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Title: Ski-runs in the High Alps
Author: Roget, F. F. (François Frédéric)
Language: English
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SKI-RUNS IN THE HIGH ALPS


      *      *      *      *      *      *

               SKI-ING FOR BEGINNERS AND MOUNTAINEERS

                       By W. RICKMER RICKMERS

       With 72 Full-page Plates and many Diagrams in the Text

       _Crown 8vo, cloth, 4s. 6d. net. (Post free, 4s. 9d.)_

                        Opinions of the Press

    “A fascinating book on the most delightful of Continental
    winter sports. Not only is Mr. Rickmers a strenuous and
    accomplished ski-runner himself, but he has had years of
    experience as a teacher of the art, and his handy volume
    embodies everything that it is essential for the novice to know
    in order to become an efficient ski-runner in as short a time
    as possible”--_T. P.’s Weekly._

    “He is a teacher of vast experience, who has studied every
    defect in style that a beginner can possibly fall into, and has
    learned how to cure them all. If the novice with the aid of
    this book studies his every posture and action, practising the
    right and with pains correcting what he learns is wrong, he is
    on the high road to becoming a first-class runner.”--_Scottish
    Ski Club Magazine._

    “Mr Rickmers has written a lucid book which, as regards
    ski-ing, is cyclopædically exhaustive.”--_Illustrated Sporting
    and Dramatic News._

    “This book will be a great boon to those wishing to learn
    the art of ski-ing. The illustrations are excellent and most
    carefully chosen--in fact, the whole book from beginning to
    end is full of useful knowledge, and is most interestingly
    written. It will be enjoyed not only by the initiate, but by
    the experienced ski-runner.”--_Pall Mall Gazette._

                      LONDON: T. FISHER UNWIN

      *      *      *      *      *      *


[Illustration: SUNSET, FROM MONT DURAND GLACIER.

Frontispiece.]


SKI-RUNS IN THE HIGH ALPS

by

F. F. ROGET, S.A.C.

Honorary Member of the Alpine Ski Club
Honorary Member of the Association of
British Members of the Swiss Alpine Club

With 25 Illustrations by L. M. Crisp
And 6 Maps



T. Fisher Unwin
London: Adelphi Terrace
Leipsic: Inselstrasse 20
1913

(All rights reserved.)



                             [Illustration]

                                   TO
                               MY DAUGHTER
                                  ISMAY
                       HOPING SHE MAY NOT GO FORTH
                             AND DO LIKEWISE



PREFACE


In 1905, when nearer fifty than forty, had I not been the happy father
of a girl of seven I should have had no occasion to write this book.
I bought, for her to play with, a pair of small ski in deal, which I
remember cost nine francs. For myself I bought a rough pair, on which to
fetch and bring her back to shore if the small ship foundered.

No sooner had I equipped myself, standing, as a Newfoundland dog, on the
brink of the waves, ready to rescue a child from snow peril, than I was
born again into a ski-runner.

Since, I have devoted some of my spare time to revisiting--in winter--the
passes and peaks of Switzerland.

The bringing of the ski to Switzerland ushered in the “New
Mountaineering,” of which a few specimens seek in these pages the favour
of the general public.

The reader may notice that I never spell “ski” with an _s_ in the plural,
because it is quite unnecessary. One may stand on one ski, and one may
stand on both ski. The _s_ adds nothing to intelligibility.

Nor do I ever pronounce ski otherwise than I write it. There is in ski
the _k_ that appears in skipper and in skiff. Though cultured Germans say
_Schiff_ and _Schiffer_, the _k_ sound of ski is quite good Norse. It has
been preserved in the French _esquif_, of same origin.

The _i_ should be pronounced long as in “tree.”

So let us always say _s-k-ee_ and write ski for both numbers.

SAAS-FEE. _August 14, 1912._

[Illustration]



CONTENTS


                                                                      PAGE

                                CHAPTER I

    SKI-RUNNING IN THE HIGH ALPS                                        17

    The different ski-ing zones--Their characteristics and
    dangers--The glaciers as ski-ing grounds--The ski-running
    season--Inverted temperature--The conformation of winter
    snow--Precautionary measures--Glacier weather--Rock
    conditions--Weather reports--Guides and porters.

                               CHAPTER II

    WITH SKI TO THE DIABLERETS                                          34

    _First Ascent_--The Bear inn at Gsteig--The young
    Martis--Superstitions--The rights of guides.

    _Second Ascent_--The composition of the caravan--Odd
    symptoms--Winter amusements on the glacier--A broken ankle--The
    salvage operations--On accidents--My juvenile experience--A
    broken limb on the Jaman.

    _Third Ascent_--The Marti family--The Synagogue once more--An
    old porter--We are off.

                               CHAPTER III

    FROM THE COL DU PILLON TO THE GEMMI PASS (DIABLERETS, WILDHORN,
    WILDSTRUBEL, AND KANDERSTEG)                                        59

    The range--Ski-runners’ logic--Itinerary--The Plan des
    Roses--Untoward experiences on the Rawyl pass--Death
    through exposure--The _Daily Mail_ and Mr. Arnold Lunn’s
    feat--House-breaking--On the Gemmi--Perspective and
    levels--Relief models of the Alps--My smoking den--Old Egger.

                               CHAPTER IV

    THE SKI-RUNNER OF VERMALA                                           83

    Vermala--The mysterious runner--The Plain of the
    Dead--Popular beliefs--The purification of the grazings--A
    haunted piece of rock--An awful noose is thrown over the
    country-side--Supernatural lights and events--The Babel of
    tongues--The Saillon and Brigue testimonies--The curé of Lens
    and his sundial--The people’s cure--The Strubel--_Chauffage
    central_--Did I meet the Ski-runner of Vermala?--My third
    ascent of the Wildstrubel--A night encampment on the
    glacier--Meditations on mountains, mountaineers, and the
    Swiss--How to make _café noir_--Where to sleep and when not
    to--Alpine refuges--The old huts and the new--The English
    Alpinists and the Swiss huts--The Britannia hut.

                                CHAPTER V

    THE BERNESE OBERLAND FROM END TO END                               113

    The Oberland circuit--My appointment with Arnold
    Lunn--An Anglo-Swiss piece of work--An unbelieving
    public--Switzerland and Britain--Geographical--Practical--We
    start from Beatenberg--The Jungfrau ice-slabs--New
    Year’s Day at Kandersteg--In the Gasterenthal--On the
    Tschingelfirn--Foehn-effects on the Petersgrat--The Telli
    glacier--The Kippel bottle-race--A church door--Theodore
    Kalbermatten--The Loetschen pass--Burnt socks--Roped
    ski-ing--The Concordia breakfast-table--Why we did not ascend
    the Jungfrau--The Concordia huts--The Grünhornlücke--On snow
    “lips” and cornices--An afternoon snooze--The Finsteraarhorn
    hut--A guideless party--Ascent of the Finsteraarhorn--Our
    next pass--A stranded runner--The Grimsel--Home life at
    Guttannen--Our sleigh ran to Meiringen--A comparison of winter
    and summer work--Memories and visions--Table of levels--How
    to form a caravan--The pay of the men--Side-slip and
    back-slip--Future railway facilities.

                               CHAPTER VI

    THE AIGUILLE DU CHARDONNET AND THE AIGUILLE DU TOUR                181

    The aspect of the Grand Combin--Topography--Weather conditions
    for a successful raid--A classification of peaks--The Orny
    nivometer--The small snowfall of the High Alps--The shrinkage
    of snow--Its insufficiency to feed the glaciers--The Aiguille
    du Tour--Ascent of Aiguille du Chardonnet--The St. Bernard
    hospice--Helplessness of the dogs--The narrow winter path--The
    monks’ hospitality--Their ski--The accident on the Col de
    Fenêtre--_Ce n’est pas le ski_.

                               CHAPTER VII

    THE GRAND COMBIN                                                   197

    The Panossière hut--Tropical winter heat--Schoolboys and
    the Matterhorn--Shall it be rock or snow?--The Combin
    de Valsorey--My third ascent of the Grand Combin--The
    track home--Col des Avolions--Natural highways of a new
    character--Twenty-three thousand feet ascended on ski.

                              CHAPTER VIII

    ACROSS THE PENNINE ALPS ON SKI BY THE “HIGH-LEVEL” ROUTE           206

    The “high-level” route--Previous attempts--My itinerary--Marcel
    Kurz--The wise old men of Bourg St. Pierre--Maurice
    Crettex--Guides with bamboos and laupars!--The snow-clad
    cliffs of Sonadon--The Chanrion hut--Sealed-up crevasses--The
    nameless pass--Louis Theytaz--The Pigne d’Arolla--The Bertol
    hut--Why the Dent Blanche could be ascended--The lady’s
    maid’s easy job--The dreadful summer slabs--We push past
    two “constables”!--My cane--We bash in her ladyship’s white
    bonnet--The Ice-Maid presses gently my finger-tips--The
    cornice crashes down--A second night in the Bertol hut--The
    Col d’Hérens--An impending tragedy--A milk-pail _versus_
    ski--Dr. Koenig and Captain Meade--The real tragedy of
    Theytaz’s death--Ropes and crevasses--Mr. Moore’s account--My
    comments--The Mischabel range and Monte Rosa.

                               CHAPTER IX

    THE PIZ BERNINA SKI CIRCUIT IN ONE DAY                             245

    Old snow well padded with new--Christmas Eve in the
    Bernina hospice--The alarum rings--Misgivings before
    battle--_Crampons_ and sealskins--A causeway of snow--An
    outraged glacier--The Disgrazia--A chess-player and a
    ski-man--Unroped!--In the twilight--The Tschierva hut--Back to
    Pontresina--Hotel limpets--Waiting for imitators.

                                CHAPTER X

    FROM AROSA TO BELLINZONA OVER THE BERNARDINO PASS                  256

    The Arosa Information Bureau--The hospitality of sanatorium
    guests--The allurements of loneliness--Whither the spirit
    leads--Avalanche weather--The Spring god and King Frost--The
    source of the Rhine--The post sleigh in a winter storm--The
    Bernardino pass--Brissago.

                               CHAPTER XI

    GLACIERS--AVALANCHES--MILITARY SKI-ING                             264

    A legacy from the past--The formation of glaciers and
    atmospheric conditions--Forests and glaciers--Our deficient
    knowledge--The upper ice and snow reservoirs--What is
    the annual snowfall and what becomes of it--How glaciers
    may be classed--Mechanical forces at work--Moraines and
    _séracs_--Avalanches--Periodic avalanches--Accidental
    avalanches--The general causes--The statics of snow--What
    happens to winter snow--_Strata_--How steep slopes may be
    classed--Excusable ignorance of strangers to the Alps--Those
    who write glibly in home magazines--Unsafe slopes--Avalanches
    when running across slopes--The probing-stick--Avalanche
    runs--Military ski-ing--The St. Gothard and St. Maurice
    districts--Military raids in the High Alps--The glaciers as
    military highways--Riflemen on foot as against marksmen on ski.

                               CHAPTER XII

    THE MECHANICS OF SKI-BINDINGS                                      282

    The shoe--The original bindings--The modern bindings--The
    foot--The hinge in the foot--Different functions of the
    toe-strap and heel-band--The parts of the binding--Faulty
    fasteners--Sketches of faulty and correct leverage--A schematic
    binding--_Critique_ of bindings in use--Suggestions--Cheeks and
    plates--A whole blade--Cause of strained feet--Steel wire in
    bindings.

                              CHAPTER XIII

    RUDIMENTS OF WINTER MOUNTAINEERING FOR SKI-RUNNERS                 294

    The new “Alpinism”--A re-statement of elementary
    principles--Ski-runners _versus_ summer pedestrians--The
    experiences of an eminent physician--How to walk in snow--Put
    not your trust in sticks--Keep your rope dry--Stand up on your
    feet--Ski-sticks as supports--Winter clothing.

                               CHAPTER XIV

    WINTER STATIONS--WINTER SPORTS--HOW TO USE SKI                     300

    The awakening of the English--Switzerland the ice and
    snow rink of Europe--The high winter stations and the
    low--Principal sporting centres--Insular delusions--The
    Continental network of winter sport associations--Winter
    sports on ice--Tobogganing--The winter climate varies with
    the altitude--A classification of sporting centres according
    to altitude--The ski-runner is monarch of the Alps--How to
    keep one’s ski in good order--How to learn the gentle art of
    running on ski--Precepts and practice--The turns, breaks, and
    swings--_Point final_.

[Illustration]



ILLUSTRATIONS


    SUNSET, FROM MONT DURAND GLACIER              _Frontispiece_

                                                       FACE PAGE

    THE WILDSTRUBEL HUT                                       21

    OBERGABELHORN, FROM THE DENT BLANCHE                      29

    SPORT ON THE ZAN FLEURON GLACIER                          42

    FROM THE DENT BLANCHE, LOOKING WEST                       50

    MOVING FROM THE TOP OF THE FINSTERAARHORN                 60

    DESCENT INTO THE TELLITHAL, LOETSCHENTHAL                 70

    ON THE TOP OF THE FINSTERAARHORN                          80

    ABOVE RIED, LOETSCHENTHAL                                 90

    WILDSTRUBEL AND PLAINE MORTE GLACIER                     100

    KANDER GLACIER                                           123

    GASTERNTHAL                                              130

    CONCORDIA PLATZ                                          149

    BREAKFAST ON THE FINSTERAARHORN                          163

    ADOLF ON THE FINSTERAARHORN ARÊTE                        178

    THE VALSOREY GLEN                                        190

    THE SONADON CLIFFS                                       214

    ON THE DENT BLANCHE, WITH MATTERHORN                     230

    TOP OF DENT BLANCHE                                      234

    ON THE STOCKJÉ, LOOKING EAST                             238

    FOOT OF STOCKJÉ, LOOKING EAST                            243

    UPPER SCERSCEN AND ROSEG GLACIERS                        253

    THE SONADON GLACIER                                      266

    AT THE FOOT OF THE COL D’HÉRENS                          279

    THE BRITANNIA HUT                                        302

                             MAPS.

    DIABLERETS--WILDHORN--WILDSTRUBEL--GEMMI PASS             64

    KANDERSTEG--FINSTERAARHORN--GRIMSEL                      114

    FERRET--ENTREMONT--BAGNES                                182

    THE PENNINE RANGE FROM GRAND ST. BERNARD TO ZERMATT      208

    MISCHABEL RANGE AND MONTE ROSA                           240

    PIZ BERNINA CIRCUIT                                      248

[Illustration]



Ski-Runs in the High Alps



CHAPTER I

SKI-RUNNING IN THE HIGH ALPS

    The different ski-ing zones--Their characteristics and
    dangers--The glaciers as ski-ing grounds--The ski-running
    season--Inverted temperature--The conformation of winter
    snow--Precautionary measures--Glacier weather--Rock
    conditions--Weather reports--Guides and porters.


In a chapter like this, a writer on the High Alps may well abstain from
poetical or literary developments. His subject is best handled as a
technical sport, and personal experience should alone be drawn upon for
its illustration.

Little more than ten years have elapsed since men with a knowledge of
summer mountaineering began to explore the Alps in winter. Not only
are the successes, which have almost invariably attended the winter
exploration of the Swiss ice-fields, full of instruction for the novice,
but also the accidents and misfortunes which, sad to say, ended in loss
of life or limb, have conveyed useful lessons.

In this chapter the writer has nothing in view but to be practical and
pointed. His remarks must be taken to apply exclusively to the Alps. He
has no knowledge of any other ski-ing field, and is conversant with no
other experience but that gained in the Alps by himself and members of
the Swiss ski-ing clubs, which count in their membership thousands of
devotees.

It is necessary to distinguish the zones of meadow land and cultivated
fields, forest land, cattle grazings, and rocks.

In the forest zone the snow presents no danger except, perhaps, in
sharply inclined clearings where its solidity is not sufficiently assured
either by the nature of the underlying ground or by the presence of trees
growing closely together at the foot of the incline.

Above the forest belt the zone of pastures is a favourite ski-ing ground.
This zone is wind-swept, sunburnt during the day, and under severe frost
at night. As a general rule, it may be laid down that snow accumulated in
winter on the grazings frequented by cows in summer affords a safe and
reliable ski-ing ground, at any rate in all parts where the cows are in
the habit of standing. When in doubt, the ski-runner should ask himself:
Are cows, as I know them, likely to feel comfortable when standing
on this slope in summer? If an affirmative answer can be given in a
_bona-fide_ manner, the slope is not dangerous.

Alpine grazing lands being selected for the convenience of cows, they
are almost throughout well adapted to ski-runners. It is, of course,
understood that gorges, ravines, and steep declivities will be avoided
by Swiss cows just as much as by those of any other nationality. The
ski-runner should leave those parts of the grazing alone on which a herd
would not be allowed to roam by its shepherds.

The deepest and heaviest Alpine snows lie on the grazings, and the
avalanches that occur there in spring are of the heaviest type and cover
the most extensive areas. These are spring avalanches. They are regular
phenomena, and it is totally unnecessary to expect them in midwinter.

Above the grazings begin the rocks. They are either towering rocks and
walls, or else they lie broken up on slopes in varying sizes. In the
latter case the snow that may cover them is quite safe, provided the
points of those rocks be properly buried. As a rule, wherever there is a
belt or wall of solid rock above a grazing (which is practically the case
in every instance when it is not a wood), the loose stones at the foot
of the rocks give complete solidity to the snow surface resting on them.
The danger arises from the rocks towering aloft. If these are plastered
over with loose snow, the snow may come down at any moment on the lower
ground. One should not venture under such rocks till the snow that may
have gathered in the couloirs has come down or is melted away.

Avalanches are a matter belonging more particularly to snow conditions
in the grazing areas, but they need not to any degree be looked upon as
characteristic of this area. Their cause has to be sought in the weather,
that is in the rise and fall of the temperature, and in the wind. There
is quite a number of slopes at varying angles, where it is impossible
that the snow surface should be well balanced under all weather
conditions, and these are the slopes where mishaps do occur. The easiest
method to avoid accidents is to keep on obviously safe ground, and it is
also on such ground that the best and most steady running can be got.

The glaciers of Switzerland are a magnificent and absolutely unrivalled
ski-ing ground.

The months appointed by natural circumstances for ski-running in the
High Alps are the months of January and February. This period may quite
well be taken to include the whole month of March and the last days in
December.

There are reasons for excluding the first three weeks in December, and
the last three in April.

In night temperature, but in night temperature only, the passing from
summer to winter, upwards of 9,000 feet may indeed be said to have fully
taken place long before the end of the year. This passage is marked
by the regular freezing at night of all moisture, and by the regular
freezing over of all surfaces on which moisture is deposited by day.
Still, the first fall of a general layer of snow, which will _last
throughout the winter_ on the high levels, may be much delayed. Till that
first layer has covered the high ground, the ski-runner’s winter has not
begun.

[Illustration: THE WILDSTRUBEL HUT.

To face p. 21.]

The first general snowfall, if it mark the beginning of the ski-runner’s
winter, does not yet mark the setting in of the ski-running season. For
a time, which may extend from November to near the end of December,
moisture proceeding from the atmosphere, that is rain and _vapours_
(warm, damp winds), is not without effect at the altitudes which we are
considering. Such a damp condition of the air and any risk of rain are
quite inconsistent with ski-running. But everybody should know that if
such risks must be taken throughout the winter by a ski-runner residing,
for instance, at the altitude of Grindelwald, they may practically be
neglected by a sportsman whose field of exercise is that to which the
Swiss Alpine Club huts afford access.

There, from Christmas to early Easter, the only atmospheric obstacle
consists of snowstorms, in which the wind alone is an enemy, while
the snow entails an improvement in the conditions of sport each time
it falls. The November and December snowfalls prepare the ground for
running, and running at those heights is neither safe nor perfect as
long as the process goes on. In January and February any snowfall simply
improves the floor or keeps up its good condition. It may be taken that
during these months the atmosphere is absolutely dry from Tyrol to Mont
Blanc above 8,000 feet, and that a so-called wet wind will convey only
dry snow. Any moisture or water one may detect will be caused by the heat
of the sun melting the ice or the snow. It is a drying, not a wetting,
process; it leaves the rocks facing south, south-east, and south-west
beautifully dry, and completely clears them, by rapid evaporation, of the
early winter snows or of any casual midwinter fall accompanying a storm
of wind.

Such are the atmospheric reasons which help to determine the proper
ski-running months in the High Alps.

There are others which are still of a meteorological description, but
which are connected mainly with the temperature. We shall begin by
giving our thought a paradoxical expression as follows: it is a mistake
to talk of winter at all in connection with the High Alps. According
to the time of year, the weather in the Alps is subjected to general
rain conditions or to general snow conditions. Under snow conditions
the thermometer falls under zero Centigrade, and the temperature of the
air may range from zero to a very low reading; but the sun is extremely
powerful, its force is intensified by the reflection from the snow
surface. The temperature of the air in the shade is therefore no clue to
the temperature of material surfaces exposed to the rays of the sun. The
human frame, under suitable conditions of clothing and exercise, feels,
and actually is, quite warm in the sun, a violent wind being required
to approximate the subjective sensations of the body to those usually
associated with a cold, damp, and biting winter’s day.

This is a general characteristic of the Alpine winter, to which must be
added an occasional, though perfectly regular, feature, namely, that
the Alps may offer, and do offer every winter, instances of _inverted_
temperature. This name is given to periods which may extend over several
days at a stretch, and which are repeated several times during the
winter months. These are periods during which the constant temperature
of the air--that is, the average temperature by night and by day in the
shade--is higher upon the heights than in the plains and valleys.

As a general principle, the winter sportsman may be sure that in the
proportion in which he rises he also leaves behind him the winter
conditions, as defined, in keeping with their own notions and experience
by the dwellers on plains, on the seaside, or in valleys. When travelling
upwards he reaches a dry air, a hot and bright light, and maybe a higher
temperature than prevails in the lower regions of the earth which lie at
his feet.

We said a little while ago that in January and February any snowfall
improves the floor. In the preceding months the high regions pass
gradually from the condition in which they are practicable on foot
to those under which they are properly accessible to the ski-runner
only. Time must be allowed for the process, and till it is completed
ski-running is premature and consequently distinctly dangerous. The
Alpine huts should not be used as ski-ing centres before they can be
reached on ski, and one should not endeavour to reach them in that manner
as long as stones are visible among the snow.

The distinctive feature of the ski-runner’s floor is that it is free
from stones and from holes. The stones should be well buried under
several feet of snow, and the holes filled up with compressed or frozen
snow before the ski-runner makes bold to sally forth, but when they are
he may practically go anywhere and dare anything so far as the ground
is concerned, provided he is an expert runner and a connoisseur in
the matter of avalanches. Of course, our “anywhere” applies to ski-ing
grounds only, and our “anything” means mountaineering as restricted to
the uses to which ski may fairly be put.

The floor of the ski-runner is a dimpled surface consisting of an endless
variety of planes and curves. It is a geometrical surface upon which
the ski move like instruments of mensuration that are from two to three
yards long. Snowfalls and the winds determine the geometrical character
of the field upon which the long rulers are to glide. This, the only
true notion of the ski-ing field, means that the _detail_ of the ground
has disappeared. It presents a continuity of differently inclined, bent,
edged, or curved surfaces, all uniformly geometric in the construction
of each. Any attempt at ski-running upon this playground before its
engineers and levellers (which are snow and wind) have achieved their
work in point of depth, solidity, and extent, is unsporting and perilous.

The continuous figure or design presented by the upper snow-fields of the
Alps in January, from end to end of the chain, is broken by prismatic
masses, such as cones, pyramids, and peaks, on the sides of which the
laws of gravity forbid the establishment by the concourse of natural
forces of snow-surfaces accessible with ski. The runner who has been
borne by his ski to the foot of those rock masses--such, for instance,
as the top of Monte Rosa as it rises from the Sattel--will continue his
ascent as a rock-climber. He will probably find the state of the rocks
quite as propitious as in summer, and often considerably better.

To sum up, the characteristics of the ski-running season are: stability
of weather, constant dryness of the air, a uniform and continuous
running surface, windlessness, a constant body temperature from sunrise
to sunset, at times a relatively high air temperature, solar light and
solar heat, which must not be confused with air temperature and present
an intensity, a duration most surprising to the dweller in plains and on
the seaboard; last, but not least, accessibility of the rocky peaks with
climbing slopes turned to the sun.

A real trouble is the crevasses. The ice-fields form such wide avenues
between the peaks bordering them that a ski-runner must be quite a fool
if an avalanche finds him within striking distance. But the crevasses
are quite another matter. In summer the protection against falling into
crevasses is the rope and careful steering between them. In winter
mountaineering the ski, properly speaking, take the place of the rope.
The longest traverses in the Alps have been performed by unroped
ski-runners. At the same time, the usefulness of the rope, in case of
an accident actually occurring, cannot be gainsaid, though it cannot be
maintained that the rope, which has been known to cause certain accidents
in summer, may be called absolutely free from any such liability in
winter. Of the use of the rope we therefore say, “Adhuc sub judice lis
est.”

There are two golden rules for avoiding a drop into a crevasse: firstly,
keep off glaciers or of those parts of any glacier where crevasses
are known to be numerous, deep, long, and wide; secondly, if called
upon to run over a glacier that is crevassed, use the rope, but use it
properly--that is, bring its full length into use, take off your ski,
and proceed exactly as you would do in summer by sounding the snow and
crossing bridged crevasses one after another. It is absurd to mix summer
and winter craft; they are distinct. When the rope is used under winter
conditions, let it be exactly according to the best winter practice.

If going uphill you find yourself landed on ice, take off your ski and
gain a footing on the ice by means of the heavy nails on your boots.
Never attempt glacier work with unnailed boots or short, light bamboo
sticks. If any accident happens suddenly to your ski you are helpless
and hopeless without nails; you probably will not have time to take your
climbing irons off your rucksack and bind them on to your feet.

Accidents to ski generally happen when one is on the move on difficult
and dangerous ground. It is absurd to expect that the difficulty or
danger will abate while you take off your rucksack, sit down, and strap
on your climbing irons. Remember that you are on the move and that your
impetus will carry you on, if not immediately checked by nails gripping
the ice. That, too, is the reason why a short, light bamboo will not do;
it is a fine-weather weapon and quite the thing on easy snows. On rough
ground you want something with a substantial iron point, a weapon of some
weight and strength which can support your body and help in seeing you
home should your ski be injured. A good runner would never put his stick
to unfair uses, such as riding and leaning back.

If on going downhill you find yourself landed on ice, the essential thing
is to be able to keep on your feet first, to your course next. A stout
stick with a sharp point will then be sorely needed, and if you have been
careful to fasten on to your ski-blades an appliance against skidding or
side-slip, you will find it much easier to steer and keep to your course.
On the whole, it is wiser on iced surfaces which are steep--and these are
generally not extensive--to carry one’s ski.

There ought to be an ice-axe in the party, but this ice-axe should be
carried by a professional and used by him. Nobody can cut steps or carry
safely an ice-axe without some apprenticeship, and this it is impossible
to go through in severe winter weather.

The principal glacier routes of Switzerland have been proved over
and over again to be free from any particular risk or danger arising
from winter conditions. The _ratio_ of risk is the same as in summer.
Consequently, select the best known routes, which are also the most
beautiful and ski-able. Take with you, as porters and servants rather
than guides, men who have frequently gone over those routes in winter
with some Swiss runner of experience. This is important, because many
guides, particularly the most approved summer guides, are creatures of
routine, and will take you quite obdurately along the summer routes, step
for step and inch after inch. Now, this is wrong and may lead to danger.
The ski-runner must dominate the snow slopes. His place is on the brow,
or rather on the coping, not at the foot of the slopes along which the
summer parties generally crawl.

When going uphill for several hours consecutively, as it is necessary
to do in order to reach the Alpine huts, an artificial aid against
slipping back is indispensable. When going uphill the ski support the
weight of the runner and keep his feet on, or above, the snow. But they
do not distinguish between regressive and progressive locomotion. The
whole of the work of progression falls upon the human machinery. Under
those conditions the strain put on the muscles by continuous or repeated
backsliding is objectionable. The use of a mechanical contrivance is made
imperative by the steepness of the slopes and their great length.

Another point is that when running downhill, say, from the Monte-Rosa
Sattel to the Bétemps hut, it is never advisable to pick out the shortest
and quickest route, which means the steepest run possible. High Alp
ski-running demands the choice of the longest course consistent with
steady progress and with an unbroken career along a safe line of advance.
The watchword of the good runner will always be--at those heights and
distances where so much that is ahead must remain problematical--move
onward on curves, so as to approach any obstacle by means of a bend,
admitting of an inspection of the obstacle, if it is above the surface,
before you are upon it, and which, if it is the running surface which
presents a break, even a concealed one, will prevent your hurling
yourself headlong into the trap.

[Illustration: OBERGABELHORN, FROM DENT BLANCHE.

To face p. 29.]

The influence of wintry weather upon exposed and lofty rock pinnacles is
practically the same as that of summer weather, but still more so, if
such a paradoxical way of expressing oneself can be made clear. At the
height of 10,000 feet above the sea-level and upwards the winter weather
is glacier weather. This is not the weather that prevails in the depth
of the Swiss valleys or on the Swiss tableland. The snowfall upon the
glaciers is not so great as one might expect. The snow that does fall
there is dry, light, powdery, and wind-driven. Those characteristics
are such that only some slight proportion of the snow driven across
the glacier actually remains there. Most of it is carried along and
accumulates wherever it can settle down--that is, elsewhere than on
wind-swept surfaces.

The winter sun is so powerful that it very soon clears the high ridges
from a kind of snow that is in itself little suited to adhere to
their steep, rocky sides. Therefore the position is as follows: the
ski-runner can gain access to the peaks with great ease. The so-called
_Bergschrunde_, in French _rimaie_, are closed up, and the rocks towering
above are practically just as climbable as in summer, with the help of
the same implements too--rope, ice-axe, and if one likes, climbing-irons.

The start is made much later in the morning, but, on the other hand, one
need not be over-anxious as to getting to one’s night quarters by sunset.
Running on ski at night over a course that has been travelled over in the
morning, and therefore perfectly recognisable and familiar, is, in clear
weather, as pleasant as it is easy. That is why the ascent of a rocky
peak is, to my mind, an object which a ski-runner who does not take a
one-sided view of sport will gladly keep in view.

The risk of frost-bite may be greater than in summer, in so far as the
temperature of the air is much lower. But the air being, as a rule,
extremely dry and the heat of the sun intense, the full benefit of this
extraordinary dryness and of this heat really puts frost-bite out of the
question in fine weather, provided rocks are attacked from the southern
or south-west aspect, or even south-east. It is quite easy to wear thick
gloves and to put one’s feet away in thick and warm woollen material. But
no attempt whatever should be made at rock climbing under dull skies, let
alone when the weather is actually bad. It must also be added that bad
health, exhaustion, indigestion, nervousness, and such like are, of all
things, the most conducive to frost-bite.

The thermometer may mark in January, above the tree-line, and still more
among rocks, as much as 40 degrees Centigrade at midday in the sun. This
is not the air temperature, as in the shade the same thermometer will
soon drop to zero Centigrade or less. But anybody who has experienced the
wonderful glow of those winter suns on the highest peaks of Switzerland
will be careful that he does not bring them into disrepute by visiting
them when he himself is not fit or when they are out of humour. In any
case, people who go about on ski with feet and hands insufficiently clad
may well be expected to take the consequences.

The foregoing lines bring us quite naturally to consideration of the
weather. The first principle to be borne in mind is that weather in
the High Alps is quite distinct from weather anywhere else. The only
authentic information at any time about the impending weather in the
Alpine area is that given day by day by the Swiss Central Meteorological
Office in Zürich. This report, and accompanying forecast, is published
in all the important daily papers, such as the _Journal de Genève_, the
_Gazette de Lausanne_, the _Bund_, &c. The figures are of less importance
than the notes on wind, air-pressure, and the description in ordinary
language which comments upon the more scientific data. Those reports
should be consulted, and should be posted up by every hotel keeper.

Weather is not uniform throughout Switzerland. The driest area runs
along the backbone of the Alps from the lake of Geneva to the lake of
Constance, along the Canton du Valais and the Canton des Grisons. Chances
of steady, fine weather are consequently greater in those valleys than
elsewhere. The driest spot in Switzerland is Sierre. The High Alps, which
are of most interest to the ski-runner, are also the part of Switzerland
which presents the largest proportion of fine sunny days in the winter
months.

The tableland, extending from the lake of Geneva to Bâle and Constance
along the Rhine, and bounded on the south-east by the lakes of Thoune and
Brienz, Lucerne, and the Wallensee, may remain for weeks together under
a sea of fog, resting at the height of about a thousand feet above the
surface of the ground. As long as those fog areas, which are generally
damp and cold, are curtained from the rays of the sun, the canopy of fog
acts as a huge reflector for the sun rays which impinge upon it from
above. Provided there is no wind (and the Alps may be windless for days
and weeks at a time) the rays, reflected back into space from the fog
surface, heat very considerably the layers of air above, while the air
imprisoned below remains cold. The winter snows themselves, by a similar
process of reflection, generate a great deal of heat of the kind which a
human body perceives, and in which the mountaineer is fond of basking.

The long Jura range, extending from the lake of Geneva to Bâle along the
French border, shares in the Alpine climate, though in a somewhat rougher
form.

The conclusion is that in Switzerland the weather conditions, to mention
these alone, are extremely favourable to the ski-runner. In the matter of
space at his disposal there are in Switzerland, on the slopes of either
the Alps or the Jura, generally above the forest belt, three thousand
grazings for cattle, every one of which is a ski-ing area. Only a very
small number have hitherto been frequented by the ski-runner. Yet last
winter three thousand pairs of ski were sold by one firm alone, and it
is reckoned that the number fitted and sold last winter (1911-12) in
Switzerland exceeds forty thousand.

Swiss guides hitherto have been trained and engaged only for summer work.
Consequently their efficiency on ski is in every instance a personal
acquirement, and their knowledge of their duties under winter conditions
is simply consequent upon their summer training or derived from their
own native knowledge of winter conditions, without the addition of any
instruction. If one wishes to engage guides for winter work the best
guarantee is that the guide belong to a local ski club, and should have
attended, if possible, one or several ski courses before he is considered
fit to accompany _amateur_ ski-ing parties.

Another point is that guides in winter must be prepared to act as
porters. It is in the nature of running on ski that the runner will
hardly ever find himself in a position to call for individual assistance,
and the routes he will frequent are of necessity routes which, from the
mountaineering point of view, are easy and not suited to give great
prominence to the qualities of a guide in the strict and recognised
meaning of the term. What the amateur ski-runner particularly wants is a
hardy and willing companion who will carry the victuals for him and is
wise enough to employ his influence in turning the ski-runner away from
any dangerous ground, and to pick out the best and safest lines across
country. Guides holding a diploma should not be paid more for winter work
than they are allowed to claim in summer under the established rates of
payment.



CHAPTER II

WITH SKI TO THE DIABLERETS

    _First Ascent._--The Bear inn at Gsteig--The young
    Martis--Superstitions--The rights of guides.

    _Second Ascent._--The composition of the caravan--Odd
    symptoms--Winter amusements on the glacier--A broken ankle--The
    salvage operations--On accidents--My juvenile experience--A
    broken limb on the Jaman.

    _Third Ascent._--The Marti family--The Synagogue once more--An
    old porter--We are off.


It has been three times my lot to lay the flat of my ski across the brow
of the Diablerets. This in itself would be of but little interest had not
a trifling incident occurred each time which may be related with more
animation than the ascents can be described.

1. In the month of January, 19--, at a time when the ascent of the
Diablerets had not yet been attempted on ski, I marched early in the day
out of the slumbering Bahnhof hotel at Gstaad, with a full rucksack on my
back and rattled through the village on my ski along the ice-bound main
street.

The sun had not yet risen when I knocked at the door of the Bear hotel at
Gsteig and presented to the frowsy servant who appeared on the doorstep a
face and head so hung about with icicles and hoar-frost that she started
back as though Father Christmas had come unbidden.

When she had sufficiently recovered herself, I inquired of her whether
she knew of any man in the village who would accompany me to the top of
the Diablerets. She looked so puzzled that I hastened to explain that by
man I did not mean a guide, but any one who might be foolish enough to
enter upon such an expedition with a complete stranger advanced in years.
A mere boy would do, provided he could cook soup and could produce a pair
of ski with which to follow his employer.

Two lads offered themselves; the brothers Victor and Ernest Marti, sons
of an old guide. At first they understood no more of the business than
that a gentleman had arrived with whom there was some chance of casual
employment. When I had made my intention plain to them, they jumped at my
purpose with the eagerness of their age. They had ski which they had made
themselves, but was the ascent possible? Anyhow, if I wanted one of them
only, he certainly would not go without the other, and when I tackled
the other to see whether he would not come alone, they might have been
Siamese twins for aught I could do to separate them alive. They went to
their mamma, who raised her hands to heaven and would have put them into
the fire to rescue her darlings from my dangerous clutches.

In the end the boys, dare-devils much against their wish, sallied forth
loaded with ropes, ice-axes, and other cumbersome paraphernalia, among
which it would be unfair to reckon their mother’s blessings and their
father’s warnings. Indeed, in their sight I was an evil one, bent upon
sundry devilries in an ice-bound world. But for the halo thrown for them
about my undertaking by the prospect of the beautiful gold pieces to be
gained, they would rather have committed me alone to the mercy of the ice
fiends.

Lusty of limb, though with quaking hearts, they had no sooner slipped on
their ski than their fears were dispelled. They flew to and fro on the
snow like gambolling puppies. Who would have thought they bore on their
backs a pack that would have curbed the ardour of any ordinary person?
They were already prepared in their minds to become Swiss soldiers a few
months later, when they would carry, in equipment and arms, more than
weighed their present guides’ attire.

Guides, by the way, they were not, but hoped to be some day, when they
were soldiers. I discovered that, meanwhile, besides working at the
saw-mill, they played the part of local bandsmen. From Christmas Eve to
New Year’s Day they had shared as fiddlers in the mummeries, revels, and
dances of the season. They had conceived thereby much thirst, as was soon
made clear by the flagging of their spirits, and by the loving way in
which they bent down to the snow, pressed it between their hands like a
dear, long, unbeheld face and kissed it. When they were refreshed their
tongues were once more loosened.

We were drawing nearer to the Diablerets. The overhanging rocks seemed
to arch themselves threateningly over our heads, and if the young men
now spoke glibly, it was with a tremble in their voices and about their
renewed fears. It is not without reason that Diablerets and devilry are
cognate sounds in languages so distant from each other as the Romance
_patois_ of the Vaudois Alps and the gentle speech of the Thames Valley.

Like the remainder of Christian Europe, those valleys shared once upon
a time in the Catholic faith, and this had wonderfully commingled the
early and earthly beliefs of our kind with the teachings of Divinity.
Free-thinkers in the Protestant sense of the word, those boys, creeping
under the shadow of the cliffs up to the snowy vastness above, saw
welling up from the depths of their minds, as in a mirror, the images of
the strange beings with which the rude fancy of the peasantry peoples
those upper reaches of the Alps which they call the Evil Country. But on
that day nothing came of those forebodings.

On the next morning, after a night spent in complete freedom from
haunting ghosts, my boys hesitated a moment before rounding the shoulder
of the Oldenhorn. The Zan Fleuron glacier opened up just beyond. This was
the known Synagogue, or meeting place of the spirits. They dreaded to see
what they might see there if they turned the corner before the arrows of
light-bearing Apollo had scattered the night mists of Hecate.

Suddenly the sun broke and poured forth in floods upon a world springing
up innocently from the folds of sleep. My lads felt saved by glad day.

But, if they went through this first expedition without suffering injury
from the spirits, they were less fortunate in their dealings with
myself. They had allowed themselves to be drawn into a temptation for
which they were yet to undergo punishment; namely, they had, for gold,
disregarded the rules of the Bernese corporation of guides. It is a
salutary regulation of that honourable guild that none who is not an
officially certificated guide shall accompany alone a gentleman in the
district. Now, a terrible thing had happened. Two young men, neither
of whom was a certificated guide, had accompanied a gentleman in the
district. Indeed, the mother of the boys must in the end be proved to
be right in her mistrust. That gentleman had induced her boys to make
light of the fundamental rule of local etiquette as to keeping off the
Zan Fleuron beat entirely reserved for the spirits from All Souls’ Day to
Easter Sunday, and, in addition, he was getting them into trouble with
the police.

One or two months later I was busily and peacefully engaged in my study
when a member of the Geneva detective force was ushered in. I started up.
What could be the matter?

The gentleman then explained politely that I was wanted somewhere in the
Canton de Berne. What for? It could be no light matter.

Now I knew--by repute, rather than by personal experience--that justice
in Berne is extremely rough and even handed. I said I would rather
appear before a Geneva judge. On repairing to the courts, I was informed
that the brothers Marti were summoned at Saanen for palming themselves
off as guides upon an unwary gentleman of uncertain age and feeble
complexion. They had preyed upon his weak mind and enthusiasm to drag him
in midwinter up to the top of the Diablerets, exposing his body to grave
risks, and his soul to the resentment of the fairies, and thus indirectly
infringing a privilege which certificated guides alone enjoyed, to the
exclusion of the remainder of man and womankind.

Reassured on my own behalf, I at once became “cocky” and proceeded to
prick that legal bubble and take the guiding corporation down a few pegs.
I solemnly swore before the judge--in presence of the clerk who took
my words down with forced gravity--that I had engaged Victor Marti as
lantern-bearer to the elderly Diogenes I actually was, and his brother
Ernest to act for me as crossing-sweeper over the Zan Fleuron glacier,
because I expected there might be some snow, and it is bad for old men to
have cold feet.

I have since heard that the two boys got off that time without a stain on
their character.

I say that time, because this trouble is not the last I got them into.
But this is another tale, and will appear hereafter.

2. My second ascent of the Diablerets was somewhat tragic--this, too, in
January, and in pursuit of the magnificent ski-run which one gets down
the Zan Fleuron glacier to the Sanetsch pass, and back to Gsteig.

The brothers Marti were again with me. The eldest was now a certificated
guide, and had thus acquired the legal right to take his brother with
him when escorting strangers in the mountains.

On that occasion there were some strangers, mostly English, in the party.
One of them was a young and able runner on ski, another was an elderly
member of “the” Alpine Club, in whose breast a love for ski was born
late in life, probably in the same years when I myself fell a victim to
that infatuation. The third stranger of British blood need not for the
nonce be otherwise presented to the reader than in a spiritual garb as a
vision. He--or rather she--will appear in the flesh when a ministering
angel is called for in the disastrous scene yet to be enacted, when the
kind apparition will flutter down as unexpectedly as the goblins pop up
through the soft white carpet, under which they have their homes in the
comfortable cracks designed for them by the glacier architect.

This caravan went up the usual way, in the usual manner, above the Pillon
pass. Near the end of the day, and at sunset, one of us was suddenly seen
to curl up and roll in the snow. The next moment he was back at his place
again, with his rucksack on his shoulder, ice-axe in hand, and with his
ski under his feet, as if nothing had happened. Yet we had all seen him
curl up and roll down. And here he was again, spick and span, like one of
those tourists carved in wood which are offered for sale at Interlaken or
Lucerne. The Marti brothers looked at me queerly.

They were, indeed, thankful I had got them unscathed out of the police
court. In spite of parental advice, they had come again with me on that
account. But this was beyond a joke. However, they went on, exchanging
among themselves their own remarks, wondering whose sticks, ski, and
rucksack would next be seen flying in opposite directions.

But nothing happened during the night. The next morning the brothers
Marti, heading our column, wended their way carefully, as before, to the
corner of the Oldenhorn, and peered cautiously round. It was still dark.
From this place it is usual before dawn to catch a glimpse of the gnomes.
They are impervious to cold. Being of an origin infernal in some degree,
they naturally delight in the coolness of winter nights, and their eyes
being habitually scorched by the flames that blaze in the bowels of the
glacier, they much enjoy the soothing caress of the moonbeams.

On that morning--since there is a morning even to an evil day--the
gnomes were still engaged in their after midnight game of skittles. They
plant their mark on the edge of the glacier, above the cliffs which drop
down clear on to the Derborence grazings. Their bowls are like enormous
curling-stones hewn out of the ice. When the gnomes miss their aim--which
in their love of mischief they like to do--the ice blocks fly over the
edge of the rock parapet, and crash down upon the grazings. In summer the
shepherds endeavour to meet this calamity by prayer. In winter it is of
no consequence.

But what was of consequence is that we had no business on the glacier
while the night sprites were still holding Synagogue. This the brothers
Marti knew, and that woe was in store for us on that account. But all
went well with us, to all appearances.

We left our baggage at the foot of the Diablerets peak, and, on our ski,
pushed merrily along to the summit. We lunched, and enjoyed the view,
like any ordinary mortals, ignorant of having challenged Fate.

Then down we went, curving and circling over the glacier, crossing
unawares the place of the Synagogue. A gnome, crouching somewhere on the
edge of a crevasse, lay in wait for us, hiding behind a heap of carefully
hoarded curling-stones. The deadly weapons began gliding about. The
brothers Marti were proof against them, being involuntary offenders.
The head of the party could not be struck, being of the sceptical kind.
The young Englishman jumped about, being ever safe in the air when
the gliding missile came his way. But the member of “the” Alpine Club
suffered the fate all were courting. His fibula was snapped.

Then nothing was seen but a man lying down in pain upon a beautifully
white snow-field. The evil spot was clad in the garb of innocence. The
sky spread above in a blue vaulted canopy, such as Madonnas are pictured
against. One of the poor offending mortals lay low, expiating the fault
of all. Would the sacrifice be accepted?

Yes. Amid the scene of temple-like beauty, charity--it might have been
the Madonna or a simple Ice Maid--appeared in human shape amid the
effulgence of midday, in the opportune costume of a hospital nurse.

[Illustration: SPORT ON THE ZAN FLEURON GLACIER.

To face p. 42.]

With such help, the moment to be absolutely practical came. It was two
o’clock in the afternoon. We were still on the glacier as high as we
could be. Whether we retraced our footsteps or glided on, the distance
was the same to Gsteig, where the Pillon and Sanetsch passes join
together. Luckily the weather was fine, the air quite warm and still. I
despatched Victor Marti, the better runner of the two, down the Sanetsch
to Gsteig. His orders were to summon by telegraph a medical man from
Gstaad to Gsteig, with instructions there to await our arrival, and to
come provided with splints for the crippled man.

This young winged Mercury received another message to convey. It was to
send forthwith a team of four men to the top of the Sanetsch pass. He
himself was to bring back to the pass eatables, drinkables, and blankets.
It was, indeed, impossible to tell whether we should not be kept out in
the wilderness the whole night. In such places at that time of the year,
the wind, in rising, might be attended by the worst consequences to human
life.

We had before us many, many miles to be travelled over, across hill and
dale, in deep snow, conveying on foot a helpless man, whom immobility
would expose to serious risks while out in the open during the night
hours.

Our messenger carried out his instructions with the utmost rapidity and
punctuality. His ski carried him swiftly over many miles of snow to the
wooded confines of the Sanetsch pass. He hailed two wood-cutters, and
sent them straight up to the top of the pass, as a forward relief party.
They got there some time after sunset, while Victor Marti continued on
his way down into the valley to complete his task.

As for those left behind, they had in prospect a six-mile trudge before
they could reach the pass. No question of continuing on ski. Our sister
of mercy wanted them all to accommodate the wounded man. On the glacier
the snow was not so deep that the hard, icy, under-surface could not
support our footsteps, but as we proceeded lower our plight got worse.
A ski-runner who, on deep snow, has to give up the use of his ski, is
very much like a sailor upon a small craft in mid-ocean. Suppose the boat
capsizes, the sailor may swim. But for how long? Similarly, a ski-runner
bereft of his ski amid boundless, pathless snow-fields, may walk. But for
how long? Snow is a good servant, but a bad master.

