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Title: Narrative of a Journey to the Summit of Mont Blanc
Author: Howard, William, 1793-1834
Language: English
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                        NARRATIVE OF A JOURNEY
                                TO THE
                         SUMMIT OF MONT BLANC.

   [Illustration: _Passing a crevice in the_ Glacier _of_ Boissons]

                              A JOURNEY
                                TO THE
                         Summit of Mont Blanc,

                          MADE IN JULY, 1819.

                        _BY WM. HOWARD, M. D._

          "Mont Blanc is the monarch of mountains,
            They crown'd him long ago,
          On a throne of rocks, in a robe of clouds,
            With a diadem of snow."

                         J. Robinson, printer.

    The account of the following journey was written a few days
    after its execution, while the author was confined to his
    chamber by the inconveniences he had suffered, and it was then
    penned for the gratification of his immediate friends, and
    without any view to publication. The partiality of friends,
    however, having permitted it, during his absence, to appear
    in the Analectic Magazine, for May 1820, it excited more
    attention than he could have anticipated, which has induced
    the author to correct the errors arising from haste and other
    sources, and to republish it in the present form.

      _Baltimore, April, 1821._

                    NARRATIVE OF A JOURNEY TO THE
                        SUMMIT OF MONT BLANC.

  ----------------- "Above me are the Alps
  The palaces of Nature, whose vast walls
  Have pinnacled in clouds their snowy scalps,
  And thron'd Eternity in icy halls
  Of cold sublimity, where forms and falls
  The avalanche--the thunderbolt of snow,
  All that expands the spirit, yet appals,
  Gather around these summits, as to show
  How earth may pierce to Heaven, yet leave vain man below."



                                               Geneva, July, 1819.

You, my dear friend, who are well acquainted from my infancy with my
clambering disposition, which, within these few months, has carried me
to the top of both Vesuvius and Ætna, will not be much surprised to
learn, that I have attempted, with success, to mount to the summit of
Mont Blanc; an aerial journey which the sight of this mountain has
inspired many persons with a wish to accomplish; but in which few have
engaged, and still fewer have succeeded. I am somewhat afraid that you
will condemn the expedition as a wild one, and will justly consider
the gratification of our curiosity, which was, unfortunately, the only
object we attained, as an inadequate recompense for our toil and
danger; but you have no cause to fear my embarking in similar
adventures in future. Having reached a spot, undoubtedly the highest
in Europe, and, with the exception of the Himalaya mountains in India,
the highest in the Old World, my curiosity is completely gratified,
and there is scarcely any possibility of my meeting with an enterprise
of this nature, of sufficient magnitude to renew its excitement: since
five of the loftiest of the Alleghanies piled on each other, would
scarcely reach to the height I have attained. To give you a correct
idea of the nature of our undertaking, I will begin with a concise
account of this king of the Alps, and of the various attempts that
have been made to reach its summit.

Mont Blanc is situated amidst some of the highest mountains of Savoy,
forming a part of the great chain of the Alps, above which, however,
it raises far its snowy head, as with a dignified air of conscious
triumph. It is this white head, which its elevation renders doubly
bright, that gives its name. On the north side of the mountain, and
immediately at its foot, is the valley of Chamouny, which is sixteen
leagues south from Geneva, and is much frequented in the summer season
by the inhabitants of that city, and strangers, who throng to this
enchanted vale, to enjoy the coolness of the air, and to view its
stupendous glaciers, several of which are formed by the snow and ice
gliding down from Mont Blanc itself. On the south-east side is the
valley of Entrèves, which separates Mont Blanc both from the great and
the little St. Bernard, and through which runs a small river, whose
waters join the Po, below Turin, while the Arva, which flows through
Chamouny, joins the Rhone, near Geneva. These rivers finally discharge
themselves into the sea, at the distance of several hundred miles from
each other; the one into the Mediterranean, near Marseilles, and the
other into the Adriatic, near Venice. The chain of Alps, of which Mont
Blanc forms a part, runs from N. E. to S. W. and is partly surmounted
in its neighbourhood, by sharp pointed rocks, whose sides are too
steep for the snow to rest upon, and of which seven, rising abruptly
to a great height, have the appropriate name of the "Needles of

The height of Mont Blanc, according to the observations of Saussure,
is 14,790 French feet above the level of the sea,[A] which is only
5800 less than that of Chimborazo, the summit of which has been never
reached: on the other hand, its relative height above the surrounding
country is greater; for Mont Blanc is 11,500 above the valley of
Chamouny, while Chimborazo, according to Humboldt, is only 11,200
above the plain of Tapia, at its foot. It is calculated that, from
this height, the eye could reach sixty-eight leagues, or about 170 of
our miles, without being intercepted by the convexity of the earth.
Mont Blanc is seen from Lyons in all its magnificence; from the
mountains of Burgundy, from Dijon, and even from Langrès, sixty-five
leagues distant in a straight line: M. Saussure thought he recognised
the mountain of Cavme, near Toulon.

    [A] About 15,500 English feet, or something less than three

In 1760 and 61, Saussure, the celebrated philosopher of Geneva, then
engaged in examining the natural history of the Alps, promised a
considerable reward to any person who should succeed in finding a
practicable path to the summit, offering even to pay for the lost
time of those who made ineffectual efforts. The first who undertook
this, was Pierre Simon, a hunter of Chamouny, in 1762: but he was
unsuccessful. In 1775, four men of the same village endeavoured for
the same object, and with as ill success, to follow the ridge of the
Montagne de la Côte, which runs parallel to the Glacier of Boissons.
In 1783, three others followed the same track, but were attacked by an
increasing disposition to sleep, from which they could only relieve
themselves by returning. M. Bouritt, of Geneva, made two ineffectual
attempts the same year, and the following year another, accompanied by
Saussure, his own son, and fifteen guides.

