Monday, November 30, 2020

"Mode of Travelling in the High Alps" (4)

From C T Dent's Mountaineering in the Badminton Library Series.

Alpine advice from a founder of modern mountaineering

For surmounting steep ice slopes the axe is the proper instrument, but there is some difference of opinion as to the most available form and dimensions to be given to it. In considerable expeditions, it is well to be provided with two axes, both to save time, by enabling two to work together, and to provide for the accident of one being lost or broken.

 In cases where there is not much work to be done in cutting steps, a moderately heavy geological hammer, of which one side is made in the form of a short pick, is sometimes a serviceable weapon. 

In the lower part of a glacier, a traveller is sometimes arrested by a short, steep bank of ice, when unprovided with any convenient means of cutting steps. In such a case, and especially when armed with steel points in the heels of his boots, he will sometimes find it easier and safer to mount backwards, propping himself with his alpenstock,and biting into the ice with his heels.
 
To experienced travellers, no caution as to alpenstocks is needed, but to others it may be well to say, that those commonly sold in Switzerland are never to be relied upon. There is scarcely one of them that is not liable to break, if suddenly exposed to a severe strain. A stout ash pole, well seasoned, and shod with a point of tough, hardened steel, three inches long, instead of the soft iron commonly used, will not only serve all the ordinary purposes, but help to cut steps in a steep descent where it is difficult to use the axe with effect.

The general experience of Alpine travellers is not favourable to crampons, but many have found advantage in screws armed with a projecting double-pointed head which are sold at the Pavillon on the Montanvert. Screws of the same kind, but made of better steel, and arranged in a convenient way for driving them into the soles and heels of boots, are sold in London by Lund in Fleet Street.

Reference

 

From J Ball, “Suggestions for Alpine travellers”, Chapter XVIII, Peaks, Passes, and Glaciers: A series of excursions by members of the Alpine Club, London, 1859.

 

Disclaimer

Sunday, November 29, 2020

"Mode of Travelling in the High Alps" (3)

"Serve him right" (original title)
From Mountaineering in the Badminton Library Series


Alpine advice from a founder of modern mountaineering

It is sometimes thought that for complete security, in case of the yielding of a snow bridge, the party tied together should be not less than three in number; in order that two may be available to draw out of a crevasse the one who may have fallen. 
 
But if the simple precaution of keeping eight or ten paces apart be observed by two travellers who are tied together, there is not the slightest risk incurred. The whole mass of snow covering a crevasse does not give way together, and a moderate amount of assistance from the rope will always enable the traveller to extricate himself. 
 
A good cragsman may go alone up and down the steepest pinnacles of rock; but, however strong may be the inducements to solitary wandering amidst the grand scenery of the high Alps, the man who travels without a companion in the snow region can scarcely be thought more reasonable than the supposed cab-driver alluded to in the last paragraph. 
 
Against the risk of slipping upon steep slopes, the rope is usually a protection as effectual as it is in the first case. There may be positions in which the footing of each traveller is so precarious, that if tied together a slip on the part of any one of them would probably cause the destruction of all. 
 
Such positions are, however, very rare, If indeed they anywhere occur. There are few descents steeper than that of the ice-wall of the Strahleck yet Desor recounts a case in which three travellers all slipping at the same time, were upheld, and saved from falling into the bergschrund by a rope sustained on the arm of a single guide who came last in the descent.

 Reference

 

From J Ball, “Suggestions for Alpine travellers”, Chapter XVIII, Peaks, Passes, and Glaciers: A series of excursions by members of the Alpine Club, London, 1859.

 

Friday, November 27, 2020

"Mode of Travelling in the High Alps" (2)


Alpine advice from a founder of modern mountaineering

The real dangers of the high Alps may, under ordinary circumstances, be reduced to three. First, the yielding of the snow bridges that cover glacier crevasses; second, the risk of slipping upon steep slopes of hard ice; third, the fall of ice or rocks from above. 

From the first, which is also the most frequent source of danger, absolute security is obtained by a simple precaution, now generally known, yet unfortunately often neglected. The reader of this volume can scarcely fail to remark that, in the course of the expeditions here recounted, repeated accidents occurred, and that many of the best and most experienced Alpine travellers have narrowly escaped with their lives, under circumstances in which no danger whatever would have been encountered if the party had been properly tied together with rope. Sometimes that indispensable article is forgotten; more often the use of it is neglected in positions where no immediate necessity for it is apparent. 
 
