Within a mile or more of the highest summit of the mountain, a space, covered by a dull, sickly green, expands into a plain, styled St Nicholas, where the lake of Mont Cenis lies, deep and dark. In the centre of this lake, we saw a little boat, with one man in it, rowing gently along. On the margin of the water are small low huts, of fifteen feet square, erected to shelter the traveller in the winter storm, when he might otherwise perish in the snows, or be driven by the furious eddying blasts into the depths below. No foliage, or bush, or tuft, or twig, or even thistle, grows on this desolate spot. No-thing is seen, save these dreary dwellings, which in this season are uninhabited.
On reaching the summit of Mont Cenis, we looked down on this plain, and on its broad flat lake, and little boat. The sun, shining over the mountain from behind, cast a deep shadow across its surface. The snow-capped Alps, spiral and pinnacled, appeared rising in the distance; whilst black and stormy clouds, curling, rolling, and streaming from below, lay beneath like a vast sea.
Posts are placed at various points to indicate the path in the winter snows. These are painted red, and are in the form of crosses, to prevent their being stolen. To pass this mountain in snow, or in a winter storm, must be attended with great danger.* When the snow lies deep on the ground, the carriages are put on sledges, and conducted by guides, who, having their feet armed by crampets, are enabled to stop or moderate the rapidity of the course.
The elevation of Mont Cenis is 678 French metres above Lans-le-Bourg, and 1077 toises above the level of the sea. The term les Echelles, applied to the first passes in Savoy, is also used to designate Mont Cenis.
Having reached the summit of the mountain, and paused a moment in contemplation, we began our descent, which was every way delightful. We rolled down a smooth gravelly road, passing through a narrow gorge, or gully, resembling a quarry, backed on the left by enormous mountains, towering high and perpendicular, and terminating in many forms of fantastic grandeur; while at the angles of the road, we sometimes caught glimpses of dells far beneath, with their villages and churches, presenting, in perspective, the beautiful scenery we were soon to approach. As the road expands, the slopes of the mountains are covered with green and flourishing brush-wood, interspersed with trees, and enlivened by the domestic aspect of cottages; the children of each hamlet tending their little flocks of goats, sheep, or cows, formed a picturesque and rustic scene, which contrasted pleasingly with the dreary grandeur of the country we had left. The descent of this rapid precipice, in which the most faint-hearted lady feels no insecurity, gives great delight. The interest still increases as you advance; for although equally smooth and safe, it is more perpendicular; and at each turning you see, at a vast distance below, the little villages, churches, and spires. As you descend from the mountain, the prospect becomes comparatively bounded. Hills, with sweet valleys between; streams, with their indented banks; tufted trees, raised into groups by the shape of the ground, form a pleasing landscape; while the mountains rising behind in bound-less majesty, and the light passing clouds coursing along the horizon, or streaming from the lesser hills, add greatly to the picturesque effect. From hence we looked up to the singular pass above Suza, a gully, whence the waters of the Doria Riparia pour with the impetuous fury of a vast cataract, into the stream below. This pass was formerly styled Fort de la Brunette. It was in failing to attain this post that the celebrated Mareschal de Belleille, in 1747, met with so many disasters.