surprise and delight
the snow was in first-rate order, and our spirits rose at the prospect of
a good climb; but the time had not yet come for success, and our hopes
were soon to be dashed. There was still an immense amount of snow on the
lower rock slopes over which access to the south-western peak is alone
possible, and this snow was in a highly treacherous condition. Before we
had ascended many feet the guides very properly refused to go on, a
determination with which we felt ourselves bound to acquiesce. They
pointed out that it would be unwarrantably dangerous to descend late in
the afternoon over deep snow, soft, and but loosely adhering to the rocks.
Under such conditions it is of course impossible to judge of the foothold,
and there is nothing to hold on to with the hands. There was no other
alternative, therefore, if we were to follow this route, than to wait till
more of the snow should have melted, or else to find a track where the
rocks were bare. As far as we could ascertain, however, there was no such
track to be seen. We decided to go back, but still remained at Chamouni,
for we durst not lose a single favourable opportunity. With an
imperturbability bred of long experience did we meet the sniggers and
sneers of certain croakers below, who looked with an unfavourable eye on
our proceedings.

(M84)

Within the next fortnight we made two further attempts by much the same
route and with the same guides, but only succeeded in going far enough to
prove that the opinion of the guides was perfectly correct with regard to
the state of the snow. Already matters seemed to justify some gloomy doubt
as to whether we could carry out even the exploratory part of our
programme, for Jaun was compelled to leave us in order to fulfil another
engagement, and we scarcely knew where to turn to find another man capable
of guiding us in the way we desired to go. Still our determination was
unshaken by our run of ill-luck. We would not give it up. With no more
definite object than that of justifying an impending _table d’hôte_
dinner, I was walking up the Montanvert path one rainy afternoon, when a
ray of sunlight suddenly burst upon me in the person of Alexander
Burgener. He had come over the Col du Géant with a party of travellers,
and to our delight was not only disengaged, but exceedingly anxious to
attack once more, or, in fact, as often as we liked, the obstinate
Aiguille. From the moment that he assumed the chief command matters began
to wear a different complexion, for we learnt that he had taken every
opportunity to consider and study the mountain. By his advice a complete
change of tactics was adopted. We decided to abandon all idea of attacking
the lower peak, and made up our minds to try the higher summit by the
route we had first followed four years previously. We had often discussed
together our chances of success on this peak, and had often come to the
conclusion that its ascent was more than doubtful. But now Burgener was so
positive of ultimate triumph, and so confident in his own powers, not only
of getting up himself, but of getting us also to our goal, that the whole
matter seemed placed before us in a different light. We might have to
wait, we might have to try many times, but still we could not but believe
the impression that now gradually formed that we must ultimately succeed.
To the spirit which Burgener displayed that year, and which he imbued in
us (at a time when it must be confessed that such a spirit was much
wanted, for we were as downcast as water-cure patients during the
process), and to his sagacity and great guiding qualities, the whole of
our ultimate success was due. I knew that, as a guide, he was immeasurably
superior to an amateur in his trained knack of finding the way, and that
in quickness on rocks the two could hardly be compared. But previously it
had always seemed to me that the amateur excelled in one great requisite,
viz., pluck. Let this record show that in one instance at least this
estimate was erroneous, for had it not been for Burgener’s indomitable
pluck we should never have succeeded in climbing the Aiguille du Dru.

(M85)

Burgener was of opinion that from the summit of the actual ridge lying
east of the higher peak, and between it and the Aiguille Verte, it was not
feasible to ascend on to the face of the mountain, and he proposed
accordingly that we should commence by making a study of the rocks lying
to the left of the main gully running up to this same ridge, endeavouring
if possible to discover some point where we could bear off to the left on
to the real mass of the mountain. In addition he pointed out that the
upper rocks might be very difficult and require much time (as we had
already agreed together in previous years that they were altogether
impossible, this remark seemed probable enough), and it was important
therefore to discover the easiest and quickest way up the lower part of
the rock slopes. Accordingly we departed—and this was our sixteenth
attempt—from the Montanvert one morning at 1 A.M. We had long since
cultivated a manner of going about our business in such a way as to avoid
the gaze of the curious, and set forth on this occasion in much the same
spirit that burglars adopt when on evil errands intent. The day was
entirely spent as agreed in studying the lower rocks and working out
accurately the most feasible line of assault. But though we ascended on
this occasion to no very great height we were perpetually engaged in
climbing, and the quantity of snow which still lay on the rocks rendered
progress difficult and care necessary. Still it was no haphazard
exploration that we were engaged in, and the spirit of deliberation in
which we began begat a spirit of hopefulness as we went on. A fancied
insufficiency of guiding strength, coupled with a decidedly insufficient
supply of rope and an inherent idea that the new line of assault
contemplated was not to be worked out to an end at the first attempt, all
combined to drive us back to Chamouni late the same evening.

(M86)

_Après cela le déluge_, and for a long time high mountaineering of any
description was out of the question. Desperate were the attempts we made
to amuse ourselves, and to while away the time. Sports and pastimes within
the limited area of the hotel premises were the fashion for a time. The
courtyard in front of Couttet’s hotel was made into a lawn-tennis ground.
The village stores being ransacked yielded a limited supply of
parti-coloured india-rubber balls; the village carpenter constructed bats
out of flat pieces of wood, and we sought to forget the unpropitious
elements by playing morning, noon, and night. As a result several windows
and a lamp were reduced to ruin. Then we went a-crayfishing. A basket
carriage, which was constructed apparently of iron sheeting, but painted
over with a wicker-work pattern in order to deceive a flea-bitten grey
steed of great age with the impression that it was very light, conveyed us
to Châtelard, which by a twofold inaccuracy was termed the fishing-ground,
our object being to catch animals which were not fish and lived in water.
There the sport began, and was conducted on this wise. Sticks with a cleft
at the end, into which nondescript pieces of ill-smelling meat were
wedged, were submerged in a little brook to tempt the prey, but the only
bites we got were from the horse-flies and inflicted on our own persons;
howbeit, one or two of the party when at a distance from their
fellow-sportsmen averred that they had been on a point of catching
monsters of the deep the size of lobsters. We did not discover till
subsequently that, led astray by a plausible peasant possessed of riparian
rights and untruthful propensities, we had been fishing (or
“crustaceaning,” to speak correctly) all day in a stream untenanted by any
crayfish whatever, the result being that we caught a chill and nothing
else. The ancient steed, moreover, though he bowled along merrily enough
down the hill to Châtelard and required no more stimulus than an
occasional chirrup from the driver afforded, was yet very loth to draw the
party back up the hill at the same pace, and required such constant
stimulation of a more active kind on the way back that it was found
necessary before we reached the village to stop and smooth out the creases
on his sides. The next day the report came that the spotted grey was “très
malade,” and the next day too my right arm was excessively stiff.

A subsequent sporting expedition yielded happier results. One of the
party, gifted with diplomatic talents and a power of detecting the
vulnerable points in the character of the natives, purchased, for the sum
of one franc, information from a shockheaded juvenile suffering from a
skin eruption as to the best stocked streams. Then did the deep yield up
its carnivorous denizens. Artfully and in silence did the anglers wait for
their prey to claw the reeking bait. Deftly and warily did they withdraw
the rod, sometimes with two or three victims clinging in a bunch, and land
the spoil on the bank. Then would the crayfish loosen their hold, roll
over on their backs, flap their tails very briskly, and start off with
amazing rapidity for short country walks, speedily to be captured and
consigned to the recesses of a receptacle, bearing a suspicious
resemblance to Madame Couttet’s work-basket. Ultimately they formed the
basis of a “bisque” not unworthy of Brébant.

(M87)

What time the india-rubber balls were all burst and the fishing-ground had
lost its attraction, seated on a tilted chair beneath the verandah we fell
a-musing and studied human nature, and the various types that presented
day after day round and about the hotel. Much was there to marvel at in
many of the costumes, to many of which the late Mr. Planché himself would
have been unable to assign a date. It has been noticed of course, times
out of mind, as a characteristic of the Briton, that a costume in which he
would not go coal-heaving at home is considered good enough for Sunday in
the Alps. One gentleman indeed, whose own apparel would have been
considered untidy even if he had been a member of a shipwrecked crew, had
been enlarging on this topic with much fervour, to a select audience,
dwelling especially on the discourtesy thus shown to the natives of the
country. I looked, when Sunday came, that he should be clad in raiment of
more than ordinary fitness and splendour, but the only changes that I
could perceive from the week-day vesture consisted in a tall hat, which
somebody had mistaken for an opera hat on some occasion, and a long strip
of rag wound round a cut finger, while his wife, who had recently been on
the glaciers, appeared in a low cut dress, so that she presented a curious
piebald appearance. The lateness of the season may have accounted for the
fact that many of the garments seemed rapidly to be resolving into their
pristine condition of warp and woof, especially about the region where it
is usual in the Alps to light the poison-darting lucifer matches of the
country. There were flannel shirts with collars on some, and flannel
shirts without them on others, while yet a third set wore white chokers
round their necks made of vulcanite, so that they looked like favourite
pug-dogs, or fashioned of a shiny paper, which obviously had no more to do
with the garment with which they were temporarily associated than the
label of an expensive wine at a second-rate restaurant has to do with the
contents of the bottle. Then we fell to anatomical study, and marvelled at
the various imperfections of development the muscle known to the learned
as the gastrocnemius(4) could exhibit in the legs of our countrymen, and
wondered why they took such pains in their costume to display its usually
unsymmetrical proportions, and wondered too if they really believed that a
double folding back of the upper part of the stocking below the
knickerbocker deceived anyone with an appearance of mighty thews. Then we
went off and tapped the barometer, which was as devoid of principle as a
bone setter, and kept on persistently rising. We made friends with a
little stray waif of a dog of obsequious demeanour and cringing
disposition, prone to roll over on its back when spoken to, thereby
displaying a curiously speckled stomach, but which was withal inclined to
be amiable, and wagged its tail so vigorously on being noticed that I
quite feared it might sustain a sprain at the root of that appendage. But
our friendship was short-lived. Before long our little friend found an
acquaintance in the shape of a small semi-shaved mongrel with a tail like
a stalk of asparagus run to seed. After a little preliminary walking about
on tiptoe, friendly overtures were made. The game commenced by the
playmates licking each others’ noses; next they ran round with surprising
rapidity in very small circles, and then fell to wrestling in the middle
of the courtyard. These canine acquaintanceships always end in the same
way. Before long a sudden, sharp squeak was heard, and the last I saw of
my little friend was a vanishing form darting round the nearest corner,
with his tail as much between his legs as the excessive shortness of that
excrescence would permit. His playmate, somewhat disturbed for a moment by
this abrupt termination of the acquaintanceship, gazed pensively, with
ears erect, for a while in the direction in which his friend had vanished:
then investigated two or three unimportant objects by the sense of smell,
consumed a few blades of grass, yawned twice, stretched himself once,
rolled on something which had puzzled him, and retired to repose at a
little distance to await the expected medicinal effects of the herb of
which he had partaken.

(M88)

This is a true saying, that “There’s small choice in rotten apples,” and a
description of boredom in one place is much like the same in another.
Gradually, weariness of the flesh below in the valley became almost
intolerable, while we were longing for an opportunity to weary the flesh,
in another way, on the mountain. Ultimately, to my infinite regret, Maund
found himself obliged to depart to fulfil an engagement elsewhere, but I
still held on, though the conviction was daily becoming stronger that the
rain would go on till the winter snows came.

(M89)

On a mountain such as we knew the Aiguille du Dru to be it would not have
been wise to make any attempt with a party of more than four. No doubt
three—that is, an amateur with two guides—would have been better still,
but I had, during the enforced inaction through which we had been passing,
become so convinced of ultimate success that I was anxious to find a
companion to share it. Fortunately, J. Walker Hartley, a highly skilful
and practised mountaineer, was at Chamouni, and it required but little
persuasion to induce him to join our party. Seizing an opportunity one
August day when the rain had stopped for a short while, we decided to try
once more, or at any rate to see what effects the climatic phases through
which we had been passing had produced on the Aiguille. With Alexander
Burgener and Andreas Maurer still as guides we ascended once again the
slopes by the side of the Charpoua glacier, and succeeded in discovering a
still more eligible site for a bivouac than on our previous attempts. A
little before four the next morning we extracted each other from our
respective sleeping bags, and made our way rapidly up the glacier. The
snow still lay thick everywhere on the rocks, which were fearfully cold
and glazed with thin layers of slippery ice; but our purpose was very
serious that day, and we were not to be deterred by anything short of
unwarrantable risk. We intended the climb to be merely one of exploration,
but were resolved to make it as thorough as possible, and with the best
results. From the middle of the slope leading up to the ridge the guides
went on alone while we stayed to inspect and work out bit by bit the best
routes over such parts of the mountain as lay within view. In an hour or
two Burgener and Maurer came back to us, and the former invited me to go
on with him back to the point from which he had just descended. His
invitation was couched in gloomy terms, but there was a twinkle at the
same time in his eye which it was easy to interpret—_ce n’est que l’œil
qui rit_. We started off and climbed without the rope up the way which was
now so familiar, but which on this occasion, in consequence of the glazed
condition of the rocks, was as difficult as it could well be; but for a
growing conviction that the upper crags were not so bad as they looked we
should scarcely have persevered. “Wait a little,” said Burgener, “I will
show you something presently.” We reached at last a great knob of rock
close below the ridge, and for a long time sat a little distance apart
silently staring at the precipices of the upper peak. I asked Burgener
what it might be that he had to show me. He pointed to a little crack some
way off, and begged that I would study it, and then fell again to gazing
at it very hard himself. Though we scarcely knew it at the time, this was
the turning point of our year’s climbing. Up to that moment I had only
felt doubts as to the inaccessibility of the mountain. Now a certain
feeling of confident elation began to creep over me. The fact is, that we
gradually worked ourselves up into the right mental condition, and the
aspect of a mountain varies marvellously according to the beholder’s frame
of mind. These same crags had been by each of us independently, at one
time or another, deliberately pronounced impossible. They were in no
better condition that day than usual, in fact in much worse order than we
had often seen them before. Yet, notwithstanding that good judges had
ridiculed the idea of finding a way up the precipitous wall, the prospect
looked different that day as turn by turn we screwed our determination up
to the sticking point. Here and there we could clearly trace short bits of
practicable rock ledges along which a man might walk, or over which at any
rate he might transport himself, while cracks and irregularities seemed to
develop as we looked. Gradually, uniting and communicating passages
appeared to form. Faster and faster did our thoughts travel, and at last
we rose and turned to each other. The same train of ideas had
independently been passing through our minds. Burgener’s face flushed, his
eyes brightened, and he struck a great blow with his axe as we exclaimed
almost together, “It must, and it shall be done!”

(M90)

The rest of the day was devoted to bringing down the long ladder, which
had previously been deposited close below the summit of the ridge, to a
point much lower and nearer to the main peak. This ladder had not hitherto
been of the slightest assistance on the rocks, and had indeed proved a
source of constant anxiety and worry, for it was ever prone to precipitate
its lumbering form headlong down the slope. We had, it is true, used it
occasionally on the glacier to bridge over the crevasses, and had saved
some time thereby. Still we were loth to discard its aid altogether, and
accordingly devoted much time and no little exertion to hauling it about
and fixing it in a place of security. It was late in the evening before we
had made all our preparations for the next assault and turned to the
descent, which proved to be exceedingly difficult on this occasion. The
snow had become very soft during the day; the late hour and the melting
above caused the stones to fall so freely down the gully that we gave up
that line of descent and made our way over the face. Often, in travelling
down, we were buried up to the waist in soft snow overlying rock slabs, of
which we knew no more than that they were very smooth and inclined at a
highly inconvenient angle. It was imperative for one only to move at a
time, and the perpetual roping and unroping was most wearisome. In one
place it was necessary to pay out 150 feet of rope between one position of
comparative security and the one next below it, till the individual who
was thus lowered looked like a bait at the end of a deep sea line. One
step and the snow would crunch up in a wholesome manner and yield firm
support. The next, and the leg plunged in as far as it could reach, while
the submerged climber would, literally, struggle in vain to collect
himself. Of course those above, to whom the duty of paying out the rope
was entrusted, would seize the occasion to jerk as violently at the cord
as a cabman does at his horse’s mouth when he has misguided the animal
round a corner. Now another step and a layer of snow not more than a foot
deep would slide off with a gentle hiss, exposing bare, black ice beneath,
or treacherous loose stones. Nor were our difficulties at an end when we
reached the foot of the rocks, for the head of the glacier had fallen away
from the main mass of the mountain, even as an ill-constructed bow window
occasionally dissociates itself from the façade of a jerry-built villa,
and some very complicated manœuvring was necessary in order to reach the
snow slopes. It was not till late in the evening that we reached Chamouni;
but it would have mattered nothing to us even had we been benighted, for
we had seen all that we had wanted to see, and I would have staked my
existence now on the possibility of ascending the peak. But the moment was
not yet at hand, and our fortress held out against surrender to the very
last by calling in its old allies, sou’westerly winds and rainy weather.
The whirligig of time had not yet revolved so as to bring us in our
revenge.

                             * * * * * * * *

(M91)

Perhaps the monotonous repetition of failures on the peak influences my
recollection of what took place subsequently to the expedition last
mentioned. Perhaps (as I sometimes think even now) an intense desire to
accomplish our ambition ripened into a realisation of actual occurrences
which really were only efforts of imagination. This much I know, that when
on September 7 we sat once more round a blazing wood fire at the familiar
bivouac gazing pensively at the crackling fuel, it seemed hard to persuade
one’s-self that so much had taken place since our last attempt. Leaning
back against the rock and closing the eyes for a moment it seemed but a
dream, whose reality could be disproved by an effort of the will, that we
had gone to Zermatt in a storm and hurried back again in a drizzle on
hearing that some other climbers were intent on our peak; that we had left
Chamouni in rain and tried, for the seventeenth time, in a tempest; that
matters had seemed so utterly hopeless, seeing that the season was far
advanced and the days but short, as to induce me to return to England,
leaving minute directions that if the snow should chance to melt and the
weather to mend I might be summoned back at once; that after
eight-and-forty hours of sojourn in the fogs of my native land an
intimation had come by telegraph of glad tidings; that I had posted off
straightway by _grande vitesse_ back to Chamouni; that I had arrived there
at four in the morning, in consequence of a little misadventure, which may
be here parenthetically narrated.

(M92)

The afternoon diligence from Geneva did not go beyond Sallanches. However,
an ingenious young man of low commercial morality, who said that he had a
remarkable horse and a super-excellent carriage, was persuaded to drive me
on the remainder of the way to Chamouni. The young man, observing that he
had been very busy of late and had not been to bed for two nights (nor had
he, as might be judged, washed or tidied himself since last he sought
repose), took a very hearty drink out of a tumbler and climbed on to an
eminence like a long-legged footstool, which it appeared was the box seat.
With much cracking of whips and various ill-tempered remarks to his horse
we started with success, aided by the efforts of a well-meaning person
(judging by the way in which he wore his braces loosely encircling his
waist, devoted to the tending of horses), who, to oblige his friend the
driver, ran suddenly at the slothful animal in the shafts and punched the
beast very heartily in the ribs with his fist. Before we had gone a mile
our troubles began. The coachman’s ill-humour subsided, it is true, but
only in consequence of Nature’s soft nurse weighing his eyelids down.
Accordingly I got out my axe and poked him in the back when he curled up
under the influence of his fatigue. This made him swear a good deal, but
for a time the device was successful enough. Gradually the monotonous
jangling of the harness bells induced a somnolent disposition in me too,
and I conceived then the brilliant idea, as we were ascending the long
hill near St. Gervais at a walk, of planting the head of the axe against
my own chest and arranging the weapon in such a way that the spike was in
close contact with the small of the driver’s back, so that when he fell
back it would run into him. Of a sudden I opened my eyes to find that the
jangling had ceased and the carriage stopped. We were undoubtedly at
Chamouni, and the journey was at an end. Such, however, was not quite the
case. As a matter of fact, we were not 200 yards further up the hill, the
horse was peacefully grazing by the roadside, and the young man had eluded
my artful contrivance by falling forwards off the box, where he lay
crumpled up into a shapeless heap, peacefully asleep, entangled between
the shafts, the traces, the splinter bar, and the horse’s tail.

I rubbed my eyes and forced away by an effort the confused jumble and
whirl of thoughts that were crowding through the brain. It was not the
sound of the parting farewell as the diligence lumbered away from
Chamouni, nor the slow heavy clank of the railway carriages as they
entered the station, nor the voices of the railway porters that rang in my
ears. Voices there were, but they were familiar. I started up and looked
around. Surely that was the familiar outline of the Aiguille du Dru clear
and bright above; surely that was Hartley (occupied for the moment in
mollifying the effects of sunburn by anointing his face with the contents
of a little squeeze-bottle), and there was Burgener; but what was this
untidy, sleeping mass at our feet? Gradually it dawned upon me that I was
but inverting a psychological process and trying to make a dream out of a
reality. Hartley was there; Burgener was there; and the uncomely bundle
was the outward form of the most incompetent guide in all the Alps. It was
not till next day that we learnt that this creature had previously
distinguished himself by utter imbecility in a difficult ascent up the
north face of the Zermatt Breithorn, nor did we till the next day fully
realise how bad a guide a man ranking as such might be. We kicked him in a
suitable place and he awoke; then he made the one true remark that during
our acquaintance with him he was heard to utter. He said he had been drunk
the day before; with this he relapsed, and during the remainder of the
time he was with us gave expression to nothing but whining complaints and
inaccurate statements.