A strange notion seems to prevail with some travellers, and occasionally among the guides, that the constant use of the rope is a sign of timidity and over-caution. But in the upper region, where the ice is covered with snow or neve, it is absolutely the only security against a risk which the most experienced cannot detect beforehand; and so far from causing delay, it enables a party to advance more rapidly and with less trouble when they are dispensed from the inconvenience of sounding with the alpenstock in doubtful positions. It is true that this latter precaution should not be omitted in places that are manifestly unsafe, but, at the best, it merely detects a particular danger without giving that confidence which the rope alone can afford. 
 
It may be hoped that before long the rope will be considered as essential a part of an Alpine traveller’s equipment as reins are in a horse's harness. A man who should undertake to drive a cab without reins from Charing Cross to London Bridge, would scarcely be looked upon as an example for spirit, even if he sat alone; but if he were to induce a party of friends to travel in the same vehicle, he would justly be accused of wantonly risking the lives of others.

Reference
 
From J Ball, “Suggestions for Alpine travellers”, Chapter XVIII, Peaks, Passes, and Glaciers: A series of excursions by members of the Alpine Club, London, 1859. 
 

Thursday, November 26, 2020

"Mode of Travelling in the High Alps" (1)


Alpine advice from a founder of modern mountaineering

This subject requires a few words of allusion to the difficulties and dangers incident to travelling in a region where excepting steep faces of rock, the surface is covered with snow or ice. These may at once be divided into two classes - the real and the imaginary. 

Where a ridge or slope of rock or ice is such that it could be traversed without difficulty if it lay but a few feet above the level of a garden, the substitution on either side of a precipice some thousands of feet in depth, or of a glacier crevasse, makes no real difference in the work to be executed, but may act intensely on the imagination of a traveller. 

The only means for removing this source of danger is habit; those who cannot accustom themselves to look unmoved down vertical precipices, and, in cases of real difficulty, to fix their attention exclusively upon the ledge or jutting crag to which they must cling with foot or hand, should forego the attempt to take part in expeditions where they will not only expose themselves to danger, but may be the cause of equal danger to others.

Reference

 

From J Ball, “Suggestions for Alpine travellers”, Chapter XVIII, Peaks, Passes, and Glaciers: A series of excursions by members of the Alpine Club, London, 1859. 

 

Wednesday, September 9, 2020

A medieval mash-up

A tale of past and present hinges on an oddly assorted duo

But should an aspirant meizanologist be reading Japanese folk tales? If they happen to be those selected and translated by Royall Tyler, then the answer has to be yes. To quote the book’s blurb, Japanese Tales is a collection of 220 stories from medieval sources that opens “a window into a long-vanished though perennially fascinating culture”.

For the meizanologist, the window gapes wide at Tale 88. Entitled “The wizard of the mountains”, this tale comes from Konjaku Monogatari (Tales of Past and Present), a collection of about a thousand stories that dates back to around 1100 CE. It sketches the life of En-no-Gyōja, known to all readers of this blog as the founder of Japan’s syncretic tradition of mountain religions.

By this account, En-no-Gyōja was a late starter. At the age of 34, he turned his house into a temple, enshrining there an eight-foot tall image of Miroku that he’d made of clay. Then he went to live in a cave in the Katsuragi Mountains in Yamato Province, wearing clothes made of bark and eating only pine needles.

One day, from Ōmine, he caught sight of Shaka Peak from far off, and was struck by its unusual form. This mountain clearly had power. When he went to inspect it more closely, En-no-Gyōja found, hanging from a tree, a tall skeleton with a bell in its left hand and a single-pronged vajra in its right.

The discovery was explained when Miroku appeared to him in a dream. “For seven of your past lives you were an ascetic on this mountain,” the god explained. “The skeleton you found is your own. If you want the bell and the vajra, chant the Mantra of the Peacock King.”

En-no-Gyōja did as he was told, and soon acquired supernatural powers. The scene now shifts to Golden Peak in the Ōmine range. This sacred mountain was believed to have flown in from India, after breaking off from the mountain where the Buddha preached the Lotus Sutra. In 552, during the reign of Emperor Kimmei, it wafted thousands of leagues on a white cloud and landed in Japan.