Most people who have not found it out for themselves do not know that
snow gets deeper and deeper as you descend from the glaciers into the
valleys. After we had reached the pass we would still have to climb by
night down the Sanetsch gorge. This manifold task was about to fall to
the lot of a party in which everybody, except one, was new to winter
work. They were, besides, totally unacquainted with night conditions. The
ministering angel dropped from heaven, too, was one who, strange to say,
had never yet been sent to Switzerland on an errand of mercy. Besides,
her task grew so upon her that the discharge of it made her more and more
human, and in the end she experienced in herself all the inconveniences
of being the possessor of a material body.

With the help of puttees we tied the inert limb to one ski. The other ski
of the same pair supported the intact leg. We cut our ski-sticks into
lengths, split them down the middle, and making cross-bars of them we
fixed the ski to one another. Thus was the stretcher or shutter made. We
had nails, fortunately, and plenty of cord.

A stretcher, however, cannot be carried in deep snow up hill and down
dale. We now required a sleigh. To build one we laid down on the snow,
carefully and side by side, three pairs of ski, binding them together
with straps, and thereupon we laid the shutter on which was tied the
wounded man.

Would this improvised sleigh run on the snow? By means of his rope Ernest
Marti yoked himself to the front of it. Head down, shoulders bent, he
gave a pull. His feet broke through the crust of snow and he sank in up
to the waist. To this there was no remedy. He would plunge at each step,
and, recovering himself, breathless and quivering, he would start afresh.

Each time he got off the victim of our accident received a jerk that
threw him back, for we had not the wherewithal to make a support for
his shoulders. To obviate this very serious trouble, we fitted an empty
rucksack to his back, and pulled tightly the straps over his shoulders
and across his chest. The young Englishman and myself walked then on each
side of him. Holding him by means of the shoulder straps, we checked the
back thrusts to which he was exposed, and kept him upright from the waist.

Thus our caravan proceeded on its way, our pockets stuffed with the
remaining bits of our ski, with which we might be glad to light a fire
that night in some deserted shepherds’ hut.

The charity dame walked alongside of us, cheering with her smile the sad
hero of this melancholy adventure. What a picture it would have made if
only one of us had had the heart to photograph it!

Night was creeping on. The snows turned dark and gloomy, still we were
drawing near to the pass and had no sooner reached it than two burly
figures rose up before us. They smiled, and laid hold of the guiding-rope
which Ernest Marti, exhausted, threw to them. They had appeared in the
nick of time to save us from spending the night up there. From that
moment, turning to the north, we were able to continue to the top of the
Sanetsch gorge without a stop.

The stars had long been glittering overhead when we were able to look
down into the gorge across to Gsteig. The village was all agog. Lanterns
were creeping about like glow-worms. Some appeared at time amid the
woods, flitting from place to place like fire-flies. The other two men,
ordered up by Victor Marti, now showed their lights quite near us. And
then began the last stage in our salvage operations.

The Sanetsch gorge was as a vast, curved sheet of ice. Its northern
exposure and the night air had done their work. It would not be possible
to convey a man reclining on a stretcher down the steep windings of the
mule path. The rescuing party soon hit upon the only practicable scheme.
The patient was removed from his splints, poles, straps, and bindings,
and set across the back of a powerful highland man. Ernest Marti took
my Lucifer lamp and placed himself in front to light up the way. Two
men stood immediately behind the human pack-mule. The group thus formed
launched itself down into the gorge, each man depending for security upon
the rough _crampons_ driven into his shoe leather. All’s well that ends
well. The doctor was found waiting at Gsteig.

It is now his turn to take up the cue, but we do not vouch that he will
satisfy the reader’s curiosity, should we by any chance have left him
with any curiosity to satisfy. I hope we may, because our third ascent of
the Diablerets still awaits him.

This was not the first mountaineering misadventure I found myself mixed
up with. Moreover, it was an accident, the memory of which I do not
particularly relish. I am afraid I smarted visibly under it, and showed
my personal disappointment. This may have conveyed to some the impression
of some unfairness on my part.

Has the reader ever noticed how different is the attitude of the public
mind towards accidents on land and on sea? Why should mountaineering
accidents be less sympathetically received than those befalling sailors?
It is, however, not unnatural that the sea should be more congenial, and
command forgiveness by its grandeur. It teaches charity by the immensity
in which it drops the cruel dramas enacted upon its surface.

When casualties occur in mountaineering, even those concerned appear to
make efforts to single out somebody on whom to fasten the blame. Some
people’s vanity is bent upon discerning the wisdom, or unwisdom, of one
or another of their companions. If a boat goes down a respectful silence
is allowed to dwell alike around the survivors and those lost. But shall
we ever, for instance, hear the end of the merits or demerits of each
concerned in the accident that befell the Whymper party, in 1865, on the
Matterhorn?

When a climbing party comes to grief, it is as an additional course
for the menu of the _table d’hôtes_: a dainty morsel for busybodies,
quidnuncs, and experts alike. The critical spirit grows ungenerous in
that atmosphere. The victims of the Alp were tempting Fate; one knows
exactly what mistake they made; so-and-so was altogether foolish in ----,
and so forth. With such more or less competent remarks, the fullest
mead of admiration is blended. This, too, be it added with the utmost
appreciation of a kind disposition, does not go without some admixture of
silliness.

I should prefer, even now, to leave all accidents in an atmosphere of
romance. It is best to meet with them when one is young. The tender
spots in one’s nature are then nearer the surface, and the vein of
chivalry more easily struck. The flutter and excitement of a rescue are
then delightful. One would almost wish for accidents elsewhere than in
day-dreams for the sake of dramatic emotion.

The accidents, however, arranged in the flights of my imagination
were weak in one respect. They were egotistic. The brilliant part of
a quixotic rescuer fell regularly to me. Let me give the reader an
instance from real life before I take him for the third time up the
Diablerets.

The thing occurred in a Byronic spot. In this place in my book it will
detach itself as a spring-flower against the snow and ice background
which all these chapters have in common.

Was I in my “teens,” like “her,” or not quite so green, or much greener?
The question arouses some vague twinges of wounded vanity. But I consult
in vain the tablets of my memory. They are now as illegible in many
places as old churchyard stones. If I then believed I had grounds for
jealousy, I could not now trust myself to say with truth that they were
genuine.

My resentment fastened upon a rival. I withdrew proudly to the recesses
of the hills, as it is recorded by romantic lore that even males of
the dumb creation are in the habit of doing when baffled in desire and
injured in self-esteem.

But as, a few days later, I lay lazily stretched out at full length
on the tender pasture grass of the Plan de Jaman, viewing at my feet
the scene of my sentimental _déconvenue_, I do not wish the reader to
paint for himself the picture of an angry bull pawing the ground and
snorting for revenge, though the number of cows grazing about and the
multitudinous tinkling of the bells might well suggest such a classical
impersonation.

The view over the lake was pure, crystal-like through a moist, shiny air.
Rain had fallen during the night over Glion and the bay of Montreux. The
long grass on the steep pastures of Caux was tipped with fresh snow. It
lay here and there in melting patches, and every blade of grass had its
trickle of water.

Seated on my knapsack for dryness, I was comfortably munching some bread
and chocolate when discordant and husky cries burst upon me from behind.
The sound was more grotesque than pathetic.

On looking round there hove in sight a suit of fashionable clothes, which
seemed to betray the presence of a man. They were mud-bespattered and
stained green with grass. A scared and besmirched face stood forth from
above them, marked with what looked like dried-up daubs of blood. From
that dreadfully burlesque and woebegone countenance issued the affrighted
Red Indian cries which had startled my ears. Dear me, how un-Byronic all
this!

My feelings grew more sympathetic to that vision--and that, in a sense
particularly exhilarating to myself--when in the soiled, distracted
fashion-plate I recognised my successful rival. His language became
immediately an intelligible speech for me, and when he blurted out a
familiar name he won a friend, if not to himself at least to his plight,
which was coming to me as a splendid opportunity. Too dazed to be aware
of the true identity of his audience, he confessed to having lost his way
with “her” that very morning on the Jaman grazings. Their house-shoes
had literally melted away in the wet, slippery grass and been torn to
shreds on the rocks. Famished, thirsty, exposed to the beating rays of
the midday sun, his presence of mind had deserted him. They had fallen
together over a wall of rock. “Where, oh where?” shouted I.

[Illustration: FROM THE DENT BLANCHE, LOOKING WEST.

To face p. 50.]

The wretch could not tell. His mind was a blank. He had run thus far,
but knew not whence, and looked round vacantly for a clue. Exhausted, he
tumbled down upon the turf. To him it had fallen to do the mischief. I
was to repair it....

But was the repairing still within human power? My eyes travelled
anxiously up and down the hangs of the Dent de Jaman. By what end should
I begin my search? Had the accident occurred in the wooded parts screened
over by a growth through which I could not see?

I began a systematic search at one end of the battlefield, as would have
done a party of stretcher-bearers, Red Cross men, clearing the ground of
the wounded and dead. I called out at regular intervals the name of the
object of my search. No reply. Her companion looked on disconsolately
from afar. An hour passed, two hours. Then at last, at one end of the
wooded slope, hidden away in a gorge of minute dimensions, I came upon an
apparently lifeless figure partly reclining on a moss bank with a foot
hanging out from a torn muslin dress over a running stream of snow water.
The faint had lasted long. But for the tears in her dress she looked as
though she had quietly fallen asleep. When I took her up in my arms, my
touch seemed to re-animate her, evidently because it caused her some
pain. Then she came back to life more fully, and gradually realised how
the situation accounted for my presence. She was suffering from a broken
leg. I carried her down to Les Avants.

The reader would expect to hear that this adventure bound together again
the broken threads of love. Not so. The story did not end as in the case
of a friend of mine who happened to be at the right moment in command of
a column of artillery moving along the Freiburg high road.

A carriage and pair with several ladies in it was being driven up
from behind. The horses took fright and bolted down a side lane. My
friend galloped up, cut the traces of the horses with his sword, while
the affrighted driver just managed to put on the brakes. On further
approaches being made from both sides, it turned out that the carriage
contained the material appointed by Fate to make a wife for him.

I believe that in my case so much emotional force got vent in bringing
the work of rescue to a successful issue, that none was left over to
nurse the flower of love to fruition. My personal feeling became as a
part of my obligations to humanity. Dissolved into chivalry and quixotry,
its subtle essence was lost in so broad a river and swept away to the sea.

3. It is not a far cry from the Dent de Jaman back to the Diablerets. At
the end of March, 1910, I set out with Monsieur Kurz, of Neuchâtel, to be
avenged on the ill-luck which had marred the January trip.

The name of Mr. Marcel Kurz will appear repeatedly under my pen in this
volume. I made his acquaintance years ago on the occasion of a political
speech. I was only too glad, after a night spent in public talk and
conviviality, to throw off the fumes of oratory and post-prandial
cordiality. In this a lot of keen young ski-runners agreed with me. Among
them was Marcel Kurz, son of Louis Kurz, the eminent maker of the map of
the Mont Blanc range. He has since accompanied me on several expeditions,
the first of which was planned on that day, while practising side by
side Christiania and Telemark swings in friendly emulation. Some of the
photograph reproductions which adorn these pages were made from snapshots
taken by him. Not having yet become acquainted with the Diablerets range
in winter, he accompanied me there in 1910 with our old friends, the
brothers Marti. These were _dienstbereit_, which, being put in English,
would read: Ready for service, which guides and soldiers ever are.

But were they as free from their ancient fears as they were willing
to undergo fresh trials? I might well have my doubts when, this time,
their father expressed a desire to see me before his boys acquiesced.
The accident which attended our last expedition had left its mark in
the minds of the people. The man with the broken leg had unfortunately
hobbled about so long, on crutches, all over the country side, that
this sight had rudely shaken the confidence which they were beginning
to repose in me, as bringing into the country fresh means of earning a
little money during the winter months.

The old Marti lady, particularly, whose heart had no eye--if this is
not an Irish bull--for economic advantages that ran counter to the
conservative character of her domestic affections, watched me wickedly
from her doorstep, while her husband interviewed me in the village
street. Here we stood, with the villagers round us, looking a picture
truly symbolic.

An old father, clothed in authority by his age and experience, the
preserver of the traditions of the past in his house, as in the village
community, and bearing within himself the true doctrine of the guiding
corporation; his sons, with their minds in that half-open condition
which is that of so many young peasants of the present day, when they
may be compared, without thereby losing anybody’s esteem, to oysters
opening to the sunlight the shells out of which they cannot grow; the
mother, anxious for those nurtured at her breast, the coming founders,
as she hoped, of a domestic hearth like unto the old; a man from the
outside, dropped maybe from a higher sphere, but disturbing the even
tenour of their lives, and presenting in a new light to their awakening
consciousness their sense of inferiority and perhaps of misdirected
adherence to the past; lastly, the onlookers and passers-by, a homely
throng, bearing witness, after the style of the Greek chorus in the
village comedy.

I proposed to the old man that his sons should come again with me
unhindered. We were a small party, and made up of such elements that
there was but little chance of the last accident being repeated. But it
had got to his ears that I had privately consulted with his sons as to
pushing on from the Diablerets to the east over the Sanetsch and Rawyl
passes. I had to confess that such was the intention of myself and of
Marcel Kurz. Whereupon the old man held up his hands and his wife
hurried to his side.

In the end it was decided that Ernest Marti should accompany me and my
friend with provisions for one day only, and that on the next day the
other brother and a porter would meet us on the Sanetsch pass. Unwilling
to inquire at once what this porter arrangement might portend, lest the
whole affair might be stranded on that inquiry, as a ship might do on
leaving the stocks, we agreed to the suggestion. The conference broke up,
each party being satisfied that it had gained one of its points.

Our ash planks carried us up without a hitch to the confines of the
glacier. At the Oldenhorn hut, however, another of those sights awaited
us which had made the brothers Marti feel queer. They of the Synagogue
spent the witching hours of the next night in a drunken snowballing orgy.
They pushed an enormous bolt of snow against the door of the hut during
our peaceful slumbers therein. Never mind. We opened the window, got out
through it into the snow, bored our way to the outside, and slipped down
on to the ice. There was some spectral light in the air when we came out.
The Oldenhorn battlements crackled and crepitated a little. When the sun
lit them up from behind, it looked for a moment as if they were manned
with a fringe of tittering monkeys. As I have said, there was a strange
play of light in the air. But the snowballing might have been the work
of avalanches. There is as a rule a natural explanation to be given of
phenomena of this kind.

While the Oldenhorn pyramid glowed in the morning light, a veil of mist
hung over the Zan Fleuron glacier. The mist in no ways interfered with
our run. We flew like birds over the scene of the January accident. On
the pass we sat down and waited. Victor Marti was to come up. But who was
to accompany him up the pass, in the guise of a porter, with a further
supply of provisions? We required no such thing as a porter--nor even
guides, for the matter of that; but if I acted upon that view, the game
was up. Local men would be slow in taking up the cry, the new cry: Winter
mountaineering! So we looked for the expected two.

The mist still hung on the pass between us and the sun. Now and then the
sun shone vaguely, as through cotton wool. When the wind broke the mist
up in rifts a patch of blue would look down upon us benignly. At last,
low down in the north, a black speck showed itself to our straining eyes.
Then the speck divided up. There were two men, and something moving along
close to the ground. This turned out to be a dog, dragging along a pair
of ski. The dog got on very well on the hard frozen snow. But when about
to leave the wind-beaten tract, he floundered and got no further. On
inspection with my binoculars, the porter turned out to be none other
than Father Marti, come to fetch his bairns. But we never quite knew why
the dog was made to bring up an extra pair of ski.

The position was peculiar; the would-be porter could not cover the
distance which separated him from us. We might have snapped our fingers
at him and parodied the biblical phrase: “Thus far shalt thou come and no
farther.”

We preferred to push into shore on our skiffs and to parley. The old man
declared he had come up to say the weather was bad. We looked round. Did
appearances give him the lie? Kurz was sure they did. More cautious,
because nearer the age of the old salt, I thought they might; but both
boys promptly agreed with their father and the dog wagged its tail
approvingly.

Kurz and myself began by making sure of the provisions. Then, by a few
judiciously applied biscuits, we won the favour of the dog. Then we said
that, rather than come down at such an early hour, we should spend the
day in runs on the glacier, whereupon Victor Marti felt it would be his
duty to do likewise. Ernest, in his turn, did not see why he should not
spend, in our agreeable company, a day that was so young. The father
winced, but consented.

Then I thought the juncture had come when I might propose to both young
men to take full advantage of our new supplies of victuals and drink by
spending another night on the heights. The family met again to “sit” upon
the suggestion. Meanwhile I liberally paid old Marti for his trouble and
took him apart to tell him that if the weather was really bad on the
morrow, I should send his boys down. This arrow hit the mark. He was a
perfectly honourable old man, true to the core. Turning to his sons,
he told them that on no account were they to come back home without
their “gentlemen.” I hope, for his comfort, that he realised that the
“gentlemen” would not either consent to be seen again in the valley
without his boys.

Anyhow, we spent a delightful day in ski-ing in the precincts of the
Synagogue, repaired at night to our hut, slipped through the window, and
spent a night free from molestation. I deemed that it would be wise to
let the sun rise before _we_ did. When it did, it shone with wonderful
grace and power. The mists were scattered out of the sky and the cobwebs
cleared away from our brains. We entered upon the trip which is described
in the next chapter, and during which my excellent young friends pushed
on steadily to Kandersteg, our goal, longing all the time for the sight
of the telegraph poles on which hung the wires which would convey to
their mother the message of their safety.

[Illustration]



CHAPTER III

FROM THE COL DU PILLON TO THE GEMMI PASS (DIABLERETS, WILDHORN,
WILDSTRUBEL, AND KANDERSTEG).

    The range--Ski-runners’ logic--Itinerary--The Plan des
    Roses--Untoward experiences on the Rawyl pass--Death
    through exposure--The _Daily Mail_ and Mr. Arnold Lunn’s
    feat--House-breaking--On the Gemmi--Perspective and
    levels--Relief models of the Alps--My smoking den--Old Egger.


No visitor to Switzerland requires telling that a section of the Bernese
Alps runs up to the Gemmi pass from the south-west. In this secondary
range, the leading groups are the Diablerets, the Wildhorn, and the
Wildstrubel. So far as the Wildstrubel and Wildhorn are concerned, the
range separates the Canton du Valais from the Canton de Berne, but the
Diablerets throw out a shoulder into the Canton de Vaud. From their
summit the lake of Geneva can be seen.

Each of these large mountain clusters is linked up to its neighbour by a
pass, running perpendicularly to the range. The Sanetsch pass is a dip
between the Wildhorn and the Wildstrubel. Just as--in January, 1909--I
had the pleasure of traversing the higher Bernese Alps between the Gemmi
and Grimsel passes, it was, in March, 1910, my good luck to carry out
in one continuous expedition the traverse of the nether Bernese Alps,
beginning at the Col du Pillon and ending at the Gemmi and Kandersteg.

The summits of the Diablerets, Wildhorn, and Wildstrubel group do not
exceed 10,705 feet in height. Singly, they have frequently been ascended
on ski. But, to my knowledge, the ascent of all three had not yet been
achieved as a connected and consecutive piece of winter work. My traverse
having brought me much opportunity to fully realise the extraordinary
quality and beauty of this high ski-ing ground, I do not hesitate to give
here my best information on the route.

The route now opened out presents this capital feature, that the
mountains along the top of which it lies are uniform in height and in
conformation. Their general lineal development is straight; they arise
steeply from their south-west extremities; they carry ski-runners down,
on well-defined inclines, to their north-east extremities, which rest on
the flat surface of high-lying passes.

No wise runner will attempt to run from the Gemmi end. By so doing he
would be making light of the best rules of ski-ing, as well as throwing
away the indications which nature herself gives him. From all three
summits the larger and lengthier glaciers stretch uniformly from
south-west downwards to north-east, while on the opposite slope the
mountains are precipitous and the glaciers short.

[Illustration: MOVING FROM THE TOP OF THE FINSTERAARHORN.

To face p. 60.]

Not only will no wise runner attempt the trip from the Gemmi end, but he
will also follow the rules of ski-runners’ logic. The reader will notice
that while summer tourists cross the Bernese Alps from north to south,
that is from Canton Berne to Canton Valais, or _vice versâ_, from Canton
Valais to Canton Berne, tourists on ski follow the range in its length,
and will have nothing to do with its passes, as leading from one valley
to another.

Indeed, a ski-runner must look a very paradoxical creature. For him,
passes are just convenient, saddle-like depressions connecting the
summits he has left with the summit he next wishes to attain. He will
have no dealings with the valleys. He does not follow the path, say from
Kandersteg to Louèche. That is all very well for mules. But he crosses,
say, the Sanetsch and Rawyl passes, in the same way as a foot-passenger
goes across a street from one pavement to the other. By so doing he knows
no more of the actual pass-track than its width, say a matter of one to a
few yards, as the case may be. This totally new conception of how to get
about on the Alps from point to point is of great importance with a view
to the military occupation of the High Alp passes and their defence in
winter. I call it the ski-runners’ paradox.

Gsteig is best reached from Montreux, on the lake of Geneva, or from
Spiez, on the lake of Thoune, by availing oneself of the electric
railway and getting out at the station of Gstaad; hence on foot or by
horse-sleigh to Gsteig.

The hut, on the Tête aux Chamois, at the foot of the Oldenhorn, where the
first night had better be spent, lies to the south-west from Gsteig, and
is approached from the Pillon route. The approach _viâ_ the Sanetsch pass
necessitates the ascent of the Zan Fleuron glacier round the Oldenhorn.
It is therefore much longer.

The map to be used, and to which all references in this book are made,
is the Swiss Military Survey Map (Siegfried Atlas), sold to the public
in sheets. A reprint covering the whole region may be bought at Gstaad,
price 4 francs.

Cross the Reuschbach by a bridge, a little beyond point 1,340 (sheet
472). The chalets of Reusch will then be reached at Reuschalp, at the
altitude marked 1,326 on the map (sheet 472 or 471). At Bödeli one should
carefully avoid taking the path leading south, up to the Oldenhornalp.
The situation of the Cabane des Diablerets is given on the Siegfried
Atlas at point 2,487 (sheet 478). The line of access is plain from
Bödeli. But strangers should not attempt to reach the hut in winter
snow without being accompanied on the Martisberg slopes by some person
possessing full local knowledge. The traversing of steep slopes, such as
those which here run down from the Oldenhorn, is always dangerous.

Runners start from Gsteig and will do well to take with them one or both
of the brothers Ernest and Victor Marti, young men and fair runners.
Readers of the preceding chapter know that I have trained them in what
little they understand about winter mountaineering. This little is quite
sufficient to enable them to guide safely any party of able-bodied and
fair ski-runners along the new route.

From Gsteig to the hut an average walker on ski may count five hours. The
hut is comfortable enough for practical purposes, and can accommodate a
large party.

On the next morning, do not leave the hut till daylight, and then, in
three hours, one may reach the top of the Diablerets on ski, though
these may have to be removed to traverse a part of the steep snow-fields
resting on ice which run down the precipitous cliffs to the south.
Runners with whom it is a point to run, rather than conquer hill-tops,
may leave the summit alone. Wending their way round the Oldenhorn, they
will at once face north-east and run down the Zan Fleuron glacier to the
top of the Sanetsch pass. Use a compass, and run strictly east. Full
north, full south, or south-east are equally pernicious. The snow may
be crusted and wind-swept. But if it is dry, powdery, and smooth, the
runner’s joy will be inexpressible.

Our day--and so might yours--gave us a prospect of a very long run. We
knew that we should not be able to make use of the Alpine Club hut on
the Wildhorn, for a notice had appeared in the _Alpina_ (organ of the
Swiss Alpine Club) that this hut was badly overwhelmed with snow. Under
ordinary conditions, provided one did not mind sweeping low down out of
one’s way to the north, there would be no reason why this hut should
not be taken advantage of to spread over two days the work which on
that occasion we did in one day, to get from the Diablerets hut along to
the Wildstrubel huts. Without any waste of time, we pushed across the
Sanetsch pass, from the point marked 2,234 (sheet 481), on to the _arête_
which runs due east across the point marked 2,354.

If it is your intention to go as far as the Wildstrubel hut in one day,
you ought to cross the Sanetsch by eleven o’clock--an easy thing if
you left the Diablerets hut by eight o’clock. The line to be followed
leads down to, but keeps above, the small lakes which are marked with
the name Les Grandes Gouilles, altitude 2,456. These lakes must be left
on one’s right hand, and then make straight for the Glacier du Brozet,
above the words Luis de Marche. Under ordinary winter circumstances,
particularly late in the season, this glacier, which is broken up to any
extent in summer, will be found to present a steep and hard surface most
convenient to ascend. When once the point 3,166 has been reached, it will
be unnecessary to complete the ascent of the Wildhorn, though nothing
could be easier. Leaving the summit to your left at the point 3,172, the
descent on the Glacier de Tenehet comes next to be considered. At that
altitude you should ski onward sharply to the north-east for a while,
then great care should be taken to proceed downward gradually by taking a
curved route, below point 3,124 (sheet 472), full north-east, then east,
along the circular tiers of the ice.

[Illustration: DIABLERETS--WILDHORN--WILDSTRUBEL--GEMMI PASS.

(Reproduction made with authorisation of the Swiss Topographic Service,
26.8.12)

To face p. 64.]

Let me here remind the reader that the Wildhorn hut is away far down
on the northern slope of the Wildhorn, at the top of the Iffigenthal.
Runners who wish to break their journey and spend a night there will
beware of running down the glacier of Tenehet. They will cross the
watershed to the north at the point 2,795, or thereabouts, and descend to
the point 2,204, in the vicinity of which they will find the hut.

The course on to the Rawyl pass presents no difficulty to a competent
runner. When under point 2,767, turn to the south, where the slope
dips, and then again, when well under point 2,797, and the lake, turn
to the north-east, so as to reach and keep on dotted curve 2,400. South
or south-east would be irrecoverably wrong. In fair weather it will
be unbroken pleasure, on condition that the runner is well led or is
thoroughly conversant with map or level readings in a very difficult
country. I reached the Rawyl pass by six o’clock.

The fairly level stretch along which undulates the Rawyl mule track is
called the Plan des Roses, which sounds very poetical to cultivated
minds, such as my readers always are. The Alps, and many other ranges
in Europe, are studded with those appellations, whose delightful ring
calls forth the fragrance and beauty of the rose at an altitude at which
gardens are not usually met. Never did a summer rose grow or blossom
naturally in most of the places bearing that pretty name--not even the
Alpen Rose or the Alpine Anemone.

The imagination of some has seen in the name an allusion to the pink
colour of the sky at dawn and at sunset. Alas, this too is a fallacy
borne in upon us by the literary faculty. Monte-Rosa does not mean pink
mountain.

Rosa (as in Rosa Blanche, above the Val Cleuson), roses, roxes, rousse,
rossa, rasses, rosen (as in Rosenlaui), ross, rosso (as in Cima di
Rosso), rossère, all mean rocks or rock. The Tête Rousse (above St.
Gervais) would not be in English the Ruddy Brow, but the much more
commonplace Rocky Tor, Ben, or Fell. All forms of the word go back to
a common Celtic origin, whether they appear in Swiss nomenclature, in
a French, German, Italian, or Romance form. This phenomenon is a good
illustration of the manner in which the association of ideas by sound
enriches and varies in time the very rudimentary stock of primitive
impressions gathered in by the ancient Alp dwellers.

If the reader will think of Rhine, Rhône, Reuse, Reuss, Reusch, in the
light of the foregoing explanations, he will hear through all those words
the rush of water that is characteristic of Alpine streams.

I have lively recollections of the Rawyl pass dating back to the days
of my boyhood. This pass is dear to me also as having served as an
introduction to my young friend, Arnold Lunn. When he battled with the
pass, on ski, he was probably little older than myself when I first
fought my way through it on foot.

I was following the range in its length in the early, old-fashioned
style, purposing to make my way from Sion, on the Rhône, to Grindelwald,
by dipping in and out of the valleys; namely, first to Lenk across the
Rawyl, then to Adelboden, thence to Kandersteg, then to Trachsellauenen,
in the Lauterbrunnen valley, hence to Grindelwald, over the little
Scheidegg--a regular switchback railway.

My walk over the Rawyl was marked by an episode. It was late in the
season--late in the sense of the word in those days, when there was no
winter season to upset people’s ideas. I reached at night the Châlet
d’Armillon, by hook or by crook, along the precipitous Kaendle, and
crossing mountain torrents as casually as a squirrel would swing from
tree to tree, for those were the days of my _Sturm und Drang Periode_ as
a mountaineer.

Nevertheless, when the Armillon shepherds pointed out to me the heights
of the pass shining pink in the sunset with a fresh snow edging, my
resolution wavered for an instant. On I went, little dreaming that thirty
years later I should despise being seen here at all, except in winter and
on ski.

The job proved a serious one. Heavy snow lay over the marshes and
rivulets of the Plan des Roses. The mule track was buried under
wind-blown wreaths. The moon rose and illuminated a desolate landscape.
A little rain, then snow, began to fall, obliterating the moonbeams and
my own footprints behind me. Floundering about, I broke through the thin
ice that lay over the patches of water imprisoned under the snow. Still I
ploughed my way forward.

Then, probably in the nick of time for my own safety (else I might have
spent the night up there, being still young enough to show myself, in
the circumstances, obstinate unto folly), a guardian angel, whose
assistance I certainly did not deserve, slily detached my brandy flask
from around my shoulders and dropped it well out of my reach. When I
discovered the trick, I took the hint and retraced my footsteps to the
shepherds’ huts at Armillon.

I believe they were more pleased than surprised. They sat down round
the hearth, an open fireplace, with embers lying about on the ground.
They handed to me a bowl of milk, a lump of cheese, a piece of rye bread
as hard as a brick, and gave me a bit of goat’s liver that was stewing
in the pan in its own broth. They said their prayers aloud, standing
reverently in the firelight; then the goats’ skins were laid out flat on
the ground. We lay on them all in a heap together, with our feet turned
towards the fire. The last man threw the last chips upon it, pulled warm
sheeps’ skins over us, and laid himself down beside us.

The moon, high up in the sky by this time, shone placidly upon the
pastoral scene. The air got sharper and more chilly. When we rose at dawn
every blade of grass sparkled with frost.

I set out again up the pass in brilliant sunshine. My footprints were
still here and there faintly visible. When they came to an end I made for
the cross, marking the site of a rough stone refuge, then under snow.
From here some faint footprints again became visible, turning down the
gorge to the north. I made up my mind to follow them, for those who had
made them were certainly moving in the right direction. After a while
I saw a stick standing out of the snow. The footprints did not seem
to continue beyond. On approaching, I found myself in the presence of
the dead body of a mountaineer. Rumour will have it--for the scene of
this mishap was visited shortly after, to lift the body--that I leaped
aside at the sight, leaving marks on the snow which, graphologically
interpreted, were seen to signify my dismay.

It was the first time that I had before my eyes an instance of death
through exposure in the mountains.

On reaching the Iffigen Alp I reported the matter to the local
authorities. From later information it came to my knowledge that there
were two victims, the body of the second being covered up by the snow.

My other connection with the Rawyl pass is less gloomy, since I owe to
the eccentricities of that pass one of my best young friends in England.

I was, a few years ago, standing on the platform of the railway station
at Gstaad, when an English vicar, whom I took pleasure in instructing
in ski, brought me a copy of the _Daily Mail_, in which a whole column
was literally flaming with the exploits of two English runners who
had crossed the Rawyl a few days before. That sort of description we
generally call “Journalese,” and let it pass without correction. It would
be an ungracious act on the part of climbers, who seek out deliberately
so many hardships, to wince at the touch of the voluntary kindness that
almost kills.

The true account of what then took place appeared in the columns of the
_Isis_, the Oxford undergraduates’ organ, on January 23, 1909. There
Arnold Lunn expresses himself as follows:--

“I spent five winters in climbing from various centres, before--in the
winter of 1907-8--I first tried cross-country work. With three ladies
and my brother, I visited the Great St. Bernard and spent New Year’s Eve
in the Hospice. Next day I was thoroughly walked out by two plucky Irish
ladies, and had just enough energy left to reach Montana on the following
afternoon. I had previously arranged with a friend to cross the mountains
to Villars, a four-day trip, but on arriving found that he was unable to
go.

“I was introduced to Mr. W., who had only been on ski three afternoons,
but volunteered to come. We left next morning at 4 a.m., climbed for
eight hours up to the glacier of the Plaine Morte, and then separated.
Mr. W. went on to the hut and I climbed the Wildstrubel alone, from the
summit of which I saw a beautiful sunset. The solitary trudge back over
the glacier at night thoroughly exhausted me, and I narrowly escaped
frost-bite in one of my feet. At Lenk that night, 6,000 feet lower
down, they had 40 degrees of frost, and the cold in the hut was almost
unbearable. We did manage to get a fire alight, which proved a doubtful
blessing, as it thawed the snow in the top bunk, forming a lake which
trickled down on our faces during the night in intermittent showers. The
next morning our blankets were frozen as stiff as boards. Even the iron
stove was sticky with frost.

[Illustration: DESCENT INTO THE TELLITHAL, LOETSCHENTHAL.

To face p. 70.]

“Our natural course led over the Wildhorn, a delightful ski-run, but
though Mr. W. throughout displayed wonderful pluck and perseverance, his
limited experience prevented our tackling the long but safe Wildhorn. So
we took a short and dangerous cut down to Lenk, following a track which
crossed several avalanche runs. We raced the darkness through a long
hour of unpleasant suspense, and won our race by a head, getting off the
cliff as the last rays of light disappeared. A night on the Rawyl would
probably have ended disastrously.

“The remaining two days of the expedition were comparatively uneventful,
but we were dogged by an avenging Providence. A telegram miscarried,
and a search party was organised to hunt for our remains. The guests at
Montana spent a very pleasant day with ordnance maps in attempting to
locate the position of our corpses, and were not a little disappointed
when they learnt that the search party had found nothing but our tracks.
The net result of the expedition was a bill for £20 for search parties,
plus hospital expenses, as one of the guides had been frost-bitten.”

Arnold Lunn’s performance in bringing down safely to Lenk a companion
encumbered with ski in places fit for the use of climbing-irons only,
at that time of year, was conclusive as a proof of his sportsmanlike
qualities, as it was a bold and unexpected line to take. For that
reason I found it necessary to reflect upon his daring in the _Gazette
de Lausanne_, which had quoted the English press, lest it should
unwittingly lead my young countrymen into dangerous undertakings. Arnold
Lunn and myself made friends over the correspondence which ensued between
us. A better companion and a fairer knight to joust with in Alpine
tourney it would be, I believe, difficult to meet.

Now, it might be well to return to the Plan des Roses, whence, still
north-east, and then upwards on the Rohrbachstein glacier to the
Rohrbachhaus, whose roof was plainly visible at sunset, we strolled
peacefully and unconcernedly along.

In connection with the Rohrbachhaus, the brothers Marti, for the second
time, had an encounter with the Bernese police courts on my account. It
was my evil influence that brought them to that comfortable but closed
house. I need not say that I carefully kept out of the mischief that was
brewing by lingering behind to admire the view by moonlight.

With an ice-axe they dealt a well-directed blow upon the lock. Before
this “Open Sesame” the door gave way. We gained admittance to a kitchen,
well stocked with fire-wood; a dining-room, with preserves, tinned
victuals, and bottles of wine in the cupboards; a vast bedroom, furnished
with couches, mattresses, sheets, blankets, eiderdown quilts! Quite an
Eldorado, but, for my young friends, another step on the downward path to
the prisoners’ dock!

The police of Berne had a watchful eye on the Rohrbachhaus. Though I did
promptly send the culprits to make their report in the proper quarter,
to ask for the bill and pay for the damage done (which precluded any
civil action being brought against me), the Court at Blankenburg tried
them for house-breaking on the Procurator’s charge. But this business
was happily purely formal, as the _bona-fides_ of the house-breakers was
not questioned. The offenders were spoken free, on condition that they
paid the costs of the official prosecution. This part of the bargain
was passed on to me to keep, which I did cheerfully. Indeed, the whole
transaction appealed to my sense of right in the administration of
law. There was no doubt in my mind that we had broken into a private
establishment without leave, and even without actual necessity. The
establishment was, of course, there for the use of such as ourselves,
even without consent, on an emergency. But the weather was good, the
night still and clear, our health excellent, and there was an open refuge
within short ski-ing distance. It is true that on foot we might have been
totally unable to reach it.

Those who do not wish to run the risk attending the forcible bursting of
locks in order to get shelter at the first hut had better move on, in the
quiet of night and with an easy conscience, to the open hut, which stands
a little further on, and reach it by lantern light. They may, however,
make previously an appointment with the caretaker at Lenk. He will then
come up, weather permitting, and open the Rohrbachhaus.

I need not dwell on the pleasant night we spent in the beds of the
Rohrbachhaus. Stolen joys are sweet, and even may, as in our case,
be well deserved, or at least well earned--a way of putting it which
leaves morals uninjured. Our first day had been heavy, but had afforded
two magnificent runs on glaciers and on slopes abutting to passes, each
covering about four miles exclusive of curves, which, of course, being
purely voluntary as to their number and scope, cannot be calculated.

Ski-running parties spending a night in one or the other of the two
Wildstrubel huts will find themselves on the next day surrounded by as
fine and as varied a country as they may wish for. Whatever line they
choose, there is but one that should absolutely be avoided. This, they
know already, is the Rawyl pass, whether winter tourists wish to go
north to Lenk or south to Sion. The outlet of the pass to the north is
best described as a most precipitous and ice-bound region. The southward
descent is dangerous quite as much, owing to its great complication
amid rock, ravine, forest, and watercourse. Runners should divert their
ambitions well away from those gorges. The best way to Montana and
Vermala lies over the Glacier de la Plaine Morte, and thence to the south.

Runners proceeding from the huts and wishing to follow in our footsteps,
in order to reach the Lämmern glacier and the Wildstrubel, will run
down the slopes leading to the Glacier de la Plaine Morte (map, sheet
473). They will glance at the Raezli glacier tumbling down to the
north-west, between the Gletschhorn and the Wildstrubel (west-end
summit). Hence they will steer a straight course to the east, along
the centre line of the Glacier de la Plaine Morte, and then turn to
the north-east towards the Lämmernjoch, a pass to the east of the
Weststrubel, on a ridge, which is steepish to reach, though usually well
covered with snow. From that point to the top of the Weststrubel there
is an additional rise of about 120 metres, say 400 feet. The view from
this Strubel is worth the additional labour, and it also gives one the
satisfaction of having reached the last of the highest points on the
Diablerets-Wildhorn-Wildstrubel route. The height of the Diablerets is
3,222, of the Wildhorn 3,264, and of the Wildstrubel west 3,251 metres.
But this satisfaction, like that which may have been got from ascending
the Diablerets and the Wildhorn, may, in point of time, be too dearly
bought.

It is quite sufficient to direct one’s course straight from the
Lämmernjoch on to the higher reaches of the Lämmerngletscher, which open
up beyond the Lämmernjoch to the north.

Runners should not plunge full east straight down the glacier. Such a
course would be attended with much danger, as a line of crevasses runs
across the glacier roughly from south to north. A careful runner will map
out for himself a “circumferential” route, which will bring him round
that dangerous part, by descending the slopes of the glacier which are
beyond that spot to the north. Then, by turning to the east, one enters
the lower reaches of the ice, when one faces the extensive building of
the Wildstrubel Hotel on the Gemmi pass, about 3 miles ahead. The best
way off the glacier on to the Lämmernalp is on the north side of the
gorge, in which the glacier tails off, though I found it quite convenient
to reach the Lämmernboden (see map) by means of the slopes which run down
to it on the southern side of the stream.

Our route leaves completely out of account the Gross-strubel (3,253
metres), which rises above Adelboden and the Engstligenalp. This summit
does not belong to the traverse I am now describing. There are quite
distinct expeditions to be made to either or both Strubels from Adelboden
or Kandersteg. If from Kandersteg, one should go and spend the night at
the Schwarenbach Hotel, on the Gemmi road, go up the way we have just
described for the descent, and return _viâ_ Ueschinenthal. The Kandersteg
guides know all about this run, which is much to be recommended to the
expert.

There are three long, flat strips on the run from the Wildstrubel huts to
the Schwarenbach Hotel _viâ_ Gemmi. The first is the Glacier de la Plaine
Morte (about 3 miles), the second the Lämmernboden (about a mile), the
third the Daubensee (about a mile).

The run from the Daubensee to Kandersteg requires no particular notice.
It begins at the spot where the Lämmernboden turns to the north, within
800 yards or so of the Wildstrubel Hotel on the Gemmi pass. The run on
the Daubensee, then to the Schwarenbach Hotel (one should not pass to the
right, east of the summer road) affords excellent ski-ing. Then, on the
rush down to the Spitalmatten, with the Balmhorn and the Altels towering
to one’s right, will be met some of the best ground of the whole trip,
the slopes being throughout beautifully exposed to the north. The gorges
to the east should on no account be entered. The course runs straight
north on the west side of the valley, till the upper bends of the summer
road are met on the shoulder which drops down to Inner Kandersteg, at the
entrance of the Gasternthal. The slopes to the west of the woods on the
shoulder are periodically swept by avalanches. Look carefully whether the
fragments lie on the ground, and whether the rocks above, whence they
start, are bare of snow. If so, you may proceed among the fragments. If
otherwise, take to the road and walk.

The whole distance travelled over during this expedition, starting from
Gsteig, is, measured on the map, about 40 miles to Kandersteg. We had
with us ropes and axes, but never used them. In point of fact, I should
consider that expeditions upon which a use is foreseen for the axe and
the rope are not, strictly speaking, ski-ing expeditions. Ski-ing, by
definition, excludes the use of rope and axe, though one should be
provided with them when having reason to fear unforeseen contingencies.

The levels are as follow:--

    At Gsteig: 1,192 metres (3,937 feet).

    On the Zan Fleuron glacier: 2,866 metres, being a rise of 1,674
    metres.

    On the Sanetsch pass: 2,221 metres, being a fall of 645 metres.

    On the Wildhorn glacier: 3,172 metres, being a rise of 951
    metres.

    On the Rawyl pass: 2,400 metres, being a drop of 772 metres.

    On the Lämmernjoch: 3,132 metres, being a rise of 732 metres.

    On the Gemmi pass: 2,214 metres, being a drop of 918 metres.

    At Kandersteg: 1,169 metres, being a drop of 1,045 metres.

From this table of levels, the general public, if there is any in
mountaineering topics, may draw a conclusion and a moral.

Have you ever looked at a model relief map of the Alps? As one of the
general public, you may not be aware that the relief is artificially
forced. It is intended to amaze by the steepness of the declivities and
the terribly sharp angles at which the ridges of the peaks meet in the
air and terminate into a threatening point.

The designers of those otherwise beautiful and attractive models wish to
heighten the impression which you are accustomed to receive when you look
up to the Alpine peaks from some point below. The laws of perspective
bring then those peaks nearer the perpendicular. By an optical delusion,
which is full of scenic effect, they tower aloft. The designers of Alpine
models run after poetical and picturesque effects. They very naturally do
not wish to show you in plaster Alps far less formidable than those which
agreeably overawe you in nature. They add from 10 to 20 per cent. to the
angles of declivity, deepen the valleys and pull out the mountain tops
like putty. They thus show you the Alps in your own natural perspective,
as a painter does on his canvas. But the whole thing is fallacious.

I should feel called upon to condemn the process as a downright black
lie if there was not enough snow on those models to paint the lie white.
Look at the Matterhorn from Zermatt and then look at one of those
paper-weight models in stone which are sold for a few francs in the local
bazaars and which are cut according to scale. You will be surprised to
see how really flat the Matterhorn is. I advise every one who intends to
climb it to first make a careful study of a paper-weight model. It is
most reassuring.

Now this is exactly what an Alpine ski-runner does or should do.

There is in the vestibule of the University buildings at Geneva, on the
first floor, a magnificent plaster model of Switzerland, true to scale.
Each time I cast my eyes upon this model I more fully realise how exactly
the author’s execution of the relief, based on science, corresponds with
the runner’s conception, based on experience. In its own unvarnished
language, the model says: “By me know the Alps, and by them know thyself
and be modest, thou hast not done so much after all.”

So the general public may now understand why the runner sees the Alpine
world in his own perspective. The real reliefs are printed on his mind.
A summer tourist, who instead of fitting foot-rules to his feet, pegs or
stumps along, can with difficulty enter into the runner’s notion.

Orographic conformation and questions of exposure are ski-running
matters. The runner studies the _relievo_ in the light of two or three
truisms resting on experience, which are as conditions determining the
rational use of ski and assuring the pleasure of the runner.

1. The runner aims at rising rapidly, because he cannot draw from his ski
a full measure of pleasure except from the moment when the ski cease to
be the means of carrying his weight uphill, and become merely a means of
velocity.

2. While rising as abruptly as he possibly can, the runner seeks out--for
this tiresome operation is seldom avoidable--the declivities whose
exposure marks them out as unsuitable for a good run down. No wonder.
It is not to his interest to throw away, as it were, good slopes by
employing them for work uphill. Now, steepnesses turned to the south,
south-west, and west, afford poor running, viewed, of course, in their
generality.

Here meteorology--or, in plain English, weather--is more important than
geography, because warm winds, whether they blow soft or wild, beat upon
those faces. When not actually dangerous, such defective slopes are
convenient for rising to the high levels. The runner who knows how to
take advantage both of meteorology and orography shows himself possessed
of an advanced knowledge of his craft.

3. The best running hills are those whose gentler slopes are exposed
north and east. The winds from those quarters are not warm winds, though
they too have their own way of spoiling the snow. At any rate, the
sun--which has even in winter powers for mischief--is too low on the
southern horizon to interfere with the powdery condition of snow facing
north. But there is not much gained in mapping out one’s tour in the
manner indicated if one is landed for the descent on abrupt, though
northern or eastern, slopes.

[Illustration: ON THE TOP OF THE FINSTERAARHORN.

To face p. 80.]

So now draw your moral and conclusion. Will it not be that you should
walk round and round a large relief model of the Alps when planning
your winter excursions? This you could easily do if some kind patron
of Alpinism would provide you in London with a copy, cast in metal for
durability, of the Geneva plaster relief.

Would the reader like to know, after this long lecture, how I take
the refreshment, and smoke the pipe--in my case it has always been a
cigar--which I should like to offer him now? He is welcome to my den.

I scoop out the snow, in the manner of dogs, to the depth of 2 feet, or
thereabouts. I lay my ski across the cavity thus formed. Pressed close
together, they roof in about one-third of the opening. I put my feet in
the hole, wrap them up in my empty rucksack, bend my knees and sit on the
ski. Before me, on the snow shovelled up with my hands in the shape of a
tray, I display the contents of my larder. Then I plant my sticks behind
me, one supporting each shoulder. Thus, my armchair, dining-room, and
table are all ready. I wait upon myself, as is usual at lunch, and when
the time has come for the blissful smoke, I lazily stretch my legs across
the empty table and lean back, looking into immensity through the puffs.
When the time comes when I should like a nap, I find that the sticks at
my back invite me to recline by gradually giving way. I lay them flat on
the snow, spread my cloak over them and, thus comfortably padded, I pull
my cap over my eyes, and try hard to convince myself that it is a cold
midwinter day. The smoke ceases to rise, the cigar end drops and---- This
is all vanity no doubt, but is mine not better than that of many a wiser
man?

