Chamouni – An Avalanche – Switzerland

From Servoz three leagues remain to Chamouni —Mont Blanc was before us—the Alps, with their innumerable glaciers on high all around, closing in the complicated windings of the single vale—forests inexpressibly beautiful, but majestic in their beauty—intermingled beech and pine, and oak, overshadowed our road, or receded, while lawns of such vendure as I have never seen before occupied these openings, and gradually became darker in their recesses. Mont Blanc was before us, but it was covered with cloud; its base, furrowed with dreadful gaps, was seen above. Pinnacles of snow intolerably bright, part of the chain connected with Mont Blanc, shone through the clouds at intervals on high. I never knew—I never imagined—what mountains were before.

The immensity of these aerial summits excited, when they suddenly burst upon the sight, a sentiment of ecstatic wonder, not unallied to madness. And, remember, this was all one scene, it all prest home to our regard and our imagination. Tho it embraced a vast extent of space, the snowy pyramids which shot into the bright blue sky seemed to overhang our path; the ravine, clothed with gigantic pines, and black with its depth below, so deep that the very roaring of the untameable Arve, which rolled through it, could not be heard above—all was as much our own, as if we had been the creators of such impressions in the minds of others as now occupied our own. Nature was the poet, whose harmony held our spirits more breathless than that of the divinest.

As we entered the valley of the Chamouni (which, in fact, may be considered as a continuation of those which we have followed from Bonneville and Cluses), clouds hung upon the mountains at the distance perhaps of 6,000 feet from the earth, but so as effectually to conceal not only Mont Blanc, but the other “aiguilles,” as they call them here, attached and subordinate to it. We were traveling along the valley, when suddenly we heard a sound as the burst of smothered thunder rolling above; yet there was something in the sound that told us it could not be thunder. Our guide hastily pointed out to us a part of the mountain opposite, from whence the sound came. It was an avalanche. We saw the smoke of its path among the rocks, and continued to hear at intervals the bursting of its fall. It fell on the bed of a torrent, which it displaced, and presently we saw its tawny-colored waters also spread them-selves over the ravine, which was their couch.

We did not, as we intended, visit the Glacier des Bossons today, altho it descends within a few minutes’ walk of the road, wishing to survey it at least when unfatigued. We saw this glacier, which comes close to the fertile plain, as we passed. Its surface was broken into a thousand unaccountable figures; conical and pyramidical crystallizations, more than fifty feet in height, rlse from its surface, and precipices of ice, of dazzling splendor, overhang the woods and meadows of the vale. This glacier winds upward from the valley, until it joins the masses of frost from which it was produced above, winding through its own ravine like a bright belt flung over the black region of pines.

There is more in all these scenes than mere magnitude of proportion; there is a majesty of out-line; there is an awful grace in the very colors which invest these wonderful shapes—a charm which is peculiar to them, quite distinct even from the reality of their unutterable greatness.