I HAD only seen one half of Monte Rosa ; and from the Italian side the aspect of the mountain was unknown to me. I had been upon the Monte Moro three years ago, but looked from it merely into an infinite sea of haze. To complete my knowledge of the mountain it was necessary to go to Macugnaga, and over the More I accordingly resolved to go. But resolution had as yet taken no deep root, and on reaching Saas I was beset by the desire to cross the Alphubel. Bennen called me at three ; but over the pass grey clouds were hanging, and, determined not to mar this fine excursion by choosing an imperfect day, I then gave it up. At seven o’clock, however, all trace of cloud had disappeared ; it had been merely a local gathering of no importance, which the first sunbeams resolved into transparency. It was now, however, too late to think of the Alphubel, so I reverted to my original design, and at 9 A.M. started up the valley towards Mattmark. A party of friends in advance contributed strongly to draw me on in this direction.
Onward then we went through the soft green meadows, with the river sounding to our right. The sun showered gold upon the pines, and brought richly out the colouring of the rocks. The blue wood-smoke ascended from the hamlets, and the companionable grasshopper sang and chirruped right and left. High up the sides of the mountains the rocks were planed down to tablets by the ancient glaciers. The valley narrowed, and we skirted a pile of moraine-like matter, which was roped compactly together by the roots of the pines. Huge blocks here choke the channel of the river, and raise its murmurs to a roar. We emerge from shade into sunshine, and observe the smoke of a distant cataract jetting from the side of the mountain. Crags and boulders are here heaped in confusion upon the hill-side, and among them the hardy trees find a lodgment, asking no nutriment from the stonesasking-only a pedestal on which they may plant their trunks and lift their branches into the nourishing air. Then comes the cataract itself, plunging in rhythmic gushes down the shining rocks.
The valley again opens, and finds room for a little hamletdingy hovels, with a white little church in the midst of them ; patches of green meadow and yellow rye, with the gleam of the river here and there. The moon hangs over the Mischabelhörner turning a face which ever waxes paler towards the sun. The valley in the distance seems shut in by the Allalein glacier, which is approached amid the waterworn boulders strewn by the river in its hours of turbulence. The rounded rocks are now beautified with lichens, and scattered trees glimmer among the heaps. Nature heals herself. She feeds the glacier and planes the mountains down. She fuses the glacier and exposes the dead rocks. But instantly her energies are exerted to neutralise the desolation, clothing the crags with beauty, and sending the wandering wind in melody through the branches of the pines.
At the Mattmark hotel, which stands at the foot of the Monte Moro, I was joined by a gentleman who had just liberated himself from an unpleasant guide. Bennen halted on the way to adjust his knapsack, while my companion and myself went on. We lost sight of my guide, lost the track also, and clambered over crag and snow to the summit, where we waited till Bennen arrived. The mass of Monte Rosa here grandly revealed itself from top to bottom. Dark cliffs and white snows were finely contrasted, and the longer I looked at it, the more noble and impressive did the mountain appear. We were very soon clear of the snow, and went straight down the declivity towards Macugnaga.
We put up at the Monte Moro, where a party of friends greeted me with a vociferous welcome. This was my first visit to Macugnaga, and, save as a caldron for the generation of fogs, I knew scarcely anything about it. But there were no fogs there at the time to which I refer, and the place wore quite a charmed aspect. I walked out alone in the evening, up through the meadows towards the base of Monte Rosa, and on no other occasion have I seen peace, beauty, and grandeur so harmoniously blended. Earth and air were exquisite, and I returned to, the hotel brimful of content.
Monte Rosa with her peaks and spurs builds here a noble amphitheatre. From the heart of the mountain creeps the Macugnaga glacier. To the right a precipitous barrier extends to the Cima di Jazzi, and between the latter and Monte Rosa this barrier is scarred by two couloirs, one of which, or the cliff beside it, has the reputation of forming the old pass of the Weissthor. It had long been uncertain whether this so-called ‘ Alter Pass’ had ever been used as such, and many superior mountaineers deemed it from inspection to be impracticable. All doubt on this point was removed this year ; for Mr. Tuckett, led by Bennen, had crossed the barrier by the couloir most distant from Monte Rosa, and consequently nearest to the Cima di Jazzi. As I stood in front of the hotel in the afternoon, I said to Bennen that I should like to try the pass on the following day ; in ten minutes afterwards the plan of our expedition was arranged. We were to start before the dawn, and, to leave Bennen’s hands free, a muscular young fellow named Andermatten was engaged to carry our provisions. It was also proposed to vary the proceedings by assailing the ridge by the couloir nearest to Monte Rosa.