Old Egger at Kandersteg, who received me with a cheery handshake on
completion of the trip described in this chapter, had seen me start
about a year before on my traverse of the Bernese Oberland. He expressed
satisfaction at seeing me again, though with another companion, and said
he thought we had been rather long. But when I told him that another trip
had been thrown in, as well as my companion changed, he insinuated with
a smile of great intelligence that we had had time to grow very thirsty.
It was, he said, a grand thing for Kandersteg that it had been at the
beginning of the first trip and at the end of the second. So he would
drink our healths. And we honoured him likewise.

[Illustration]



CHAPTER IV

THE SKI-RUNNER OF VERMALA

    Vermala--The mysterious runner--The Plain of the
    Dead--Popular beliefs--The purification of the grazings--A
    haunted piece of rock--An awful noose is thrown over the
    country-side--Supernatural lights and events--The Babel of
    tongues--The Saillon and Brigue testimonies--The curé of Lens
    and his sundial--The people’s cure--The Strubel--_Chauffage
    central_--Did I meet the Ski-runner of Vermala?--My third
    ascent of the Wildstrubel--A night encampment on the
    glacier--Meditations on mountains, mountaineers, and the
    Swiss--How to make _café noir_--Where to sleep and when not
    to--Alpine refuges--The old huts and the new--The English
    Alpinists and the Swiss huts--The Britannia hut.


The sheet 482 of the topographical atlas of Switzerland assigns the name
of Vermala to the _mayens_ in Canton Valais, situated above Sierre, at an
altitude of 4,500 feet or thereabouts. Swiss _mayens_ are places where
grass is grown that can be mown and on which cattle is grazed in autumn.

About 600 feet higher there is in the forest a clearing, with a
south-west exposure, in which the Mont Blanc range, framed in fir-trees,
presents itself in the distance to the appreciative eye as a beautiful
background to a picture of loveliness. If the bareness of the map
is to be trusted, this spot was not yet inhabited in 1884 when the
topographical survey was made.

The map is right, and yet it is not quite right. There were at that time
no ordinary dwelling-houses in the clearing, but people of ordinary mind
held that the Ski-runner of Vermala, whose presence on the country-side
was at that time exactly known, had his home somewhere in those parts.

From afar curious people would point out a rocky platform planted with
beautiful, well-spaced firs amongst which it would be pleasant to bask
in the sun in winter. But others were rather taken up with the peculiar
apparitions which at night were seen there skimming the rocks in a
sinister play of light. The map marks the place with a broken line,
between Vermala and Marolire, right above Praz-Devant.

It was said that in earlier times the mowers piled up their hay at the
top of the clearing in one or two _mazots_, or rough barns, set on short
posts, four in number, planted in the ground and crowned with flat stone
disks. But that hay had an unwelcome way of catching fire, consuming the
_mazots_ as well. Nothing was left but the stones. So the peasantry gave
up this unlucky storage ground.

At present no other mystery hovers about this spot than that which these
recollections call back to mind. The Forest Hotel occupies the site.
The sun holds divided sway in summer with the coolness of the woods, in
winter with King Frost. Here conventional tourists embrace at a glance
the most marvellous piece of Alpine scenery--from Monte Leone and beyond,
to Mont Blanc--that human eye can long for, such, that had Byron known
of it, he would have sent his world-sick Manfred to contemplate it from
Vermala.

The sweetness of this name would have rung as true to the poet’s ear as,
in the Italo-Celtic tongue, it rings to the ear of the rough mountaineer.
Would you not, for a while, when reading on the map names of such
romantic harmony, forget that they are mere geographical terms? Let us
personify those place names. Do not Vermala and Marolire spell out as
tunefully as the classically tender and melodious Daphnis and Chloe?

But then there might be a risk of forgetting that there is not a
halfpenny worth of love in this story. It is a homespun yarn, woven by
rustics in ignorance and fear, and would fall very flat on the ears
of civilised mankind, but for the curiosity roused by that consummate
sportsman whose humours shine through the woof of the story.

Whence did he come? Who was he? Nobody ever knew.

He had already disappeared from the country when a more enlightened
generation ceased to look upon him as a true ghost. There arose a class
of minds which ran to the opposite extreme and held him to be a superman
of the morrow. In the end he was described as the Ski-runner of Vermala,
when some acquaintance with the new implements called back popular
imagination within the bounds of reason. Then the glamour that had
gathered around his memory at last faded away.

The terraced plain of Crans on which there is now a golf course was not
then much frequented. The whole district was held to be inhospitable.
The Wildstrubel mountain group, which fills up all the space between
the Rawyl and Gemmi passes, bore a redoubtable reputation. It was still
more feared for the Plaine-Morte and the glacier of the same name, which
spread as a counterpane over his feet. Both the plaine and the glacier
were reputed abodes of the souls of the dead. Poor souls perishing with
cold in the cracks! Dante’s idea of an ice circle in hell harks back
to the rustic belief that souls serve their term of purgatory on the
Plaine-Morte and come down on certain sacramental nights to visit the
living and receive additional punishment from the contemplation of the
evil deeds they have left behind them to work themselves out.

In summer, the Valaisan peasant would not venture upon the Plain of the
Dead, had he not first sought the protection of the Holy Virgin and
saints. In winter he doubts not that the Plain of the Dead is reserved
for the evil ones by the holy Powers that be. As soon as the first winter
snow turns to white the brown, sunburnt slopes of the upper grazings,
these are laid under the ban by the piety of the villagers, if not by the
Church.

Who knows, say the vintners of Sierre, what is going on there? Assuredly,
nothing of worth, while the sun draws its daily course slowly on the
horizon from the Equinox of autumn to that of spring. Thus an alarming
scientific fact has become a nursery ground for fond popular beliefs.

We should easily sympathise with the credulity of those big children
if we would but imagine our own state of mind, did we believe we had
positive reason to fear lest the sun which had ripened the last harvest
might not return in spring to ripen the next, after we had exhausted
the garnered crops of the former year. And in what mood would we see
the shades of night enfolding us this evening, if we did not rest more
confidently in the hope of dawn than in the arms of sleep?

It is under the influence of motives of that kind that the inhabitants
of the populous villages thrown as a belt round the plateau of Crans
Mollens, Randogne, Montana, Chermignon, Lens, and Icogne--were quite
prepared to go into the forest to pick up their allotment of fire-wood,
and even to pilfer that of their neighbour. But, so long as their herds
and flocks--when the sun rises again full east and sets again full west,
which is the signal for the raising of the ban--have not been solemnly
escorted to the grazings by the priest with holy water and sprinkler,
they will not be seen ascending to the beats whence they retreated in the
autumn. And if any do visit those desecrated spots before they have again
been hallowed, even the boldest miscreants undertake the venture with a
sense of insecurity, knowing full well that, for the pure-minded, they
are committing sheer blasphemy.

The God of winter is still a God for heathens in the eyes of those
people. Nor should this call forth any astonishment. “How beautiful upon
the mountains are the feet of him that bringeth good tidings.” If so, how
much more awful than elsewhere must appear there those of the arch-fiend!
He alone is of a nature sufficiently proof to fire to make his home in
ice with impunity. His followers alone are sufficiently witched to share
in his privilege.

Therefore, when the rumour was spread that a supernatural form haunted
the Vermala woods, it needed but little comment before it gained
credence. Everybody was pretty clear in his own mind as to what kind of
person he must be, and none needed to question others to know that they
thought exactly the same thing.

As might be expected, poachers, chamois hunters, and wood-cutters, people
with uneasy consciences--because they steal wood or game, and because
their occupation makes them particularly liable to mistrust each other
and to meditate on the Evil One--were among the first to believe a story
so much in keeping with the trend of their own thoughts. They could even
bear witness to its truth.

They had uplifted their eyes, at night, upon a shade so pellucid that the
moonbeams shone through it. The shade stole away among the trees like the
wind, with a slight rustling of the snow. Then, in a hollow lane leading
from the Mayens de Lens towards Chermignon, they had come across strange
marks which were not those of game, such as hares, foxes, or badgers.
They were not either the marks of any hoofed animal, whether it be a
four-footed beast or even the dreaded biped. Those marks soon seemed to
join together into tracks that flung themselves like huge ribbons all
over the country-side. But, of all those who would, none was able to
follow them out. Never had impressions like these been seen on the snow,
of which it was impossible to say whether the being who made them walked
backwards or forwards. Some said he was a creature mounted on a wheel or
riding on two. Others said he was a serpent crawling on his belly, so
unbroken was the track and so much did it keep winding about.

However much it seemed to roll away in every direction and to stop
nowhere, a few bold spirits determined to follow its course. They
forthwith found themselves plunging and diving in such deep snow that,
breathless and shivering, they gave up the chase, feeling numb at heart.

From that moment the public mind was made up. No creature in mortal
shape, no flesh could ever have marked the face of the snow with this
labyrinthine coil. To wind up this clue of thread one must either fly
like a bird, or blow like the wind, or be favoured with the malediction
of God. This last explanation being of all the most clear, and the most
creditable to the piety of the largest commune in the Canton du Valais,
it was accepted by the municipal council and the clergy.

In the spring--the next to the great disturbance--the melting snow
blotted out the dreadful spoor, the alarm it had caused and, of course,
the Runner, for want of his element.

As soon as they dared, people hurried up to the Vermala rock. There
they found the remains of a new and unexpected kind of habitation.
The drooping branches of a mighty fir appeared to have been pinned to
the ground by frost, consequent upon the piling of snow upon their
extremities. Then snow had been piled up higher and higher around the
tree, embedding other branches as it rose, which were cut away from
the trunk, except at the top, where they stretched out in the form of
a snow-covered dome. There had thus arisen a pyramid-shaped dwelling
enclosed in walls of ice, for the snow had clearly been brought to
transparency by the application of heat from within. And thus was
explained that wonderful effluvium of light, the shimmer of which looked
so sinister from afar. It is even said that some children picked among
the tufts of green grass which here and there began to grow about the
floor of the abandoned hut, pieces of a yellow amber-like substance which
shot forth sparks bathed in a soft purple radiance, when seen by them in
the darkness of their own homes.

No wonder that people spoke of Vermala in fearsome strains! What a pity
the most beautiful spot in the country was haunted!

In the ensuing winters, things went from bad to worse. People ceased
visiting the plateau de Crans for pleasure. Do you fancy, they said, that
strangers henceforth will ever set foot upon this ground, unless it be
for their sins?

[Illustration: ABOVE RIED, LOETSCHENTHAL.

To face p. 90.]

So much tribulation turned the feebler heads. Folk no longer understood
each other aright. They got confused over names. Those who called La
Zaat by its name were rebuked by those who called it La Chaux Sei, and
those parties both fell out with the supporters of the name Bellalui. No
one was quite clear about the identity of Petit Mont Tubang and Grand
Mont Tubang. They were in a mist as to Petit Mont Bonvin and Grand
Mont Bonvin. Everybody confused one and all of these with the Tonio de
Merdasson. In short, the mind of the country-side was muddled, now that
all eyes saw double when they looked in the direction of Vermala.

Old men, however, stiffened their backs and spoke in firm voices above
the new Babel of tongues. They said it had always been known before their
time and would ever hereafter be manifest, that the crest that is visible
from Lens is the brow of Bellalui, and they clinched the matter with the
reminder that when Bagnoud the mayor built his new house, he called it
Bellalui after the mountain.

As it happens, it was at Lens that the meteoric personage once more
called attention to himself.

Truth to say, though there was no one who did not expect his return,
there was nevertheless a general shudder when Jean Perrex who had gone to
Saillon, brought back the news that “he” was known to have brought out
of the stable the horse which had lately been bought with a new cart,
to show visitors over the country. “He” had put the horse to the cart
without collar, traces, or bridle. Without whip or ribbons, he had driven
to St. Pierre de Clages. He had tied the horse to the church door. Then
he had sat down on the grass at the foot of the Norman tower, between
the beehives of the curé and the wasps’ nest that is there sunk in the
soil. Nobody could say how and when they had seen him. It would have
been useless to ask what he was like. But it could not but be he, since
the abandoned horse and cart had been impounded, and the church was now
sinking more rapidly than heretofore.

The most convincing testimony, however, was that of Claudine Rey. Her
brother was in the habit of walking out with a girl who had a situation
in a hotel in Brigue. One night he had clambered up the wall to the
terrace, when the moon suddenly grinned through the clouds. Then, instead
of the girl he was to meet, whom should he see there to his right in the
arbour but “him” in the shape of a dwarfish, wizened wiseacre, clutching
in his right hand a death’s head, and with the fingers of his left
running rapidly along the lines of a book of charms!

When, on St. Martin’s eve, this account was given to the worthy curé of
Lens, who had gathered about his hearth some of his parishioners to crack
in goodly company the arolla nuts roasting in the ashes, the dear old man
shook his head; his mind was running on the words “Get thee behind me,
Satan.”

Then a gentle scratching was heard on the panes of the closed window. The
gathering looked that way and most turned pale. The first snow of the
coming winter was swirling and whirling against the glass, borne on the
soughing wind. And the bluish purple light poured forth from the wells of
memory into the sockets of their eyes.

The curé came out with his guests on his way to trim the church lamp. A
thin layer of snow covered the village lanes. He cast about him furtive
and mistrustful glances. The pure white carpet was as yet unsullied by
footprints. Would “he” come?

Now this curé was a bit of an astronomer and a clerical moralist. He took
every care of the sundial of his church tower and had adorned it with an
inscription, in two expressive lines:--

    “Le temps passé n’est plus, l’éternité commence.
    Pensez-y donc, mortels, et pensez-y d’avance.”

That night he stared at it. The piece of advice was as good as ever.
But the involutions of the meridian mean curve, drawn with such careful
exactness on the stone and painted with such a light hand in the gayest
colours, struck him now as being the exact counterfeit of the ribbons on
the snow. Was he not breaking away from his ordinary piety in accusing
his church dial of taking after an un-Christian pattern? Surely, he
was wronging his dial. And the good curé kept poring over the unholy
coincidence, in so far at least as his mind could find time to spare for
meditation upon matters of paramount importance.

On the morning of St. Martin’s Day, the village showed itself to be all
in a tangle of loops. The diabolical spoor went in and out round every
house. The figure eight of the sundial had thrown off innumerable copies
upon the ground. The bells were tolled in vain. To no purpose did the
chimes peal. In vain did the most Christianlike of all suns that ever
poured its kindly light upon Lens, kindle the most reassuring smile upon
the wrinkled stones of the old tower. Not a single parishioner was bold
enough to spurn with his foot the cabalistic loops that embraced the
bosom of Mother Earth in their oppressive grasp. Not a child dare step
across them, not even to go and dip his fingers in the holy water at the
church door.

The most thunder-struck was the curé. A truculent pentagram in red chalk
was displayed all over his distich, surrounded by a double circle that
looked like a green fairies’ ring designed in moss upon the church tower.

As for the good men of the largest _commune_ in Canton Valais, they
bethought themselves of a day of fasting, the natural remedy for their
orthodox faith to point out. But there was a sign against that too. The
pewter pots and mugs of the village tavern appeared that morning all set
up in a row upon the railings of the churchyard gate, upside down. They
would have to be fetched and brought back to their proper place. The
hardiest commoners were summoned. They took heart from their thirst. The
general anxiety was soothed by such an obvious way of drowning care.

The frequenters of the forests, whether they were honest day-labourers
or night-birds, knew alone, beyond all doubt, the identity of the
mischief-maker. For them the prime mover in the big upset was none other
than the _Strubel_, about whom the village elders would still relate, in
the dim light of the evening fires, dreadful stories of an ancient stamp,
such as suggest themselves in the woods after dark, when the old tree
stumps are phosphorescent and glow-worms come out of their retreats to
set up their tiny lamps on the edges of the rocks.

Of all creatures born of local lore the Strubel was to them the nearest
in kin. When the north wind blows the Strubel races from crest to crest,
from the Gemmi to the Rawyl, and from the Rawyl to the Gemmi. Up there
his long white shock of hair streaming in the wind, and upturned by
the gale, spreads as a plume across the sky. The tumbling folds of his
beard fill the precipitous ravines. A hail of icicles rattles out of his
roaring breast. The rush of his huge body, soaring amid snowflakes and
in glacier dust, awakens the slumbering elements. At night the Aurora
Borealis gathers in streamers around his brow. At dawn and at sunset a
diadem of snow-crystals sets a many-coloured band about his hoary head.
He flies, and his feet do but tip the top of the peaks, and his stature
rises aloft in an immense upward sweep. In a blue-and-white transparency,
such as one sees in glacier crevasses and in pure ice water, the spring
of his sinuous limbs uplifts him to the confines of atmosphere and
firmament.

Such is the poetic picture of the dread being which the shepherds still
worship secretly, far down in the recesses of their primitive hearts. And
it is he whose image the antics of an enigmatic ski-runner revived for
several winters, as our story shows, under the low and gloomy roofs of
the white-hooded chalets.

There is an evening hour, when, after cooking and partaking of the day’s
last meal, the family gathers round the domestic hearth. Then the last
embers are fanned into a congenial flame. The dying light of the hearth
kindles anew the memories of a bygone age. Is the time near when these
will die out for want of fuel, as the flame of that hearth when the
family goes to bed? But why should we link any melancholy after-thought
with their well-earned rest? The thought of the reward granted to their
toil pleases one’s moral sense. Yet he who, like me in this chapter, uses
figments of the past as a page decoration, cannot but regret that such
picturesque elements should be gradually, but surely, vanishing for ever
from the face of our modern world.

The accepted idea is that things have progressed. So they have. A nice
hotel crowns the Vermala rock. At night real electric light of industrial
origin has taken the place of the fantastic rays of old. There is a
_chauffage central_, fed with colliers’ coal, and stoked by porters
who never could produce heat without matter and on terms that were not
commercial. Now people dance at Vermala, they have music at night, they
lounge about in smoking-jackets, and, when all is said and done, I am one
of those who most enjoy the new situation.

Did I ever meet the Ski-runner of Vermala? I should have a vague fear
of being caught prevaricating should I answer either Yes or No. Truth
sometimes dwells in half-way houses.

I was staying at Vermala last winter. The glacier de la Plaine-Morte, and
the ascent of the Wildstrubel, were objects which a young man of my party
kept steadily in view. It was his second winter holiday in Switzerland. A
much-travelled man, he had camped out in Persia, and endured thirst and
hunger in some of the most God-forsaken spots of the globe. How would
he fare in the Wildstrubel country? A man may have done very well in
sandy deserts and yet find himself out of his depth in snow. He had ski,
but would they do as much for him on these charmed snows as a camel’s
spreading feet had done in the desert?

So we set forth late one morning, after paying the usual penalty to the
photographic fiend. So great an honour conferred by a number of fair
women inspired us with proper pride. It was a most strengthening draught
to harden us against the trials that might be in store, but it also
worked so insidiously as to cause us to overlook the wise saw of the most
bourgeois of French fabulists: “Rien ne sert de courir, il faut partir
à temps,” which, topically rendered, might mean: “A man who has started
late need never hope to make up for lost time when going uphill on ski.”

The glacier de la Plaine-Morte lies at the altitude of 9,500 feet
approximately, measured at the brim, or lip, which we had to overcome
before we could dip down to the surface of that shroud of the dead. We
were setting out for it from the altitude of 5,500 feet, and allowing
for unavoidable “downs” that would break the upline, we had quite 5,000
feet of vertical displacement before us.

At whatever hour of the day we might have started we had that much to
ascend by sunset, if we wished to reach the Hildebrand hut in comfortable
circumstances, and so the true bourgeois spirit would have us do. Had
we been in military mood we should have borne with the dictates of
punctuality. Unfortunately we had received attentions that had raised
us beyond ourselves. We chose to trust our elation to bring us on over
the ground. But the 5,000 feet we had to ascend would not grow less. The
sun would not delay its progress. The ups and downs would not smooth
themselves out, however much gentle pressure our planks might bring to
bear upon them. The refreshing compliments we had stored up would not
check the flight of time.

All too early Night put in a punctual appearance upon the scene. She
found us, indeed, sailing gently along the shroud of the dead, but far
from the place prepared to shelter weary Alpinists.

We seemed to be in for the same adventure as a friend of mine who spent
the night wandering on the glacier during a wind and snowstorm. The
dead then might almost have been moving under their shrouds in every
direction. He did not lose his way, but was impressed by solitude and by
the weirdness of the shifting snows, let alone the fatigue that loosened
his limbs. He confided to me quite lately how odd he still thought it
that he did not go off his “chump.”

Anyhow, Mr. B., my present companion, decided that he saw something happy
in the situation, the beckoning finger of a friendly fate, that would
guard us while we spent that January night on the open glacier. The
air was still and clear. The cold might be keen, but not sharp, though
somebody since would absolutely have it that the thermometer marked that
night at Vermala 2.2 Fahrenheit.

As Mr. B. was anxious to view this escapade as a fit counterpart to
his nights in the Persian desert, the situation could be accepted with
equanimity. He was possessed of the true romantic spirit. Poor man! He
was afflicted with much thirst. I had, unfortunately, nothing better to
offer him than the carefully worded expression of my regret that he had
not been able to get himself fitted up, before he left Persia, with some
of the valuable water compartments of his Bactrian camels. So by ten
o’clock we laid ourselves demurely down on the angular glacier moraine,
pretty confident that long before the hour struck for the sun to rise, we
should be anxious to roll the shutters away from the Palace of Dawn.

On the contrary, when the sun stepped out of his car upon the glacier
and, at the most reasonable hour of eight on the clock, knocked us up, we
were still reclining in our _alcôve_. Shall I say that we found at our
bedside shaving water and a cup of tea? No, for this would be a really
undue elongation of truth. But we saw the “boots” busy lighting odd
scraps of paper and slipping them into our shoes to soften the frozen
leather. We thanked him and were about to tip him when he took fright
and flew away upon a sunbeam, leaving behind a pot of blacking and an
electric brush.

If I ever did set eyes upon the Ski-runner of Vermala, it was during that
night, nor could it have been in a better setting than on the Plain of
the shrouded Dead. In fact, in the supposition that he is a person that
never existed, the glacier de la Plaine-Morte would cry out for him.

Glaciers are legion, but there is only one glacier de la Plaine-Morte.

Measured with tape, its size, as our readers have learnt in a preceding
chapter, would come out at a few miles.

Sir Martin Conway, in his “Alps from End to End,” comes nearer to
conveying a correct impression, because he measures it by the standard of
his own mind.

Those who have in any weather entrusted themselves in winter to that ice
cup scooped out of the top of lofty Alpine battlements, may alone imagine
in its true character the Alpine world as it was in those dim and distant
days, when half Europe would have been too small to hold the glories of
the Plaine-Morte in its prehistoric stage of being.

Since last year (1911), a cable railway runs passengers up from Sierre
to Montana-Vermala. Some day, perhaps, the railway may be taken 5,000
feet higher. It would then pass the place where we spent the hours of
our mystic night, alternately watchful and asleep, taking in the immense
charm that flowed in upon us, and seeking in short terms of slumber rest
from our meditation.

[Illustration: WILDSTRUBEL AND PLAINE MORTE GLACIER.

To face p. 100.]

The _amateurs_ of mountain scenery whom the rail may bring up here
will not be so single-minded about it as we were. They will look for
something else to lie upon than a gritty stone bed. They will allow a
wooden barrier to intercept the pulsation of nature on its way to their
souls. They will not catch in full the gracious calls which pass in
the stillness between heaven and earth, and roll in harmoniously upon
the mind, as a sonorous shore echoes the beat of the waves. My young
companion, more restless because the situation was so overmasteringly
novel, looked around for distractions which I needed not. I have often
stood, or lain, like that, looking from the outside upon the play of life
in which I otherwise bear my faint part. I like to withdraw from the
stage of the company directed by Messrs. Time and Space in which we are,
with as much humbleness as the master dramatists could be with pride,
composers, actors, and managers of some small theatrical contribution. I
am then doubtful whether I feel some approach in me to the lotus eater’s
frame of mind, or whether I rejoice in the overflowing energy of the
superman.

There is a deep meaning in the Gospel passage that shows us the Son of
man being led upon a hill, and upon a temple pinnacle, that He may be
tempted by the sight of those aspects of the world which it was His
mission to forswear, combat and finally to overcome by the spirit and
succumb to in the flesh. It is on pinnacles such as these that we may
behold ourselves.

Let us see. Is he who learns his philosophy by conversation with the
mountains not at once a lotus eater and a superman? He acquires from them
a firm conviction that--

    “Il mondo va da sè.
    Le monde se fait lui-même;”

which apophthegm breathes the spirit of abdication and is a source of
weakness for him.

On the other hand, the conscious personal power by which he overcomes the
savage forces and the blind puttings-forth of might by Nature, does mark
him out as instancing in himself human courage, a well-created _physique_
and some superiority.

When his energy is excited, he caresses the illusion that he could
crush his fellow beings, if he thought it worth doing. But his dignity
forbids. His fellows need have no fear, for there is some taming effect
in his haughtiness. The loftiness of his spirit lames his hand for battle
against those in whom he hardly recognises his like.

He cannot take the affairs of men so seriously that he would whip up in
himself the ambition to take after Napoleon or Cæsar.

When he is in lotus-eating mood, the Rubicon is really too big a thing to
be crossed lightly.

When he is in his superman’s temper, the undertaking is indeed so small
that it is not worth while that such as he should be bothered with it.

The Swiss, as a people, have shown in a high degree that such is the
mental composition of a true mountain race. Left for six hundred years to
their unbroken line of development, they show in the successive layers
of the formation of their national mind the stages of the process.

They first won in the Alps, by arms, sufficient room for themselves, and
set round their borders a ring-fence of impassable pikes. Then, turning
to supermen, they fought the battles of others, for the sake of war,
despising power, and moving untempted in the domains of kings.

In the nineteenth century, the reflective mountain spirit gained hold
on them. They held war as an immoral pursuit and ceased from being
mercenaries. But their contemptuous loftiness remained. Without despising
their former glory they, as it were, drew into themselves and drew
themselves up at the same time.

They have become the typically lotus-eating neutral nation in Europe,
supermen still in a way and armed to the teeth, but with swords ever
sheathed and with bayonets ever resting in the scabbard.

In their national life the Swiss practice political self-education, and
would do so rather than seek the means of making their influence felt
among nations. The Swiss are but a small and insignificant nation, but
their history shows that, disillusioned of mere strength, they passed to
the consciousness of a moral identity.

They became self-centred, and liked to keep aloof from other people’s
affairs. They formed the conclusion that--

    “Le monde se fait lui-même.
    Il mondo va da sè;”

and, in the public life of Europe, assumed the part of spectators and
political moralists.

For Napoleon, a mere village or two were a sufficient stake for which to
set Europe ablaze. With material means, he built up a political society
that soon crumbled away. Had the French been by temperament lotus-eating
supermen, would they have followed him? They too would have answered him
with the words--

    “Le monde se fait lui-même.
    Il mondo va da sè.”

The victories of fourteen years could not make a Buonapartist Europe.

What subsists of the Superman’s adventure? It had been just as well
for him, had he stood on the edge of the glacier of the Plaine-Morte,
withstanding temptation, though he had thereby shorn Elba and St. Helena
of their title to fame.

The bent of the mountaineer’s mind is turned inwards, towards the
education of self. As a superman he pits himself against nature, to man
he is kind and just. He is the lotus-eater who would forget the things,
the seeking after which would turn him away from self tuition.

He is a kind of Marcus Aurelius who does the share allotted to him in the
common task, and then withdraws into his higher self, preserving a kindly
interest in those who have built up no such upper chambers.

That sort of man is not an adept at self-sacrifice, because sacrifice is
the opposite of education. If he entirely gave himself away, he would
have no inner garden left to cultivate, and in which to plant his own
vine and sit under his own fig-tree. But if you need not expect him to
die for you, or live for you, neither does he expect you to do the like
on his behalf. Mountaineers are known to help each other when their
lives are in danger in cases of Alpine peril. In self-love they practice
self-reliance. “Exercise _thyself_” would be their motto.

Why? because the mountaineer believes in his Creator and looks upon His
work as a good piece of work, the quality of which the creature has
to justify in itself. So in the end should the mountaineer perish at
the hands of the forces of Nature which he has, by right of spiritual
conquest, transformed into moral values for the world, with him it is a
case of _invicto animo vicit moles_.

While I was thus trimming the lamp of my thoughts Mr. B. contrived
sundry little amusements for himself. He brought out of his bag an
extremely smart dressing-gown and bedroom slippers. He arrayed himself
in the former and dressed his feet in the latter. Then he smoked the few
cigarettes he found in his pockets. Then we shared the frozen sandwiches
that were left over for our evening meal. When those occupations were
exhausted, it might almost be described as a fortunate factor in the
situation that his thirst would not depart from him. How to slake it
became the main concern that whiled away the long hours of the night for
the sleepless Londoner.

The problem was as follows: being given snow ad _infinitum_ and a very
fair quantity of ground coffee beans, how to produce a refreshing and
fortifying beverage whose supreme quality consists in being black, hot,
pure, and strong:--

    “Noir comme le diable,
    Chaud comme l’enfer,
    Pur comme un ange,
    Fort comme l’amour;”

but which, under the circumstances, would be valued principally for its
quantity.

The improvised cook looked about him for a coffee-pot. He found nothing
in his bag that would do. But there was in mine a small tin pot which
had resided there from time immemorial. It was somewhat dented with age,
and bore many signs of the hardness of its lot, though its office was
of a quite amiable description. It carried about my smoked glasses and
sundry silk veils. I liked to have these by me--though I personally never
use them--because they often came in conveniently to relieve from the
glare of the sun those tender-skinned representatives of the fair sex
who insist on not making sufficient preparations to go over glaciers.
The pot contained also some cotton wadding, tintacks, pins, and such
like necessaries of hut life. With regret I poured these forth upon a
dry patch of ground, and committed the pot to the mercies--whatever they
might be--of the would-be cook.

Some time later our camping ground was wrapped in a sheet of light. I
looked round. My friend had done wonders. He had scooped a nice square
hole in the snow and planted in it our lantern, in which he had stuck
and lit one of our tapers. The light from the taper had suddenly flashed
upon the scene through the transparent wall of snow. Then some of the
coffee was poured into my tin pot, and this was placed on the top of the
lantern and lumps of snow were heaped upon the coffee.

Then began the labours of Hercules. The snow in the pot melted very
properly, but that which walled in the stove would do likewise. It either
fell in and smothered the lantern below, or else fell from above and put
out the taper.

All night long the cunning of the young engineer was kept devising means
of meeting every fresh emergency. Anyhow, at every watch in the night I
was kept supplied with a few mouthfuls of hot coffee.

So well did this suffice that, on striking our tents at eight
o’clock--_façon de parler_, for we had between us but one dressing-gown
to take off before revealing to an astonished world the effectiveness of
our Burberrys--we gave no thought to the Rohrbachhaus, but made our way
straight to the Wildstrubel, between the Raezli and Lämmern glaciers.

Once more the popular notion that to allow one’s self to fall asleep
on an open glacier is to court an awakening in the other world, had
been effectually dispelled. Provided one is clad to perfection in
weather-proof material, with chamois leather underwear over the usual
woollen undergarments, one need have no fear as long as the air is still
and free from falling snow.

On the contrary, in a violent snowstorm and with a heavy wind, nothing
but an actual place of shelter can afford sufficient protection. For all
that some people will push their dread to the most ridiculous extremes.
I met, not very long ago, a young German, an otherwise doughty lad,
who, rather than spend the night in one of the extremely comfortable
Concordia huts on the Aletsch glacier, preferred, after coming up on ski
the whole way from the Loetschenthal, to reach Rieder Alp in an exhausted
condition, at much greater risk than if he had stopped on the way.

It is reported by de Saussure that the dread with which the men hired
by him in Chamounix to ascend Mont Blanc looked forward to the night
which must unavoidably be spent on the glacier des Bossons, was the main
difficulty he had to contend with in keeping up their _morale_. No sooner
had they reached the spot marked out for pitching the tents, than they
dug for themselves an underground recess and buried themselves therein,
as though they expected a hail of bullets to pepper them all night.
Yet, they had hardly been herded together for half an hour, when such
a terrible epidemic of heat broke out among the huddled pack that they
dribbled out one after another, saying they preferred a fair battle with
the elements to such a process of extinction.

The history of the construction of Alpine huts enables us to trace the
progress which public opinion has made since. The first huts were simply
caves, walled in on the open side with a rough stone dyke, and on the
floor of which was strewn some straw, while a few utensils and a stove
lay about, all higgledy-piggledy, with some logs of fir or pine wood.
They were dirty, damp dens.

Now, such ill-conditioned refuges have been given up as an absurd and
rudimentary conception of our forefathers. They sought a well hidden away
nook. We choose the most exposed spur of hill that is near our route. We
build on high, preferring places exposed to the full fury of the blast,
and we erect wooden houses that appear too fragile to resist the violent
onset of the storm fiends. But such refuges as these are dry and airy,
the snow has but little chance of choking them up. The light shining
through the windows when a party is gathered therein after dark, is as a
mast light on ships anchored at sea.

The stored-up wood keeps dry. The emergency provisions that a party may
leave for the next--a party perhaps less favoured--do not rot away. And
when the sun shining upon those lofty mansions lights up the yellow or
brown pine wood, a sense of near comfort and of coming security pervades
the weary traveller’s breast and warms the cockles of his heart.

This progress has to be paid for in the form of a light tax levied upon
the traveller to defray for the Swiss Alpine Club some portion of the
expense incurred in keeping the huts in order and regularly supplying
them with fire-wood. The original characteristic of the huts, which were
intended to be mere emergency refuges open gratis to all, has somewhat
suffered in this respect from the new policy. Visitors are now requested
in most of them, by an appropriate notice, to deposit their contribution
in a receptacle fastened to the wall. This may be the most convenient
way of collecting the money due. But it means that sums of money--not
inconsiderable in the opinion of any one badly in want--are left for
rather long periods in uninhabited premises which are far from being
inaccessible.

It has happened that cash-boxes have been rifled. A less objectionable
way of managing this little piece of business is surely within the
resources of civilisation. It is not justifiable that any other premium
than wholesome exercise and natural beauty, should be held up as an
inducement to make an excursion on the glaciers of Switzerland.

While here on the subject of huts, the awkward position which their great
multiplication of late years entailed upon the British clubs, may be
suitably laid before the reader. As the huts of the Swiss Alpine Club
became more and more frequented, questions of preferential rights of
admission came to the fore. It was obvious that non-Swiss clubs, able to
grant terms of reciprocal admission to the Swiss, must obtain for their
members, in the Swiss huts, preferential rights over Alpine clubs who
were so by genuine profession and yet had no local habitation in the Alps
or elsewhere in which they might hope to offer hospitality in their turn,
as an acknowledgement of hospitality received.

Consequently, when notices were put up in the Swiss Alpine Club huts,
which number now from seventy-five to eighty, showing what clubs enjoyed
a right of admission on the score of reciprocity, the absence of any
and every English club struck the eye. English visitors were then able
to realise that they had been drawing benefit from the hospitality
provided--for all and sundry, it is true--by a large body of private
persons in Switzerland. In spite of every desire to remedy this situation
by contributing to the expense of building and maintaining the Swiss
huts, English climbers could not obtain a definite _locus standi_, for
want of being able to come under a reciprocity clause. Even at present it
would be idle to hope that English clubs may be quoted by name, beside
the Swiss, French, German-Austrian, and Italian clubs. But the following
arrangement was come to, on the initiative of English climbers, and with
the concurrence of the Swiss Alpine Club:--

1. A committee was formed in London, of an administrative character, to
serve as a rallying point for Englishmen who might wish to enter one of
the sections of the Swiss Alpine Club. The members recruited in that
fashion for the Swiss club formed an association of British members of
the Swiss Alpine Club, which is recognised by the Swiss club, but has no
corporate existence within that club.

2. The new association, which now numbers little less than 400 members,
started a subscription with a view to providing the Swiss club with funds
sufficient for the building of a first-class hut on the Klein Allalin
Horn above Saas Fée, at the expense of £800. This hut was built by the
care, and will remain under the administration of the Geneva section of
the Swiss Alpine Club. It was completed and inaugurated this year (1912).

The Britannia hut deserves particular mention in these pages, because it
has been contributed to by the ski-ing clubs of Great Britain, on account
of the first-rate opportunities it offers for ski tours in the High Alps.
It occupies a central position in the Mischabel range which, from the top
of Monte Rosa to the glacier of Ried that rolls down from the Balfrin to
within 4 miles of St. Niklaus, is one of the finest ski-ing fields of
Switzerland.

[Illustration: The Strubel.]



CHAPTER V

THE BERNESE OBERLAND FROM END TO END

    The Oberland circuit--My appointment with Arnold
    Lunn--An Anglo-Swiss piece of work--An unbelieving
    public--Switzerland and Britain--Geographical--Practical--We
    start from Beatenberg--The Jungfrau ice-slabs--New
    Year’s Day at Kandersteg--In the Gasterenthal--On the
    Tschingelfirn--Foehn-effects on the Petersgrat--The Telli
    glacier--The Kippel bottle-race--A church door--Theodore
    Kalbermatten--The Loetschen pass--Burnt socks--Roped
    ski-ing--The Concordia breakfast-table--Why we did not ascend
    the Jungfrau--The Concordia huts--The Grünhornlücke--On snow
    “lips” and cornices--An afternoon snooze--The Finsteraarhorn
    hut--A guideless party--Ascent of the Finsteraarhorn--Our
    next pass--A stranded runner--The Grimsel--Home life at
    Guttannen--Our sleigh run to Meiringen--A comparison of winter
    and summer work--Memories and visions--Table of levels--How
    to form a caravan--The pay of the men--Side-slip and
    back-slip--Future railway facilities.


This the Oberland “circuit.” We left Beatenberg on December 31, 1908,
passed through Interlaken, went on to Kandersteg, crossed the Petersgrat
to the top of the Loetschenthal, traversed the Aletsch glacier between
the Jungfrau and the Concordia hut, ascended the Finsteraarhorn, reached
the Grimsel hospice, and came back to Interlaken and Beatenberg, where we
were again comfortably quartered on the night of January 8, 1909.

This traverse was made into an event and marks a date in the history of
Swiss mountaineering. The telegraph and news agencies announced it far
and wide. It was the object of press articles and flattering references
in most countries in which interest is taken in mountaineering feats. It
has been lectured on, and related in periodicals over and over again.

The reception given to a trip of this kind obeys the laws of pictorial
perspective. Maybe, however, shorn of the benevolent element so kindly
contributed by the public, our expedition is still worth describing in
its true relief, in the light of the impressions of the two explorers who
carried it out.

This expedition, the first of its length at such altitudes at that time
of the year, was an Anglo-Swiss piece of work. It was performed in
company with Arnold Lunn.

We met by appointment at Beatenberg, which his father was then opening
up for the first time as a winter station. Arnold Lunn is as keen a
mountaineer as was ever born under the skies of Britain. His poetic and
adventurous mind is endowed with an exceptional facility for imaging
forth in words Alpine scenery, and for communicating to others the
manly joy which overtakes him in such scenery. He has the soul of a
propagandist and missionary. He is a striking example of how, with
climbers, performance goes before propaganda, unless one would belong to
those who are deservedly marked out as hangers--on to the exploits of
others. There are only too many such loitering about the Alps nowadays.

[Illustration: KANDERSTEG--FINSTERAARHORN--GRIMSEL.

(Reproduction made with authorisation of the Swiss Topographic Service.
26.8.12.)

To face p. 114.]

Can there be a more noble spectacle than the sight of one, who having
met young with an extremely serious accident in climbing, which to all
appearance, and according to cool reason, should confine him to the part
of an armchair propagandist and pen-wielding missionary, yields again to
the irresistible call of the Alps, and ascends the Dent Blanche in spite
of the lameness consequent upon the accident in North Wales in which his
right leg was broken in two places, under such conditions that it has
continued ever since to be a source of daily suffering?

Last winter, on the Eiger, battling with a terrifying snow and wind
storm, my lame friend was three times thrown out of his steps. He had
with him Maurice Crettex, one of the most powerful rock and snow men, I
believe, of the present day among Swiss guides. The situation would have
been frantically impossible but for him. But what a picture! Two men,
side by side, one, all physical strength and professional devotion to
duty, the other, all spiritual energy and moral force.

It is particularly gratifying that a Swiss and an Englishman should have
been united in showing to ski-runners that the way across the Bernese
Oberland was open from end to end and that the most magnificent mountain
scenery that ever wasted its sweetness upon the desert air was awaiting
them. These were spectacles for which I was quite prepared, having
already moved, like many of my country men, amid the glories of High Alp
winter scenery, ever since some of the sections of the Swiss Alpine
Club (that of Geneva leading the way), had instituted for their members
and friends, the expeditions known under the name of _Grandes Courses
d’hiver_.

It is, however, one thing that the Swiss should favour such expeditions,
and quite another thing that strangers to Switzerland should entertain
the idea. I understand that when the first accounts of my winter ascents
of the Aiguille du Chardonnet and the Grand Combin were read, in London,
in the pages of the Alpine Ski Club Annual, there came upon the lips of
many competent readers a smile which partly betokened admiration--which
I certainly did not deserve--and, partly, incredulity--which I certainly
expected in some measure.

Even in Geneva I had at first some hesitation in making known my
Bagnes-Entremonts-Ferret circuit. When I did make up my mind to send an
extremely short and compendious notice to the _Journal de Genève_, the
editors let my scrap of paper lie six weeks before they printed it. It
was unkind of me to laugh in my sleeve while this long pause lasted. I
did not fare much better after my ascent of the Dent Blanche. I slipped
a word about it into a local but widely read halfpenny paper, to whose
information people “in the know” are wont not to attach much importance.
In fact, some busybodies had already forestalled my note with a few
warning lines to the effect that any attempt to cross in a consecutive
trip the Pennine Alps, in January, from Mont Blanc to the Simplon pass,
would be too hazardous to prove anything but fatal. And here was a
gentleman who not only had got from Bourg St. Pierre to Zermatt, but
asseverated he had ascended the Dent Blanche.

Some of my colleagues in the Geneva section, desirous of protecting
the good name of their club, and anxious to exonerate one of the older
and more respected members from any charge of senile self-complacency,
explained gravely that it was a printer’s mistake, and that surely I had
written Tête Blanche in my hastily scribbled manuscript note.

The reader must be told at this juncture that the Tête Blanche is an
insignificant little bump of snow on the Col d’Hérens, of which those
good colleagues of mine, with their knowledge of my climbing powers,
could well trust themselves to say that I might have reached its summit,
without putting too great a strain on my powers. Even now, another of
my young disciples, Marcel Kurz, whose circuits on ski in the Bernina
and Mischabel districts may be followed in two of the maps appended to
this volume, writes me that he is pleased to hear of its approaching
publication, because it may conduce to the enlightenment of disbelievers,
across isolated specimens of whom he still occasionally comes.

Arnold Lunn, too, has met with ultra-sceptical folks, and a boastful
trait has been read by some into his ardour.

For my part, I am content to look upon our mountaineering fellowship
as a pleasant little incident in the history of Anglo-Swiss relations.
These I much take to heart. There is every reason in the world wherefore
they should be frequent, numerous, and close. Sometimes, in the flush of
after-dinner speeches, I have spoken of the Swiss as the navigators of
the Alps and of the English as the mountaineers of the sea. There is some
similarity in the risks incurred.

It would be a truism--in fact the repetition of a truism--to say how
English climbers of the middle of the nineteenth century helped the Swiss
in introducing into mountaineering the wholesome element of risk. “On ne
fait pas d’omelettes sans casser des œufs.”

It should not be hidden from the present generation of English climbers,
however, that the example of their forerunners has perhaps been more
thoroughly taken to heart in Switzerland than among themselves. There is
hardly a family or friendly circle in Switzerland that does not count one
of its members in the ring of those whose life was sacrificed for love of
the Alps.

The motives for associating here Swiss and English in my mind are not
solely sporting. It has hitherto been little realised how much Swiss
neutrality and national integrity are one of the bulwarks of the freedom
of Britain’s movements in Europe.

Every effort is being made to join Switzerland more closely to the
economic system of central Europe. In a century in which economics are
considered to offer a more effective political weapon than the open use
of military force, the tightening of the ties of fellowship between two
nations, neither of which can possibly aim at political encroachments
upon the other, may usefully serve to counteract a less innocent set of
tendencies. What with military roads, tunnels, and railways, the Alpine
barrier between the Baltic and the Mediterranean is being worn very thin.

It needs, probably, no further insistence to show that sentimental
Anglo-Swiss relations may be attended by practical consequences of some
immediate utility. In this network of associations an important function
devolves upon winter mountaineering. The English have no sporting
winter. They have already, in large numbers, adopted the Swiss winter
as what they want to supply home deficiencies. May this continue and an
ever wider bridge of Swiss and British ski be thrown over the Channel.
That this book, among others, might serve this purpose was one of the
motives that impelled the writer when he put together, for publication in
England, such accounts as that which follows.

At first sight, the title I have given to this chapter may appear
exaggerated. But it will not bear out any such unfavourable construction,
if the reader will charitably recollect that he has already travelled
with me from the western extremity of the Bernese Alps, visiting from end
to end the Diablerets, Wildhorn, and Wildstrubel range, as a prelude to
this excursion beyond the Gemmi to the east.

Geographically and technically the euphemistic title of this chapter
is not without excuse. The Oberland is theoretically taken to include
not only a western, but also an eastern wing, on to the Galenstock and
Dammastock. Popularly, the name Oberland is understood to apply to the
great range which is cut off on the east by the Grimsel and Haslithal, on
the west by the Gemmi and Kanderthal. Classical literature agrees with
the popular definition, the main point about which is, for ski-runners,
that between those two depressions there is no pass that does not lead
across glaciers.

The Oberland shows, between its extreme points, two parallel rows of
peaks. The northern row overlooks the lakes of Thun and Brienz. The
southern row overlooks the valleys of Loetsch and of Goms (in French
Conches), leading up to the Furka pass. Of those parallel rows the
northernmost, facing somewhat to the west, comprises the Blümlisalp and
the Lauterbrunner Breithorn. The southernmost, drawing to the east,
culminates in the Bietschhorn and Aletschhorn, and includes the summits
which, under the names of Wannehorn, Galmihorn, &c., look down upon the
glaciers of Fiesch and Oberaar, while the northern row, curving round the
Lauterbrunnen Valley from the Breithorn, is crowned by that magnificent
cluster overlooking both Scheideggs: the Jungfrau, Mönch, Eiger,
Wetterhorn, &c., with the Schreckhorn and Finsteraarhorn somewhat in the
rear.

Between those two rows a high glacial basin takes the form of an
elongated trough. From distance to distance this trough shows transversal
lips (cross-bars or threshholds, if one so prefers to style them),
which are the upper Tschingel glacier with the Mutthorn hut (9,700
feet), the Loetschenlücke, with the Egon von Steiger hut (10,515 feet),
the Grünhornlücke, between the Jungfraufirn and the glacier of Fiesch
(10,840 feet), and at length the Oberaarjoch (10,800 feet), between
the Oberaarhorn to the north and the Oberaar-Rothhorn to the south.
One sees from the figures quoted that those glacier passes all reach
to an altitude exceeding 9,000 feet. The top of the arc--to speak like
Euclid--would pass over the Finsteraarhorn at an altitude of 14,035 feet.

