Harris was afraid and did not want to go, but I
heartened him up and said I would hold his hand
all the way; so he gave his consent, though he
trembled a little at first. I took a last pathetic look
upon the pleasant summer scene about me, then
boldly put my eye to the glass and prepared to
mount among the grim glaciers and the everlasting
We took our way carefully and cautiously across
the great Glacier des Bossons, over yawning and
terrific crevasses and amongst imposing crags and
buttresses of ice which were fringed with icicles of
gigantic proportions. The desert of ice that
stretched tar and wide about us was wild and
202 A Tramp Abroad
desolate beyond description, and the perils which
beset us were so great that at times I was minded to
turn back. But I pulled my pluck together and
We passed the glacier safely and began to mount
the steeps beyond, with great celerity. When we
were seven minutes out from the starting point, we
reached an altitude where the scene took a new
aspect; an apparently limitless continent of gleam
ing snow was tilted heavenward before our faces.
As my eye followed that awful acclivity far away up
into the remote skies, it seemed to me that all I had
ever seen before of sublimity and magnitude was
small and insignificant compared to this.
We rested a moment, and then began to mount
with speed. Within three minutes we caught sight
of the party ahead of us, and stopped to observe
them. They were toiling up a long, slanting ridge
of snow twelve persons, roped together some
fifteen feet apart, marching in single file, and strongly
marked against the clear blue sky. One was a
woman. We could see them lift their feet and put
them down; we saw them swing their alpenstocks
forward in unison, like so many pendulums, and
then bear their weight upon them ; we saw the lady
wave her handkerchief. They dragged themselves
upward in a worn and weary way, for they had been
climbing steadily from the Grands Mulcts, on the
Glacier des Bossons, since three in the morning, and
it was eleven, now. We saw them sink down in the
A Tramp Abroad 203
snow and rest, and drink something from a bottle.
After a while they moved on, and as they approached
the final short dash of the home-stretch we closed up
on them and joined them.
Presently we all stood together on the summit!
What a view was spread out below ! Away off under
the northwestern horizon rolled the silent billows of
the 1 Farnese Oberland, their snowy crests glinting
softly in the subdued lights of distance ; in the north
rose the giant form of the Wobblehorn, draped from
peak to shoulder in sable thunder-clouds; beyond
him, to the right, stretched the grand processional
summits of the Cisalpine Cordillera, drowned in a
sensuous haze; to the east loomed the colossal
masses of the Yodelhorn, the Fuddlehorn, and the
Dinnerhorn, their cloudless summits flashing white
and cold in the sun; beyond them shimmered the
faint far line of the Ghauts of Jubbelpore and the
Aiguilles des Alleghenies ; in the south towered the
smoking peak of Popocatapetl and the unapproach
able altitudes of the peerless Scrabblehorn ; in the
west-southwest the stately range of the Himalayas
lay dreaming in a purple gloom; and thence all
around the curving horizon the eye roved over a
troubled sea of sun-kissed Alps, and noted, here and
there, the noble proportions and soaring domes of
the Bottlehorn, and thq Saddlehorn, and the Shovel-
horn, and the Powderhorn, all bathed in the glory of
noon and mottled with softly-gliding blots, the
shadows flung from drifting clouds.
204 A Tramp Abroad
Overcome by the scene, we all raised a triumphant,
tremendous shout, in unison. A startled man at my
elbow said :
" Confound you, what do you yell like that for,
right here in the street? "
That brought me down to Chamonix, like a flirt.
I gave that man some spiritual advice and disposed
of him, and then paid the telescope man his full fee,
and said that we were charmed with the trip and
would remain down, and not re-ascend and require
him to fetch us down by telescope. This pleased
him very much, for of course we could have stepped
back to the summit and put him to the trouble of
bringing us home if we had wanted to.
I judged we could get diplomas, now, anyhow; so
we went after them, but the Chief Guide put us off,
with one pretext or another, during all the time we
staid in Chamonix, and we ended by never getting
them at all. So much for his prejudice against peo
ple s nationality. However, we worried him enough
to make him remember us and our ascent for some
time. He even said, once, that he wished there was
a lunatic asylum in Chamonix. This shows that he
really had fears that we were going to drive him
mad. It was what we intended to do, but lack of
time defeated it.