(M93)

From four in the morning of the next day till seven in the evening, when
we reached our bivouac again, we were climbing without intermission; not
that our imbecile friend took any very active share in the day’s
amusement. He was roped as last man in the caravan, and Hartley had to
drag him up the glacier. He was as slow of foot as he was of
understanding, and took no interest in the expedition. Twice we pointed
out to him half-hidden crevasses and begged that he would be careful.
Twice did he acknowledge our courtesy by disappearing abruptly into the
snowy depths. Then he favoured us with a short biographical sketch of his
wife, her attributes, and her affection for himself: he narrated the chief
characteristics of his children, and dilated on the responsible position
that as father of a family (probably all crétins, if there be any truth in
the hereditary transmission of parental qualities) he considered that he
occupied. Finally, as he appeared disposed to give us at length a memoir
of his grandfather deceased, we decided to unrope him and let him have his
own way in peace. For seven hours did he crouch under a little rock, not
daring to move either up or down, or even to take the knapsack off his
back.

For the first time on this occasion did we succeed in climbing on to the
main peak well above the level of the ridge we had so often reached, by
means of leaving the gully at a much earlier point than usual. We followed
the exact line that we had marked out mentally on the last occasion. At
first progress was easy, but we could only make our way very slowly,
seeing that we had but one short rope and only one guide; for we had
injudiciously left the longer spare rope with our feeble-minded guide
below, and no shouts or implorations could induce him to make his way up
to us, nor had we leisure to go down to him; so we had to make the best of
matters as they were. We soon found a place where the ladder might be of
service, and spent some time in placing it in a position in which it
remains I believe till this day.

Now, personal considerations had to a great extent to be lost sight of in
the desire to make the most of the day, and the result was that Hartley
must have had a very bad time of it. Unfortunately perhaps for him he was
by far the lightest member of the party; accordingly we argued that he was
far less likely to break the rickety old ladder than we were. Again, as
the lightest weight, he was most conveniently lowered down first over
awkward places when they occurred.

(M94)

In the times which are spoken of as old, and which have also, for some not
very definable reason, the prefix good, if you wanted your chimneys swept
you did not employ an individual now dignified by the title of a Ramoneur,
but you adopted the simpler plan of calling in a master sweep. This person
would come attended by a satellite, who wore the outward form of a boy and
was gifted with certain special physical attributes. Especially was it
necessary that the boy should be of such a size and shape as to fit nicely
to the chimney, not so loosely on the one hand as to have any difficulty
in ascending by means of his knees and elbows, nor so tightly on the other
as to run any peril of being wedged in. The boy was then inserted into the
chimney and did all the work, while the master remained below or sat
expectant on the roof to encourage, to preside over, and subsequently to
profit by, his apprentice’s exertions. We adopted much the same principle.
Hartley, as the lightest, was cast for the _rôle_ of the “jeune premier”
or boy, while Burgener and I on physical grounds alone filled the part,
however unworthily, of the master sweep. As a play not infrequently owes
its success to one actor, so did our “jeune premier,” sometimes very
literally, pull us through on the present occasion. Gallantly indeed did
he fulfil his duty. Whether climbing up a ladder slightly out of the
perpendicular, leaning against nothing in particular and with overhanging
rocks above; whether let down by a rope tied round his waist, so that he
dangled like the sign of the “Golden Fleece” outside a haberdasher’s shop,
or hauled up smooth slabs of rock with his raiment in an untidy heap
around his neck; in each and all of these exercises he was equally at
home, and would be let down or would come up smiling. One place gave us
great difficulty. An excessively steep wall of rock presented itself and
seemed to bar the way to a higher level. A narrow crack ran some little
way up the face, but above the rock was slightly overhanging, and the
water trickling from some higher point had led to the formation of a huge
bunch of gigantic icicles, which hung down from above. It was necessary to
get past these, but impossible to cut them away, as they would have fallen
on us below. Burgener climbed a little way up the face, planted his back
against it, and held on to the ladder in front of him, while I did the
same just below: by this means we kept the ladder almost perpendicular,
but feared to press the highest rung heavily against the icicles above
lest we should break them off. We now invited Hartley to mount up. For the
first few steps it was easy enough; but the leverage was more and more
against us as he climbed higher, seeing that he could not touch the rock,
and the strain on our arms below was very severe. However, he got safely
to the top and disappeared from view. The performance was a brilliant one,
but, fortunately, had not to be repeated; as on a subsequent occasion, by
a deviation of about fifteen or twenty feet, we climbed to the same spot
in a few minutes with perfect ease and without using any ladder at all. On
this occasion, however, we must have spent fully an hour while Hartley
performed his feats, which were not unworthy of a Japanese acrobat. Every
few feet of the mountain at this part gave us difficulty, and it was
curious to notice how, on this the first occasion of travelling over the
rock face, we often selected the wrong route in points of detail. We
ascended from twenty to fifty feet, then surveyed right and left, up and
down, before going any further. The minutes slipped by fast, but I have no
doubt now that if we had had time we might have ascended to the final
arête on this occasion. We had often to retrace our steps, and whenever we
did so found some slightly different line by which time could have been
saved. Though the way was always difficult nothing was impossible, and
when the word at last was given, owing to the failing light, to descend,
we had every reason to be satisfied with the result of the day’s
exploration. There seemed to be little doubt that we had traversed the
most difficult part of the mountain, and, indeed, we found on a later
occasion, with one or two notable exceptions, that such was the case.

(M95)

However, at the time we did not think that, even if it were possible, it
would be at all advisable to make our next attempt without a second guide.
A telegram had been sent to Kaspar Maurer, instructing him to join us at
the bivouac with all possible expedition. The excitement was thus kept up
to the very last, for we knew not whether the message might have reached
him, and the days of fine weather were precious.

It was late in the evening when we reached again the head of the glacier,
and the point where we had left the feeble creature who had started with
us as a second guide. On beholding us once more he wept copiously, but
whether his tears were those of gratitude for release from the cramped
position in which he had spent his entire day, or of joy at seeing us safe
again, or whether they were the natural overflow of an imbecile intellect
stirred by any emotion whatever, it were hard to say; at any rate he wept,
and then fell to a description of some interesting details concerning the
proper mode of bringing up infants, and the duties of parents towards
their children: the most important of which, in his estimation, was that
the father of a family should run no risk whatever on a mountain. Reaching
our bivouac, we looked anxiously down over the glacier for any signs of
Kaspar Maurer. Two or three parties were seen crawling homewards towards
the Montanvert over the ice-fields, but no signs of our guide were
visible. As the shades of night, however, were falling, we were able
indistinctly to see in the far-off distance a little black dot skipping
over the Mer de Glace with great activity. Most eagerly did we watch the
apparition, and when finally it headed in our direction and all doubt was
removed as to the personality, we felt that our constant ill-luck was at
last on the eve of changing. However, it was not till two days later that
we left Chamouni once more for the nineteenth and, as it proved, for the
last time to try the peak.

(M96)

On September 11, we sat on the rocks a few feet above the camping-place.
Never before had we been so confident of success. The next day’s climb was
no longer to be one of exploration. We were to start as early as the light
would permit, and we were to go up and always up, if necessary till the
light should fail. Possibly we might have succeeded long before if we had
had the same amount of determination to do so that we were possessed with
on this occasion. We had made up our minds to succeed, and felt as if all
our previous attempts had been but a sort of training for this special
occasion. We had gone so far as to instruct our friends below to look out
for us on the summit between twelve and two the next day. We had even gone
to the length of bringing a stick wherewith to make a flag-staff on the
top. Still one, and that a very familiar source of disquietude, harassed
us as our eyes turned anxiously to the west. A single huge band of cloud
hung heavily right across the sky, and looked like a harbinger of evil,
for it was of a livid colour above, and tinged with a deep crimson red
below. My companion was despondent at the prospect it suggested, and the
guides tapped their teeth with their forefingers when they looked in that
direction; but it was suggested by a more sanguine person that its form
and very watery look suggested a Band of Hope. An insinuating smell of
savoury soup was wafted up gently from below—

  Stealing and giving odour.

We took courage; then descended to the tent, and took sustenance.

There was no difficulty experienced in making an early start the next day,
and the moment the grey light allowed us to see our way we set off. On
such occasions, when the mind is strung up to a high pitch of excitement,
odd and trivial little details and incidents fix themselves indelibly on
the memory. I can recall as distinctly now, as if it had only happened a
moment ago, the exact tone of voice in which Burgener, on looking out of
the tent, announced that the weather would do. Burgener and Kaspar Maurer
were now our guides, for our old enemy with the family ties had been paid
off and sent away with a flea in his ear—an almost unnecessary adjunct, as
anyone who had slept in the same tent with him could testify.
Notwithstanding that Maurer was far from well, and rather weak, we mounted
rapidly at first, for the way was by this time familiar enough, and we all
meant business.

(M97)

Our position now was this. By our exploration on the last occasion we had
ascertained that it was possible to ascend to a great height on the main
mass of the mountain. From the slope of the rocks, and from the shape of
the mountain, we felt sure that the final crest would be easy enough. We
had then to find a way still up the face, from the point where we had
turned back on our last attempt, to some point on the final ridge of the
mountain. The rocks on this part we had never been able to examine very
closely, for it is necessary to cross well over to the south-eastern face
while ascending from the ridge between the Aiguille du Dru and the
Aiguille Verte. A great projecting buttress of rock, some two or three
hundred feet in height, cuts off the view of that part of the mountain
over which we now hoped to make our way. By turning up straight behind
this buttress, we hoped to hit off and reach the final crest just above
the point where it merges into the precipitous north-eastern wall visible
from the Chapeau. This part of the mountain can only be seen from the very
head of the Glacier de la Charpoua just under the mass of the Aiguille
Verte. But this point of view is too far off for accurate observations,
and the strip of mountain was practically, therefore, a _terra incognita_
to us.

(M98)

We followed the gully running up from the head of the glacier towards the
ridge above mentioned, keeping well to the left. Before long it was
necessary to cross the gully on to the main peak. To make the topography
clearer a somewhat prosaic and domestic simile may be employed. The
Aiguille du Dru and the Aiguille Verte are connected by a long sharp
ridge, towards which we were now climbing; and this ridge is let in as it
were into the south-eastern side of the Aiguille du Dru, much as a comb
may be stuck into the middle of a hairbrush, the latter article
representing the main peak. Here we employed the ladder which had been
placed in the right position the day previously. Right glad were we to see
the rickety old structure which had now spent four years on the mountain,
and was much the worse for it. It creaked and groaned dismally under our
weight and ran sharp splinters into us at all points of contact, but yet
there was a certain companionship about the old ladder, and we seemed
almost to regret that it was not destined to share more in our prospective
success. A few steps on and we came to a rough cleft some five-and-twenty
feet in depth, which had to be descended. A double rope was fastened to a
projecting crag, and we swung ourselves down as if we were barrels of
split peas going into a ship’s hold; then to the ascent again, and the
excitement waxed stronger as we drew nearer to the doubtful part of the
mountain. Still, we did not anticipate insuperable obstacles; for I think
we were possessed with a determination to succeed, which is a sensation
often spoken of as a presentiment of success. A short climb up an easy
broken gully, and of a sudden we seemed to be brought to a standstill. A
little ledge at our feet curled round a projecting crag on the left. “What
are we to do now?” said Burgener, but with a smile on his face that left
no doubt as to the answer. He lay flat down on the ledge and wriggled
round the projection, disappearing suddenly from view as if the rock had
swallowed him up. A shout proclaimed that his expectations had not been
deceived, and we were bidden to follow; and follow we did, sticking to the
flat face of the rock with all our power, and progressing like the skates
down the glass sides of an aquarium tank. When the last man joined us we
found ourselves all huddled together on a very little ledge indeed, while
an overhanging rock above compelled us to assume the anomalous attitude
enforced on the occupant of a little-ease dungeon. What next? An eager
look up solved part of the doubt. “There is the way,” said Burgener,
leaning back to get a view. “Oh, indeed,” we answered. No doubt there was
a way, and we were glad to hear that it was possible to get up it. The
attractions of the route consisted of a narrow flat gully plastered up
with ice, exceeding straight and steep and crowned at the top with a
pendulous mass of enormous icicles. The gully resembled a half-open book
standing up on end. Enthusiasts in rock-climbing who have ascended the
Riffelhorn from the Görner Glacier side will have met with a similar
gully, but, as a rule, free from ice, which, in the present instance,
constituted the chief difficulty. The ice, filling up the receding angle
from top to bottom, rendered it impossible to find hand-hold on the rocks,
and it was exceedingly difficult to cut steps in such a place, for the
slabs of ice were prone to break away entire. However, the guides said
they could get up, and asked us to keep out of the way of chance fragments
of ice which might fall down as they ascended. So we tucked ourselves away
on one side, and they fell to as difficult a business as could well be
imagined. The rope was discarded, and slowly they worked up, their backs
and elbows against one sloping wall, their feet against the other. But the
angle was too wide to give security to this position, the more especially
that with shortened axes they were compelled to hack out enough of the ice
to reveal the rock below. In such places the ice is but loosely adherent,
being raised up from the face much as pie-crust dissociates itself from
the fruit beneath under the influence of the oven. Strike lightly with the
axe, and a hollow sound is yielded without much impression on the ice;
strike hard, and the whole mass breaks away. But the latter method is the
right one to adopt, though it necessitates very hard work. No steps are
really reliable when cut in ice of this description.

(M99)

The masses of ice, coming down harder and harder as they ascended without
intermission, showed how they were working, and the only consolation that
we had during a time that we felt to be critical, was that the guides were
not likely to expend so much labour unless they thought that some good
result would come of it. Suddenly there came a sharp shout and cry; then a
crash as a great slab of ice, falling from above, was dashed into pieces
at our feet and leaped into the air; then a brief pause, and we knew not
what would happen next. Either the gully had been ascended or the guides
had been pounded, and failure here might be failure altogether. It is true
that Hartley and I had urged the guides to find a way some little distance
to the right of the line on which they were now working; but they had
reported that, though easy below, the route we had pointed out was
impossible above.(5) A faint scratching noise close above us, as of a
mouse perambulating behind a wainscot. We look up. It is the end of a
rope. We seize it, and our pull from below is answered by a triumphant
yell from above as the line is drawn taut. Fastening the end around my
waist, I started forth. The gully was a scene of ruin, and I could hardly
have believed that two axes in so short a time could have dealt so much
destruction. Nowhere were the guides visible, and in another moment there
was a curious sense of solitariness as I battled with the obstacles, aided
in no small degree by the rope. The top of the gully was blocked up by a
great cube of rock, dripping still where the icicles had just been broken
off. The situation appeared to me to demand deliberation, though it was
not accorded. “Come on,” said voices from above. “Up you go,” said a voice
from below. I leaned as far back as I could, and felt about for a
hand-hold. There was none. Everything seemed smooth. Then right, then
left; still none. So I smiled feebly to myself, and called out, “Wait a
minute.” This was of course taken as an invitation to pull vigorously,
and, struggling and kicking like a spider irritated by tobacco smoke, I
topped the rock and lent a hand on the rope for Hartley to follow. Then we
learnt that a great mass of ice had broken away under Maurer’s feet while
they were in the gully, and that he must have fallen had not Burgener
pinned him to the rock with one hand. From the number of times that this
escape was described to us during that day and the next, I am inclined to
think that it was rather a near thing. At the time, and often since, I
have questioned myself as to whether we could have got up this passage
without the rope let down from above. I think either of us could have done
it in time with a companion. It was necessary for two to be in the gully
at the same time, to assist each other. It was necessary also to discard
the rope, which in such a place could only be a source of danger. But no
amateur should have tried the passage on that occasion without confidence
in his own powers, and without absolute knowledge of the limit of his own
powers. If the gully had been free from ice it would have been much
easier.

(M100)

“The worst is over now,” said Burgener. I was glad to hear it, but,
looking upwards, had my doubts. The higher we went the bigger the rocks
seemed to be. Still there was a way, and it was not so very unlike what I
had, times out of mind, pictured to myself in imagination. Another tough
scramble and we stood on a comparatively extensive ledge. With elation we
observed that we had now climbed more than half of the only part of the
mountain of the nature of which we were uncertain. A few steps on and
Burgener grasped me suddenly by the arm. “Do you see the great red rock up
yonder?” he whispered, hoarse with excitement—“in ten minutes we shall be
there and on the arête, and then——” Nothing could stop us now; but a
feverish anxiety to see what lay beyond, to look on the final slope which
we knew must be easy, impelled us on, and we worked harder than ever to
overcome the last few obstacles. The ten minutes expanded into something
like thirty before we really reached the rock. Of a sudden the mountain
seemed to change its form. For hours we had been climbing the hard, dry
rocks. Now these appeared suddenly to vanish from under our feet, and once
again our eyes fell on snow which lay thick, half hiding, half revealing,
the final slope of the ridge. A glance along it showed that we had not
misjudged. Even the cautious Maurer admitted that, as far as we could see,
all appeared promising. And now, with the prize almost within our grasp, a
strange desire to halt and hang back came on. Burgener tapped the rock
with his axe, and we seemed somehow to regret that the way in front of us
must prove comparatively easy. Our foe had almost yielded, and it appeared
something like cruelty to administer the final _coup de grâce_. We could
already anticipate the half-sad feeling with which we should reach the top
itself. It needed but little to make the feeling give way. Some one cried
“Forwards,” and instantly we were all in our places again, and the
leader’s axe crashed through the layers of snow into the hard blue ice
beneath. A dozen steps, and then a short bit of rock scramble; then more
steps along the south side of the ridge, followed by more rock, and the
ridge beyond, which had been hidden for a minute or two, stretched out
before us again as we topped the first eminence. Better and better it
looked as we went on. “See there,” cried Burgener suddenly, “the actual
top!”

(M101)

There was no possibility of mistaking the two huge stones we had so often
looked at from below. They seemed, in the excitement of the moment, misty
and blurred for a brief space, but grew clear again as I passed my hand
over my eyes and seemed to swallow something. A few feet below the
pinnacles and on the left was one of those strange arches formed by a
great transverse boulder, so common near the summits of these aiguilles,
and through the hole we could see blue sky. Nothing could lay beyond, and,
still better, nothing could be above. On again, while we could scarcely
stand still in the great steps the leader set his teeth to hack out. Then
there came a short troublesome bit of snow scramble, where the heaped-up
cornice had fallen back from the final rock. There we paused for a moment,
for the summit was but a few feet from us, and Hartley, who was ahead,
courteously allowed me to unrope and go on first. In a few seconds I
clutched at the last broken rocks, and hauled myself up on to the sloping
summit. There for a moment I stood alone gazing down on Chamouni. The
holiday dream of five years was accomplished; the Aiguille du Dru was
climbed. Where in the wide world will you find a sport able to yield
pleasure like this?

Mountaineers are often asked, “What did you do when you got to the top?”
With regard to this peak the same question has often been put to me, and I
have often answered it, but, it must be confessed, always suppressing one
or two facts. I do not know why I should conceal them now any longer, the
more especially as I think there is a moral to be drawn from my
experience, or I would still keep it locked up. I had tried so hard and so
long to get up this little peak, that some reaction of mind was not
improbable; but it took a turn which I had never before and have never
since experienced in the slightest degree. For a second or two—it cannot
have been longer—all the past seemed blotted out, all consciousness of
self, all desire of life was lost, and I was seized with an impulse almost
incontrollable to throw myself down the vertical precipice which lay
immediately at my feet. I know not now, though the feeling is still and
always will be intensely vivid, how it was resisted, but at the sound of
the voices below the faculties seemed to return each to its proper place,
and with the restoration of the mental balance the momentary idea of
violently overturning the physical balance vanished. What has happened to
one may have happened to others. It appeared to me quite different from
what is known as mountain vertigo. In fact, I never moved at all from
where I stood, and awoke, as it were, to find myself looking calmly down
the identical place. It may be that the mental equilibrium under similar
circumstances has not always been so fortunately restored, and that thus
calamities on the mountains may have taken place. In another minute the
rest of the party ascended, and we were all reposing on the hard-won
summit.

(M102)

Far below a little white speck representing Couttet’s Hotel was well in
view, and towards this we directed our telescope. We could make out a few
individuals wandering listlessly about, but there did not seem to be much
excitement; in front of the Imperial Hotel, however, we were pleased to
imagine that we saw somebody gazing in our direction. Accordingly, with
much pomp and ceremony, the stick—which it may be stated was borrowed
without leave—was fixed into a little cleft and tightly wedged in; then,
to my horror, Burgener, with many chuckles at his own foresight and at the
completeness of his equipment, produced from a concealed pocket a piece of
scarlet flannel strongly suggestive of a baby’s under garment, and tied it
on to the stick. I protested in vain; in a moment the objectionable rag
was floating proudly in the breeze. However, it seemed to want airing.
Determined that our ascent should be placed beyond doubt in the eyes of
any subsequent visitors, we ransacked our stores, and were enabled to
leave the following articles:—One half-pint bottle containing our names,
preserved by a paper stopper from the inclemency of the weather; two
wooden wedges of unknown use, two ends of string, three burnt fusees,
divers chips, one stone man of dwarf proportions, the tenpenny stick, and
the infant’s petticoat.

