The Alps – Ascent Of The Eiger And Passage Of The Trift

GRINDELWALD was my first halting-place in the summer of 1867: I reached it, in company with a friend, on Sunday evening the 7th of July. The air of the glaciers and the excellent little dinners of the Adler rendered me rapidly fit for mountain-work. The first day we made an excursion along the lower glacier to the Kastenstein, crossing, in re-turning, the Strahleck branch of the glacier above the ice-fall, and coming down by the Zasenberg. The second day was spent upon the upper glacier. The sunset covered the crest of the Eiger with indescribable glory that evening. It gave definition to a vague desire I had previously entertained to climb the mountain, and I forthwith arranged with excellent old Christian Michel, and with Peter Baumann, the preliminaries of the ascent.

At half-past one o’clock on the morning of the 11th we started from the Wengern Alp; no trace of cloud was visible in the heavens, which were sown broadcast with stars. Those low down twinkled with extraordinary vivacity, many of them flashing lights of different colours. When an opera-glass was pointed to such a star, and shaken, the line of light described by the image of the star resolved itself into a string of richly coloured beads : rubies and emeralds hung thus together on the same curve. The dark intervals between the beads corresponded to the moments of extinction of the star. Over the summit of the Wetterhorn the Pleiades hung like a diadem, while at intervals a solitary meteor shot across the sky.

We passed along the Alp, and then over the balled snow and broken ice cast down a glacier which fronted us. Here the ascent began'; we passed from snow to rock and from rock to snow by turns. The steepness for a time was moderate, the only thing requiring caution being the thin crusts of ice upon the rocks over which water had trickled the previous day. The east gradually brightened, the stars be-come paler and disappeared, and at length the crown of the adjacent Jungfrau rose out of the twilight into the rose of the sun. The bloom crept gradually downwards over the snows. At length the whole mountain-world partook of the colour. It is not in the night nor in the day—it is not in any statical condition of the atmosphere—that the mountains look most sublime. It is during the few minutes of transition from twilight to full day through the splendours of the dawn.

Seven hours’ climbing brought us to the higher slopes, which were for the most part ice, and required deep step-cutting. The whole duty of the climber on such slopes is to cut his steps properly, and to stand in them securely. At one period of my mountain life I looked lightly on the possibility of a slip, having full faith in the resources of him who accompanied me, and very little doubt of my own. Experience has qualified this faith in the power even of the best of climbers upon a steep ice-slope. A slip under such circumstances must not occur.

The Jungfrau began her cannonade very early. five avalanches having thundered down her precipices before eight o’clock in the morning. Bauman, being the youngest man, undertook the labour of step-cutting, which the hardness of the ice rendered severe. He was glad from time to time to escape to the snow-cornice which, unsupported save by its own tenacity, overhung the Grindelwald side of the mountain, checking himself at intervals by looking over the edge of the cornice, to assure himself that its strength was sufficient to bear our weight. A wilder precipice is hardly to be seen than this wall of the Eiger, viewed from the cornice at its top. It seems to drop sheer for eight thou-sand feet down to Grindelwald. When the cornice became unsafe, the guide retreated, and step-cutting recommenced. We reached the summit before nine o’clock, and had from it an outlook over as glorious a scene as this world perhaps affords.

On the following day I went down to Lauterbrunnen, and afterwards crossed the Petersgrat to Platten, where, the door of the curé being closed against travellers, we were forced into dirty quarters in an adjacent house. From Platten, instead of going as before over the Lôtschsattel, we struck obliquely across the ridge above the Nesthorn, and got down upon the Jaggi glacier, making thus an exceedingly fine excursion from Platten to the Bel Alp. Thence, after a day’s halt, I pushed on to Zermatt.

I have already mentioned Carrel, the bersaglier, who accompanied Bennen and myself in our attempt upon the Matterhorn in 1862, and who in 1865 reached the summit of the mountain. With him I had been in correspondence for some time, and from his letters an enthusiastic desire to be my guide up the Matterhorn might be inferred. From the Riffelberg I crossed the Theodule to Breuil, where I saw Carrel. He had naturally and deservedly grown in his own estimation. But I was discomfited by the form his self-consciousness assumed. His demands were exorbitant, and he also objected to the excellent company of Christian Michel. In fact my friend Carrel was no longer a reasonable man. I believe he afterwards felt ashamed of himself, and sent his friends Bich and Meynet to speak to me while he kept aloof. But the weather was then too bad to permit of any definite arrangement being made.

I waited at the Eiffel for twelve days, making small excursions here and there. But, though the weather was not so abominable as it had been in the previous year, the frequent snow-discharges on the Matterhorn kept it unassailable. In company with Mr. Crawfurd Grove, who had engaged Carrel as his guide, Michel being mine, I made the pass of the Trift from Zermatt to Zinal. I could understand and share the enthusiasm experienced by Mr. Hinchliff in crossing this truly noble pass. It is certainly one of the finest in the whole Alps. For that one day, moreover, the weather was magnificent. Next day we crossed to Evolena, going considerably astray, and thus converting a light day into a rather heavy one. From Evolena we purposed crossing the Col d’Erin back to Zermatt, but the weather would not let us. This excursion had been made with the view of allowing the Matterhorn a little time to arrange its temper ; but the temper continued sulky, and at length wearied me out. We went round by the valley of the Rhone to Zermatt, and, finding matters worse than ever, both Mr. Grove and myself returned to Visp, intending to quit Switzerland altogether. Here he changed his mind and returned to Zermatt on the same day the weather changed also, and continued fine for a fortnight. He succeeded in getting with Carrel to the top of the Matterhorn, and I succeeded in joining the British Association at Dundee. A ramble in the Highlands, including a visit to the Parallel Roads of Glenroy, concluded my vacation in 1867.