Various.

Oxford Mountaineering Essays online

. (page 5 of 11)
Online LibraryVariousOxford Mountaineering Essays → online text (page 5 of 11)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


to ordinary life do they seem. By a lucky chance they happened to you,
and you remember them with a love and gratitude incomprehensible to
others. In those hours the melody of your own little life sounded in
accord with the universal harmony, and the echo of that music never
dies away.

I passed on through waking villages. On either side of the road were
low-lying hills, where trees half hid ruined castles. Were they
really castles? The early morning turned everything to magic, and I
seemed to walk in a dream-country of the Middle Ages, my journey a
pilgrimage, and my goal a noble one, though the way was over-easy.
With the tenth mile the enchantment vanished, as dawn dissolved into
day. I became conscious of my Gladstone bag, and the handkerchief
across my chest cramped me like a steel band. And so, when I came
over a small rising and saw before me the factory chimneys of Regen,
my destination, I welcomed modern ugliness with relief, and pressed
forward to the squalor of a train. The journey to Munich lasted for six
stifling summer hours. Opposite me in the railway carriage sat an old
woman, wrinkled and furrowed, incessantly munching ham sandwiches. I
suffered agonies of vicarious thirst, and being a teetotaller found no
assuagement in the draughts of beer which she drank at every station.
At last the train dawdled into Munich. The weather had changed, and I
spent seven hours taking shelter from sudden showers, and brooding on
the probability that for the next few days the Swiss mountains would
be hidden in clouds. A night’s journey brought me to Zurich, dull and
dismal in the early morning. By this time I had become an advanced
realist, with a super-shavian hatred of romance in every sense of that
word.

This was the lowest ebb, and now romance came flooding back. Lausanne
at noon was lovely. There was the white house where Cynara used to
live; old memories quickened at the sight. Martigny shone like a dream
against the Champex mountains. And then, as the train rushed up the
Rhone valley, I leant from the window, and the trees and the bushes
bending before the wind seemed swaying with my ecstasy.

Late in the afternoon I left Stalden for the last stage of my journey,
a fifteen-mile ascent to Saas Fee. Beyond the bridge near the village a
young climber overtook me as I stopped to readjust my bag. It appeared
that he too had come from Munich, that we had a common friend, and
that he wished to make the acquaintance of Cynara and her sister. So
we walked on together. Behind us the Bietschorn shone a golden peak in
the sunset. On each side of the narrow, high valley fell numberless
cascades, pouring into the central torrent. Yes, this was Switzerland
at last, far lovelier with its roaring waters and scent of pine-trees
than in the dim visions of those stifling Dresden days. I had reached
the blue hills of the horizon, and the sinking sun had turned them to
gold.

We came to Saas Grund at eve, and the last steep pull to Saas Fee was
made in the dark. As we entered the village my companion left me,
turning to the left towards his hotel. I stopped a minute to recover my
breath. It was the first of August, the day of the national festival.
All the hotels were illuminated; men and women crowded the balconies,
in fancy dress, and the crowd below ran here and there, laughing and
chattering. A fantastic sight; for a moment I was embarrassed by the
idea that they were celebrating my arrival. Moving forward diffidently,
I entered the Hôtel du Dom by the cellar door, and walked cautiously
upstairs. There was no more glory in me, and, except for my anxiety to
avoid Cynara, I was not conscious of any particular feeling.




THE MOUNTAINEER AND THE PILGRIM

BY

H. E. G. TYNDALE
(New College)




V. THE MOUNTAINEER AND THE PILGRIM


I

‘The pilgrim,’ says a modern writer, ‘is one who has made an
appointment with his higher self, to meet at some distant date and
place.’ He sets aside for a season his present interests and the call
of work, intent on satisfying that part of his nature which is in
danger of suffering from starvation. Therefore, with staff in hand, he
turns his back on the familiar, to take, in strange places, something
more than a holiday. For the pilgrim is no mere holiday-maker; he is
rather the ideal traveller, journeying towards a noble end, and happy
in this knowledge; and to attain this end he welcomes the prospect of
passing through fire and water.

The circumstances and spirit of this age do not encourage the
pilgrim’s existence; yet enthusiasm and endurance are virtues which do
not perish with the pilgrim. Moreover, even if our ideal traveller is
found no more, many find an ideal form of travel in mountaineering.
There may exist, therefore, some corresponding virtue, some relic of
the pilgrim’s security of mind, by reason of which we may call our
mountaineer a pilgrim.

