« AnteriorContinuar »
streaming down upon Lauterbrunnen, and the skirt of the storm wrapped the summits of the Jungfrau and the Monk. Southward, however, the sky was clear, and there were such general evidences of hope that we were not much disheartened by the local burst of ill-temper displayed by the atmosphere to the north of us. Like a gust of passion the clouds cleared away, and before we went to rest all was sensibly clear. Still, the air was not transparent, and for a time the stars twinkled through it with a feeble ray. There was no visible turbidity, but a something which cut off half the stellar brilliancy. The starlight, however, became gradually stronger, not on account of the augmenting darkness, but because the air became clarified as the night advanced.
Two of our party occupied the upper cave, and the guides took possession of the kitchen, while a third lay in the little grot below. Hips and ribs felt throughout the night the pressure of the subjacent rock. A single blanket, moreover, though sufficient to keep out the pain of cold, was insufficient to induce the comfort of warmth; so I lay awake in a neutral condition, neither happy nor unhappy, watching the stars without emotion as they appeared in succession above the mountainheads.
At half-past twelve a rumbling in the kitchen showed the guides to be alert, and soon afterward Christian Almer announced that tea was prepared. We rose, consumed a crust and basin each, and at 1:15 A. M., being perfectly harnessed, we dropped down upon the glacier. The crescent moon was in the sky, but for a long time we had to walk in the shadow of the mountains, and therefore required illumination. The bottoms were knocked out of two empty bottles, and each of these, inverted, formed a kind of lantern which protected from the wind a candle stuck in the neck. Almer went first, holding his lantern in his left hand and his axe in the right, moving cautiously along the snow which, as the residue of the spring avalanches, fringed the glacier. At times, for no apparent reason, the leader paused and struck his ice-axe into the snow. Looking right or left, a chasm was always discovered in these cases, and the cautious guide sounded the snow, lest the fissure should have prolonged itself underneath so as to cross our track. A tributary glacier joined the Aletsch from our right-a long corridor filled with ice, and covered by the purest snow. Down this valley the moonlight streamed, silvering the surface upon which it fell.
Here we cast our lamps away, and roped ourselves together. To our left a second long icecorridor stretched up to the Lötsch saddle, which hung like a chain between the opposing mountains. In fact, at this point four noble ice-streams form a junction, and flow afterward in the common channel of the Great Aletsch glacier. Perfect stillness might have been expected to reign upon the ice, but even at that early hour the gurgle of subglacial water made itself heard, and we had to be cautious in some places lest a too thin crust might let us in. We went straight up the glacier, toward the col which links the Monk and Jungfrau together. The surface was hard, and we went rapidly and silently over the snow. There is an earnestness of feeling on such occasions which subdues the desire for conversation. The communion we held was with the solemn mountains and their background of dark blue sky.
“Der Tag bricht” exclaimed one of the men. I looked toward the eastern heaven, and could discover no illumination which hinted at the approach of day. At length the dawn really appeared, brightening the blue of the eastern firmament; at first it was a mere augmentation of cold light, but by degrees it assumed a warmer tint. The long uniform incline of the glacier being passed, we reached the first eminences of snow which heave like waves around the base of the Jungfrau. This is the region of beauty in the higher Alps—beauty pure and tender, out of which emerges the savage scenery of the peaks. For the healthy and the pure in heart these higher snow-fields are consecrated ground.
The snow bosses were soon broken by chasms deep and dark, which required tortuous winding on our part to get round them. Having surmounted a steep slope, we passed to some red and rotten rocks, which required care on the part of those in front to prevent the loose and slippery shingle from falling upon those behind. We gained the ridge and wound along it. High snow eminences now flanked us to the left, and along the slope over which we passed the séraces had shaken their frozen bowlders. We tramped amid the knolls of the fallen avalanches toward a white wall which, so far as we could see, barred further progress. To our right were noble chasms, blue and profound, torn into the heart of the névé by the slow but resistless drag of gravity on the descending snows. Meanwhile the dawn had brightened into perfect day, and over mountains and glaciers the gold and purple light of the eastern heaven was liberally poured. We had already caught sight of the peak of the Jungfrau, rising behind an eminence and piercing for fifty feet or so the rosy dawn. And many another peak of stately altitude caught the blush, while the shaded slopes were all of a beautiful azure, being illuminated by the firmament alone. A large segment of space enclosed between the Monk and Trugberg was filled like a reservoir with purple light. The world, in fact, seemed to worship, and the flush of adoration was on every mountain-head.
1. The day breaks.
Over the distant Italian Alps rose clouds of the most fantastic forms, jutting forth into the heavens like enormous trees, thrusting out umbrageous branches which bloomed and glistened in the solar rays. Along the whole southern heaven these fantastic masses were ranged close together, but still perfectly isolated, until on reaching a certain altitude they seemed to meet a region of wind which blew their tops like streamers far away through the air. Warmed and tinted by the morning sun those unsubstantial masses rivalled in grandeur the mountains themselves.
The final peak of the Jungfrau is now before us, and apparently so near! But the mountaineer alone knows how delusive the impression of nearness often is in the Alps. To reach the slope which led up to the peak we must scale or round the barrier already spoken of. From the coping and the ledges of this beautiful wall hung long stalactites of ice, in some cases like inverted spears, with their sharp points free in air. In other cases, the icicles which descended from the overhanging top reached a projecting lower ledge, and stretched like a crystal railing from the one to the other. To the right of this barrier was a narrow gangway, from which the snow had not yet broken away so as to form a vertical or overhanging wall. It was one of those accidents which the mountains seldom fail to furnish, and on the existence of which the success of the climber entirely depends. Up this steep and narrow gangway we cut our steps, and a few minutes placed us safely at the bottom of the final pyramid of the Jungfrau.
From this point we could look down into the abyss of the Roththal, and certainly its wild environs seemed to justify the uses to which superstition has assigned the place. For here it is said the original demons of the mountains hold their orgies, and hither the spirits of the doubly-damned among men are sent to bear them company. The slope up which we had now to climb was turned toward the sun; its aspect was a southern one, and its snows had been melted and recongealed to hard ice. The axe of Almer rang against the obdurate solid, and its fragments whirred past us with a weird-like sound to the abysses below. They suggested the fate which a false step might bring along with it. It is a practical tribute to the strength and skill of the Oberland guides that no disaster has hitherto occurred upon the peak of the Jungfrau.
The work upon this final ice-slope was long and heavy, and during this time the summit appeared