In June 1786, six men of the valley of Chamouny, renewed the effort to
reach the summit, but fatigue and cold forced them to renounce it; one
of them, however, Jacques Balmat, separating from his companions to
search for crystals, and having lost himself, was prevented by a storm
from rejoining them, and compelled to pass the night on the snow,
unprovided and alone; youth, however, and the vigour of his
constitution, saved his life. In the morning he perceived the top at
no great distance, and having the whole day before him to provide for
his descent, he examined leisurely the approaches to it, and observed
one, that appeared more accessible than any he had hitherto seen. At
his return to Chamouny, he was taken ill, in consequence of his great
exposure, and was attended by Dr. Paccard, the physician of the
village, to whom he communicated his discovery, and offered, in
gratitude for his care, to guide him to the summit of Mont Blanc.

In consequence of this, Jacques Balmat and Dr. Paccard, set out from
Chamouny the 7th of August, the same year, and slept on the top of the
Montagne de la Côte. The next day they experienced great difficulties
and excessive fatigue, and were long doubtful of the ultimate event of
their enterprise; but finally, at half past 6, P. M. they reached the
pinnacle of the mountain, in sight of many visitors, who were at
Chamouny, watching their progress with telescopes. The cold was so
intense, that provision was frozen in their pockets, the ink congealed
in their ink horns, and the mercury in Farenheit's thermometer, sunk
to eighteen and a half degrees. They remained about half an hour on
the top, regained at midnight the Montagne de la Côte, and after two
hours repose, set out for Chamouny, where they arrived at eight in the
morning, with their lips swollen, their faces excoriated, and their
eyes much inflamed; and it was some time before they recovered from
these disagreeable effects.

As soon as the intelligence of this success reached Saussure at
Geneva, he determined on making a similar attempt: which he in fact
did the same year, but was compelled by unfavourable weather to
return. He was, however, not discouraged, but as the season was now
far advanced, he postponed his operations until the ensuing summer.
Accordingly, on the 1st of August, 1787, he again set out from
Chamouny, accompanied by his servant, and eighteen guides, carrying a
tent, a bed, ladders, cords, provisions, and philosophical

The party arrived early the same day at the Montagne de la Côte, where
they passed the night. The next day, notwithstanding an increase of
dangers and difficulties, they passed under the Dome de Gouté, and
reached a platform, or small plain, at the height of 11,790 feet
above the sea, where they pitched their tent in the snow, and passed
the night. The following morning, (August 3d) the snow was so hard,
and the ascent so steep, that they were compelled to cut their
footsteps with a hatchet, and it was only by proceeding with the
greatest caution, that they were enabled to pass this dangerous
acclivity with safety. They, however, persevered, and reached the
summit about an hour before noon, in view of many persons who were
observing them from Chamouny. M. Saussure turned his eyes to the house
where his mother and sisters were watching his progress with a
telescope, and had the satisfaction of seeing the waving of a flag,
which was the signal they had agreed to make, as soon as they should
be assured of his safety. The latter part of his ascent was the
slowest and most fatiguing, owing to the difficulty of breathing,
occasioned by the rarity of the air: the stoutest of his guides could
not take more than thirty steps, without stopping to take breath. No
one had the least appetite, but all were much tormented by thirst. The
guides pitched the tent, in which M. Saussure remained four hours,
making a number of observations. At half after three, the party began
to descend, and slept lower 1100 feet than the preceding night. The
next day they arrived, without any accident, at Chamouny.

This successful expedition of Saussure, and the interesting account he
published of it, inspired many persons with a wish of accomplishing
the same task; but they were generally soon deterred by an examination
into the difficulties attending its execution, and returned satisfied
with a view from the vallies below, of the terrific glaciers, and
everlasting snows, which defend the approaches to the summit. The
following are the principal attempts that have since been made, and it
will be perceived that of these few, only a part have succeeded.

On the 8th of August, 1787, five days after M. Saussure's return,
Col. Beaufoy, an Englishman, set out from Chamouny for Mont Blanc,
accompanied by ten guides. He reached the top the following day, and
returned the third day to the village, with his face and eyes so
inflamed, that he nearly lost his sight in consequence. As he was not
properly provided with instruments, he was unable to add much to the
observations which had been made by Saussure. He, however, determined
the latitude of the summit to be 45°, 49´, 59´´.

The year following these two journeys, (1788,) Mr. Bouritt, of Geneva,
in company with his son, two other gentleman, and a number of guides,
attempted the ascent of Mont Blanc. The party was dispersed by a
storm, and only Mr. Bouritt, his son, and three guides, succeeded in
reaching the top, where the violence of the cold compelled them to
abridge their stay to a few minutes. While there, Mr. Bouritt thought
he perceived the sea in the direction of Genoa; but the immense
distance rendered the objects at the horizon, too indistinct to be
certain of it. The whole party returned to Chamouny in a terrible
condition. One of Mr. Bouritt's companions, who had lost himself,
suffered dreadfully, as well as the guides who were with him, and
returned with his feet and hands frozen, while some of the company,
who were more fortunate, had only their fingers and ears in the same
condition. Mr. Bouritt was obliged to wash for thirteen days in ice
water, to restore the use of his limbs, which had suffered from the
extreme cold.