There is a popular belief that the main object of climbing up a mountain
is to get a view from the top. It may therefore be a matter of regret to
some, but it will certainly be a matter of great congratulation to many
others, that of the view obtained I can say but little. Chamouni looked
very nice, however, from this distance. Turning towards the Aiguille Verte
we were astonished to notice that this great mass appeared to tower far
less above us than might have been expected from its much greater height
and close proximity. On the other hand, the lower south-eastern peak of
the Aiguille du Dru seemed much more below us than we had imagined would
be the case. It is a moot point in mountaineering circles how much
difference between two closely contiguous points is necessary in order
that they may be rated as individual peaks. At the time we estimated the
difference between the two peaks of our Aiguille to be about 80 feet, but
Hartley, who has since climbed the lower point, estimates that the
difference between the two must be at the very least 120 feet. Still, the
comparative meagreness of the panorama did not affect our spirits, nor
detract in any appreciable degree from the completeness of the expedition.
The Aiguille du Dru is essentially an expedition only for those who love a
good climb for climbing’s sake. Every step, every bit of scrambling,
was—and is still—a pleasure.

(M103)

We had reached the top at half-past twelve, so that our estimate of the
time required had been a very accurate one. After spending three-quarters
of an hour on the summit we turned to the descent with regret, and
possessed with much the same feeling as a schoolboy on Black Monday, who
takes an affectionate farewell of all sorts of inanimate objects. Very
difficult the descent proved to be. We were so anxious, now that our
efforts had been finally crowned with success, that the whole expedition
should pass off without the least misadventure, that we went much more
slowly, and took more elaborate precautions than under ordinary
circumstances would have been deemed necessary. From the start we had
agreed that, whatever the hour, nothing should persuade us to hurry the
least in the descent. On such mountains, however, as the Aiguille du Dru
it is easier on the whole to get down than to get up, especially if a good
supply of spare rope be included in the equipment. At three places we
found it advisable to fix ropes in order to assist our progress. It was
curious to observe how marvellously the aspect of the mountain was changed
as we looked down the places up which we had climbed so recently; and
there were so many deviations from the straight line, that the way was
very difficult to find at all. Indeed, Burgener alone could hit it off
with certainty, and, though last on the rope, directed the way without
ever making the slightest mistake at any part. We followed precisely the
same route as in ascending, and noticed few if any places where this route
was capable of improvement, or even of alteration.

Not till nearly five o’clock did we regain our abandoned store of
provisions; the sight of the little white packets, and especially of a
certain can of tinned meat, seen at a considerable distance below, incited
us to great exertions, for since ten in the morning we had partaken of
nothing but a sandwich crushed out of all recognisable shape. Ignoring the
probability of being benighted on the rocks, we caroused merrily on
seltzer water and the contents of the tin can. It seemed almost a pity to
quit for good these familiar rocks on which we had spent such a glorious
time, and the sun was sinking low behind the Brévent range, and the rocks
were all darkened in the grey shadows, before the guides could persuade us
to pack up and resume our journey. Very little time was lost in descending
when we had once started, but before we had reached a certain little
sloping ledge furnished with a collection of little pointed stones, and
known as the breakfast place, the darkness had overtaken us. The glacier
lay only a few feet below, when the mist which had been long threatening
swept up and closed in around us. The crevasses at the head of the glacier
were so complicated, and the snow bridges so fragile, that we thought it
wiser not to go on at once, but to wait till the snow should have had time
to harden. So we sat down under an overhanging rock, and made believe that
we enjoyed the fun. Hartley wedged a stone under his waist, as if he were
the hind wheel of a waggon going uphill, and imitated the inaction and
attitude of a person going to sleep. The guides retired to a little
distance and, as is their wont when inactive, fell to a warm discussion
over the dimensions of the different chamois they had shot, each of course
outvying the other in turn. The game has this merit at least, when there
is plenty of spare time at disposal, that if the players only begin low
enough down in the animal scale it is practically unlimited.

(M104)

Before long the situation ceased to be amusing, as we found that we had
managed to get wet through in the gully, and that the slowly falling
temperature was exceedingly unpleasant. I converted a cowhide knapsack
into a temporary foot-warmer, much to the detriment of such articles of
food as were still stored in its recesses, and tucked a boot under each
arm to keep the leather from hardening. Then we fell to discussing what we
would have next day for breakfast, and for some two hours found a certain
amount of solace in disputing over the merits of divers dainty dishes.
Even this fertile subject failed at length to give adequate satisfaction.
The ledge became colder and colder, and new spiky little points appeared
to develop every moment. The argument of the sportsmen grew fainter, and
we became slowly chilled through. For a while the mind became more active,
but less logical, and fanciful visions crowded thickly through it. On such
occasions it is seldom possible to fix the thoughts on events immediately
past. To my drowsy gaze the mist seemed to take the form of our native
fogs, while the condition of the ledge suggested obtrusively a newly
macadamised road. Almost at will I could transport myself in imagination
to the metropolis I had so recently left, or back again to the wild little
ledge on which we were stranded. Following up the train of sensations, it
was easy to conceive how reason might fail altogether, and how gradually,
as the senses became numbed one by one, delirium might supervene from cold
and exposure—as has often happened to arctic travellers. The thoughts flew
off far afield, and pictured the exact contrast of the immediate
surroundings. I saw a brilliantly lighted street with long rows of flaming
lamps. The windows of the clubhouses shone out as great red and orange
squares and oblongs. Carriages dashed by, cabs oscillated down the roads.
Elegantly attired youths about to commence their wakeful period (why are
men who only know the seamy side of life called “men of the world”? Is it
so bad a world, my masters?) were strolling off to places of
entertainment. A feeble, ragged creature crept along in the shadows. A
worn, bright-eyed girl, just free from work which had begun at early dawn,
dragged her aching limbs homewards, but stopped a moment to glance with
envy at a mamma and two fair daughters crossing the pavement to their
carriage; light, life, bustle, crowding everywhere. Faster and faster
follow the shifting scenes till the visions jostle and become confused——A
crack, a distant sound of a falling shower of stones, a hiss as they fall
on to the snow slopes below. The eyes open, but the mind only half awakes,
and almost immediately dreams again, with changed visions of comfortable
rooms, in which the flickering light of a coal fire now throws up, now
half conceals the close-drawn curtains, or the familiar form of books and
pictures; visions of some formless individual with slippered feet disposed
at judicious distance from the blazing coals, of soft carpets and deep
arm-chairs moulded by long use into the precise intaglio adapted to the
human frame; visions of a warm flood of subdued light, of things steaming
gently with curling wreaths of vapour. All these passed in order before
the mind, called up by the incantation of discomfort out of the cauldron
of misery, like unto the regal display manifested to that impulsive and
somewhat over-married individual, Macbeth.

(M105)

But before long it was most difficult to picture these pleasant sights so
vividly as to become altogether oblivious of an exceedingly chilly
personality, and ultimately human nature triumphed, and the _ego_ in a
rather frozen state became again paramount. I had begun to calculate the
number of hours we might have to remain where we were, and the probable
state in which we should be next morning, when of a sudden the mist
lifted, and disclosed the glacier just below feebly lit up by the rising
moon. We sprang instantly to our feet, almost as instantaneously returning
to our former positions by reason of the exceeding stiffness and cramp
begotten of the cold. The guides, leaving their discussion at a point
where the last speaker had, in imagination, shot a chamois about the size
of an elephant, descended to inspect the ice. The snow bridges were
pronounced secure, and we were soon across the crevasses, but found to our
disgust that we had rather overdone the waiting. The slope was hard
frozen, and in the dim light it was found necessary to cut steps nearly
the whole way down the glacier. For five hours and a half were we thus
engaged, and did not reach our camp till 2.30 A.M. Never did the tent look
so comfortable as on that morning. If, as was remarked of Mrs. Gamp’s
apartment in Kingsgate Street, High Holborn, to the contented mind a
cottage is a palace, so to the weary frame may a tent be a luxurious
hotel. We rushed over the loose rocks by the snout of the glacier, and ran
helter-skelter for our bivouac. From the circumstance that the invariable
struggle for the best pillow was usually brief, and that one of the party
was discovered next morning wrong end foremost in his sleeping bag with
his boots still on his feet, I am disposed to think that we were not long
in dropping off to sleep; but the unstudied attitudes of the party
suggested rather four revellers returning from a Greenwich dinner in a
four-wheeled cab over a cobbled road than a company of sober mountaineers.
By seven o’clock, however, the predominant thought of breakfast so
asserted itself that we woke up and looked out.

(M106)

The first object that met our gaze was a large sheet of paper, affixed to
the rock just in front of the tent, and bearing the simple inscription
“Hooray!” This led us to surmise that our success was already known below;
for the author of the legend had returned to Chamouni the previous
evening, after having seen us on the summit. To each man was apportioned
the burden he should bear of the camp equipage. Such a collection of pots
and pans and other paraphernalia had we amassed gradually during our stay,
that our appearance as we crossed the glacier suggested rather that of
certain inhabitants of Lagado mentioned in Gulliver’s voyage to Laputa. By
nine o’clock we had deposited our burdens at the Montanvert and,
disregarding the principles of the sages above referred to, ventured to
corrode our lungs by articulating our wants to the landlord. This worthy
received us with more than his usual affability, for the tidings of our
success had in truth already reached the inn. A bottle of conical form was
produced, the cork drawn with a monstrous explosion, and some very
indifferent fluid poured out as a token of congratulation. In spite of,
perhaps in consequence of, these early libations, we skipped down the
well-worn and somewhat unsavoury path with great nimbleness, and in an
hour or so found ourselves on the level path leading along the valley to
Chamouni by the English church. There, I am pleased to record, the first
man to congratulate us was our old friend M. Gabriel Loppé, without whose
kindly sympathy and constant encouragement I doubt if we should have ever
persevered to our successful end. It mattered little to us that but few of
the Chamouni guides gave us credit for having really ascended the peak,
for most of them maintained that we had merely reached a point on the
south-east face of the lower summit; indeed, to those not so familiar with
the details of the mountain as we were, it might well seem hard to realise
that the crag jutting out on the right, as seen from Chamouni, is really
the actual summit.

Such is the record of the most fascinating rock climb with which I am
acquainted. From beginning to end it is interesting. There is no wearisome
tramping over loose moraine and no great extent of snow-field to traverse.
The rocks are wondrously firm and big, and peculiarly unlike those on
other mountains, even on many of the aiguilles about Chamouni.

(M107)

An odd code of mountaineering morality has gradually sprung into
existence, and ideas as to what is fair and sportsmanlike in mountain
climbing are somewhat peculiar. People speak somewhat vaguely of
“artificial aid,” and are wont to criticise in very severe language the
employment of such assistance, at the same time finding it rather hard, if
driven into a corner, to define what they mean by the term. It would seem
that artificial aid may signify the driving of iron pegs into rocks when
nature has provided insufficient hand or foot-hold. Such a proceeding is
considered highly improper. To cut a step in ice is right, but to chisel
out a step on rock is in the highest degree unjustifiable. Again, a ladder
may be used without critical animadversion to bridge a crevasse, but its
employment over a rock cleft is tabooed. A certain amount of
mountaineering equipment is not only considered proper, but those who go
on the mountains without it are spoken of with great asperity, and called
very hard names; but the equipment must not include anything beyond
hobnails, rope, axes, and possibly a ladder for a crevasse; any other
contrivance is sniffed at contemptuously as artificial aid. Rockets and
such like are usually only mentioned in order to be condemned; while
grapnels, chains, and crampons are held to be the inventions of the fiend.
Why these unwritten laws should exist in such an imaginary code it is hard
to see. Perhaps we must not consider too curiously on the matter. For my
own part, if it could be proved that by no possible means could a given
bad passage be traversed without some such aid, nor turned by another
route, I should not hesitate to adopt any mechanical means to the desired
end. As a matter of fact, in the Alps scarcely any such places exist for
those who have taken the trouble to learn how to climb, and there are none
on the Aiguille du Dru. We used our ladder often enough in exploring the
mountain, but when we actually ascended it we employed it in one place
only, saving thereby at least an hour of invaluable time. Indeed,
subsequent explorers have found such to be the case; and Mr. W. E.
Davidson, in a recent ascent of the mountain, was able to find his way
without invoking the assistance of either ladder or fixed ropes. In a
marvellously short space of time, too, did he get up and down the peak on
which we had spent hours without number. Still, this is the fate of all
mountains. The mountaineers who make the third ascent are, usually, able
to sweep away the blushing honours that the first climbers might fondly
hope they had invested the mountain with. A word, a stroke of the pen,
will do it. The peaks do not yield gradually from their high estate, but
fall, like Lucifer, from summit to ultimate destination, and are suddenly
converted from “the most difficult mountain in the Alps” to “Oh yes; a
fine peak, but not a patch upon Mount So-and-so.” It is but with the
mountains as with other matters of this life, save in this respect, that
once deposed they never can hope to reign again supreme. Statements
concerning our fellow-creatures when of a depreciatory, and still more
when of a scandal-flavoured, nature, are always believed by nine people
out of ten to be, if not absolutely true, at any rate well-founded enough
for repetition. A different estimate of the standard of veracity to be met
with in this world is assumed when the remarks are favourable. Even so may
it be, in some instances, with the mountains. The prestige that clings to
a maiden peak is like the bark on a wand: peel it off, and it cannot be
replaced; the bough withers, and is cast to one side, its character
permanently altered.

(M108)

We would fain have rested that evening, but the edict went forth that
festivities were to take place in honour of the ascent, and, to tell the
truth, that evening was not the least fatiguing part of the whole affair.
The opportunity was too good to be lost, especially as the customary mode
of testifying congratulations by firing off divers podgy little cannons,
had been omitted. Preparations were made for a display of fireworks on a
large scale. Some six rockets of moderately soaring ambition were placed
in order on the grass-plot in front of the hotel. A skilful pyrotechnist,
who knew the right end to which to apply the match, was placed in charge,
and fussed about a great deal. A very little table covered with a white
cloth, and on which were displayed several bottles, reminded the crowd of
loafers who assembled expectant as the darkness came on, that a carousal
was meditated. At last the word was given, and the pyrotechnist, beaming
with pride, advanced bearing a lighted taper attached to the end of a
stick of judicious length. A hush of expectancy followed, and experienced
persons retired to sheltered corners. The fireworks behaved as they
usually do. They fizzed prodigiously, and went off in the most unexpected
directions. One rocket, rather weak in the waist, described, after a
little preliminary spluttering, an exceedingly sharp, corkscrew-like
series of curves, and then turned head-over-heels with astounding rapidity
on the lawn, like a rabbit shot through the head, and there lay flat,
spluttering out its gunpowdery vitals. Another was perfectly unmoved at
the initial application of the kindling flame, but then suddenly began to
swell up in an alarming way, causing the pyrotechnist, who had no previous
experience of this phenomenon, to retreat somewhat hastily. However, one
of the rockets rose to a height of some five-and-twenty feet, much to the
operator’s satisfaction, and we were all able to congratulate him warmly
on his contribution to our entertainment as we emerged from our places of
security.

(M109)

A series of smaller explosions, resulting from the drawing of corks, was
the next item in the programme, and appeared to give more general
satisfaction. Then the bell rang, and the master of the ceremonies
announced that the ball was about to commence. Some over-zealous person
had unfortunately sought to improve the condition of the floor for
dancing, by tracing an arabesque pattern on the boards with water, using
for the purpose a tin pot with a convenient leak at the bottom. It
followed that the exercise of waltzing in thick boots was more laborious
than graceful. Without, the villagers crowded at the windows to gaze upon
our fantastic gyrations. But little formality had been observed in
organising the ball; in fact, the ceremony of issuing cards of invitation
had been replaced by ringing a bell and displaying a placard on which it
was announced that the dance would commence at nine o’clock. However, the
enjoyment appeared to be none the less keen, for all that the dancers were
breathing fairly pure air, taking no champagne, and not fulfilling any
social duty. But for the costumes the gathering might have been mistaken
for a fashionable entertainment. All the recognised types to be met with
in a London ball-room were there. The conversation, judging from the
fragments overheard, did not appear to be below the average standard of
intellectuality. The ladies, who came from the various hotels of Chamouni,
displayed, as most English girls do—_pace_ the jealous criticism of
certain French writers, more smart than observant—their curious faculty of
improvising ball costume exactly suitable to the occasion. There was a
young man who had a pair of white gloves, and was looked upon with awe in
consequence, and who, in the intervals of the dances, slid about in an
elegant manner instead of walking. There was a middle-aged person of
energetic temperament who skipped and hopped like the little hills, and
kept everything going—including the refreshments. There was a captious and
cynical person, who frowned horribly, and sat in a corner in the verandah
with an altogether superior air, and who, in support of the character,
smoked a cigar of uncertain botanical pedigree provided by the hotel,
which disagreed with him and increased his splenetic mood. Elsewhere, at
more fashionable gatherings, he would have leaned against doorposts,
cultivated a dejected demeanour, and got very much in other people’s way.
There was a pianist who was a very clever artist, and found out at once
the notes that yielded no response on the instrument, and who, like his
more fashionable analogue, regularly required stimulants after playing a
waltz. It mattered little what he played—polka, waltz, galop, or
mazurka—whatever the tune, the couples all rotated more or less slowly
about; so it was evidently an English gathering. At such impromptu dances
there is always a strong desire to show off musical talent. No sooner did
the hireling pianist desist than a little cluster gathered around the
instrument, assured him that he must be tired, and volunteered to play.
Finally he was induced to rest, and a young lady who knew “Rousseau’s
Dream,” or some tune very like it, triumphantly seated herself and
favoured the company with that air in waltz time, whereat the unsuccessful
candidates for the seat smiled scornfully at each other, and rolled up
their eyes, and would not dance. So they, in turn, triumphed, and the
young lady blushed, and said she had never seen such a stupid set of
people, and went away and sat by her parents, and thought the world was
indeed hollow. The hireling came back, and all went on merrily again.

(M110)

In the yard outside the crowd increased. In the midst of the throng could
be seen Maurer, resplendent in a shirt the front of which was like unto a
petrified bath-towel, wearing a coat many sizes too large, his face
beaming with smiles and shining from the effects of drinks offered in the
spirit of good fellowship on all sides. Close by stood Burgener,
displaying similar physiognomical phenomena, his natural free movements
hampered by the excessive tightness of some garments with which an admirer
of smaller girth had presented him. Let us do justice to the guides of
Chamouni, who might not unnaturally have found some cause for
disappointment that the peak had been captured by strangers in the land.
On this occasion, at any rate, they offered the hand of good fellowship,
and listened with admiring attention while our guides, in an unknown
tongue, expatiated on the difficulties and dangers they had successfully
overcome—difficulties which did not appear to become less by frequent
repetition. Let us leave them there. They did their work thoroughly well,
and might be pardoned, under all the circumstances, for a little swagger.

(M111)

The days grow shorter apace. The sun has barely time to make the ice peaks
glisten, ere the cold shadows creep over again. Snow lies thick on ledge
and cranny, and only the steepest mountain faces show dark through the
powdery veil. Bleak night winds whistle around the beetling crags and
whirl and chevy the wreathing snow-clouds, making weird music in these
desolate fastnesses, while the glaciers and snow-fields collect fresh
strength against the time when their relentless destroyer shall attack
them once again at an advantage. The scene is changed. The clear air, the
delicate purity of the Alpine tints are but recollections, and have given
way to fog, mist, slush, and smoke-laden atmosphere. Would you recall
these mountain pictures? Draw close the curtains, stir the coals into an
indignant crackling blaze, and fashion, in the rising smoke, the mountain
vista. How easy it is to unlock the storehouse of the mind where these
images are stowed away! how these scenes crowd back into the mind! What
keener charm than to pass in review the memories of these simple,
wholesome pleasures; to see again, as clear as in the reality, every
ledge, every hand and foot-hold; to feel the fingers tingle and the
muscles instinctively contract at the recollection of some tough scramble
on rock or glacier? The pleasures of the Alps endure long after the actual
experience, and are but invested; whether the interest can be derived by
any one but the actual investor is a matter for others to decide. For my
own part, I can only wish that any one could possibly derive a hundredth
part of the pleasure in reading, that I have had in writing, of our
adventures.



                               CHAPTER VII.


                       BYE-DAYS IN ALPINE MIDLANDS


                      1. _A Pardonable Digression._

           On well-ordered intellects—The drawbacks of accurate
            memory—Sub-Alpine walks: their admirers and their
    recommendations—The “High Level Route”—The Ruinette—An infallible
      prescription for ill-humour—A climb and a meditation on grass
       slopes—The agile person’s acrobatic feats—The psychological
      effects of sunrise—The ascent of the Ruinette—We return to our
               mutton at Arolla—A vision on the hill-side.

                          2. _A Little Maiden._

     Saas in the olden days—A neglected valley—The mountains drained
     dry—A curious omission—The Portienhorn, and its good points as a
     mountain—The chef produces a masterpiece—An undesirable tenement
          to be let unfurnished—An evicted family—A rapid act of
       mountaineering—On the pleasures of little climbs—The various
         methods of making new expeditions on one mountain—On the
         mountaineer who has nothing to learn, and his consequent
                                ignorance.



                      1. _A Pardonable Digression._


There are some, and they are considered, on the whole, fortunate by less
highly gifted individuals, who possess minds as accurately divided up into
receptacles for the storage of valuable material as a honeycomb. Every
scrap of information acquired by the owner of such a well-ordered
intellect is duly sifted, purged, ticketed, and finally pigeon-holed in
its proper cell, whence it could undoubtedly be drawn out at any future
time for reference, were it not for the fact that the pigeon-holes are all
so very much alike that the geometrically minded man commonly forgets the
number of the shelf to which he has relegated his item of knowledge. He
need not really regret that this should be the case; persons with this
exceedingly well-ordered form of mind are apt to be a little too precise
for ordinary folk, and may even by the captious be rated as dull
creatures. A love for the beautiful is not usually associated with
excessively tidy habits of mind. An artist’s studio in apple-pie order
would seem as unnatural as a legal document drawn up on æsthetic
principles. If the truth be told, the picturesque is always associated
with—not to mince matters—the dirty; and the city of Hygeia, however
commendably free from the latter quality, would be but a dreary and
unattractive town. Nor would it, as seems to be sometimes supposed, be
quite a paradise to that terrible and minatory person, the sanitarian. On
the contrary, he would probably be found dining with the undertaker—off
approved viands—and the pair would be bewailing the hard times.

