THE summer and autumn of 1860 will long be remembered in Switzerland as the most ungenial and disastrous season, perhaps, on record ; certainly without a parallel since 1834. The local papers were filled with lamentations over ‘ der ewige Südwind,’ which overspread the skies with perpetual cloud, and from time to time brought up tremendous storms, the fiercest of which, in the three first days of September, carried away or blocked up for a time, I believe, every pass into Italy except the Bernina. At Andermatt, on the St. Gothard, we were cut oil for two days from all communications whatever by water on every side. The whole of the lower Rhone valley was under water. A few weeks later, I found the Splügen, in the gorge above Chiavenna, altogether gone, remains of the old road being just visible here and there, but no more. In the Valteline, I found the Stelvio road in most imminent danger, gangs of men being posted in the courses of the torrents to divert the boulders, which every moment threatened to overwhelm the bridges on the route. A more unlucky year for glacier expeditions, wherefore, could hardly be experienced ; and the following pages present in consequence only the narrative of an unfinished campaign, which it is the hope of Tyndall and myself to be able to prosecute to a successful conclusion early next August.
I had fallen in with Professor Tyndall on the Basle Railway, and a joint plan of operations had been partly sketched out between us, to combine to some extent the more especial objects of eachscientific observations on his part ; on mine, the exploration of new passes, and mountain topography ; but the weather sadly interfered with these designs. After some glacier measurements had been accomplished at Grindelwald, a short spell of fair weather enabled us to effect a passage I had long desired to try, from Lauterbrunnen direct to the Æggischhorn by the Roththal, a small and unknown but most striking glacier valley, known to Swiss mythology as the supposed resort of condemned spirits. We scaled, by a seven hours’ perpendicular climb, the vast amphitheatre of rock which bounds the Aletsch basin on this side, and had the satisfaction of falsifying the predictions of Ulrich Lauener, who bade us farewell at Grindelwald with the discouraging assertion that he should see us back again, as it was quite impossible to get over where we were going. As we descended the long reaches of the Aletsch glacier, rain and mist again gathered over us, giving to the scene the appearance of a vast Polar sea, over the surface of which we were travelling, with no horizon visible anywhere except the distant line of level ice. Arrived at the AEggischhorn, the weather became worse than ever ; a week elapsed before the measurement of the Aletsch glacier could be completed ; and we reluctantly determined to dismiss Bennen, who was in waiting, considering the season too bad for high ascents, and to push on with Christian Lauener to the glaciers about Zinal. Bennen was in great distress. He and I had the previous summer reconnoitred the Matterhorn from various quarters, and he had arrived at the conclusion that we could in all probability (‘ich beinahe behaupte’) reach the top. That year, being only just convalescent from a fever, I had been unable to make the attempt, and thus an opportunity had been lost which may not speedily recur, for the mountain was then (September 1859) almost free from snow. Bennen had set his heart on our making the attempt 1860, and great was his disappointment at our proposed departure for Zinal. At the last moment, however, a change of plans occurred. Lauener was unwilling to proceed with us to Zinal : we resolved to give Bennen his chance : the theodolite was packed up and despatched to Geneva, and we set off for Breuil, to try the Matterhorn.
Accessible or not, however, the Mont Cervin is assuredly a different sort of affair from Mont Blanc or Monte Rosa, or any other of the thousand and one summits which nature has kindly opened to man, by leaving one side of them a sloping plain of snow, easy of ascent, till the brink of the precipice is reached which descends on the other side. The square massive lines of terraced crags which fence the Matterhorn, stand up on all sides nearly destitute of snow, and where the snow lies thinly on the rocks it soon melts and is hardened again into smooth glassy ice, which covers the granite slabs like a coat of varnish, and bids defiance to the axe. Every step of the way lies between two precipices, and under toppling crags, which may at any moment bring down on the climber the most formidable of Alpine dangersa fire of falling stones. The mountain too has a sort of prestige of invincibility which is not without its influence on the mind, and almost leads one to expect to encounter some new and unheard-of source of peril upon it : hence I suppose it is that the dwellers at Zermatt and in Val Tournanche have scarcely been willing to at-tempt to set foot upon the mountain, and have left the honour of doing so to a native of another district, who, as he has been the first mortal to plant foot on the hitherto untrodden peak, so he will, I hope, have the honour, which he deserves, of being the first to reach the top.