In 1792, four Englishmen undertook the same journey, but were
prevented, by an accident, from proceeding farther than the Montagne
de la Côte, where, unfortunately, one of the guides had his leg
broken, and another his skull driven in: they themselves were all more
or less wounded. A false step of one of the foremost of the party upon
a loose rock, which brought it and a number of others down upon his
companions, was the cause of this accident.

M. Forneret, of Lausanne, and M. d'Ortern set out on the 10th of
August, 1802, with seven guides, for Mont Blanc, and notwithstanding a
storm, reached the summit the following day. They remained there only
twenty minutes, and returned on the 12th to Chamouny, protesting that
nothing in the world could tempt them to undertake again the same

In August, 1808, Jacques Balmat, surnamed Mont Blanc, from his having
been the first to discover the way to the summit, safely conducted
thither fifteen of the inhabitants of Chamouny, one of whom was a

About this time also he returned with two of his companions, and
placed on the top an obelisk of wood, twelve feet in height, (which
they had brought up in pieces) to serve in the trigonometrical survey,
that was then making of the country.

In 1812, M. Rodasse, a banker of Hamburgh, undertook and accomplished
the same journey, without any accident.

The 16th of September, 1816, the Comte de Lucy, a Frenchman,
succeeded, notwithstanding the severity of the cold he experienced, in
attaining a rock only 600 feet lower than the summit of Mont Blanc. He
was there, however, so entirely overcome with cold and fatigue, that
he was unable to proceed this short distance, and compelled, with much
reluctance, to return. On reaching the valley he was unable to walk,
but was carried by his guides to the inn, where his feet proved to be
so much frozen, that on drawing his boot, the skin peeled off and
remained in it. Two of his guides were also severely frozen.

Count Malzeski, a Pole, left Chamouny the 5th of August, 1818, for
Mont Blanc, accompanied by eleven guides, reached the summit the
following day, and returned, in safety, the third, without suffering
much more inconvenience than having his nose frozen.

During our visit to Chamouny, in the beginning of this month, my
friend Dr. Van Rensselaer and myself, in our various excursions to the
glaciers, and other scenes of the valley, had frequently opportunities
of conversing with the guides, who had participated in these journeys,
and among them with old Balmat, the Columbus of Mont Blanc. The result
was, that our curiosity was strongly excited, and being induced by
their representations of the almost certainty of succeeding in the
present favourable weather, we finally determined, after much
deliberation, to make the attempt. We therefore engaged _Marie
Coutet_, an experienced guide, who had been three times on the summit,
as leader, and eight other guides to accompany us. They refused to
undertake the journey with a smaller party, on account of the number
of articles which it was necessary to take with us, as a ladder,
cords, provisions, charcoal to melt the snow for drinking, and a
number of other things, which were indispensable, and which formed a
sufficient quantity to load each of the nine with a considerable
burthen. One day was occupied in making preparations, on which our
comfort and our ultimate success depended. These were passed in review
in the evening, and having found that nothing material was omitted, an
early hour the next day was appointed for our departure.

Accordingly, on Sunday the 11th of July, we left the village of
Chamouny, at five o'clock, full of anxiety ourselves, and accompanied
by the good wishes of the honest inhabitants for our success. The
necessity of taking advantage of the fine weather, opposed our
delaying another day. Our guides, who in common with all the
inhabitants of the mountainous parts of Savoy, are very attentive to
the duties of their religion, were unwilling to set out on a church
day, without having previously attended service. They had, therefore,
induced the Curé to celebrate mass at three o'clock, and,
notwithstanding the fatigue they expected during the day, the early
hour had not prevented them from attending it.

We descended the valley by the side of the Arva, about a league, till
we approached the glacier of Boissons, and then turning suddenly to
the left into the woods, we began immediately a very steep ascent,
parallel to, and about a half mile from the edge of the glacier. After
about three hours toilsome mounting, we came to the last house on our
road. It was the highest dwelling in the neighbourhood, and was one of
those cottages called "Chalets," which are inhabited only during three
of the summer months, when the peasants drive their cattle from the
plains below, to the then richer verdure of the mountains. We found
there the old man and his two daughters; his wife, as is the custom,
was left behind to take care of the house in the valley. After
refreshing ourselves with a delicious draught of fresh milk, and
receiving the wishes of these good people, for a 'bon voyage,' we bade
adieu to all traces of man, and continued to mount. Another hour's
toil brought us above the region of wood, after which the few stinted
vegetables we met with, gradually diminished in size, and when we
arrived, at 10 o'clock, at the upper edge of the glacier of Boissons,
only a few mosses, and the most hardy alpine plants were to be found.

We had been compelled a little before, by the precipices of the
Aiguille du Midi, which presented themselves like a wall before us, to
change our direction, and instead of proceeding parallel to the
glacier, to strike off suddenly towards it. We had now a close view of
some of the obstacles which bar the approach to Mont Blanc; the
glacier of Boissons, on which we were about to enter, seemed to me
absolutely impassable. The only relief to the white snow and ice
before us, was an occasional rock, thrusting its sharp point above
their surface, and too steep to permit the snow to lodge on it. One of
these rocks, or rather a chain of them, called the 'Grand Mulet,'
which we had destined for our resting place for the night, was before
us, but far above our heads at the distance of four or five miles; the
glacier, however, still intervened, and appeared to defy all attempts
to approach it.