(M112)

I knew a man once who was marvellously proud of a certain little cabinet,
devoted to the reception of keys, all of which were arranged in a
remarkably orderly manner. He was fond of demonstrating the system, which
seemed, in truth, highly business-like; but I lost faith one day in his
method, on finding that he did not know the locks which the several keys
were constructed respectively to open. It is with the mind’s eye as with
the bodily eye. We are able only to focus sharply one thing at a time, and
the beauty of a given view, from the physiological standpoint, consists in
the softened indistinctness of all objects out of the range of absolute
focus—a fact of which the early Florentine artists evinced a curious
disregard, and which their modern imitators, who, at least in our
scientific age, ought to know something of the elementary laws of optics,
render themselves somewhat ridiculous by servilely copying. So is it also
with the memory. A certain indistinctness of detail often renders the
recollection even more pleasing; we may be able only to reproduce from the
pigeon-hole, as it were, a rather indistinct, blotted-in impression, but
as the artist would be fully justified in working up such a study into a
finished picture, so may the writer be allowed also to elaborate from his
mental sketch a complete work. Now, in wandering in those numerous
districts in the mountains of Switzerland which cannot properly be classed
as sub-Alpine, and yet are not lofty enough to warrant their explorer in
dignifying his rambles by the term “climbing,” one great charm consists in
the fact that, while everything is pleasing, there is no distinct
objective point that we are bidden to admire. The critical tendency is a
very constant factor in human character, and the chief business the
professional critic has to learn consists in finding out how far he may
legitimately go, and how he may best say what he is called upon to
express. Now even the least critical of our race, the gushing section of
humanity, feel irresistibly disposed to cavil at anything they are told
they must admire. Perhaps, though, it is not the critical attributes which
come out on such occasions in them. Possibly it is but an example of that
still more uniformly found characteristic of man and woman, a quality
which, in the process of the descent of our species, has been handed down
without the least alteration from such lower animals as the mule for
instance, and for which, oddly enough, we have no proper term in our
language this side of the water, but know it as “cussedness.”

(M113)

Most travellers hear with a slight feeling of relief, on arriving at their
destination and inquiring what there is to be seen, that there is nothing
in particular, and the sub-Alpine walker has this charm perpetually with
him. His expedition cannot fail, for it does not aim at any particular
object on the attainment of which it depends whether he considers himself
successful or not. These sub-Alpine walks and rambles form the background,
the setting, the frame, and the surrounding of the more sharply defined
and more memorable high expeditions. Perhaps these are but the sentiments
of advancing mountaineering age; certainly they may be heard most often
from those who have reached that period of life when they no longer pay
heed to wrinkles in their trousers, when they are somewhat exacting in the
matter of club dinners, and when they object strongly to receiving
assistance from younger folk in putting on their overcoats. Howbeit, as we
may recall the statement made in the “Delectus,”—

            Neque semper arcum
  Tendit Apollo,

even so does the mountaineer occasionally relax his muscles, and find
pleasure in the Alpine midlands. Moreover, the writer feels that the
perpetual breathing of rarefied air may be apt to induce too great a
strain on his readers, and recollects that a piano always tuned to concert
pitch is not so harmonious an instrument as one occasionally unstrung; so
some relief is at times necessary. Contrast, inasmuch as nature provides
it on every hand, we may be sure is a thing for which man has an
instinctive craving; and to my mind, at least, a picture in which rich
colouring is introduced, and where the result of the blending is
harmonious, is more satisfactory than the work which appeals by what I
believe artists would call “tone.” The principle applies rather widely. We
may have observed that young ladies of prepossessing appearance love to be
accompanied by dogs of repulsive mien. The costermonger, again, if
possessed, as he always is, of a hoarse voice, is not completely equipped
unless provided with a boy companion capable of sending forth in alternate
measure the shrillest cries which the human larynx is capable of emitting.
Thus may the pair better vaunt their wares, compel attention, and attract
notice. The same objects, at any rate the latter two, influence an author,
and not only in all cases, it would seem, when he is actually engaged in
writing. So our expeditions, now to be described, may be looked upon as
material for contrast, and may be skipped if thought fit—at any rate by
purchasers—without risk of wounding the writer’s feelings.

(M114)

Some years ago we were travelling over that district of the Alps which to
the true lover of mountain scenery can never become hackneyed—that is, the
stretch of glacier land between Chamouni and Zermatt, first made known by
Messrs. Foster, Jacomb, Winkfield, and others, and known to mountaineers
as the “high-level route.” We had reached Monvoisin, then, possibly still,
one of the cosiest and most comfortable little inns to be found among the
mountains. An immense variety of first-rate glacier passes of moderate
difficulty lie between this Val de Bagne and the Arolla valley; the Col de
la Serpentine, the Col Gétroz, the Col de Breney, the Col Chermontane, and
others, all of high interest and varied scenery, tempt the walker
according to his powers. We selected on this occasion the Col du Mont
Rouge, having a design on the bold little peak towering just above the
Col, and known as the Ruinette. This peak, it may be at once mentioned,
was ascended for the first time in 1865 by Mr. Edward Whymper, a
mountaineer who has never ceased happily to add to his spoils and trophies
since in all parts of the globe, and who, unlike most of the clan, has
kept in the front rank from the day he first climbed an Alpine slope.

(M115)

We arrived soaked through, and with deplorably short tempers, at the hotel
at Monvoisin. Now tobacco has been vaunted as a palliative to persons in
this emotional state. Liquid remedies, described by the vulgar-minded as
“a drop of something short,” or, more tersely, “a wet,” have been
recommended as tending to induce a healthier state of mind. But there is
one specific remedy which never fails, and to this by tacit consent we at
once resorted.

Even as one touch of nature has been stated, on reliable authority, to
make the whole world kin, so may one touch of a lucifer match, if
discreetly applied beneath well-seasoned logs, induce even in the most
irritable and wearied individual a change of feeling and a calm
contentment. As the logs crackled and spluttered, hissing like angry cats,
so did the prescription purge away, if not the evil humours, at any rate
the ill-humour engendered by sore feet and damp raiment, till it vanished
with the smoke up the chimney. As a matter of actual fact, however, it
ought to be stated that the greater part of the smoke at first made its
way into the room. Before long, assisted by a passable dinner, which acts
on such conditions of mind as do the remedies known to the learned in
medicine as “derivatives,” we waxed monstrous merry. We laughed heartily
at our own jokes, and with almost equal fervour at those of other people—a
very creditable state of feeling, as any who have associated much with
facetiously disposed folk will be ready to acknowledge. As the evening
wore on, and the fire burnt lower, we became more silent and thoughtful,
watching the pale blue and green tongues of flame licking round the
charred logs. There is a pleasure, too, in this state. No one felt
disposed to break the charm of thoughtfulness in the company by throwing
on fresh fuel. The fire had done its work, had helped matters on, had left
things a little better than it found them—an epitome of a good and useful
life. The embers fell together at last, throwing up but a few short-lived
sparks; nothing remained but the recollection of what had been once so
bright, and a heap of ashes—a fit emblem; for one of the party who was the
life and soul of the expedition can never again join in body with us in
the Alps, or revisit those Alpine midlands he loved so keenly. We rose
from our seats and threw back the curtains from the window. The mists had
vanished, and with them all doubt and all uncertainty, while the stream of
light from the full moon seemed a promise of peace and rest from
elsewhere.

(M116)

At an early period of a walk there is always the greatest objection to
putting forth exertion, the result of which has almost immediately to be
undone. That man is indeed robust, and possessed of three times the
ordinary amount of brass, if he fails not to find it distasteful to walk
up a hill at the end of an expedition, or down one at the commencement.
The drawback to the commanding position of the hotel at Monvoisin lies in
the fact that it is absolutely necessary to descend the hill to begin
with, which always seems a sinful waste of energy, seeing that the grass
slopes opposite, which are steep, have immediately afterwards to be
climbed. The natural grass steps looked inviting, but in the language of
the Portuguese dialogue book we found them all either “too long or much
short.” One ascent over a grass slope is very much like another, and
description in detail would be as wearisome as the slopes themselves often
prove. Yet it is worthy of notice that there is an art to be acquired even
in climbing grass slopes. We had more than one opportunity on the present
occasion of seeing that persons look supremely ridiculous if they stumble
about, and we noticed also that, like a bowler when he has delivered a
long hop to the off for the third time in one over, the stumbler
invariably inspects the nails in his boots, a proceeding which deceives no
one. It is quite easy to judge of a man’s real mountaineering capacity by
the way in which he attacks a steep grass slope. The unskilful person, who
fancies himself perfectly at home amongst the intricacies of an ice-fall,
will often candidly admit that he never can walk with well-balanced
equilibrium on grass, a form of vegetable which, it might be thought in
many instances of self-sufficient mountaineers, would naturally suit them.
There is often real danger in such places, and not infrequently the wise
man will demand the use of the rope, especially when there are any tired
members among the party. There is no better way of learning how to
preserve a proper balance on a slope than by practising on declivities of
moderate steepness, and it is astonishing to find how often those who
think they have little to learn, or, still worse, believe that there is
nothing to learn, will find themselves in difficulties on a mountain-side,
and forced to realise that they have got themselves into a rather
humiliating position. We may have seen before now, all of us,
distinguished cragsmen to whom an ascent of the Weisshorn or Matterhorn
was but a mere stroll, utterly pounded in botanical expeditions after
Edelweiss, and compelled to regain a position of security by very
ungraceful sprawls, or, worse still, have to resort to the unpardonable
alternative of asking for assistance. It is on such places that the skill
born of constant practice is best shown in the peasant as contrasted with
the amateur; but the latter could easily acquire the art, were he not, as
a rule, too high and mighty to do so. It is a great point, too, if the
expedition is to be thoroughly enjoyed, to transport one’s self over the
earlier part of the day’s climb with the least possible amount of
exertion. The art possibly resembles that which, I am told, is acquired by
those of ill-regulated minds, whom the force of circumstances and the
interests of society compel to exercise themselves for a certain number of
hours daily in that form of unproductive labour exemplified in the machine
known as the treadmill. No doubt the very ardent mountaineer might find
that facilities would be accorded to him during such time as he cannot
visit the Alps of practising this art in the manner indicated.

(M117)

Before long, the smooth unbroken snow slope leading up to the Col du Mont
Rouge, glistening like a sheet of amber-coloured satin in the light of
early dawn, came into sight. One of the party, who had complained
throughout of the slow pace at which he had been going, and who was
already far ahead, now went through a singular performance. Conceiving
that he would stimulate us to greater exertion by displaying his own
agility, he suddenly shot forth, as an arrow from the bow, and ran at
great speed on to the snow slope. But he had misjudged the hardness of the
snow. It fell out, therefore, that after two or three curious flounders
his limbs suddenly shot out to all points of the compass. A desperate
effort to recall his members under control resulted only in his suddenly
coiling up into a little round ball, like a spider in a state of
nervousness, and in that shape descending with considerable momentum, and
not a few bumps, down the slope over some knobby stones and on to a
fortunately placed little grass ledge. When we joined him a few minutes
later, he observed unblushingly that he had found a capital place for
breakfast. So have I seen a skater, after performing a few exercises of a
somewhat violent nature, resembling the dances performed by nigger
minstrels wearing excessively long boots, suddenly sit down and instantly
adjust a perfectly correctly applied strap. On resuming our journey the
agile member was firmly secured with a rope, for fear, as we told him,
that he should become possessed with a sudden idea to hunt for a suitable
place for luncheon by resorting to his previous tactics. Somewhat
crestfallen, he took a place in the rear of the caravan, and condescended
to make use of the little notches scraped out by the leader in the hard
snow.

(M118)

A few minutes later the full sunlight of early morning burst upon us, and
produced, as it always does on such occasions, a feeling of supreme
contempt for those slothful individuals who had not got up as early as we
had. This moment of exhilaration is often the very best of a whole
expedition, and is apt to lead, I know not why, to an ebullition of
feeling, which usually takes the form of horse-play and practical joking.
A series of gentle slopes led us up to the Col. Our ascent took us
gradually round the base of the Ruinette, and we cast anxious glances to
our right to see if any practicable line of rocks could be made out. The
mountain is tolerably steep from this side, but the rocks are broken and
were bare of snow. On the summit of the Col the party divided, the agile
person and some of the others deciding that they would go straight on to
Arolla, while Burgener and I bespoke the services of the porter, and made
straight for the long buttress of rock running down almost directly to the
Col on the north-west face of the mountain. Half an hour’s complicated
scrambling resulted in our attaining a little level plateau of rock on the
ridge. As we looked down on to the great snow-field from which the Gétroz
glacier takes its origin, we perceived, far away, the forms of our
companions looking like a flight of driven grouse about a quarter of a
minute after the sportsman has missed them with both barrels. No doubt
they were enjoying themselves thoroughly, but from our point of view the
sight of some four or five individuals walking along at ten-foot intervals
with bowed heads and plodding gait did not suggest any very consummate
pleasure. Rejoicing, therefore, that they were making nice tracks for us
to follow later in the day, we turned again to the rocks above. Following
always the ridge, we clambered straight up, and found opportunities for
very pretty gymnastics (that is, from our own point of view) on this part
of the mountain. Our object was to select rocks that would give good
practice in climbing, rather than to pick out the easiest possible line,
and as a result we got into more than one difficult place, difficult
enough at any rate to demand much conversation on the part of the guides.
In about three hours from the Col we found ourselves looking over the
arête on to the southern side of the mountain with a very compact and
varied view in all directions. Close by, the long ridge of the Serpentine
formed a fine foreground, and a wide expanse of glacier district made up a
tolerably wild panorama. A few minutes’ climbing along the crest landed us
above a deep notch filled in with soft snow. Into this we plunged, and in
another minute or two stood on the summit of the Ruinette. So far as we
knew at the time, the mountain had not previously been ascended from the
northern side, and, indeed, the peak does not appear to be visited nearly
so often as it deserves. Following for the most part the same line as that
taken during the ascent, we regained, in about a couple of hours, the Col.
Here we hunted diligently, seeking what we might devour, and feeling sure
that our friends would have left us something as a reward for our energy.
It transpired, however, subsequently, that the agile person’s exertions
had provoked in him such an appetite that there was little if anything to
leave, so we followed the tracks laid out in the snow, noticing with some
concern that one member of the previous party had sunk at every step some
eighteen inches deeper into the soft compound than anybody else. By the
marks on the snow we perceived, also, that he had trailed his axe along by
his side, a sure sign of weariness. By sunset we had gained the Pas de
Chévres, and ran gaily down the gentle slope towards the hotel. A little
distance from the building we came so suddenly upon a manly form,
outstretched, like a stranded star-fish, on a mossy bank, that we almost
leaped upon his stomach. Yet he moved not, and was apparently wrapped in
slumber. We stopped and crept cautiously up to survey him more closely. It
was the agile person.



                          2. _A Little Maiden._


(M119)

In the old days of mountaineering, Saas was a place more often talked
about than visited. The beauty of the scenery around was indeed
unquestionable, the number of expeditions of every degree of difficulty
seemed almost without limit, first-rate guides could be obtained with
ease, and yet there was never any difficulty in finding quarters in the
hotels. In ascending the main valley from Visp the great stream of
travellers divided at Stalden into a large stream that made its way to
Zermatt and a little rivulet that meandered along the much finer valley
towards Saas and the Mattmark. It thus fell out that, notwithstanding a
small body of indefatigable mountaineers had explored the higher peaks and
passes on both sides of the valley with tolerable completeness, there was
left a considerable number of smaller expeditions capable of providing
good amusement for the climber desirous of acquiring fame or of exploring
the less known districts. In these days, when the soaring ambition of
mountaineers has led them to climb heights far greater than any found in
the Alps, an account of an expedition of an unimportant peak may seem out
of place. Indeed, its details were so devoid of sensational incident that
the recital may be dull; but, as will appear directly, that is not the
writer’s fault; at any rate, he ventures to give it, for the same reason
that invariably prompts youthful authors to write unnecessary books; that
is, as they say in their preface, to supply a want long felt—a want, it
may be stated, usually felt in their own pockets and nowhere else.

With every respect to the older generation of mountaineers, they are much
to blame in one matter. The stock of Alpine jokes is scanty; indeed, a
well-read author can get them all, with a little arrangement, into the
compass of one short description of a day in the mountains. Again, the
number of Alpine subjects lending themselves to facetiousness is but
small. The supply has been proved beyond question entirely inadequate to
meet the demand, but former writers have recklessly drawn on this limited
stock and entirely exhausted the topics, if not the readers. Some
allowance may therefore be made when the position is considered, and it is
realised that the writer is endeavouring to patch together a fabric with
materials almost too threadbare for use, and that he is compelled wholly
to pass by such attractive topics as the early start and consequent
ill-temper, the dirty porter, the bergschrund, the use of tobacco, or the
flea. The last-mentioned beast is in fact now universally prohibited from
intrusion into polite Alpine literature; he has had his day. But why? he
has surely some right to the place. An eminent French composer(6) has
written a ballad in his honour; but though, as old Hans Andersen wrote, he
was much thought of at one time, and occupied a high position, seeing that
he was in the habit of mixing with the human race, and might even have
royal blood in his veins, yet he is now deposed. I cannot forbear from
paying a last tribute to the memory of a departing, though formerly
constant, companion. To find oneself obliged to cut the acquaintance of a
friend whom I have fed with my own hand must give rise to some qualms.

Unfortunately, too, the older writings are too well known of many to be
dished up again in altered form, like a Sunday dinner in the suburbs; so
that even the most common form of originality, videlicet, forgetfulness of
the source from which you are borrowing, is forbidden. Plagiarism is a
crime that seldom is allowed to pass undetected. There are many people in
this world possessed of such a small amount of originality themselves,
that they spend their whole time in searching for the want of that quality
in others. The human inhabitants of the ark, unless they made the most of
their unexampled opportunities for the study of natural history, must have
become desperately bored with each other, and no doubt, when set free,
said all the good things, each in their own independent nucleus of
commencing society, which they had heard while immured. On the whole, it
is fortunate for writers that the period known as the dark ages came to
pass; it allowed those who commenced their career on this side of the
hiatus to make, on the old lines, a perfectly fresh start.

(M120)

Perhaps no country in the world has had the minute topography of its
uninhabited districts so thoroughly worked out as Switzerland. Beyond
question the orography is more accurately given than anywhere else; in
this respect, indeed, no other country can compare with it. It might seem,
even to those who have studied the matter, almost impossible to find any
corner of the Alps that has not been described; and the discovery that a
few superficial square yards of Swiss territory, arranged on an incline,
had not been discussed in detail came upon the writer with somewhat of a
shock. It was clearly somebody’s duty to rectify the omission and fill the
gap; whether the expedition was of importance from any point of view, or
whether any one in the wide world had the smallest desire to read a
description of it, was a matter of no moment whatever. There was a vacuum,
and it was a thing abhorrent. The mountain, to which reference is made
above, lies east of Saas, and is known to such of the inhabitants as have
any knowledge of geography as the Portienhorn. Substantially this peak is
the highest point of a long rocky ridge running north and south, and
called the Portien Grat.

(M121)

One fine evening we sat outside the inn at Saas just before dinner,
seriously discussing the prospect of climbing this mountain. The guides
were of opinion that we ought to sleep out, and surmised that the rocks
might be found much more difficult than they looked. With some reluctance
on our part their views were allowed to prevail on the point, and they
started off in triumph, promising to return and report when all the
necessary preparations for starting should be completed, while we went in
to prepare ourselves for the next day by an early dinner. The inn in those
days was somewhat rude, and the cuisine was not remarkable save for the
extraordinary faculty possessed by the chef for cooking anything that
happened to come in his way, and reducing it all to the same level of
tastelessness. On the present occasion, however, stimulated, no doubt, by
certain critical rebukes, he had determined to surpass himself. Towards
the end of the repast, as we sat chewing some little wooden toothpicks,
which were found to have more flavour than anything else placed on the
table, we heard the chef cross the yard and go into a certain little
outhouse. A few minutes later a subtle and delicate aroma made its way
into the apartment, leading us, after a few interrogative sniffs, to get
up and close the window. Gradually the savour became more pronounced, and
one of the party gave expression to his opinion that there was now
satisfactory proof of the accuracy of his constant statement that the
drains were out of order. Gradually intensifying, the savour assumed the
decided character of a smell, and we looked out of window to see in which
direction the cemetery lay. Stronger and stronger grew the perception as
steps came mounting up the stairs; the door opened, and all doubt was set
at rest as the chef entered, bearing proudly a large cheese. In a moment,
to his dismay, he was left undisputed master of the apartment.

