Page images
PDF
EPUB

ASCENT OF MONTE ROSA IN 1862.

BY A PRIVATE OF THE 38TH MIDDLESEX (ARTISTS).

LEAVING Courmayeur in a voiture we proceeded to Aosta (my second visit), where I again inspected the Roman antiquities, the bridge, the triumphal arch, amphitheatre, &c., all very interesting ; but not being now the object of my mission, we passed on to Chatillon, where, leaving the voiture, I took to a mule, half way up the Val Tournanche, to a village bearing that name, and lunched at the little inn of Monte Rosa, kept by an old soldier, who deserves every encouragement, as he supplies all one's wants at moderate charges, and with great good will. I said a word or two in his favour in his “ Livre des Etrangers," with which he seemed highly pleased, but it was no more than he deserved.

Soon after quitting this spot we passed a remarkable cascade, which found its way through a deep chasm in the rocks, truly a scene of savage grandeur, and reminding me of many a similar sheet of water in dear old Norway.

From the village of Val Tournanche I walked to Breuil, where I passed a few hours of the night, intending to leave before daybreak to cross the pass of the Col de St. Théodule. At the little inn at Breuil, surrounded by lofty mountains, conspicuous above all of which is the seemingly inaccessible Matterhorn, raising its defiant head unlike any other mountain, I fell in with Professor Tyndall, who was nevertheless about to attempt the ascent. It was late in the evening when he entered the salle à manger (if I may dignify the apartment by that name), and deeply interested as I was with his conversation about the glaciers, would have gladly sat up the greater part of the night with him. As it was, however, I took an abrupt departure at nine P.m., intending to rise at one A.m., and breakfast at two, which gave me four hours rest out of the four-and-twenty, which intention I carried into effect, starting ere break of day with three young men (brothers) from Wadham College, Oxford, who, with their guide, were bound for Zermatt by the St. Théodule. From what I had read of this pass in Murray—viz. “ that it is the easiest of the high glacier passes of the Alps," — " when the snow is firm mules are taken across," I thought I was about to have an easy, agreeable little tramp over the summit, which is nearly eleven thousand feet above the sea-level. But I found myself mistaken, as we had to flounder through the snow kneedeep, and to pass two or three rather ugly places, which Professor Tyndall the previous night cautioned us that we should find. As for any fourfooted beast crossing it in its present state--even a chamois—I should doubt the possibility, and should strongly advise any one proposing to escort ladies across, to make inquiries first as to the condition of the Pass. How any female could have crossed it in its present state I am at a loss to conceive. After passing the summit, we were frequently sinking up to our thighs in snow. If this wading through the soft snow was anything but pleasant, I must not omit to say that the first part of the ascent on terra firma (from Breuil) was most charming and attractive.

May-VOL. CXXVIII. NO. DIX.

We started in the dark, or nearly so. There was no moon, but the stars were out, and as they began gradually to fade away, the morning star still shone bright, and the dawn of day was most lovely, with its exquisite roseate tints lighting up the snowy peaks of the mountains which surrounded us. I never saw anywhere, in any part of Europe, nor on any mountain-side, hill, or dale, so great a variety and wonderful profusion of the most beautiful wild flowers. It might well be called a carpet, and that, too, of the most lovely mixture of colours.

On the summit of the St. Théodule is a little hut, in which one or two men pass a few weeks during the summer months, and where we got some mulled wine, which was most acceptable. It was a beautiful day, and the Breithora, glistening in sunshine with its sparkling ice and snow, looked most inviting.

Three hours was all that would be required to make the ascent from this point. There was, moreover, the inducement of accompanying three “fine young English gentlemen, all of the present time;" highly educated, agreeable, good humoured, and with any amount of pluck, but, alas! I failed in the latter to-day. I had been ill at Aosta, probably from the sudden change of climate, for there is a vast difference of climate on one side of Mont Blanc and on the other, and particularly so from the glacier to the valley, and having been only four hours in bed at Breuil, I voted the Breithorn a bore, and declined the pressing invitation of my young friends. They were novices in the work, and seemed rather surprised at my suggesting that they should mount veils, and more so when I recommended them to grease their faces with a tallow-candle. The latter they declined to do upon any terms, but they got some kind of makeshift for the veils. Away they started with their guides, all tied together with the rope, and it was a pretty sight to watch them as they progressed, getting smaller and smaller, and looking like little black specks in the snow on the side of the mountain. After resting a short while on the summit of the St. Théodule, I proceeded with my guide, and arrived at an early hour in the afternoon at Zermatt, delighted beyond measure with the one grand feature of the route, the noble, lofty peaked Matterhorn, that majestic mountain and mass of rock, so angular and so precipitous that the snow cannot lodge long upon it, and envelop it, as it does on nearly all the other mountain peaks which surround it, and which shows its bold, uncovered head in a most remarkable and, as I have said, defiant manner. Professor Tyndall, however, will, I think, accomplish the ascent next season; bad weather frustrated him this last summer. He made the attempt the same day that I ascended Monte Rosa, on which occasion I noticed how the clouds clung like a belt round the Matterborn all the day, the top, however, being generally entirely clear. I nevertheless doubted his success.