The glacier of Boissons, like all the glaciers of the Alps, is an
immense mass of ice filling a valley which stretches down the mountain
side, and is formed by the accumulated snow and ice, which are
constantly in the summer months, falling from above. While the
glaciers are thus continually increasing on the surface, the internal
heat of the earth is slowly melting them below. Hence, when they are
large, there generally proceeds from under them a considerable stream:
such are the sources of the Rhine and of the Rhone. Their surface,
often resembles that of a violent agitated sea, suddenly congealed.
They are frequently of several leagues in breadth, and from 100 to 600
feet in depth. The snow which falls on them, to the depth of several
feet every winter, is softened by the sun's rays in summer--and
freezing again at the return of cold weather, but in a more solid
state, forms a successive layer every year. This stratum may be easily
measured, (as each of them is distinctly separated from its neighbour
by a dark line,) at the section made by those cracks, which traverse
every glacier in all directions. These cracks or crevices, are
generally thought to be caused by the irregular sinking of part of the
mass, whose support below has been gradually melted away. They are
formed suddenly, and frequently with a noise that may be heard at the
distance of several miles, and with a shock that makes the
neighbouring country tremble: this effect takes place principally
in summer. These rents are from a few inches to 20, 30, or even
50 or 60 feet in breadth, and generally of immense depth: probably
extending to the bottom of the glacier. They present the greatest
danger and difficulty to the passenger. They are often concealed by a
layer of snow, which gives no indication on its surface, of its
want of solidity; and it often happens that the chamois hunter,
notwithstanding all his caution, suddenly sinks through this
treacherous veil into the chasm beneath.

We remained a couple of hours at our resting place, to take some
refreshment, and to regain strength for our next difficult task.
Jacques Balmat accompanied us this far, to point out the best means of
attaining that spot on which he was the first to set foot; but the
infirmities of age prevented him from accompanying us farther. Our
feet seemed to linger, and to leave with reluctance the last ground
they were to touch until the period of our return.

We however entered on the glacier with confidence in the skill and
prudence of our guides; several of whom being hunters, and accustomed
to chase the chamois over such places, were acquainted with all the
precautions, that it was necessary to take for our safety. To avoid
the danger of falling into the crevices, especially those masked by
the snow, we connected ourselves, three persons together, at the
distance of 10 or 12 feet apart, by a cord round the body: so that in
case of one of the three falling into a chasm, the other two could at
least support him, until assistance could be procured from the rest of
the party.

Each person was provided with a pole, 6 feet long, and pointed at the
bottom with iron, which we found to be a necessary article. Where the
crevices were not more than two or three feet broad, we leaped over
them with the assistance of our staff; others we passed on natural
bridges of snow, that threatened every moment to sink with us into the
abyss, and over others, we made a bridge of the ladder, which was
extremely slight, as otherwise it would have been impossible for a man
to carry it up the steeps we had ascended. Without its assistance, we
could not have passed the glacier. Over this slender support we
crawled with caution, suspended over a chasm, into which we could see
to an immense depth; but of which in no instance could we see the
bottom. We were sometimes forced to pass on a narrow ridge of
treacherous ice, not more than a foot in breadth, with one of these
terrific chasms on either side. The firm step, with which we saw our
guides pass these difficulties, inspired us with confidence: but I
cannot even now think of some of the situations we were placed in,
without a feeling of dread; and especially when in bed, and in the
silence of the night, they present themselves to my imagination, I
involuntarily shrink with horror at the idea, and am astonished in
recollecting what little sensation I felt at the moment.

We threw down into some of the narrow cracks, pieces of ice and
fragments of rock, and heard for a considerable time, the more and
more distant sound, as they bounded from side to side. In no instance
could we perceive the stone strike the bottom; but the sound, instead
of ceasing suddenly, as would then have been the case, grew fainter
and fainter, until it was too feeble to be heard. What then must be
the immense depth of these openings, when in these silent regions, the
noise of a large stone striking the bottom is too distant to be heard
at the orifice!

The number of openings we met with, which were broader than the length
of our ladder, and which, of course, we had no means of crossing,
rendered our path extremely circuitous. We were often enabled, by the
ladder's assistance, to scale high and perpendicular banks of snow. It
sometimes proved too short to reach to the top; but where the steep
was not absolutely perpendicular, we contrived in several instances to
remedy this inconvenience. One of the guides, standing on the top of
the ladder, enabled the rest, who clambered up by his assistance, and
over his shoulders, to reach the summit; when there, we easily drew up
him and the ladder with cords.

We were occasionally compelled to retrace our steps, and we were
frequently so involved in the intricacies of the glacier, that we had
to remain without proceeding, a considerable time, until the guides,
who were dispersed in every direction on the discovery, could find a
practical path to extricate us.

In addition to these difficulties, I had not been long on the glacier,
before I perceived that my faithless boot had given way; which, as
every thing depended upon the state of our feet, was a serious
misfortune. Necessity, however, is the mother of invention, and I
contrived to bind it with cords in such a manner, that it served me
tolerably well the rest of the journey.

In consequence of all these obstacles, we only arrived at 5 o'clock at
the "Grand Mulet," not more than four or five miles distant, in a
straight line from the point where we entered on the glacier; but,
from the circuitous route we had taken, we could not have walked less,
in this distance, than 14 or 15 miles. We were now 11,000 feet above
the level of the sea, and 8,000 feet above the village of Chamouny. A
niche on the steep side, and near the top of the rock, about a hundred
and fifty feet from its base, and to which we had much difficulty in
climbing, was selected for our lodging place; indeed it was the only
part of the rock, that afforded any thing like a level place. We were
fortunate in finding the day had been so warm, that there was water
in some of the crevices of the ice, which circumstance enabled us to
economize our charcoal. The sun shone very bright on our side of the
rock; but as soon as it sunk below the horizon, the eternal frost
around us regained its influence, and the air became very cold. We
had, however, time to dry our boots and pantaloons, and I found a pair
of large woolen stockings, that I had with me, an invaluable article.
Our guides stretched the ladder from one point of the rock to another,
and, throwing over it a couple of sheets they had brought for the
purpose, formed a kind of tent, just large enough for Dr. Van
Rensselaer and myself to creep in: a single blanket upon the rock was
our bed. The guides were so loaded with indispensable articles, that
we had not been able to bring a blanket, or even an extra coat to
cover us.