What manner of man is this new pilgrim who frequents the mountain-side?
Can he indeed be called pilgrim, unless perhaps he is following in the
steps of Boniface of Asti, who first ascended a snowy mountain and
built a chapel for worshippers? Do we ever find the counterpart of
Chaucer’s Knight and Poure Persoun, or even of his Manciple and Miller?

In truth, the perfect mountain pilgrim is as rare as was the genuine
humble-minded visitor of shrines. We must look to the Japanese climbers
for the finest example: -

‘Clad in white, symbolical of the purity to which they aspire,
these ascetic mountaineers make their way, sometimes at the end of
several weeks of walking, to the top of their peak. After worship
at the shrine of their mountain divinity, they withdraw to some
secluded spot.’

Yet even if such a type be exceptional, there may still lie hidden
some of the pilgrim’s worth in the ordinary climber. With the latter,
as with the older pilgrims, we must separate the sheep from the goats.
Pilgrimages were made, not only for spiritual benefit, but also for
boasting, as an excuse for an exchange of masters, and in certain
instances to annoy the king. Nobody climbs, as far as I know, to annoy
any king; but the presence of many men in the Alps and elsewhere is not
easily explained without harsh words. For the climber is notoriously
an unsatisfactory person, not only to the uninitiated, but to his
fellow-enthusiasts.

* * * * *

It is open to all men to become mountain pilgrims. Many, however, in
whom the Hill Difficulty arouses no fear, will be content to stop by
the wayside and wrestle daily with some Apollyon of a ‘rock problem.’
There are some who find all mountains dull which have no wrong way up,
who will talk for hours about a billiard-table traverse, and dismiss
the ascent of Mont Blanc from Chamonix in a few contemptuous words; and
if they succeed in such endeavours, they are for hailing themselves the
lords of all the earth. Had Aristotle witnessed their labours he might
have remarked: ‘Such things even a slave may do’; and if I had the
arrangement of Dante’s Hell I should put them lower than the man who
descended the Breithorn playing on a mouth-organ, although at the time
it seemed that he

‘Tooke out his black trumpe of bras,
That fouler than the Devil was.’

Let such climbers remember that Apollyon can break out into a grievous
rage, and that he is a very subtle thrower of darts, or even stones;
and note that among later Alpine disasters a great majority have
occurred in places of extreme difficulty, to the detriment of a noble
sport.

Yet admitting the existence of pleasure in such unstable equilibrium,
we may still criticise its quality. True pleasure, says the pilgrim,
cannot exist without peace of mind in some degree; and few minds can
remain unruffled on the wall of the Devil’s Kitchen. Indeed, such vain
seeking after pleasure is often, like Bunthorne’s Mediævalism, ‘born
of a morbid love of admiration.’ Christian’s fight with Apollyon was
merely an incident of travel, which no doubt ceased to interest him;
his way was beset by difficulties sufficient to occupy his energy.
Similarly the mountain pilgrim constantly seeks fresh fields for
activity, and will gladly turn his back on the ‘specialists’; for these
men climb as it were for gain, nursing within themselves a spirit of
competition in their struggle with the force of gravity. Nor can they
look with pleasure upon their failures, as can their less ambitious
brethren. It is among the latter that we shall find the spirit of the
mountain pilgrim which caused Kim’s Lama to exclaim: -

‘Oh! the hills and the snow upon the hills!’

The wise man will not wholly judge the mountaineer while he is on the
mountain-side. Some enthusiastic climbers maintain that two moments
alone afford pleasure in an expedition: when the summit is reached,
and when the valley is regained. Now, these words may confound
the sharp-witted philosophers of the plain, but the climber knows
that they contain a world of truth, and that a great joy lies in
retrospection, for which he will endure many hours of tribulation. In
this retrospective attitude we shall find the climber at his best; his
attention is relaxed, and he is free to summon back the greater moments
of the past day. Meet him in the evening on the terrace at Breuil,
when the bowlers have at length ceased their bowling, looking down
at the lights in the hollow below: you will find in him much of the
true pilgrim spirit. Further, the pilgrim proper would be the first to
recognise a fellow-traveller in this mountain wanderer. He sees that
on the mountains also another may meet his higher self. The difference
between the two lies only in environment. To both alike the end is
denied without the struggle, and the generous pilgrim will not trouble
to contrast the excellences of their ways. The two will shake hands in
satisfaction that the old self is no longer in dangerous proximity.
But our generous pilgrim, judging men by his own standard, is a stern
critic, and does not suffer fools gladly.