John Joseph Bennen, of Laax, in the Upper Rhine Valley, is a man so remarkable that I cannot resist the desire (especially as he cannot read English) to say a few words about his character. Born within the limits of the German tongue, and living amidst the mountains and glaciers of the Oberland, he belongs by race and character to a class of men of whom the Laueners, Melchior Anderegg, Bortis, Christian Aimer, Peter Bohren, are also examplesa type of mountain race, having many of the simple heroic qualities which we associate, whether justly or unjustly, with Teutonic blood, and essentially different fromto my mind, infini infinitely superior or tothe French-speaking, versatile, wily Chamouniard. The names I have mentioned are all those of first-rate men ; but Bennen, as (I ‘believe) he surpasses all the rest in the qualities which fit a man for a leader in hazardous expeditions, combining boldness and prudence with an ease and power peculiar to himself, so he has a faculty of conceiving and planning his achievements, a way of concentrating his mind upon an idea, and working out his idea with clearness and decision, which I never observed in any man of the kind, and which makes him, in his way, a sort of Garibaldi. Tyndall, on the day of our expedition, said to him, ‘ Sie sind der Garibaldi der Führer, Bennen ;’ to which he answered in his simple way, ‘ Nicht wahr ?’ (‘ Am I not ?’), an amusing touch of simple vanity, a dash of pardonable bounce, being one of his not least amiable characteristics. Thoroughly sincere and ‘ einfach’ in thought and speech, devoted to his friends, without a trace of underhand self-seeking in his relations to his employers, there is an independence about him, a superiority to most of his own class, which makes him, I always fancy, rather an isolated man though no one can make more friends wherever he goes, or be more pleasant and thoroughly cheerful under all circumstances. But he left his native place, Steinen, he told me, the people there not suiting him ; and in Laax, where he now dwells, I guess him to be not perhaps altogether at home. Unmarried, he works quietly most of the year at his trade of a carpenter, unless when he is out alone, or with his friend Bortis (a man seemingly of reserved and uncommunicative disposition, but a splendid mountaineer), in the chase after chamois, of which he is passionately fond, and will tell stories, in his simple and emphatic way, with the greatest enthusiasm. Pious he is, and observant of religious duties, but without a particle of the ‘ mountain gloom,’ respecting the prevalence of which among the dwellers in the High Alps Mr. Ruskin discourses poetically, but I am myself rather incredulous. A perfect nature’s gentleman, he is to me the most delightful of companions ; and though no ‘theory’ defines our reciprocal obligations as guide and employer, I am sure that no precipice will ever engulf me so long as Bennen is within reach, unless he goes into it alsoan event which seems impossible-and I think I can say I would, according to the measure of my capacity, do the same by him. But any one who has watched Bennen skimming along through the mazes of a crevassed glacier, or running like a chamois along the side of slippery ice-covered crags, axe and foot keeping time together, will think thatas Lauener said of his brother Johann, who perished on the Jungfrau, he could never fallnothing could bring him to grief but an avalanche.
Delayed in our walk from the AEggischhorn by the usual severity of the weather, Tyndall, Bennen, and myself reached Breuil on Saturday, August 18, to make our attempt on the Monday. As we approached the mountain, Bennen’s countenance fell visibly, and he became somewhat gloomy ; the mountain was almost white with fresh-fallen snow. ‘ Nur der Schnee furcht mieh,’ he replied to our enquiries. The change was indeed great from my recollection of the year before ; the well-marked, terrace-like lines along the south face, which are so well given in Mr. George Barnard’s picture, were now almost covered up ; through the telescope could be seen distinctly huge icicles depending from the crags, the lines of melting snow, and the dark patches which we hoped might spread a great deal faster than they were likely to, during the space of twenty-four hours. There was nothing for it, although our prospects of success were materially diminished by the snow, but to do the best we could. As far as I was concerned, I felt that I should be perfectly satisfied with getting part of the way up on a first trial, which would make one acquainted with the nature of the rocks, dispel the prestige which seemed to hang over the untrodden mountain, and probably suggest ways of shortening the route on another occasion.