This high level is, in the opinion of Sir Martin Conway, who followed
it in his journey through the Alps from end to end, the very finest
snow-field in the Alps. It passes at the head of the greatest ice
stream, and is sufficiently remote from the Italian border to escape
the unfavourable influence which the Rhaetic, Lepontine, and Pennine
faces of the Alps have to endure from the hot atmospheric currents and
inordinately violent action of the sun.

“Two things were necessary for the success of this trip,” says Arnold
Lunn in one of his printed accounts; “good weather and immunity from
accidents. We could reduce the chances of accidents to a minimum by a
careful scrutiny of our kit, and we could reasonably expect fair play
from the weather by judiciously choosing the moment to begin our attack,
though, of course, the weather is always the most fickle factor in
determining the success of an expedition.

“As regards kit, I carried two pairs of gloves, one made of reindeer skin
lined with sealskin, the other a thick pair of woollen gloves, a woollen
scarf, a silk scarf, and a woollen helmet. A spare suit of underclothing
and two pairs of stockings completed the list of extra clothing. I wore
laupar boots and goat’s-hair socks on my feet, with a pair of crampons in
my sack for rock and ice-climbing. And here, incidentally, let me remark
that the ordinary crampon-nails which are fixed into the sole of the boot
soon spoil laupars. The only practical kind are those which are sold in
summer to be strapped on under the boots.

“I think I have at last found the ideal ski-binding for mountain work. It
is made by a Geneva firm, and was given me by Professor Roget. It never
gave any trouble; it was strong and tough. It did not vary in tightness
with the temperature, and, most important of all, it could be put on and
taken off at a moment’s notice. This is really essential, as one may meet
with short stretches on which it pays to ‘take up one’s ski and walk.’

“I tried, for the first time, a pair of sealskins, and found them answer
admirably. They reduced the labour of climbing by 20 per cent., weighed
hardly anything, and could be taken on and off without any trouble. An
extra ski-tip, a pair of Canadian rackets, ‘climber’s guides,’ maps, &c.,
completed our kit.”

[Illustration: KANDER GLACIER.

To face p. 123.]

My intention was to use Kandersteg as a starting-point, to land on the
high level, at 9,000 feet, by means of the Kander glacier gradient,
to go down to Kippel, in the Loetschenthal, by the Petersgrat; to pass
through the Loetschenlücke, to drop thence into the basin formed by the
Aletsch _névés_ (the Jungfraufirn and Ewig Schneefeld of German maps);
to rise again to the Grünhornlücke, to skid down upon the _firn_ of the
Fiesch glacier, to overtop this network of ice-mountains by the ascent
of the Finsteraarhorn, to go round the Finsteraarhorn group on its south
side, to return to the north as far as the Oberaarjoch, to descend the
Oberaar glacier to the Grimsel hospice, to follow thence the posting
road and to enter Guttannen as knights-errant, mounted and spurred--that
is, in our case, on trusty ski and shod with nailed boots, the attire in
which we would leave Kandersteg.

Thanks to the absence of any unpleasant incident, thanks also to a
most obligingly long spell of unbroken weather, the precautions we had
taken enabled me and my companions to carry out this programme without
interruption and without inconvenience. The “stripling,” Mr. Arnold Lunn,
gave proof of remarkable staying powers. Though our Bernese porters
seemed at first to believe that they were being “let in” for harum-scarum
adventures, by which they discreetly hoped the party might be brought
to a standstill after a few hours’ march, before it could run its head,
beyond hope of escape, into the dangers of this raid, they laid no
visible claim to being wiser than ourselves. They proved themselves to be
good and reliable fellows to the end, and came out of their trials with
beaming countenances, grateful for the lessons they had received in High
Alp ski-running.

We got into training at Beatenberg, where a snowfall delayed our
start for three days, if three days spent on the running slopes above
Beatenberg may be looked upon as a delay. Then, one morning, the sun,
bursting through the snow clouds, showed us the great peaks of the
Oberland looking down on a scene newly painted white. Our hopes rose
high, and making our rucksacks proportionately heavy, we skied down to
Interlaken, losing a bottle of whisky on the way. Carefully laid on the
top of my pack, with its nozzle looking out upon the world, it flew out,
on Arnold’s calling a sudden halt, and broke its nose against the wall
by the roadside. Thus was our expedition christened straight away, as a
launched ship that leaves the stocks.

On reaching Kandersteg, the gossamer banner of ice-dust blowing off the
Blümlisalp showed plainly enough that the gale from the north, which had
brought the fine weather, was still in full swing. My sympathy went out
to any young men who might be then battling up there with the raging
wind, for at Christmas and New Year’s tide the Alpine huts are much
visited by holiday-makers. Indeed, I saw later from an account published
in the Swiss periodical _Ski_, by Mr. Tauern, and by Mr. Schloss in the
Alpine Ski Club Annual, that those gentlemen were actually at the time
on the Aletschfirn. They had hoped to ascend the Jungfrau. Under the
circumstances the prospect lost its charm.

As I write, the Jungfrau has not yet been ascended in winter. The Swiss
papers gave out last year that my young friend Fritz Pfeiffer had
succeeded in reaching the top. It was a misapprehension. Within two
hundred yards of the ice-cap that crowns the Jungfrau, Mr. Pfeiffer, who
was accompanying an officer of the St. Gothard troops, was compelled to
fall back before the heap of slabs of solid ice, with which the combined
action of wind and sun had strewn the way. On these the two distinguished
mountaineers were unable to gain footing. The slabs slipped away from
under their feet, or bore them down in such a manner that they could not
have had better toboggans. Toboggans, however, were not the thing wanted,
nor even such trays or pieces of board as children are fond of using, for
the sake of amusement, in sliding down grass slopes nearer home.

The formation of these ice-slabs on exposed summits of suitable shape
opens up an interesting, and as yet unsolved, question in the history
of natural phenomena. What clearly happens is this. Snow, driven by a
tearing wind, falls against an ice buttress. Then the sun shines with all
its winter power upon the snow that sticks to the rugged ice. Exposed to
the action of two physical agents of great force, namely, to the heat
produced by the sun and to the impetus of the wind sweeping now with
perhaps still greater violence across a clear sky, the amorphous but
plastic mass is cut up and divided by a process which may be compared,
though the analogy is merely superficial, to what happens to dough in an
oven when a hot blast is driven through it. The dried-up dough breaks up
into flakes.

When I first came across that winter phenomenon--I have never met with
it in summer--I was led to compare those piled-up ice-slabs to the stone
slabs of like shape and size which lie on the bare crests of so many
mountains. The supposition lies near that these, too, may be due to some
combined action of pre-existent heat and supervening wind impetus, in
those geological ages when we have a fancy for imagining that the still
plastic earth-crust was blown about in huge billows by the liquid and
aerial elements.

Be this as it may, I hope I may never be uncharitable enough to desire,
for ski-ing parties, an encounter with those ice-slab pyramids.

The caretaker who in winter keeps watch over the Schwarenbach Hotel had
just come down to join in the New Year festivities. He announced that
there was on the heights a fresh layer of snow 30 inches deep. Stoller,
a guide of some reputation, whose advice we applied for, was of opinion
that we should put off our departure till the 2nd of January. The advice
might be sound, but I did not like it because I knew how badly the men I
might be about to engage were likely to spend their time on New Year’s
Day. As a matter of fact, when we did enter the Gasternthal, we found
nothing like the amount of snow that we were told would impede our way.
From Stoller, who had just returned from a week’s engagement to teach
the rudiments of ski-ing to a Swiss club, we heard that all guides with
first-class certificates were away climbing, and that he, having only
just returned, would not be available. We engaged three men, under his
advice and under that of Egger, for whom Arnold Lunn had a valuable
letter of introduction from his father. One of these men had a guide’s
certificate, the other two were porters.

I took three men because I wanted to carry sufficient commissariat for
six days, which the raid was supposed to last, with a margin in case of
a check being put on our progress by a change in the weather or some
accident that could not be foreseen. I hoped to force my way through
without touching any inhabited spot before we reached Guttannen. We went
down to Kippel, because our progress was so smooth and easy that it would
have been a pity to sleep in a chalet at Guggi just for the pleasure of
not stopping in a decent hotel.

None of our men had been beyond the Aletsch glacier. This I did not mind,
having previously gone over the whole route in summer. Provided those men
carried their loads from hut to hut, we should be satisfied.

Arnold Lunn says in the _Isis_ that we arrived in Kandersteg just in time
for a fancy dress ball, and aroused considerable curiosity as to what we
were supposed to represent. At dinner he sat next to a man who, lost to
all sense of local colour, had come dressed as a nigger minstrel. This
was on New Year’s Eve.

Next day we pottered round Kandersteg, one of us receiving much useful
advice as to how to fix on his ski, from a lady who was under the quite
pardonable impression that she was addressing a novice, while the other
was considered enough of an expert to instruct another lady who had the
good taste not to be so sure of her own knowledge.

We left Kandersteg on the morning of January 2nd. As usual in those early
starts, we had plenty of time, the five of us, to try and find out of
what stuff each and every member of the party was made. It was my first
expedition with Arnold Lunn. I was entitled to think he would take my
measure as curiously as I was about to take his. Two of our men turned
out to be quite satisfactory, but the third was destined to become the
butt of our satire. I am not prepared to say that he had spent New Year’s
Day in those excesses which I dreaded, because I have since been told by
old Egger that Adolf--as we shall agree to call him--was in bad health
when he undertook to serve us. Whatever might be the cause, whether
excusable or not, he showed himself throughout in the colours in which
he is painted--maybe somewhat to the amusement of our readers--by Arnold
Lunn and myself.

Those who mountaineer for sport are very much like schoolboys, or they
become schoolboys for the nonce. The printed records of mountaineering
are to a great extent records of the kind of humour that overgrown and
elderly boys--if I may so describe those of us who have gone through
public school-life and wish to preserve some of its characteristics
in a sphere where these may be as harmless to others as comforting to
themselves--would be expected to cultivate.

For us, in the course of a constant fellowship of seven days, Adolf soon
represented quite a definite and rather objectionable specimen of the
human kind. We found him lazy, slow, clumsy, ever ready to take undue
advantage. Some one, who had evidently made a close study of political
types, dubbed him the Socialist, and the title stuck. For my part,
anxious to secure for him a place among types ranking in a higher class,
I placed him, under the name of Thersites, in a gallery of classical
portraits in which I allotted to Arnold the part of fiery Achilles, and
to myself that of the worldly-wise and cunningly cautious Ulysses.

Our course lay up the Gasternthal, one of the wildest and most impressive
valleys in the Alps, utterly desolate in summer. From its rugged floor
rise some of the sternest precipices in Switzerland. On our way we had
plenty of time to examine the superstructure of the shafts which were
then being driven through the floor of the valley to ascertain the depth
of the gravel-bed that formed it. Our readers may remember that, in
1908, the Italian workmen engaged in excavations on the north front of
the Loetschberg tunnel were suddenly overwhelmed by an inrush of water,
gravel, and mud. The progress of the boring was stopped till it could be
known to what extent it would be necessary to divert the tunnel, in order
to keep in hard rock.

It is a bit of a reflection upon the forethought of engineers--and
geologists--that, before working their way from beneath across
Gasternthal, they had not sunk that shaft which was now to supply them
with an information that would still be opportune from the engineer’s
point of view, but which was belated in regard to safeguarding human life.

Three hours after starting, we reached a rustic _café_, or summer
restaurant, which we discovered it was Adolf’s summer occupation to
preside over. It was a pretty place with a fenced orchard about it,
whose trees now stood out barely from amid the coverlet of snow which
contributed to enhance the attractiveness of the spot. But a dreadful
doubt crossed our mind. Was Adolf a _bona-fide_ mountaineer or was he a
professional tavern keeper?

On reaching the doorstep of his property, he angrily dropped to the
ground his burden, produced the key of his cellar, and contrived to give
us the impression that he expected us to call a halt of some duration and
indulge in the delights of his Capua. We were suddenly confronted with
the thought of the temptation put by Circe before wary Ulysses and his
simple-hearted companions. Thersites, as a mental picture, was outdone.
The vision conjured up before us was that of five days to be spent in
plenty in this winter-bound Abbey of Thelema. We would empty the larders.
We would clear the bottle shelves. We would rifle the cigar boxes, under
the watchful, but encouraging eye of this male Circe, who would fill his
pockets with sweet-scented coin, instead of bruising his shoulders any
longer with that dreadful pack. We commend the trick to those who may
have the face to play it on the public. Nothing is easier. Switzerland is
full of those concealed Canaans flowing with milk and honey.

[Illustration: GASTERNTHAL.

To face p. 130.]

Shortly after leaving Adolf’s pavilion, a bend in the valley disclosed
the ice-fall of the Tschingel glacier. The moraine up which we had
to pass came into sight. It was three in the afternoon--and we had
distributed some of Adolf’s packages amongst the other two guides--before
we caught our first glimpse of the sun, which flashed out triumphantly
behind the Hockenhorn, only to disappear in a few minutes past the
Balmhorn. A steep slope of snow led from the moraine to the glacier.

Out of laziness, we did not fix up our ski with carrying straps. We might
have paid dearly for the mistake, as a sharp wind caught us half-way
across, and a dropped ski would have taken hours to recover. It is always
wise to have at hand in one’s pockets the short straps which serve to
tie together the ski at each extremity, and to make use of them whenever
one has to carry ski across an unskiable piece of ground. It is also
better to be provided with ski-slings wherewith to carry them across both
shoulders. The wind is the ski-runner’s treacherous enemy. When you are
on your ski it may drive you out of your direction, and when you carry
your ski it may try to wrench them from you and blow you off your balance
by weighing upon them.

The last three hours of our walk lay along the _névé_ of the Tschingel
glacier, a snow valley bounded on the north by the cliffs of the
Blümlisalp, on the south by the gently rising Petersgrat.

“The last lingering rays,” writes Arnold Lunn, “faded from the snows,
but the sunset was soon followed by the rise of the full moon, a moon
undreamt of in our English skies, so bright that I read with ease a page
of my note-book. Those who have only seen her ‘hurrying with unhandsome
thrift of silver’ over English landscapes have little idea of her real
beauty. Before we reached the hut we had been climbing fourteen hours
uphill, loaded with heavy sacks. Yet such was the mysterious fascination
of the moonlit snows that we made no attempt to hurry. Again and again we
stopped, lost in silent wonder.

“Straight ahead, the Jungfrau, backed by the slender cone of the Eiger,
rose above a sea of shadows. The moonlight slept on her snowy terraces,
steeping in silentness her cliffs and glaciers, and revealed the whole
as a living monument of incarnate light. A hut stood in a _cirque_ of
snow. Here the wind had played strange havoc, torturing the billows and
cornices into fantastic shapes. Anything more weirdly beautiful than the
glancing sheen of this hollow I cannot conceive. Its colour could only be
compared, if at all, to the fiery blue of Capri’s grotto.”

The writer of the above lines, whom we shall not tire of quoting in this
chapter, does not overpaint the picture. What could be more beautiful,
more entrancing, than the Tschingel terrace, by moonlight, in the middle
of winter? Standing on a balcony little less than 10,000 feet high, we
were able to read our maps, after ten o’clock at night, as plainly as at
noonday.

To the furrowed and broken ribs of the Blümlisalp clung several small
glaciers, suspended in the couloirs like swallows’ nests in the eaves of
a ruined castle. The sharp pyramid of the Eiger shone beyond the white
cupolas of the airy Jungfrau, as though they had been the distant walls
and minarets of an Oriental city. The snows about us were alive with a
smooth and soft radiance. The sky was transparent, and as yet hung about
with light veils. Silver clouds fluttered about the peaks, and when they
floated into the moonlight from behind them, they flashed forth like
fishes when the sun plays upon their scales. Layers of purple and crimson
haze rested upon one another along the horizon. The play of light and
shade upon the black patches and white spots of the visible world showed
them, according to whither you looked, wreathed in smiles or puckered up
in frowns. Buttresses, cliffs, abysses swam in a bluish mist, in which
the twinkling rays of a million stars danced as sparkling dust.

It is a law of this world that what is unbecoming--τα ου δεοντα of Greek
comedy--must ever come to underline and show off the most beautiful
sights by giving them a contradictory background. For Arnold and myself,
the last three hours of that day were spent on one of the most beautiful
walks we can remember. But Adolf had been completely knocked up long
before. During the self-same last three hours he experienced a great
desire for sleep, and the burden of his refrain was not, “How grand!
How beautiful!” but “Very, very tired!” Sometimes he dozed; sometimes
he half uttered swear-words, which issued from his throat like stones
rattling down a mountain gully. I had to send one of the other men to his
help. Whether we shouted to him Thersites or Circe, or the Socialist,
he cared not. What went to his heart, and as it were broke his wind,
was that we had left his tea-house far behind and would not take him
back across the beloved threshold. A miserable Alpine hut awaited his
tottering footsteps. He staggered through the doorway and collapsed on
the mattresses, sleeping at last when to sleep was decent. What was it to
him that every curve in the swelling snows, every crag and buttress of
the Blümlisalp cliffs was lit up by the mellow rays of the mountain moon?

Of the night spent in the Mutthorn hut nothing need be said, except that
it seemed to us a perfect night. At 5.30 the alarum went off, and, if
Arnold Lunn’s story be trusted--and it must be, in the absence of any
other accountable person, as I was asleep at that moment--the ring of the
bell was accompanied by an ill-sounding German epithet. A guide stumbled
to the door, threw it open, and muttered in more parliamentary language:
“Abscheuliches Wetter.” Arnold says--and I must trust him in this again,
for I was still asleep--that a sense of sickening disappointment, such
as climbers know so well, fell upon the waking inmates of the hut,
a definition which must be taken to exclude Adolf and myself. Arnold
stepped outside and discovered heavy grey clouds blowing up from behind
the Eiger, sniffed a gust of south-westerly wind, laid his finger on
sticky snow, and, in thus feeling the pulse of the weather, became aware
of a high temperature.

He says: “We sulkily despatched our breakfast and started up the slope
leading towards the Petersgrat. Suddenly Professor Roget caught sight,
through a gap beyond the Blümlisalp, of the still lake of fog hanging
quite undisturbed over the plain of Switzerland and above lake Thun.
I should like to say that he gave a cry of surprise, but, alas! the
professor has his emotions under strict control, and was content to
rapidly communicate to us his analysis of the apparent bad weather. These
unauspicious phenomena were merely local disturbances, which would vanish
after dawn. The westerly breeze was only a glacier wind, the grey clouds
only the effect of the intense solar heat collected the day before and
blending throughout the night with the cold air from the snows. As long
as the _Nebelmeer_ remained undisturbed, no bad weather need be feared.
Every sign of evil actually vanished an hour after sunrise.”

On the Petersgrat we could fancy ourselves on the top of the globe. We
were standing on the highest point of a curved surface, shaped like a
balloon, and on all sides it seemed to fall away into immensity. Beyond,
rose in gigantic outline the summits of the Alps and, still further, in
long sinuous lines curving in and out of sight, the Jura, the Vosges,
and all that distant girdle that hangs loosely about the outskirts of
Switzerland. The winter fog filled up the intervals. Afar, there was not
a breath of wind, not a whirl in the air.

The phenomenon that alarmed my party was that which is well known under
the name of _Foehn_, a phenomenon which may assume almost any dimensions,
sometimes general enough to embrace the whole of the Alps, and sometimes
so closely circumscribed that you might almost compare it to the motion
in the air produced by a small top spinning round on the palm of your
hand.

The phenomenon is as follows: Masses of air of varying density and
temperature are pushed up the Alps and are dropped down, as it were,
upon the other side. Or else, as this morning on the Petersgrat, it is a
layer of hot dry air formed aloft that forces its way down, in corkscrew
fashion, on a given spot, through the nether air.

With us the phenomenon lasted an hour and was as a water spout in the
middle of a still ocean. The universal quietude of the elements impressed
itself again upon the spot on which we stood, doubting, like Thomas, but
ready to believe, if a sign would but be given. By 8.30 the sun gilded
gloriously the whole Pennine range, towards which our eyes were eagerly
turned.

As we reached the sky-line, that distant host of old friends greeted
us beyond the morning shadows, but what held us most was the wonderful
pyramid of the Bietschhorn. The sharp-shouldered giant, sprinkled with
snow from head to foot, through which showed his jet-black armour,
stood forth before us, as within reach of the hand, strangely resembling
the view of the Weisshorn from above Randa, but how much grander in his
winter cloak with jewel-like crystals!

This second day was to be a day spent in idling down glacier slopes and
in lounging above the forest zone of the Loetschenthal. We knew now
that we could count on the sun till its proper time for setting in the
evening. We knew that on his decline and fall the moon would take his
place, as the night policeman succeeds the day policeman upon the common
beat. The winter God was full of gentleman-like consideration. The rules
of meteorology might have been purely astronomical and mathematical for
any chances we might see of their being upset by the weather fiend.

The snow was hard and crusted as we entered upon the southern slopes of
the Petersgrat. After forty minutes running, or thereabouts, the guides
advised us to take off our ski while we descended the steep bits on the
Telli glacier. The fact is that those men were not quite sure of their
ground. I asked the party to proceed in close formation and to move
with studied care till we should reach the bottom of the Telli glacier,
considering that it would be wiser to cope with any difficulties it might
put in our way than to ski down the Faffleralp, as to whose condition in
winter I had not the faintest indication. The ordinary summer route might
prove dangerous from avalanches. On the Telli glacier, the hardness and
comparative thinness of the snow layer cemented to the ice, allowed of
crevasses and depressions being easily recognised. It would be a piece of
summer mountaineering in midwinter, and to this, for safety’s sake, there
would be no valid objection.

I kept my people close in, to the eastern edge of the glacier, so as to
pass under the buttress on which were supported the masses of snow over
which I would not ski. The descent of the deep gully proved the right
solution to our difficulty and procured for us for some twenty minutes
the distinct pleasure of being thoroughly occupied with a serious job.

A run over some extremely broken ground, then some cuts and capers in a
wood led us to a chalet, where we decided to have a feed and a rest.

“This confession,” says Arnold Lunn, “lays us open to the scorn of those
who imagine that mountaineering is a kind of game, the object of which
is to spend the minimum of time on a peak consistent with reaching its
summit. Our party fortunately belonged to the leisurely school that
combines a fondness for wise passiveness with a strong dislike to reach
one’s destination before sunset.

“Thus understood, mountaineering on ski is the purest of all sports. The
competitive and record-breaking elements are entirely eliminated. Those
who go up to the hills on ski are then actuated by the most elemental
motives, the desire to explore the mountains in the most beautiful of all
their aspects, and to enjoy the most inspired motion known to man.

“To me the ideal form of ski-ing is cross-country mountaineering.
One thus approaches nearest to the methods of the pioneers to whom
mountaineering meant the exploration of great ranges, not the exhausting
of all possible climbs from one small centre. Nothing is more delightful
than to penetrate into the remote Alpine valleys in the winter months.
The parasite population that thrives in summer on the tourist industry
has disappeared. One meets the genuine peasant, ‘the rough athletic
labourer wrestling with nature for his immediate wants.’

“Those who travel first class and stop in the best hotels do not know the
real Switzerland. It is in the third-class carriages and small inns that
one sees the most characteristic types. Nothing is more enjoyable than to
escape for ten days from conventionality and dress clothes, wandering,
kit on one’s back, from club hut to club hut, and descending at rare
intervals to remote recesses in winter-bound valleys.”

The conclusion of this is that neither of us could describe in strenuous
language the lazy afternoon we spent on the upper fringe of the woods
above Blatten and Ried. We had a quiet repast, smoked our pipes, or
cigars--and watched the shadows creeping up the Loetschenlücke. Having
heaps of time, we sailed down to Kippel, as merry as finches, piping like
blackbirds, and as fresh as new-laid eggs. Would we have been in such a
happy predicament if we had not been on narrow boards about six and a
half feet long and half as many inches broad, of Norwegian origin, which
were used primarily as a means of crossing deep snow, and have lately
been adopted as an aid to winter mountaineering?

The hotel we landed at was quite an ordinary eating and sleeping house
of the ugly type which too often disfigures Swiss villages. How is it
that dwellers in the Alps who, when left to themselves, show such good
taste in the plainness of their dwellings and in their primitive church
architecture, are, when they build for townspeople, such utter strangers
to the most spontaneous suggestions of the artistic instinct?

At table we chanced to have as neighbours three members of the Swiss
Alpine Club, whose native language was the Germanic. They were on their
way from the Grimsel and had just completed that section of our route
upon which we were to enter on the morrow. We sat with them after
dinner, and here fiery Achilles behaved most wisely. With high hopes
he went quietly to bed at a reasonable hour. Then Ulysses, seeing his
opportunity, thought he would like to unbend for a while. He sat up with
the Swiss party and sacrificed to good fellowship a few hours of rest and
the contents of a few fragile flagons.

As midnight came on, the moon suddenly peeped indiscreetly upon the
carouse, showing through the casement a seductive vista of most
beautifully slanting slopes round the foot of which roared the river
Lonza. Cunning Ulysses, beside himself with a naughty idea, sent the
empty bottles flying through the window. Immediately the blood of the
young Swiss was up. They rose, strapped on their ski in a trice, and down
they went along the slope to the bank of the Lonza. The bottles were
by then floating on the swirl of the stream. But, in the case of each
pursuer, a timely Christiania swing brought him round up the bank again.
There was a swish, a spray of snow, and three young men were saved to
fight again for their country.

On returning to the hotel, they and I found a jolly old villain in
possession of the tap-room. He was in the early stages of inebriation.
Seeing from the costumes of the party that he had to do with town-bred
mountaineers only, he drew from the depths of his imagination the longest
bow that was ever harboured by a genuine mountaineer in his armoury. With
him the humour was transparent. But it is not always so, unfortunately.
Some of the Swiss peasantry, brought into contact with the foreign
_clientèle_, are in the habit of being so pampered by sentimental,
gullible people that they quite overstep the bounds of any liberty that
may be permissible in resenting such treatment.

On the whole, the winter life led in the high Swiss valleys is not
altogether wholesome. When they are visited in summer, the people are
seen in the busiest time and appear in the most favourable light. The
domestic establishments of the hotels, and the few individuals who
benefit from the presence of strangers, such as mule drivers, casual
dealers in cut flowers, in carved bears and rock crystals, are merely
parasitic and as temporary features in the landscape as those whose
passage called them into being.

The evils inherent to winter seclusion are more serious. This old man was
an example, for he could be seen there day after day, spending his time
in idle talk and throwing into the till his earnings of last season.

But stop: is Ulysses acting up to his reputation for wariness in
moralising at the present moment to a weaker brother’s detriment? Has he
forgotten that on the next day, Monday, January 4th, the little company
turned out into the night at six o’clock without him? Was it a fair
excuse, that, on the eve, he had engaged Theodore Kalbermatten to carry
his kit for him to the next hut?

Having once more sworn allegiance to his usual beverage, milk, the best
friend of the young and the old, he marched out last, but in good order,
to join the troop over which he held command. As the dawn broke he found
them waiting for him before a church in the Upper Loetschenthal, built
six hundred years ago. Arnold had time to examine it. He says:--

“The church door was carved by the hand of some long-forgotten genius,
carved with a delicacy of execution surprising in this remote corner of
the Alps. We stopped for breakfast in some cheese-making chalets high
up in the valley. Here we exchanged some remarks on cows and kindred
subjects and gently chaffed the cheese-makers on the proverbially high
stature of the men of Ried. But one realised throughout the barrier
which one could never pass. We could form little or no conception of the
world as seen through their eyes. To them these mountains must seem a
waste by-product, an inexplicable freak on the part of the Creator. They
regarded us and our ski with that amused tolerance that everyone extends
to those idiosyncrasies which are not personally annoying.

“This rugged conservatism is nowhere so accentuated as among those who
are shut off by mountain barriers from the ‘sick, hurry, and divided
aims’ of modern life. Theirs is the spirit so gently satirised in Utopia.
These things they say pleased our forefathers and ancestors: would God we
might be as witty and wise!

“For six hundred years their forefathers had worshipped in the little
church we had passed, sheltered by the hills from all breath of modern
scepticism, apparently undisturbed by the thought that beyond them
existed spirits who recklessly doubted the priest’s control over
the economy of nature in such modest details as harvest rains. The
Loetschenthal still possesses the strange pathetic beauty of those
secluded Catholic valleys whose inhabitants seem to live a life as old as
the hills themselves, and in which one poor priest and one little church
stand forth as the only help, the only symbol of the world outside, and
of ages not absolutely prehistoric.”

Arnold Lunn relates that after leaving the chalets he had an amusing talk
with Theodore Kalbermatten, whom I had engaged to carry my sack up to the
club hut. A fine-looking fellow, he showed a touch of that not ungraceful
swagger which one notices in many guides and in which Lunn rightly sees
nothing more than the unsophisticated pride that humble and well-meaning
men take in the achievement of good work. But business is business. Lunn
says very wittily that the conversation concluded with the inevitable
production of a card, coupled with the caution that, though there were
many Kalbermattens, there was but one Theodore Kalbermatten.

Anyhow, we were soon great friends with Theodore. The day was indeed
long enough--like the glacier on which we were wandering--to make and
undo friendships several times over. Circumstances lent themselves so
well to mere strolling--think what it is to be able to cross the Bernese
Oberland without once having one’s foot brought up against a stone--that
we pressed our pace no more on this third day than on the preceding.
We might have been Egyptian sages walking up and down in conversation
outside the porticoes of Thebes with the hundred gates. Had we been told
that what we stirred up with our ski were the burning sands of Africa
which we mistook for Alpine snow, because our eyes were under the spell
of _mirage_, it would have been ungracious on our part to pretend to know
better, so much did we long for the coolness of the evening, for sea
breezes and the dew at dusk, as Arabs might, returning upon their tired
steeds to the secrecy of the oasis, after a raid in the desert.

All said and done, we found that we had spent twelve hours in reaching
the summit of the Loetschenlücke pass. Arnold’s poetic gift found at
every step fresh sustenance. He had discovered the _beau ideal_ of a
pass. “It was,” he says, “the only opening at the head of the valley,
visible, with the whole length of the glacier, during the entire day.
For twelve hours a little gap backed by blue sky told of a wonderful new
world that we should see from the summit. Above us we caught sight of our
goal, the Egon von Steiger hut, bearing the name of a Swiss climber who
perished on the Doldenhorn, and built in his memory. This is the real
ungrudging spirit of mountain lovers, the attitude which Mummery sums up
so well. ‘The great mountains,’ he writes, ‘sometimes demand a sacrifice,
but the true mountaineer would not forego their worship even though he
knew himself to be the destined victim.’

“We had the whole day,” says Lunn, “to reach the hut, and without being
lazy, were wise enough not to hurry, and, indeed, there was no temptation
to rush on. The time was all too short to take in the wonders of the Anen
glacier on our left, the stern beauty of the Sattelhorn cliffs on our
right. Slowly the distant ranges climbed higher into the sky. Peacefully
the morning merged into the afternoon, and the afternoon into the
evening. We paused below the final slope to watch the glow creeping down
the snows of Mont Blanc. Even the guides were impressed by the strange
stillness, as--

    ‘Light and sound ebbed from the earth,
    Like the tide of the full and weary sea,
    To the depths of its own tranquillity.’

“I shall never forget the tantalising suspense of that last slope. For
twelve hours a little strip of blue behind the sky-line had been an
earnest of the revelation that was awaiting us. For some six hours we had
been faced by this same long slope in front and above. Now only a few
yards remained. We took them at a rush. At sunset exactly, the sky-line
was beneath our feet and in one moment were set forth before us, backed
by the Finsteraarhorn, the ‘urns of the silent snow’ from which the
greatest of all the Alpine glaciers draws its strength. The rays of the
risen moon mingled with the ebbing twilight and lent an atmosphere of
mystery to our surroundings. For the moment we were no longer of the
earth earthly, for the moment the Loetschenlücke became a magic casement
opening into perilous snows ’mid faery lands forlorn.’

“Thus what, seen from a distance, was obtrusively--almost offensively--a
pass, wore a peculiar fascination for that very reason. It grew upon the
imagination with the magic of those corners one has only turned in one’s
dreams.”

Like the historic gap between the Mönch and Jungfrau, it led to the
solitudes of the Aletsch, which Lunn had never seen save as a white
streak from distant ranges. Like all good mountaineers, who have usefully
wasted hours over a map in keen and eager anticipation, he now could
dwell with gladness upon the reality of the mental picture elaborated
long ago, while contemplating certain white spaces on an old copy of the
Siegfried map.

But the inevitable anti-climax that dogs the flight of all poets was
awaiting us. “On this occasion it took the form of the club hut stove,
and a more effective bathos has never been devised. Amongst the torments
of the damned I am sure the smoking stove holds a proud place.” Some of
last summer’s moisture had remained in the pipe. Our fire might have been
of green wood and wrung from us copious tears.

“The guides for the space of some half-hour, wrestled and fought and
prayed, Kalbermatten meanwhile keeping up a running conversation with
his favourite saint. Adolf, with a wonderful sense of the fitness of
things, chose the moment when supper was on the table to put in a belated
appearance. His contribution to the evening’s work was a successful
attempt to burn my thick socks,” writes Lunn, righteously indignant.

The temperature outside the hut was 8° Centigrade under zero on arriving
and, very naturally, somewhat colder inside. At the Mutthorn hut we had
noted 9° Centigrade under zero in the evening and 10° in the morning.

Our expedition unfolded itself from day to day with the monotony and
exactitude of a scroll. On the 5th, by seven o’clock, an hour before
sunrise, we were again on the slide eastwards. The lie of the land was
nasty. Most of us turned a somersault or two, a performance at which
those will not be astonished who have come down in summer from the Egon
von Steiger hut to the Gross-Aletsch-Firn. Then badly conducted parties
are daily watched from the Concordia huts, with no little curiosity.
They flounder about till they are often heard calling for help, or seen
disappearing in a crevasse, from which moment they are entitled, under
the rules of the game, to a search party.

In his diary Lunn says that the Aletschhorn had shoved its head in
front of the moon. The solitude was almost oppressive. “Never have I
so realised the weakness of the cry that the Alps are played out and
overcrowded. True, some thousands of climbers have explored their inmost
recesses; but substantially they are little changed from the peaks that
looked down on Hannibal:--

    “‘Die unbegreiflich hohen Werke
    Sind herrlich wie am ersten Tag.’

And on a winter night one feels more than ever the insignificance of such
trifling excrescences as club huts and mountain inns. The parting _genius
loci_ has, perhaps, been sent with sighing ‘from haunted hill and dale’;
but I strongly suspect that these white solitudes of eternal snow are
still visited by the court of the Ice Queen.”

To tell the truth, I rather hope that the feminine section of that court
leave the Aletsch severely alone, for our remarks that morning would
have stood trimming. Why? Because, fearing concealed crevasses on the
Aletsch-Firn, we roped. It was a miserable experiment. At rapid intervals
Adolf sat down, in the rear, of course, as he never could do anything
else but tail. Four sudden jerks, and four more bold ski-runners bit the
dust. At times, somebody in the front of the train followed suit, an
inspiration which necessitated a rapid swing on the part of those behind.
We swung, of course, in opposite directions, and the tangled skein that
ensued was enveloped in a mist of snow with a few oaths darting about.
No wonder, for such evolutions “excyte beastlie and exstreme vyolence,”
as Lunn found it expressed in his mind, so elegantly stored up with
classical quotations, and we rapidly came to the conclusion that there
was “a good deal to be said for being dead,” oh, much more than for
roped ski-ing with Adolf.

[Illustration: CONCORDIA PLATZ.

To face p. 149.]

Ski-running on a rope is only possible if every member of a party is
a steady runner. I, for one, have always found its utility limited
to providing a merry, rough-and-tumble entertainment, such as the
Wiggle-Woggle, the Whirling Pool, and such-like helter-skelter
performances in which ’Arry delights to jostle ’Arriet.

Meanwhile the quotation runs that:--

    “The hunter of the East had caught
    The mountain turrets in a noose of light.”

But its author was in far too sulky a condition to appreciate a sunrise.

By nine o’clock, with our troubles well ended, we were all comfortably
seated on the rounded edges of the famous breakfast-table, an erratic
stone in the centre of that wonderful ice _quadrivium_ marked on the maps
as Concordia Platz, in which the stone in question expresses the altitude
in four figures (2,780 metres). Carpeted in the purest white, surrounded
by pyramids in the best assorted white marble architecture, set out with
flying buttresses and domes in jasper, jade, and sapphire, the Concordia
Platz did not betoken the symmetrical designing power of man, but perfect
harmony in the work of Nature’s agents--sun, snow, rock, and ice.

What a perfectly beautiful city for the dead, these precincts and temple
whence the handiwork of man was absent! And what a number of graves were
laid under the pavement of this cathedral! Think of the tears shed for
the many who came here, impelled by the desire to behold in this world
a habitation pure enough for angels, and whose human strength gave way
before the resistance opposed by the cruel guardians of this blissful
abode!

During breakfast we discussed our plans. Our eyes were fixed upon the
Jungfrau, partly because we had vaguely talked of the tempting ascent,
but still more because, having come up here with ice-axes, regulation
ropes, and ten-pronged climbing-irons, it was quite plain that a serious
ascent entered into our programme. If I may put it frankly, pure
adventure was not the purpose that brought me on the Concordia Platz. I
wished to put to the test of reality, in the highest mountain rink of
the Bernese range, the theory forced upon my mind by observations and
experiences elsewhere.

I had learnt conclusively much that was new and interesting about winter
conditions in the forest zone and on the denuded grazings that rise above
them. The comparatively easy slanting and horizontal expanses of the
ice-covered parts of the Alps had yielded some positive information to
the winter pioneers now visiting them for the first time. Now I wanted
to know, with ever-increasing accuracy, how those huge spurs of rock
and ice that are thrown up into the sky from the glacier region behaved
in winter. Hitherto they had been looked at and their condition judged
from a distance. Conclusions come to in that manner were extremely
unfavourable to their accessibility. One might, moreover, safely say that
no scientific men had subjected the winter Alps to the same scrutiny
as, in the years following the middle of the nineteenth century, made
Agassiz, Desor, the Englishmen Tyndall and Sir John Lubbock, famous, and
so many more whose hard and shrewd thinking about the physical complexion
of the Alps has met with general acceptance.

In a humbler sphere, too, among men in daily contact with the Alps,
such as guides and chamois hunters, there was till lately an absolutely
ineradicable belief that the Alp peaks would oppose almost insuperable
obstacles to those bold enough to grapple with them under winter
conditions.

But neither scientific scholars nor practical men could exactly say why
this should be the case. It was one of those vague impressions or beliefs
which are more imperative in proportion as actual first-hand knowledge is
scantier.

Most would tell you, when pressed, that in January the High Alps could
not but be found smothered in the most stupendous quantities of snow that
the frightened imagination could body forth, and that in those masses
rock peaks and ice domes would be buried alike.

Once more, on the Concordia Platz, the notion I had formed as to the
comparative scarcity of snow on the flanks of the leading summits of our
Alps--those exceeding 10,000 feet--was about to be reported upon and
tested by impartial eyes.

Our three Bernese guides could barely trust the testimony of their own
eyes. They expected to see a Jungfrau embedded in snow from head to
foot, stuffed out to a shapeless mass, bolstered out as with the seven
petticoats of a Dutch _belle_. On the contrary, the Bernese Maid was more
slim than they had ever seen her in summer. Almost entirely free from
snow, she turned towards us a shoulder as smooth, bright, and pure as
that of a Greek goddess that might have been clad in a close-fitting suit
of silver armour. One of my men who saw her again last summer (1911), one
of the two hottest recorded since 1830, found her less free from snow
than she appeared on that January day, when she was actually melting
away under the perfect downpour of solar rays towards which her face was
turned.

Thus was an important doubt set at rest by the testimony of practical
men. It would have taken us half the day to cut steps in the sheer
ice that stretched from the Roththal Sattel to the very top. The near
completion of the railway from Grindelwald to Jungfraujoch will make it
quite easy to institute a series of regular scientific observations on
this interesting subject.

So far as we were concerned, after five days of sun and inverted
temperature it was out of the question for us to attempt the top slopes
of the Jungfrau at that hour of the day. It was tacitly agreed to abandon
it for the Finsteraarhorn. The same causes which turned the snow slopes
of the Jungfrau to ice and rendered them impracticable would dry the
rocks of the Finsteraarhorn, clearing them from the excess of snow which
the winter winds might have piled up there. So we pressed on towards the
Grünhornlücke, past the Concordia huts, ski-ing leisurely downwards on
the Aletsch glacier.

The reader may easily picture to himself how much our ski were in tune
with the wonderful surface over which we were passing.

“These rollings of _névé_,” relates Lunn, “are almost unique in the Alps.
On other glaciers one’s attention is diverted to the surrounding peaks.
But, as some one says, on the Aletsch the boundary mountains form an
insignificant cup-lip to the glacier itself, which, to my knowledge, may
be compared to the same on the Plaine-Morte only. The Oberland peaks,
which from Grindelwald or Lauterbrunnen exhibit such a wonderful wealth
of design, are comparatively tame from the basin of the Aletsch. When we
think of the Jungfrau we always think of her as seen from the pastures of
the Wengern Alp. Seen from the Aletsch she is not particularly striking.
One’s whole attention is focussed on the broad, silent reaches of snow.
From the Loetschenlücke, from the Jungfraujoch, from the Grünhornlücke,
three vast ice streams flow down towards the Concordia, rightly so named,
for, there, irresistible forces blend silently in perfect harmony and
move downwards without a break.”

By three o’clock in the afternoon we passed by the huts which now form
quite a township on the rocky spur which supports them. There is the
Cathrein Pavilion, a regular little mountain hostelry, the new Swiss
Alpine Club hut, and the old hut. Stowed away under the rock the
ancestral hut of all might betray its site to curious Alpine antiquaries.

We could have walked straight into the township on that day, the rocks
being dry and swept clean of snow, the effect of the sun only, as I can
easily prove by the testimony of Mr. Schloss who, with his party, had to
take refuge in the Swiss Club hut during the storm that had raged in the
last days of December. He says: “We rammed the ski into the snow at the
foot of these rocks, expecting to reach the hut, some 50 metres above us,
in a few minutes. But the storm made the passage up the narrow path hewn
out of the rock wall very unpleasant. It was covered with ice and snow,
and the wind, blowing in furious gusts from the Jungfrau snow-fields,
threatened every moment to hurl one or the other of us down on to the
glacier below.” Let the reader take warning.

From the Concordia Platz we started up steep slopes to our next pass.
But were they so steep? and did we climb at all? There is in words a
forceful though conventional mendacity. In language the most honest catch
themselves playing the part of gay deceivers. Did we have any occasion
during that week to draw one laboured breath from our tranquil breasts?
Restful and vigorous, we led the æsthetic life.

As on the previous evening, there was a tantalising interest, the same
eagerness to look beyond the sky-line into the new world of snow. This
time the pass revealed the Fiesch glacier and the great pyramid of the
Finsteraarhorn. “Professor Roget,” writes my young friend, whose fancy I
like to tickle by appearing before him in the _rôle_ of an old cynic,
“having been here before, exhibited no indecent haste, and so I had some
time to myself in the pass. The guides--to them also the country was
new--were moved to unwonted enthusiasm on seeing the Finsteraarhorn. They
said, ‘Eine schöne Spitze, die müssen wir morgen machen.’”

Indeed they might on the morrow. There it stood before us such as three
times already I had climbed it in summer. A photograph would hardly show
the difference in the seasons. The Finsteraarhorn could be ranked in the
same category as the Combin de Valsorey and many others 12,000 feet high
and upwards with rocky sides falling away to the south and west. Whenever
they had a northern slope whereby they were accessible in summer, I had
found that by that flank their top could be reached in winter with the
help of ski and ice-axe judiciously blended, and that, on the other
side, they would regale the tourist with the gymnastics of a scramble as
diverting as in summer.

It was about two in the afternoon when our party assembled on the lip of
the Grünhornlücke. This substantive, which has before now enjoyed our
favour, I do not employ as a mere literary phrase. Let me say why.

High Alpine passes are like funnels up which the wind sweeps the snow.
Most passes I describe in this book being parallel to the main range
of the Alps, are most susceptible to winds blowing from the south-west
and to north-easters. When the wind blows from the south-west the snow
driven up the inclined funnel overlaps to the north-east and forms an
overhanging lip in that direction. After a time intervenes a gale from
the north-east. It drives up snow under the curve of the lip and fills
the bend as with plaster. A time comes when, that space being filled up,
the new snow is rolled up over the lip and then bulges out in a hanging
cornice towards the south-west. That in its turn gets reversed, and so
forth throughout the winter. On passes, therefore, cornices are not
fixed. They shift from one side to another of the sky-line.

This may constitute a serious danger, either because the lip is curled
over above you, and then you may have to break through it or even bore
a tunnel, as when a waterpipe, in order to be carried up through the
projection of a roof, is led straight up a wall and an opening pierced
to take it above the roof. At other times it is easy enough to get on to
the lip, because the outside edge of it bends down away from you. But
then the difficulty is how to get off the lip on to the chin below. Here
again, if you go carelessly forward your weight may break off the edge
of the lip. You will fall with it, through the open space underneath, on
to the lower level. Or else you may have to jump, or let yourself down
by means of a rope if the distance is too great or the landing surface
too steep or too slippery or too near an abyss for you to be sure of
getting a safe foothold. It is sometimes the wisest course to dig one’s
way down, as on other occasions you may have dug your way up. These are
the minor incidents that attend every kind of mountaineering. But they
are much more frequent, and sometimes a cause of real peril in winter,
because overhanging hems of snow may be met with, even in the zone of
the grazings, where the snow is usually very deep and much tossed about
by the contrary currents of wind resulting from the extremely broken
character of the country.

High glacier passes are, on the whole, pretty free from cornices because
the wind has free play so near the altitude where all land ceases.
Geography is very much simplified from 9,000 feet upwards. You would be
easily convinced of it if, on a relief model, you sliced off all the
pieces rising above 9,000 feet and separated them from the remainder of
the model by slipping in a tray under them at that altitude. That is why
the High Alp ski-runner is much less concerned with avalanches than his
less ambitious brother who confines himself to lower and more complicated
regions. The reader will now understand better why Lunn and myself are so
perpetually “lounging, strolling, idling” in this raid.

It was actually only two in the afternoon--let us say it again in the
light of these observations--when our party assembled on the lip of the
Grünhornlücke. We looked back towards the Loetschenlücke, once more a
mere dent against the sky, and contrasted our easy journey with the
long, laborious tramp which is there the lot of summer trippers over
slushy, soft sticky snow. How often had I worked my way toilsomely, with
wet feet and perspiring brow, over these extensive fields when they
were mud-coloured and a vast network of puddles! Yet the temperature
throughout had been delightfully mild! Our party lay down on the summit
of the pass as comfortably as on a hot Sunday afternoon, the members of
a boating party on the Upper Thames might choose to land on a dry and
elevated part of the bank--but, alas! in our case quite shadeless--to
boil the kettle and lay the table for afternoon tea.

At 11,000 feet above sea-level we lay about on the white dry floor and
enjoyed a prolonged siesta, and thought how unlikely all this would
seem when we should relate it. But when the sun had set behind the
Aletschhorn, the change was instantaneous. We had now to go down slopes
facing east, whose surface glazed immediately. Our ski seemed alive, and
skimmed over the glaze like swallows skimming the surface of a lake.
We had plenty of room in which to break our speed by curving in uphill
and bending down and round again. I could indulge to my heart’s content
in my favourite amusement on such slopes, which, when you present the
broadside of your ski somewhat upwards and sideways to the concavity of
the surface, let you down at varying rates of speed while you describe a
spiral line to the bottom.

