The Alps - The Bel Alp
( Originally Published 1897 )
ON Tuesday the 13th I accompanied a party of friends to the Märjelin See, skirted the lake, struck in upon the glacier, and having heard much of the position and the comfort of a new hotel upon the Bel Alp, I resolved to descend the glacier and pay the place a visit. The Valais range had been covered before we quitted the Aggischhorn ; and, though the sun rode unimpeded in the higher heavens, vast masses of cloud continued to thrust themselves forth like tree-branches into the upper air.
The clouds extended, becoming ever blacker, until finally they were unlocked by thunder, and shook themselves down upon us in furious rain. The glacier is here cut up into oblique valleys of ice, subdivided by sharp-edged crevasses. We advanced swiftly along the ridges, but these finally abutted against the mountain, and we were compelled to cross from ridge to ridge. Hirst followed Bennen, and trusted to my own devices. Joyously we struck our axes into the crumbling crests, and made our way rapidly between the chasms. The sunshine gushed down upon us, and partially dried our drenched clothes. At some distance to our left we observed upon the ice a group of persons, consisting of two men, a boy, and an old woman, engaged beside a crevasse ; a thrill of horror shot through me, at the thought of a man being possibly between its jaws. We quickly joined them, and found an unfortunate cow firmly jammed between the frozen sides of the fissure, and groaning piteously. The men seemed very helpless ; their means were inadequate, and their efforts ill-directed. ' Give the brute space, cut away the ice which presses the ribs, and you step upon that block which stops the chasm, and apply your shoulders to the creature's buttocks.' The ice splinters fly aloft, under the vigorous strokes of Bennen. Hirst suggests that a rope should be passed round the horns, so as to enable all hands to join in the pull. This is done. Another rope is passed between the hind legs. Bennen has loosened the ice which held the ribs in bondage, and now, like mariners heaving an anchor, we all join in a tug, timing our efforts by an appropriate exclamation. The weight moves, but extremely little ; again the cry, and again the heave—it moves a little more. This is repeated several times till the fore-legs are extricated and thrown forward on the ice. We now lift the hinder parts, and succeed in placing the animal upon the glacier, panting and trembling all over. Folding our rope, we went onward. The day again darkened. Again the thunder rang, being now pre-ceded by lightning, which was thrown into my eyes from the polished surface of my axe. Flash followed flash and peal succeeded peal with terrific grandeur, arid the loaded clouds sent down from all their fringes dusky streamers of rain. They looked like waterspouts, so dense was their texture. Furious as was the descending shower, hard as we were hit by the mixed pellets of ice and water, I enjoyed the scene. Grandly the cloud-besom swept the mountains, their colossal outlines looming at intervals like over-powered Titans struggling against their doom.
The glacier becoming impracticable through crevasses, we retreated to its eastern shore, and got along the lateral moraine. It was rough work. The slope to our left was partially clothed with spectral pines. Storms had stripped the trunks of their branches, and the branches of their leaves, leaving the tree-wrecks behind, as if spirit-stricken and accursed. Our home is now in sight, perched upon the summit of a bluff opposite. We passed swiftly over the ridges towards our destination. Wet and thirsty, we reached the opposite side, and, striking into a beaten track, finally reached the pleasant auberge at which our journey ends.
From the hotel on the slope of AEggischhorn an hour's ascent is required to place you in presence of the magnificent view from the summit. But the very windows of the hotel upon the Bel Alp command noble views, and you may sit upon the bilberry slopes adjacent before the grandest of mountain scenes. On the 14th I went down to the savage gorge in which the Aletsch glacier ends. A pine tree stood sheer over it ; bending its trunk at a right angle near its root, and grasping a rock with its root, it supported itself above the chasm. Standing upon the horizontal part of the tree, I hugged its upright stem, and looked down into the gorge. It required several minutes to chase away my timidity, and as the wind blew more forcibly against me, I clung with greater fixity to the tree. In this wild spot, and alone, I watched the dying fires of the day, until the latest glow had vanished from the mountains.
Above the Bel Alp, and two hours distant, is the grey pinnacle of the Sparrenhorn. I went up there on the 15th. To the observer from the hotel it appears as an isolated peak ; but it forms the lofty end of a narrow ridge, which is torn into ruins by the weather. At a distance in front of me was a rocky promontory like the Abschwung, right and left of which descended two streams of ice, which welded themselves to a common trunk glacier. The scene was perfectly unexpected and strikingly beautiful. Nowhere have I seen more perfect repose, nowhere more tender curves or finer structural lines. The stripes of the moraine bending along the glacier contribute to its beauty, and its deep seclusion gives it a peculiar charm. It seems a river so protected by its bounding mountains that no storm can ever reach it, and no billow disturb the perfect serenity of its rest. The sweep of the Aletsch glacier is also mighty as viewed from this point, and from no other could the Valais range seem more majestic. It is needless to say a word about the grandeur of the Dom, the Cervin, and the Weisshorn, all of which, and a great deal more, are commanded from the Sparrenhorn.