Zermatt itself is disappointing, and but for the Matterhorn would have little to interest me. The Riffelberg is the point of attraction. At Zermatt, however, I remained the night, and passed the following day (Sunday).

A friend of mine, a member of the Alpine Club, and a private of the 21st Middlesex (Civil Service), Lord Bury's corps, who made the ascent of Monte Rosa in 1859 (and from whose journal I shall hereafter quote), gives so clear an account of the formation of glaciers that I cannot do

better than insert it here for the information of my readers, as it is the best and most concise of any I have read:

“Where a glacier is much below the snow-line its surface will be clear ice, free from all overlying snow, which is melted by the summer sun and mild showers. Accordingly, its actual surface is exposed, its cracks and inequalities, its crevasses and its dangers, are open to the view, and if but moderately level there is no better or safer walking.

“If, however, the traveller ascends to higher levels and altitudes, he will find the surface of the glacier changed in its aspect. He will now find it entirely covered with snow (this, in the technical language, is called the nevé); and although it looks beautifully smooth, and much easier than its rougher but more honest face lower down, it is here that there are those dangerous hidden crevasses that have of late given to glaciers so bad a name. Under this crust of snow lurk exactly the same crevasses as show themselves openly in the lower portion of the glacier. In its crisp, frozen state in the early morning, the bridges of snow over the deep cold gulfs offer a firm and secure footing, and scarcely show the print of the nails that stamp a foothold upon them. But a few short hours afterwards, however, under the influence of a summer sun, they will crumble like dust under the pedestrian's weight, and but for the indispensable rope (to be tied securely round the waists of all, guides especially), he would be precipitated down the cold, blue, icy abyss some sixty, hundred, or more feet down; from which, as experience has now. but too often shown us, no one must look again to emerge alive. Such was the unhappy fate of an English traveller in the Tyrol last September, from the shameful ignorance and neglect of his guide; and the year before, on the Fendelen glacier, near Monte Rosa, where a Russian gentleman perished yet more miserably, after several hours of peculiar agony, wedged in his icy prison. With a good rope, however, good practised guides, and some personal readiness and experience, there is, I believe, no real danger."

As regards this latter remark, I am sorry that I cannot altogether agree with my friend. I think the danger real unless there are at least five or six attached by the rope; then, and then only, is the danger reduced to a minimum.

It may be of use to others if I mention what befel the young Oxonians. They made good their ascent of the Breithorn, and arrived five hours after myself at the hotel. I observed that their faces were already much disfigured; but at night they were all three seized with dreadful pain in the eyes, one of them in perfect agony, so bad that he told his brother that he thought he could not live the night. This young man was next day all but totally blind, the others had their eyesight greatly affected. The landlady was used to this kind of thing, and like the generality of the fair sex, was most kind and attentive and assiduous in her endeavours to afford them relief. Their faces were terribly blotched and disfigured the following day. Two of them soon recovered, but the third was not able to see for two or three days. I have never had a particle of skin off my face, although I have not altogether escaped inflamed eyes.

This “ snow blindness” is an extraordinary affection. It requires but an hour or two on the glaciers to produce it. Neutral tinted spectacles are the best preservative, I believe, but I have never used them, finding the veil sufficient in my case ; but as it is necessary to remove this in dangerous places, as it impedes the vision, I have in so doing got my eyes inflamed. Two gentlemen at the Riffel, who had been up the Cima de Jazzi, returned in a similar plight. One of them told me that he could not at first distinguish day from night, but he recovered in a few hours.

It was on a Sunday afternoon, in the summer of 1861, when at Cha. mounix, that I suddenly resolved to try the ascent of Mont Blanc. It was on a Sunday afternoon at Zermatt, the following year, that, after resting a night there, I suddenly determined upon the ascent of Monte Rosa. Jean Marie Couttet and his nephew, Mark Tiarraz, were most desirous that we should go up by ourselves, unattended by any guide of Zermatt. Couttet had made the ascent once, and was perfectly confident that he could lead me safely to the summit, as he knew the route ; but I did not feel myself justified in running the risk, which, if it came on to be bad weather, might (even with the most experienced guide of the locality) be serious enough. To be caught in a thick mist, or in a snowstorm, either on Mont Blanc or on Monte Rosa, or, indeed, upon any of the High Alps, would be a position of extreme peril at all times, and one I always shudder to contemplate.