II

We are apt to picture the mediæval pilgrim as a man travelling in some
ease and comfort. The nine and twenty sundry folk that met one April in
the Tabard Inn seem a well-living band: -

‘And wel we weren esed atte beste.’

But those who went on a longer journey encountered many hardships.
The English pilgrim to the shrine of St. James at Compostella usually
travelled by sea, in cramped quarters on a small boat; on which,
besides the necessity of crossing the Bay of Biscay, he frequently
found an unsympathetic captain: -

‘Hale the bowelyne! now, vere the shete!
Cooke, make redy anoon our mete,
Our pylgryms have no lust to ete,
I pray God yeve hem rest!’

And at the worst moment up comes a hearty sailor, shouting: ‘Cheer
up! in a moment we shall be in a storm.’ On the journey from Venice
to Jaffa, says a fellow of Eton, a sharp look-out must be kept on the
captain, lest he give you bad meat; the pilgrim must take with him hens
and chickens; on arrival at Jaffa there will be a hideous scramble for
mules, and your mule-man will expect a tip.

The pilgrim who endured these discomforts not only gained much
spiritual benefit for himself, he benefited also his fellow-men. On
his return he must have been amazingly good company, and brought a
fresh interest into his neighbours’ lives, who vowed to perform a
similar journey, profiting by their forerunner’s experience. The lot
of those fortunate ones who climbed in the ‘sixties was very similar.
They set out to explore some little-known district, thinking more of
passing from place to place than of ascending a peak. They possessed
the pilgrim spirit in the unity of their object, in their endurance,
and especially in their attitude towards adversity and failure. They
travelled of set purpose to a comparatively barbarous land, where often
there was no safe lodging for the night: -

‘What care I for a goose-feather bed,
With a sheet turned down so bravely - O!’

Moreover, they went out amid the jeers of their friends, and it needed
more than ordinary faith to confirm them in their search for this
mysterious good. They had, through hours of toil and vexation, the
doubtful joy of discovering a thousand errors in the map. The modern
climber owes a great debt to their exploration; for although he may
find a subject of conversation in his sufferings from tourists and
trains, he finds better paths and better inns, and stands far less
chance of a night upon the rocks.

The gods of the ‘sixties did not exhaust the Alps. Rather, they created
a new form of enthusiasm in the world. Alpine climbing has developed
rapidly, and on somewhat similar lines to the public schools. It is no
longer necessary to rise at five a.m. and break the ice before washing;
therefore a larger number of boys can enjoy the full benefits of school
life. Climbing is now no longer reserved for those who have leisure and
money; it has become the most democratic of sports, thanks largely to
the labours of the early explorers. The fact that the mountains have
been, as it were, thrown open to the public has brought a wondrous
amount of interest into many colourless lives.

Some day this enthusiasm, which is discernible even in the mad rush
of tourists, may die out. At present it flourishes alarmingly, with
attendant evils; but the purpose which first drew men to the Alps fifty
years ago and more remains unspoiled even by guide-books and tourists: -

‘Low as the singer lies in the field of heather,
Songs of his fashion bring the swains together.’

The air on the mountains, the need for endurance, the appointment
with the higher self, continue and will continue to make their appeal.
Further, in spite of railways and huts, discomforts abound; for the
sun still shines as brightly as in 1860, and the labour of wading in
soft snow does not decrease with the ages. In this era of enlightenment
there is not denied to men the privilege of being dirty; the chalet
which flows with milk for the descending climber still recalls memories
of the Augean stables and makes one sigh for Heracles. Straw is the
order in most club huts, and the climber must prepare his own food.
So long as discomforts exist the pilgrim’s endurance is demanded, and
there still remain plenty of annoyances to make the traveller ‘nasty,
brutish and short.’