We wanted some one to carry the knapsack containing our provisions ; and on the recommendation of the landlord at Breuil, we sent for a man, named Carrel, who, we were told, was the best mountaineer in Val Tournanche, and the nephew of M. le Chanoine Carrel, whose acquaintance I once had the honour of making at Aosta. From the latter description I rather expected a young, and perhaps aristocratic-looking personage, and was amused at the entrance of a rough, good-humoured, shaggy-breasted man, between forty and fifty, an ordinary specimen of the peasant class. However, he did his work well, and with great good temper, and seemed ready to go on as long as we chose ; though he told me he expected we should end by passing the night somewhere on the mountain, and I don’t think his ideas of our success were ever very sanguine.
We were to start before 3 A.M. on Monday morning, August 20 ; and the short period for sleep thus left us was somewhat abridged in my own case, not so much by thoughts of the coming expedition, as by the news which had just reached us in a vague, but, unfortunately, only too credible form, of the terrible accident on the Col du Géant a few days hefore. The account thus reaching us was naturally magnified, and we were as yet ignorant of the names. I could not at night shake off the (totally groundless) idea that a certain dear friend of mine was among them, and that I ought at that moment to be hurrying off to Courmayeur, to mourn and to bury him. In the morning, however, these things are forgotten ; we are off, and Carrel pilots us with a lantern across the little stream which runs by Breuil, and up the hills to the left, where in the darkness we seem from the sound to be in the midst of innumerable rills of water, the effects of the late rains. The dark outline of the Matterhorn is just visible against the sky, and measuring with the eye the distance subtended by the height we have to climb, it seems as if success must be possible : so hard is it to imagine all the ups and downs which lie in that short sky-line.
Day soon dawns, and the morning rose-light touches the first peak westward of us ; the air is wonderfully calm and still, and for to-day, at all events, we have good weather, without that bitter enemy the north wind ; but a certain opaque look in the sky, long streaks of cloud radiating from the south-west horizon up towards the zenith, and the too dark purple of the hills south of Aosta, are signs that the good weather will not be lasting. By five we are crossing the first snow-beds, and now Carrel falls back, and the leader of the day comes to the front : all the day he will be cutting steps, but those compact and powerful limbs of his will show no signs of extra exertion, and to-day he is in particularly good spirits. Carpentering, by the waynot fine turning and planing, but rough out-of-doors work, like Bennen’smust be no bad practice to keep hand and eye in training during the dead season. We ascend a narrow edge of snow, -a cliff some way to the right : the snow is frozen and hard as rock, and arms and legs are worked vigorously. Tyndall calls out to me, to know whether I recollect the conditions :’ i.e. if your feet slip from the steps, turn in a moment on your face, and dig in hard with alpenstock in both hands under your body ; by this means you will stop yourself if it is possible. Once on your back, it is all over, unless others can save you: you have lost all chance of helping yourself. In a few minutes we stop, and rope all together, in which state we continued the whole day. The prudence of this some may possibly doubt, as there were certainly places where the chances were greater that if one fell, he would drag down the rest, than that they could assist him ; but we were only four, all tolerably sure-footed, and in point of fact I do not recollect a slip or stumble of consequence made by any one of us. Soon the slope lessens for a while, but in front a wall of snow stretches steeply upwards to a gap, which we have to reach, in a kind of recess, flanked by crags of formidable appearance. We turn to the rocks on the left hand. As, to one walking along miry ways, the opposite side of the path seems ever the most inviting, and he continually shifting his course from side to side lengthens his journey with small profit, so in ascending a mountain one is always tempted to diverge from snow to rocks, or vice versâ. Bennen had intended to mount straight up towards the gap, and it is best not to interfere with him ; he yields, however, to our suggestions, and we assail the rocks. These, however, are ice-bound, steep, and slippery : hands and knees are at work, and progress is slow. At length we stop upon a ledge where all can stand together, and Carrel proposes to us (for Bennen and he can only communicate by signs, the one knowing only French, the other German) to go on and see whether an easier way can be found still further to the left. Bennen gives an approving nod: he looks with indulgent pity on Carrel, but snubs all remarks of his as to the route. ‘ Er weiss gar nichts,’ he says. Carrel takes his axe, and mounts warily, but with good courage ; presently he returns, shaking his head. The event is fortunate, for had we gone further to the left, we should have reached the top of the ridge from which, as we afterwards found, there is no passage to the gap, and our day’s work would probably have ended then and there. Bennen now leads to the right, and moves swiftly up from ledge to ledge. Time is getting on, but at length we emerge over the rocks just in face of the gap, and separated from it by a. sort of large snow-crater, overhung on the left by the end of the ridge, from which stones fall which have scarred the sides of the crater. The sides are steep, but we curve quickly and silently round them : no stones fall upon us ; and now we have reached the narrow neck of snow which forms the actual gap ; it is half-past eight, and the first part of our work is done.
