The Alps – Search On The Matterhorn – A Project

IN July 1865 my excellent friend Hirst and myself visited Glarus, intending, if circumstances favoured us, to climb the Todi. We had, however, some difficulty with the guides, and therefore gave the expedition up. Crossing the Klausen pass to Altdorf, we ascended the Gotthardt Strasse to Wasen, and went thence over the Susten pass to Gadmen, which we reached late at night. We halted for a moment at Stein, but the blossom of 18631 was no longer there, and we did not tarry. On quitting Gadmen next morning I was accosted by a guide, who asked me whether I knew Professor Tyndall. ‘ He is killed, sir,’ said the man—’ killed upon the Matterhorn: I then listened to a somewhat detailed account of my own destruction, and soon gathered that, though the details were erroneous, something serious if not shocking had occurred. At Imhof the rumour became more consistent, and immediately afterwards the Matterhorn catastrophe was in every mouth, and in all the newspapers. My friend and myself wandered on to Mürren, whence, after an ineffectual attempt to cross the Petersgrat, we went by Kandersteg and the Gemmi to Zermatt.

Of the four sufferers on the Matterhorn one remained behind. But expressed in terms either of mental torture or physical pain, the suffering in my opinion was nil. Excitement during the first moments left no room for terror, and immediate unconsciousness prevented pain. No death has probably less of agony in it than that caused by the shock of gravity on a mountain-side. Expected, it would be terrible ; but unexpected, not. I had heard, however, of other griefs and sufferings consequent on the accident, and this prompted a desire on my part to find the remaining one and bring him down.

I had seen the road-makers at work between St. Nicholas and Zermatt, and was struck by the rapidity with which they pierced the rocks for blasting. One of these fellows could drive a hole a foot deep into hard granite in less than an hour. I was therefore determined to secure in aid of my project the services of a road-maker. None of the Zermatt guides would second me, but I found one of the Lochmatters of St. Nicholas willing to do so. Him I sent to Geneva to buy 3,000 feet of rope, which duly came on heavily laden mules to Zermatt.

Hammers and steel punches were prepared; a tent was put in order, and the whole was, carried up to the chapel by the Schwarz See. But the weather would by no means smile upon the undertaking. I waited in Zermatt for twenty days, making excursions with pleasant friends, but they merely spanned the brief intervals which separated one rain-gush or thunderstorm from another. Bound by an engagement to my friend Professor De la Rive, of Geneva, where the Swiss naturalists had their annual assembly in 1865, I was forced to leave Zermatt. My notion was to climb to the point where the men slipped, and to fix there suitable irons in the rocks. By means of ropes attached to these I proposed to scour the mountain along the line. of the glissade. There were peculiarities in the notion which need not now be dwelt upon, inasmuch as the weather rendered them all futile.

[I am not sure that the proposed search is practicable ; it would certainly require unusually good weather for its execution.—April 1871.]