(M122)

We left Saas equipped as for a serious expedition. A stout rustic, who was
the most preternaturally ugly man I ever saw, led the way; he had a very
large mouth and an odd-shaped face, so that he resembled a frog with a
skewer wedged across inside his cheeks. On his back he bore a bag full of
very spiky straw, which the guides said was a mattress. In about an hour’s
time we arrived at a carelessly built chalet on the Almagel Alp, of which
the outside was repulsive and the inside revolting. But the experienced
mountaineer, on such occasions, is not easily put out, and exhibits very
little astonishment at anything he may see, and none at anything that he
may smell. The hut consisted of a single apartment, furnished with a
fireplace and a bed. The fireplace was situated in the centre of the room;
the couch was separated by a dilapidated hoarding from a shed tenanted by
a cow of insatiable appetite—indeed, it may have been originally designed
as a manger. The bed, which accommodated apparently the family of the
tenant, was found on actual measurement to be forty-eight inches in length
and twenty in width; nevertheless the two guides packed themselves into
it, adopting in their recumbent position the theory that if you keep your
head and your feet warm you are all right. By the flickering gleams of
firelight it could be perceived through the smoke that these were the only
portions of their frames actually in the bed owing to its excessive
shortness; but guides share, with babies in perambulators, a happy faculty
of being able to sleep peacefully whatever be the position of their heads.
The dispossessed family of the tenant would not submit, notwithstanding
strong remarks, to summary eviction, and watched our proceedings with much
interest. It was pointed out to them that curiosity was a vicious quality,
that it had been defined as looking over other people’s affairs and
overlooking one’s own, and that, on the whole, they had better retire,
which they did reluctantly, to a little shed in which was a large copper
pot with other cheese-making accessories. Apparently they spent the night
in scouring the copper pot.

The mattress proved to be so tightly packed that it was easier, on the
whole, to lie awake under it than to sleep on the top of it, and less
painful. About 4 A.M. one of the guides incautiously moved his head, and
having thus disturbed his equilibrium fell heavily on to the floor.
Thereupon he woke up and said it was time to start. We bade a cheerful
adieu to our host, who was obtaining such repose as could be got by the
process of leaning against the doorpost, and made our way upwards.

On the south side of the Portienhorn a long and rough rocky ridge,
preserving a tolerably uniform height, extends as far as the Sonnighorn.
Ultimately the ridge, still running in a southerly direction, curves
slightly round to the west up to the Monte Moro, and thus forms the head
of the Saas valley. There are several unimportant peaks in this ridge
perhaps equally worthy, with the Portienhorn, of a place in literature;
but of all the points south of the Weissmies this Portienhorn is perhaps
the most considerable, and certainly the most difficult of access. At any
rate, we climbed the peak, and this is how we did it.

(M123)

It was clear that the southern ridge was more feasible than the northern
one, which drops to a col known as the Zwischbergen Pass, and then rises
again to merge into the mass of the Weissmies. The whole of the western
slope of the Portienhorn is covered by the Rothblatt Glacier, the ice of
which is plastered up against its sides. We kept to the left of the
termination of this glacier, and after a brief look round turned our steps
away from the rock buttress forming the northern boundary of the glacier,
though we were of opinion that we might by this line ascend the mountain;
but we nevertheless selected the southern ridge, on the same principle
that the sportsman, perfectly capable of flying across any obstacle,
however high, sometimes, out of consideration no doubt for his horse,
elects to follow somebody else through a gap. In good time we reached a
point about halfway up the side of the mountain, and halted at the upper
edge of a sloping patch of snow. It was fortunate that we had ample time
to spare, for considerable delay was experienced here. Burgener had become
newly possessed of a remarkable knife, which he was perpetually taking out
of his pocket and admiring fondly; in fact, it provided material for
conversation to the guides for the whole day. The knife was an intricate
article, and strikingly useless, being weak in the joints; but
nevertheless Burgener was vastly proud of the weapon, and valued it as
much as an ugly man does a compliment. In the middle of breakfast the
treasure suddenly slipped out of his hand, and started off down the slope.
With a yell of anguish he bounded off after it, and went down the rocks in
a manner and at a pace that only a guide in a state of excitement can
exhibit. The incident was trivial, but it impressed on me the
extraordinary powers of sure-footedness and quickness on rocks that a good
guide possesses. An amateur might have climbed after these men the whole
day, and have thought that he was nearly as good as they, but he could no
more have gone down a couple of hundred feet as this guide did without
committing suicide, than he could have performed a double-three backwards
the first time he put on skates. He might, indeed, have gone backwards,
but he would not have achieved his double-three. Turning northwards the
moment we were on the arête, we made our way, with a good deal of
scrambling, upwards. The rocks were firm and good, and, being dry, gave no
great difficulty. Still they were far from easy, and now and again there
were short passages sufficiently troublesome to yield the needed charm to
a mountain climb, difficult enough at any rate to make us leave our axes
behind and move one at a time. But how have the times altered since our
expedition was made! Nowadays such a climb would be more fitly mentioned
casually after dinner as “a nice little walk before church,” “a capital
after-breakfast scramble,” “a stroll strongly recommended to persons of an
obese habit,” and so forth. Nevertheless, there is a very distinct
pleasure in climbing up a peak of this sort—greater, perhaps, than may be
found on many of the more highly rated, formidable, and, if the truth be
told, fashionable mountains; for the expedition was throughout
interesting, and the contrast between the view to the west where the
Mischabelhörner reared up their massive forms, and to the east looking
towards Domo d’Ossola and the Italian lake district, was one to repay a
climber who has eyes as well as limbs. The crest was in places tolerably
sharp, and we were forced at times to adopt the expedient, conventionally
supposed to be the only safe one in such cases, of bestriding the rock
edge. It should be stated, however, that, as usual on such occasions, when
we desired to progress we discarded this position, and made our way
onwards in the graceful attitude observed at the seaside in those who are
hunting on the sand for marine specimens. And thus we arrived ultimately
at the top, where we gave way to a properly regulated amount of subdued
enthusiasm, proportionate to the difficulty and height of the vanquished
mountain. No trace of previous travellers could be found on the summit. It
was a maiden ascent. Doubtless the mythical and ubiquitous chamois-hunter
had been up before us, for at the time I write of the district was noted
for chamois; but even if he had, it makes no difference. We have found it
long since necessary to look upon ascents stated to have been made by
chamois-hunters as counting for nothing, and in the dearth of new peaks in
the Alps, have to resort to strange devices and strained ideas for
novelty. Thus, a mountain in the present day can be the means of bringing
glory and honour to many climbers. For instance:—

A   climbs it              First ascent.
B   ascends it             First recorded ascent.
C   goes up it             First ascent from the other side.
D   combines A and C’s     First time that the peak has been “colled.”
    expedition
E   scrambles up the       First ascent by the E.N.E. arête.
    wrong way
F   climbs it in the       First ascent by an Englishman, or first
    ordinary way           ascent without guides.
G   is dragged up by his   First real ascent; because all the others
    guides                 were ignorant of the topographical details,
                           and G’s peak is nearly three feet higher than
                           any other point.

Many more might be added; probably in the future many more will, for, in
modern mountaineering phrase, the Portienhorn “goes all over.” By 4 P.M.
we were back again in the Saas valley.

It seems, as I write, only yesterday that all this happened. But a regular
revolution has really taken place. There can be no question, I think, that
fewer real mountaineers are to be found in the old “playground” than
formerly. Still, there are not wanting climbers, all of them apparently of
the first rank. For among the high Alps now, even as on the dramatic stage
of to-day, there are no amateurs.

(M124)

A curious human fungus that has grown up suddenly of late is the
emancipated schoolboy spoken of by a certain, principally feminine, clique
of admirers as “such a wonderful actor, you know.” Very learned is he in
the technicalities of the stage. The perspiring audience in the main
drawing-room he alludes to as “those in front.” He knows what “battens”
are, and “flies,” and “tormentors,” and “spider-traps.” He endeavours to
imitate well-known actors, but does not imitate the laborious process by
which these same artists arrive at successful results. But we all know
him, and are aware also, at any rate by report, of his overweening vanity,
and the manner in which he intrudes his conception of “Hamlet” or
“Richelieu” on a longsuffering public. Without the slightest knowledge
technically of how to walk, talk, sit down, go off, or come on, he rushes
on the boards possessed solely of such qualifications for his task as may
arise in a brain fermenting with conceit. Critics he regards as persons
existing solely for the purpose of crushing him, and showing ill-tempered
hostility born of envy. The judicious, if they accept and weakly avail
themselves of orders, can but grieve and marvel that there should exist
that curious state of folly which prompts a man to exhibit it before the
world, or even to thrust it upon his fellow-creatures. Some men are born
foolish—a pity, no doubt, but the circumstances are beyond their own
control; some achieve a reputation for lack of wisdom, and even make it
pay; but some thrust their folly on others, and to such no quarter need be
given. The self-constituted exponent of a most difficult art is not a whit
more ridiculous than the boy or man who rushes at a difficult peak before
he has learnt the elements of mountaineering science. A man may become a
good amateur actor if he will consent to devote his leisure to
ascertaining what there is to learn, and trying to learn it; and a man may
become a good mountaineer by adopting the same line of action. But this is
rarely the case. Too often they forget that, as a late president of the
Alpine Club remarked, “life is a great opportunity, not to be thrown away
lightly.” It is said sometimes by unreflecting persons that such
institutions as the Alpine Club are responsible for the misfortunes and
calamities that have arisen from time to time, and may still arise. But
there has been a good example set if recruits would only turn to it; for
the mountaineers in the old style, speaking of a generation that climbs
but little in these days, did what it is the fashion now to call their
“work” thoroughly—too thoroughly and completely, perhaps, to please
altogether their successors. Novelty in the mountains of Switzerland may
be exhausted, but there are still too many expeditions of which, because
they have been done once or twice, the danger is not adequately
recognised. If these remarks, written in no captious spirit, but rather
with the strongest desire to lay stress on truths that are too often
ignored, should lead any aspiring but unpractised mountaineer to pause and
reflect before he tries something beyond his strength and capabilities,
some little good will at least have been done. It is not that the rules
are unknown; they are simple, short, ready to hand, and intelligible; but
the penalty that may be exacted for breaking any of them is a terribly
heavy one—_absit omen._



                              CHAPTER VIII.


                       A SENTIMENTAL ALPINE JOURNEY


         Long “waits” and entr’actes—The Mont Buet as an unknown
    mountain—We hire carriages—A digression on a stationary vehicle—A
        straggling start—The incomplete moralist—The niece to the
     moralist—A discourse on gourmets—An artistic interlude—We become
     thoughtful, and reach the height of sentiment and the top of the
        Mont Buet—Some other members of the party—The mountaineers
     perform—How glissading ambition did o’erleap itself—A vision on
    the summit—The moralist leaves us for a while—Entertainment at the
     Bérard Chalet—View of the Aiguille Verte—The end of the journey.


A fair critic—in the matter of sex—discussing a recently published work
with the author, remarked that it was the most charming book she had ever
read. “I was told it would not interest me,” she remarked most seriously
to him, “but really I found it delightful: there are such lovely wide
margins to the pages, you know.” On much the same principle a highly
intelligent lady, noted for her theatrical discrimination, once remarked
that she liked those theatres best which afforded the longest entr’actes.
So in the Alps we felt from time to time the necessity, between the more
stirring episodes resulting from higher mountaineering, to interpose minor
expeditions, on which no less care and thought was often lavished to make
them worthy of pursuit. These were our entr’actes. Of such expeditions it
is customary to say that they are the most enjoyable of any undertaken.
Without going so far as this, it may be conceded that they have a pleasure
of their own, and it is at least no more difficult to discover a novel
form of sub-Alpine expedition than to vary the details of a big climb. One
of these episodes, undertaken while we were barred from the higher
mountains by a fall of snow, consisted in a night attack on the Mont Buet.

(M125)

Now the Mont Buet, although it lies close to the regular highway to
Chamouni from the Rhone valley, is a peak but rarely even seen of the
ordinary tourist; and, considering the numbers of our countrymen that
flock to the village whence they imagine that they see the summit of Mont
Blanc, the English folk who make the ascent are strangely few. Yet the
walk is not a laborious one; not more fatiguing, for example, than the
tramp from Martigny to Chamouni over the Col de Balme on a hot day.
Fashion in the mountains is very conservative, and probably it is too late
in the day now to hope that this mountain will ever gain all the
reputation it deserves, for, though comparatively unknown, its praises
have been by no means left unsung. Possibly the lowness of the guides’
tariff for the peak may have something to do with the matter, and may
serve to explain why it is so much left out in the cold; for this is a
very potent agent in determining the attractiveness of special localities.
How many go to Chamouni, and never wander along one of the most beautiful
sylvan paths in the Alps, that leads to the Glacier des Bossons through
the woods, where the view, as the spectator suddenly finds himself
confronted with the huge stream of pure glacier, topped by a most
magnificent ice-fall, and backed by the crags of the Aiguille du Midi,
compares by no means unfavourably with the more frequently photographed
panorama from the Montanvert. Ask a dozen persons at haphazard who are
staying at Chamouni where the Mont Buet is, and ten out of the number will
be unable to answer you. But the pictures hung on the line are not
invariably the best in an exhibition; and the Mont Buet is a masterpiece,
so to speak, “skied.”

(M126)

Our party that summer at Chamouni was a large one, for we had stayed a
long time in the hotel, and knew, as the phrase goes, a great many to
speak to—quite a different thing to answering for them. We conceived the
plan of so timing our modest expedition as to arrive on the summit of the
Mont Buet about sunset. It was agreed by some members of the party that it
would be “such fun, you know,” to come down in the dark. The inference to
be gathered from this is that the party was not exclusively composed of
the male sex. Two of us, reputed to be good at a bargain, were deputed to
charter carriages to convey the members of the expedition up to
Argentière, where the ascent commenced. The carriages of Chamouni, though
no doubt practical and well suited to the mountain roads, were not found
to be of uniform excellence. Availing ourselves of a proper introduction,
we made the temporary acquaintance of an individual interested officially
in vehicular traffic, who possessed that remarkable insight into character
noticeable in all who are concerned with horses, and knew exactly what we
wanted without any preliminary explanation on our part. “Voilà votre
affaire,” he said, and indicated a machine that would have been out of
date when the first _char-à-banc_ was constructed. We inquired if the
somewhat unsavoury load (it had, apparently, been in recent requisition
for farming purposes) which the cart contained might be removed, and he
said there was no objection to this. “See,” said the proprietor, “the
seats have backs.” “But they tip up,” we remonstrated. “That is nothing,”
rejoined the proprietor; “they can be tied down: the carriage is good, and
has gone many miles. However, Monsieur is evidently particular; he shall
be satisfied. Behold!” and the proprietor threw open the creaking door of
a shed, and revealed to our gaze a pretentious landau with faded linings
and wheels which did not seem to be circular. This “machine,” he assured
us, it would be hard to equal for locomotive purposes. Two strange beasts
were connected to it, chiefly, as it seemed, by bits of string. One of the
animals was supported on two very puffy hind legs and two very tremulous
fore-legs, and seemed perpetually on the point of going down on its knees
to supplicate that it might be allowed to go no further. Its companion was
a horse of the most gloomy nature, that no amount of chastisement could
stir from a despondent and pensive frame of mind. Both these treasures had
a capacity for detecting an upward incline that was marvellously acute.
Then there was a structure like a magnified perambulator, of which one
wheel was afflicted with a chronic propensity for squeaking, while the
other described a curious serpentine track as it rolled along. Not being,
however, in any particular hurry, we decided to avail ourselves of such
assistance as these vehicles might afford, and did, as a matter of fact,
ultimately reach our destination, if not in, at least with them.

(M127)

From Argentière we followed the familiar track of the Tête Noire for some
little distance, and then bore away to the left up the valley leading
towards the Bérard Chalet. The party, which had kept well together for the
first few minutes after parting with the carriages, were soon straggling
off in every direction, and the chief organiser of the expedition,
desperately anxious lest some should go astray and be no more found, ran
to and fro from one little group to another, and got into a highly
excitable frame of mind, like a busily minded little dog when first taken
out for a walk. Chief among the more erratic members was an elderly person
who had, unwisely, been asked to join the party for no very definite
reason, but because some one had said that it would be obviously
incomplete without him. The old gentleman had no previous experience of
mountain walks, but had very complete theories on the subject. He had made
great preparations for his day’s climb, had carefully dieted himself the
day previously, and was not a little proud of his equipment and attire. He
was furnished with a spiked umbrella, a green tin box, and a particularly
thin pair of boots; for he wished to prove the accuracy of a theory that
man, being descended from the apes, might properly use his feet as
prehensile members, and he held that this additional aid would prove
valuable on rocks. It was currently reported, notwithstanding his
loquacity, that he was a very wise person, and indeed he dropped hints
himself, which he was much annoyed if we did not take, on the subject of a
projected literary work. We were given to understand that the publishers
were all hankering after the same, and he had a manner in conversation of
tentatively quoting passages and watching eagerly for the effects. He was
known to us as the incomplete moralist, and proved to be a very didactic
person.

(M128)

But this was not all; there was one other member of the party, who may be
described, as in the old-fashioned list of the “Dramatis Personæ,” as
“niece to the moralist.” Somehow or another, she seemed to lead
everything; instinctively all gave way to her wishes, and even the chief
organiser looked to her for confirmation of his opinions before
enunciating them with decision. Bright, impulsive, wilful, she led the
moralist, subjectively speaking, whither she would, and he had no chance
at all. “She ought not to have come at all on such an expedition,” he
said, looking at the light, fragile form ahead; “but you know you can’t
persuade a butterfly to take systematic exercise, and everything seems to
give her so much pleasure;” and here the moralist looked rather wistful,
and somehow the artificiality seemed to fade away from him for the moment.
“Such of us,” he resumed, “as stay long enough in this world cease to have
much hopefulness; and when that quality shows up too strong in the young,
such as that child yonder, somehow I don’t think they often——” Here he
paused abruptly, and, selecting a meat lozenge from a store in his tin
box, put it into his mouth and apparently swallowed it at once; at any
rate, he gulped down something. It must be allowed that the moralist had
done his best to prevent his charge from accompanying the party. She had
been reminded of what learned doctors had said, that she was not to exert
herself; that certain persons, vaguely alluded to, would be very angry,
and so forth. The moralist had been talked down in two minutes. He might
as well have pointed out to the little budding leaflets the unwisdom of
mistaking warm days in March for commencing summer; and, finally, he had
surrendered at discretion, fencing himself in with some stipulations as to
warm cloaks, “this once only,” and the like, which he knew would not be
attended to. So she came, and her eager brightness shed a radiance over
the most commonplace objects, and infected the most prosaic of the party,
even a young lady of varied accomplishments, who distinguished herself
later on. After all, if the flame burned a little more brightly at the
expense of a limited stock of fuel, was there anything to regret? Tone
down such brightness as hers was, and you have but an uncut diamond, or a
plant that may possibly last a little longer because its blossom, its
fruit, and with them its beauties, have been cut off to preserve the dull
stem to the utmost. Check the natural characteristics and outflow of such
natures, and you force them to the contemplation of what is painful and
gloomy. You bring them back fully to this world, and it is their greatest
privilege to be but half in it, and to have eyes blind to the seamy side.
The Alpine rose-glow owes its fascination to the fact that we know it will
soon fade. So is it with these natures. They are to be envied. We may hold
it truth with him who sings, “Better fifty years of Europe than a cycle of
Cathay.” But the parallel is not strictly true: the brightness will not
fade, but will be there to the end, and the streak of sadness running
through it all gives the fascination. So the wit that approaches nearest
to pathos touches us most deeply, and is one of the rarest of intellectual
talents. With what a thrill of mixed, but yet pleasurable, sensation do we
recall the timely jest of a lost friend. But all this has nothing to do
with a holiday expedition in the Alps. Still, it must be remembered, we
were on a sentimental journey in the mountains.

Before long the chief organiser, seizing an opportunity when most of the
stragglers were within earshot, announced at the top of his voice that
luncheon would be served on certain flat rocks. This had the immediate
effect of uniting our scattered forces. The first to arrive (the moralist
was slow of foot) were some gallant members of the high mountaineering
fraternity, who throughout the day evinced astounding activity, and an
unwonted desire to carry burdens on their backs. Secretly they were
burning with an ambition to display their prowess on some “mauvais pas,”
or glissade, an ambition rewarded later on in a somewhat remarkable
manner. The rock was spread, the moralist selected a comfortable place,
and, stimulated by the appearance of the viands, favoured us with certain
extracts.

(M129)

“There are many,” he observed, holding a large piece of pie to his mouth
and eyeing it to select an appropriate place for the next bite, “who hold
that the sense of taste is not one to which we should much minister. I do
not hold with such;” and here he found the right spot, and for a minute or
two the thread of his discourse was broken off. “The painter blends
colours to please the sense of sight; the musician studies harmonies of
sound to please the ear; each appeals to but one of our imperfect senses,
and yet we think much of them for so doing; we compliment them, and give
them the appellation of artists. Now the worthy person who dexterously
compounded this article, of which, alas! I hold now but little in my hand,
appeals not to a single but to a twofold sense; he ministers alike to
taste and to smell, and I must own, after a toilsome walk, with
commendable results. He is an artist in the highest sense of the word; his
merits, to my thinking, are but inadequately recognised in this world. I
am convinced that they will be more so in another. The gourmet’s paradise
shall provide for him a cherubic state of existence; then shall he have
all the pleasure that the palate can afford without any ill-omened presage
of subsequent discomfort; for, thrice happy that he will be, digestion
will be an anatomical impossibility.” It may be remarked parenthetically
that the possession of a gigantic brain had not obviated, in the case of
the moralist, the deleterious effects of sour wine. But the moralist was
not, as yet, much of a cherub.

As the speaker showed unmistakable signs of continuing his discourse,
which had been chiefly directed at a youth of whom we only knew that he
was some one’s brother, if the opportunity were afforded, a sudden and
general move was made, and the proposal that a short adjournment should
take place previous to resuming our upward journey found instant favour.
The chief organiser was by common consent left to pack up. Straightway the
ladies all produced little sketch-books, and fell very vigorously to
recording their impressions of the scenery around; whilst the moralist,
already somewhat stiff, wandered from one group to the other and favoured
them with his suggestions. The result of half an hour’s work with pencil
and brush was to produce diagrams of certain objects which looked
uncommonly like telegraph poles with cross bars attached, but which were
coloured of a vivid green, and were thus obviously intended for fir trees.
The moralist, not finding that his remarks were met with much favour by
the artists, selected an ascetic who sat apart from the others, and
delivered his next discourse into his inattentive but uncomplaining ear.