I therefore determined to have one of the best known guides of Zermatt to accompany us, leaving the selection to Couttet.

At four P.m. he came to me to inquire my final determination, " as the weather," he said, “ was on the change, and that it was desirable to profit by it, before it broke up.” “It's like myself," I remarked, “ on the balance, quite unsettled; but engage a first-rate guide that you can depend upon, and in a couple of hours we will start off, to sleep at the Riffel at all events.” Shortly afterwards he brought into my apartment one Jean Krönig, whose services I engaged. He must have thought me a man of few words, for I was tired and bored, and was poring over a little book, descriptive of all the horrors of the ascent of Monte Rosa ; so I only took a glance at him, and said, “ Oh, he'll do, I suppose," or some such curt, uncivil remark.

It took about a couple of hours to ascend the Riffel. We met an Oberland guide coming down, who had accompanied my nephew and myself on a tour in 1860, and we were mutually pleased to greet each other with a hearty shake of the hand.

One gets much attached to these guides when they are men of the right stamp; and they, too, are no less attached to you, and would do anything to serve you. I hold them in the greatest admiration and esteem.

Their humble virtues, hospitable home,
And spirit patient, pious, proud and free:
Their self-respect, grafted on innocent thoughts :
Their days of health, and nights of sleep: their toils

By danger dignified, yet guiltless. I have found them highly intelligent, courageous, devoted, and unselfish, ready to do anything in their power to contribute to one's safety or personal comfort, and to supply you with all the information in their power, and to meet your wishes in every way. And yet, some men will tell you that they “have found guides an encumbrance rather than an assistance." They must have had some of the worst, I should think, and if so, they would indeed be an encumbrance. A traveller cannot be too careful in selecting his guides, if he means to do work. There are men of all sorts among them—some perfect rubbish, worse than useless, "an encumbrance” truly! Happily, I have escaped them, but good guides are beyond all praise.

Arriving in the evening at the little châlet on the Riffel, I obtained a comfortable meal, and retired to bed at nine P.M., intending to take three hours' rest, to rise at twelve o'clock, and start punctually at one A.M. But owing to Couttet being obliged to sleep in an adjoining house, and not being able to rouse the inmates and gain admittance, it was near two A.M. when he tramped into my room, and three o'clock before we were able to get fairly off on our errand. The delay of these two hours was a serious loss to us, and greatly prolonged our ascent of Monte Rosa, as will be seen in the narrative, adding not a little, too, to our labour in making good our return. Perhaps, however, it was the means of saving our necks in descending the Riffelberg to the glacier, the path being Darrow and precipitous, and there was no lantern forthcoming at the châlet to guide us in the dark.

Fortunately the day was beginning to dawn; it only required a little caution. But I would here advise all travellers to provide themselves at Zermatt with this very necessary article ; that is to say, if they follow my advice, and start at midnight, or as soon after as possible, which would be the best way, though not the usual one, I believe, in making the ascent.

Leaving the Riffelhorn, a very remarkable rock (of extraordinary shape), on our right, our party, consisting of Jean Marie Couttet, Jean Krönig, Mark Tiarraz, and myself, reached the Gorner Glacier at the foot of the Riffelberg without any dislocated limbs, and, at this early hour of the morning, found it hard frozen; but there were occasional treacherous spots, where the thin coating of ice gave way and soused one's feet into pools of water. This should be most studiously avoided. To start with wet feet might end in their being frostbitten, and if bad weather set in they would most assuredly become so. Many such casualties have occurred on the High Alps. My shoes (like my face) were so well greased, and came so much above the ankle, with the tongue stitched to the sides of the shoe, that, happily, I sprung no leak, and suffered from no excoriation of visage.

“If you want a thing well done, do it yourself,” is a good maxim. I generally greased my own shoes. In early life, “nolens volens,” I had to grease many a cricket-ball, so, as we never forget any accomplishment we acquire in our youth, I found the greasing of shoes quite a natural occupation. As regards the greasing of the face with tallow, it requires, I admit, a strong mind; but I take to it kindly, as most men of sense would do when recommended by the faculty to swallow a black dose. Touching a tallow-candle, however, I must not mislead any one. I met a gentleman who had made the ascent of Monte Rosa just before myself, whose face was something the colour of a boiled lobster ; but when I descanted on the merits of a dip, by which he might have preserved his beauty, he told me that nothing could be more dangerous, as it was no

« EelmineJätka »