After a cold and uncomfortable supper, we crept into our den, soon
after the genial sun had left us, and endeavoured, by every means our
ingenuity could suggest, but ineffectually, to keep ourselves warm. We
suffered much from the cold, but principally towards morning, as the
thermometer was several degrees below freezing. The night seemed to
last at least twenty hours; at one time I thought the day must
certainly be not distant, and was surprised, at looking at my watch by
the light of the moon, to find it only 11 o'clock. Tired of inaction,
and shivering with the cold, I crawled out about midnight to endeavour
to warm myself, by the exercise of clambering on the rock. The view
around was sublime, and rendered me for a time insensible to all
feelings of personal suffering.

The sky was very clear, but perfectly black; the moon and stars, whose
rays were not obscured by passing through the lower dense region of
the atmosphere, as when seen from the surface of the earth, shone with
a brilliancy, tenfold of what I had ever observed from below; and the
comet, with its bright tail, formed in the north-west, a beautiful
object. Nothing was to be seen around the rock on which we were
placed, but white snow and some heavy clouds, that, floating below us,
shut out the valley from our view. The guides appeared to be all
asleep, and the only interruption to the silence of death, was the
occasional avalanche, rolling with the sound of distant thunder from
the highest part of the surrounding glaciers, and heightening the
feelings of awful sublimity, which our situation was so calculated to

As our lodging was extremely uncomfortable in every respect, we were
under no temptation of lying till a late hour in the morning. On the
contrary, we hailed with joy the first appearance of the dawn, which
enabled us to substitute the warmth of marching, for the cold
inactivity from which we had suffered all night. We set out at three
o'clock, leaving most of our provisions and other articles on the
rock. Four hours of laborious, but not dangerous walking, brought us
to a large plain, called the 'Grand Plateau,' which is nearly
surrounded, (on the one hand) by a spur of Mont Blanc, and the
Aiguille du Midi; on the other, by the Montagne de la Côte, while Mont
Blanc presents itself directly in front. These mountains form a steep
amphitheatre around this plain. Here we stopped an hour to breakfast,
and to recruit strength for the last and most difficult part of the
ascent. We were now more than 12,000 feet above the level of the sea,
and only 3,000 feet lower than the summit, which was in full view
before us. But I looked around, in vain, for any part of its steep
sides that seemed to offer a possibility of being scaled, and when the
guides pointed out the route we were to take, among and over
precipices, and huge broken masses of snow, and up almost
perpendicular steeps, I involuntarily shrunk at the prospect, and
could not forbear casting my eye wistfully at our road back. But it
would not have done to be deterred at this time by a few difficulties;
and a moment's reflection, on the skill and experience of our guides,
renewed our confidence, and we began cheerfully to mount the first
steep before us. We here began to feel more seriously an effect, that
is always experienced at considerable heights, and which had not much
incommoded us before. It was impossible for the strongest of us, to
take more than twenty or thirty steps, without stopping to take
breath, and this effect gradually increased as we continued to ascend;
insomuch, that when near the summit, even the stoutest of our guides,
who could run for leagues over the lower mountains without panting,
could not take more than twelve, or at most fifteen steps, without
being ready to sink for want of breath. If we attempted to exceed this
number by even three or four steps, a horrible oppression, as of
approaching death, seized us; our limbs became excessively painful,
and threatened to sink under us. It is very possible, that Walter
Scot's hero,

  Up Ben Lomond's side could press,
  And not a sob his toil confess;

but I am very certain he could not perform the same feat on Mont
Blanc. It is remarkable, that a few seconds rest was sufficient to
restore both our strength and breath. One of our guides, a robust man,
who had been once on the summit, was so much incommoded, that we were
compelled to leave him behind to await our return. I experienced some
inconvenience from a slight degree of nausea and head-ache, of which
most of those, who have made this journey have complained. When
ascending Ætna, two months before, I had been seriously affected both
by a difficulty of breathing, and by a violent thumping of the heart
and arteries, which was loud enough to be easily heard by my
companions, and which the slightest exertion was sufficient to
excite. In the present instance I dreaded these effects, and had
already begun to feel them in an uncomfortable degree; but was almost
entirely relieved by drinking plentifully of vinegar and water, with
which our guides, to whom experience had taught its utility, had taken
care to be well provided. This drink was extremely agreeable to us;
wine on the contrary, disgusted us. All the water we had, we had
brought from the rock at which we slept, where we had carefully
collected it from the cracks of the ice: for we were now in the region
of eternal ice, where rain never falls, and where the utmost power of
the midsummer sun can only soften, in a slight degree, the surface of
the snow.

The acclivity we were now ascending, was steeper than any we had
before encountered, so much so that we could only accomplish it by a
zigzag path, advancing not more than a few feet every 20 or 30 yards
we walked. To have an idea of our situation, you must imagine us
marching in single file on the steep mountain side, placing with the
greatest care our feet in the steps, which the hardness of the snow
rendered it necessary for our leader to cut with an axe, supporting
ourselves with our poles against the upper side of the slope, and
having on the other side, the same rapid slope terminating below in a
precipice several hundred feet in height, over which we saw rapidly
hurried all the small pieces of ice, that we loosened with our feet.
Our situation was similar to that of a person scaling the steep and
iced roof of a lofty house, and constantly liable, by an incautious
step, to be suddenly precipitated over the eaves. After we had been
proceeding in this manner for some time, I looked down on the Plateau
beneath, for the guide we had left, and when at last I discerned him,
like a speck on the snow, my head began to grow dizzy at the idea of
the distance below me, and I was forced to keep my head averted from
this side, to recover from this disagreeable feeling.