(M130)

“It seems strange to me,” he remarked, “that those who are wholly unable
to depict, even in the most elementary manner, the commonplace objects
around them, are for ever seen in the Alps striving after the most
impossible art problems. If so great a stimulus is needed, a poor result
may be confidently anticipated.” (Here the moralist made a fourth attempt
to light a very curious native cigar.) “If it takes the sight of Nature in
her sublimest phase, as seen in the Alps, to stimulate our friends here to
show their art, why, then they haven’t much of it. A milestone should be
sufficient for the purpose, but it seems that they require a Matterhorn;
and it may be gathered, from what I have heard you and your companions
say, that what is true of Alpine art is true also of Alpine climbing, and
that the _dilettanti_ will never take the trouble to learn how much there
is to learn. Our friends here try to paint a glacier, and have not the
most elementary idea of its anatomy. They represent vast panoramas, and
know nothing of distance; they——” But here the moralist, in the excitement
of his discourse, turned a little white, probably from the depth of his
feelings; and, throwing away his cigar, walked off alone, and was
discovered shortly after perspiring a good deal, and crumpled up in a
somewhat limp and helpless state.

The books were packed up, for the sun was setting low, and the party
wended their way up the steep grass slope till the first great dome of the
Mont Buet came well into sight. Far ahead was the niece, seemingly
unconscious of the effects that the exertion of climbing told on her
slight frame. She was apparently unaware of any companions around, though
watchful eyes and strong hands were always near lest any mischance should
befall. She spoke to no one. Nature absorbed all her faculties as she went
on with cheeks rather flushed, and bright, dilated eyes drinking in every
object and every point of beauty. As an artist in the exercise of his
craft makes the outside world acquainted with beauties ever present to his
eyes, so did the effect on her of the wondrous lights and shades and
colours around call up new thoughts and reveal fresh marvels in the
panorama to others, though well acquainted with such Alpine scenes. The
spell caught one after another, till the whole party, all held by the same
unsuspected fascination, walked silently on, while the majestic splendour
around inspired an awe in the mind that even those most familiar with the
marvels of nature in the mountains had never felt before. The mere
recognition of the fact that the same thought or emotion is passing
simultaneously through the minds of many is in itself so striking, that
the impression so caused will not ever be effaced from the mind. A crowded
hall is waiting for the advent of the orator of the occasion, and there
enters an old man whose name and work were familiar to all. Instantly, and
as if by magic, all present rose to their feet in token of respect. No
word was spoken, no signal given. The matter may seem slight, but the
scene was one that those present will never forget. The most hideous part
of the punishment in the old days to the criminal must have been the
moment when, as he stepped through the last door, the sea of faces below
him upturned simultaneously with a howl of execration. And all these
thoughts were called up by the fact that one consumptive girl was a member
of our mountain party. Well, such was the case, and it made the expedition
different in many ways from any that we had ever undertaken, but not
perhaps the less worthy of remembrance.

(M131)

“It looks a long way off,” observed the moralist, gazing despondently
upwards. “Do you say that the object of our expedition is to climb up to
that eminence yonder? I fear lest some of the weaker members of the party
should fail.” (The moralist was now the penultimate member of the party,
the absolute rear being brought up by one of the guides, who was pushing
him up with the head of his axe. The youth to whom he was in the habit of
addressing his discourses had in a revengeful mood offered similar
assistance; but the youth wore such a saturnine look when he made the
suggestion, that it was declined hastily with thanks.) “I think that if I
took a little wine”—here he took all that was left—“this feeling of
disinclination to move might conceivably pass off, and I could then
encourage some of the others on what is clearly to them an arduous
expedition. Ah me! but these little stones are excessively sharp to the
feet; let us turn off on to the snow. I have heard that it is possible to
walk uphill on such a medium, and yet scarce recognise the fact.” By this
time most of the party were well on to the first summit, and the glories
of the sunset, from a point of view which it would be hard to match in all
the mountains, were beginning to display themselves to the full. The
higher we ascended the more did the eternal mass of white snow on the
other side of the valley develop and tower above us. Two or three of the
more active members were floundering in the deep snow along the ridge
uniting the two summits, and finding it, if the truth be told, no small
matter to keep pace with the niece, who skimmed lightly over the surface.
Gallantry and the desire to keep up their reputation forbade that they
should fall to the rear, or allow the rope to tighten unduly; but their
superior mountaineering experience seemed not a little in danger of being
counterbalanced by their superior weight. All over the rocks on the Sixt
side a thin grey veil of mist seemed to hang, making the cliffs appear
still more vertical than nature had moulded them, and tinting the crags at
the same time with a deep purple colour.

  [Illustration: A VISION ON A SUMMIT]

(M132)

In the foreground, looking south, the long jagged line of the Aiguilles
Rouges cut off the view into the Chamouni valley, and threw up still
higher and more into relief the minor peaks of the Mont Blanc chain. We
huddled together on the summit, while there seemed hardly time to turn to
all points of the compass to survey the effects. The emotional members of
the party came out strong, and the young lady of varied accomplishments,
who was adjudged by the others to be of poetic temperament, as she was
fond of alluding rather vaguely to unknown Italian geniuses, burst forth
into ecstasies. However, one or two of us had rather lost faith in her
historical knowledge and her profound acquaintance with mediæval art on
hearing her discourse learnedly to the vacuous youth on Savonarola as an
artist of great repute, and on discovering that in the family circle she
was held in submission by an Italianised English governess—discreetly left
at the hotel. A formidable person, this preceptress, of austere demeanour,
with a dyspeptic habit, highly pomatumed ringlets, and evangelistic
tendencies—a triple combination not infrequently met with. Still, no one
paid any attention to the accomplished young lady, for an object in the
foreground of the great picture riveted the gaze of most of us. The niece
had advanced a few steps from the rest of the party, and stood a little
apart on the summit ridge of the mountain, her slight form brought out in
strong relief against the many-tinted sky. The folds of her dress
fluttered back in the light breeze, and the night wind as it came sighing
over the crest had loosened her veil and tossed it upwards. Mechanically
as she raised her hand to draw it back, the thin arm and hand seemed to
point upwards to something beyond what we could see. Instinctively the
others all drew back a few paces, and closed in together as they watched
the motionless form. The sunset glories were more than we could realise,
but somehow we felt that she was gazing with fixed eyes far, far beyond
these—into a pure and passionless region, beyond the mental grasp of the
profoundest theologian depending on his own acquired knowledge. As we
looked, though she moved no limb, her breath came faster and faster. One
or two of us made a start forwards, but at that moment the last red glow
vanished from the belt of fleecy cloud hanging in mid-sky. Lower down, the
limestone cliffs seemed strangely desolate as the icy hand of night spread
over them. The breeze suddenly dropped and died away. She stamped her foot
on the snow, and with a quick movement of the head seemed to come back
again to the scene around. “Let us go,” she said, half petulantly.
Silently the party arranged themselves in order as we wended our way back
along the ridge. We had seen a sight that lingered in the mind, and that
was not easily to be erased from the memory. As we walked along we
gradually drew closer and closer together, prompted by some feeling that
all seemed to share alike—as if the recollection of what we had just seen
had dazed the mind, and brought us face to face with some influence beyond
our ordinary thoughts, and as if with nearer union we should not feel so
powerless and insignificant. But the glories of that sunset from the Mont
Buet, a scene within the reach of all of very moderate walking ability,
were far beyond the power of any language to describe, and beyond the
province of any discreet writer to attempt. The twilight gathered in fast,
and the snow already felt more crisp under foot. The roll-call was held,
and it was discovered that the only absentees were the moralist and his
propelling companion. At this point two of the skilled mountaineers of the
party recognised their opportunity, and were not slow to seize it.
Secretly they had felt that no suitable occasion had hitherto offered of
displaying their prowess, so they volunteered to perform a glissade for
the amusement and instruction of the others. The ladies clapped their
hands gleefully, and the youth, who did not know how to glissade, looked
sinister. Accordingly the skilful ones made their way to a steep snow
slope, and started off with great speed and dexterity, amidst the admiring
plaudits of the less acrobatically minded members. But the course of their
true descent did not run entirely smooth, for before half the downward
journey was accomplished the foremost member was observed suddenly to
propel himself wildly into the air, performing a remarkable antic—similar
to those known of street Arabs as cart-wheels—and the remainder of the
journey to the foot of the slope was performed with about the grace of a
floating log descending a mountain torrent. Nor was this all; the rearmost
man, apparently also possessed by an identical frenzy, leaped forth into
the air at precisely the same spot and in precisely the same manner. Had
it not been that they were known to be highly skilful and adroit
mountaineers the impression might have gained ground that the
circumstances of this part of the descent were not wholly under their own
control. Ever anxious to investigate the true cause of strange
occurrences, to their credit be it said that when they had collected their
wits and emptied their pockets of snow, they mounted up again to the scene
of the disaster, and discovered the explanation in an entirely imaginary
stone, which had, beyond doubt, tripped them up.

(M133)

Somewhat crestfallen, the energetic pair rejoined the rest of the troupe
and a search was instituted for the moralist. This worthy was discovered,
astonishingly weary of body but surprisingly active of mind, wedged in a
narrow rocky niche, so that he looked like the figure of a little “Joss”
in the carved model of a Japanese temple. It was found necessary to pull
him vigorously by the legs, in order to straighten out those members
sufficiently for him to progress upon them. However, he seemed to have
more to say about the sunset than anybody else, and his description of the
beauties thereof was so glowing and eloquent, that the idea crossed our
minds that possibly some of the descriptions we had read in Alpine
writings of similar scenes might be as authentic as that with which he
favoured us. “A great point in the Alps,” remarked the moralist, after he
had been securely fastened by a rope to a guide for fear we should lose
him again, so that he looked like a dancing bear—“a great point in walking
amongst the Alps is that we learn to use our eyes and look around us. I
have observed that those who perambulate our native flagstones appear
perpetually to be absorbed in the contemplation of what lies at their
feet. Now here, stimulated by the beauties around, man holds, as he should
do, his head erect, and steps out boldly.” At this point a little delay
was occasioned owing to the abrupt disappearance of the speaker through a
crust of snow. Some curious rumblings below our feet seemed to imply that
he had descended to a considerable depth, and was in great personal
discomfort. In the dim light we could scarcely see what had actually
happened, but concluded to pull vigorously at the rope as the best means
of getting our temporarily absent friend out of his difficulties. This we
succeeded in doing, and a strenuous haul on the cord was rewarded by the
sudden appearance of two boots through the snow-crust at our feet—a
phenomenon so unexpected that we relaxed our efforts, with the result that
the boots immediately disappeared again. A second attempt was more
successful; an arm and a leg this time came to the surface simultaneously,
and the moralist was delivered from the snowy recesses broadside on. We
rearranged his raiment, shook the snow out of the creases of his clothes,
tied a bath towel round his head, which, for some obscure reason, he had
brought with him—the towel, not his head—and harnessed him this time
securely between two members of the party. Possibly from the effects of
his misadventure, he remained silent for some time, or his flow of
conversation may have been hindered by the fact that his supporters ran
him violently down steep places whenever he showed symptoms of commencing
a fresh dissertation. It was no easy task to find the little hut in the
darkness, and it was not until after we had blundered about a good deal
that we caught sight of the beacon light, consisting of a very cheap dip
exhibited in the window, as a sign that entertainment for man and beast
might be found within. The moralist, who was always to the fore when the
subject of refreshment was mentioned, discovered a milking-stool, and
drawing it in great triumph to the best place in front of the stove, sat
down on it, with the immediate result that he was precipitated backwards
into the ash-pan. There we left him, as being a suitable place for
repentance.

(M134)

The rest of the party gathered for supper round the festive board, which
was rather uncertain on its legs, and inclined to tip up. Owing to some
miscarriage, the larder of the cabane was not well stocked, and all the
entertainment that could be furnished consisted of one bent-up little
sausage, exceeding black and dry, and a very large teapot. However, there
was plenty of fresh milk provided after a short interval, though the
latter article was not obtained without considerable difficulty, and
remonstrances proceeding from an adjoining shed, probably due to
somnolence on the part of the animal from which the supply was drawn.
Presently a great commotion, as of numerous bodies rolling down a steep
ladder, was heard, and there appeared at the door a large collection of
small shock-headed children, who gaped at us in silent wonder. Anxious to
ascertain the physical effects that might be induced by the consumption of
the sausage, the moralist, who amongst his many talents had apparently a
turn for experimental physiology, cut off a block and placed it in the
open mouth of the eldest of the children. This unexpected favour led to
the boy’s swallowing the morsel whole, and he shortly afterwards retired
with a somewhat pained expression of countenance; the other members of the
family followed shortly after in tears, in consequence of the Italianised
young lady, who possessed a strong fund of human sympathy and a love for
the picturesque, having made an attempt to conciliate their good-will by
patting their respective heads, and asking them their names in a
conjectural _patois_. We were now ready to start again, and demanded of
our hostess what there was to pay. This request led her to go to the foot
of the ladder, which represented a staircase, and call out for the
proprietor. A little black-headed man in response instantly precipitated
himself down the steps, shot into the apartment, and, without any
preliminary calculation, named the exact price. On receiving his money he
scuttled away again like a frightened rabbit, brought the change, jerked
it down on the table, and darted off again to his slumbers. The whole
transaction occupied some five-and-twenty seconds.

Part of the programme consisted in descending back to Argentière by
lantern-light, but the resources of the establishment could only produce
one battered machine, and it was no easy task with this illumination to
keep the members of the party from straying away from the narrow path.
Indeed, several members did part from the rest, curiously enough in pairs;
but before long we left the narrow defile, and as we passed from under the
shelter of the slope on our right, and could see across the Chamouni
valley, we came suddenly in view of the great mass of the Aiguille Verte,
so suddenly, indeed, that it made us start back for the moment; for,
illumined by a grey ghostly light, the mountain seemed at first to hang
right over us. There is, perhaps, no finer view of the Aiguille Verte to
be obtained than from this point; certainly no finer effects of light and
shade than were granted by the conditions under which we saw it, could
have been devised to show the peak off to the best advantage. So long did
we delay to dwell on the fairy-like scene, that the vacuous youth,
accompanied by the young lady of varied accomplishments, caught us up and
joined us quite suddenly, to their exceeding confusion. The youth, without
being invited to do so, explained, blushing violently the while, that they
had lost the path in the darkness, and had only been able to regain the
track by lighting a series of lucifer matches—an entire fiction on his
part, but condoned, as evincing more readiness of wit than we had
previously given him credit for. We heard also that their way had been
barred by a swamp and a mountain stream, which, like gossip, can have had
no particular origin. The young lady, mindful of the absence of her
preceptress and consequently heedless of grammar, described the situation
neatly as being “awfully bogs.”

(M135)

If the expedition had shown us no more than this moonlight effect, the
reward would have been ample. In truth, from first to last the expedition
was one which it would be hard to match for variety of interest in all the
sub-Alpine district. At Argentière we rejoined the carriages, and found
the horses just a little more inclined for exertion than they had been in
the morning; their joy at going home seemed to be tempered by the fact
that they recognised that they would inevitably be called upon to start
from the same point at no very distant period; and that to return home was
but to go back to the starting-point for further laborious excursions. But
their equine tempers seemed thoroughly soured. The Italianised young lady
was taken in charge by her elder sister, who had completed her education,
and knew consequently the hollowness of the world and the folly of younger
sisters’ flirtations, and securely lodged in the landau. The youth, after
an ineffectual attempt to find a place in the same carriage, climbed to
the box seat of the other vehicle, and relieved his feelings by cracking
the driver’s whip with great dexterity; in fact, we discovered that this
was one of his principal accomplishments. Not the least satisfactory part
of the climb, in the estimation of some members of the party, was the fact
that the moralist had lost his note-book during his imprisonment in the
crevasse.



                               CHAPTER IX.


                                A FRAGMENT


    An unauthentic MS.—Solitude on the mountain: its advantages to the
     historian of the Alps—A rope walk—The crossing of the Schrund—A
         novel form of avalanche and an airy situation—A towering
    obstacle—The issue of the expedition in the balance—A very narrow
    escape—The final rush—Victory!—The perils of the descent—I plunge
                    _in medias res_—A flying descent.


The following account is somewhat of a puzzle. It appears to contain
certain facts of so startling a nature, that the ascent to which they
refer must unquestionably have been of a very exciting character. The
details are not so wholly unlike descriptions which have passed the
searching discrimination of editors, in publications relating more or less
to Alpine matters, as to warrant the assumption that they are
fabrications. They do not appear, as far as the writer can ascertain, to
have been seen in print hitherto; but as all Alpine writings relate but
rigid matters of fact and actual occurrences, there seems no objection to
publishing the manuscript, notwithstanding that its authorship is only
conjectural. It is unfortunate that its fragmentary nature leaves one
somewhat in doubt as to the actual peak to which the description refers.
It has been suggested by a plausible commentator, judging from internal
evidence and the style of writing, that the manuscript of which the
fragment consists formed part of an account originally intended for some
work not published in this country, or even, possibly, was primarily
designed to fill the columns of one of our own daily newspapers during the
silly season.

(M136)