I cannot venture to advise the reader one way or
the other, as to ascending Mont Blanc. I say only
this: if he is at all timid, the enjoyments of the trip
will hardly make up for the hardships and sufferings
A Tramp Abroad 205
he will have to endure. But if he has good nerve,
youth, health, and a bold, firm will, and could leave
his family comfortably provided for in case the worst
happened, he would find the ascent a wonderful ex
perience, and the view from the top a vision to dream
about, and tell about, and recall with exultation all
the days of his life.
While I do not advise such a person to attempt the
ascent, I do not advise him against it. But if he
elects to attempt it, let him be warily careful of two
things : choose a calm, clear day; and do not pay the
telescope man in advance. There are dark stories
of his getting advance payers on the summit and
then leaving them there to rot.
A frightful tragedy was once witnessed through
the Chamonix telescopes. Think of questions and
answers like these, on an inquest:
Coroner. You saw deceased lose his life?
Witness. I did.
C. Where was he, at the time?
W. Close to the summit of Mont Blanc.
C. Where were you?
W. In the main street of Chamonix.
C. What was the distance between you?
W. A little over five miles, as the bird flies.
This accident occurred in 1866, a year and a month
after the disaster on the Matterhorn. Three adven
turous English gentlemen,* of great experience in
mountain climbing, made up their minds to ascend
* Sir George Young and his brothers James and Albert.
206 A Tramp Abroad
Mont Blanc without guides or porters. All en
deavors to dissuade them from their project failed.
Powerful telescopes are numerous in Chamonix.
These huge brass tubes, mounted on their scaffold
ings and pointing skyward from every choice vantage-
ground, have the formidable look of artillery, and
give the town the general aspect of getting ready to
repel a charge of angels. The reader may easily
believe that the telescopes had plenty of custom on
that August morning in 1866, for everybody knew
of the dangerous undertaking which was on foot,
and all had fears that misfortune would result. All
the morning the tubes remained directed toward the
mountain heights, each with its anxious group
around it ; but the white deserts were vacant.
At last, toward eleven o clock, the people who
were looking through the telescopes cried out
"There they are! " -and sure enough, far up, on
the loftiest terraces of the Grand Plateau, the three
pygmies appeared, climbing with remarkable vigor
and spirit. They disappeared in the "Corridor,"
and were lost to sight during an hour. Then they
reappeared, and were presently seen standing together
upon the extreme summit of Mont Blanc. So far,
all was well. They remained a few minutes on that
highest point of land in Europe, a target for all the
telescopes, and were then seen to begin the descent.
Suddenly all three vanished. An instant after, they
appeared again, two thousand feet below !
Evidently, they had tripped and been shot down
A Tramp Abroad 207
an almost perpendicular slope of ice to a point where
it joined the border of the upper glacier. Naturally,
the distant witnesses supposed they were now looking
upon three corpses; so they could hardly believe
their eyes when they presently saw two of the men
rise to their feet and bend over the third. During
two hours and a half they watched the two busying
themselves over the extended form of their brother,
who seemed entirely inert. Chamonix s affairs
stood still ; everybody was in the street, all interest
was centered upon what was going on upon that
lofty and isolated stage five miles away. Finally the
two, one of them walking with great difficulty,
were seen to begin the descent, abandoning the third,
who was no doubt lifeless. Their movements were
followed, step by step, until they reached the
" Corridor" and disappeared behind its ridge. Be
fore they had had time to traverse the " Corridor "
and reappear, twilight was come, and the power of
the telescope was at an end.
The survivors had a most perilous journey before
them in the gathering darkness, for they must get
down to the Grands Mulcts before they would find a
safe stopping place a long and tedious descent,
and perilous enough even in good daylight. The
oldest guides expressed the opinion that they could
not succeed; that all the chances were that they
would lose their lives.
Yet those brave men did succeed. They reached
the Grands Mulcts in safety. Even the fearful shock
208 A Tramp Abroad
which their nerves had sustained was not sufficient
to overcome their coolness and courage. It would
appear from the official account that they were
threading their way down through those dangers
from the closing in of twilight until 2 o clock in the
morning, or later, because the rescuing party from
Chamonix reached the Grands Mulcts about 3 in the
morning and moved thence toward the scene of the
disaster under the leadership of Sir George Young,
" who had only just arrived/
After having been on his feet twenty-four hours,
in the exhausting work of mountain climbing, Sir
George began the re-ascent at the head of the relief
party of six guides, to recover the corpse of his
brother. This was considered a new imprudence,
as the number was too few for the service required.