Our guides had attached themselves and us with cords, each three
persons together, as when passing the glacier. They were provided with
large iron cramps fastened to their feet, which prevented them from
slipping. Doctor Van Ranselaer and myself had found this contrivance
impede too much our walking, and after a short trial had given it up,
so that we had to rely on the firmness of foot of those guides to whom
we were tied, to preserve us in case of our falling. I am not entirely
convinced, that if one of us had had the misfortune to fall, and were
slipping down the declivity, he would not have drawn his two
companions, in spite of these precautions, over the precipice. To add
to our difficulties, the sun was excessively bright, and almost
blinded us, notwithstanding the gauze veils with which we were all

Fortunately, we met with but few crevices; however, on passing one of
these that was hid by the snow, I suddenly sunk, but my body being
thrown forward by this motion, my breast opposed a larger surface to
the snow which thus supported me, and I was easily extricated by a
guide. On looking back through the hole I had broken, I could perceive
the black cavity beneath.

At one period, our path necessarily led us close under a wall of snow,
more than 150 feet high, from the top of which projected several large
masses of snow, that appeared to require only a touch to bring them
down on our heads. Our captain pointed out our danger, and enjoined
us to pass as quickly as possible, and to observe the strictest
silence. When we looked up at these

  -------- Toppling crags of ice,
  The avalanches, whom a breath draws down
  In mountainous o'erwhelming,

we felt no disposition to disobey his directions, but passed on with
hurried step, and in the stillness of death. The inhabitants of those
parts of the Alps, exposed to these avalanches, assert that the
concussion of the air, produced by the voice, is often sufficient to
loosen, and bring down their immense masses. Hence the muleteer is
often seen to take the bells from his animals, when he passes through
a valley subject to this danger. A few years since some young men,
relying on the solidity of the ice, and wishing to try the echo, were
so imprudent as to discharge a pistol in a large cave which is at the
lower edge of the glacier des Bois, near Chamouny. The shock brought
down the roof, which crushed them on the spot.

At 11 o'clock we had passed most of the difficulties, and all the
dangers of our ascent, and reached a granite rock, which appears or
nipple, which forms the summit of Mont Blanc. This rock is only 1000
feet lower than the summit. Here we enjoyed a full view of the valley
and village of Chamouny, which had hitherto been masked by the
'Aiguille du Midi;' and when we recollected the promises of our
friends there, to watch our progress with their glasses, and were
convinced that they were at that moment observing us, we felt relieved
from the sensation which we had previously experienced, of being shut
out from the world. In fact, we learned afterwards, that they had seen
us distinctly, counted our number, and observed that one of the party
was missing: this was the guide we had left at the 'plateau.'

Our final object was now close at hand. We turned, with renewed ardor,
to accomplish it; continuing our zigzag path, till, after much
suffering from fatigue, cold, and shortness of breath, we stood, at
half an hour after noon, on the highest point of Europe!

Our first impulse, on arriving, was to enjoy the pleasure of throwing
our eyes around, without encountering any obstacle. The world was at
our feet. The sensations I felt were rather those of awe, than of
sublimity. It seemed that I no longer trod on this globe, but that I
was removed to some higher planet, from which I could look down on a
scene which I had lately inhabited, and where I had left behind me the
passions, the sufferings, and the vices of men. The houses of
Chamouny, appeared like dwellings of ants, and the river which flows
through the valley, seemed not sufficient to drown one of these pigmy
animals. These emotions made me for some time insensible to the cold,
but the piercing wind, which here had free scope, soon put an end to
my waking dream, and bringing me back to the reality of life, enabled
me to fix my attention on the objects around.

Notwithstanding the pleasure inspired by the view, it was certainly
more terrific than beautiful. The distant objects appeared as if
covered by a veil. To the north-west was the chain of Jura, with a
mist hanging on its whole extent, which prevented the eye from
penetrating into France, in that direction. On the north was the lake
of Geneva; of a black colour, and surrounded by mountains, which we
had thought high, while we were on its banks, but which now appeared
insignificant, and the lake itself seemed scarcely capacious enough to
bathe in. To the east were the only mountains that appeared of a
considerable size; among which, the most conspicuous were the Jungfrau
and Schreckhorn in Grindelwalden, and Monte Rosa, on the borders of
Piedmont, which raises its hoary and magnificent head to within a few
hundred feet of the level of Mont Blanc. The grand St. Bernard was at
our feet, to the south east, scarcely appearing to rise to more than a
mole hill's height above the adjoining vallies. The obstacles which
Bonaparte had to encounter in leading his army over this mountain,
even in winter, appeared so diminished in our eyes, that this vaunted
undertaking lost, at the moment, in our estimation, much of its
heroism and grandeur.

The view below and immediately around, presented a shapeless
collection of craggy points, among which the 'Needles' were easily
distinguished. We could hardly trust our senses, when we saw, beneath
our feet, those rocks which, from below, appear higher than Mont Blanc
itself, and which seem to penetrate into the region of the stars, and
to threaten to 'disturb the moon in passing by.' Our view may be
compared with that from the top of an elevated steeple over an
extensive city, of which, except in the immediate neighbourhood, the
roof only of the various buildings which compose it, are to be seen.
The only green that we could perceive, was the narrow valley of
Chamouny, and the two vallies by the side of St. Bernard. The portion
of the earth that was not covered with snow, appeared of a gloomy and
dark grey colour. The world presented an image of chaos, and offered
but little to tempt our return to it.