In this case the foot of the pass was indeed the bottom, but it was also
the top of the Walliser Fiescher Firn. Like arrows from a hidden bow,
we shot along the path of the moonbeams and came to a standstill at the
foot of a dreadful black rock, on the top of which the rays of the sun,
before parting, had lit up as a beacon the windows and chimney-pots of
the Finsteraarhorn hut. We left our ski well planted in the snow and
scrambled up with our packs. This hut once stood on the Oberaarjoch,
till it was removed thence and rebuilt in its present position. The
trials of transport may account for its being somewhat loose in the
joints. It is not weather-tight, and the snow on the roof--in summer I
have known it to be rain--trickles through in large drops, sometimes
on the clothes set out to dry on strings all round the stove pipe and
sometimes on the noses of the sleepers in their berths. I understand
that the trickle of water on one’s cranium is one of the most terrible
tortures a man can be subjected to.

Anyhow we had climbed a thousand feet, taken perhaps the wrong way up,
the whole in very good time to allow Adolf his usual extra hour for
joining us round the flowing bowl of hot soup.

“As we were sitting down to supper,” says Lunn, “a party of some six
or seven Swiss came in.” They had just completed the ascent of the
Finsteraarhorn, and were not a little pleased to find the stove lit
and water on the boil. We had noticed on arrival that the hut had the
appearance of being inhabited, and on looking round had soon caught sight
of its denizens slipping and stumbling merrily down the shoulder of the
Finsteraarhorn. A look at the hut guest-book also told us that it had
been lately visited by two Norwegians.

“That night in the hut we were a merry party. The Swiss belonged to the
class that in England divide most of their time between watching football
matches and playing billiards. They made one realise how much the higher
life of a nation was stimulated by a prevailing love of mountains.
For mountaineering is essentially the people’s sport. Climbing tends
more than any other sport to break down artificial barriers between
classes. Snobbery is seen in its true proportion against a background of
mountains. The wealth of enthusiasm which mountaineering inspires among
the artisan classes of Switzerland is a permanent asset to the nation,
lifting all those who come into contact with the hills out of their
narrow ambitions. Shelley felt this truth. The great peaks, he writes,
have a voice to repeal large codes of fraud and woe. One had only to
look at these Swiss to feel how their lives were coloured, their ideals
raised, their views broadened, by their love of their native mountains.”

Lunn likes to speak of the Swiss parties he meets as being “guideless.”
I do not know to what extent this epithet may convey a clear meaning to
others. It hardly does to me. What is a guideless party? Unless it means
a party who undertakes, without the assistance of a professional guide,
one of the ascents for which such a guide is authorised by a binding
tariff to claim payment, the expression is wanting in point. There is
nothing particularly noteworthy in this, that the natives of Switzerland
should explore and climb the mountains of their country without the
assistance of professional fellow-citizens. These form a class which
has been instituted to serve two purposes: (1) To provide them with an
additional economic asset; (2) to give strangers confidence in exploring
the Alps.

Guides seek from their employers certificates of good conduct and
utility. Many of the latter have acquired a taste, in those documents,
for sitting, as it were, at the feet of their guides as though the
positions were reversed. Indeed, it would be more natural that the
guides should give certificates of ability, daring, and endurance to the
amateur mountaineers whom they have in their charge. Under such altered
circumstances a guideless party would be a party in possession of a
certificate to the effect that they had gained sufficient proficiency in
mountaineering to hold a licence as guideless parties. Till things are so
arranged, the epithet is bootless.

Many young Swiss solve the difficulty by going through the official
course of training laid down for professional guides, in the persuasion
that should they, or the party they are with, meet with an accident,
it would not be possible for either the guiding corporation or public
opinion to fairly lay any blame at their door. There was assuredly
no reason why the young men whom we saw on that day should have been
expected to meet with an accident because they had no paid bystander.

“Luxuries had long been devoured, but even soup has a delightful flavour
in a club hut. And no one can really understand the charms of tobacco
who has never smoked in a club hut at the end of a good day’s work. The
mountain pipe has a flavour undreamt of in the plains. Even some horrible
hay-like production purchased in Adolf’s inn seemed inspired with
ambrosial flavour.”

On this 6th day of January it was to be our turn to ascend the
Finsteraarhorn. For the first time in our trip this verb is an apposite
term. It meant work, and our Socialist undertook to prove it. He first of
all swallowed up on the sly the last contents of our pot of honey. If I
wished to be nasty, I should say that he got himself tied at the end of
the rope because he had calculated selfishly that he would be dragged up
and, being first and lowest on the rope when descending, he would be held
up by us.

This little piece of reckoning did not miscarry. Wise Ulysses was too
good natured to let it be seen that he “saw through” this little plot;
fiery Achilles was of too powerful a build to mind a little extra weight,
and the other two Bernese guides were such excellent fellows that they
gave no sign of how much they suffered in their pride on account of their
colleague.

“For once in a way,” says Lunn, “the guides were punctual. I think
Professor Roget was the only one in the party who did justice to the
breakfast. A seasoned mountaineer of thirty years’ standing, he can
eat stale bread and tinned meat at 6.30 in the morning with the calm
persistency of the man who realises that food is a sound insurance
against cold and fatigue. But we were all glad to turn out of the hut,
which we left at 7.15 a.m. The first signs of dawn appeared before the
moon had set, a somewhat unusual phenomenon. Such a sunrise--though one
misses the more dramatic change from the darkest night to the day--is
accompanied by an almost unique depth of colouring. Two hours above the
hut the sun shot out from behind the Oberaarhorn, I should like to add,
like a stone flung out of a sling.”

[Illustration: BREAKFAST ON THE FINSTERAARHORN.

To face p. 163.]

The simultaneous presence, morning and evening, of sun and moon at
opposite ends of the sky, was one of the most interesting pictorial
features displayed before our eyes. I am not aware that painters are ever
likely to succeed in reproducing the cross light effects we witnessed,
silvery and cold at one extremity, golden and warm at the opposite
extremity, meeting on that endless expanse of neutral white, and shot
throughout with the azure of the sky.

The Finsteraarhorn proved itself as accommodating as the Jungfrau was
rebellious: for one and the same cause, as already hinted. The rocky
_arête_ stood up like a lace ruff above its shoulder, as fine as if it
were wrought in muslin, and offering everywhere an easy hold for our
hands. It was free from snow and from ice, owing to the constant action
of the sun’s rays percolating through the superimposed layers of dry air.
Where there was any snow there was so little that we could hardly have
expected less in summer. The _arête_ was warm to our touch.

On reaching the breakfast place, we looked anxiously at the sweep of the
uppermost span into space. Not a suspicion of any wind blowing up there.
The last two hours of the six afforded a delightful scramble along the
edge of that very impressive cock’s comb. For an hour and a half more
we climbed up alongside steep snow slopes, down which we saw the most
alarming ski tracks I have ever beheld.

By one o’clock our ropes were thrown as a noose all about the top of the
Finsteraarhorn, the giant of the Oberland. The Socialist hung on to the
end of the rope like a scorpion’s sting; Achilles led, presenting his
naked torso to the bite of the sun; in the middle bulged the robust frame
of venerable Ulysses, with his grey hair blown about by the wind, and,
filling the gaps between those three important personages, came Gyger
and Schmidt, betraying on their honest, grave countenances their naive
satisfaction at seeing themselves on such a lofty platform. We spent a
wonderful hour on the summit.

The view was perfect, as only a winter view can be, over all the great
ranges mellowed by the winter atmosphere. Beyond them a vast sea of
cloud covered the plains of Switzerland and Italy. We lay about hatless,
coatless, and gloveless. Not a breath of wind even to make the inviolable
quiet audible. Quoth Lunn:--

    “‘It seemed as if the hour were one
      Sent from beyond the skies,
    Which scattered from above the sun
      The light of Paradise.’

“Time stood still, or rather the time we passed on that aerial summit,
seemed stolen from the rest of eternity. At such moments the mind becomes
a passive instrument for recording external impressions. Old memories
arose unbidden; old associations lived again. Familiar ridges, the hills
of Grindelwald, the little chalet, just visible, where I had spent so
many happy summers, all lent an element of personal romance to the view,
all helped to awaken memories of ‘far-off things and battles long ago.’

“The view from the Finsteraarhorn is of its kind almost unique. It is
the very hub of vast spaces of eternal winter. Below, the ice-bound
cliffs of the Oberland, scored with the passage of ages, rise from a
waste of glaciers. The Finsteraarhorn is the culminating point of this
rugged chain, and looks defiantly over a host of lesser peaks towards
its great brethren of the Swiss Alps. From the Dolomites to Dauphiny,
from the Vosges to the Apennines, scarcely a peak of any importance was
hid. The winter atmosphere toned down the harsh features whilst rendering
the whole flawless panorama strangely distinct. The mountains were clad
in those wonderful bluish tints peculiar to the winter months, their
crudities had been softened, their barren places made smooth. The keynote
in the panorama was a dreamy, languorous atmosphere.”

The boundless canopy of clouds dragged itself out lazily, like a huge
soft beast, to fill up all the interstices in this rock-bound and
rock-studded vista, shot through with waves of light. There was a superb
suggestion of indolence on the far horizon, turning pale against a sky of
unfathomable blue. Below us the small wooden hut, perched on its rock,
added a touch of human interest to the view.

The guides went to sleep in the snow, while the two educated men of the
party contemplated and smoked, smoked and contemplated.

“Nine long summers I had spent as a small boy in getting to know the
remote bye-ways of the Faulhorn chain. For nine summers we had looked
longingly up to the great cliffs of the Oberland, the peaks of storm and
of dread, the dark Aar peak, the Maiden, the Monk, and the Giant. Vaguely
we wondered if it would ever be ours to penetrate into their recesses.
By the peculiar cussedness of things, I had climbed in other ranges, but
till then had never returned to my first love.

“The force of associations formed in childhood has been insisted on
_ad nauseam_ by Wordsworth and his imitators, but the sentiment is
none the less powerful for being somewhat trite. And even now, as this
early ambition had at last reached the point of realisation, I could
scarce restrain a feeling of regret. Though, in later years, calm reason
convinced me that the terrors in which my childish imagination had clad
the Oberland peaks were almost non-existent, yet the ease with which we
had conquered their monarch had its element of sadness.

“The hour passed like ten minutes. The professor gave the word to return.
We roused Adolf and sadly turned down the _arête_. The weaker brother
led with great deliberation. On this occasion we lacked not æsthetic
compensations for his slowness. It was a unique sensation, sitting
astride that vast cliff, watching the afternoon lights spreading tinges
of an infinite gradation of tones over the boundless canopy of mist.”

We reached again the fantastic little gap of the Hugi-Sattel, overlooking
a sheer cliff that drops down to the Finsteraarhorn glacier. We now
rested in the afternoon where we had breakfasted in the forenoon. We
looked back up the way we had come down. Owing to the ice, we had
been forced off the summer route--which keeps some distance below the
ridge--on to the very _arête_. There is nothing on the Matterhorn finer
than that sheer cliff that falls away to the glacier 3,000 feet below.
Drop a stone, and it falls the entire distance without a bound. The
climbing, however, both up and down, had been easy enough. Good sound
hand and foot-holds--no shadow of an excuse for a slip, not even for
Adolf, who had come up wailing in the forenoon, contributing to the
gaiety of the party by his monotonous: “Ich komme schon, aber nur nicht
so schnell.” With a shudder he beheld the track of the two Norwegians,
who had taken their ski to within a thousand feet of the summit, and, on
their return, appeared to have gaily descended a slope of soft snow lying
on streaks of ice, at an angle of 45 degrees, bridging several yawning
cracks.

Having rested on the Hugi-Sattel--this part of Switzerland recalls
everywhere the names of its explorers and scientific investigators--we
slowly retraced our steps to the hut, reaching it at 5.45.

The merry Swiss boys had left everything in beautiful order. We had
all the room--and all the raindrops--to ourselves. Heated through and
through, the roof was letting the water from the melting snow pass
through the shingles.

Once more a perfect sunset gave promise of yet another day of cloudless
beauty. Our anxieties--we had none others than those which might come
from eagerness to succeed--were at an end. We had done what we had set
out to do. Had we planned to go to the North Pole--or to discover the
Antarctic--and succeeded likewise (as mountaineers would have done long
ago if they had troubled to) our feelings could have differed but
little from those that now passed in our minds. There is a likeness in
all achievements in this. When the past is just putting forward its
forefinger in warning of its readiness to withdraw our deed gently
from our grasp and from the sight of men, we feel a pang that to have
done something means parting with it soon after. Some may have been
so ambitious to reach the North Pole that they set about it in a
dishonest spirit. Some returning from another voyage of joint and mutual
discovery--that generally goes under the name of a wedding tour--carry
home with them a melancholy tinge of regret upon their happiness. So did
we.

Yet there is in simple achievements a satisfaction which nothing else in
the world can give. Most other successes leave something to be desired.
The instability of wealth and health is a platitude. But Lunn rightly
says that every successful expedition is a permanent asset, bringing in
year by year a high rate of interest, an incorruptible treasure in the
memories of the past which nothing can destroy.

“Next day we got away by 7, stumbled down the steep rocks below the hut,
picked up our ski, our faithful boards, standing all bespattered with
snow, and by the light of the moon skied merrily down the Fiesch glacier.
As dawn broke we pushed up the long slopes leading to our next pass, the
Oberaarjoch. Suddenly an expression of pleasure escaped Professor Roget.
Such an unprecedented phenomenon--on the part of the old Cynic--aroused
my attention. I turned and saw what, for an æsthetic mind, was probably
the most striking view of the whole tour--namely, softened and subdued
by the magic of the winter atmosphere, the perfect pyramid of the
Weisshorn flanked by the daring spire of the Matterhorn.

“A little later it was my turn to give vent to some satisfaction, and the
professor looked up to see Adolf walking well at the head of the party
with his pack trim and neat on his shoulders, like those people who,
when approaching the end of their trials, stride forth as if they had
conquered the world.”

We almost reluctantly took our stand upon this the fifth and last
sky-line we were to cut through with the flat of our ski. The last of
our five passes disclosed the long arm of the Oberaar glacier, backed
by the mountains that overshadow the birthplace of the Rhône. Now the
Finsteraarhorn showed us his back view, his shoulder blades, terrace upon
terrace of sheer rock.

Indeed, the force that was impelling Adolf back towards civilisation was
not of the sort that could make the pace for us. We were going onwards
and onwards, but rather drawn by the sun towards his haunt in the east,
the common goal of so many pilgrims. But our mood was not devout except
that we were nature worshippers who, while marching to Canterbury, were
diverting one another with appropriate tales. You might have had pleasure
in seeing us advance in very open order up the wrinkled back of the
Fiesch glacier. I believe one of us was holding a pipe between his teeth,
another strolled with his hands in his pockets, a fourth darted about
kodak in hand.

Adolf thought we were slow, and grew impatient at our tarrying on this
astonishing veranda. It has, perhaps, no like in the world in this, that
it is a suspended ice-garden of an extent and altitude well proportioned
to the physical faculties of man, showing as much of natural beauty under
one of its most prodigious aspects as does not exceed the understanding
of a well-balanced mind.

I shall never forget the ever renewed delight which I found in skirting
the southern buttresses of the Finsteraarhorn range. We did not take
a step forward without stopping to look backward through the wide gap
formed by the valley down which the Fiesch glacier pours its waters in
the Rhône. The whole of the Pennine Alps displayed themselves within this
gap.

There they loomed as lifted off the earth, a gossamer, a sea of soft
light, a row of pearls looking as frail as a dream, and yet a real world,
the key to which is love of the beautiful.

Softly--the ski have a way of caressing the snow--slowly, chatting, then
wrapped in silence, we went forward, as on wings. Immersed in light,
we might have been borne aloft by an expansive force within ourselves,
so much did we rise without any effort. It was barely midday when we
stood on the Oberaarjoch. Before us bent and curved the sides of the
last glacier which we had yet to follow--the Oberaar Gletscher. Our eyes
embraced a new horizon which, surging beyond the Galenstock and the
Dammastock, extended further than the Toedi in the north and enclosed the
Bernina in the east.

We were not alone on this Belvedere. The Oberaarjoch hut, high above
us on our left, looked like one of those boxes which in a theatre allow
the eyes of the occupants to plunge down upon the stage unseen. The
platform in front of the hut was occupied by some fellow-runners, whose
voices reached our ears almost as soon as we saw them. They were watching
us, and we exchanged with them such greetings as ships may send to one
another when crossing on the high seas. To-morrow they would resume their
course towards the skies we had left behind us, while we pushed our way
towards those they had hitherto travelled under.

It would be idle to attempt to reckon up our widely sweeping curves as we
came down the Oberaar glacier. The surface, concave at the top, becomes
convex at the bottom, with a regularity which is a good example of an
unfailing law in glacier phenomena. I think we turned to the right, and
spun round to the left, and then turned to the left and spun round to the
right for about twenty minutes on that sheet of snow without a stop. Our
men bowled themselves down anyhow. But the spiral line we looked back
upon from the foot of the glacier would have won respect from the most
exacting teacher in draughtsmanship.

Lunn says that the top slope was unskiable. So we set our lunch upon it.
“Thence some straight running took us over an uninterrupted stretch of
snow about five miles in length. The surface was hard and wind-swept,
but the gradient was so gentle that we could let ourselves go without
thought of possible falls. We turned off beyond the snout of the glacier
and bore away down a gully to our left. Here the professor supplied an
interesting _entre-acte_.

“The guides had, for once in a way, got ahead. Suddenly Professor Roget
fell down at the top of a steep and trying slope. He did not rise, so I
sent the guides back to help him. Adolf saw his opportunity: a little bit
of a tragedy coming in the nick of time when the perils of the route were
over. He puffed and panted up the slope, leading the search party with
a rush. When at last three hot and perspiring guides reached the piece
of wreckage stranded on the chilly shore they were not a little annoyed
to see the boat right itself without their help, and, recovering the use
of human speech, the Professor remarked that he hoped this lesson would
teach them to keep together. It did!”

By four o’clock in the afternoon we had wandered over the long, flat
basin at the end of the Unteraar glacier, whence we said goodbye to the
Finsteraarhorn. Arnold, in high spirits, was bent on making the most of
his last chances. We were on the last spur abutting on to the flat land
in the middle of which stands the Grimsel hospice, when I saw him dash to
the left over the brow of the last wave of the hill, exclaiming, “I see a
cheeky thing to do!” The next moment he was sailing along safely on the
flats. We had no thought of entering into the hospice. Why should we? We
had not a scratch, we did not feel an ache, our equipment was as complete
as when we had started. We therefore took immediately to the road.

“Here we at last discovered genuine winter. Above, on the glaciers,
all had been warmth, colour, and light. Here in this grim gorge all was
sombre, grey, and chill. The hospice seemed to breathe a feeble defiance
to the genius of this abode of frost. Never have I seen anything more
desolate than the deserted post-road, gagged with old avalanche tracks
and overhung with icicles. Below, the angry gash of the torrent peered
out between cakes of ice, whilst above the waning light revealed sombre
bosses of grey rock smothered in snow.

“We were anxious to telephone, so I took one of the guides and made all
speed down the road. Some one had conveniently made tracks, which had
iced during the night and afforded some furious running. At last, at 6
p.m., twelve hours after leaving the hut, we pulled up at Guttannen.
Here we telephoned to Beatenberg and Kandersteg and then went in search
of night quarters. The hotel was, of course, closed, but we found rooms
for the night in an adjoining chalet and were afforded one of those
sidelights on real Swiss life which the summer visitor so rarely sees.

“We supped in the one room which was warmed, and here the family were
pursuing their various occupations. The patriarch was mumbling in the
corner over his pipe, attracting, like the majority of patriarchs, little
attention. The father, a guide in summer, chatted on the winter’s work.
He appeared to think that cutting the wood and bearing it towards the
valley left a man little time to grow fat. At the table a young girl was
plying--alas!--not the spinning-wheel of a previous generation, but an
unromantic ‘Singer.’ In front of her stood some dressmaker’s model, a
hideous, headless monstrosity on a wire cage. On the stove a small youth
slept contentedly. To him entered a bustling little damsel with the
maternal instinct precociously developed. With unsuspected tenderness
she gently lifted him up, still sleeping, bore him out of the room, and
attacked ‘with an undaunted tread the long black passage up to bed.’

“Supper over, we lit our pipes with pardonable satisfaction. Our long
journey had been carried through without a hitch. Perfect weather,
thorough arrangements, every precaution. Seriously, one can scarcely
be too careful in winter mountaineering. With every precaution, the
entire complexion of things may be altered in one moment. A broken
ski, a wrenched ankle, the work of a minute, and the situation becomes
charged with painful anxiety. With superb indifference the mountains
suffer us for ninety-nine days, and, perhaps on the hundredth--with equal
indifference--they strike.

“_Friday, January 8th._--Up once more before the dawn, to discover signs
of bad weather, which had thoughtfully postponed its arrival till we had
left the upper snows. One day earlier and we should have been cooped up
in the Finsteraarhorn hut for four days, living on stale bread and tinned
meat. A sleigh was hired to drive us to Meiringen, but I was anxious to
finish the journey on ski, so, with unpardonable sophistry, I ‘tailed’
behind the sleigh. This proved far from easy on the icy, winding road.

“At last, six days and six hours after leaving Kandersteg, five happy
men stepped on to the Meiringen platform. On lake Brienz the sky was
veiled in dark, lowering clouds, and snow fell as we drove up to
Beatenberg. On arriving, we were plied with those questions which a
certain type of people offer as well-meant flattery: ‘Was it not too
cold?’ ‘Wasn’t it too, too awfully dangerous?’ We could have accepted
the heroic _rôle_ with greater equanimity, had we failed to realise that
any one with decent endurance and a fair knowledge of ski-ing could have
accompanied us without risk.”

To give satisfaction to so many kind inquiries, I gave two days later
my first lecture before a more than crowded audience, and Arnold Lunn
supplemented it. The joint address is the common foundation of anything
we have since written on the subject.

Let me now wind up with a few final remarks.

1. Winter mountaineering may be more difficult and more dangerous than
summer climbing. One often has to face the most intense cold; but with
first-class conditions such as we enjoyed, it is scarcely more arduous,
and certainly much more enjoyable, than summer work. Our journey in
summer would have involved hours of walking through damp, slushy snow.
There would have been wearisome tramps up and down _moraines_, tedious
stretches of mule paths, dull grinds over grass slopes, and I shudder to
think--consider the mileage!--what the last day would have meant in July.
As it was, we at no time suffered from the cold, and, strangely enough,
though our days were long and mostly uphill, in point of time at least,
we neither of us ever felt tired. This was, to be sure, owing to good
ski technique. “The professor would never allow us to raise our ski off
the surface of the snow. In that way they were absolutely no weight, and
even the raising of the foot and leg was replaced by the glide upwards of
the ski blade which provided a resting-point and support, reducing the
muscular action to the same amount of forward movement as is necessary
on level ground, without any additional force being employed in vertical
action.”

Given good weather and normal conditions, a six-day traverse can be
accomplished with very little fatigue and still less privation. I have
done four such and have never been any the worse. One may weary somewhat
of soup, bread and cheese, but barring these and similar drawbacks, there
is no reason why any one of moderate physique and fair ski-ing powers
should not follow in our steps.

Somehow the memories of those six days have the power to impart something
of the magical colourings of a winter sunset to the drab dullness of
lowland evenings. On the mountains we all have moments when life assumes
unsuspected values, helping us to realise on our return to civilisation,
that the things that are seen are temporal, whereas the things which for
the time are not seen are for all practical purposes eternal. “The winter
Alps are but a vision, a faint memory intruding itself at intervals
when the roar of the commonplace is for a moment hushed in silence. If
visions were not at times the most solid of realities this world would be
intolerable.”

“Just for a moment I have had a fleeting vision,” wrote Lunn, when he
had once more settled down to the round of daily life, “of the silent
snows of the Aletsch, as you and I saw them that glad evening on the
Loetschenlücke, lit in all the splendour of the January moon. It faded
all too soon, and the winter Alps again seem very far away.”

2. I append a table of levels, in feet, similar to the table of my
vertical displacements, in metres, which the reader has found at the end
of the Diablerets to Kandersteg chapter:--

    _January 2nd._--Kandersteg to Mutthorn hut: 5,700 feet
    (Tschingel pass).

    _January 3rd._--Mutthorn hut to Petersgrat (our second pass):
    1,000 feet.

    _January 4th._--From Kippel to Egon von Steiger hut (Loetschen
    pass): 6,000 feet.

    _January 5th._--From Concordia Platz to Grünhornlücke (our
    fourth pass): 2,000 feet.

    _January 6th._--From Fieschfirn to Finsteraarhorn: 5,000 feet.

    _January 7th._--From Fieschfirn to Oberaarjoch (fifth pass):
    2,000 feet.

    Add 2,000 feet for unconsidered trifles. The total vertical
    displacement is thus brought out at a little under 24,000 feet.

We paid each of our men a pound a day. Other expenses brought the cost
to thirty pounds. It is better to have plenty of men and plenty of food.
Plenty of food because one is always liable to be detained some days in
the huts by the bad weather--plenty of men, which does not necessarily
mean guides, because a party that can be broken up into sections is
infinitely safer and handier. A party of six may be expressed by 2 + 2
+ 2, or by 3 + 3, or by 4 + 2, dispositions which may fit into almost
every emergency.

There is no doubt that sealskins are extremely convenient and a great
saving of labour in going uphill, because they annihilate back-slip, the
bugbear of beginners and of loaded men. Serious trouble may be caused
by wrinkled and puckered-up hard snow, or by those extremely slippery
patches, either snow or ice, which now and then upset the balance of the
High Alp runner.

The remedy to this I have found in a contrivance against side-slip
which figures as a permanent fixture on the powerful pair of military
ski which I used on all my big traverses. It consists of two blades of
hardish steel, about 5 inches long, sharpened and shaped in the fashion
of skates. Linked to each other across the upper surface of my ski, they
adhere to the sides by lateral pressure only, which is applied by means
of a top screw. The edge of each blade stands out beyond the flat of
the ski by the merest fraction of an inch, in front of one, and behind
the other, foot. This secures straight running on hard snow and ice by
biting into it, preventing side-slip when the broadside of the ski slew’s
round to the drop of the slope. The laws of mechanics teach that this
contrivance, maintained against the ski by side-pressure only, should get
pushed out of place when, the ski being edged, an unduly large portion
of the weight of the runner falls to be borne by the ski edge. But, in
practice, it is not so, provided you are careful to obtain the maximum of
side-pressure that the horizontal binding screw can produce.

[Illustration: ADOLF ON THE FINSTERAARHORN ARÊTE.

To face p. 178.]

Studs on the inside of the blade, making impressions upon the wood of
the ski, without injuring it in any way, increase the resistance of this
contrivance to the vertical pressure caused by the weight of the runner.

3. Within a few years from the date of writing, this part of
the Alps will be girdled by a network of mountain railways. The
Grindelwald-Jungfrau railway, already completed to the Jungfraujoch
(11,000 feet), will deposit the ski-runner within a stone’s throw of the
Concordia Platz. There he will, as the phrase goes, have it all his own
way, with the resources of civilisation and a railway station to fall
back upon.

The line of the Loetschberg, on the international railway,
now being built to join Berne to Brigue, should be open to
traffic by the end of 1913. It will then take but a few moments
to run there and back, underground, between Kandersteg and
Goppenstein in the Loetschenthal, joining together both ends
of the ski route Kandersteg--Gastern--Mutthorn--Petersgrat (or
Loetschberg)--Kippel--Goppenstein.

To the east, a line now under construction from Brigue, with a tunnel
under the Furka pass to Andermatt, will connect the St. Gothard ski-ing
grounds with those we have just described.

Skiers running down the Aletsch will be able to take train at Moerel
or Fiesch. These coming facilities are not altogether pleasant to
contemplate for those who hold the traditional ideas about the virginity
and sanctity of the Alpine Holy of Holies; but to the extent in which
it may be possible to work those lines in winter--and to this there is
no insuperable physical obstacle--they will greatly contribute to the
generalising of ski, and thereby confer inestimable benefits upon young
people in Europe, while reducing to the minimum consistent with the zest
of manly enjoyment those risks which are the haunting terror of the
parents, sisters, and wives of the adventurous winter sportsman.

[Illustration]



CHAPTER VI

THE AIGUILLE DU CHARDONNET AND THE AIGUILLE DU TOUR

    The aspect of the Grand Combin--Topography--Weather conditions
    for a successful raid--A classification of peaks--The Orny
    nivometer--The small snowfall of the High Alps--The shrinkage
    of snow--Its insufficiency to feed the glaciers--The Aiguille
    du Tour--Ascent of Aiguille du Chardonnet--The St. Bernard
    hospice--Helplessness of the dogs--The narrow winter path--The
    monks’ hospitality--Their ski--The accident on the Col de
    Fenêtre--“Ce n’est pas le ski.”


The Val de Bagnes, the Val d’Entremont, which leads up to the pass of
the great St. Bernard, and the Val Ferret are comparatively little
frequented by Englishmen, even in the height of the summer season. Why
it should be so is not quite clear. There is no finer group in the Alps,
from Tyrol to Dauphiné, than the Grand Combin and Mont Velan group. As
seen from Lake Champex, or from almost any point of vantage in the Val
de Bagnes, the group of the Combins and abutting snow-clad tops forms
one of the grandest pieces of mountain architecture that can be imagined,
one of a character that is somewhat uncommon, for the breadth and width
of the lines are more striking here than in the usual type of mountains
tapering up to a peak. The snow-fields and icefalls are magnificent,
while the altitude of this group (Grand Combin 4,317 metres, or 14,164
feet) enables it to rank beside Mont Blanc, Monte Rosa, and the Mischabel
range, eclipsing the Finsteraarhorn and Piz Bernina.

If the Englishman is not so often seen in summer in that region as he
might be, I am sure that in winter none have yet visited on ski the
valleys of Bagnes, Entremont and Ferret, with the exception of a party
about which I may have something to say in another chapter. The writer of
these lines has, therefore, an excellent chance of introducing a novel
field to the British ski-runner. He spent an eight-days’ week in March,
1907, upon a raid in the valleys above named, ranging from one to another
on ski, with two friends, one of whom was a youth of eighteen, and the
other a well-known Valaisan ski-runner, Maurice Crettex, from Champex.

A knowledge of topography being absolutely essential to one’s safety in
High Alp ski-running, even the most expert runner will take care that
at least one of his party possesses that knowledge to perfection. The
runner who takes the risk of wasting some of his strength--or time on
short winter days--upon errors in direction, is little short of a fool.
Owing to steep slopes and complicated ground, the slightest topographical
mistake may cause a fatal waste of precious time--and of a man’s
useful energy, the fund of which is limited in a town or plain dweller,
who only occasionally tries his physical endurance in winter at a high
altitude.

[Illustration: FERRET--ENTREMONT--BAGNES.

(Reproduction made with authorisation of the Swiss Topographic Service,
26.8.12.)

To face p. 182.]

A raid on ski is not a raid if it is interrupted by stress of weather.
It is then best described as a commonplace misadventure. The intending
raider must trust to chance, assisted by a careful reading of the daily
reports of the weather issued from Zürich. These reports now very usually
distinguish between High Alp weather and the conditions prevailing during
the same periods in the lake and river region. When there is a scientific
prospect of fog over the lakes and rivers, this means that the air is
still, and that the sun shines upon every mountain rising above four,
five, or six thousand feet, as the case may be. A wind arising from north
or east will not interfere with the raid (except in the matter of cold),
but a gale from west or south will bring it to an abrupt end, and be
attended with the utmost danger if the warning of a falling glass is not
immediately acted upon.

During the eight days that this raid lasted, the weather was absolutely
steady, fine, and windless, the sun and moon vying uninterruptedly with
each other to extinguish darkness. We suffered at no time from the cold
after sunset or in club huts, and basked all day long in the sun’s direct
heat and in the rays reflected from the snows. The temperature fell
at night to 10 or 15 degrees under zero Centigrade, and rose to most
extraordinary readings during the day. We were dressed in the warm, tough
material used by all competent mountain climbers even in the height of
summer, with strong thick boots, and never for a moment suffered from
cold feet.

Thanks to the above circumstances and to a happy concourse of every
advantage, my two companions and myself were the first human beings
who ever smoked their pipes and cigars in winter, and sat in their
shirt-sleeves on the top of the Aiguille du Tour, Aiguille du Chardonnet,
and Grand Combin. The latter summit was attempted by one of my colleagues
at Bâle (Mr. O. D. Tauern, the German gentleman mentioned in another
chapter). But the most gallant efforts failed to bring him and his
friends to the very top, though the tour was a complete vindication of
winter mountaineering on ski. An account of their expedition appeared in
the Annual (1908) of the _Schweizer Ski-Verband_.

A ski-raid upon the giants of the Alpine world does not necessarily mean
that the raider sets his ski upon the brow of the conquered adversary.
Such a pretension would be pedantic. The summits of the Alps may, for the
ski-runner, be divided into three classes, strictly according to their
conformation, whether they be small or great, Alpine or only sub-Alpine.

There is the class which is inaccessible under winter conditions, because
those summits are then led up to by slopes so sharp or insecure that
neither ski nor boot can reasonably be used upon them. That class we
reject altogether. Another class consists of mountains, such as the
Diablerets, Wildhorn, Wildstrubel, the tops of which are led up to by
slopes eminently fitted for ski, both upwards and downwards. A third
class consists of summits which cannot be reached on ski, because they
are rock-pinnacles, but which can be _only_ conveniently approached on
ski. This class, to my mind, is the best, as it combines ski-running with
rock-climbing. The Dufour Spitze of Monte Rosa would be the grandest
example in this category.

Grand Combin, approached on the north side from the Plateau des Maisons
Blanches, belongs to the same class as Diablerets, Wildhorn, and
Wildstrubel. But if the ascent be varied by climbing the rocks _viâ_
Combin de Valsorey, a course which I found as easy and comfortable in
winter as in summer, the Grand Combin passes into a--to my mind--higher
class. The Aiguille du Chardonnet and the Aiguille du Tour, to the tops
of which there is from no side a continuous way on snow, are other
typical instances.

Any one who would follow in our footsteps and perform, like us, an eight
or ten days’ ski-running and rock-climbing raid, will find every useful
indication as to programme and distribution of time in the following
description:--

The raid comprises three parts: First, Aiguille du Tour and Aiguille du
Chardonnet; second, Great St. Bernard, and Val Ferret back to Orsières;
third, Grand Combin, and back to Martigny.

The ski-runners will leave Orsières at about 7 o’clock a.m., and proceed
on their first day to the Cabane d’Orny, or to the Cabane Dupuys, which
lies still higher. The Cabane d’Orny being quite comfortable, the
vertical displacement from Orsières (890 metres) to the site of that hut
(2,692 metres) will probably be found a sufficient effort to justify one
in leaving the higher hut severely alone that day. The Cabane d’Orny may
be reached either by following the bed of the Combe d’Orny from Orsières,
or _viâ_ Chalets de Saleinaz, from Praz de Fort. We found both lines of
access equally good, but information as to the best at any given time of
the winter season should always be obtained from those locally acquainted
with snowcraft. The ascent to the hut being continuous, the ski-runner
will save much time, and save up much energy, in using a contrivance
against back-slip, whichever may be the one he favours.

There is near the Cabane d’Orny, against a flight of rocks, a nivometer.
This is an apparatus for recording the height at which the snow may rise
against a rock face. Persons of an observant turn of mind are requested
to read the nivometer (which consists of horizontal bars of red paint,
bearing each a number at regular intervals) and to enter in the hut-book
the date of the observation. This is one of the many lame devices which
have been contrived to measure the snowfall at a given spot during the
year. It is supposed that interesting data, and points of comparison from
year to year, may thus be collected. And these, with observations made at
other places in the glacier zone, are digested and published from time to
time.

There is no doubt that the nivometer will show every day in the
year--though it will not be so often noticed--the height at which the
snow stands against the face of that rock. But how much information can
it give about the snowfall? Snow cannot find its true level on the face
of a rock against which it is blown about by the wind and where it is
interfered with by the temperature of the stone, sometimes heated by the
sun and sometimes colder than the air surrounding it.

Snow is not like water or air. It is not an elastic consistent substance
or a uniform fluid, like gas, seeking its own level or settling down
upon a surface. It falls unevenly upon an uneven ground. It melts or
accumulates, shrinks or flies about according to its local situation,
and, within a given time, the nivometer will give very contradictory
readings. A snow gauge is no easy thing to establish. When rain falls it
is easily measured, because, in the course of nature, it is mere water.
Not so with snow.

What is measured by the Alpine nivometers is the height of the snow
lying at a certain place on a given day. Density cannot be checked. Yet
it operates immediately after the snowfall. This mode of mensuration
gives no reliable clue. Some of the snow was carried away by the wind
that would have remained on a windless day. Some has been blown from
elsewhere, in what proportion it is impossible to tell. How much has
melted depends on the sun heat, and the amount of this deficiency no
instrument is there to record. A storm may have intervened. Another may
have blown the snow flat, concentrating the total mass within a smaller
compass. Another may have piled it up in abnormal wreaths.

The science of snow measurement is quite in its infancy. When it is
developed it will probably be on lines very different from those at
present followed, and the results cannot be foretold.

Natural nivometers should be raised above the surface like dovecots and
set up in wide-open spaces, in situations exposed to the four winds of
heaven. They should be able to receive on all sides the snow moving in
the air. They should be in the shape of a cone with long, gently sloping
sides. And even then they would not prove much, unless the snow they had
collected was gauged after every fall and the apparatus swept clean and
prepared to receive the next fall on a smooth surface.

It would then probably be found that the amount of snow falling on the
glaciers of the Alps is much smaller than we are apt to imagine. In any
case, the depth of the snow that finds a permanent station upon the rock
and ice surface of the Alps, till spring, is only a fraction of the
depth of snow that would be obtained by adding together each volume of
snow that might be gauged after each separate snowfall. Snowflakes form
an aggregate which gradually passes into a conglomerate. They lie at
first like the pieces of a game of spillikins, at different angles with
one another. By degrees the crystals lose their shape. The edges of the
prisms die out. The air that circulated between them is expelled. A hard
texture takes the place of the flimsy structure of the first moment. In
this process of reduction in volume and of increase in density, cracks
are generated in the mass. They are at first potential and remain latent
till wind-pressure, or the footfall of man, determines the bursting open
of the surface, accompanied by a report which sometimes unnecessarily
alarms the unwary, and at other times is a sure sign of a dangerous
snow-quake.

The depth of the snow is also modified by a process of sublimation which
causes it to shrink rapidly. The atmosphere while re-absorbing the air
expired by the snow, also re-assimilates some of its moisture, even
without the suggestion of a thaw.

The outcome of so many efficient causes may be summed up in one word:
shrinkage. But, as snow almost always is wind-driven when it falls,
a large portion of the quantity follows in the air a course parallel
to the wind, and (when it strikes obliquely the smooth and slippery
surfaces--old snow, ice, rock surfaces--over which it travels instead of
locating itself upon them) it is impelled forward, and sweeps along till
it can find a lodgement against a solid protuberance, or is dropped over
the edge of some break in the surface, out of the reach of the wind, when
it finds a resting-place and gets piled up. This is another reason why
one meets with less snow on the wind-swept, high-lying surfaces than in
the middle zone of the Alps.

A third effective cause is to be found in the clouds. Snow-laden clouds
do not generally unload themselves at a very high altitude. They form
themselves in belts on the lower flanks of each range and pour forth
their contents nearer the grazing and forest zone than one would be led
to expect when one looks up towards them from the bottom of a valley.
We then see the basement and sides of the cloud masses. We project their
vertical lines almost infinitely into space. This is the kind of delusion
to which we are subject when we look at a house from the street-level
or, _vice versâ_, when we look down from a roof on to the pavement. The
actual volume of snow whirling above our heads is considerably thinner
than we assume. This is the case particularly during the winter season in
Switzerland, as winter balloonists may testify.

So, without entering any further into the scientific aspects of this
question, we wish here to note provisionally that a properly conducted
nivometric survey of the Alps might show that the winter snow storage is
quite out of proportion with the quantities required to replenish the
upper ice-forming reservoirs to whose function so much importance is
attached in the current theories about glaciers.

From the hut try the ascent of the Aiguille du Tour the following
morning. On ski, along the easy slant of the Glacier d’Orny, and then
by an easy climb, lasting one hour at the most, on good dry rock (3,531
metres = 11,615 feet); this undertaking will be a great delight. The
upper reaches of the Glacier du Trient and of the Glacier d’Orny are one
of the most magnificent ski-grounds that man can imagine. They can be
taken advantage of both before sunset on the day of one’s arrival at the
hut, which should be reached by two o’clock, and on the next day, for a
departure at eight from the hut should enable you to be on the Aiguille
du Tour by eleven, which leaves the whole afternoon for runs.

[Illustration: THE VALSOREY GLEN.

To face page 190.]

Your third day can be employed in ascending the Aiguille du Chardonnet
(12,585 feet) as follows: ski up to the Col du Tour; ski down the pass
facing west, and leaning a bit to your left; then up the slope from right
to left (that is facing full south) at first, and then full west, along
the foot of Aiguille Forbes. From the moment you have passed that point
the ski-runner becomes a climber. You may have to cut a few steps to
reach the eastern arête, which runs from the dip on the west flank of
Aiguille Forbes to the top. The _arête_, of course, requires rope and
much skill in manipulating it.

In splendid weather, the rock being free from snow or ice, and, into the
bargain, well known to one of the three of us, we did the climb without
experiencing anywhere a moment’s delay. Time-table: Started from Cabane
d’Orny, 5.50 a.m.; reached Col d’Orny, 7.15 a.m.; crossed Plateau du
Trient to Col du Tour by 8.15 a.m.; passed foot of Aiguille Forbes by
10.20 a.m.; set foot on _arête_ by 12 a.m.; reached top at 1.25 p.m.;
completed descent of _arête_ by 3.20 p.m.; resumed our ski at 4.20 p.m.;
skied back to Col du Tour by 5.40 p.m.; got home by 7 o’clock.

Our rests were: Twenty minutes at 8.15 a.m., twenty minutes at 10.20
a.m., thirty-five minutes at 1.25 p.m., twenty-five minutes at 4.20 p.m.,
twenty minutes at 5.40 p.m.

For ski tours in the Mont Blanc range, consult the maps by Barbey,
Imfeld, and Kurz.

The fourth day of this raid was employed in an easy and very fast run
down to Orsières, then on a vehicle to Bourg St. Pierre, whence four
hours on ski bring the runner to the Hospice du Grand St. Bernard, the
gates of which are open night and day to all-comers. A long night in a
most comfortable bed, after a most substantial meal, and followed by a
plentiful breakfast next day, made sufficient amends for the nights spent
in the Cabane d’Orny.

In summer the hospitality extended by the St. Bernard monks to passing
tourists--one may not spend more than two nights under their roof--is
somewhat perfunctory, because they are oppressed by numbers. In winter,
on the contrary, they are left to themselves. Time and solitude are
somewhat heavy and passers-by of some education are the more welcome.

Within a lap of the hospice we were spied by the famous dogs. They barked
and made but a poor pretence at coming towards us. They were terribly
handicapped in the snow, which we lightly brushed with the flat of our
ski. No wonder they floundered: the floury snow was about 6 feet deep.
Their fore and hind quarters went under, and then hove again into sight,
while they swung out of one hole into the next, as nutshells rising and
falling with the waves.

This situation threw some fresh light upon their legendary life-saving
occupation. The tables were turned. We were much better prepared to save
them from suffocation than they to lend us a helping paw. In fact, one
huge beast’s efforts to get on board my ski somewhat perplexed me.

We had struck out our own line, in coming up, across the surges of the
snow. The farther from any path, the happier the ski-runner. But we saw
enough of the winter track to understand the usefulness of the dogs. The
track is about 2 feet wide. It cuts in and out of the summer road, and
consists simply of the narrow footpath which pedestrians and the monks
have trodden hard. They manage to keep it open from summer to spring by
directing upon it the little traffic there is. The snow hardens after
each fall when walked on and raises the pathway by so much, building up
by degrees a kind of elevated viaduct on which to remain is the condition
of safe progress. Step out to the right or to the left by one inch, you
drop down several feet into the drifts.

What this might mean, in the fog or during a blizzard, to those weary,
ill-shod, ill-clad, under-fed Italian labourers who still choose that
mode of transit to save their railway fare under the Simplon, we could
easily imagine. The dogs, on the other hand, would keep upon the track
and scent in what snow-covered spot the poor trespasser had missed his
footing and strayed. The remainder would be spade and shovel work for the
charitable monks.

Easter being early that year, Lent was drawing to an end. The house was
wrapped in silence. The bells being hushed, a rattle croaked along the
passages instead. But Lenten hospitality may be lavish and fishes must
swim at all times, as the capital trout from the Dora Baltea experienced,
that was floated on the best of wines down to a worthy home of rest. On
the next morning we met a procession; they were calves being driven up
from Italy. They looked sickly against the pure sunlit snow, but they
capered and frolicked, and booed with joy. Well might they do so as long
as the bells were silent. But after!

Years before this, the monks had been driven to the use of boards for
getting about. They invented a rude ski wanting in the essential feature
of modern planks, free action for the heel. With them the heel was
fastened down to the boards. They sprinted and punted about with the
help of a long stout pole, achieving quite a style of their own. With
their long robes waving, and swinging their gaffs from side to side, now
to steer, and now to propel their unsteady craft, with arms alternately
raised and lowered, they cut very picturesque figures against a terribly
bleak background, with their dogs pounding after them, till we lost sight
of them behind the corner like a flock of mountain choughs.

My next day saw me across the Col de Fenêtre (2,773 metres = 8,855
feet), along the whole Val Ferret, back to Orsières, a most magnificent,
perfectly easy and reposeful trip. From point to point, that is, from
Orsières up the Val d’Entremont to the Col du Grand St. Bernard, and
through the Col de Fenêtre, down the Val Ferret, back to Orsières,
the ski-ing is first-rate, these valleys running on parallel lines,
downwards, from south to north. The crossing from one col to the other,
upon south-facing slopes, is the only unpleasant piece of ski-ing, though
quite safe and easy.

A fatal accident befell here a party of runners a few years after. They
intended running up the Val Ferret to the hospice when they committed
a serious mistake. As the map shows, the summer path winds corkscrew
fashion from the bed of the valley to the lakes of Ferret. Now, when a
ski-runner is seen upon a steep winding path, or ploughing his way up
the sides of it, it often means that he has not reconnoitred the skiers’
route on his map. Those young men cut into a snow bulge, the snow ran out
through the slit and overwhelmed one of them.

Those bulges are a most treacherous invention of the snow-fiend. They
are best likened to an egg-shell full of sand, with some compressed air
imprisoned between the shell and the sand. Break the crust, the air runs
out with a puffing sound, and the snow, freed from pressure, begins to
trickle through the hole, enlarging it. Then the whole mass, blowing
itself out and thrown out of balance, comes down.

The study of the map would have shown to the victims of this phenomenon
of nature that however much the corkscrew might be the right way up or
down for loaded men and cows (the pack and the cow between them determine
the lie of every mountain path), such a path was not for men mounted on
skiffs that could choose their course upon the country-side with the same
liberty of choice as a ship steering upon the open sea.

This brings back to my mind a regulation supposed to have been issued by
a certain War Office on the Continent. Some zealous officers had been
coaching their men in the use of ski upon open fields, and some trifling
injuries had been entered by the army medico in his report sheet.

Next autumn a circular was received in every army corps recommending
officers to teach ski-ing on roads only!