Another relief party presently arrived at the cabin
on the Grands Mulcts and quartered themselves
there to await events. Ten hours after Sir George s
departure toward the summit, this new relief were still
scanning the snowy altitudes above them from their
own high perch among the ice deserts 10,000 feet
above the level of the sea, but the whole forenoon
had passed without a glimpse of any living thing
appearing up there.
This was alarming. Half a dozen of their number
set out, then early in the afternoon, to seek and succor
Sir George and his guides. The persons remaining
at the cabin saw these disappear, and then ensued
another distressing wait. Four hours passed, with-
A Tramp Abroad 209
out tidings. Then at 5 o clock another relief, con
sisting of three guides, set forward from the cabin.
They carried food and cordials for the refreshment
of their predecessors ; they took lanterns with them,
too; night was coming on, and to make matters
worse, a fine, cold rain had begun to fall.
At the same hour that these three began their
dangerous ascent, the official Guide-in-Chief of the
Mont Blanc region undertook the dangerous descent
to Chamonix, all alone, to get reinforcements.
However, a couple of hours later, at 7 P. M., the
anxious solicitude came to an end, and happily. A
bugle note was heard, and a cluster of black specks
was distinguishable against the snows of the upper
heights. The watchers counted these specks eagerly
14, nobody was missing. An hour and a half
later they were all safe under the roof of the cabin.
They had brought the corpse with them. Sir
George Young tarried there but a few minutes, and
then began the long and troublesome descent from
the cabin to Chamonix. He probably reached there
about 2 or 3 o clock in the morning, after having
been afoot among the rocks and glaciers during two
days and two nights. His endurance was equal to
The cause of the unaccountable delay of Sir George
and the relief parties among the heights where the
disaster had happened was a thick fog or, partly
that and partly the slow and difficult work of convey
ing the dead body down the perilous steeps.
210 A Tramp Abroad
The corpse, upon being viewed at the inquest,
showed no bruises, and it was some time before the
surgeons discovered that the neck was broken. One
of the surviving brothers had sustained some unim
portant injuries, but the other had suffered no hurt
at all. How these men could fall 2,000 feet, almost
perpendicularly, and live afterward, is a most strange
and unaccountable thing.
A great many women have made the ascent of
Mont Blanc. An English girl, Miss Stratton, con
ceived the daring idea, two or three years ago, of
attempting the ascent in the middle of winter. She
tried it and she succeeded. Moreover, she froze
two of her fingers on the way up, she fell in love
with her guide on the summit, and she married him
when she got to the bottom again. There is noth
ing in romance, in the way of a striking " situation/"
which can beat this love scene in mid-heaven on an
isolated ice-crest with the thermometer at zero and
an Arctic gale blowing.
The first woman who ascended Mont Blanc was a
girl aged 22 Mile. Maria Paradis 1809. No
body was with her but her sweetheart, and he was
not a guide. The sex then took a rest for about 30
years, when a Mile. d Angeville made the ascent
1838. In Chamonix I picked up a rude old litho
graph of that day which pictured her " in the act."
However, I value it less as a work of art than as
a fashion plate. Miss d Angeville put on a pair of
men s pantaloons to climb in, which was wise ; but
A Tramp Abroad 211
she cramped their utility by adding her petticoat,
which was idiotic.
One of the mournfulest calamities which men s
disposition to climb dangerous mountains has re
sulted in, happened on Mont Blanc in September,
1870. M. D Arve tells the story briefly in his
** Histoire du Mont Blanc." In the next chapter
I will copy its chief features.
A CATASTROPHE WHICH COST ELEVEN LIVES
ON the 5th of September, 1870, a caravan of
eleven persons departed from Chamonix to
make the ascent of Mont Blanc. Three of the party
were tourists: Messrs. Randall and Bean, Ameri
cans, and Mr. George Corkindale, a Scotch gentle
man ; there were three guides and five porters. The
cabin on the Grands Mulcts was reached that day ;
the ascent was resumed early the next morning,
September 6. The day was fine and clear, and the
movements of the party were observed through the
telescopes of Chamonix; at two o clock in the after
noon they were seen to reach the summit. A few
minutes later they were seen making the first steps
of the descent; then a cloud closed around them
and hid them from view.