By no means the hardest part, however. We stand upon a broad red granite slab, the lowest step of the actual peak of the Matterhorn: no one has stood there before us. The slab forms one end of the edge of snow, surmounted at the other end by some fifty feet of overhanging rock, the end of the ridge. On one side of us is the snow-crater, round which we had been winding ; on the other side a scarped and seamed face of snow drops sheer on the north, to what we know is the Zmutt glacier. Some hopes I had entertained of making a pass by this gap, from Breuil to Zermatt, vanish immediately. Above us rise the towers and pinnacles of the Matter-horn, certainly a tremendous array. Actual contact immensely increases one’s impressions of this, the hardest and strongest of ail the mountain masses of the Alps ; its form is more remarkable than that of other mountains, not by chance, but because it is built of more massive and durable materials, and more solidly put together : nowhere have I seen such astonishing masonry. The broad gneiss blocks are generally smooth and compact, with little appearance of splintering or weathering. Tons of rock, in the shape of boulders, must fall almost daily down its sides, but the amount of these, even in the course of centuries, is as nothing compared with the mass of the mountain ; the ordinary processes of disintegration can have little or no effect on it. If one were to follow Mr. Ruskin, in speculating on the manner in which the Alpine peaks can have assumed their present shape, it seems as if such a mass as this can have been blocked out only while rising from the sea, under the action of waves such as beat against the granite headlands of the Land’s End. Once on dry land, it must stand as it does now, apparently for ever.
Two lines of ascent offer, between which we have to choose : one along the middle or dividing ridge, the back-bone of the mountain, at the end of which we stand ; the other by an edge some little way to the right : a couloir lies between them. We choose the former, or back-bone ridge ; but the other proves to be less serrated, and we shall probably try it on another occasion. As we step from our halting-place, Bennen turns round and addresses us in a few words of exhortation, like the generals in Thucydides. He knows us well enough to be sure that we shall not feel afraid, but every footstep must be planted with the utmost precaution : no fear, ‘wohl immer Achtung.’ Soon our difficulties begin ; but I despair of relating the incidents of this part of our route, so numerous and bewildering were the obstacles along it ; and the details of each have somewhat faded from the memory. We are immersed in a wilderness of blocks, roofed and festooned with huge plates and stalactites of ice, so large that one is half disposed to seize hold and clamber up them. Round, over, and under them we go : often progress seems impossible ; but Bennen, ever in advance, and perched like a bird on some projecting crag, contrives to find a way. Now we crawl singly along a narrow ledge of rock, with a wall on one side, and nothing on the other : there is no hold for hands or alpenstock, and the ledge slopes a little, so that if the nails in our boots hold not, down we shall go : in the middle of it a piece of rock juts out, which we ingeniously duck under, and emerge just under a shower of water, which there is no room to escape from. Presently comes a more extraordinary place : a perfect chimney of rock, cased all over with hard black ice, about an inch thick. The bottom leads out into space, and the top is somewhere in the upper regions : there is absolutely nothing to grasp at, and to this day I cannot understand how a human being could get up or down it unassisted. Bennen, however, rolls up it somehow, like a cat ; he is at the top, and beckons Tyndall to advance ; my turn comes next ; I endeavour to mount by squeezing myself against the sides, but near the top friction suddenly gives way, and down comes my weight upon the rope : a stout haul from above, and now one knee is upon the edge, and I am safe : Carrel is pulled up after me. After a time, we get off the rocks, and mount a slope of ice, which curves rapidly over for about , three yards to our left, and then (apparently) drops at once to the Zmutt glacier. We reach the top of this, and proceed along it, till at last a sort of pinnacle is reached, from which we can survey the line of towers and crags before us up to a point just below the actual top, and we halt to rest a while. Bennen goes on to see whether it be possible to cross over to the other ridge, which seems an easier one. Left to himself, he treads lightly and almost carelessly along. ‘ Geb’ Acht, Bennen !’ (Take care of yourself) we shout after him, but needlessly; he stops and moves alternately, peering wistfully about, exactly like a chamois ; but soon he returns, and says there is no passage, and we must keep to the ridge we are on.
Three hours had not yet elapsed since we left the gap, and from our present station we could survey the route as far as a point which concealed from us the actual summit, and could see that the difficulties before us were not greater than we had already passed through, and such as time and per-severance would surely conquer. Nevertheless, there is a tide in the affairs of such expeditions, and the impression had been for some time gaining ground with me that the tide on the present occasion had turned against us, and that the time we could prudently allow was not sufficient for us to reach the top that day. Before trial, I had thought it not improbable that the ascent might turn out either impossible or comparatively easy ; it was now tolerably clear that it was neither the one nor the other, but an exceedingly long and hard piece of work, which the unparalleled amount of ice made longer and harder than usual. I asked Bennen if he thought there was time enough to reach the top of all : he was evidently unwilling, however, to give up hopes ; and Tyndall said he would give no opinion either way ; so we again moved on.
At length we came to the base of a mighty knob, huger and uglier than its fellows, to which a little arête of snow served as a sort of drawbridge. I began to fear lest in the ardour of pursuit we might be carried on too long, and Bennen might forget the paramount object of securing our safe retreat. I called out to him that I thought I should stop somewhere here, that if he could go faster alone he might do so, but he must turn in good time. Bennen, however, was already climbing with desperate energy up the sides of the kerb ; Tyndall would not be behind him ; so I loosed the rope and let them go on. Carrel moved back across the little arête, and sat down, and began to smoke : I remained for a while standing with my back against the knob, and gazed by myself upon the scene around.
As my blood cooled, and the sounds of human footsteps and voices grew fainter, I began to realise the height and the wonderful isolation of our position. The air was preternaturally still ; an occasional gust came eddying round the corner of the mountain, but all else seemed strangely rigid and motionless, and out of keeping with the beating heart and moving limbs, the life and activity of man. Those stones and ice have no mercy in them, no sympathy with human adventure ; they submit passively to what man can do ; but let him go a step too far, let heart or hand fail, mist gather or sun go down, and they will exact the penalty to the utter-most. The feeling of ‘the sublime’ in such cases depends very much, I think, on a certain balance between the forces of nature and man’s ability to cope with them : if they are too weak, the scene fails to impress ; if they are too strong for him, what was sublime becomes only terrible. Looking at the Dôme du Goûté or the Zumstein Spitze full in the evening sun, when they glow with an absolutely unearthly loveliness, like a city in the heavens, I have sometimes thought that, place but the spectator alone just now upon those shining heights, with escape before night all but impossible, and be will see no glory in the sceneonly the angry eye of the setting sun fixed on dark rocks and dead-white snow.