Again, it is not only by physical trials such as these, but by mental
trials also, that the virtues of the pilgrim are called into being.
Christian, more fortunate than most guideless wanderers, dropped his
burden early, and he becomes a more interesting as well as a finer
person when he is busy fighting some subtle temptation of mind. The
mountain pilgrim will have to fight as hard for his peace of mind;
he is a prey, as was Christian, to ‘the carnal arguments of one Mr.
Worldly Wiseman.’ The latter finds his way, in body as well as in
spirit, to the most secluded corners of the Alps. He is certainly
what many would call a ‘centrist,’ except that he gave up climbing
at an early age. He delights in pointing out the futility of risking
an otherwise valuable neck in the pursuit of discomfort and vain
glory; in his view, the climber has nothing to lose and everything
to gain by shirking all difficulties. He is very deft in forcing his
convictions on others, and his arguments will recur to the traveller
with distressing force at inconvenient moments. He knows that almost
every climber has on occasion vowed never to climb again, and it is a
constant marvel to him that so many break this vow within a few hours’
time. It needs all the climber’s resolution, supported by a prospect of
sensuous delights as a reward of labour, to repel his promptings; but
it is a great joy to confute him ‘ambulando.’ He is fighting a losing
battle, which has lasted fifty years; but although there is little hope
of victory, the battle is never entirely lost so long as the tale of
man’s slackness is undiminished.


III

The pilgrim of the Middle Ages had many shrines which he might choose
to visit. To this shrine ran a good road when once the mountains were
crossed; to another there was the drawback of a sea voyage; at a
third shrine the good saint was a potent healer, and the distance to
be covered would afford a good penance for the pilgrim’s ill-deeds;
moreover, he would find free entertainment at most places on the way.
Thus there was food for absorbing reflection before setting out, and
much thought needed for the details of the way. I fancy the Lord of
Anglure-sur-Aube must have taken an astonishing interest in organising
the long journey for his large troop of pilgrims. Yet the pious pilgrim
may have regarded this interest with suspicion, as enticing the mind
from thoughts of the true object of the pilgrimage - too much thought
for the morrow.

Likewise the modern mountaineer is free to ponder and make his choice,
having before him a district of many thousand square miles from which
to select. He enjoys, therefore, all the pilgrim’s freedom of choice;
and from this freedom a demon of restlessness arises which the pilgrim
would not encourage in himself.

The truth is that the mountaineer does encourage this restless feeling
in himself, notwithstanding the pilgrim’s protests. He welcomes the
arrival of this fatal gad-fly which drives him yearly southward. And
whereas the pilgrim, being no faddist, accepts what comes in a spirit
of cheerfulness, and looks askance at anything that may vex his peace
of mind, the mountaineer knows that only after diligent search can
he secure the best which the mountains have to offer. He is indeed
a genuine faddist in planning. He chooses his route with as much
care as he chooses a companion. He will sit for hours or even days
of his spare time before a heap of maps and guide-books; for every
expedition chosen he will have rejected twenty, forming his imaginary
tour by a process of elimination rather than of selection. Only when
he is thoroughly familiar with every corner of a district does he
consent to choose his peak or pass. Three things are necessary for the
ideal expedition: a great variety in the ascent, a fine view (I would
instance the Aletschhorn or the Tour St. Pierre), and an easy descent,
preferably over snow. This combination is not found on every mountain;
it is therefore all the more fascinating to seek for such by map and
guide-book; and when this ideal expedition is at length discovered the
climber will anticipate it with pleasure for months beforehand - thus
forestalling the joys of summer, and with far less searching of heart
than in the event. In this discontent with his own planning he gains
an interest and occupation, without any of the pilgrim’s prickings of
conscience.

The latter, however, has also certain advantages. He retains his peace
of mind far more easily than does the mountaineer. He is free to rest
when he may choose, to lie throughout the noon-day heat - ‘patulae
recubans sub tegmine fagi’; nor does he care one rap about ‘times.’ To
the mountaineer, on the contrary, a long halt is not often permitted;
for he must always keep some spare time before him, lest some sudden
obstacle leave him for the night on the mountain-side. So long as the
rope is still round his waist he is not often entirely free from some
anxiety, and he remains somewhat restless in spirit until the path
leading valleywards is reached. It is therefore not surprising to find
the most calm of men turn quick-tempered upon the mountains, a state of
mind which agrees ill with their enthusiasm. It is difficult to explain
away this fault as superficial; for the serene pilgrim can point to a
hundred instances where the climber was in such a bad temper that he
would allow no one else their share in the hard work. But if a slight
matter can upset him, his good temper returns also as quickly as it
departs; and if you keep out of his way while busy and meet him jogging
peacefully down through the thickening pine woods towards evening, you
will find him as cheerful a companion as the wanton and merry Friar.