Eight hours passed, the cloud still remained, night
came, no one had returned to the Grands Mulcts.
Sylvain Couttet, keeper of the cabin there, suspected
a misfortune, and sent down to the valley for help.
A detachment of guides went up, but by the time
they had made the tedious trip and reached the
A Tramp Abroad 213
cabin, a raging storm had set in. They had to
wait ; nothing could be attempted in such a tempest.
The wild storm lasted more than a week, without
ceasing; but on the i/th, Couttet, with several
guides, left the cabin and succeeded in making the
ascent. In the snowy wastes near the summit they
came upon five bodies, lying upon their sides in a
reposeful attitude which suggested that possibly they
had fallen asleep there, while exhausted with fatigue
and hunger and benumbed with cold, and never
knew when death stole upon them. Couttet moved
a few steps further and discovered five more bodies.
The eleventh corpse, that of a porter, was not
found, although diligent search was made for it.
In the pocket of Mr. Bean, one of the Americans,
was found a note-book in which had been penciled
some sentences which admit us, in flesh and spirit,
as it were, to the presence of these men during their
last hours of life, and to the grisly horrors which
their fading vision looked upon and their failing
consciousness took cognizance of:
Tuesday, Sept. 6. I have made the ascent of Mont Blanc, with ten
persons eight guides, and Mr. Corkindale and Mr. Randall. We
reached the summit at half past 2. Immediately after quitting it, we
were enveloped in clouds of snow. We passed the night in a grotto
hollowed in the snow, which afforded but poor shelter, and I was ill all
Sept. 7 Morning. The cold is excessive. The snow falls heavily
and without interruption. The guides take no rest.
Evening. My Dear Hessie, we have been two days on Mont
Blanc, in the midst of a terrible hurricane of snow, we have lost our
way, and are in a hole scooped in the snow, at an altitude of 15,000
feet. I have no longer any hope of descending.
214 A Tramp Abroad
They had wandered around, and around, in that
blinding snow storm, hopelessly lost, in a space
only a hundred yards square; and when cold and
fatigue vanquished them at last, they scooped
their cave and lay down there to die by inches,
unaware that five steps more would have broitght
them into the true path. They were so near to life
and safety as that, and did not suspect it. The
thought of this gives the sharpest pang that the
tragic story conveys.
The author of the " Histoire du Mont Blanc 1
introduces the closing sentences of Mr. Bean s
pathetic record thus :
" Here the characters are large and unsteady; the
hand which traces them is become chilled and torpid ;
but the spirit survives, and the faith and resignation
of the dying man are expressed with a sublime
Perhaps this note-book will be found and sent to you. We have
nothing to eat, my feet are already frozen, and I am exhausted; I have
strength to write only a few words more. I have left means for C. s
education; I know you will employ them wisely. I die with faith in
God, and with loving thoughts of you. Farewell to all. We shall
meet again, in Heaven. ... I think of you always.
It is the way of the Alps to deliver death to their
victims with a merciful swiftness, but here the rule
failed. These men suffered the bitterest death that
has been recorded in the history of those mountains,
freighted as that history is with grisly tragedies.
MR. HARRIS and I took some guides and porters
and ascended to the Hotel des Pyramides,
which is perched on the high moraine which borders
the Glacier des Bossons. The road led sharply up
hill, all the way, through grass and flowers and
woods, and was a pleasant walk, barring the fatigue
of the climb.
From the hotel we could view the huge glacier st
very close range. After a rest we followed down a
path which had been made in the steep inner
frontage of the moraine, and stepped upon the
glacier itself. One of the shows of the place was a
tunnel-like cavern, which had been hewn in the
glacier. The proprietor of this tunnel took candles
and conducted us into it. It was three or four feel-
wide and about six feet high. Its walls of pure and
solid ice emitted a soft and rich blue light that pro
duced a lovely effect, and suggested enchanted
caves, and that sort of thing. When we had pro
ceeded some yards and were entering darkness, we
turned about and had a dainty sunlit picture of
distant woods and heights framed in the strong arch
216 A Tramp Abroad
of the tunnel and seen through the tender blue radi
ance of the tunnel s atmosphere.