We had risen seemingly to an immense height above the gap, and the ridge which stretches from the Matterhorn to the Dent d’Érin lay flat below ; but the peak still towered behind me, and, measuring our position by the eye along the side of our neighbour of equal height, the Weisshorn, I saw that we must be yet a long way beneath the top. The gap itself, and all traces of the way by which we had ascended, were invisible ; I could see only the stone where Carrel sat, and the tops of one or two crags rising from below. The view was, of course, magnificent, and on three sides wholly unimpeded : with one hand I could drop a stone which would descend to Zmutt, with the other to Breuil. In front lay, as in a map, the as yet unexplored peaks to south and west of the Dent d’Érin, the range which separates Val Tournanche from the Valpelline, and the glacier region beyond, called in Ziegler’s map Zardezan, over which a pass, perchance, exists to Zermatt. An illimitable range of blue hills spread far away into Italy.
I walked along the little arête, and sat down ; it was only broad enough for the foot, and in perfectly cold blood even this perhaps might have appeared uncomfortable. Turning to look at Tyndall and Bennen, I could not help laughing at the picture of our progress under difficulties. They seemed to have advanced only a few yards. ‘ Have you got no further than that yet ? ‘ I called out, for we were all the time within hearing. Their efforts appeared prodigious : scrambling and sprawling among the huge blocks, one fancied they must be moving along some unseen bale of heavy goods instead of only the weight of their own bodies. As I looked, an ominous visitant appeared : down came a fragment of rock, the size of a man’s body, and dashed past me on the couloir, sending the snow flying. For a moment I thought they might have dislodged it ; but looking again I saw it had passed over their heads, and come from the crags above. Neither of them, I believe, observed the monster ; but Tyndall told me after-wards that a stone, possibly a splinter from it, had hit him in the neck, and nearly choked him. I looked anxiously again, but no more followed. A single shot, as it were, had been fired across our bows ; but the ship’s course was already on the point of being put about.
Expecting fully that they would not persevere beyond a few minutes longer, I called out to Tyndall to know how soon they meant to be back. ‘ In an hour and a half,’ he replied, whether in jest or earnest, and they disappeared round a projecting corner. A sudden qualm seized me, and for a few minutes I felt extremely uncomfortable : what if the ascent should suddenly become easier, and they should go on, and reach the top without me ? I thought of summoning Carrel, and pursuing them ; but the worthy man sat quietly, and seemed to have had enough of it. My suspense, however, was not long : after two or three minutes the clatter, which had never entirely ceased, became louder, and their forms again appeared they were evidently descending. In fact, Bennen had at length turned, and said to Tyndall, ‘ Ich denke die Zeit ist zu kurz.’ I was glad that he had gone on as long as he chose, and not been turned back on my responsibility. They had found one part of this last ascent the worst of any, but the way was open thenceforward to the farthest visible point, which can be no long way below the actual top.
It was now just about mid-day, and ample time for the descent, in all probablity, was before us ; but we resolved not to halt for any length of time till we should reach the gap. Descending, unlike ascending, is generally not so bad as it seems ; but in some places here only one can advance at a time, the other carefully holding the rope. ‘ Tenez fortement, Carrel, tenez,’ is constantly impressed on the man who brings up the rear. ‘ Splendid practice for us, this,’ exclaims Tyndall exultingly, as each successive difficulty is overcome. At length we reach a place whence no egress is possible ; we look in vain for traces of the way we had come : it is our friend the ice-coated chimney. Bennen gets down first, in the same mysterious fashion as he got up, and assists us down ; presently a shout is heard behind ; Carrel is attempting to get down by himself, and has stuck fast ; Bennen has to extricate him. We are now getting rapidly lower ; soon the difficulties diminish ; our gap appears in sight, and once more we reach the broad granite slab beside the narrow col, and breathe more freely.
