The Jungfrau-Joch – Switzerland

I was once more standing upon the Wengern Alp, and gazing longingly at the Jungfrau Joch. Surely the Wengern Alp must be precisely the lovliest place in this world. To hurry past it, and listen to the roar of the avalanches, is a very unsatisfactory mode of enjoyment; it reminds one too much of letting off crackers in a cathedral. The mountains seem to be accomplices of the people who charge fifty centimes for an echo. But it does one’s moral nature good to linger there at sunset or in the early morning, when tourists have ceased from traveling; and the jaded cockney may enjoy a kind of spiritual bath in the soothing calmness of scenery. .

We, that is a little party of six Englishmen with six Oberland guides, who left the inn at 3 A.M. on July 20, 1862, were not, perhaps, in a specially poetical mood. Yet as the sun rose while we were climbing the huge buttress of the Monch, the dullest of us—I refer, of course, to myself—felt something of the spirit of the scenery. The day was cloudless, and a vast inverted cone of dazzling rays suddenly struck upward in-to the sky through the gap between the Monch and the Eiger, which, as some effect of perspective shifted its apparent position, looked like a glory streaming from the very summit of the Eiger. It was a good omen, if not in any more remote sense, yet as promising a fine day. After a short climb we descended upon the Gugg, glacier, most lamentably unpoetical of names, and mounted by it to the great plateau which lies be-low the cliffs immediately under the col. We reached this at about seven, and, after a short meal, carefully examined the route above us. Half way between us and the col lay a small and apparently level plateau of snow. Once upon it we felt confident that we could get to the top.

We plunged at once into the maze of crevasses, finding our passage much facilitated by the previous efforts of our guides. We were constantly walking over ground strewed with crumbling blocks of ice, the recent fall of which was proved by their sharp white fractures, and with a thing like an infirm toad stool twenty feet high, towering above our heads. Once we passed under a natural arch of ice, built in evident disregard of all principles of architectural stability. Hurrying judiciously at such critical points, and creeping slowly round those where the footing was difficult, we manage to thread the labyrinth safely, whilst Rubi appeared to think it rather pleasant than otherwise in such places to have his head fixt in a kind of pillory between two rungs of a ladder, with twelve feet of it sticking out behind and twelve feet before him.

We reached the gigantic crevasse at 7:35. We passed along it to a point where its two lips nearly joined, and the side furthest from us was considerably higher than that upon which we stood. Fixing the foot of the ladder upon this ledge, we swung the top over, and found that it rested satisfactorily against the opposite bank. Almer crept up it, and made the top firmer by driving his ax into the snow underneath the highest step. The rest of us followed, carefully roped, and with the caution to rest our knees on the sides of the ladder, as several of the steps were extremely weak —a remark which was equally applicable to one, at least, of the sides. We crept up the rickety old machine, however, looking down between our legs into the blue depths of the crevasse, and at 8.15 the whole party found itself satisfactorily perched on the edge of the nearly level snow plateau, looking up at the long slopes of broken neve that led to the col. . .

When the man behind was also engaged in hauling himself up by the rope attached to your waist, when the two portions of the rope formed an acute angle, when your footing was confined to the insecure grip of one toe on a slippery bit of ice, and when a great hummock of hard serac was pressing against the pit of your stomach and reducing you to a position of neutral equilibrium, the result was a feeling of qualified acquiescence in Michel or Almer’s lively suggestion of “Vorwarts! vorwarts !”

Somehow or other we did ascend. The excitement made the time seem short; and after what seemed to me to be half an hour, which was in fact nearly two hours, we had crept, crawled, climbed and wormed our way through various obstacles, till we found ourselves brought up by a huge over-hanging wall of blue ice. This wall was no doubt the upper side of a crevasse, the lower part of which had been filled by snow-drift. Its face was honeycombed by the usual hemispherical chippings, which somehow always reminds me of the fretted walls of the Alhambra; and it was actually hollowed out so that its upper edge overhung our heads at a height of some twenty or thirty feet; the long fringe of icicles which adorned it had made a slippery pathway of ice at two or three feet distance from the foot of the wall by the freezing water which dripped from them; and along this we crept, in hopes that none of the icicles would come down bodily.

The wall seemed to thin out and become much lower toward our left, and we moved cautiously toward its lowest point. The edge upon which we walked was itself very narrow, and ran down at a steep angle to the top of a lower icefall which repeated the form of the upper. It almost thinned out at the point where the upper wall was lowest. Upon this inclined ledge, however, we fixt the foot of our ladder. The difficulty of doing so conveniently was increased by a transverse crevasse which here intersected the other system. The foot, however, was fist and rendered tolerably safe by driving in firmly several of our alpenstocks and axes under the lowest step. Almer, then, amidst great excitement, went forward to mount it. Should we still find an impassable system of crevasses above us, or were we close to the top? A gentle breeze which had been playing along the last ledge gave me hope that we were really not far off. As Abner reached the top about twelve o’clock, a loud yodel gave notice to all the party that our prospects were good. I soon followed, and saw, to my great delight, a stretch of smooth, white snow, without a single crevasse, rising in a gentle curve from our feet to the top of the col.

The people who had been watching us from the Wengern Alp had been firing salutes all day, when-ever the idea struck them, and whenever we surmounted a difficulty, such as the first great crevasse. We heard the faint sound of two or three guns as we reached the final plateau. We should, properly speaking, have been uproariously triumphant over our victory. To say the truth, our party of that summer was only too apt to break out into undignified explosions of animal spirits, bordering at times upon horseplay. . .

The top of the Jungfrau-Joch comes rather like a bathos in poetry. It rises so gently above the steep ice wall, and it is so difficult to determine the precise culminating point, that our enthusiasm oozed out gradually instead of producing a sudden explosion; and that instead of giving three cheers, singing “God Save the Queen,” or observing any of the traditional ceremonial of a simpler generation of travelers, we calmly walked forward as tho we had been crossing Westminster Bridge, and on catching sight of a small patch of rocks near the foot of the Monch, rushed precipitately down to it and partook of our third breakfast. Which things, like most others, might easily be made into an allegory.

The great dramatic moments of life are very apt to fall singularly flat. We manage to discount all their interest beforehand; and are amazed to find that the day to which we have looked forward so long the day, it may be, of our marriage, or ordination, or election to be Lord Mayor fords us curiously unconscious of any sudden transformation and as strongly inclined to prosaic eating and drinking as usual. At a later period we may become conscious of its true significance, and perhaps the satisfactory conquest of this new pass has given us more pleasure in later years than it did at the moment.

However that may be, we got under way again after a meal and a chat, our friends Messrs. George and Moore descending the Aletsch glacier to the Aeggischhorn, whose summit was already in sight, and deceptively near in appearance. The remain-der of the party soon turned off to the left, and ascended the snow slopes to the gap between the Monch and Trugberg. As we passed these huge masses, rising in solitary grandeur from the center of one of the noblest snowy wastes of the Alps, Morgan reluctantly confest for the first time that he knew nothing exactly like it in Wales.