Seeing how powerful Golden Peak was, En-no-Gyōja thought it should have a god who could help sentient beings toward salvation. To this end, after a thousand days of prayer, he enshrined Zaō Gongen there. He then coopted another god, Hitokotonushi, to build a stone bridge so that his followers could reach Golden Peak.

Understandably, Hitokotonushi jibbed at this forced labour, and denounced En-no-Gyōja to the authorities. This resulted in En-no-Gyōja’s famous exile to Ōshima in the province of Izu. Here he whiled away the time by flying to the top of Mt Fuji every night. But Hitokotonushi continued to intrigue against him at court, so that eventually En-no-Gyōja tired of living in Japan. So instead, he put his mother in a bowl and flew across to China, where he toured every sacred peak.

Accounts of En-no-Gyōja’s life often leave it at that. But the Konjaku Monogatari version adds a final twist. It seems that Monk Taichō, the pioneer of Hakusan, set out on a pilgrimage to the Katsuragi and Ōmine mountains. And there he found Hitokotonushi imprisoned within a mossy boulder. But when Taichō tried to release the refractory god, En-no-Gyōja suddenly appeared and scared him off. And nobody ever tried to free Hitokotonushi again.

To find En-no-gyōja and Taichō facing off in the same story is a surprise, at least to this blogger. Apart from worshipping different deities and climbing different mountains, they are traditionally assigned to different centuries, En-no-gyōja to the seventh and Taichō to the eighth.

Even more widely separated are the primary sources for their legends – En-no-ozunu, another name for En-no-Gyōja, appears as early as 797 CE in the Shoku Nihongi, an early imperial history. Whereas the best-known record of the Taichō legend dates back only to 1325, about six centuries after the Hakusan pioneer is supposed to have lived.

In terms of Western culture, this is a bit like finding Robin Hood suddenly shouldering his way into the court of King Arthur. For King Arthur is a very ancient legend, Robin Hood a much more recent one. Nevertheless, the mythical king and a thinly disguised Robin Hood did eventually show up in the same narrative. This was in T H White’s The Sword in the Stone, a novel published in the 1930s.

Like T H White, the author of the Konjaku-monogatari tale – or a predecessor – must have had a motive for mashing up two distinct stories. Unlike T H White’s case, though, it remains obscure who first brought Taichō into En-no-Gyōja’s story, or when or why. Was it perhaps because religious sects centred around Ōmine or Mt Fuji feared competition from the Hakusan faith? It would be interesting to find out more …

References

Royall Tyler, Japanese Tales, Pantheon Fairy Tale and Folklore Library, 2002

Ohmori Hisao (ed), Hito wa naze yama ni noboru no ka, Heibonsha, Autumn 1998

Monday, August 31, 2020

Mountain heritage

A Swiss exhibition celebrates the creative legacy of an alpinistic family

Centenaries are there to be commemorated. Some century-old stories by the Swiss alpinist and author Charles Gos have recently appeared in translation on this blog. Meanwhile, an exhibition at his home town in Switzerland is now celebrating the artistic oeuvre of the entire Gos dynasty. “Les Gos: une montagne en héritage” opened at the Médiathèque Valais at Martigny in June and runs until 16 January next year.

Pictures at an exhibition

On a rainy August afternoon, we are welcomed into the exhibition by larger-than-life portraits of a talented quartet. These show Albert Gos (1852-1942), the mountain painter and his three sons, François Gos (1880-1975), the eldest and likewise a painter, Charles Gos (1885-1949), the writer, and Emile Gos (1888-1969), the photographer who made the very portraits we are looking at.

The Gos family

All four men loomed large over the alpine culture of their time. As we turn into the exhibition, an expansive panorama by Albert meets our eyes.

Landscape by Albert Gos

He learned his craft between 1870 and 1872 at the Geneva School of Art under Barthélemy Menn (1815-1893), who introduced the principles of plein-air painting into Swiss art.

Albert Gos en plein air

After absorbing that teaching, Albert Gos ran with it. Preferring to paint in the open air, he left the school before graduating. He concentrated on painting mountains, particularly in the Bernese Oberland and the Valais Alps.

Importantly, he could make a decent living with these works. This mattered even more after 1878, when he married Jeanne Monnerat. François, the first of five children, arrived two years later (there were also two daughters). The couple settled first in Geneva before moving to Clarens, a village near Montreux.