The cavern was nearly a hundred yards long, and
when we reached its inner limit the proprietor
stepped into a branch tunnel with his candles and
left us buried in the bowels of the glacier, and in
pitch darkness. We judged his purpose was murder
and robbery; so we got out our matches and pre
pared to sell our lives as dearly as possible by setting
the glacier on fire if the worst came to the worst
but we soon perceived that this man had changed
his mind; he began to sing, in a deep, melodious
voice, and woke some curious and pleasing echoes.
By and by he came back and pretended that that
was what he had gone behind there for. We be
lieved as much of that as we wanted to.
Thus our lives had been once more in imminent
peril, but by the exercise of the swift sagacity and
cool courage which had saved us so often, we had
added another escape to the long list. The tourist
should visit that ice-cavern, by all means, for it is
well worth the trouble ; but I would advise him to
go only with a strong and well-armed force. I do
not consider artillery necessary, yet it would not be
unadvisable to take it along, if convenient. The
journey, going and coming, is about three miles and
a half, three of which are on level ground. We
made it in less than a day, but I would counsel the
unpracticed, if not pressed for time,- 1 - to allow
themselves two. Nothing is gained in the Alps by
A Tramp Abroad 217
over-exertion ; nothing is gained by crowding two
days work into one for the poor sake of being able
to boast of the exploit afterward. It will be found
much better, in the long run, to do the thing in two
days, and then subtract one of them from the
narrative. This saves fatigue, and does not injure
the narrative. All the more thoughtful among the
Alpine tourists do this.
We now called upon the Guide-in-Chief, and
asked for a squadron of guides and porters for the
ascent of the Montanvert. This idiot glared at us,
and said :
" You don t need guides and porters to go to the
" What do we need, then?"
" Such d& you ? an ambulance!"
I was so stung by this brutal remark that I took
my custom elsewhere.
Betimes, next morning, we had reached an alti
tude of 5 ,000 feet above the level of the sea. Here
we camped and breakfasted. There was a cabin
there the spot is called the Caillet and a spring
of ice-cold water. On the door of the cabin was a
sign, in French, to the effect that " One may here
see a living chamois for fifty centimes." We did
not invest; what we wanted was to see a dead one.
A little after noon we ended the ascent and
arrived at the new hotel on the Montanvert, and
had a view of six miles, right up the great glacier,
the famous Mer de Glace. At this point it is like a
218 A Tramp Abroad
sea whose deep swales and long, rolling swells have
been caught in mid-movement and frozen solid ; but
further up it is broken up into wildly-tossing billows
We descended a ticklish path in the steep side of
the moraine, and invaded the glacier. There were
tourists of both sexes scattered far and wide over it,
everywhere, and it had the festive look of a skating
The Empress Josephine came this far, once. She
ascended the Montanvert in 1810 but not alone;
a small army of men preceded her to clear the
path and carpet it, perhaps, and she followed,
under the protection of sixty-eight guides.
Her successor visited Chamonix later, but in far
different style. It was seven weeks after the first
fall of the Empire, and poor Marie Louise, ex-
Empress, was a fugitive. She came at night, and in
a storm, with only two attendants, and stood before
a peasant s hut, tired, bedraggled, soaked with
rain, " the red print of her lost crown still girdling
her brow," and implored admittance -and was
refused ! A few days before, the adulations and
applauses of a nation were sounding in her ears, and
now she was come to this !
We crossed the Mer de Glace in safety, but We
had misgivings. The crevasses in the ice yawned
deep and blue and mysterious, and it made one
nervous to traverse them. The huge round waves
of ice were slippery and difficult to climb, and the
A Tramp Abroad 219
chances of tripping and sliding down them and
darting into a crevasse were too many to be com
In the bottom of a deep swale between two of the
biggest of the ice-waves, we found a fraud who pre
tended to be cutting steps to insure the safety of
tourists. He was " soldiering " when we came upon
him, but he hopped up and chipped out a couple of
steps about big enough for a cat, and charged us a
franc or two for it. Then he sat down again, to
doze till the next party should come along. He
had collected blackmail from two or three hundred
people already, that day, but had not chipped out
ice enough to impair the glacier perceptibly. I
have heard of a good many soft sinecures, but it