Two Ascents Of Vesuvius
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
At the foot of the steep ascent, we were received by two guides, one old, the other young, but both active fellows. The first pulled me up the path, the other Tisehbein—pulled I say, for these guides are girded round the waist with a leathern belt, which the traveler takes hold of, and being drawn up by his guide, makes his way the easier with foot and staff. In this manner we reached the flat from which the cone rises; toward the north lay the ruins of the summit.
A glance westward over the country beneath us, removed, as well as a bath could, all feeling of exhaustion and fatigue, and we now went round the ever-smoking cone, as it threw out its stones and ashes. Wherever the space allowed of our viewing it at a sufficient distance, it appeared a grand and elevating spectacle. In the first place, a violent thundering toned forth from its deepest abyss, then stones of larger and smaller sizes were showered into the air by thousands, and enveloped by clouds of ashes. The greatest part fell again into the gorge; the rest of the fragments, receiving a lateral inclination, and falling on the outside of the crater, made a marvelous rumbling noise. First of all the larger masses plumped against the side, and rebounded with a dull heavy sound; then the smaller came rattling down ; and last of all, drizzled a shower of ashes. All this took place at regular intervals, which by slowly counting, we were able to measure pretty accurately.
Between the summit, however, and the cone the space is narrow enough; moreover, several stones fell around us, and made the circuit anything but agreeable. Tischbein now felt more disgusted than ever with Vesuvius, as the monster, not content with being hateful, showed an inclination to become mischievous also.
As, however, the presence of danger generally exercises on man a kind of attraction, and calls forth a spirit of opposition in the human breast to defy it, I bethought myself that, in the interval of the eruptions, it would be possible to climb up the cone to the crater, and to get back before it broke out again. I held a council on this point with our guides under one of the overhanging rocks of the summit, where, encamped in safety, we refreshed ourselves with the provisions we had brought with us. The younger guide was willing to run the risk with me; we stuffed our hats full of linen and silk handkerchiefs, and, staff in hand, we prepared to start, I holding on to his girdle.
The little stones were yet rattling around us, and the ashes still drizzling, as the stalwart youth hurried forth with me across the hot glowing rubble. We soon stood on the brink of the vast chasm, the smoke of which, altho a gentle air was bearing it away from us, unfortunately veiled the interior of the crater, which smoked all round from a thousand crannies. At intervals, however, we caught sight through the smoke of the cracked. walls of the rock. The view was neither instructive nor delightful; but for the very reason that one saw nothing, one lingered in the hope of catching a glimpse of something more; and so we forgot our slow counting. We were standing on a narrow ridge of the vast abyss; of a sudden the thunder pealed aloud; we ducked our heads involuntarily, as if that would have rescued us from the precipitated masses. The smaller stones soon rattled, and without considering that we had again an interval of cessation before us, and only too much rejoiced to have outstood the danger, we rushed down and reached the foot of the hill together with the drizzling ashes, which pretty thickly covered our heads and shoulders.
The news [two weeks later] that an eruption of lava had just commenced, which, taking the direction of Ottajano, was invisible at Naples, tempted me to visit Vesuvius for the third time. Scarcely had I jumped cut of my cabriolet at the foot of the mountain, when immediately appeared the two guides who had accompanied us on our previous ascent. I had no wish to do without either, but took one out of gratitude and custom, the other for reliance on his judgment—and the two for the greater convenience. Having ascended the summit, the older guide remained with our cloaks and refreshment, while the younger followed me, and we boldly went straight toward a dense volume of smoke, which broke forth from the bottom of the funnel; then we quickly went downward by the side of it, till at last, under the clear heaven, we distinctly saw the lava emitted from the rolling clouds of smoke.
We may hear an object spoken of a thousand times, but its peculiar features will never be caught till we see it with our own eyes. The stream of lava was small, not broader perhaps than ten feet, but the way in which it flowed down a gentle and tolerably smooth plain was remarkable. As it flowed along, it cooled both on the sides and on the surface, so that it formed a sort of canal, the bed of which was continually raised in consequence of the molten mass congealing even beneath the fiery stream, which, with uniform action, precipitated right and left the scoria which were floating on its surface. In this way a regular dam was at length thrown up, in which the glowing stream flowed on as quietly as any mill-stream. We passed along the tolerably high dam, while the scoria rolled regularly off the sides at our feet. Some cracks in the canal afforded opportunity of looking at the living stream from below, and as it rushed onward, we observed it from above.
A very bright sun made the glowing lava look dull; but a moderate steam rose from it into the pure air. I felt a great desire to go nearer to the point where it broke out from the mountain; there my guide averred, it at once formed vaults and roofs above itself, on which he had often stood. To see and experience this phenomenon, we again ascended the hill, in order to come from behind to this point. Fortunately at this moment the place was cleared by a pretty strong wind, but not entirely, for all round it the smoke eddied from a thousand crannies; and new at last we stood on the top of the solid roof (which looked like a hardened mass of twisted dough), but which, how-ever, projected so far outward, that it was impossible to see the welling lava.
We ventured about twenty steps further, but the ground on which we stept became hotter and hotter, while around us rolled an oppressive steam, which obscured and hid the sun ; the guide, who was a few steps in advance of me, presently turned back, and seizing hold of me, hurried out of this Stygian exhalation.
After we had refreshed our eyes with the clear prospect, and washed our gums and throat with wine, we went round again to notice any other peculiarities which might characterize this peak of hell, thus rearing itself in the midst of a Paradise. I again observed attentively some chasms, in appearance like so many vulcanic forges, which emitted no smoke, but continually shot out a steam of hot glowing air. They were all tapestried, as it were, with a kind of stalactite, which covered the funnel to the top, with its knobs and chintz-like variation of colors. In consequence of the irregularity of the forges, I found many specimens of this sublimation hanging within reach, so that, with our staves and a little contrivance, we were able to hack off a few, and to secure them. I saw in the shops of the dealers in lava similar specimens, labeled simply "Lava"; and I was delighted to have discovered that it was volcanic soot precipitated from the hot vapor, and distinctly exhibiting the sublimated mineral particles which it contained.