The Matterhorm painter

During his most productive decade, the last of the 19th century, Albert was justifiably known as the “Matterhorn artist”. Indeed, one of these paintings features in Charles Gos’s story “Gladys”.

Landscape by Francois Gos

A painting by François Gos hangs close to his father’s work. Modest in scale, its style is a touch more modern than Albert's, as if the artist had imbibed at the same sources as Félix Vallotton (1865-1925). François studied for five years at the Geneva School of Arts and Crafts and at the city’s art academy before, like Vallotton, moving to Paris. Unlike Vallotton, however, Emil had to work in a factory as a decorative artist.

Poster by Francois Gos

On returning to Switzerland, he gave drawing lessons in Clarens. In 1910, he settled in Munich, and later spent three years in Holland before returning to Geneva, making a living with illustration, sculpture and writing, as well as painting. Travel posters were a forte. In 1913, he helped to start up an art school in Lausanne. Like his father, he showed a predilection for the mountain world, both as a climber and a painter.

Charles Gos, alpinist and author

Charles Gos, after studying in Lausanne and Paris, established himself as an author and journalist, focusing on military affairs and alpinism – mostly the latter in his short stories and novels: Pres des névès et des glaciers (1912), La croix du Cervin (1919), Propos d'un alpiniste (1922), Alpinisme anecdotique (1934), and Solitude montagnarde (1943).

In 1918, he married Edmée de Coulon, who died in 1930. In 1934, he took over the management of the mountain books department at the Victor Attinger publishing house in Neuchâtel. He remarried in 1947, and a son was born two years later.

Mountain photography by Emil Gos

The Gos brothers climbed at a high standard, often without guides. Charles Gos knew everybody in the world of alpinism, from the local guides to the prominent climbers who visited the Alps from abroad. He was elected a member of the Alpine Club in 1935, and once secured a half-hour audience with the “climbing pope”, Pius XI. And this without the benefit of a Catholic upbringing - the Gos family came from a sternly Protestant background.

For his part, the youngest son, Emile Gos, completed an apprenticeship as a photographer in Montreux, in the workshop of Rodolphe Schlemmer (1878-1972). He continued his training in German-speaking Switzerland, in Paris, Munich and London before moving back to Clarens and later starting his own studio in Lausanne. In 1939, he married Claire André, who gave him two children.


Making a living with studio portraits and newspaper photography, he left a more durable legacy in landscape and mountain photography – sampled in the exhibition by a compelling slide show of his medium-format images.


In 1922, he filmed his brother Charles’s short story about the Matterhorn cross (“La Croix du Cervin”). This was one of the first films to be shot in the high mountains. Alas, only fragments of the original footage have survived.


Filming La Croix du Cervin

On the way out, we pick up a copy of the well-produced brochure that accompanies the exhibition (CHF 20, including both French and German versions of the text, with photos).


An article by the art historian Maéva Besse points out that, in its day, the Gos family was by no means unique in passing the torch of mountain culture from father to son. On their own doorstep, there were the Töpffers and the van Muydens of Geneva, whose artistic productions spanned two generations. And, over in Chamonix, the Tairraz and Gay-Couttet clans presided for even longer in the world of mountain photography.

Even so, the truly golden age of the mountain artist may have ended with the first world war. From the biographical sketches given in the exhibition brochure, one surmises that François and Emil Gos had to scrabble harder than their father to eke out a living from mountain art.

Writer with a saturnine streak?

As for Charles, his fiction dwells frequently on human fallibility and the dark side of mountaineering, even while recreating the glittering social and alpinistic scenes of the belle époque. And one non-fiction work concerns itself entirely with mountain accidents. This might signify no more than a saturnine streak in the author's personality. Or was he oppressed by a sense that the civilisation he grew up in, and its genial ways of living, were sliding into the abyss, never to be retrieved?

References

Exposition: Les Gos: une montagne en héritage, Médiathèque Valais - Martigny, Av. de la Gare 15, 1920 Martigny, Suisse.

Website of the Gos family: Une famille d'artistes

Monday, August 17, 2020

The case of Séraphin Mochay, alpine guide (4)

Concluded: a tale by Charles Gos from the belle époque of alpinism

"When I came to, slumped against the rock, the sun was tinging the peaks, and my nemesis was still there, lying motionless on the snow. A shiver ran through me and my head throbbed feverishly. "At the twelfth shooting star, you will cut the rope!" The hideous thought flashed back into my mind. Should I die with the dead man, or cut the rope? Die with the dead? The sacrifice would be useless; so cut the rope! But can a guide cut the rope, the bond that ties him to his guest?"