Last winter I was trotted up a steepish and narrow winding path by some
well-meaning friends who had acquired their ski-ing from a “big” man.
Some patches of the road under wood were sunk in deep snow; others, in
the open, were ice; others bare earth and stones, and the whole was so
well banked in that side-stepping was impossible.

When I mildly remonstrated--after, not before, discipline would forbid--I
was politely told that so-and-so always took his parties up that way. No
doubt, and quite heroic of him, _mais ce n’est pas le ski_.

In the evening of this day, which I reckon as the fifth, a conveyance
carried the three runners, in whom the readers of this chapter may by
now have become interested, to Châble, in the Val de Bagnes, and then
to Lourtier, a convenient starting-point for an attempt upon the Combin
region.

[Illustration]



CHAPTER VII

THE GRAND COMBIN

    The Panossière hut--Tropical winter heat--Schoolboys and
    the Matterhorn--Shall it be rock or snow?--The Combin
    de Valsorey--My third ascent of the Grand Combin--The
    track home--Col des Avolions--Natural highways of a new
    character--Twenty-three thousand feet ascended on ski.


On the sixth day of my expedition we left Lourtier shortly before 10
o’clock a.m., knowing full well that we were in no hurry, that we meant
to thoroughly enjoy our day’s work, and that the hospitable door of the
Cabane de Panossière would be no more difficult to open after sunset than
before.

As soon as we had passed the last houses of Lourtier, we put on our ski,
and, practically, did not remove them from our feet till eight o’clock
that evening, allowing for two hours’ rest in the heat of the day, from
two to four. We branched off from the Fionnay direction to turn to the
right at Granges Neuves, crossing the bridge to Mayens du Revers, and
hence rising towards the path that leads in summer from Fionnay to the
Alpe de Corbassière. We thus reached, by two o’clock, after passing the
wooden cross at the point 1,967, and just beyond the chalets of the Alpe
de Corbassière, the point 2,227 of the map. We spent there two hours,
under a tropical sun. Then we plunged down a gully to the west, on our
right, so as to advance on ground which the sun had not softened, and
rose again along the side moraine to the point 2,644, whence there lay
before us a most romantic moonlit landscape.

The hut was still in darkness when I reached it, the last of the party,
in order to enjoy the sensation of seeing the windows dimly lit by the
candlelight within, and the smoke curling up out of the chimney. The
impression was one of charming “cosiness,” in the middle of a more
than Arctic landscape, and there was that sublimity above and around
which beggars the art of description. A snow and wind-tight Alpine hut,
well stocked with fuel and blankets, well supplied with plain food and
wholesome drink from the provision bag of its guests, is, in midwinter,
one of the snuggest “ingle-nooks” a natural epicure may wish for, and,
strange to say, what he may therein find most pleasurable is the shade
and coolness of the shelter, so fairly could I compare our tramp of that
day to a trip in the “scrub” under the equator. Forsooth, the prejudice
which still prevails against roaming in winter at high altitudes is a
remnant of that state of mind which kept early explorers of the High Alps
tramping round and round the foot of such hills as the Matterhorn, which
Macaulay’s healthy “schoolboy” would now think nothing of rushing at,
with his sisters trailing behind.

If it is possible, in sporting circles, to speak of the _Zeit Geist_
without pedantry, we should say that the spirit of the time, in matters
mountaineering, has undergone a remarkable change since the advent of
Macaulay’s proverbial schoolboy.

Or is the change not rather a return to a healthier frame of mind?

It is quite true that in few sports is the extreme penalty, death,
so constantly near at hand as in mountaineering. But is it not quite
apparent, too, that the early lovers of the Alps were full-grown,
leisured, and cultured men, whose training, occupation, or temper, had
not properly prepared them to see the risk in its true proportions? From
them a whole generation took the cue. Then came another, for which the
taking of risks exceeding the _modicum_ attached to a passive existence
was the touchstone of manliness. They sought in the Alps opportunities
for strenuous displays, as well as haunts where the harassed soul could
take holiday. They are the generation which made of Switzerland the
playground of Europe. It is they who brought mountaineering to the
present period, when first ascents have become a hackneyed amusement, and
schoolboys marvel at the facility of undertakings which, when attempted
for the first time in bygone days, rightly called forth the admiration
of the civilised world. Is it in the modern spirit that, on the morning
of my seventh day, with the grand unconcern of an ever-victorious squad,
hitherto scratchless, bruiseless, and unwearied, we took the route, well
known to all of us, which leads up the Glacier de Corbassière to the Col
des Maisons Blanches? On reaching the plateau which precedes the col, we
made up our minds as to the choice between the two routes to the top of
Grand Combin.

The choice lay between rock and snow. Rock won the toss. From the Plateau
des Maisons Blanches we turned full south, and left our ski at the foot
of the steep snow and ice slope which leads to the Col de Meiten. The
track over this col, dotted upon the map (Siegfried Atlas, Swiss military
survey), crosses the Combin rocks upon a snow belt from north to south,
where it ends upon the so-called Plateau du Couloir. The ascent to the
col--we were roped--presented no difficulty. The crusted snow was easily
kicked into foot-holds.

The rocks of the Combin de Valsorey, which we ascended from the col, now
looking east, were absolutely free from snow or ice, the only discomfort
being exposure to a hot sun in an excessively dry atmosphere--just the
thing, I should say, for salamanders, which, unfortunately, we were
not. In this respect our experience totally differed from that, already
alluded to, of Mr. Tauern and his friends. Not only did they take to the
peak further east, from the corridor, _viâ_ Grand Combin de Zessetta
(this summit is immediately south of the figures 3,600 on the Siegfried),
using climbing-irons on the steep ice, but they experienced a cold so
intense that they were driven back.

For my part, being no longer a young man at all, I felt so overcome with
the dry heat on Combin de Valsorey, that I remembered with complacency
how fully acquainted I was with the top of Grand Combin, and how useless
it would be to bore such an old friend with another visit at an unusual
time of year. I went, nevertheless, and spent some minutes of that
triumphant afternoon in amicable nods to Mont Viso, which somehow I had
missed on my previous visits.

The reader will gather from the late hours noted in the following
time-table what confidence a rock-climber may gain from the knowledge
that his ski are waiting for him below, firmly planted in the snow, and
that a secure track marked on the friendly element runs uninterruptedly
from the spot where they stand to a trustworthy refuge hut. We cheerfully
cut through the loops of our ascending track, by a perpendicular course,
and, as the reader will see, returned to the hut in an incredibly short
time, enjoying with untroubled mind the afterglow of a magnificent sunset
gradually whitening into mellow moonlight.

_Time-table_: Left Panossière hut at 7.15 a.m.; reached first plateau
by 8.20 a.m.; reached Maisons Blanches, 10 a.m.; reached foot of Col de
Meiten, 10.55 a.m.; lunch, thirty-five minutes; reached top of Meiten
pass, 12.20 p.m.; reached top of Combin de Valsorey, 2.30 p.m.; reached
top of Grand Combin, 3.30 p.m. (14,164 feet); afternoon tea on top of
Combin de Valsorey, thirty minutes; left Combin de Valsorey, 5 p.m.,
resumed our ski, 7.15 p.m.; back to hut, 7.45 p.m.

Remember that in runs like this, extending over 8 kilometres (5 miles),
the runners must keep together from beginning to end.

The eighth day of this fascinating circular tour was an easy one. It is
worth noting, as an instance of many of the same kind, which moderately
trained ski-runners would find extremely remunerative. Our eight days’
work would form the third and last portion of a typical ski trip, such as
the Val de Bagnes enables the intelligent amateur to compose in various
ways, in this instance as follows: First day, from Lourtier (where night
lodging can be had at the telegraph office), to Cabane de Panossière,
_viâ_ Fionnay; second day, Col des Maisons Blanches, and back to the
hut; third day, back to Lourtier _viâ_ Col des Avolions, leaving plenty
of time to reach Martigny by sledge, and catch the evening trains to
Lausanne, Geneva, Milan, or Berne.

The Col des Avolions is an insignificant incision in the range of rocky
heights which run along the tongue of the Glacier de Corbassière on its
west side, from north to south. From the hut you cross the glacier very
much to the north, though slightly inclining to the west. In an hour’s
time you will be on the col, the vertical displacement from the hut down
to the foot of the pass being about 190 yards (the difference between
2,713 metres and 2,523 metres is the amount “dipped”), while the rise
from the foot of the pass is 125 yards, approximately. These 125 yards
were practically all the climbing we got that day. You will ascend with
your ski slung over your shoulders, the most convenient way when the
gullies are steep, short, and full of compact snow.

No man in his senses will attempt High Alp ski-running without strong,
heavily soled and nailed mountain boots to his feet. The big nails round
the toe of the boot are most valuable for lodging one’s feet into steep
snow slopes or couloirs, and a broad, flat, nail-fringed heel need never
interfere with the running, unless the heads of the nails are uneven.
Nails on the sides of the boots are less necessary.

From the Col des Avolions there is a delightful run down, full
north-west, to the stream which the path crosses (see map) to lead up to
the Chalets de Sery. Keep well to the right (east) of the point marked
2,419. We found the bed of the stream quite practicable on ski, as far
as we required it to get round the point 2,419. Then we made for point
2,243, so as to keep on the level (about 2,190 metres), while leaving
that point on our left, slightly above us. Then we proceeded down to
the Alpe de la Lys, keeping above the tree-line, till we could ski down
to Tougne on fairly open ground. Thence, to the bridge that crosses the
Dranse to Lourtier, the ground is not complicated, or you may ski down
to Champsec. We left the hut at 8 o’clock a.m., sat astride the Avolions
saddle at nine, and entered Lourtier at twelve, having in nowise hurried
ourselves.

It is a distinctive feature of mountaineering on ski that its votaries
look for natural highways of a new character.

The winter snow opens up quite unexpected routes, and it will soon be
the business of ski-ing clubs to issue maps revised from that point of
view. A well-filled-up steep gully becomes an opportunity for building
up a stairway that summer is unaware of. A gorge in which a dangerous
stream brawls in summer on slippery rocks may now appear in the guise
of an open and straight line of communication between upper and lower
reaches separated by impassable shelves of rock. Glacier tails, at other
times bristling with spiky _séracs_ and riddled with gaping blue pits,
turn into smooth bridges thrown over blanks in nature that were a torture
to contemplate. Torrents are reduced to the size of tiny transparent
rivulets closely hemmed in between narrow banks of solid snow and easily
spanned by the long, pliable boards. A frozen-over and snow-wadded Alpine
lake, toilsomely skirted in summer by winding up and down its rocky,
broken shores, may be crossed from point to point by a smiling navigator.
The word snowcraft acquires a new meaning. The runner eyes the country in
its broad, general aspect, determines, map in hand, the bee-line leading
to his destination, fixes upon the stretches of unbroken snow that will
bring him round any unskiable places, and in the end gets home more after
the style of birds borne through the air than after the fashion of the
clod-hopping kind. Here is, to wind up with, a note of the total vertical
displacement which we have shown may be attained, with ski, in the course
of eight days. From Orsières to Cabane d’Orny, 1,802 metres; to Aiguille
du Tour, 839; to Aiguille Chardonnet, 1,131; from Bourg St. Pierre to
Grand St. Bernard hospice, 839; thence to Col de Fenêtre, 228; from
Lourtier to Panossière hut, 1,613; thence to Grand Combin, 1,617; Col des
Avolions, 125; metres, 8,194. Of course, the measurement on the ground
would show a still more significant total, but I do not really believe
that more than 600 yards need be added on that score. On the other side
the following items may be deducted, as done on foot, climbing: Tour,
270; Chardonnet, 500; Combin, 1,000--metres, 1,770. This leaves, as
actually ascended on ski, a minimum of 7,000 metres, a trifle under
23,000 feet.

[Illustration]



CHAPTER VIII

ACROSS THE PENNINE ALPS ON SKI BY THE “HIGH-LEVEL” ROUTE.

    The “high-level” route--Previous attempts--My itinerary--Marcel
    Kurz--The wise old men of Bourg St. Pierre--Maurice
    Crettex--Guides with bamboos and laupars!--The snow-clad
    cliffs of Sonadon--The Chanrion hut--Sealed-up crevasses--The
    nameless pass--Louis Theytaz--The Pigne d’Arolla--The Bertol
    hut--Why the Dent Blanche could be ascended--The ladies’
    maids’ easy job--The dreadful summer slabs--We push past
    two “constables”--My cane--We bash in her ladyship’s white
    bonnet--The Ice-Maid presses gently my finger-tips--The
    cornice crashes down--A second night in the Bertol hut--The
    Col d’Hérens--An impending tragedy--A milk-pail versus
    ski--Dr. Koenig and Captain Meade--The real tragedy of
    Theytaz’s death--Ropes and crevasses--Mr. Moore’s account--My
    comments--The Mischabel range and Monte Rosa.


From the St. Bernard hospice to Bourg St. Pierre the run down presents no
particular interest. It is at Bourg St. Pierre the “high-level” road to
Zermatt is entered upon.

For about fifty years it has been customary to give the name “high-level
route” to the glacier passes which connect Chamonix and Zermatt--Col
d’Argentière, Col des Planards, Col de Sonadon, Col de l’Evêque, Col
de Collon, Col du Mt. Brûlé, and Col de Valpelline. All these passes,
except the second (Col des Planards), are above 10,000 feet and linked to
each other by means of glaciers. This is the high-level route properly
so-called, and as followed in summer.

The first attempt to cross the Pennine Alps in winter on ski, from west
to east, was made by a party of four from Chamonix, namely, Dr. Payot,
Joseph Couttet, Alfred Simond, and the guide, Joseph Ravanel, nicknamed
“le Rouge.” They started from Chamonix in the middle of January, 1903,
and appear to have outlined for themselves the following route, which was
intended to bring them in three days from the “Pavillon de Lognan,” above
Argentière to Zermatt:--

    _First Day_.--Col du Chardonnet, Fenêtre de Saleinaz, Orsières,
    Châble (in Vallée de Bagnes).

    _Second Day_.--Châble, Cabane de Chanrion.

    _Third Day_.--Chanrion, Glacier d’Otemma, Col de l’Evêque, Col
    du Mt. Brûlé, Col de Valpelline, Glacier de Zmutt, Zermatt.

Obviously, this plan could not be carried into practice as it was laid
down on paper. Into the bargain, the runners were stopped on the Col de
l’Evêque by bad weather, and, being short of provisions, they backed
down the Vallée de Bagnes, the whole way to Martigny. Thence they went
to Evolena, and crossing the Col d’Hérens, they reached Zermatt. From
Evolena to Zermatt the day was a long one, and they came down the Glacier
de Zmutt at night (see _Revue Alpine_, 1903, pp. 269-284). This first
attempt, over ground as yet unknown to the ski-runner, was broken up into
three sections.

One month later (in February, 1903), two pioneers, who probably had no
knowledge of this first feat, started in their turn upon the high-level
route on ski.

They were Dr. R. Helbling and Dr. F. Reichert. Starting from the Vallée
de Bagnes, they reached with much difficulty the Cabane de Panossière, on
the right bank of the Glacier de Corbassière.

After attempting the Col des Maisons Blanches in order to reach the
Cabane de Valsorey, they found themselves compelled to return to the
Cabane de Panossière, and thence crossed the ridge at Mulets de la
Liaz. The descent on the face looking towards Chanrion was extremely
trying. They had to carry their ski. Anatole Pellaud, of Martigny, who
accompanied them, actually lost his pair, and came home along the Vallée
de Bagnes, while the others spent the night in the wretched huts of
la Petite Chermontane. The following day was spent in lounging about
the Cabane de Chanrion. Then they went on to Arolla by the Mont Rouge,
Seilon, and Riedmatten passes. At Arolla they slept in a barn, and next
day ascended to the Cabane de Bertol. The last day in this uncomfortable
pilgrimage was taken up in crossing the Col d’Hérens, ascending the Tête
de Valpelline, and descending to Zermatt (see Alpina 1903, p. 207, and
following: Erste Durchquerung der Walliseralpen). This is, beyond doubt,
one of the finest expeditions on ski that had yet been attempted in the
Alps.

[Illustration: THE PENNINE RANGE FROM GRAND ST. BERNARD TO ZERMATT.

(Reproduction made with authorisation of the Swiss Topographic Service,
26.8.12.)

To face p. 208.]

In January, 1908, the third attempt took place. Like the first, this
caravan started from Chamonix. It consisted of M. Baujard (from Paris),
with Joseph Ravanel, “le Rouge,” and E. D. Ravanel. Already on the first
day this party got off the bee-line. They went down to Châble along the
Col des Montets and the Col de Forclaz, then to Chanrion. On the third
day they left Chanrion at midnight, and got to Zermatt at 6.30 in the
evening, having crossed the Col de l’Evêque, Col du Mt. Brûlé, and the
Col de Valpelline (see _Revue Alpine_, 1908, p. 80).

As one sees, these three expeditions partly followed, or cut across, the
high-level route. So far as the first three passes are concerned (those
of Argentière, of Planards, and of Sonadon), they left them completely
on one side. They were right in leaving the first. The best and only
rational course is to traverse this part of the Mont Blanc range by
the Col du Chardonnet, or the Col du Tour and Orny. Indeed, the Col
d’Argentière, on the Swiss side, lands one in a wall of rock, where
nobody should think of venturing on ski. The Col du Géant cannot either
be used to any advantage.

The Col des Planards (2,736 m.), leading from the Val Ferret to Bourg
St. Pierre, is quite ski-able, but does not present the same interest as
a run on a glacier. Thus if you start from Chamonix, you must, at least
once, descend into the valleys. This necessity makes of the “high level”
from Chamonix an empty word for the Alpine runner.

If you start from Bourg St. Pierre and proceed to Zermatt from pass to
pass, you will travel along an almost unbroken ice route, which may
be compared to that which leads across the Bernese Oberland from the
Lötschenthal to the Grimsel. Chanrion, at the altitude of 2,400 m., is
the only downward bend of some depth on this road, the only place where
one is not surrounded by ice.

“Mr. F. F. Roget, of Geneva,” says a newspaper, “who in January, 1909,
with Mr. Arnold Lunn, explored the high-level route from Kandersteg to
Meiringen, planned out as follows his exploration of the Pennine high
level in January, 1911:--

    “_First Day._--From Bourg St. Pierre to the Cabane de Valsorey
    on the Sex du Meiten (3,100 m.).

    “_Second Day._--Col du Sonadon (3,389 m.), Glacier du Mt.
    Durand, Cabane de Chanrion (2,460 m.).

    “_Third Day._--Col de l’Evêque (3,393 m.), Col de Collon (3,130
    m.), Col and Cabane de Bertol (3,421 m.).

    “_Fourth Day._--Ascent of Dent Blanche and a second night in
    the Cabane de Bertol.

    “_Fifth Day._--Col d’Hérens (3,380 m.), Glacier de Zmutt,
    Zermatt.

“Mr. Roget was lucky in being able to carry out this programme from point
to point, with the exception of a delay of one day in the Valsorey hut,
where the atmospheric conditions compelled him to spend two nights. This
disturbance in the weather was in itself an additional piece of luck,
as a fall of snow, driven by a violent north wind, laid a fresh carpet
of dry stuff over the old, making the run, the whole way to Zermatt, a
perpetual delight.

“Mr. Roget had asked Mr. Marcel Kurz, of Neuchâtel, to be his companion,
and had engaged four guides, all of whom did duty as porters, namely:
Maurice Crettex, Jules Crettex, Louis Theytaz (of Zinal), Léonce Murisier
(of Praz de Fort). The two Crettex are natives of Orsières, and form
probably the strongest pair of ski-ing guides that the Canton du Valais
can now produce.”

Marcel Kurz had been my companion on the Aiguille du Chardonnet and on
the Grand Combin. He is the youth of eighteen alluded to in a preceding
chapter. He began his career as an Alpinist in 1898 and, since, he spent
every summer in improving himself, Praz de Fort being the usual summer
quarters of his family. In 1906 he became acquainted with the Grisons
ranges and particularly with the Bernina peaks. The following summer
finds him in the Mont Blanc range, in 1908 he was in the Pennines. His
first Alpine expedition on ski was when I took him up the Chardonnet.

From that time he fell into my way of preferring winter tours to summer
climbing, and intends, in the end, to publish the skiers’ way up and
down every mountain in Switzerland to the top of which he may be able to
get on ski. For two years he presided over that extremely distinguished
society of young climbers, the Akademischer Alpen Club, at Zürich. Next
spring, on leaving the Polytechnic University of Switzerland, he will
enter the Federal Topographic Bureau in Berne as surveying engineer.

As a soldier, he was first a private--like every able-bodied young
Swiss--in the corps of machine gunners attached to our mountain
infantry. He served his term as non-commissioned officer and is now
doing his officers’ training course at Lausanne. I would not in this
way offend Kurz’s modesty and tax my reader’s patience by giving here
so many particulars about a life career which after all is only at its
inception, and is not so very different from that of many young fellows
of the same age, did I think it out of place that a sample should appear
here of the manner in which mountaineering sport, professional studies
or occupations, and military obligations are crowded together in the
Switzer’s youth.

The journey from Bourg St. Pierre to Zermatt was performed from Monday,
January 9, 1911, to Saturday night, the 14th. It might have been done in
half the time, but such was not the purpose of the expedition.

At Bourg St. Pierre we met with one of those quite trifling but
somewhat unpleasant incidents with which mountaineers may be harried in
those remote Swiss villages where winter sportsmen are quite a novel
apparition. We fell upon a nest of those obsolete and retired guides
who fill the emptiness of their lives with nothing and find in the idle
habits they have acquired an excuse for passing adverse comments upon
the new mountaineering. We could not but go about collecting victuals
from the village shops, and did our packing in the public rooms of the
hostelry known under the name of Déjeuner de Napoléon. This started
the tongues of those who would talk. Buonaparte, indeed, seems to
have bequeathed to those big-mouthed villagers, whom he astonished by
breakfasting like any other mortal, a distinct capacity for bluff.

Three old guides sat, hours before midday, with a glass of kirsch
huddled between their thumbs, eyeing our goings and comings and scanning
all our doings. Then they consulted each other and began bragging of
the wonderful exploits they had performed in their day. Having thus
employed half an hour in impressing us, they proceeded to call our
attention--simply by making much of it within our hearing--to the
enormous risk we were about to incur by entrusting ourselves to such
inexperienced men as those young madcaps whom we had brought along with
us, and who had no share in the vast knowledge and weight of authority
that had by degrees been amassed in Bourg St. Pierre.

When they thought they had successfully filled us with suspicion towards
our men, they asked Maurice Crettex, in my presence, whether he had
fully recovered from an accident he had met in the summer when running
a cart-load of hay into a barn. The hay was toppling over and he had
been badly squeezed between the wall and the cart while holding up the
unsteady mass with his pitchfork. Little did they know that I was fully
aware of that and had purposely wished to be Crettex’ first employer
since the accident.

All their sly dodges having failed, their vindictive jealousy and
self-conceit, when we had left, ran into another channel, and of this a
few words will be heard at the end of our chapter. The jolly old villain
of Kippel was sterling gold as compared with that ugly crew.

_First Day._--Fine warm weather, foehn wind. From Bourg St. Pierre to
the Chalets d’Amont (2,192 m.), the ski-runner’s track falls in with
the summer route; but instead of climbing the chimney over which stands
a cross, the ski-runner keeps on to the south, and enters on the left
the gorge through which escapes the water of the Valsorey glacier. This
glacier is thus reached, then the Grand Plan, whence one discovers the
hut standing on the Sex du Meiten. Starting from Bourg St. Pierre at 11
o’clock, it was quite easy to reach the hut by sunset.

I noticed that the guides were provided with sealskins, light bamboos,
and laupars. There can be no question about the utility of sealskins
on long Alpine expeditions; but a light, short bamboo is certainly not
the right weapon for a guide, and laupars, with a few nails driven in,
certainly are most unsuited for glacier work. In other respects the men
were perfectly equipped. There were three ice-axes in the party, two
ropes, and everybody was provided with climbing-irons.

_Second Day._--A violent wind during the night, then snow till midday,
when the north wind gained the upper hand, clearing the sky after 2
o’clock. Beautiful sunset, clear night, 18 degrees Centigrade under zero.

_Third Day._--Weather beautiful; quite half a foot of fresh dry snow on
the old wind-driven snow.

[Illustration: THE SONADON CLIFFS.

To face p. 214.]

There is on the way from Bourg St. Pierre to Chanrion over the Col du
Sonadon a difficulty which may have turned the earlier runners away,
and no doubt induced them to go round that range from the north
rather than go across. This obstacle is the wall of rock which runs
as an unbroken, fortified line from the shoulder of the Combin on the
north to the Aiguilles Vertes in the south, and divides the Glacier de
Sonadon into two basins--the upper and the lower. The old editions of the
Siegfried Atlas show a dotted line which passes close to the Aiguille
du Déjeuner (3,009 m.), but it has been recognised that this route is
exposed to falling stones. Caravans now prefer to ascend to the Plateau
du Couloir under the shoulder of the Combin, and to descend upon the
Glacier de Sonadon, and thus reach the pass of that name.

We were quite successful in traversing the snow-covered rocks, along
which ran in former days the usual route. In case any runners should feel
called upon to prefer the new route, owing to the state of the rocks and
of the snow, here are some indications as to how to strike upon the right
course. From the Valsorey hut one should climb straight up, on ski or on
foot, till one is on a level with the Plateau du Couloir. If the snow is
good it will generally be found to be hard; if it is powdery, avalanches
are likely. From the Plateau du Couloir one may slide down to the glacier
and put one’s ski on again, getting gradually on a level with the Col du
Sonadon. I do not say that this track is better than the old one which we
took. The conditions of snow and rock should each time be considered in
the choice, because open snow slopes on hard ice-worn rock are the happy
hunting ground of the avalanche fiend.

At 10 o’clock, having crossed the small Glacier du Meiten, my party was
standing on the edge of the high wall which overlooks the lower basin
of the Glacier de Sonadon. For ski-runners the situation was somewhat
ludicrous, and was not one in which to remain for any length of time. The
party removed their ski, put on their climbing-irons, and the Crettex
brothers, carefully roped, went forward as scouts. The snow was in
capital condition (newly fallen powdery snow, very light and dry on the
bare rocks, and in the couloirs old snow of great consistency). Progress
was possible along a kind of ledge, which dropped slantingly along
slopes whose angle of declivity was about 45 degrees. One’s foot rested
occasionally in the compact snow, and sometimes on the rock itself. This
ledge presented an extremely narrow surface, and if one did not know that
it is in use in summer one might question in winter whether it existed at
all. It is very irregular, zigzagging across the couloirs and hanging on
to the spurs which separate them, but extremely interesting.

When once the Col de l’Aiguille du Déjeuner had been reached, the snow
showed a continuous surface on to the Glacier du Sonadon. The ski were
once more put on, and the party “tacked” its way, first down, and then
up, on slopes on which the sun brought trifling avalanches into motion.
At about 3 o’clock in the afternoon the caravan was seated in the full
glow of the sun on the Col du Sonadon (3,389 m.). An hour later began
a rapid descent on the Glacier du Mont Durand--one of the many of that
name--with one’s face turned towards the sunset on the mountains above
Chanrion (Ruinette, Glacier de Breney, &c.). One should avoid running
too low down on the glacier. The thing to do is to cross over to the
north-east _arête_ on Mont Avril, and to descend full speed, pushing on
to the Glacier de Fenêtre, describing thus a vast semicircle on to the
tip of the tongue of the Glacier d’Otemma. Hence by moonlight to Chanrion
on the opposite slope. The hut was reached at 6 o’clock. There was but
little snow in front of the door, and no snow at all inside. By that time
the moon shone through a damper atmosphere; the glass was somewhat lower,
though comparatively high (it remained so throughout the expedition),
but the cold had considerably abated since the morning. This meant the
gathering up of mists during the night.

There is a serious drawback to the Chanrion hut. Its situation marks it
out as a most convenient resort for Italian smugglers in the dull autumn
and winter months when the tourist traffic has ceased. Those smugglers
cross over from Italy in large numbers, bringing in farm and dairy
produce, and then return to their homes laden with heavy packages of
tobacco, sugar, and every kind of grocery that is heavily taxed in their
own country. They are not above lifting such things as spoons, forks, tin
plates, and sundry useful kitchen utensils, nay, even the blankets with
which the club huts are furnished. Such movables are therefore almost
entirely removed from Chanrion at the close of the summer season when the
caretaker comes down. The six of us had to be content with the barest
necessaries out of the always very scanty club furniture: six spoons,
six forks, six plates, six knives, six blankets: quite enough, you see,
whether smugglers or no smugglers.

_Fourth Day (January 12th)._--As foreseen, the weather was dull.
Departure at 8.30. Considerable masses of snow had filled up, or at least
completely closed, the huge crevasses, which in summer are open at the
junction of the Glacier d’Otemma with the Glacier of Crête Sèche. Not the
slightest fissure could be detected.

There are at the outlet of the Crête Sèche glacier some interesting
engineering works to regulate the outflow and obviate floods which have
repeatedly visited the Dranse valley, owing to the collection of water in
glacier pockets and their bursting when the weight is too great for the
ice walls to bear. Of these not a sign could be seen.

As a long and wide avenue, the glacier stretched itself out before the
runners, and out of sight. Grey mists, rising from Italy, hung loosely
over the southern rim of the glacier. But when near the upper end, at an
altitude of 3,000 m. or thereabouts, the mist melted away and the sun
reappeared. Three passes had to be crossed on that day in order to reach
the Bertol hut by night. At that time of year those passes were nothing
more than slightly marked elevations in the snow-fields. The first opens
between Petit Mt. Collon and Becca d’Oren. This pass, as yet nameless,
and which it will be convenient to call here Pass 3,300 m., affords a
much more direct route than the Col de Chermontane, or any other. Messrs.
Helbling and Reichert had swerved away from the continuous snow-highway
to the north. Messrs. Baujard and Ravanel had taken refuge from the
crevasses upon the rock passes south of the Bouquetins range. In our case
the choice was determined by the requirements of ski technique. From Pass
3,300, gentle downward and upward slopes led us on to the Col de l’Evêque
(3,393 m.), which was reached at 2.30 in the afternoon.

In the direction of Italy the sky had remained dull. To the north the
mountains shone (including the Bernese Oberland) in a blue sky, in which
floated a few clouds. The glass on that day, as before, gave very fair
readings. There was but little wind, and the cold was not sharp.

On that day I conversed much with Louis Theytaz. It was with me a set
purpose that he should accompany us on this expedition, since I had read
in the Alpine Ski Club Annual, and otherwise heard, of his High Alp runs
with Mr. W. A. M. Moore and some of that gentleman’s friends. I wrote to
Theytaz from Les Basses above Ste. Croix. He joined me at Martigny. He
was what one would call “a nice, jolly chap.”

But was he in for bad luck? He had hardly placed his things in the net
of our railway carriage, going to Orsières, when his climbing irons fell
from the top of his rucksack upon his head, badly bruising his forehead
with the prongs. I had engaged him to carry my own pack, as I had made
up my mind that I was now old enough to have a personal attendant all to
myself. My luggage was particularly valuable to the whole party, as it
contained all the spirits I allowed them, namely, in two large flasks,
the contents of four bottles of whisky, the proper allowance for six
men during six days in January weather at a minimum altitude of 10,000
feet. Theytaz surprised me when, on arrival at the Valsorey hut, he
violently threw my pack upside down upon the bed planks. The stopper of
one of the flasks flew out, and then I had the pleasure of seeing the
floor streaming with whisky. We got through to Zermatt very well on the
contents of the other flask. But the head of an expedition so serious as
this, when he has forbidden wine and limited spirits to the supply which
is known to be in his possession only, does not like to see half of it
spilt on the first stage of the journey by an act of sheer carelessness.

Anyhow, I viewed Louis Theytaz in the light of what I had read and
heard in his favour. Knowing that he was again to accompany, within a
fortnight of leaving me, Mr. Moore and friends to the Pigne d’Arolla,
that mountain gained much interest in our sight, as, with the searching
eyes of ski-runners, we examined its slopes dipping into the higher
reaches of the Glacier d’Otemma. We photographed it a little later in
the day in its eastern aspect. Seen from the south and west it presented
the most attractive appearance. From the east, it would have been out of
the question. What it might be from the north we could suspect from its
ominous hang that way.

Recollecting that Messrs. Helbling and Reichert had struck the Glacier
de Seilon from the west, I advised Theytaz either to lead his party down
south to the Col de Chermontane, or to take them back the way they had
come, and reach Arolla in the same manner as the eminent gentlemen whose
route was on record. But I did not at the time attach any particular
value to my opinion, having learnt from experience how much better
things generally turn out in practice than they appear likely to do when
considered by an over-prudent man in a pessimistic mood. Louis Theytaz
was swallowed up by a crevasse on the Glacier de Seilon.

From the Col de l’Evêque to the Col de Collon the snow was hard for
half a mile or so; but as soon as the northern slope of the latter was
reached the snow resumed its excellent quality. Thus the three passes
were crossed. Wide curves brought the party down the gentle slopes of the
Glacier d’Arolla to the level marked 2,670 in the map. From that point we
made towards the right bank of the glacier, and landed on the very steep
slopes which rise between it and the Plan de Bertol. Some of the party
removed their ski rather than run along the top of this ridge. When we
were well above the Plan de Bertol we were careful not to dip into it,
but turned in to the right, and this move brought us to the foot of the
Glacier de Bertol, in which the six runners opened a fairly deep track
while tacking with geometrical regularity in the direction of the Bertol
hut. They gained about 25 metres in each tack. The moon lit up their
march. In the higher reaches of the glacier the slope stiffened, but the
snow remained excellent.

Let it be noted here that from one end to the other of the trip we were
entirely spared hard and wind-beaten snows, except at the Col de Collon,
as above specified, this being the result of the day’s delay in the
Valsorey hut, during which it snowed so nicely. Moreover, the high-level
route presents on its whole length a belt of comparatively low summits on
the south side--low because the route is situated so high. This almost
continuous parapet considerably interferes with the view upon Italy, but
it is a protection from sun and wind, and no doubt assists in keeping the
snow in good condition.

At seven o’clock in the evening the foot of the Rocher de Bertol was
reached. The ski were hidden in a niche for the night. We climbed on
foot, like dismounted dragoons, up the wall, the rocks of which form a
kind of ladder. The rope which is permanently fixed there was available,
though partly buried in snow. This hut, perched as an eagle’s nest above
the glacier, looks as if the Neuchâtel section of the Swiss Alpine Club
(to whom it belongs) had wished to underline with a stroke of humour the
Swiss Alpine Club regulations, which say that, in the first instance,
huts are intended for the accommodation of the sick and wounded. The door
was blocked up with snow, but the windows gave quite comfortable access
to the kitchen.

“On that evening,” says the newspaper already quoted, “the party became
more confirmed than ever in Mr. Roget’s resolve to attempt the ascent of
the Dent Blanche. The condition of the mountains and the weather seemed
to justify his anticipations. In forming that bold plan Mr. Roget had
taken his stand upon the successful experiences he had had before in his
winter ascents of the Aiguille du Tour, the Aiguille du Chardonnet,
the Grand Combin, the Finsteraarhorn, the Diablerets, the Wildhorn, the
Wildstrubel, &c. It could not but be, he thought, that the Dent Blanche,
like all the foregoing peaks, would present itself in January in such
a good condition that its ascent by the south _arête_ would be quite
possible. It was Mr. Roget’s belief that the _arête_ would show in its
fissures but a thin layer of dry and powdery snow. He was convinced that
the cornices would show a full development, with their faces to the east
and south-east, but without any hem of snow on the west side of the
_arête_, where the ascent is practically made. The slabs, he thought,
would be entirely covered with ice, but this ice, in its turn, could not
but be covered with an adhesive layer of old snow, with fresh snow on the
top of it, and this, having fallen in comparatively mild weather, must
have cemented itself on to the old snow, so as to form with it a reliable
surface, at whatever angle a footing might have to be gained. After a
spell of fine weather, the Dent Blanche could not be more difficult in
winter than in summer. In fact, he thought the rocks had been shone upon
by the sun till they were dry and free of snow, the couloirs had been
swept clean by the wind or clothed in a firm crust. That the cornices
might come down with a crash was evident, but this would be into the
abysses on the east slope, which was immaterial. On the western slope
the snow would be firmly enough attached to the ice to leave but little
opportunity for the ice-axe to come into play.”

Those forecasts, brought to the proof, were borne out by reality. The
snow, which had fallen three days before (a light, powdery snow, coming
down in whirls), had gained no footing, nor could it, upon such an
_arête_ as that of the Dent Blanche. The little of it which the sun had
not had time to melt we swept away with our gloved hands. It was an easy
job, as that of ladies’ maids brushing away the dust on their mistress’s
sleeves, and we certainly did not complain of having some little
tidying-up to do.

_Fifth Day._--At six in the morning some early mists were trailing slowly
on the ice and snow-fields between the Dent de Bertol and the Dent
Blanche. The light of the setting moon broke occasionally through the
clouds. The weather might be uncertain--and it might not, for the glass
was at fair. The mists turned out to be, as on the preceding days, such
as herald a beautiful autumn sunrise. A start was made in the direction
of the Col d’Hérens. Slowly the day dawned, and found the party on the
Glacier de Ferpècle. By that time we could make out which was the real
direction of the wind in the middle of those mists which seemed to drift
about aimlessly. It actually blew from the north-east, then from the
north, with a steady but moderate strength, which abated entirely only at
sunset. The _impedimenta_ were, for the most part, left on the northern
side of Col d’Hérens, keeping but a few victuals, the three ice-axes, the
climbing-irons, and two ropes. We turned the heads of our ski against the
north wind, skirting the foot of the big southern _arête_, so as to reach
a small terrace situated above the spot marked Roc Noir on the map. On
this terrace the ski were firmly planted in the snow. Dismounting, we
fastened on our climbing-irons. Three ski sticks were kept along with the
three ice-axes.

Among the first rocks the party halted in order to take some food. It
was 9.15. By means of the ropes two caravans were formed, and these soon
started, exchanging a cheerful _au revoir_ in case some incident should
separate them.

The brothers Crettex and Marcel Kurz were on the first rope; on another
myself, Louis Theytaz, and Léonce Murisier, this last carrying the bag of
eatables.

The fairness of the weather, the capital condition of snow and rock, and
the fitness of the party would have made it quite possible to reach the
top of the Dent Blanche at one o’clock in the afternoon. But there was no
good reason for any hurry. A quick march might bring on some fatigue, or
at least some totally unnecessary tension of mind and physical effort.
This would entail some slight additional risk to no purpose whatever. The
climbers had the whole day before them, and need not make any allowance
for difficulties when returning to the Bertol hut, for they would follow
their own tracks (which they knew to be safe) back across the glacier,
whatever time of night it might be. Consequently this ascent of the Dent
Blanche was deliberately carried out, and almost without any effort. It
was accomplished in such leisure as not to need any quickening of the
pulse.

Maurice Crettex and Louis Theytaz were fully acquainted with every
peculiarity of the Dent Blanche, and treated her with as much familiarity
as though they had been babes sitting on the lap of their own
grandmother. The Crettex section of the caravan got on to the _arête_ at
a trot, and began to ride it (the expression is false, but picturesque)
at the point 3,729. Lunch was relished at point 3,912. Thence the two
sections kept about 50 yards apart. Up to the first Grand Gendarme the
_arête_ is undulated rather than broken up, and quite comfortable to
follow. There are fine glimpses on the Obergabelhorn to the right and on
the Matterhorn; the cornices of the _arête_ formed round those pictures
magnificent frames with an ice fringe.

I had long been curious to ascertain what might be in winter the
condition of the famous “plaques” or “dalles” (slabs), which have
acquired such an evil reputation in summer. No such thing was to be seen.
They were pasted over with excellent snow, in which Maurice Crettex dug a
few steps when the ice came near to the surface. He seemed to do it as a
matter of form: assuredly it would have been an irregular practice to do
otherwise. It is true that without our excellent climbing-irons we might
have been much less at ease. In point of fact, it was enough to dig out
the snow with one’s boot-tips and to stand firmly in the holes on one’s
climbing-irons in order to skip over those formidable slabs.

The _arête_ offered the best means of progress immediately after passing
the Grand Gendarme. This appellation is bestowed upon the turrets,
which, constable-like, bar one’s progress along a ridge. On the rock of
the _arête_ there was the merest sprinkling of fresh snow, so dry and
light that it could easily be brushed aside, and nowhere prevented one’s
gloved hands from securely grasping the rock. The scramble was quite
interesting, and the hours passed by so agreeably while proceeding up
this magnificent staircase, that nobody felt in a hurry to shorten the
pleasure of the climb. There was occasionally a bit of a competition
between Louis Theytaz, leader of the second rope, and Maurice Crettex,
leader of the first, as to who should lead the van, but Crettex would not
yield his place, and stormed on.

Here I left my stick planted in a mound of snow on the _arête_. We might,
or might not, pick it up on the way back, and I took my chance. This
stick was worthy of being planted and left there. It was a beautiful bit
of cane, smooth and white as ivory, which I had picked up from a heap of
drifted wreckage on the Cornish coast, in the preceding summer, while
bathing. What scenes it might have witnessed upon the deep I did not like
to picture. Yet, but for its suggestive power, I should not have brought
it the whole way from Watergate bay.

It has always been my fancy to unite in one sweep of vision the ocean and
the mountains, the deepest with the highest. My Dent Blanche might be one
of a school of whales stranded on high when the waters withdrew, and my
harpoon was well placed, sticking in one of the vertebræ of her petrified
spine.

At the time of writing, I understand that it is there still, respected
of the eagles and of the gales. The summer thaw has left untouched the
fleecy patch of snow. The lightning has drawn in its forks before the
unaccustomed wand. Now and then a guide writes me that he has seen it,
that so-and-so could not believe his eyes when he led up the first party
of the summer season and found an ivory staff shining on the ridge. In
wonderment, he reported the matter to some colleague of mine who had
heard in our club-room my first account of this ascent.

For my part, I am content to look upon this incident as confirming my
views. A frail stick, planted in the middle of a patch of snow on the
most exposed and weather-beaten _arête_ in the Alps, appears here as the
needle showing how nicely balanced are the scales of Nature.

In due course the rock came to an end, and the _arête_ showed itself
under the appearance of a white-hooded crest. It was the final pyramid.
On that day, Friday January 13, 1911, the small, conic snow-cap which
surmounted the brow of the peak was brought down by a blow from an
ice-axe, at 3.30 p.m. A short time was spent on the summit. The view was
now and then obscured by a cloud sailing rapidly down from the north and
skirting the watch-tower on which stood the onlookers.

On the way down, each section, in its turn, with feet deeply embedded in
the snow, reached again the bare rocks of the _arête_, having resumed the
footprints made on the way up. But when leaving the snow that covered
the terminal pyramid, the party did not continue on the _arête_ the way
it had come up, but wheeled to the right--that is, westward--and began
ploughing in a downward course the slopes of the Dent Blanche facing
Bertol, which had the appearance of being all snow. In spite of the
extreme steepness of the slope, the party, with heels and climbing-irons
well wedged into the snow, advanced with great security and speed,
though the irons did occasionally impinge upon the ice. The slope
getting sharper and the layer of snow thinner, it became necessary to
substitute a lateral or horizontal course for the vertically downward
course. A few steps had to be cut before a footing could again be gained
on the _arête_. But, by that time, the caravan had proceeded beyond both
Gendarmes, and, though it was night, we could hop along quite nicely.

During this bit of traverse, being without a stick I rested my left hand
upon the snow each time I moved forward, digging in my bent fingers to
relieve the foothold from some of my weight. The Ice Maid then kissed my
finger-tips very gently. The bite was so timid that the kind attention
escaped my notice at the moment. But late that night, before the stove,
in the hut, I struck a match upon the hot iron plates with my right hand,
to light my cigar, while holding up some garment to the fire with my
left. The heat made the mischief apparent. It caused almost no pain, only
giving an earnest of what the Ice Maid could do if pressed too hard.

Through the mists of this January dusk the moon threw a gentle light,
which made it easy to discern the footprints made in the morning on the
snow. The few steps which had been cut here and there on the ice were
quite visible, and the rope made it a simple matter to descend the rocky
parts. So, from that moment, the descent consisted simply in repeating
in the opposite direction the moves of the morning.

The cornices on the left hand were made more beautiful than ever by the
play of the moonbeams through the icicles. Now and then some fragment of
the cornice came down with a crash, and a cloud of dust arose from the
abyss and sent minute crystals across the faces of the men. It was 8.30
when the party stood again beside their ski. An hour later we picked
up our heavier luggage. Sitting on our rucksacks, we took an evening
meal. Then, ropes and all being packed, the six strolled back across
the Glacier de Ferpècle at pleasure, and, as fancy bade, each chose his
own way. The night sped on, and half its course was almost run when we
reached for the second time the hospitable nest on the Bertol rock. We
might have been shades moving in a dream rather than men. Our task being
successfully accomplished, we might claim a right to vanish away, like
dissolving views thrown for a moment upon a screen.

_Sixth Day._--The morning was long and lazy. At eleven o’clock, after a
good rest and full of good cheer, we entered upon our last day’s work.
The sun shone brilliantly, and, thanks to his kindness, and thanks also
to the smooth and sparkling snow, this last day, more than any of the
foregoing, if possible, gave rise to one of those rambles on ski which
are the delight of the Alpine explorer. On approaching the Col d’Hérens,
the track of the preceding day was departed from where it had bent away
towards the Dent Blanche, and the party turned their backs upon
their conquest. The rocks, which on the Col d’Hérens divide the Glacier
de Ferpècle, on the north, from the Stock glacier to the south of the
Wandfluh, could just be seen emerging from the snow. The ski were removed
for about ten minutes while descending those rocks.

[Illustration: ON THE DENT BLANCHE, WITH MATTERHORN.

To face p. 230.]

It may be said that from that point to Zermatt the run was practically
continuous. No obstacle of any sort ever came to interfere with the
downward flight. Whenever the party came to a stop, it did so for its
own pleasure and convenience. After the rush down the sides of the
Stockjé came the run down the Glacier de Zmutt, with the icefalls of
the Matterhorn glacier on the right. Fragments of ice studded the snow
surface, and the ski occasionally grated against them. On the moraine,
where in summer the surface is stony and the climber’s brow wet with
perspiration, we slid along as borne on by wings, rushing through the
air. When we reached the Staffelalp the sun was beginning to set. Over
the tops of the arolla pines stood forth in a mighty blaze many friends
visited of old--the Rimpfischhorn, the Strahlhorn, the Allalinhorn, the
Alphubel; the beautiful mouldings of the Findelen glacier were bathed in
rays of purple fire. On approaching Zermatt the snow proved heavy and
deep. The ski got buried in it and shovelled along masses of it, somewhat
delaying the running. Zermatt was reached by five o’clock at night.

The village was in a hubbub, and we arrived in the nick of time to ring
the necks of I do not know how many birds of ill omen ready to take their
flight. The Bourg St. Pierre dunderheads had had six days in which to
rouse the journalists. They had stuffed them with fusty words of ignorant
wisdom. Reporters had telegraphed and telephoned, to make sure of their
quarry. A column of guides had been warned by the head of the Zermatt
relief station to be in readiness. They were to leave on the next morning
for the scene of the expected disaster.

They might do so yet, for all we cared. By looking about carefully they
might detect the tip of one of Mr. Kurz’s ski, which had snapped off
against a stone, at the moment when, entering the village at a quick
pace, he had suddenly come upon a milkmaid with her pail balanced on her
head. There was nothing for it but to go gallantly to the wall. This was
more courtesy than the ski could stand. Its point came off, and this the
rescue party might bring back as a trophy.