Two hours have brought us down thus far ; but if we are to return by the way we came, three or four hours of hard work are still needed before we arrive at anything like ordinary snow-walking. We hold a consultation. Bennen thinks the rocks, now that the ice is melting in the afternoon sun, will be difficult, and ‘ withal somewhat dangerous’ (etwa gefährlich auch). The reader will remark that Bennen uses the word ‘ dangerous’ in its legitimate sense. A place is dangerous where a good climber cannot be secure of his footing ; a place is not dangerous where a good climber is in no danger, of slipping, although to slip may be fatal. We deter-mine to see if it be possible to descend the sidcs of the snow-crater, on the brink of which we now stand. The crater is portentously steep, deeply lined with fresh snow, which glistens and melts in the powerful sun. The experiment is slightly hazardous, but we resolve to try. The crater appears to narrow gradually to a sort of funnel far down below, through which we expect to issue into the glacier beneath. At the sides of the funnel are rocks, which some one suggests might serve to break our fall, should the snow go down with us, but their tender mercies seem to me doubtful. Cautiously, with steady, balanced tread, we commit ourselves to the slope, distributing the weight of the body over as large a space of snow as possible, by fixing in the pole high up, and the feet far apart, for a slip or stumble now will probably dissolve the adhesion of the fresh, not yet compacted mass, and we shall go down to the bottom in an avalanche. Six paces to the right, then again to the left ; we are at the mercy of those overhanging rocks just now, and the recent tracks of stones look rather suspicious ; but all is silent, and soon we gain confidence, and congratulate ourselves on an expedient which has saved us hours of time and toil. Just to our right the snow is sliding by, first slowly, then faster ; keep well out of the track of It, for -underneath is a hard polished surface, and if your foot chance to light there, off you will probably shoot. The snow travels much faster than we do, or have any desire to do ; we are like a coach travelling alongside of an express train ; in popular phrase, we are going side by side with a small avalanche, though a real avalanche is a very different matter. Soon we come somewhat under the lee of the rocks, and now all risk is over, we are through the funnel, and floundering waist-deep, heedless of crevasses in the comparatively level slopes beyond. We plunge securely down now in the deep snow, where care and caution had been requisite in crossing the frozen surface in the morning ; at length we cast off the rope, and are on terra firma.
We shall be at Breuil in unexpectedly good time, before five o’clock ; but it is well we are off the mountain early, for clouds and mist are already gathering round the peak, and the weather is about to break. Tyndall rushes rapidly down the slopes, and is lost to view ; Bennen and I walk slowly, discussing the results of the day. I am glad to see that he is in high spirits, and confident of our future success. He agrees with me to reach the top will be an exceedingly long day’s work, and that we must allow ten hours at least for the actual peak, six to ascend, four to descend ; we must start next time, he says, ‘ ganz, ganz früh,’ and manage to reach the gap by seven o’clock. Presently we deviate a little from our downward course ; the same thought occupies our minds ; we perceive a long low line of roof on the mountain-side, and are not mistaken in supposing that our favourite food will at this hour be found there in abundance. The shepherds on the Italian hills are more hospitable and courteous, I think, than their Swiss brethren : twenty cows are moving their tails contentedly in line under the shed, for Breuil is a rich pasture valley, and in an autumn evening I have counted six herds of from ninety to a hundred each, in separate clusters, like ants, along the stream in the distance. The friendly man, in hoarse but hearty tones, urges us on as we drink ; Bennen puts into his hand forty centimes for us both (for we have disposed of no small quantity) : but he is with difficulty persuaded to accept so large a sum, and calls after us, ‘ C’est trop, c’est trop, messieurs.’ Long may civilisation and half-francs fail of reaching his simple abode ; for, alas ! the great tourist-world is corrupting the primitive chalet-life of the Alps, and the Alpine man returning to his old haunts, finds a rise in the price even of ‘ niedl’ and ‘ mascarpa.
The day after our expedition Bennen and myself recrossed the Théodule in a heavy snow-storm. Tyndall started for Chamouni, for the weather was too bad to justify an indefinite delay at Breuil in the hope of making another attempt that year, and by waiting till another season we were sure of obtaining less unfavourable conditions of snow and ice upon the mountain.We had enjoyed an exciting and adventurous day, and I myself was not sorry to have something still left to do, while we had the satisfaction of being the first to set foot on this, the most imposing and mightiest giant of the Alpsthe, ‘inaccessible’ Mont Cervin.Vacation Tourists, 1860.