Again, both in the pilgrim and the mountaineer there is a delight in
the unexpected; which is a remarkable thing, since the mountaineer,
unlike the pilgrim, has chosen what he is to expect in detail. The
pilgrim sets out to bear cheerfully such adventures as may lie in
Fortune’s lap; the mountaineer has been planning for months, and a
cherished scheme may fail owing to bad weather or other mischance.
However, he takes a certain pleasure in failure, for he has discovered
two benefits to be derived from it. That which is unaccomplished one
year may be carried out at a later date, until which time the hope
of success makes ample amends for the failure; also an unsuccessful
attempt often leaves a greater stamp on the memory, when the
mountain is seen in wrathful mood. The climber may praise himself for
perseverance or prudence, throwing all blame upon the shoulders of
Chance. He goes out, indeed, half prepared to fail; he is extravagantly
thankful for small mercies received; he adopts a somewhat pessimistic
attitude, since

‘Luck’s a chance, but trouble sure,
I’d face it as a wise man should,
And train for ill and not for good.’

Some might see in him the vices of the born grumbler; for with him the
weather is rarely perfect, and when perfect it is too often about to
break. But it is part of the climber’s vanity to be more weather-wise
than Nature herself; and to all appearance he mildly resents even a
change for the good which does not accord with his prophecy.

Further, the unexpected is not always evil; the climber may stumble
upon a new route, and even the most hardened scoffer at such things
will admit a secret delight in reading his name in the pages of _Conway
and Coolidge_. The unexpected is always at hand. I went up one day to
the hut on the south-west ridge of the Matterhorn, in a wind sufficient
to take the horns off the oxen; and that night I lay awake, like
Strepsiades,

ἐν πέντε σισύραις ἐγκεκορδυλημένος

listening to the wind howling and the clatter of stones and ice falling
from the Great Tower upon the roof. Next morning the wind dropped
at sunrise, and a warm, cloudless day followed, of that wonderful
clearness which foretells the advent of bad weather. One more instance
of the unexpected - and in this I have my justification: that day we
were in a sense pilgrims, for we set out to discover a route by which
men might pass direct from the Ober Steinberg to the Concordia. We
started in light, rolling mist, and towards sunrise looked down upon a
cloud-sea hiding the deep-cut valley of Lauterbrunnen. Then crossing
a world of stones we climbed a steep, short glacier, and over a heap
of avalanche-debris reached the lowest rocks of our mountain, the
Mittaghorn. Here we had expected difficulty with a steep band of rock,
but passed rapidly upwards without check to where the angle eased off.
Then came trouble, for the rock became of a loose slaty texture, in
places covered with ice. Higher up matters improved, until we reached
the foot of a great overhanging wall of red rock, which turned us left
along a narrow ledge and round jutting corners, to where a steep ice
gully cut through the wall. I was left standing in a vast ice step,
from which I could see nothing but the leader’s foot searching now and
then for some cranny in the rock. Below me a great ice slope ran down
with alarming steepness and then dipped over, beyond which I saw the
green valley and our hotel; in the far distance I could see the ripples
sparkling on the Lake of Thun, and above the sunlight was playing on a
patch of rocks which had come no nearer after two hours’ hard work. On
such occasions time passes slowly to those who only stand and wait, and
I was right glad when they hoisted me over the rock wall and into the
sunlight once more. To our disgust the summit lay still far off to our
left, and to attain it we had to follow a narrow ridge of sloppy snow;
on the far side of the peak we found crusted snow, to complete our
tribulation. Thus we found both good and evil unexpectedly, and like
Christian fell ‘from running to going, and from going to clambering
upon hands and knees,’ until we wished ourselves trippers once more.

It is, above all, when the climber passes from one valley to another
that the unexpected is liable to occur. He then experiences all the
pilgrim’s joy of wandering, the uncertainty of the night’s lodging,


1 2 3 5 7 8 9 10 11

Online LibraryVariousOxford Mountaineering Essays → online text (page 5 of 11)