The top of Mont Blanc is a ridge of perhaps 150 feet in length, and
six or eight in breadth. It is entirely composed of snow, which is
probably of immense depth, and is constantly accumulating. We could
see no traces of the obelisk, 12 feet in height, which had been set up
about ten years before. One of our guides was of the number of those
who placed it, and designated to us its position. The highest rock
which appears above the snow, is a small one of granite, 600 feet
below the summit. We remained but a few minutes immediately on the
top, as the wind blew hard and piercingly cold. Descending a few feet
on the south side, we were partially sheltered from the wind, and here
the sun shone with an excessive brightness, heating every part of the
body exposed to his rays; but the least breath of wind, which reached
us at intervals, was sufficient to make us shiver with cold.
Farenheit's thermometer in the sun, was two degrees below freezing,
and five and a half in the shade. It must be considered, however, that
we suffered a much greater degree of cold than the thermometer
indicated, from the rapid evaporation from the surface of our bodies,
of the insensible transpiration occasioned by the dryness and great
rarity of the surrounding air. This cause, familiar to physiologists,
affected our sensations, and could not influence the thermometer. Most
of our guides stretched themselves on the snow in the sun, and yielded
to the strong inclination to sleep, which we all felt. Only one or two
of them ate: the others, on the contrary, evinced an aversion to all
kinds of food. We did not suffer the great thirst which Saussure and
his party experienced; This we prevented by drinking vinegar and
water, which was very grateful to us, instead of pure water. Our
pulses were increased in frequency and fulness, and we had all the
symptoms of fever. I occupied myself, notwithstanding the
indisposition to action which I felt, in making a few observations,
and in stopping and sealing very carefully a bottle which I had filled
with the air of the summit, intended for examination on my return.

The colour of the sky had gradually assumed a deeper tint of blue as
we ascended: its present colour was dark indigo, approaching nearly to
black. There was something awful in this appearance, so different from
any we had ever witnessed. There was nothing to which we could compare
it, except to the sun shining at midnight. During some of the first
attempts that were made to ascend Mont Blanc, this appearance produced
so strong an effect on the minds of the guides, who imagined that
Heaven was frowning on their undertaking, that they refused to
proceed. The portion of atmosphere above us was entirely free from the
vapours which the lower strata always contain, and was truly the 'pure
empyreal,' seldom seen by mortal eyes. We had all our life beheld the
sun through a mist, but we now saw him, face to face, in all his
splendour. The guides asserted that the stars can be seen, in full
day, by a person placed in the shade. It being near noon, and the sun
almost over our heads, we could not find shadow to enable us to make
the experiment.

The air on the top of Mont Blanc is of but little more than half the
density of that at the surface of the ocean. According to the
observations of Saussure, the height of the barometer on the summit,
was sixteen and a half inches, while that of a corresponding one at
Geneva, was twenty-eight inches. In consequence of this rarity of the
air, a pistol, heavily charged, which we fired several times, made
scarcely more noise than the crack of a postillion's whip.

We remained an hour and a quarter on the summit, part of which time
was spent in useless regrets at not having waited to provide ourselves
with instruments, as we were now so admirably situated to make with
them a series of interesting experiments. Those which had suggested
themselves, were principally concerning the absorption and radiation
of caloric, and on the degree of cold produced by the evaporation of
æther and other liquids. We found the descent more easy and much less
fatiguing, though perhaps more dangerous than the ascent, on account
of the greater risk of slipping. We passed under the place where the
avalanche threatened us, with even more caution and more rapidity than
before, as we found that a small piece had actually fallen, and
covered our path since we had passed by. We arrived in about an hour
at the 'Grand Plateau,' where we stopped to refresh ourselves, and
gratify our returning appetites. We found the guide whom we had left,
quite relieved. Here the sun, reflected from the walls of snow which
surrounded us on three sides, poured down upon us with the most
burning heat that I ever experienced from its rays, while our feet,
cold from being immersed in the snow, prevented perspiration, and thus
increased its power. Wherever its rays could penetrate, as between the
cap and neckcloth, or even to the hands, it resembled the application
of a heated iron. We were compelled, in addition to the assistance of
our veils, to keep our eyes half closed, and even then the light was
too powerful for them.

We however continued with ease and cheerfulness our descent, until an
unexpected difficulty occurred. Where in the morning we had cut our
footsteps with an axe, we now found the snow so much softened by the
sun, that we sunk in it every third or fourth step, to the middle of
the body. My friend and myself were more subject to this inconvenience
than the guides, on account of the soles of our boots presenting a
less surface to the snow, than those of their large shoes. After
plunging on in this manner for some time, I began to despair of
reaching our rock, which was yet four or five miles distant: but there
was no alternative but to proceed. We therefore kept on, though with
excessive fatigue. We frequently fell forward, and one limb being
tightly engaged in the snow, was violently twisted, and constantly
liable to be sprained; which in our situation would have been a
serious misfortune. The crevices too were, from their edges having
become softened, more dangerous than before. Perseverance and caution,
however, triumphed over all these difficulties, and we reached the
'Grand Mulet,' half an hour after five, our boots, stockings, and
pantaloons completely soaked. These were immediately stretched on the
rock to dry, which the heat of the sun soon effected. I had the
disappointment to find, on examining my pockets, that the bottle which
I had so carefully filled with the air of the summit, had been broken
in one of my frequent falls, and of course my hopes of making with it
some interesting experiments, were now destroyed. The thermometer was
also broken.