“... The day was cloudless, serene, and bright. Only in the immediate
foreground did the heavy banks, betokening a _tourmente_, sweep around
with relentless fury. Far above, the towering crags of the majestic peak
pierced the sky. How to get there! And alone! The situation was sublime;
yet more, it was fascinating; once again, it was enthralling. Far below
lay the prostrate bodies of my companions, worn out, wearied, gorged with
_petit vin_ and sardines. A thought flashed across my mind. Why should I
not scale alone these heights which had hitherto defied the most
consummate _intrépides_? In a moment the resolution was taken. For me, for
me alone, should the laurel wreaths be twined. For me should the booming
cannon, charged with fifty centimes’ worth of uncertain powder, betoken
victory. For me alone should the assortment of cheap flags which had done
duty on many previous occasions of rejoicing, be dragged forth. What was
the expense to a hero when the glow of so magnificent an achievement
should swell his heart and loosen his purse-strings? The account might
reach a sum of two and a half, nay, even five francs; but what of that? I
girded myself with the trusty rope, and, attaching one end lightly to a
projecting crag twenty feet above, hauled myself in a moment on to the
eminence. Involuntarily I shot a glance downwards. The scene was
fearful—one to make the most resolute quail. But there was no time for
thought, still less for accurate description. A fearfully steep couloir,
flanked by two yawning bergschrunds, stretched away horizontally right and
left. How to cross them! It was the work of a moment. Unfastening the knot
in the rope above me, I threw myself, heart and soul, into the work. Where
heart and soul are, there must, in the ante-mortem state, be the body
also. This is logic. Thus I entered the chasm. Battling desperately with
the huge icicles that threatened me at every step, I forced my way through
the snow bridge and breathed again. The first schrund was accomplished.
Next the rope was fastened to my trusty axe, and with an herculean effort
I threw it far above me; fortunately it caught in a notch, and in a few
seconds I had climbed, with the agility of a monkey, up the tightened
cord. Goodness gracious! (_sapristi!_) what do I hear? A sudden roar below
betokened an immediate danger. Horror! sweeping and roaring up the slope
from the glacier beneath, I beheld a huge avalanche. I will conceal
nothing. I own that the appalling situation and its terribly dramatic
nature forced me to ejaculate a cry. I do not claim originality for it. I
said, ‘Oh! my mother!’ (_Oh! ma mère!_) This relieved me. Now was the time
indeed for coolness. Fortunate, most fortunate, that I was alone.
Thrusting the spike of the axe into the solid rock face like the spear of
Ithuriel, in the twinkling of an eye I had fastened one end of the rope to
the projecting head of the axe, and the other to my waist, and launched
myself over the ridge into space. Fortunate, most fortunate again, as in
the hurry of the moment I had attached the rope below my own centre of
gravity, that I was light-headed. Had this not been the case, assuredly I
should have dangled feet uppermost over the abyss. Not a moment too soon.
The avalanche dashed up the slope, grinding the axe to powder, but by good
luck entangling the rope between the massive blocks and carrying it up,
with myself attached, nearly 100 metres—I should say 300 feet—above where
I had previously stood. I had accomplished in a moment what might have
cost hours of toil. Again it was sublime. The thought crossed my mind that
the sublime often approaches the ridiculous. But the rocks, previously
broken up, had been ground by the sweeping avalanche into a surface smooth
as polished steel. How to descend these again! Banish the thought! The
mountain was not yet climbed. Upwards, past yawning séracs, towering
bergschrunds, slippery crevasses, gaping arêtes, I made my way. For a few
hundred feet I bounded upwards with great rapidity. Despite the rugged
nature of the rocks everything went smoothly. Of a sudden a terrible
obstacle was presented to my gaze. I felt that all my hopes seemingly were
dashed. A stupendous cleft, riving the mountain’s side to an unfathomable
depth, barred further progress. From top to bottom both sides of the chasm
overhung; and far below, where they joined, the angle of meeting was so
sharp that I felt that I must infallibly be wedged in without hope of
extrication if I fell. For a few moments I hesitated, but only for a few.
Close by was a tower of rock, smooth and vertical, some twelve feet
high—the height of two men, in fact. No handhold save on the top. This was
but a simple matter. Had any one else been with me, I should have stood on
his shoulders; as it was I stood on my own head. Thus I climbed to the
summit of the pointed obelisk of rock. Exactly opposite, on the farther
side of the cleft, was a similar rock cone, but the distance was too great
to spring across. I was in a dilemma—on one horn of it, in fact; how to
get to the other! I adopted an ingenious plan. Taking my trusty axe, I
placed the pointed end in a little notch in the rock, and then, with
herculean strength, bent the staff and wedged the head also into a notch.
The trusty axe was now bent like a bow. Again I hesitated before trusting
myself to the bow; in fact, it was long before I drew it. But a former
experience stood me in good stead. Once before, driven by a less powerful
impetus—merely that of a human leg—I had flown through a greater distance.
I made up my mind, and, summoning all my fortitude, placed my back against
the arc and, lightly touching one end, released the spring. Instantly I
felt myself propelled straight into mid-air, and before I had time to
realise the success of my scheme, was flung against the pinnacle on the
opposite side and embraced it. What were my feelings on finding that this
huge pinnacle had no more stability than a ninepin, and as my weight came
on to it slowly heeled over! Nor was this all. Slowly, like the pendulum
of a metronome, it rolled back again, and I found to my horror that I was
clinging to the apex of the rock, and dangling right over the chasm! I
cannot recall that in all my adventures I had ever been in a precisely
similar situation. However, a hasty calculation satisfied me that the
rocking crag must again right itself. As I expected, it did so, and as the
pinnacle of rock swung back once more to the perpendicular I sprang from
it with all my force. The impetus landed me safe, but the crag toppled
over into the abyss. Here I noted an interesting scientific fact. Taking
out my watch, I was able to estimate, by the depth of the cleft, the
height I had already climbed. _The boulder took a minute and a half in
falling before it reached anywhere._ I own that the escape was a narrow
one, and even my unblushing cheek paled a little at the thought of it. But
I could not be far now, I hoped, from the summit; and, indeed, the
condition of a dead bird which it so happened lay on the rocks—in a
passive sense—convinced me that the summit of the lofty peak was close at
hand. But few obstacles now remained. Another step or two revealed a
glassy unbroken rock cone leading to the summit. It seemed impossible at
first to surmount it, but my resources were not yet at an end. Dragging
off my boots, I tore out with my teeth the long nails and drove them in
one after another. By this means I ascended the first half of the final
peak; but then the supply of nails was exhausted, and I felt that time
would not permit me to draw out the lower nails and place them in
succession above the others. Luckily I still carried with me a flask of
the execrable _petit vin_ supplied by Mons. —— of the inn below. I applied
a little to the rock. The effect was magical. In a moment the hard face
was softened to the consistence of cheese, and with my trusty axe I had no
difficulty in scraping out small steps. The worst was now over. Just as
the shades of night were gathering softly around, I stepped with the proud
consciousness of victory on to the very highest point. This indeed was
sublime. The toil of years was accomplished; it seemed almost a dream.
Nerved to frenzy, with a mighty sweep of the axe I struck off a huge block
from the summit to carry away as a token of conquest, and planting the
weapon in the hole, tore off garment after garment to make a suitable
flag; only did I desist on reflecting that it would become barely possible
for me to descend if I acted thus. Intoxicated with victory, I shouted and
sang for a while, and then turned to the descent. The night was fast
closing in, but this mattered not, for I made light of all the obstacles,
and they were so numerous that I succeeded perfectly by this means in
seeing my way. Faster and faster I sped along, descending with ease over
the blocks and fragments of the morning’s avalanche. Now and again the
descent was assisted by fastening the rope securely to projecting crags,
and then allowing myself to slide down to its full length. Then I went up
again, untied the rope, fastened it anew below, and repeated the manœuvre.
Thus at midnight I reached the edge of the cliff, at the foot of which my
companions had been left in the morning. I feared they might be anxious
for my safety, the more especially that I had not yet paid them for their
services. Peering over the edge of the vertical precipice into the murky
darkness, I called out. There was no response. Then I said ‘Pst,’ and
tapped the glassy slope with my pocket knife. Even this plan failed to
attract their attention. I shouted with still more force. Finally,
standing up on the edge of the cliff, I sent forth a shout so terribly
loud that it must have waked even a sleeping adder. A fatal error! for the
reverberation of my voice was echoed back with such fearful force from a
neighbouring crag that the shock struck me backwards, and in a moment I
was flying through mid-air—to annihilation.”

                               * * * * * *

“There is a blank in this narrative which I can never fill up. This only
do I know; that when I came again to my senses, I was warmly ensconced in
a blanket, whilst my companions stood around in a circle shivering, as
they gazed at me with amazement. Their account, which I can scarcely
credit, was that as they were engaged in stretching out and shaking a
blanket preparatory to spreading their bed for the night, an apparently
heaven-sent form had descended from above into the very middle of it; the
shock tore the blanket from their grasp, and in a twinkling I lay wrapt up
safe and comfortable at their feet.”

(M137)

Such is the fragment. It has been thought better to present it as far as
possible in its original form, and without any editing. That the account
is a little highly coloured perhaps in parts may be allowed, but some
licence may legitimately be accorded to an author who is no empty dreamer,
but has evidently experienced some rather exciting episodes.



                                CHAPTER X.


                       THE FUTURE OF MOUNTAINEERING


       Mountaineers and their critics—The early days of the Alpine
          Club—The founders of mountaineering—The growth of the
            amusement—Novelty and exploration—The formation of
    centres—Narrowing of the field of mountaineering—The upward limit
     of mountaineering—De Saussure’s experience—Modern development of
      climbing—Mr. Whymper’s experience—Mr. Graham’s experience—The
      ascent of great heights—Mr. Grove’s views—Messrs. Coxwell and
      Glaisher’s balloon experiences—Reasons for dissenting from Mr.
           Glaisher’s views—The possibility of ascending Mount
     Everest—Physiological aspect of the question—Acclimatisation to
      great heights—The direction in which mountaineering should be
      developed—The results that may be obtained—Chamouni a century
        hence—A Rip van Winkle in the Pennine Alps—The dangers of
                        mountaineering—Conclusion.


(M138)

From time to time, when some accident has happened in the Alps, the press
and the public have been pleased to take such unfortunate occurrence as a
text, and to preach serious sermons to mountaineers. We have been called
hard names in our time; we have been accused of fostering an amusement of
no earthly-practical good, and one which has led to “miserable” waste of
valuable life. Gentle expressions of animadversion, such as “criminal
folly,” “reckless venture, which has no better purpose than the
gratification of a caprice or the indulgence of a small ambition,” “a
subject of humiliating interest,” and the like, have at times been freely
used. But it is well known to authors and to dramatists that criticisms of
a nature known as “smashing” are not, on the whole, always to be deplored,
and are occasionally the best to enhance the success of the work. The
novel or play, however unreservedly condemned by the reviewer, has got
some chance of living if it be hinted that some of the situations in it
are a little _risquées_; and to a great many the idea seems constantly
present that mountaineering owes its principal attraction to the element
of risk inseparable from its pursuit. As an absolute matter of fact such
is not the case. Apart from this, however, mountaineers may be thankful
that the critics in question have, when they noticed our doings at all,
condemned us very heartily indeed, and thundered forth their own
strictures on our folly in sonorous terms; in fact, attacks of this nature
have by no means impaired the vitality of such associations as Alpine
clubs, but rather, like attacks of distemper in dogs, have increased their
value.

It would be easy enough, from the mountaineer’s point of view, and in a
work which, at the best, can interest only those who have some sympathy
with climbing as a pure pastime, to pass over these hard words, and to
reckon them as merely the vapourings of envious mortals not initiated into
the mysteries of the mountaineering craft; but such criticisms may lead or
perhaps reflect public opinion, and are not, therefore, to be treated
lightly. It might be held that for any notice to be taken at all is
complimentary, and we might seek shelter in the epigrammatic saying that
he who has no enemies has no character; that though hope may spring
eternal in the human breast, jealousy is a trait still more constantly
found. But this line of argument is not one to be adopted. The _tu quoque_
style of defence is not one well calculated to gain a verdict. No doubt
the question has been treated often enough before, and in discussing it
the writer may seem but to be doing what nowadays the climber is forced to
do in the Alps—namely, wander again, perhaps ramble, over ground that has
been well trodden many times before. But the conditions have changed
greatly since mountaineering first became a popular pastime, and since the
first editions of “Peaks, Passes, and Glaciers” were rapidly sold out. It
is, the writer fears, only too true in these latter days that mountaineers
may be classified as Past and Present. Whether a third class may be added
of “the Future” is a question—to be answered, I hope, in the affirmative.

(M139)

The Alpine Club was founded in 1857 by a few ardent devotees to what was
then an entirely new form of pastime. The original members of that club
could never have even dreamed of the wide popularity mountaineering was
destined to acquire, or the influence that the establishment of the Alpine
Club was to have on it; and, like the fish in an aquarium, they can hardly
have known what they were in for. In the present day there are Alpine
clubs in almost every country in Europe, and in some countries there are
several, numbering their members in some cases by thousands. Nor is it
only on the continent of Europe that there are mountaineering clubs. Not
that the writer ventures to assert that every member of this multitude is
devoted to the high Alps, or that it is in the least degree essential to
climb high and difficult mountains in order to learn the fascination of
their natural beauties. It may be pointed out, however, that the
“miserable waste of valuable life” is in the greatest part not on the
great peaks and passes, but on little hills. Every year we read of
accidents on mountains such as the Faulhorn, the Monte Salvatore in the
Alps, or Snowdon, Helvellyn and the like in our own country. Possibly
these disasters might never have taken place had the experience of
mountaineering craft gained in high regions been properly appreciated and
utilised. The good surgeon is he who, utilising all his own and all his
predecessors’ experience, recognises, and makes provision against, all the
risks that may conceivably be involved in the most trifling operation he
may be called upon to perform; and holiday ramblers in our own land and in
sub-Alpine regions might, not without advantage, profit by the example.

(M140)

Five-and-twenty years ago in Switzerland there were numberless heights
untrodden, passes uncrossed, and regions unexplored. Then, moreover, there
were comparatively but few to cross the passes or climb the mountains; but
those few did mighty deeds. Peak after peak fell before them, while slowly
but surely they opened up new regions and brought unexpected beauties to
light. In those days climbing as an art was but in its infancy, restricted
to a few amateurs specially qualified to pursue it, and to a very limited
number of guides—merely those, in fact (not such a numerous class as
people seem generally to imagine), who had made chamois-hunting one of the
principal objects of their lives. Gradually the art became more developed,
and with the increase of power thus acquired came increase of confidence.
From the fact that the training in the mountaineering art was gradual, it
was necessarily thorough—a fact that a good many climbers would do well to
bear in mind in these latter days. Then, of course, the charm of novelty,
so dear to the mountaineer, was seldom absent; he could strike out right
or left and find virgin soil; but in quest of novelty search had to be
made before long in remote regions. It followed that exploration was not
limited, and the early pioneers of mountaineering could, and did learn
more of the geography and varied beauties of the Alps in a single season
than their followers do, in the present day, in five or six.

After a while the fashion of mountaineering altered sensibly, and a strong
conservatism sprang up. Certain districts became more and more frequented;
certain peaks acquired special popularity, either because they were
conveniently placed and ready of access; or because there was a certain
touch of romance about them, as in the case of the Matterhorn; or because
they had acquired the reputation of being difficult, and it was thought
that a successful ascent would stamp the climber at once as a skilful
person and a very daring creature. Thus places like Zermatt, Grindelwald,
Chamouni, and the Æggischhorn became the great centres of mountaineering,
and have remained so ever since. Independent exploration gradually gave
way to the charm of meeting others bent on the same pursuit of climbing;
but this feeling was not without its drawbacks, and tended to check what
has been called cosmopolitanism in mountaineering. How few, even among
those who visit the Alps regularly, know anything whatever of such large,
important, and interesting districts as the Silvretta group, the Rheinwald
group, or the Lepontine Alps! while districts like Zermatt are thronged
and crowded, and the mountains absolutely done to death. Not that it is
hard to understand how this narrowing of the field of mountaineering has
been brought about. There comes a time of life to most men when they find
more pleasure in meeting old friends than in making new acquaintances; and
the same feeling would appear to extend to the mountains.

It must be confessed here that the writer is disposed to look upon
mountaineering in the Alps, in the sense in which it has hitherto been
known, as a pastime that will before long become extinct. In some soils
trees grow with extraordinary rapidity and vigour, but do not strike their
roots very deep, and so are prone to early decay. Still, it does not
follow that, even should these pessimist forebodings prove true, and
climbing be relegated to the limbo of archaic pursuits, the Alps will not
attract their thousands as they have done for many years. The dearth of
novelty is sometimes held to be the principal cause that will eventually
lead to the decay of mountaineering. There is a reasonable probability,
however, to judge from the Registrar-General’s reports, that the world
will still be peopled some time hence, and possibly a generation will then
arise of mountaineering revivalists who, never having tasted the flavour
of novelty in Alpine climbing, will not perceive that its absence is any
loss. Yet in the Alps alone many seem to forget that, while they are
exhausting in every detail a few spots, there are numerous and varied
expeditions of similar nature still to be accomplished, the scenes of
which lie within a few hours of London. It is of course only to
mountaineering as a semi-fashionable craze that these remarks apply. The
knowledge of the art, acquired primarily in the Alps, which has led to the
development of mountaineering as a science will not be wasted, and the
training acquired in holiday expeditions, when amusement or the regaining
of health was the principal object, can be turned to valuable practical
account elsewhere. So shall there be a future for mountaineering. No doubt
but few may be able to find the opportunity, unless indeed they make it
somewhat of a profession, of exploring the great mountainous districts
still almost untouched—such, for instance, as the Himalayas. But it is in
some such direction as this that the force of the stream, somewhat tending
to dry up in its original channel, will, it may be hoped, spread in the
future.

(M141)

It has already been shown, by the results of many modern expeditions, that
the old views that obtained with respect to the upward limit of
mountaineering must, to say the least, be considerably modified. From
early times the question of the effects of rarefied air in high regions on
mountaineers has attracted attention. As a matter of fact the subject is
still barely in its infancy. A few remarks on this point may not perhaps
be thought too technical, for they bear, I hope, on the mountaineering of
the future.

It is matter of notoriety that in these days travellers seem less subject
to discomfort in the high Alps than in former times. De Saussure, for
instance, in the account of his famous ascent of Mont Blanc in 1787,
speaks a good deal of the difficulty of respiration. At his bivouac on the
Plateau, at an elevation of 13,300 feet, the effects of the rarefied air
were much commented on; and these remarks are the more valuable, inasmuch
as De Saussure was a man of science and a most acute observer; while his
account, a thing too rare in these days, is characterised by extreme
modesty of description. The frequency of the respirations, he observed,
which ensued on any exertion caused great fatigue. Nowadays, however,
pedestrians, often untrained, may be seen daily ascending at a very much
faster pace than De Saussure seems to have gone, and yet the effects are
scarcely felt. No one now expects much to suffer from this cause, and no
one does. In recent times we hear accounts of ascents of mountains like
Elbruz, 18,526 feet, by Mr. Grove and others; of Cotopaxi, 19,735 feet,
and Chimborazo, 20,517(7) feet, by Mr. Whymper; and the most recent, and
by far the most remarkable, of Kabru in the Himalayas, about 24,000 feet,
by Mr. Graham. In all these expeditions the travellers spent nights in
bivouacs far above the level of the Grand Plateau where De Saussure
encamped. We cannot suppose that in the Caucasus, the Andes, or the
Himalayas the air differs much from that of the Alps with regard to its
rarefaction effects on travellers. In fact, the Alpine traveller would in
this respect probably be much better off, for the general conditions
surrounding him would be more like those to which he was accustomed. He
would not have, for instance, to contend with the effects of changed or
meagre diet or unaccustomed climate.

(M142)

Mr. F. C. Grove, a very high authority on such a point, in his description
of the ascent of Elbruz, in the course of some remarks on the rarity of
the air, states his belief that at some height or another, less than that
of the loftiest mountain, there must be a limit at which no amount of
training and good condition will enable a man to live; and he says, “It
may be taken for granted that no human being could walk to the top of
Mount Everest.”(8) This was written in 1875; but a great deal has happened
since then, though the same opinion is still very generally entertained.
But with this opinion I cannot coincide at all, for reasons that appear to
me logically conclusive. In the first place, a party of three, composed of
Mr. Graham, Herr Emil Boss, and the Swiss guide Kauffman, have ascended
more than 5,000 feet higher than the top of Elbruz, and none of the party
experienced any serious effect, or, indeed, apparently any effect at all
other than those naturally incidental to severe exertion. It must be
admitted that one result of their expedition was to prove, tolerably
conclusively, that Mount Everest is not the highest mountain in the world.
Still, until it is officially deposed, it may be taken, for argument’s
sake, as the ultimate point. Now, it would seem to be beyond doubt that a
man, being transported to a height much greater than Mount Everest, can
still live. In Messrs. Coxwell and Glaisher’s famous balloon ascent from
Wolverhampton on September 5, 1862, described in “Travels in the Air,” it
was computed that the travellers reached a height of nearly 37,000
feet,(9) and this in less than an hour from the time of leaving the earth.
Deduct 5,000 feet from this computation, to allow for possible error, and
we still have a height left of 32,000 feet, an elevation, that is, very
considerably greater than the summit of Mount Everest—possibly a greater
elevation than the summit of any mountain. Life then, it is proved, can be
sustained at such a height, and the point that remains for consideration
is whether the necessary exertion of walking or climbing to the same
height would render the actual ascent impossible.

(M143)

Since the days of De Saussure some 8,000 feet have been added to the
height to which the possibility of ascending has been proved. It seems to
me unreasonable to assume that another 5,000 feet may not yet be added,
and arbitrary to conclude that at some point higher than Kabru but lower
than Mount Everest the limit of human endurance must necessarily be
reached. Mr. Glaisher himself does not appear to think that, from his
experience, any such ascent as that we have been considering would be
possible for an Alpine traveller (_op. cit._ p. 21 and elsewhere). But,
with every deference to so great an authority, a few considerations may be
submitted which tend most seriously to invalidate his conclusions and
opinions, and which may serve to show also that the effects of rarefied
air probably differ more widely in the two cases of the aëronaut and the
mountaineer than is generally supposed. Writing in 1871, Mr. Glaisher
says,(10) “At a height of three miles I never experienced any annoyance or
discomfort; yet there is no ascent I think of Mont Blanc in which great
inconvenience and severe _pain_ have not been felt at a height of 13,000
feet; but then, as before remarked, this is an elevation attained only
after two days of excessive toil.” Mr. Glaisher is here referring chiefly
to Dr. Hamel’s ascent of Mont Blanc, and would seem apparently to be
unaware that, long before he wrote, the ascent of Mont Blanc, from
Chamouni and back to the same place, had been accomplished within
twenty-four hours. In 1873, if my memory serves me right, Mr. Passingham
started from Chamouni, ascended the mountain, and returned to his hotel in
a little less than twenty hours.(11) Compare such an ascent as this—not by
any means an isolated instance—with De Saussure’s experience, and when we
consider how remarkable has been the development of mountaineering in this
direction, we may surely hold that to fix at present any absolute limit is
unduly arbitrary. Further, the ascents of Chimborazo and the other
mountains named above have all been accomplished since Mr. Glaisher wrote.
Mr. Glaisher states that the aëronaut may acclimatise himself to great
heights by repeated ascents; but how much more may the mountaineer then
hope to do so! The aëronaut necessarily makes ascents rapidly(12) and at
rare intervals. The mountaineer can acclimatise himself to high regions by
a constant and gradual process, a method obviously better calculated to
extend the limits of his endurance.

Of course I am only discussing the actual possibility, not entering into
the question for a moment of whether it is worth while to do it. It may be
that to attempt an ascent of Mount Everest would prove almost as rash an
undertaking as an endeavour to swim through the Niagara rapids—that is, if
the mountaineering difficulties are so great as to make the two instances
parallel. Two points have to be considered: one, that, granted the
desirability of making such an ascent, we do not yet fully know the best
manner of undertaking it; and another, that we are still very ignorant as
to the physiological effects of rarefied air on the human frame.(13)

(M144)

With regard to the first point, we know indeed this much—that, granted
good condition, a man can “acclimatise” himself to great heights, and when
so acclimatised he can undergo much more exertion in very high regions
with much less effect. The experience of Mr. Whymper in the Andes, and of
Mr. Graham and others in the Himalayas, has shown this conclusively
enough. Let a man sleep at a height, say, of 18,000 feet, and then ascend
from that point another 3,000 or 4,000 feet; he may possibly feel the
effects to be so great that an attempt to sleep again at the latter height
would render him incapable of exertion the next day, as far as an ascent
is concerned. Let him descend till he can bivouac, say at 20,000 feet, and
then again try, starting afresh. After a while he would be able to
accomplish still more than at his first attempt; and so on, until he
reached the summit. But even supposing that no amount of acclimatisation
enables him to accomplish his end, he has other weapons in his armoury.