Joking apart, Zermatt gave us a grand reception, seasoned with steaming
bowls of hot red wine and cinnamon.

Thus was accomplished the first successful ski-run from Bourg St. Pierre
to Zermatt. Luck was good throughout; indeed, if an attempt to ascend the
Dent Blanche on a Friday and on the thirteenth day of the month could not
break the weather, nothing would.

The Crettex brothers went back by rail to Orsières. Louis Theytaz got out
of the train at Sierre. He returned to his avocations at Zinal, looking
with well-founded confidence to his next engagement, a few days hence,
with Mr. Moore.

The Crettex’ had no sooner reached home than a telegram reached them
from my friend Dr. König of Geneva, one of the pioneers of the new
mountaineering school, enjoining Maurice to expect him at once for a
repetition of the successful expedition, news of which had meanwhile been
carried to Geneva.

Dr. König and Maurice found our ski track generally undisturbed, but the
wind and sun had done their work upon the fresh snow, hardening it and
covering it with the usual icy film. The running was fast and uncertain,
for want of side support for the ski blades. On the way they climbed the
Grand Combin, as I had done in 1907. Imitation by such a distinguished
mountaineer was the most flattering form of appreciation I could look
for. I met him some time after at our Geneva Ski Club, when he observed
that he wondered not so much at what my party had accomplished--in which
he was quite right, as I proved by producing the table of our very easy
hours--as at the bold practical thought that had inspired and helped us.

Like me, Dr. König had noticed from the Zmutt glacier how practicable
the Matterhorn would be. In fact, Maurice would have tackled the Zmutt
_arête_ on the slightest provocation. Meeting at Zermatt Captain Meade,
who had just achieved the Zinal Rothhorn, Dr. König communicated to him
his observation concerning the Matterhorn. As was soon made public,
Captain Meade succeeded in making a January ascent of the Matterhorn.
Unfortunately he suffered very severely from exposure.

I had returned to my ordinary occupations in Geneva, when I was startled
one morning by a note in the local papers. On the very day on which
Captain Meade was “doing” the Matterhorn--January 31st--Louis Theytaz
was perishing on the glacier de Seilon, an occurrence which changed an
otherwise successful trip into a dreadful ordeal. The cold may be gauged
from Captain Meade’s notes in the _Alpine Journal_. The thermometer down
at Zermatt at 7 a.m. showed 27 degrees of frost Fahrenheit.

The fatal accidents to ski-ing parties that I so far know of in the
Alps have proceeded from one or another of three causes: avalanches,
exhaustion ensuing upon stress of weather or losing one’s way, and
crevasses. For no accident yet can ski be made responsible, a rather
remarkable exception, when one reflects how easily a ski blade may break
or a fastening get out of order.

Theytaz’s accident was caused by a crevasse. He was one of four able
and well-known guides accompanying a party of three gentlemen who put
implicit faith in their leadership and in whom they had every confidence.

The third on a rope of three, Louis Theytaz followed the two leading
over a crevasse which, after the event, showed itself about 7 feet wide,
and of which the party had become aware before launching themselves
across it. It was unfortunate that the leading guide “took” the crevasse
obliquely to its width. The moving rope, too, compelled each man in
succession to bring his weight to bear on the same spot. The rope
could not be of much use for want of stable supporting points. A man
advancing carefully on foot breaks his speed at every step. Not so a
runner on ski.

[Illustration: TOP OF DENT BLANCHE.

To face p. 234.]

The gentleman preceding Theytaz made a stopping turn on the further side
of the crevasse, and waited to see him over. By that time Theytaz’s
brother Benoît, who was leader on the rope, might have been ready.
Anyhow, the snow broke. Theytaz was hurled down and the rope snapped.

I was on the very rope when ascending the Dent Blanche. It was an old
rope, but perfectly satisfactory. Why are the best of ropes liable to
snap? After this accident, which roused his personal interest as it did
mine, my friend Kurz instituted experiments on all kinds of rope material
on the market. The results showed conclusively what rope material,
under tension, was the best, but no light was thrown upon the supposed
greater liability to snap when frozen, either when dry or after absorbing
moisture. All we know so far about the breaking-point of mountaineering
ropes, is that they may break under a shock which will leave a man
unmoved in his steps though, on trial, they may resist a tension far
greater than can be put upon them by the dropping suddenly into space of
a man’s weight.

An athlete may burst a taut chain by muscular effort. A horse may burst
his girths by a little inflation. What about a slack rope?

Popular imagination, baffled by such obvious but unexplained
contingencies, at once suspects foul play. The strangest stories may be
heard in the Val d’Anniviers about Theytaz’s broken rope.

Mr. Moore’s own account appeared in the Alpine Ski Club Annual for 1911,
and runs as follows:--

“On January 28th last, a party assembled at Martigny, A. V. Fitzherbert,
A. D. Parkin, and myself, with four guides: Félix Abbet and the three
Theytaz brothers, Louis, Benoît, and Basile, all of Zinal. Next morning
we walked up to Fionnay, where a small hotel had been opened for us. The
snow was in perfect condition, and as we had an hour or so of daylight to
spare, we enjoyed some practice runs on an excellent slope just outside
the village. Here we made the acquaintance of three ex-presidents of
the Geneva section of the Swiss Alpine Club, who were learning to ski
in this deserted retreat. They had a comfortable chalet, where we spent
a most pleasant evening, surrounded by Alpine paintings and old Swiss
wood-carved furniture.

“At 8 a.m. on the 30th we got off, provisioned and equipped for a hard
two days, and started up the valley to Chanrion. It was easy-going as far
as Mauvoisin, but beyond that the summer path was quite impassable in
places, owing to the overflowing and freezing of streams. We lost much
time over these, and finally had to descend to the bottom of the gorge,
which afforded much better going.”

May I break here the thread of the narrative to insert an observation.
Louis Theytaz had got information from us as to this passage, and had
been told that the summer path was known in the Bagnes valley to be
impassable in the winter, particularly with ski. The gorge is the right
ski-ing route.

“A steep and trying couloir brought us up to Chanrion. We left next
morning at 6.30, and made for the Glacier de Breney, where we were able
to put out the lamp. It was pretty cold. Near the top there must have
been nearly 50 degrees of frost. The glacier presented no difficulties,
the only obstacle being an ice-fall, up which we had a little
step-cutting.

“The trouble began about an hour below the Col de Breney, where we were
met by a piercing north-east wind, which struck us in gusts, sweeping
up clouds of powdery snow, through which one could hardly see. The snow
was quite hard under foot, and all, except Louis, took their ski off on
reaching the col. Half an hour’s walking brought us to the top of the
Pigne (12,470 feet), where we got the full benefit of the gale. The view,
however, was magnificent, and fully justified the struggles of the last
few hours.

“We stopped on the top about five minutes, and then returned to our ski
and began the descent to the Glacier de Seilon. For half an hour we
descended on foot over wind-swept slopes, at first gentle, and then steep
and crevassed, till we at last got out of the wind and into the sun,
when a short halt was made. At this point I became painfully aware that
three fingers had been temporarily frost-bitten. Parkin also had lost all
feeling in his toes, but did not realise how bad they were till later
on. We were soon off again on ski, and on perfect running snow, in the
following order: Benoît, Fitzherbert, and Louis on the first rope, myself
and Parkin on the second, followed by Félix Abbet and Basile unroped.

“As we approached the ice-fall which gives access to the Glacier de
Seilon, there occurred the sad accident which cost Louis his life,
depriving us of an old and tried companion, and the Valais of one of its
best guides. We were running down and across the glacier when the leading
three came to a small depression and ridge running straight down the
slope parallel to the sides of the glacier, evidently a crevasse bridged
over by snow. The first two crossed safely, but apparently loosened the
snow, which gave way under Louis. He fell back into the crevasse which
was about 8 feet across, and as the rope tightened, it snapped, and he
was gone. Basile was running on to the bridged crevasse a little higher
up, at the same moment, but although it gave under him, his pace carried
him over, and he fell clear. Abbet was just behind Louis and saved
himself by throwing himself down.”

[Illustration: ON THE STOCKJÉ, LOOKING EAST.

To face p. 238.]

Mr. Moore next gives a sketch of the crevasse and of the position of
each in relation to it. Then he continues: “This journal is no place to
describe the half-hour which followed, the memory of which is only too
fresh for those who were present. It is enough to say that we could not
reach Louis with 130 feet of rope, and had to tear ourselves away. It
was a great relief to know from subsequent examination that, although
we had heard him answer for about five minutes, he could not have lived
longer, and in all probability felt nothing. The search party of guides
that went up next day found the body 160 feet down, and as we had only 80
feet of reliable rope, we could have done nothing.”

The sketch shows--and its accuracy cannot be doubted--that Messrs. Moore
and Parkin were keeping a course that led them past the crevasse without
touching it; that Basile Theytaz showed less discretion, and escaped
because, being unroped, he came singly on the bridge, in a place where
the crevasse was narrower and when he was sufficiently under weigh. Abbet
escaped simply because he approached the crevasse in the wake of Louis
Theytaz, and took warning in time, for he was about to cross the gulf at
its widest.

One may say--in all kindness and with every sympathy--that the roped
party which met with the accident was badly led, and one may say so the
more confidently, as the leader seems to have been fully aware that he
was heading for a formidable crevasse.

When planning my traverse from Bourg St. Pierre to Zermatt, I had it in
my mind that an expedition across the Pennine Alps from end to end would
not be complete, unless I pushed on over the Mischabel and Weissmies
ranges to the Simplon pass, beyond which begin the Lepontine Alps.

The weather was so fine and our powers of endurance had been so
slightly taxed that we might easily have pushed on. In fact, in respect
of weather, circumstances remained so favourable that we might have
continued till the end of February without experiencing a check. The
weather report was so perpetually: Still and warm in the High Alps.

Unfortunately Marcel Kurz had broken his ski, and it might be just as
wise to go home and nurse my frozen finger-tips. There are other things
in life than ski-running. So we came to the conclusion that we had done
enough for glory.

However, Marcel Kurz took this spring (1912) his revenge over the
misadventure to his ski and, with some friends, completed our interrupted
programme.

I append here his notes, as the Mischabel range is about to be an object
of great interest for British runners who will find that Saas Fée has
become a nursery of excellent ski-running guides.

At the moment of writing (August, 1912), the Britannia hut on the
Hinter Allalin, as already pointed out in this volume, is about to be
formally inaugurated. It opens up to the ski-runner a magnificent field
for exploration on account of which the English ski clubs liberally
contributed to the erection of this ski-runner’s hut _par excellence_.

The map entitled Mischabel-Monte Rosa shows one of the numerous zigzag
tracks for which the district will become famous.

[Illustration: MISCHABEL RANGE AND MONTE ROSA.

(Reproduction made with authorisation of the Swiss Topographic Service,
26.8.12.)

To face p. 240.]

Mr Kurz’s notes show also what an incredible amount of stiff
mountaineering can be crowded easily into a short time by ski-runners,
including the ascent of Monte Rosa, the highest peak in the Alps next to
Mont Blanc.

The latter is not a ski-runner’s mountain. The gradients are too sharp
and exposed. Monte Rosa, on the contrary, is an ideal runner’s mountain.
I lay no stress on the fact that Mr. Kurz’s raid was guideless. I have
endeavoured elsewhere to show how much this term is a misnomer when
applied to perfectly competent mountaineering parties that dispense with
professional guides.

_March 27th._--We started three from St. Nicolas for the Mischabel hut
up the glacier of Ried and over the Windjoch pass. The weather was
very fine, extremely warm at about three o’clock in the afternoon. The
glacier was extremely broken up, presenting the same appearance as in
autumn. Would do very well for ski in a normal year, particularly on
the higher _névé_. The last 300 feet of the Windjoch should be done on
foot. On the top of the pass there rose an unpleasant west wind, and the
snow being most unpleasantly hard, we elected to leave our ski on the
spot, intending to come back for them on the next day and to ascend the
Nadelhorn by the way. We spent the night at the Mischabel hut.

_March 28th._--Very uncertain weather; too much wind to attempt the
Nadelhorn. We walked down to Saas Fée in two hours on very firm and very
reliable snow.

_March 29th._--On hard snow and dry rocks we walked up to the Gemshorn
and thence along the snow _arête_ to the Ulrichshorn, coming down on
to the Windjoch to pick up our ski. We then ran down the Riedgletscher
till within a few hundred feet of Gassenried, and thence walked to St.
Nicolas, first on hard snow and then on wet snow.

_March 30th._--We walked from St. Nicolas and then skied to a fairly
hospitable hut on the Untere Taesch Alp.

_March 31st._--Along the Untere Taesch Alp and the Langefluh glacier, our
ski carried us up to the _arête_ rising above the Rimpfisch Waenge and
along that _arête_ to the altitude of 3,600 metres. Then on foot along
the ordinary route we reached the top of the Rimpfischhorn (13,790 feet).
The ascent took seven hours, the descent four hours. The rocks were
absolutely dry, as “summery” as possible. This is a very interesting ski
tour and had not yet been attempted.

_April 1st._--The weather is bad; we come down to Taesch and go to
Zermatt to get fresh supplies.

_April 2nd._--Weather splendid with a furious north wind. We return to
our cabin on the Taesch Alp. One of us returns to the lowlands and two
only are left to continue the campaign.

_April 3rd._--The weather is very cold and we make too early a start. We
cross the Alphubeljoch to Saas Fée, leaving the Alphubel unascended on
account of the fury of the wind. A pass somewhat steep from the Taesch
side and somewhat crevassed on the Saas side, from the runner’s point of
view, but magnificent with respect to scenery.

[Illustration: FOOT OF STOCKJÉ, LOOKING EAST.

To face p. 243.]

_April 4th._--Weather magnificent. North wind not so strong. We ramble
most delightfully on our ski from Saas Fée to Mattmark, which is a deadly
place in other respects.

_April 5th._--From Mattmark to Zermatt by the Schwarzberg Weissthor.
Weather mild, foehn, rather cold on the top, magnificent outlook over
Zermatt. The snow hard throughout allowed us to ski up very quickly (four
hours from Mattmark to the summit, 3,612 metres). At Findelen we enjoyed
an afternoon nap under the arolla pines. Amid regular flower-beds we
descended to Zermatt, where we met two other friends.

_April 6th._--From Zermatt to the Bétemps hut on Monte Rosa, following
the Gorner glacier from the beginning and employing half an hour in
crossing the _sérac_ zone on foot. The heat on the upper reaches of the
glacier was most overpowering.

_April 7th._--Monte Rosa. Snow quite hard here, and everywhere else,
throughout this fortnight. Weather beautiful, slight north wind. We left
the hut at six o’clock, reaching the top at 12.35.

_April 8th._--Not a cloud in the sky all day long. We take sun baths all
day about the hut.

_April 9th._--We intended to ascend the Lyskamm, but bad weather came and
punished us for our idleness on the preceding day. Foehn and fog. There
was nothing to do. We ran down to Zermatt in two hours along the whole of
the Gorner glacier.

This laconic record is extremely instructive. It bears out the
contentions already formulated in other parts of this book. The snow
surface was hard, reduced in volume, and as cemented by the wind.
The _arêtes_ were bare of snow, free from ice, and perfectly dry. The
crevasses were either plainly visible or firmly crusted over. Ski were
throughout useful in preventing the surface from breaking underfoot,
perhaps still more in going uphill than when rapidity of movement
lightens one’s weight flying downhill. The summer of 1911, as one knows,
was one of the two driest on record in the preceding half-century. The
glacier snow was therefore worn down to its thinnest when the winter
snows began to pile themselves in layers above them. These too remained
comparatively thin, affording admirable running surfaces when sprinkled
over with fresh snow.

[Illustration]



CHAPTER IX

THE PIZ BERNINA SKI CIRCUIT IN ONE DAY

    Old snow well padded with new--Christmas Eve in the Bernina
    hospice--The alarum rings--Misgivings before battle--Crampons
    and sealskins--A causeway of snow--An outraged glacier--The
    Disgrazia--A chess-player and a ski-man--Unroped!--In the
    twilight--The Tschierva hut--Back to Pontresina--Hotel
    limpets--Waiting for imitators.


At the close of 1910 Marcel Kurz was at Pontresina. I had occasion to
draw up certain reports upon the winter aspect of the district, and
he kindly undertook the inspection of the glacier routes for me. A
few glorious days seemed about to efface the memory of many previous
gloomy ones. On the day on which this account begins, a little snow had
fallen in the morning, the skier’s welcome _quotum_. Nothing affords
such excellent sport as old snow well padded out with about a foot of
new floury stuff. The ski blades sink nicely through the top layer of
rustling crystals. The ski-points pop out of the snow like the periscope
of a submarine. The sparkling prismatic flakes stream past each side of
the lithe, curled-up blade, like silvery waves parted by the prow of a
fast motor canoe.

“The north wind,” writes Mr. Kurz, “was now clearing the sky of every
cloud, leaving the dazzling snowy heights and the forests below steeped
in sunshine and brightness. It was our last chance, and, in a few
minutes, our minds were made up to accept it. Half an hour later we were
in the train on our way to the Bernina pass.

“The exact itinerary of this expedition I published in the _Alpina_
(Mitteilungen des Schweizer Alpenclubs) number of February 1st, 1911,
p. 22. The following only being intended as a short sketch, I will not
describe the route too minutely. The principal landmarks are: Pontresina,
Bernina pass, Alp Palü, Palü glacier, Fellaria glacier, Upper Scerscen
glacier, Fuorcla Sella, Sella glacier, Roseg glacier, and back to
Pontresina.

“‘Grützi Herr Stäub! Grützi Herr Kurz!’ These first words of greeting,
uttered on our arrival by our little friend at the hospice, showed her
evident pleasure on seeing us so soon back again. It was, in fact, our
second visit to the hospice within the week, but this time we came firmly
intending at last to carry out our plan.

“Here was the same low-ceiled, comfortable room in which we had sat
before, while the landlord and his friends talked the whole evening
away, with a big dog snoozing by the stove. We had taken supper at this
very table with Casper Grass, the Pontresina guide, on Christmas Eve.
Here had huddled together an Italian couple, busily writing endless
cards of Christmas greetings. The landlord, ever to be remembered, his
bead-like eyes looking out from behind his spectacles with a malicious
twinkle, stood up at times, munching a long ‘Brissago,’ to see that all
was right, while talking volubly in Italian. A maidservant sat at the
corner table, pen in hand and with vacant look, evidently stuck fast in
the midst of her literary endeavours. Not a star was to be seen outside,
and the howling wind, rattling the shutters with every gust, made us feel
how rash it was to have come at all. To drown the sound of the storm we
set the phonograph going, which cheered but little our drooping spirits.
Still, we started on the morrow, but on arriving at the Alp Grüm, the
violence of the wind made it impossible to go further--a disappointment
we had anticipated.

“But now we were out on our second attempt, and would not go back. This
time our friend Grass had unfortunately been obliged to remain behind at
Pontresina, in spite of his longing to join our expedition. The weather
was fine and cold, intensely cold. Our chances of success were great; the
reconnoitring done on Christmas Eve had sharpened our appetite for the
unknown beyond.

“The alarum had rung long since, and our candle had been alight some
time. The window-panes, white with frost, shut out the black night and
the piercing cold; never had one’s bed felt so comfortable. If our
bodies remained motionless, our thoughts wandered forth, trying to pry
into the secrets still lying concealed in the lap of the coming day, just
as the watchman’s lamp pierces the darkness of the night.

“There is a delightful thrill of impending battle hazards in being the
first to break upon new ground, as when a troop nearing the line of fire
eagerly questions the dissolving morning mists and doubtingly greets the
light that will expose it to the enemy’s strokes. What unkind shafts
might Fate have in store? What bolts might the glacier be preparing to
fire off, when we should pass under the portcullisses of its castellated
strongholds? With what pitfalls might the snow desert not be strewn under
the winning aspect of its rustling silken gown?

“If we wished to reach the Roseg glacier before nightfall, we must cross
the Fuorcla Sella between four and five o’clock that afternoon. This,
supposing that we should have passed the Palü glacier by midday. All
that, and back to Pontresina, in one day! Would it be very hard work?
That was the question, for nobody had yet ventured there in winter, and
on ski.

“Thus did our thoughts travel till we finally dropped off to sleep again,
only to wake a few minutes later with a start, and leap from our beds to
make up for lost time.

“At 6.30 we left the hospice. It was pitch dark, though numberless were
the stars shining overhead, so the lantern was lighted which had already
guided many travellers. A cheery voice, from one of the windows above,
wished us good luck, and with this pleasant sound in our ears we started
on our way.

[Illustration: PIZ BERNINA CIRCUIT.

(Reproduction made with authorisation of the Swiss Topographic Service,
26.8.12.)

To face p. 248.]

“Having reached Lago Bianco, we went due south, the wind at our backs.
Looking down, we saw the valley of Poschiavo sunk in the mist. We rapidly
crossed the lake and the level ground beyond, when dawn began to break.
By the time we had passed Pozzo del Drago it was already broad daylight.
At the steep wooded slope above Alp Palü we took off our ski and put on
crampons. The ten- or eight-pronged crampons fit very well on to ski.
They are wide enough--being calculated to enclose the heavy-nailed sole
of mountain shoes--to embrace the blade of the ski, and the bands are
long enough to be buckled conveniently over one’s boots.

“To the left appeared Le Prese, with its lovely lake among forests of
chestnuts, while to the right began to tower the threatening mass of the
Palü glacier, which formed part of our route. We were again running on
our ski when, at this point, the snow proving very slippery, we attached
our sealskins.

“These should be fitted with a ring to throw over the point of the
ski, and should stretch down to the middle of the ski, where they
should terminate. Here they are fastened to the ski binding by a proper
mechanical contrivance. They may be taken on to the back end of the ski,
but then they are difficult to stretch and fix over the heel of the ski.
It is quite unnecessary to carry the sealskin so far back. The clamp
under the beak of the ski completes the arrangement and tightens or
loosens the skin _ad libitum_.

“We continued thus till our arrival at the first fall of the glacier,
when, to reach the opposite side, we passed along a narrow strip of
snow we had noticed and marked to that effect some time before. The
slope became so steep that our sealskins failed to adhere, and we were
beginning to skate about on the hard crust of snow. Above our heads hung
the _séracs_, which forbade our venting our wrath in loud vociferations.
We strengthened ourselves, therefore, with the additional safeguard of
our crampons, and proceeded comfortably, taking care to have a firm grip
of the hard snow. On arrival at the first table of the glacier we stopped
for breakfast and enjoyed the sun. Before us stretched a long causeway of
snow to the top of the glacier; near us Pizzo di Verona, its ice cascades
resembling a shower of glittering emeralds, cast a shadow on all around.
The weather was glorious. Stäubli introduced me to several of his old
friends towering on the opposite side. Far beyond appeared the majestic
Ortler group.

“We continued our ascent round the western side of the glacier, roped
this time. At the foot of Piz Cambrena we took the direction of the col
opening to the west of Pizzo di Verona, and from thence an easy way
opened up through wonderful _séracs_ all aglow with the morning sun. _Va
piano, va sano._ A few more gaping crevasses had to be carefully avoided,
then the _névé_ became even, and we finally reached the col, leaving
behind us the Palü glacier, moping over its mysteries now unveiled. It
was midday.

“We could not restrain an outburst of admiration at the new world before
us, with the Disgrazia as the culminating point. Stäubli, mad with
delight, began a wild dance on the edge of the precipice. One of the many
slabs of stone which surrounded us served well for a table. While the
kettle was boiling we could have had time to ascend Pizzo di Verona, but
we preferred to remain where we were and enjoy the wonders before us,
taking an occasional photograph. A great stillness reigned everywhere.
We did not talk. We understood each other just as well, perhaps better.
But why should there not have been more than the two of us to enjoy that
glorious sight? Would that I could have transported all you city people
to magic scenes like these!

“I cannot help thinking of one who, regularly every day, at Zürich, comes
to the restaurant where I dine to play his game of chess at a table near
me. He salutes his partner, the small glass of cognac is brought, the
cigars are lighted, and then the game begins and continues to the end,
without a single word being uttered, and this each day of his life. Poor
wretch, how I pity you! How shall we repay our fathers for showing us the
mountains and their glory?

“We were roused from our motionless ecstasy by a sensation of cold, and
upwards still, continued our way along the Italian frontier towards the
Piz Zupo, and lazily skid over the frozen ice-waves of the Fellaria
glacier. How shall I describe the fairy-like scenes met at every step? We
came to the foot of the huge buttresses of the Piz Zupo and Piz Argient.
What a contrast between those awful, dark, jagged arêtes and the snowy
robes flowing round their feet? Further on we came into a fresh region of
glaciers, dazzling in their brightness, with the mass of the Disgrazia in
the background, sunk in shadow.

“‘Man wird verrückt!’ exclaimed Stäubli, my dear little friend Stäub.

“Having unroped and relieved our ski both of crampons and sealskins, we
once more glided softly over those lovely snow deserts which run along
the border on Italian territory. A cry of ‘Youhéé’ fills the air. Stäubli
was flying over an enchanting lake of ice, and though the snow was not
of the best, we enjoyed our run to the full. Soon we were half-way
across the Fellaria glacier, directing our steps towards the western
side, where a new region was about to open before us; a black _arête_,
however, hid the other side still from view. It was a solemn moment. We
began to descend and fly over the ground, when, turning the cornice of
rock, we suddenly stopped to gaze on the wonderful sight before us. The
two Scerscen glaciers stood out bathed in light at the foot of the Gümels
and Piz Roseg, the whole suffused with the soft mauve tints of the ebbing
twilight.

“We soon reached the Upper Scerscen glacier, in the midst of a formidable
amphitheatre of mountains. The king of them all, Piz Bernina, was at last
revealed to us, towering above Piz Argient, Crast Agüzza, and Monte Rosso
di Scerscen. The Italians showed their good taste in erecting the Rifugio
Marinelli in this very Eden. We could stop at this little stone hut for
the night. We preferred, however, continuing our run. From here to the
Fuorcla Sella we roped, and made a large circuit to avoid the region
of crevasses as much as possible. Soft clouds of snow were raised by the
wind, and sparkled like diamonds in the sun.

[Illustration: UPPER SCERSCEN AND ROSEG GLACIERS.

To face p. 253.]

“By twilight we began ascending the last slopes to the Fuorcla Sella. We
reached the col, and, leaving the sunny Italian slopes behind us, entered
into the shadow of the Sella basin. It was 4.30 p.m.; we still had
three-quarters of an hour of daylight left, which would exactly allow us
to reach the flat of the Roseg glacier. We enjoyed a lovely run over the
soft, powdery snow tinted with mauve, the reflection from the rocks of
Piz Roseg all on fire in the setting sun. We knew our way here by heart,
and skimmed over the snow without fear, ‘yodling’ frantically.

“By the last ray of the setting sun we left the Sella glacier, and
passed on to the Roseg glacier. There were still a few traces left of
our expedition three days before on our way to the Piz Glüschaint. Far
in the distance we could see the lights of Pontresina brightly shining.
We seemed quite near already. We stepped over the back of the glacier in
long strides, and on nearing the Tschierva hut, where two friends were
to meet us, we began to yodle. However, our calls remained unanswered,
and no lights could we see. We were not astonished on learning later that
those two distinguished mountaineers had been enjoying luxurious couches
at Samaden all the time!

“One difficulty remained, in the shape of the Tschierva moraine. I asked
Stäubli for some light. He tied an electric lamp on to his belt, leaving
me in complete darkness!

“A little later we started on a splendid run, descending from the
Tschierva hut, where we flew over the ground like phantoms. This run was
cut short on arrival at the bridge of the Roseg Restaurant, where the
road is completely spoiled with the deep ruts made by the sleighs. We
took advantage of this stoppage to rest awhile and finish some cake left
from our morning’s repast. After this, we passed through the beautiful
Val Roseg, a lovely spot, but wearisome after a long night run.

“In the hotel, brilliant with many electric lights, we are sitting at
a table with our friend, the guide Grass, and some welcome bottles of
wine. Stäubli, the pink of neatness, is giving the guide a long account
of our trip. Around us the usual set of well-dressed people laugh and
talk. For them it is like every other evening; for myself, I find it
difficult to realise that all I have seen and felt is not a dream. A glow
of happiness fills my heart that not all these lights could surpass,
and the wish comes to shut out all around and rest once more in those
glorious solitudes. What a gulf seems to separate me from those who have
not seen the wondrous mountains, those who have not shared our vision of
the silent snows!

“Life is made up of contrasts, and I take pleasure in recalling them to
my mind in order to perpetuate their memory.”

Strange it is, on reading over those lines written by Marcel Kurz,
to have to add that the idea of the Piz Bernina ski circuit did not
germinate in a Pontresina mind. Forsooth it was reserved for the Swiss
to conceive and execute. But how strange is that apathy, that subjection
to routine on the part of an otherwise bold and enterprising people! And
how strange too that out of the number of foreign sportsmen congregating
every winter in the Engadine, not one could brace himself to “get up
and go” from Pontresina to the Bernina hospice, thence to the refuge
Marinelli, thence to the Tschierva hut and back to Pontresina, in three
days, if he so pleased!

[Illustration]



CHAPTER X

FROM AROSA TO BELLINZONA OVER THE BERNARDINO PASS

    The Arosa Information Bureau--The hospitality of sanatorium
    guests--The allurements of loneliness--Whither the spirit
    leads--Avalanche weather--The Spring god and King Frost--The
    source of the Rhine--The post sleigh in a winter storm--The
    Bernardino pass--Brissago.


Badenin Aargau is a flourishing watering-place, whence I was glad to make
my escape a few years ago in the last days of March.

I had wired to the information bureau at Arosa, asking how long I might
expect to find good snow. The answer came: “Till the middle of May,”
which sounded boastful, in fact rather alarming, by promising so very
much. But why should I malign those good people? I found heaps and heaps
of snow, enough to satisfy all reasonable requirements till the middle of
June.

My little daughter kept then a small paper box, in which she stored up
all the fine weather I might wish to apply for. On fair terms of purchase
she “let out” a certain number of fine days--as many as she thought I
might be allowed--to take me to Arosa and thence to Bellinzona, where I
was to join her and her mother on the way to Brissago on Lago Maggiore.

There certain open-air orange and lemon groves I knew of awaited us and a
blossoming aloe near by on the way to Ascona.

To swoop down the Bernardino pass upon Mesocco on ski and land a few
hours later on the banks of Lago Maggiore, after crossing the Rhaetic
Alps from Arosa to Hinterrhein, tickled my fancy. My line would be from
Arosa to Lenzerheide, along the Oberhalbstein valley to Stalla, otherwise
called Bivio, thence to Cresta Avers, and somehow along the Madesimo
pass to the Splügen road, and then east to Hinterrhein, and across the
Bernardino pass through the village of that name to Mesocco. The whole
thing could be done on ski. It would nowhere take me over glaciers.
I should do this alone, carrying my pack, sleeping every night in a
comfortable bed, and tramping by day on ski like any ordinary summer
vagabond wasting his shoe-leather on the hard high road.

I could imagine nothing pleasanter. I should not take off my ski till
the last strip of snow sticking to the edge of the Mesocco road gave way
and should bring my navigation to a standstill upon the characteristic
mixture of mud and gravel found on post-roads during the spring thaw.
There is no small charm in slithering upon snow getting thinner and
thinner till it is from two to three inches deep and tapering in the end
to the bare inch, which is enough for the expert runner.

Spring has a delightful way of creeping and sneaking up the Alpine
passes, using against King Frost every seduction that a soft, tender
heart can devise to disarm a fierce, unrelenting spirit. It threads its
way delicately from one warm, protected nook to another, and throws out
feelers that stretch forth tremblingly from the rock crannies into the
rough air.

Flowerets peep out here and there. The eggs of frogs float about in slimy
masses upon pools of warm water banked in with snow. The released springs
and waterfalls throw off their transparent scarves of iridescent crystal
ice. The blackbirds hop about from branch to branch piping upon bare
trees that are still sunny through and through, but do not yet venture to
chill their feet by touching the ground still encumbered with deep snow.

The hard winter god, gradually coaxed into a softer mood, relaxes his
hold upon the crust of the earth. What more delightful than this mixture
of two seasons? Under one’s feet all is winter still. Above, spring
skies, a scented air. Within one’s breast a heart yielding gently to the
suggestions of a new atmosphere. To enhance the contrast and accelerate
its phases, the spring god artfully turned the head of my ski full south
straight in the face of the sun.

Thus it is within any one’s power to rewrite in this way for himself
Hesiod’s “Book of Days,” and he will do it best if alone.

It was a peculiar thing to pass from Arosa, still lying under six feet of
snow, over the south brim of the cup and to swoop down upon Lenzerheide,
while the steamy fog of incipient spring hung over the moving, thawing
masses, and the man who had brought me up so far shrank back. There were
cracklings round about and dull thuds. A roar and clang came up from the
bottom of the gorge as the snowbanks crashed in upon the stream whose
reawakening had soaked and eaten away their supports. Something had gone
wrong with a ski-binding. Thus a kindly word may be spoken in time by the
mountain fiend before he strikes. He plays fair. Go away, he says, unless
you know that you have the luck of the Evil One. The brim of that snow
cup was a parting line. One pair of ski carried its man back the way he
had come. The other carried its man forward whither the spirit led.

I left Arosa with a pang of regret. I had lived there some perfectly
happy and health-giving days in an abode reserved for so many who are
sick beyond human help. I was alone, and went from table to table as a
guest bidden to dinner. My hosts would, if I may apply this figure of
speech to a moral attitude, seek me out for my strength, and I found, in
the proximity of their illness, the shadow of our common human plight
falling across my path, bringing with it a kind of excuse for my rude
temporary immunity from physical ills in which in time we all share
alike, but which seem to create such unfair contrasts.

Some were there, so to say, for a last throw of the dice in this Monte
Carlo of consumptives. On the return of some to health depended the
future of a home, wife, children, awaiting anxiously the physician’s
verdict upon their chief, for whose cure the last moneys of the family
were now being staked upon the double card, Arosa Davos.

A powerfully built Englishman, among others, I got to know. On the next
day he was to be told whether he could go home or not. He was writing to
his wife in the last hour of that day, about that hour of the next which
would hail his return to life, duty, and love, or bring down upon his
head another of those blows for which there is no other remedy than the
infinite serenity of the children of God.

Then he came up to me, spoke of the impending interview and of all that
was at stake.

I looked at him and said, “You are as sound as a bell.” The words were
magnetic. They were posted to London that night, and the next day the
happy father and husband, released by the professional man’s verdict,
prepared to pack.

There are two tragedies that to my mind are particularly pathetic, both
Alpine--that of the lung patient whom the Alpine sun cannot save, and
that of the Alp worshipper in bounding health for whom the Alps have
become as a car of Juggernaut.

I have seen dead, handsome young men, for whom the avalanche had woven a
shroud of snow, and I have beheld wasted frames for whom the sun could
not weave fresh physical tissues.

Of the Arosa scenes I carried a keen remembrance as I passed, safe and
sure, from ice-cold slope to sun-baked slope, whether the northern blast
froze my moustache, or the Ausonian breeze loosened the rigidity of the
air into balmy wafts. But Arosa was not without its moments of fun. There
was a parson there who gave me his Christian name to guess. It began
with B, and that was to be the clue. But I suggested Bradshaw, Bradlaw,
and Beelzebub before his obliging wife put me on the way to the right
spelling, Bible.

Of all places that suggest Chaos, a poor bare beginning of things, that
place is the desolate spot in which the Hinter Rhine takes its rise. It
is called Paradise, and if ever man required to cheer himself with a
euphemism, it might be here. From Splügen to Hinterrhein extends a flat
tract of country on every inch of which nature has left an impression as
of exhausted powers. And yet, under those external marks of sterility,
lurks the beginning of a great thing, the Rhine, its fruitful valleys,
its grandeur, its world-renowned towns. You may “tail” behind a
post-horse from Splügen to Hinterrhein for an hour in the gathering dusk,
and wonder whether the next moment will not drop you over the edge of the
world.

But a comfortable inn will open its homely rooms. You will tumble among
children learning their lessons around the stove. A place will be made
for you beside the young mother with her youngest hanging at her breast.
The father will walk in with the proud gait of him who bears himself with
grace and kindness in his sense of manly power.

“Crossing the Bernardino,” he says, “to-morrow, alone!”

“Why not? I am on ski; the post-sleigh does its service in all weathers.”

“Yes, but two men go together with the sledge and the horses.”

Indeed, I saw them the next day. I left at a reasonably late hour, and
they left still later, catching me up along the flat. Then I passed
them up the slope. They took all the windings, I cut across. It was a
terribly bleak day. The wind blew the snow in wreaths, and these laid
themselves across the old hard wreaths. Sleigh and horses cut through
them, throwing out the two men. They rose again, and got back into their
seat to cut through the next wreath. This time the sleigh was overturned.
The horses--harnessed tandem fashion--plunged, reared upon their sinking
hind-quarters, ploughing the snow with their breasts, while their hoofs
pawed about for a footing. Then they came off with a rush, once more
taking the sledge through. It was a long, narrow sleigh, just wide enough
to hold two men, with the mail bags boxed in behind them--more like a
torpedo than anything else.

It seemed impossible to distinguish the causeway under the wreaths of
snow, in the snow dust blown up by the wind and with strips of fog flying
and curling about. Yet the horses kept to the winter track, and all
that plunging and kicking was the ordinary business of every day. The
_Cantonieri_ stationed from league to league in stone sheds all along the
pass, kept guard in the worst places, and came out with spade and shovel
to expedite the mail.

I saw all that, hovering about like a stormy petrel, unable to make out
whether my hoverings were looked upon as of bad or good augury. I expect
the latter, for if there is a gift that mountaineers seldom lack, it is
that of jovial good humour. To talk and exchange impressions would not
be the question, till we might “foregather” in Bernardino village, where
horses would be changed and men might rest. But long before the mail
came down I was swinging through the empty village, between its deserted
hotels, leaving the storm behind me and opening my coat to the sun-rays
that brought the snow down in trickles from the roofs.

On and on I went, staying at last my course on the edge of a wood above
Mesocco. There I sat on the corner of a stone wall, riding it as a lady’s
saddle, with one ski dangling and the other hanging down as a stirrup,
lost in contemplation. The contrast was so complete, so wonderful,
knotting together as it were in one bow the most opposite aspects of
nature.

There I rested, snow-man and sun-man in one.

A peasant came slowly and stolidly by, making a mess of the thin snow
with his heavy boots. He looked at me with great sympathy, stopped, and
let out that one word in the Italian tongue, “_Stanco!_” (“Tired!”)

A few hours later my ski were stowed away in an attic room at Brissago.
Their time was up. But I would take them out again on the return of the
appointed hour. “Jamais pressé, toujours prêt.”



CHAPTER XI

GLACIERS--AVALANCHES--MILITARY SKI-ING

    A legacy from the past--The formation of glaciers and
    atmospheric conditions--Forests and glaciers--Our deficient
    knowledge--The upper ice and snow reservoirs--What is the
    annual snowfall and what becomes of it?--How glaciers
    may be classed--Mechanical forces at work--Moraines and
    _séracs_--Avalanches--Periodic avalanches--Accidental
    avalanches--The general causes--The statics of snow--What
    happens to winter snow--_Strata_--How steep slopes may be
    classed--Excusable ignorance of strangers to the Alps--Those
    who write glibly in home magazines--Unsafe slopes--Avalanches
    when running across slopes--The probing-stick--Avalanche
    runs--Military ski-ing--The St. Gothard and St. Maurice
    districts--Military raids in the High Alps--The glaciers as
    military highways--Riflemen on foot as against marksmen on ski.


On the whole the Mid-European glaciers are a legacy from a distant past.

Their former size and extent corresponded to general meteorological
conditions which have long ceased to exist.

They might--and no doubt did--alternately increase and decrease within
historical times. They nevertheless must be viewed as a bequest, a kind
of heirloom coming from a prehistoric ancestry. They are the survival
of a phenomenon which, in its former compass and intensity, is no longer
compatible with the meteorological _régime_ of Central Europe.

The temperature most suitable for the formation of ice in nature is the
temperature which remains the most steadily around the freezing-point of
water. Extremes of temperature are not favourable to the formation of
snow, which is the form in which water generally passes into glacier ice.

It stands to reason that the oftener the atmosphere can be saturated
with moisture in circumstances which allow a frequent discharge in the
shape of snow falling upon surfaces that are iced--or such as will retain
the snow, assuring the transformation of some of it, ultimately, into
ice--the more will the thermometer readings show a temperature rising and
falling only moderately above and below the freezing-point of natural
water. There is no use in further emphasising this obvious truth.

Everybody will understand that moisture formed in hot tracts of the
atmosphere has little chance of being converted into snow, and that,
while a warm atmosphere may generate water--destructive of ice and snow
surfaces--a very cold atmosphere cannot assist in glacier formation--on
high land, at any rate--for want of vapours to condensate and
precipitate, and for want of water masses to consolidate.

It follows that, within historical times, the Alpine glaciers have
undergone variations according to changes in the quantity of moisture
contained in the atmosphere, theirs being such altitudes and such
climatic conditions as might allow the Centigrade thermometer to swing
pretty steadily between 20 degrees above zero and 20 degrees under, all
the year round and in the course of a day.

These conditions existed more fully in periods when the Alps were
well wooded. Such a period pre-existed the first historical epoch of
Switzerland. Under the Romans, say from 50 B.C. to 500 A.D., this first
historical epoch was marked by the wholesale destruction of forests--the
usual price to be paid for civilisation--and the glacier world retreated
in a ratio commensurate with the process of denudation.

Then came the Early Middle Ages, which for about six or seven hundred
years show a distinct retrogression in Swiss civilisation. The glaciers
now regained some of the ground they had lost, because the wooded
surface, which is the most favourable to the condensation of moisture,
underwent a considerable increase.

In modern times the forest area has again undergone such shrinkage that
it has reached the minimum when artificial means have to be devised for
its preservation. Glaciers have gone back again.

We may therefore define glaciers as ice and snow reservoirs formed
under prehistoric conditions which no longer exist. They are kept alive
on a reduced scale, in a direct ratio to the moisture yielded by the
atmosphere as often as it is conveniently a little above and a little
below the freezing-point of natural water.

[Illustration: THE SONADON GLACIER.

To face p. 266.]

Our knowledge of the glacier world in its formative processes is as yet
extremely deficient. What proportion of the year’s snowfall--within
the glacier region--is actually converted into ice? What proportion
melts away on the surface and passes directly into water, to be carried
away, carrying along with itself some of the ice? What proportion is, by
sublimation and evaporation, returned to the atmosphere, to become again
the toy of winds, in the shape of snow or rain-clouds, never feeding the
glacier at all on which it first fell?

On the other hand, who can tell how much ice is formed on the glacier
surface by the direct absorption of the air moisture collecting upon such
a condensator? And would it be alien to our subject to ask what effect
may have on the present glaciers the loss of pressure consequent upon the
enormous reduction in bulk and height which they have undergone? Is the
glacier ice formed under the present rate of pressure capable of offering
anything like the same resistance to disintegration as its prehistoric
congener? What are its powers of self-preservation under the vastly
inferior pressure which it experiences in the very places in which ice
was once packed to a height and in a bulk we should not like to express
in figures, even if we possessed competent data?

The broad fact seems to be that as much snow as falls on the glaciers
throughout the year is taken back into the atmosphere, and that the snow
congealed and fixed in the upper basins is as nothing compared with the
quantity of water that evaporates or runs away at the nether end of the
mass every summer. What is the capacity of the ice-forming _firn_ of the
Aletsch basin compared to the extent of its melting surface? And how much
snow does the _firn_ receive every year from the atmosphere? And how much
of that snow is incorporated?

There are now so many approaches to the glacier world of Switzerland that
it should be easy to determine, at the outlet of a few typical glaciers,
the amount of water thaw conveys to the valleys below. According to the
season, it is quite easy to distinguish between rain-water, water from
springs, and glacier water. Such observations would lead to results
reciprocally verificatory.

My provisional conclusions are that:--

1. The snow falling on the Swiss glaciers is a mere fraction of the
quantity wanted to assure their stability.

2. The average snowfall of any year returns to the atmosphere.

3. The source and means of congealation are not proportionate to the
exigencies of ice-formation, even for the maintenance of the _status quo_.

4. The glaciers, regressing as they are now doing, are not being
replenished to any appreciable extent from the so-called everlasting snow
storage, and certainly not at all in proportion to their wastage.

In other words:--

1. In a number of years X the whole glacier mass of Switzerland is
dissolved and reconstituted in proportions that are less than in the
preceding X period.

2. The snow fallen during the period X--if present conditions are
accepted--is pumped back by the atmosphere during the same period.

3. The quantity of water flowing from those glaciers in the time is
greater than the means of glacier recuperation.

4. Yet the glaciers do recuperate in some proportion to their former size.

5. Consequently the condensation and congealing of atmospheric moisture
must be much more effective an agent than hitherto suspected, for there
is no reason why, upwards of 9,000 feet, snow should be less liable to
thaw on ice than on rock surfaces. Rock and ice areas are conterminous.

Glaciers may be classed, according to their physical conformation, under
the following headings:--

1. _Circular Schema._--They are then enclosed in a basin more or less
irregular in shape. The enclosed mass of ice remains concave as long
as it is lower than the rim of the basin. But it becomes convex in the
centre when it rises above the horizontal line joining the opposite rims
of the basin.

2. _Longitudinal Schema._--A. On the flat, or approximately, those
glaciers show convex surfaces.

B. When resting on a slope they are concave in the upper basin, which
feeds them and become convex as they reach lower and wider channels.

This second type is the normal glacier type.

A diagram or section of the convex portion of the glacier--an ideal
diagram of course--would show the mechanical and static forces at work
in a fan-shaped formation radiating from a point on the not geometrical,
but mechanical, centre line of the glacier, this point being situated on
its bed, where the side-pressures converge and annihilate each other’s
progress.

From this point the bottom ice works its way up to the
melting-surface--but obliquely, being the whole time carried down by the
slope--and throws up side moraines and one or several spinal moraines in
the process. The spinal moraines always rest on pure ice. The ice seams
have been thrown up from the inside.

Crevasses may occur in an outward, open, surface-formation, as in
_séracs_ when they are grouped together, or else they are the result of
accidental deflections or temporary oppositions in mechanical and static
forces at work in the ice.

We said a while ago that there was no reason why, at the height of 9,000
feet and upwards, snow accumulations should be more stable and constant
on ice surfaces than on rock. The cause for this is simply that rock and
ice are too near to each other and at altitudes too closely alike for
serious differences in temperature.

Let us now pass to the matter of avalanches. If snow is utterly unstable
on rock, so it is on ice. Rock and ice constitute an avalanche area,
which in winter extends down so as to include all steepnesses on which
snow may lodge and whence it may be dislodged by the forces of Nature.

Avalanches may be periodic or accidental.

A periodic avalanche is the kind that comes down regularly at a known
spot, each time sufficient cause is brought into play. Maps of the Alps
exist on which those periodic avalanches are noted. Almost every Alpine
village has a periodic avalanche on its territory. The peasants know
when and where to expect it. It is called _the_ avalanche of so and so,
and your business is to find out, each time you propose going out on an
expedition, whether it has come down or not, and all about it.

An accidental avalanche arises from general causes taking effect
fortuitously.

The general causes are:--

1. A quick rise in the temperature.

2. A sudden fall of the barometer.

3. A change of wind.

4. A fresh fall of snow.

5. Slopes of a certain angle and conformation.

6. Differences of density, moisture, and consistency in superposed layers
of snow.

A study of the statics of snow is the royal road to the understanding of
avalanches.