Notwithstanding the Herculean labour of the day, and the fatigue we
experienced at the time, we had not been long on our rock before we
felt strong and invigorated, as if just risen from a comfortable
night's repose. This effect of the mountain air has often been
remarked. We had even sufficient strength, and ample time to enable us
to continue our descent with ease to Chamouny; but in the present
softened state of the snow it would have been madness to attempt to
cross the glacier, which we had found difficult and dangerous the
preceding day, even before the sun's rays had affected it. In fact,
while two of the guides were looking down on our path over the
glacier, they saw a bridge of snow which we all crossed the day
before, suddenly sink into the chasm beneath.

Imprisoned thus by the glacier, which was now all that intervened
betwixt us and terra firma, we quietly resolved to remain where we
were, and made the same arrangements for passing the night, as we had
done the evening before. We were, however, at present better off: I
mentioned that we had been so fortunate as to find a sufficient supply
of water in the neighbourhood of our rock, in consequence of which
most of the charcoal, we had brought to melt the snow, remained. With
this we made a small fire at our feet, and by blowing almost
constantly, kept it up during the night. It has been often observed,
that as we ascend in the atmosphere, the difficulty of maintaining
combustion, is proportionably increased. The cold was notwithstanding
our fire, so great, that whenever I fell asleep, I was awakened in a
few minutes to shiver and chatter my teeth. Our guides slept in the
open air, huddled as close together as possible.

July 13th.--The dawning of the day was truly welcome, as it promised a
near termination to our toils and suffering, while the gratification
of having accomplished a difficult and interesting object remained as
a recompense. We left our hard bed without reluctance, and were
impatient at the slowness with which the guides made their
preparations in packing up their numerous articles. We began to
descend as the sun illumined the white top of Mont Blanc, but long
before his beams penetrated below. Above our heads the sky was
perfectly clear, while the vallies beneath, and all except a few of
the highest surrounding mountains, were concealed by a sea of clouds.
The appearance of the clouds when seen from above is singular; they
resemble immense floating masses of light carded cotton. We retraced
our path of the first day, and took the same precaution as then of
tying ourselves together. When the sun's rays began to shine on the
snow around us, I found that my eyes were so much inflamed, I could
scarcely bear them sufficiently open to see the path; notwithstanding
the gauze veil I had constantly used, my face was in a terrible
condition: the outer skin had fallen, rendering my chin and lips one
continued sore. Doctor Van Rensselaer's eyes were in a worse condition
than mine, and his face nearly as bad.

At one part of the glacier where the snow had been so hard at our
passing, that our feet left no impression, we lost our path, which was
a misfortune, as we had chosen a much better path in ascending, than
we could have done in descending. We however fell in with the track of
two chamois, which our guides followed with confidence, relying on the
instinct, which they attribute to these animals, of finding a
practicable path over the most difficult glaciers. When we had at last
past the glacier, our feet seemed to rejoice at once more touching
firm ground; and we felt as if returning to the world from a distant
voyage. The rest of our task offered no difficulty, being a constant
descent down the rocky mountain side, except what was occasioned by
our almost total blindness, and the pain we suffered in our eyes. It
was however very fatiguing, as the descent from a mountain is
generally more so than the ascent to it. We stopped at the same
Chalet, where two days before we had bid adieu to the world; and were
regaled by the old man and his daughters with another delicious
draught of milk and cream. We reached the village soon after ten
o'clock in the morning, having been absent fifty-three hours, during
forty-five of which we were on the ice. We were received with many
congratulations by the honest villagers, who had taken considerable
interest in our success.

As soon as my companion and myself reached our inn, we buried
ourselves in our chamber, to enjoy the luxury of a bed, and of
darkness, which was necessary for our eyes. It was not until the sun
had set, and the twilight was not too strong for them, that we
ventured out to regale ourselves with a comfortable meal. Two English
visitors, who had watched with a glass our progress on the top of Mont
Blanc, had expressed a determination to follow our example; but our
account of the difficulties we met with, and still more the view of
the condition we were in, soon induced them to abandon the design. We
walked out at the approach of night under the "Needles," and as we saw
these rocks, on whose sides

  -------- the clouds
  Pause to repose themselves in passing by,

and on whose tops the stars seemed to rest, we could scarcely realize
the idea that they were the same we had seen only thirty hours before,
far below our feet.

The next day after our return to Chamouny, our eyes had become so much
stronger, that we were enabled, without much inconvenience, to proceed
to Geneva, where we have since remained to recover from our
sufferings. Though now more than a week has elapsed, my face is yet
much inflamed; but my eyes have regained their usual strength. Dr. Van
Rensselaer has suffered in the same manner, but on the whole rather
less than myself. Wherever the sun's rays could penetrate, even behind
the ears to the level of the neckcloth, the skin has fallen off, and I
have exchanged the tawny hue of an Italian and Sicilian sun, for the
fair complexion of a German or Englishman. We have purchased perhaps
too dearly the indulgence of our curiosity; but at present, when the
difficulties are passed, and the gratification remains, I cannot
regret our hardships, especially if I succeed in making you partake of
the one, without suffering from the other.



1. Passages in italics are surrounded by _underscores_.

2. The following misprints have been corrected:
    "Bourrit" corrected to "Bouritt" (page 12)
    "representa-ons" corrected to "representations" (page 15)
    "breath" corrected to "breadth" (page 20)
    "visiters" corrected to "visitors" (page 47)

3. Other than the corrections listed above, printer's inconsistencies
in spelling and punctuation usage have been retained.

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