(M145)

The second point mentioned above is that the physiological effects of
rarefied air on the human economy are but little known; were these
understood the resources of science might be called in to obviate them. It
may be said that no amount of science will obviate the very simple fact
that exertion causes fatigue, but the answer is that we have no real idea
of all the causes which lead to this fatigue. This is not the place to
speculate on a somewhat abstruse and unquestionably complicated
physiological problem, but the direction in which the question may be
approached from the scientific side is worthy of being pointed out. This
much may be said, however, that when we talk of strong heart and strong
lungs in connection with the question of the possibility of ascending on
foot to the greatest altitudes, we are only, from the physiological point
of view, taking into account one or two factors, and perhaps not the most
important ones. The cavillers may be reminded that physiology is not and
never will become a finite science. To my mind at least, as far as human
endurance is concerned, it would be no more surprising to me to hear that
a man had succeeded in walking up Mount Everest than to know that a man
can succeed in standing an arctic climate while on a sledging expedition.
Objections like the difficulty of arranging for a supply of food, of
expense, of risk, and so forth, are not taken into account—they are really
beside the question: they have not proved insuperable obstacles in the
case of arctic exploration; they will not prove insurmountable to the
ambitious mountaineer we are contemplating. I do not for a moment say that
it would be wise to ascend Mount Everest, but I believe most firmly that
it is humanly possible to do so; and, further, I feel sure that, even in
our own time, perhaps, the truth of these views will receive material
corroboration. Mount Everest itself may offer insuperable mountaineering
obstacles, but in the unknown, unseen district to the north there may be
peaks of equal height presenting no more technical difficulties than Mont
Blanc or Elbruz.

(M146)

From the purely athletic point of view, then, the mountaineering
experience which has been gained almost exclusively in the Alps may, by a
still further development in the future, enable the climber so to develop
the art that he may reach the highest elevation on this world’s crust; and
he may do this without running undue risk. _Cui bono?_ it may be asked;
and it is nearly as hard to answer the question as it is to explain to the
supine and unaspiring person the good that may be expected to accrue to
humanity by reaching the North Pole; yet the latter project, albeit to
some it seems like a struggle of man against physical forces which make or
mar worlds, is one that is held to be right and proper to be followed. At
the least an observer, even of limited powers, may reasonably be expected,
supposing he accomplished such a feat as the ascent of Mount Everest, to
bring back results of equal scientific value with the arctic traveller,
while the purely geographical information he should gain would have
fiftyfold greater practical value. The art and science of mountaineering
has been learned and developed in the Alps, and the acquirement of this
learning has been a pleasure to many. If the holiday nature of
mountaineering should in the future be somewhat dropped, and if a few of
those who follow should take up the more serious side, and make what has
been a pastime into a profession (and why should not some do so? That
which is worth doing at all is worth developing to the utmost possible
limit), good will come, unless it be argued that there is no gain in
extending geographical knowledge; and no advantage in rectifying surveys
and rendering them as accurate as possible. As has been remarked by Mr.
Douglas Freshfield, the advantage of including in survey parties, such as
are still engaged on our Indian frontier, the services of some who have
made mountaineering a branch to be learnt in their profession, would be
very distinct. Work done in the Alps would, in this direction, perhaps,
bear the best fruit and reap the highest practical value which it might be
hoped to attain. The value would be real. The search after truth, whether
it be in the fields of natural science, of geography, or its to-be-adopted
sister orography, can never fail to be right and good and beneficial.
Enthusiasm all this! you say. Granted freely. Without some enthusiasm and
energy the world would cease to turn, and the retarding section of mankind
would be triumphant, save that they would be too languid to realise the
victory of their principles.

But still, if properly qualified men are to be forthcoming to meet such a
want, which undoubtedly seems to exist, the old training-ground must not
be deserted; the playground of Europe must be regarded in relation to
serious work in the same light that the playing-fields of Eton were
regarded by one who was somewhat of an authority. The Great Duke’s remark
is too well known to need quotation. English folk may find it hard to hold
their own against their near relations in athletic pursuits, such as
cricket and sculling, but in mountaineering they undoubtedly lead, and
will continue to do so. In one phase indeed of the pursuit their supremacy
is menaced. In the matter of recognising the practical value to be
obtained from mountaineering in surveying and the like, they are already
behind other countries. The roll of honorary members of the Alpine Club
comprises a list of men, most of whom have utilised their mountaineering
experience to good purpose in advancing scientific exploration. In this
department it is to be hoped that we shall not suffer ourselves to be
outstripped, nor allow a store of valuable and laboriously acquired
experience to remain wasted. The threatening cloud may pass off; the
future of Alpine mountaineering may not prove to be so gloomy as it
sometimes seems to the writer in danger of gradually becoming. The
depression is, possibly, only temporary, and a natural consequence of
reaction; and the zigzagging line on the chart, though it may never
perhaps rise again to the point it once marked, yet may keep well at the
normal—better, perhaps, at such a level than at fever heat. The old cry
that we know so well on the mountains, that meets always with a ready
thrill of response, may acquire a wider significance, and men will be
found to answer to the familiar call of “Vorwärts, immer vorwärts!”

After all, a century hence the mountaineering centres of to-day will
perhaps still attract as they do now. It may be possible to get to
Chamouni without submitting to the elaborately devised discomfort of the
present Channel passage, and without the terrors of asphyxiation in the
carriages of the Chemin de Fer du Nord. Surely the charm of the mountains
must always draw men to the Alps, even though the glaciers may have shrunk
up and sunk down, though places like Arolla and the Grimsel may have
become thriving towns, or radical changes such as a drainage system at
Chamouni have been instituted. If the glaciers do shrink, there will be
all the more scope for the rock climber and the more opportunity of
perfecting an art which has already been so much developed.

(M147)

A Rip van Winkle of our day, waking up in that epoch of the future, would
for certain find much that was unaltered. The same types of humanity would
be around him. Conceive this somnolent hero of fiction, clad in a felt
wideawake that had once been white, in knickerbockers and Norfolk jacket,
of which the seams had at one time held together, supporting his bent
frame and creaking joints on a staff with rusted spike and pick. He
descends laboriously from a vehicle that had jolted impartially
generations before him (for the carriages of the valley are as little
liable to wear out, in the eyes of their proprietors, as the “wonderful
one-hoss shay”). He finds himself on a summer evening by the Hôtel de
Ville at Chamouni, and facing the newly erected Opera-house. He looks with
wondering eyes around. A youth (great-great-great-great-grandson of
Jacques Balmat) approaches and waits respectfully by his side, ready to
furnish information.

“Why these flags and these rejoicings?” the old man asks.

“To celebrate the tercentenary of the first ascent of Mont Blanc,” the boy
answers.

The veteran gazes around, shading his eyes with his shrivelled hand. The
travellers come in. First a triumphal procession of successful and
intrepid mountaineers. Banners wave, cannon go off—or more probably miss
fire—bouquets are displayed, champagne and compliments are poured out;
both the latter expressions of congratulation equally gassy, and both
about equally genuine.

“Who are these?” the old man inquires.

“Do you not see the number on their banner?” answers the youth; “they are
the heroes of the forty-fifth section of the tenth branch of the northern
division of the Savoy Alpine Club.”

“Ah!” the old man murmurs to himself, with a sigh of recollection, “I can
remember that they were numerous even in my day.”

Then follows a sad-looking, dejected creature, stealing back to his hotel
by byways, but with face bronzed from exposure on rocks, not scorched by
sun-reflecting snow; his boots scored with multitudinous little cuts and
scratches telling of difficult climbing; his hands as brown as his face;
his finger-nails, it must be admitted, seriously impaired in their
symmetry.

“And who is this? Has he been guilty of some crime?” the old man asks.

“Not so,” the answer comes; “he has just completed the thousandth ascent
of the Aiguille...; he comes of a curious race which, history relates, at
one time much frequented these districts; but that was a great while
ago—long before the monarchy was re-established. You do well to look at
him; that is the last of the climbing Englishmen. They always seem
depressed when they have succeeded in achieving their ambition of the
moment; it is a characteristic of their now almost extinct race.”

(M148)

“And what about the perils of the expedition?” the old man asks,
brightening up a little as if some old ideas had suddenly flashed across
his mind. “I would fain know whether the journey is different now from
what it was formerly; yet the heroes would mock me, perchance, if I were
to interrogate them.”

“Not at all,” the youth replies. “There are but few of the first party who
would not vouchsafe to give you a full account, and might even in their
courtesy embellish the narrative with flowers of rhetoric. But it is
unnecessary. They will print a detailed and full description of their
exploits. It has all been said before, but so has everything else, I
think.”

“That is true,” the old man murmurs to himself; “it was even so in my
time, and two hundred years before I lived a French writer commenced his
book with the remark, ‘_Tout est dit._’ But what of the other, the
dejected survivor? does he not too write?”

“Yes, indeed, but not in the same strain; he will but pour out a little
gentle sarcasm and native spleen, in mild criticism of the fulsome periods
he peruses in other tongues.”

“Ah me!” thinks the old man, “in one respect then I need not prove so much
behind the time. If the memory of the Alpine literature of my day were
still fresh, I could hold mine own with those I see around.”

May I be permitted, in conclusion, to come back to our own day, and to say
a very few words on the subject of mountaineering accidents? Most heartily
would I concur with any one who raised the objection that such remarks are
out of place in a chapter on the mountaineering of the future. But perhaps
we have been looking too far ahead, and there may be a period to follow
between this our time and the future to be hoped for.

(M149)

It has sometimes been stated and written that no one desires to remove
from mountaineering all danger. The dangers of mountaineering have been
divided by a well-known authority into real and imaginary. The supposed
existence of the latter is, I grant, desirable, especially to the
inexperienced climber; but I shall always contend that it ought to be the
great object of every votary of the pursuit to minimise the former to the
utmost of his ability. Now, it is only by true experience—that is, by
learning gradually the art of mountaineering—that the climber will achieve
this result. Few of those unacquainted with the subject can have any idea
of the extraordinary difference between the risk run on a difficult
expedition (that is, on one where difficulties occur: the name of the peak
or pass has little to do with the matter) by a practised mountaineer who
has learned something of the art, and an inexperienced climber who has
nothing but the best intentions to assist his steps. The man of experience
bears always in mind the simple axioms and rules of his craft; if he does
not he is a bad mountaineer. If the plain truth be told, accidents in the
Alps have almost invariably, to whomsoever they befell, been due to
breaking one or more of these same well-known rules, or, in other words,
to bad mountaineering. That such is no more than a simple statement of
fact a former president of the Alpine Club, Mr. C. E. Mathews, has
abundantly proved.(14) Numbers of our countrymen, young and old, annually
rush out to the Alps for the first time. Fired with ambition, or led on by
the fascination of the pastime, with scarcely any preliminary training and
no preliminary study of the subject, they at once begin to attack the more
difficult peaks and passes. Success perhaps attends their efforts. Unfit,
they go up a difficult mountain, trusting practically to the ability of
the guides to do their employers’ share of the work as well as their own.
They descend, and think to gauge their skill by the name of the expedition
undertaken. The state of the weather and of the mountain determine whether
such a performance be an act of simple or of culpable folly. For such the
imaginary dangers are the most formidable. If they had taken the trouble
to begin at the beginning, to learn the difference between the stem and
stern of a boat before attempting to navigate an ironclad, they would have
recognised, and profited by, the true risks run. As it is, they are
probably inflated with conceit at overcoming visionary difficulties. They
may make, indeed, in this way what in Alpine slang is called a good
“book;” but by far the greater number fail to perceive that there is
anything to learn. It is a pastime—an amusement; they do not look beyond
this. But these same climbers would admit that in other forms of sport,
such as cricket or rowing, proficiency is not found in beginners. It is in
the study and development of the amusement that the true and deeper
pleasure is to be found. A tyro in cricket would make himself an object of
ridicule in a high-class match; the novice in the art of rowing would be
loth to display his feeble powers if thrust into a racing four with three
tried oarsmen; and yet the embryo climber can see nothing absurd in
attacking mountains of recognised difficulty. Inexperience in the former
instances at least could cause no harm, while ignorance of the elementary
principles of mountaineering renders the climber a serious source of
danger not only to himself but to others. There is no royal road to the
acquirement of mountaineering knowledge. It is just as difficult to use
the axe or alpenstock properly as the oar or the racquet; just as much
patient, persevering practice is needed; but it is not on difficult
expeditions that such inexperience can be best overcome.

(M150)

A man of average activity could, probably, actually climb, without any
particular experience, most of, or all, the more difficult rock peaks
under good conditions of weather and the like. But how different from the
really practical mountaineer, who strives to make an art of his pastime.
Watch the latter. First and foremost, he knows when to turn back, and does
not hesitate to act as his judgment directs. He bears in mind that there
is pleasure to be obtained from mountaineering even though the programme
may not be carried out in its entirety as planned, and realises to the
full that

  ’Tis better to have climbed and failed
  Than never to have climbed at all.

His companions are always safe with him, his climbing unselfish; he never
dislodges a loose stone—except purposely—either with hands, feet, or the
loose rope; he is always as firm as circumstances will permit, prepared to
withstand any sudden slip; he never puts forth more strength at each step
than is necessary, thus saving his powers, being always ready in an
emergency, and never degenerating into that most dangerous of
encumbrances, a tired member of a united party: not, of course, that the
vast majority of amateurs can ever hope, with their imperfect practice, to
attain to the level of even a second-rate guide; still, by bringing his
intelligence to bear on this, as he does on any other amusement, the
amateur can render himself something more than a thoroughly reliable
companion on any justifiable expedition.

(M151)

Let the spirit of competition lead young climbers to strive after
excellence in this direction, rather than, as is too commonly the case,
induce them to take “Times” as the criterion of mountaineering
proficiency. There are instructors enough. Even from an inferior guide an
infinite amount may be learnt; at the least such a one can recognise the
real danger of the Alps, and in this respect possesses a faculty which is
one of the chief the mountaineer has to acquire. Let the spirit in which
the Alps are climbed be of some such nature as that I have attempted to
indicate, and accidents such as those recorded in Mr. C. E. Mathews’ grim
list will be of such rare occurrence that they will never be called up to
discredit mountaineering. If, perchance, any words here written shall
prompt in the future the climber to perfect his art more and more while
frequenting the old haunts, and to extend and utilise mountaineering still
more, then at least the writer may feel, like the mountain when it had
brought forth the ridiculous mouse, that his labour has not been wholly in
vain. Yet more: his gloomy forebodings shall be falsified, and with
respect to the future of mountaineering the outlook will be bright enough.



                           LONDON: PRINTED BY
                 SPOTTISWOODE AND CO., NEW-STREET SQUARE
                          AND PARLIAMENT STREET



                                FOOTNOTES


   M1 The survival of the unfit
   M2 Sybaritic mountaineering
   M3 The growth of the climbing craze
   M4 A tropical day in the valley
   M5 A deserted hostelry
   M6 The hut above Fée
   M7 How ruin seized a roofless thing
   M8 On sleeping out
   M9 The Südlenzspitz
  M10 A plea for Saas and Fée
  M11 We attack the Südlenzspitz
  M12 The art of probing snow
  M13 Sentiment on a summit
  M14 The feast is spread
  M15 Fact and romance
  M16 The thirst for novelty
  M17 Rock v. snow mountains
  M18 The amateur and the guide
  M19 The guides’ room

    1 Franz Andermatten died in August 1883. His name is mentioned
      elsewhere in these sketches, but I leave what I have written
      untouched: for I do not hold with those who would efface the
      recollection of all that was bright and merry in one taken from us.

  M20 A false start
  M21 Falling stones in the gully
  M22 Effects of reaching a summit
  M23 A narrow escape
  M24 The youthful tourist
  M25 Hotel trials
  M26 The gushers
  M27 The last peaks to surrender
  M28 The Aiguille du Dru
  M29 The first attempt

    2 In the old house, be it noted—not the modern luxurious combination
      of a granite fortress and a palace.

  M30 First attempt on the peak
  M31 Huts and sleeping out
  M32 The Chamouni guide system
  M33 A word on guides
  M34 A landlord’s peculiarities
  M35 We see a chamois

_    3 Travels in the Alps_, p. 119.

  M36 Doubts as to the peak
  M37 Telescopic observations
  M38 Franz and his mighty axe
  M39 A start in the wrong direction
  M40 An adjournment
  M41 The expedition resumed
  M42 A sticking point
  M43 Beaten back
  M44 Results gained
  M45 Autres temps, autres mœurs
  M46 The diligence arrives
  M47 The Alpine habitue
  M48 A family party
  M49 A sepulchral bivouac
  M50 On early starts
  M51 The rocks of the Bietschhorn
  M52 Avalanches on the Bietschhorn
  M53 A dramatic situation
  M54 The united party nearly fall out
  M55 A limited panorama
  M56 A race for home
  M57 Caught out
  M58 The water jump
  M59 A classical banquet
  M60 The old cure
  M61 A “pension” in a train
  M62 A youthful hero
  M63 A scientific gentleman
  M64 A dream of the future
  M65 A condensed mountain ascent
  M66 Wanted, a programme
  M67 The Aiguille du Midi
  M68 Ephemeral acquaintances
  M69 A familiar character
  M70 Halting doubts and fears
  M71 The storm gathers
  M72 “From gay to grave”
  M73 The storm breaks
  M74 A battle with the elements
  M75 Beating the air
  M76 Descent down Vallée Blanche
  M77 A scanty repast
  M78 A projected expedition
  M79 Expeditions on the Aig. du Dru
  M80 Other climbers attack the peak
  M81 We try the northern side
  M82 The mountain fever recurs
  M83 The campaign opens
  M84 A new leader
  M85 Our sixteenth attempt
  M86 Sports and pastimes
  M87 Apparel oft proclaims the man

    4 Described in anatomical text-books as forming the swelling of the
      calf.

  M88 A canine acquaintance
  M89 Turning point of the expedition
  M90 A difficult descent
  M91 A blank in the narrative
  M92 A carriage misadventure
  M93 A strange guide
  M94 Our “jeune premier”
  M95 An acrobatic performance
  M96 Our nineteenth attempt
  M97 The rocks of the Dru
  M98 What next?
  M99 A narrow escape

    5 It has transpired since that our judgment happened to be right in
      this matter, and we might probably have saved an hour or more at
      this part of the ascent.

 M100 The final scramble
 M101 Our foe is vanquished
 M102 On the summit
 M103 The return journey
 M104 Benighted
 M105 Shifting scenes
 M106 The camp breaks up
 M107 Mountaineering morality
 M108 Chamouni becomes festive
 M109 Organising the ball
 M110 Chamouni dances
 M111 The scene closes in
 M112 On well-ordered intellects
 M113 The critical tendency
 M114 The “High Level Route”
 M115 A prescription for ill-humour
 M116 A meditation on grass slopes
 M117 The agile person’s vagaries
 M118 Ascent of the Ruinette
 M119 Saas in the olden days

    6 Hector Berlioz.

 M120 A curious omission
 M121 The chef’s masterpiece
 M122 An evicted family
 M123 A short cut after a knife
 M124 The amateur
 M125 Mont Buet
 M126 We hire carriages
 M127 The incomplete moralist
 M128 The niece to the moralist
 M129 A discourse on gourmets
 M130 An artistic interlude
 M131 We become thoughtful
 M132 A vision on the summit
 M133 The mountaineers perform
 M134 A banquet at the chalet
 M135 The end of the journey
 M136 I rise equal to the occasion
 M137 A highly coloured account
 M138 The critics
 M139 Growth of the amusement
 M140 Novelty and exploration
 M141 The upward limit

    7 This is Mr. Edward Whymper’s measurement. Humboldt, as quoted by Mr.
      Whymper, gave 21,460 feet as the height. (_Alpine Journal_, vol. x.
      p. 442.)

 M142 Mr. Grove’s views

_    8 The Frosty Caucasus_, by F. C. Grove, p. 236.

_    9 Travels in the Air_, edited by James Glaisher, F.R.S., p. 57 (2nd
      ed.).

 M143 Mr. Glaisher’s experiences

_   10 Op. cit._ p. 9.

   11 I understand that the expedition has since been accomplished in a
      much shorter time.

   12 In Messrs. Coxwell and Glaisher’s ascent from Wolverhampton the
      balloon when at the height of 29,000 feet was mounting at the rate
      of 1,000 feet a minute.

   13 I am aware of M. Paul Bert’s researches; but these questions are not
      to be settled in the laboratory.

 M144 Mountain acclimatisation
 M145 Ascent of Mount Everest
 M146 The value of mountaineering
 M147 An Alpine Rip van Winkle
 M148 Mountaineering in the future
 M149 Dangers of the Alps

_   14 Vide_ _Alpine Journal_, vol. xi. p. 78. “The Alpine Obituary,” by
      C. E. Mathews.

 M150 The real mountaineer
 M151 Conclusion



                            TRANSCRIBER’S NOTE


The following changes have been made to the text:

      page ix, page number “1” added
      page xiv, page number “290” changed to “291”
      page 31, “gulley” changed to “gully”
      page 96, “sepulchra” changed to “sepulchral”
      page 113, “complicate” changed to “complicated”
      page 151, “thoughful” changed to “thoughtful”
      page 216, “menta” changed to “mental”
      page 255, “thier” changed to “their”
      page 269, “in roduction” changed to “introduction”
      page 310, parenthesis added before “2nd”
      page 312, “developmen” changed to “development”, “gradua” changed to
      “gradual”

Variations in hyphenation (e.g. “bootlace”, “boot-lace”; “doorpost”,
“door-post”) have not been changed.





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that the work is also in the public domain for users in other countries.
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can't offer guidance on whether any specific use of any specific book is
allowed. Please do not assume that a book's appearance in Doctrine Publishing
ISYS search  means it can be used in any manner anywhere in the world.
Copyright infringement liability can be quite severe.

About ISYS® Search Software
Established in 1988, ISYS Search Software is a global supplier of enterprise
search solutions for business and government.  The company's award-winning
software suite offers a broad range of search, navigation and discovery
solutions for desktop search, intranet search, SharePoint search and embedded
search applications.  ISYS has been deployed by thousands of organizations
operating in a variety of industries, including government, legal, law
enforcement, financial services, healthcare and recruitment.



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