On a slope snow is in a state of more or less pronounced instability.

A first fall of dry winter snow upon dry slopes is extremely avalanchy,
provided it be heavy enough. If it be a fall of wet snow on a porous
surface--that is, neither frozen ground nor hard rock--the snow will as
it were flop together in a slithering mass, but is not likely to form
itself into a dangerous compact floe.

As soon as a second fall of snow comes to adhere to what is left of
the first, it may happen that the second layer does not get properly
welded to the first. The thoroughness of the attachment depends on the
adhesiveness of the snow and on weather conditions. A foundation is
therefore laid for the slipping of the new snow upon the surface of the
old.

In the course of the winter the snow gets consolidated in one mass, but
the process takes each time from two to three days, during which caution
is necessary. A homogeneous layer of snow, hardened from the outside by
wind pressure, or freezing over after a slight thaw, may then break up
into slabs which slide down on the older snow, should one with ski, or in
any other fashion, cut that snow away--at any point--from its support.

A _stratum_ of snow on a steep open slope is like a piece of cardboard
balanced on your finger. There is a limit to the inclination of the
cardboard beyond which it will slip off its pivot. So it is with snow.

Newly fallen snow soon ceases to be an amorphous mealy mass. Its bottom
layer models itself on the surface on which it lies and, if turned over,
would show that surface _en relief_. The next _stratum_ adheres to the
first more or less, and finds points of support for itself, such as rocks
protruding through the first _stratum_, trees, shrubs, fences, dykes, &c.
Every ensuing layer is less shored up than the one beneath. Should there
be a rise in the temperature, an increase of moisture brought on by a
change in the wind, the snow becomes heavier and may start down; as a dry
sponge on an inclined board, gradually absorbing water, must slide down
when the inclination of the board and the quantity of water reach the
critical point.

Our illustration from the cardboard balanced on a finger-tip, and from
the sponge on an inclined plane, makes it clear that it is impossible to
state at what definite angle the equipoise of a snow _stratum_ must be
lost or is sure to be kept. That angle depends on the finger-tip, on the
weight and size of the cardboard, on the sponginess of the sponge, on the
slipperiness of the plank, on your holding your breath, or mischievously
blowing upon the suspended object, &c. When about to capsize, the
cardboard may meet some external point of support, such as your raised
hand, which, in the case of the snow _stratum_, would be a pre-existing
prop and maintain an otherwise impossible stability.

A fall in the barometer almost always means an increase of moisture which
is unfavourable to the steadiness of old snow. A dry, hot wind--such
as _foehn_--is worse, because its heat penetrates the snow to the very
bottom and sets it moving throughout its thickness.

New snow is dangerous till it has had time to set--that is, for two or
three days.

Runners are generally agreed to call steep the slopes on which avalanches
may occur.

Steep slopes are either concave, convex, or straight.

They are concave when the slopes converge towards a central dividing line
lying deeper, to the eye, than their sides; these are scooped out of the
hill.

Concave slopes are:--

1. Funnel-shaped, when the funnel may be either upright or upside down.

If it is upright, the wide opening is at the top. If the slope affect the
shape of a reversed funnel, it opens out at the bottom, but it may also
be choked up in the middle, opening up again above, like an hour-glass.

Concave slopes are quite safe if strewn with rocks, overgrown with
shrubs, or wooded. They are untrustworthy if the sides have been planed
down, as it were, by what we may call natural wear and tear.

The reader sees here how the indications of nature may be properly
interpreted. It is quite clear that a gorge which is a natural shrubbery,
for instance, has not been visited by avalanches for a time at least as
long as the plants took to grow to their visible size.

The trouble here is that Londoners, for example, having to deal with
a gorge which they have not seen free from snow, cannot be expected
to tell whether it is safe or not. The local man alone--a permanent
eye-witness--possesses the information required, and failing actual
acquaintance with the place, a practised mountaineer alone can form an
opinion.

Slopes are convex when the centre line, to the eye, rises above their
sides. These stand out from the hill, diverging from its top.

Convex slopes should be ascended and descended along the dividing-line.
This line, as a dominating centre, will always be sought out by the good
High Alp runner. It is both the shortest and surest path from point to
point, and great is the delight to see at one’s feet the avalanche runs.
If the coping is occupied by rocks, the runner will keep to the snow near
to the rocks, but he has no business there at all if the rock ridge is
considerable enough to harbour avalanche snow. A practised eye sees at
a glance whether snow in excess of the capacity of the gullies is still
suspended above the runner’s head, or whether it lies in cakes and balls
at his feet.

Here again the native will know. It would help you but little to say
that you have found him out to be an unconventional runner, that he is
slow and not at all the handy man you expected. However much you may
be entitled to fancy yourself or your skill as a conventional runner,
he is the better mountaineer, and should your conventional style leave
you in the lurch, he is the fellow to do the right thing for you. It is
then just as well to remember, when one writes in a home magazine, that,
on the spot, one was the incompetent person of the party. “He of the
ice-axe,” your guide, would do that second job, too, far better than you,
if the use of the pen in that periodical was not inconsistent with his
inferior social standing and extremely imperfect education.

The straight slope is the slope on which every point is on the same plane
as another. These slopes are safe when they abut on to ground which
obviously is locally viewed as not exposed to avalanches: vineyards,
potato-fields, woods, hay-lofts, &c.

They are unsafe when undermined by a trickle of water--springs, for
instance--and when the layer of snow next to the ground has melted
away without affecting the upper layers; or when the slope rests upon
a protruding ledge over which it bulges out; or when it is cut by
longitudinal ribs of blown-out snow which you may break open unawares,
letting out the mealy contents upon yourself.

All slopes may be traversed--that is, you may run across them obliquely.

When about to traverse, look to the foot of the slope, and then look to
the head of the slope. If all is right, sound the snow with your stick
and glance into the conic hole made by it. In time you will acquire
an ability to tell by the feel whether the snow is mealy, or set, or
damp, and how many layers your stick breaks through before coming to a
standstill upon frozen ground, or against rock, or before sinking into
the hollow space that may exist between the nethermost layer of snow and
the soil.

Of course, all this you cannot do with a short, light bamboo,
conveniently fitted with an osier disk within three inches of the point!
To go forth so simply equipped means that you are leaving your brains at
home on that day--a thing I often do myself--but, I assure you, only when
out for mere play!

A stick that cannot be used on an emergency either as an anchor or
as a sounding-line to take castings with, is a poor friend. It is
instructive to look curiously into the hole made by one’s stick. What
would be the use of a sport practised simply as an opportunity for being
scatter-brained with impunity, so long as luck lasts?

On the hill-side, slopes--concave, convex, and straight--are joined
to one another by linking surfaces varying in shape and inclination,
but of too limited a development and too irregular a build to offer
to avalanches any opportunity of spreading over them; or else slopes
are separated from one another by breaks in the ski-ing surface, such
as ravines. In these, masses of snow gather most conveniently. The
longitudinal gaps opened up by landslips, torrent beds, or even only the
slides made by wood-cutters through forest and pasture land to launch
felled trees into the valley, are very distinctly avalanche runs. Efforts
are now being made to bar such runs by artificial plantations, fencings,
or walls.

The centre of military ski-running in Switzerland is in the environment
of the permanent Alpine forts which defend the St. Gothard knot of
trans-Alpine and sub-Alpine (railway tunnels) lines of communication
from Italy into Switzerland, betwixt the sources of the Reuss, Ticino,
Rhine, and Rhône. Another centre is situated in the Rhône Valley, at the
point where a natural defile bars the line of communication between the
upper Rhône Valley, at St. Maurice, and the Lake of Geneva, commanding to
some extent the roads converging upon that point from Northern Savoy and
leading to it from Italy over the St. Bernard pass or through the Simplon
tunnel.

The opening of the Loetschberg tunnel on the new short railway route
between Berne and Milan will, however, make it advisable to erect some
kind of additional works about Brigue.

The Gothard and St. Maurice guards use ski, and ski-ing detachments are
about to be attached to the brigades of mountain infantry located all
along the range of the Alps.

Many junior Swiss officers have made themselves proficient in the
new mountaineering by joining military ski courses. Military patrol
competitions meet with much favour at the large ski gatherings.

For all that, the adaptability of ski to military purposes is not very
great in the High Alps. Still they are called upon to become quite a
consideration in border defence or attack. Small troops of skiers could
pass easily from one side to another of the Alps, occupying flying
posts of observation, and even raiding places where the defence would
have preferred to put its own outposts, had it not allowed itself to be
forestalled. The Alpine Club huts afford sufficient shelter for summarily
equipped detachments numbering from twenty to forty men.

Bodies of troops crossing the Alps in winter by the passes available for
considerable military transport would enjoy a distinct advantage if the
outlet of the passes had been previously occupied by half or quarter
companies of bold ski-ing infantry pouncing, as it were, from the skies
upon small snow-bound places with summer hotels ready for occupation and
better stocked with means of subsistence than one would at first be led
to expect. In some Swiss Alpine villages particularly, large supplies
are often accumulated for the next summer season, and in others much
merchandise is stored up to accommodate the Italian smugglers whose
“exports” from Switzerland are all the year round a source of profit to
their purveyors.

[Illustration: AT THE FOOT OF COL D’HÉRENS.

To face p. 279.]

Swiss ski-runners, by expeditions like my own, have proved that the
glaciers may be used, within strict limits, as highways for rapid and
unexpected military movements. Till now it was assumed that crevasses,
iced rocks, and piles upon piles of corniced snow would offer insuperable
obstacles to any military action. But the crevasses--as the reader now
knows--are most hermetically sealed. To the expert and wary runner the
snow opposes no greater barrier than to the pedestrian in summer. Does
not history teach how foot-soldiers have _en masse_, with artillery and
baggage, been moved to and fro across the Alps? Henceforth, military
runners may be trusted to scour the ranges, undetected, cutting
communications one day at the St. Bernard hospice and opening fire three
days later upon the Simplon hospice, hanging alternately on the only two
military roads joining Switzerland and Italy between the St. Gothard
forts and French Savoy.

Those raiding parties could be followed by considerable parties of
transport men, carrying fresh ammunition and supplies.

Such places as Bourg St. Pierre, Fionnay, Arolla, Zinal, Zermatt, Saas,
would be, from the Italian point of view, worth seizing and manning
at the outset of a winter campaign. From the point of view of a Swiss
advance aiming at laying hold of the southern outlets of the military
roads before the enemy could move up its advanced columns, those places
would be valuable bases for the auxiliary services waiting upon the
raiding detachments.

Hitherto forces crossing the Alps in winter could expect to be safe
from attack on their flanks. Henceforth there might be a very different
story to relate. The few experiments hitherto made show that an attack
by skirmishing ski-runners upon columns on the march could not be met
by dispatching against them rifle-men on foot. Across country a man on
foot will take about an hour--on flat ground--to cover a distance which
an average runner on 2 feet of snow will overtake in one-quarter of the
time. Uphill, the advantage of the ski-man is still more marked, and he
may continue much longer. Moreover, he disposes of the whole hill-side,
and may take cover exactly as he pleases, by crossing snows over which
the pedestrian can make no progress at all, and becomes a most convenient
mark. The ski-runner may force his pursuer into any ground he chooses.
For a force developed across an expanse of snow, it is extraordinarily
difficult to carry out an attack upon ski-runners firing from behind
shelter. They occupy probably the higher position, and their field of
vision is absolutely uninterrupted. Rushes from point to point across the
zone of fire are quite out of the question in the absence of any screen
whatsoever.

As for the rifle-men or sharpshooters on foot in charge of a village,
sallying forth to dislodge a party of runners firing into their
position and then withdrawing out of the reach of adversaries firing
from opened-up tracks, spaces, or houses, the idea is not plausible. A
dismounted horse-soldier might just as well advance sword in hand against
marksmen manning rifle-pits, or an infantry man, short of ammunition,
might just as well trust his bayonet to reach a horseman galloping away
out of sight.

Ski-ing patrols of mountain infantry with portable machine-guns could
defend such passes as the Furka or the Grimsel against forces pushed
forward in vastly superior numbers.

[Illustration]



CHAPTER XII

THE MECHANICS OF SKI-BINDINGS

    The shoe--The original bindings--The modern bindings--The
    foot--The hinge in the foot--Different functions of the
    toe-strap and heel-band--The parts of the binding--Faulty
    fasteners--Sketches of faulty and correct leverage--A schematic
    binding--_Critique_ of bindings in use--Suggestions--Cheeks and
    plates--A whole blade--Cause of strained feet--Steel wire in
    bindings.


In choosing a suitable binding for the high-level routes in the Alps--as
in thinking out or devising such a binding--the runner’s commodity is the
main consideration. There is human anatomy. There are the possibilities
of leather, metal, and wire. And footgear, and ski, and binding have to
work together.

Runners who run for sport alone have a preference for the boots known
in the trade under the name of laupar boots. They are thick-soled,
flat-heeled, box-shaped above the toes. The Lotus boots, made on an
American shape, are a good type also. But are they good Alpine boots?

Runners in the Alps for whom ski are a means to an end, as well as an
object in itself, generally wear an ordinary mountaineering boot of a
large size, carefully nailed on heel and sole. This for two reasons:--

First, there is frequently some distance to be travelled over, in order
to get across the rough, broken, or wooded ground before reaching the
high snow-fields.

Second, it is practically impossible to dispense with nails in one’s
boots when crossing, above the snow-line, rocks and icy patches. On these
ski are useless. They have to be carried for awhile or left behind, till
called for. The runner is then thrown upon his boots and climbing-irons.
Should his boots be laupars, the climbing-irons have to be fitted on to
the bare soles. This is an inconvenient process, partly because the bands
are liable to freeze, partly because it may take more time to don and
doff the irons than the emergency will be kind enough to allow.

Those who speak of injury done to ski-blades by boot-nails carry too
far their sympathy for an excellent servant. In point of fact, a
symmetrically and regularly nailed boot makes upon the ski-blade and
plate a harmless impression. The lodgement of each nail-head is clean. It
even affords an additional support when turning, or breaking, or swinging.

The characteristics of a good running boot are, as one sees, few and
definite.

With ski bindings, or fastenings, the matter is altogether different.

The popularity of ski-running burst forth so suddenly upon the sporting
world that the invention of new bindings--of which there is no end--soon
proceeded even beyond the boundaries of common sense and reason.

The original Scandinavian and Lap bindings, with bent twigs, twisted
cane, or long thong, were quite sufficient for their purpose and in their
place.

Of the new bindings a large number are of a commercial character only.
Others, brought out on the score of mechanical perfection, come forward
with purely academical credentials.

The early Scandinavian or Norse fastenings had a distinct quality.
They were not invented, but grew. They were made of one same material
throughout, showing the essential feature of a sound binding: uniformity
of texture. But the ski-blade was directly fastened to the foot, more
particularly to the toes, by the binding.

The defect of these original bindings came to light when they were put
to more athletic uses. They then proved too weak, and not sufficiently
durable, in the hands of Germans, Austrians, and Swiss, practising the
Norse sport in their own countries.

Iron and steel, in varying degrees of hardness, were pressed into
service. The uniformity of material was thus brought to an end.

To make a long story short, the Huitfeldt and Ellefsen bindings are
generally admitted to be the most useful. The former is distinguished
by a clamp for bolting down the heel-strap. The latter obtains
rigidity--which is considered indispensable--by binding the heel of the
runner to the ski-blade by means of a stiff sole.

Whatever the binding, the mechanics controlling the linking together of
limb, boot, and ski in common action, need some explaining. Even the
lay-reader may gain some benefit from a short and easy excursion in the
domain of _technique_.

The foot consists of toes, ball, and heel. The point of play is the same,
whether one walk or use ski. It lies across the ball of the foot. It
is determined by the structure and articulations of the foot, from the
extremity of the big toe to above the ankle-joint. But the line of play
does not lie _along_ the foot; it lies athwart. On this line turns or
hinges the foot, as though a rod were run through it, whether the motion
be up and down--that is, vertical; or horizontal (right and left); or
oblique (foot sideways and edgeways), as in turns, swings, &c.

There is thus an axis of rotation through the foot. This axis need no
more be horizontal than, for instance, the wheels of a motor-car when one
drives over an obstacle.

The foot should sit at ease in the binding. It must not be fretted,
chafed, galled, or pressed by the material of the binding when the work
to be done puts a long and enduring strain on the boot. To that effect,
the binding should be such that the pressure will, as it were, cancel
itself by an equal application and even distribution, whatever may be the
movements and position of the foot.

In other words, the heel-strap must have its point of attachment on the
axis of rotation across the foot, the point on which it revolves to
describe some portion of a circle in the vertical direction.

But this attachment must be mobile throughout in the horizontal plane.
It should not be fixed on to the side of the ski-blade, or upon the ski
in front of the foot, or anywhere else. One should bear in mind that, in
mechanics, a heel-strap adhering to the ski at the centre of revolution
acts like a rigid arm. The balance of the body is upset by sudden shocks
which may react injuriously upon the foot, whenever there is a rigid
connection brought into play, if only for one instant.

It is the business of the toe-strap to establish a connection (a close
and immobile connection) between the foot and the ski, which it is the
foot’s function to propel. To the contrary, to perform its office,
the heel-strap requires no fixed points of vertical support. In a
mechanically perfect binding, the foot of the runner would be free to
revolve, as on a pivot, in the horizontal plane, spending thus forces of
lateral origin, while the ski continued upon its course. As it is, a good
runner surmounts disturbing, incidental forces (the ordinary cause of
accidents arising from ski-structure) by passing them up along his body
and neutralising their effect by shooting himself upwards, as if to fly.

When twigs of twisted cane were used they broke away under the strain.
The long leather thong was stronger, but it froze, or imbibed water with
too much alacrity.

A ski-binding is essentially composed of four parts:--

First: A ring, or toe-strap, in which to adjust the point of the foot,
and which is the _fulcrum_.

Second: A heel-band, which, passing round the foot, presses its fore-part
against the _fulcrum_, in the ring, or toe-strap.

Third: A fastener, either clamp, bolt, buckle with eye and prong, sole
of appropriate length, lever, &c., wherewith to regulate and adjust the
pressure of the heel-band upon the _fulcrum_.

Fourth: Side-supports, or cheeks, for the ball of the foot, generally
placed on each side of the _fulcrum_.

It is under number three (clamps, buckles, and levers) that all
fastenings are at fault. They would have to be self-adjusting, so far
as quick adaptation to changing weather conditions and sudden running
strains is necessary. But such cannot be automatically obtained yet. The
best fasteners are approximate in their action. The worst are clumsy
mechanical contrivances. Most, good or bad, link the heel-band with the
ski blade. Some fasteners are placed on one or both cheeks.

[Illustration: FAULTY LEVERAGE.]

We have already made it plain: the heel-band, when stretched out round
the foot, should be free to revolve in the same plane as the flat of the
ski, as set forth in the following sketches:--

Here lateral impulses or checks are transmitted through the point of
attachment of the heel-band.

[Illustration: CORRECT LEVERAGE.

A. Oblique View.

B. Front View.]

Here none but the pressure exerted by means of the heel-band fastener
upon the _fulcrum_ (toe-straps and cheeks) controls the ski.

If the reader will kindly remember what we said about the axis of
rotation lying across the ball of the foot, he will now understand that
the heel-band has to describe “some portion of a circle” on the apex A,
as follows:--

[Illustration: CORRECT LEVERAGE.

Side View.]

each time the foot moves up and down in the vertical line.

Consequently the principles of a schematic binding work out in this way:--

First: That the heel-band be free to move in a horizontal plane, and be
made to run through the fastening lever instead of being itself attached
to the ski by an extremity.

Second: That the heel-band run loosely through a loop or sleeve placed on
the apex of the foot axis on each side of the ball of the foot. The band
will hinge on the loop, else it would slacken and tighten as the foot
rises and falls.

Third: That the heel-band be of the nature of a continuous rope, or
closed circuit, passing through the handle of the lever which, when
opened or shut, releases the foot, or presses it down into the toe-strap.

Fourth: That the heel-band hang upon each apex of the rotatory axis
instead of being tied there.

There are many reasons for accepting the above remarks. For instance, the
point of rotation works out too high in many manufactured bindings. The
heel-strap then cannot adhere as it should to the boot. Its radius and
that of the heel do not coincide. In the case of a well-known Norwegian
binding, the strap, on the contrary, starts from a point of attachment
which, on each side of the ski, is placed lower than the toe-line. Thus
the heel-strap is wrongly centred again. The boot undergoes irregular
pressure, a cause of additional fatigue and a waste of mechanical power.

Most makers have been led into this fault by the bulk and thickness of
the material ordinarily employed--namely leather. Leather does very well
for circling the heel, a flat band being there the proper thing to be
used, but it is less useful to the front, where tension is called for.

The fore part of the heel-band might perhaps be replaced by a rope of
fine strands of wire, with a breaking strain equal to, say, six hundred
pounds, by far exceeding the strength of the stoutest ski-thong. At the
point of rotation, the strap, in which is placed the heel, would meet
the wire. Thus the connecting-point between the heel-strap and its wire
extremities to the front would coincide with the pivots on which the heel
revolves in the axis of the foot.

Under those conditions, when lifting from the ski the heel of the boot,
the tension of the heel-band remains uniform in every position.

This part of the binding apparatus may be practically autonomous. Free
from any direct connection with the wood, it ceases to be a medium
through which shocks may disturb the balance of the body. The foot then
is free to exercise unhindered its own balancing power and to obey its
spontaneous “statics.”

When cheeks are used, they generally consist of two steel plates, with
turned-up sides or ears, and frequently provided with holes at suitable
distances. Hammered into shape, the plates usually overlap each other on
the centre line of the ski. Sometimes a pin driven through any two holes
in the superposed plates (by means of a spring, to which it is attached)
maintains the plates at such a distance from each other as may fit the
boot of the runner.

Plates need not be inserted through the wood of the ski, as is the case
with most bindings with cheeks, but they may be laid on the flat of the
blade, quite on a level with the rotatory axis of the foot. A steel
spring may then be adjusted along the middle line of the foot-rest. It
may be raised with the greatest ease, bringing the pin with it.

To the usual practice of boring a hole through the wood of the ski should
be preferred an arrangement such as we have just described, preserving
for the runner that on which he most justly may pride himself: a whole
and uninjured ski-blade.

The writer has always used in the High Alps a binding fulfilling the
conditions here laid down. He found his binding both safe and strong.

Elasticity and uniformity of pressure are so well secured by the
severance of the heel-band from the body of the ski, that a fall forward
is not accompanied by an awkward strain, such strain being almost always
brought about by the reaction of the weight of the ski upon the muscles
or bones of the foot. It is now generally recognised that strains and
breaks are not caused by the firmness of a binding, but by an unequal and
jolting application of pressure to the bones and muscular tissues.

A binding, the whole of which may be detached from the ski-blade by
taking out a pin and removing a lever, is handy to travel with, as
instruments to fit on a new binding instead of an old or broken one, are
inconvenient adjuncts.

The weak points in steel rope bindings are:--

1. That the rivet connecting wire and leather may give way. The splicing
should be most carefully seen to.

2. The metal cheeks may turn out to be brittle, if too hard or too thin,
as in any other binding with cheeks.

3. The soft steel wire being made of strands, the very condition of its
pliancy, this also means that the strands may be too soft, or too hard,
or that they may be broken or unwound by coming into contact with hard
edges. To obviate this risk, an oiled leather sleeve through which the
wires might run, would protect them against friction and provide them
with a lubricant.

The lubricant should be applied also on the bends of the wire.

The leather sleeves are placed outside each cheek by means of a rivet
with the loop upwards and free. This provides a non-rigid “focus” of soft
material, through which the fine wires, though tense, run loosely. The
section of the wire thus enclosed lies at a varying angle with the foot
as it rises and falls, and adjusts itself to this in its every position.

The lever by means of which the tightening of the wire heel-strap is
managed, is best placed across the ski-blade in front of the foot. The
wire runs freely through this lever to which, as mentioned before, it
should not be attached. Thus, in case of a wrench, or should the runner
fall, the whole of the wired heel-band may yield to the foot and shift
it just a little to one side or the other, instead of jerking it, as is
otherwise common, either against or out of the binding.

Be this as it may, and taking things at their best, the modern
ski-runner’s desideratum--a binding of uniform material, adaptable and
elastic throughout--has yet to be met.

An occasionally rather heated warfare was, a few years ago, waged in
words, all about ski-bindings. The shape, length, breadth, and grooving
of the ski-blades were also drawn into the field of controversy. Such
debates are a positive relish for enthusiasts and fanatics. But, though
angry words break no bones, violent talk is apt to be vapid and, save for
the sake of exercise in vituperative wit, can serve no useful purpose.

[Illustration]



CHAPTER XIII

RUDIMENTS OF WINTER MOUNTAINEERING FOR SKI-RUNNERS

    The new “Alpinism”--A re-statement of elementary
    principles--Ski-runners _versus_ summer pedestrians--The
    experiences of an eminent physician--How to walk in snow--Put
    not your trust in sticks--Keep your rope dry--Stand up on your
    feet--Ski-sticks as supports--Winter clothing.


Till within the last one hundred and fifty years mountaineering as a
sport was undreamt of in Europe. The high Swiss valleys were then visited
by a few scientific and geographical explorers or by people whose means
of livelihood and business occupations stood in some connection with the
valleys, their produce and inhabitants.

During the nineteenth century, poetry and literature fostered summer
mountaineering, and commercial enterprise was not slow in following in
the wake of the intellectual and emotional admirers of mountain scenery.
The High Alps were frequented by others than mere trans-Alpine travellers.

But it was reserved for the present generation to invent winter sports.
By them, the Alpine winter has sprung into international life. Thanks to
them, winter mountaineering is now fast adding a new branch to Alpinism.

In the light of this new age, even the most elementary principles of the
mountaineer’s art have to be re-stated. Within the compass of the most
modest pretensions, the present chapter aims at so doing--for winter
sport lovers of either sex, whom the perusal of the foregoing chapters
may further fire with zeal. General readers--ladies particularly--we
would not rudely expect to be at pains to supplement, by incurring a
course of severe trials, their deficient opportunities and brevity of
experience. They will not regret their patience if they read these pages,
which, roughly speaking, cover a ground beyond which few of them ever are
likely to push their investigations.

None can safely and properly use ski in the Alps but they who have become
acquainted with a mountainous country as summer pedestrians. But many now
visit the Alps in winter only. As these have no previous acquaintance
with the conditions of mountaineering, let them here take heed and be
warned.

For want of minding these hints, you might fare like a famous physician
of our acquaintance who, coolly, in mid-January, after an early
breakfast, left his hotel, at Beatenberg, with a sandwich in his pocket,
a few drops of whisky in his flask, and accompanied by his son, lightly
clad and lightly shod like himself.

They went merrily along in the snow, on gently sloping ground bathed
in the rays of the sun, till they found themselves by midday above a
somewhat tall and far-stretching wall of rocks. The heat of the day and
the weariness of the flesh promptly brought about the disappearance of
the whisky and sandwiches. But the sun would continue to burn above and
the snow to be deep below. Hot heads, icy feet, worn limbs. To trudge
back seemed uninviting. So the tourists at sundown took to the steep
rocks with trembling legs. Their hands were numb. They slipped on wet
snow. They got no grip on the ice. They fell into snowdrifts. Their heads
were dizzy. Their feet froze. To reach quickly the happy end of a sad
tale, it was three o’clock in the morning when they were snatched from
the edge of the grave by a party of peasants bearing lanterns and drawn
to them by their despairing cries.

Like cases are well-nigh of daily occurrence.

So, if you would be a mountaineer, you may learn here a few things which
probably you think you know already, but perhaps do not:--

1. _How to Walk in Snow._ Wear heavy socks and stockings, put on boots of
stout leather with nailed soles and broad low heels.

To go uphill, set your feet down lightly but firmly in the snow, putting
your weight upon the ball of the foot. Then raise yourself on your
foremost leg by a forward swing of the body, to bring it well above your
bent knee. This will set your hindmost foot free to step up in its turn,
quite lightly. You must not raise yourself by means of a push away from
the ground, you would merely glide out of your step, backwards.

To go downhill, put your foot flat in the snow, heel and all, keeping
your heel straight, to build a foundation. But do not thump your foot
down. There is frequently, under the snow, a slippery surface of stone or
ice.

Put not your trust in sticks. As you do not know very well where the
point will rest when thrust through the snow, it will often cause you to
stumble. Your body should be well supported and well balanced on your
legs alone.

2. If you use a rope in snow do not let it drag. Insist on your
guide keeping it dry by coiling it up in his hands when it would be
inconvenient to keep it taut. A rope that has over and over again been
frozen and wetted is slippery under any condition and may snap under
sudden stress.

3. When climbing rocks or steep grass slopes in winter, it is safest to
assume that they are frozen over. Wear strong gloves and use them to
hold on with, but do not lay your full weight, through your hands, on
to jutting pieces of rock. Such supports are indispensable in climbing,
but likely to break away. So use them as supports only. The weight of
your body must rest on your feet and be raised by your legs to its next
resting-point. Frozen ground, frosted grass, iced rocks are always
extremely dangerous.

When letting yourself down frozen rocks, as a rule with the help of a
rope, stand upright and in most cases with your back to the rise of the
hill. You may then let yourself down on your bent elbows while your feet
settle in their next hold.

4. The winter mountaineer has such a preference for ski-running that
he has but little opportunity to use the instrument called _pickel_,
_piolet_, or ice-axe. However, when compelled to remove his ski and sling
them across his shoulders to pass a difficult piece of ground, he will
hold his sticks together and use them in guise of an ice-axe for support.

When going down a sharp incline on foot, hold your sticks together,
with both hands resting on them. Let the point end rest on the high
ground well behind you, but do not lean back. You would find your feet
running away from under you. When going uphill, plant the point ends of
your sticks somewhere on the ground in the middle of your stride, but
somewhat higher on the rise of the hill than the ground you stand on. It
is a common mistake to plant one’s sticks down the slope, a sure way of
running into danger. In case of a slip, the place of hands and sticks is
on the higher ground, while it is the business of the feet to seek alone
a fresh hold lower down. They are thus partly relieved from the weight of
the body, and this is kept upright.

5. The clothes of the winter mountaineer should be strong and warm.
When moisture-laden, the air is more trying than when it is dry, though
colder. Thaws are not unknown in winter, and rain in the valleys is
an experience to be prepared against. Boots and leggings should be
weather-proof. One should wear wind-proof knickerbockers or breeches, a
chamois leather waistcoat, a short but wide and easy coat. Rough woollen
material collects the snow. Such should be reserved for underwear. Outer
garments should present to the snow a smooth, closely woven surface.

[Illustration]



CHAPTER XIV

WINTER STATIONS--WINTER SPORTS--HOW TO USE SKI

    The awakening of the English--Switzerland the ice and
    snow rink of Europe--The high winter stations and the
    low--Principal sporting centres--Insular delusions--The
    Continental network of winter sport associations--Winter
    sports on ice--Tobogganing--The winter climate varies with
    the altitude--A classification of sporting centres according
    to altitude--The ski-runner is monarch of the Alps--How to
    keep one’s ski in good order--How to learn the gentle art of
    running on ski--Precepts and practice--The turns, breaks, and
    swings--_Point final_.


It is strange to have to acknowledge, that while in the high-lying
valleys of the Alps the Swiss have basked for centuries in hot Christmas
sunshine, the English, till within the last twenty years, remained
ignorant of Alpine winter sports. Enlightened medical men first
recommended the tonic properties of the Alpine climate in winter. Then
came the spirited promoters of the Public Schools Winter Sports Club. Now
Sir Henry Lunn’s winter stations stud the Alpine ranges from end to end.

These stations are typical of the best organisation hitherto devised to
connect winter games known in England, such as skating, curling, and
hockey, with the magnificent scenery and inexhaustible opportunities
afforded by the Swiss winter climate. As compared with regions
situated further north, the sporting advantages of Switzerland over,
say, Scandinavia, consist in its central situation in mid-Europe, the
closeness of its population, the immense accommodation for visitors, the
short distances from station to station, the compactness of the road and
railway system, and above all in the abundance of sunlight throughout the
winter months. We need say nothing on the benefits of altitude. If air,
sun and snow are ideal winter conditions for modern men and women, the
higher we go, the more completely will those benefits be secured.

Be this as it may, stations under 5,000 feet are not so reliable for
steady, continuous frost, as those situated above that level. This is
a pity, because, from a social point of view, the lower stations are
largely patronised. The winter sportsman likes to rise quickly. He knows
that high peaks and deep valleys are nowhere so closely and attractively
interwoven as in Switzerland. The two highest points permanently
inhabited by a sedentary community are, in the valley of Cresta Avers,
between the Maloja and Splügen passes, and at Chandolin d’Anniviers above
Sierre, both at an altitude of about 6,000 feet. These places are above
the forest zone and should in time become the flourishing winter sport
stations which their situation entitles them to be. At the other and
lowest extremity of the scale, but in the vicinity of Mont Blanc, and
wanting but little energy to raise its potentialities to the level of the
very best, should rank Megève, above Sallanches in the valley of the
Arve. Unfortunately there has been hitherto in that part of the world but
little disposition to act in an enterprising spirit.

The most important stations, so far, are those situated:--

1. In the Engadine and adjoining valleys (St. Moritz, Pontresina,
Kampfer, Silvaplana, Sils, Maloja, Fex, Davos, Arosa, Klosters, &c.).

2. In the Bernese Oberland (Grindelwald, Beatenberg, Wengen, Mürren,
Grimmi Alp, Kandersteg, Zweisimmen, Adelboden, Gstaad, Lauenen, &c.).

3. In the Vaudois Alps (Chateau D’Oex, Comballaz, Les Ormonts,
Leysin--this latter with many sanatoria--Caux above the lake of Geneva,
&c.).

4. In the Rhône valley (Chesières, Villars, Gryon, Morgins and Champéry,
Montana and Vermala, Louèche les Bains, in German, Leukerbad), &c.
Zermatt is accessible and may be most comfortably lived in in winter, but
cannot be said to be as yet a properly opened up station. The same may
be said of Saas Fée, to which the new Britannia hut of the Swiss Alpine
Club, a gift of the British members of the club, should draw henceforth a
large number of English ski-runners. The Simplon and St. Bernard hospices
are open throughout the year.

5. In the St. Gothard district (Andermatt, &c.).

6. In the Jura range (St. Cergue sur Nyon, Les Rasses sur Ste. Croix,
Mont Soleil sur St. Imier, &c.).

7. In the Mont Blanc district (Chamounix, St. Gervais, Le Planet,
Finhaut, &c.).

[Illustration: THE BRITANNIA HUT.

To face p. 302.]

The offices of the Federal Railways at Regent Street, 11B, London,
S.W., deliver gratis an illustrated winter list of Swiss mountaineering
resorts. Many of these have been founded by local enterprise only. Such,
though quite commendable and moderately expensive, do not often afford
the first-class skating facilities found in the Engadine, at Grindelwald,
and in stations under English management.

Stations which may boast of a large and well-kept skating rink, a curling
pond, well-laid toboggan and bob-sleigh runs, a rink for hockey, and
plenty of good ski-ing slopes, with hotel accommodation for an unlimited
number of visitors of either sex, are a modern achievement of no mean
order in primitive out-of-the-way Swiss mountain villages, buried under
anything from 3 to 9 feet of snow.

There is a marked difference between the stations patronised by the
English--or visitors from the capitals, whatever their nationality--and
the stations frequented by the local people for sport or holiday
purposes. Those two classes avoid each other very effectually, though
unconsciously for the most part, and without any pointed intention so to
do.

The former class depends on “central heating” for comfort. So exclusively
do they depend on this and so steadily do they flock to the best
accredited stations, that they often fondly imagine themselves to be the
only sportsmen active in winter. How often has the writer been asked, at
Villars, for instance: How is it that we English are alone seen on ski
in Switzerland? This mistake is easily accounted for, because those who
get that impression do not go far enough afield to correct it. If they
did, they would soon find out what an extremely small proportion of those
who run on ski are English. A little thought will show that this is quite
natural.

Ski-running facilities stretch, as it were, in an unbroken line from
Scandinavia through central Europe straight down to the Maritime Alps,
and from the Vosges and Dauphiné in the west to the Carpathians in the
east. The number of ski-runners recruited over this immense area is
immeasurably larger than anything the British Isles (where there exist no
ski-ing facilities worth mentioning) can produce.

The whole of Central Europe is, as it were, caught up in the meshes of a
huge net of Alpine associations and skiers’ clubs. These hold periodic
competitions and meet in international congresses, commanding a degree of
public attention and drawing to themselves an interest the magnitude of
which passes quite unnoticed in the United Kingdom.

In a rather ill-considered manner, winter visitors to Switzerland like
to crowd the resorts which have become famous for their suitability in
summer. This is not quite the way to set about the thing. Winter stations
should be sought out for their own characteristics. Several low-lying
centres are not nearly so suitable in winter as in summer. Besides, many
which could be favourably reported upon by specialists, have hitherto
failed to be introduced to the public.

Winter sports may be divided into two classes:--

1. Those which depend upon nature alone.

2. Those which depend upon nature artificially aided.

Among the latter class, skating and curling are foremost. Running on ski
ranks first among the former.

It would be out of place here to dwell upon skating, curling, and
hockey. These are most congenial pastimes under the blue skies and
amid the magnificent scenery of the Alps, but they are distinct from
mountaineering. Scottish and Swiss curlers vie with each other in such
stations as Kandersteg. Curling stones are imported from London, and
ponds are now made in all centres favoured by players of the game.

Skating rinks are a much more costly affair than curling ponds. Patrons
of the sport are apt to forget how valuable and extensive is the land
that has to be purchased and prepared in the vicinity of the hotels. A
staff of professional skating rink builders is in request, with an army
of sweepers under their orders. In the middle of the day the great heat
of the sun has often to be kept down by filtering the rays through huge
pieces of stretched-out sacking or canvas. As the supply of electricity
for lighting purposes is seldom scarce, night _fêtes_ are a great feature
upon the Alpine rinks.

The social life is indeed sometimes a little excessive, and may interfere
with the steadiness of one’s nerve. When Englishmen, by way of amusement,
use the Swiss military rifle at the local range in friendly rivalry with
the peasantry, the Swiss team has hitherto been invariably victorious, no
doubt because the British marksmen are called out “for social duty on
the station” at too close intervals.

The toboggan, or _luge_, and the sleigh are usual vehicles with the
Swiss. A sight deeply indicative of manly power and grace, is that of
Swiss woodmen steering heavily laden sleighs round jagged corners and
down precipitous ice cliffs. A run on one of these is an introduction to
a new set of sensations.

But the “common herd” toboggan and bob on well-defined roads or tracks,
or buzz down runs purposely laid out for their use. According to the lie
or curve of the land, and with a view to accelerated speed, artificial
runs are scientifically built up in lines and bends carefully designed
beforehand. The banks are made of snow piled up with a shovel, and often
hardened into blocks by pouring water upon the snow.

The Alpine climate, whether the Swiss, French, Italian, or Austrian Alps
are considered, varies with the altitude. It is at its worst in the
region of towns, lakes, and rivers, wherever the altitude is under 1,500
feet.

The winter months begin to wear their characteristic aspect in places
ranging from 3,000 feet and upwards. But climate must not be confused
with general suitability for sport, and stations between 3,000 and 4,000
feet, however excellent in every other respect, are not yet high enough
to show a thoroughly reliable winter climate. South-west winds, recurrent
thaws, rain, and fog may affect sport seriously in such places for the
whole of any one week out of three.

But, upwards of 4,000 feet, a steadily dry winter climate sets in early
in December, and may be relied upon to last until the end of March. There
is sure to be some thawing now and then, under the influence of mild
weather or as an effect of long exposure to the sun, but the dry, cold
air, and the torrid rays of an almost tropical sun, are the prevailing
features of the sporting season.

As, upwards of 7,000 feet, no winter stations have as yet been thrown
open, the useful range of Alpine climate is as follows:--

1. Under 3,000 feet (such as Mont Pélerin, above Vevey, and Ballaigues,
above Vallorbes).

2. From 3,000 to 4,500 feet (these stations are the most numerous and the
most frequented).

3. Between 4,500 and 6,500 feet (at this altitude some people begin
to experience breathing and heart troubles, mental excitability, and
insomnia).

Stations situated in this last and highest zone afford excellent sport.
Such are, for instance: Mürren, Montana-Vermala, the whole of the
upper Engadine, Arosa, Davos, &c. They are the ski-runner’s paradise.
Pontresina, particularly, is one of the very finest centres for long
excursions on ski. But, while some other parts are rather too flat, the
Pontresina district does not abound in short, easy runs.

At from 7,000 feet and upwards, the climate is that of a glorified
North Pole; alternative spells of beautiful blazing sunshine, and of
stormy, snow-laden, piercingly cold winds. In winter the temperature of
the air is always low and, practically speaking, there is frost above
the snow-line every night even in summer. But, in the coldest January
weather, the sunbeams are poured forth in such arrays, for weeks at a
time, from cloudless, windless skies, that one’s sensation of bodily
heat, between sunrise and sunset, may be quite overpowering.

All those allurements would perhaps, as in former days, still count for
little, but for the transportation of the ski from their dull, northern
home to that house set on high which opens its southern frontage, as a
balcony 200 miles long over the plains of Italy.

This chapter would not be brought to a fit conclusion if its last lines
were not the means of enabling the reader to make himself proficient in
the bare rudiments of the ski-ing craft which brings the High Alps in
their winter garb within reach of human gaze.

The beginner should purchase ski made of ash, and somewhat shorter than
the reach of his arm when extended above his head. He will find the
Huitfeldt binding most convenient, with the improved Ellefsen clamp
patented under the name of Aspor.

Previously to using your ski, oil them repeatedly at intervals of a week,
and give the oil (if possible hot linseed) plenty of time to sink into
the wood. Then rub lightly some dry paraffin-wax into the grain of the
wood. Each time after using your ski, clean them and rub them down with
an oily cloth or sponge.

Warm feet are the royal road to health and comfort: there must be room
enough in your boot to leave freedom of motion to each toe.

First learn to move about on the flat, without any support of any kind.
If you have followed our advice as to oiling and waxing ski, the under
surface of yours will be perfectly smooth and very slippery. So, next,
choose the most gentle slope you can find to glide upon. Let it be an
easy slant leading on to a flat piece of snow.

Practise going down steadily and slowly, holding in each hand, if you
like, a light bamboo or hazel-wood stick. These are to be used only to
pick yourself up. Never practise with a single stick, or a stout, heavy
stick, or a long stick.

Put the right foot foremost, then the left. Then go down on one foot
alone, alternately using the right and the left.

Go through these preliminary exercises with extreme patience. In nothing
so much as in ski-running is it fair to say “The more haste the less
speed.”

The beginner who raises his ski off the snow surface falls into a serious
mistake. He should glide his ski along the surface of the snow when
moving uphill as well as on the flat. Ski were not made to be lifted,
like feet, but to be pushed along, like a drawn-out wheel. A sensible
learner never forces his way up a slope, but, as soon as he feels himself
sliding back, he eases off to the right or left. He should always keep
his ski close to each other, whether his course be upwards or downwards.
The knees, too, should be held close together when descending. The body
should not stoop from the waist but lean forward from the ankle-joint, so
as to be well balanced over the middle of the ski, the limbs remaining
loose and easy throughout.

The whole secret of straight and easy running may be further summed up in
the following simple golden rules:--

1. Stand upright on your ski, keeping your body at a right angle to the
slope down which you run.

2. Keep ski, feet, and knees together.

3. Then practise lunging with each foot alternately, with the forward
knee bent each time as far as it can go.

4. While lunging bring the weight of the body to rest alternately on each
ski.

5. Practise thrusting back each leg alternately as far as it can go, with
your body resting on the forward bent knee.

6. Then bring both ski close to each other again, and let yourself be
borne downwards along hangs of increasing steepness.

7. Then let yourself fly down the whole length of a long slope, first on
one foot, then on the other, till you can move along on each ski, without
bringing the other into play.

8. Practise dragging each ski alternately behind the other, setting the
hind ski free from your weight, then raise the front ski in the air and
transfer all your weight to the back ski.

Having got so far one may begin trying swings to the right and left.

1. To do a Telemark swing to the right, push your left ski forward, and
bring the weight of your body well above your fully bent knee. If you
then incline your body slightly within the curve you wish to describe
in the snow to your right, the forward ski, left, will begin to glide in
sideways. The inner ski (the right ski) will follow within the curve,
provided you keep your right leg well extended behind, and keep the
weight of your body off it.

2. To do an Alpine swing to the right, turn the beak (or head) of your
left ski towards the right ski, while laying the weight of your body on
the left ski, placed lowest on the slope. The left ski will then swing
downwards and sideways, and, under the pressure of your foot, come round
the head of your right ski, accomplishing the turn. In this swing the
heels (or back of the ski) fly apart.

3. To do a Christiania swing to the right, start with ski even and close
together. Advance slightly the right ski, get up speed sharply and then
throw your weight somewhat backwards by a side thrust inward, ranging
from the left hip to the right. The heels of the ski will slip together
away from your body, behind you, to the left, and the heads of both ski
will point to the right.

The Christiania is reputed a difficult swing, but here is the “straight
tip”: Old ski, with edges worn down at the heel, feather round
beautifully.

Beware of learning those turns in deep or heavy snow, lest you sprain or
wrench an ankle. Hard, ridgy snow is even more dangerous.

This is not the place to teach how, at the altitude of 7,000 feet and
upwards, begins High Alp ski-running, in which the Swiss are past
masters, because this phase of sport is not for beginners. On the other
hand, consummate runners with good guides and inured to every kind of
hardship, might well be trusted to add to this book many a page showing,
much better than the present writer can, how the High Alps in winter have
infinite pleasure in store for the bold, cool-headed, and strong.

[Illustration]

UNWIN BROTHERS, LIMITED, THE GRESHAM PRESS, WOKING AND LONDON



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                             [Illustration]

                        “HINTS ON ALPINE SPORTS”

    By Professor F. F. ROGET, Author of “Ski-runs in the High Alps.”

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                                 SKI-ING

                     FOR BEGINNERS AND MOUNTAINEERS

                         By W. RICKMER RICKMERS

    With 72 Full-page Plates and many Diagrams in the Text. Cloth,
    4/6 net. (Inland Postage 4d.)

    There are few who can look back on so many years of strenuous
    ski-ing as Mr. Rickmers, and, save one other man, nobody has
    had so large and successful an experience of teaching it to
    beginners. This volume is especially valuable as containing the
    advice of a mountaineer. It is “short and sweet,” embodying
    everything the beginner must know in order to learn as quickly
    as possible. The second part gives him due warning and sound
    advice, once he has mastered the elements of ski-running and
    sallies forth on short tours to be followed by long expeditions
    into the wintry mountains. Mr. Rickmers’ idea throughout is to
    teach and tell only what has stood the test of time and what
    is strictly necessary, thus saving from much indecision the
    ski-tourist who is to be.

    The book will be found to be the most complete introduction to
    the subject in English.

    “A fascinating book on the most delightful of Continental
    winter sports. Not only is Mr. Rickmers a strenuous and
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    in order to become an efficient ski-runner in as short a time
    as possible.”--_T. P.’s Weekly._

    “He is a teacher of vast experience, who has studied every
    defect in style that a beginner can possibly fall into, and has
    learned how to cure them all. If the novice with the aid of
    this book studies his every posture and action, practising the
    right and with pains correcting what he learns is wrong, he is
    on the high road to becoming a first-class runner.”--_Scottish
    Ski Club Magazine._

                      _On Sale at all Booksellers._

               T. FISHER UNWIN, 1 Adelphi Terrace, London.





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