Climbers on a ridge: photo by Marcel Ichac (1906-1994)
Source of photo: John Mitchell Fine Paintings

"Yet that is what I did. With one hand grasping the granite, I opened the largest blade of my military knife with my teeth, and slowly cut into the rope where it was wound tightly around the rock. The strands snapped apart one after the other, and then came a sudden rasping noise as the rope whipped through the air, and Herr Bartmann's body plunged away head-first, his arms splayed out, his legs flailing limply. The rest you know. I spent a second night on the ridge of the Dent Blanche, half-frozen and starving, shattered by that night of horror, and the next evening I arrived in Zermatt, completely speechless, still with the end of the cut rope tied around my waist. Then they took me to court, sentenced me to two years in prison, and stripped me of my guide's diploma, disgraced me. Am I a murderer, a coward, for having cut a rope that tied me to a dead man?"

The smuggler fell silent. Sharing the same fellow-feeling, we stretched out our hands to him. He squeezed them with emotion, but made no other move. He stared at the fire, seeming to see the tragic spectacle dancing in the flames. Two large tears beaded on his eyelashes, trickled down his weatherbeaten cheeks and lost themselves in the hairs of his moustache. After a long time, he seemed to shrug off the visions that were creasing his forehead.

“Now come on, old Séraphin, your conscience is clear, get a grip and stand up. Gentlemen, goodbye. I'm sorry if I've bothered you with my nonsense, but you know how these things get to you, and thank you for your kind hospitality – it was very good of you.” He heaved up his heavy bundle, lit his pipe again, looked up at the lowering sky, and vanished into the gloom.

The sound of his footsteps faded into in the distance. We talked for a while longer, our voices hushed, as if the history we’d heard had stayed with us, casting its shadow of anguish over the company. Then we said good night to each other and huddled into our sleeping-bags.

From time to time, the fire flared up again, rekindled by the wind slipping through the cracks. Or sparks jetted out, lighting up the cave. The embers crackled dryly from time to time. Haunted by the smuggler’s story, I could not sleep, replaying in my mind all the scenes of this eerie drama as it had unfolded, high on the Dent Blanche. The guide clinging to the wall, his eyes stark, his hands bloodied, the rope stiff as a steel cable scouring the snow, and pendant from it, the dead man lolling on his back, the corpse slowly but inexorably dragging the survivor down to his death. The heavens are remarkably calm, a-glitter with stars. The Milky Way is up there, a broad thoroughfare for souls on their way to paradise - and sometimes a shooting star streaks silently by. The guide counts eleven of them, at the twelfth, he will cut the rope - the rope that binds him to a dead man.

At the foot of the smugglers' pass, a solitary figure is laboriously climbing the slope, bent double under his heavy burden. The glows of dawn start to paint the mist-wracked sky and, who knows, the customs officers may be lurking among the rocks on the ridge, their rifles at the ready. Or could it be the avalanche slope that is primed, ready for its plunging ride into the abyss.

As if to drown these reveries, the murmuring of the streams pouring from the Valsorey glacier grew louder in the night.

References

This is an excerpt from Project Hyakumeizan's centennial translation of the third story in La Croix du Cervin (1919), a collection of alpine fiction by Charles Gos (1885-1949). Translation (c) Project Hyakumeizan. This was the story that, in the words of an alpine historian, "greatly agitated the guides of Zermatt".

Thursday, August 13, 2020

The case of Séraphin Mochay, alpine guide (3)

Continued: a tale by Charles Gos from the belle époque of alpinism

It happened on the Dent Blanche. I was climbing with a German client, Herr Bartmann, and I assure you I’ve not forgotten his name. We’d already done some tours together and we got along well. This year, the Dent Blanche was in very bad condition: fresh snow powdered the rocks and we had a lot of snow: the ridges were all corniced. The climbing had been difficult and we’d only reached the summit at two o'clock in the afternoon. To tell the truth, I was a bit apprehensive about the descent because of the soft snow, but we were young, we had the bit between our teeth, and we wouldn’t have given up the climb for anything in the world.

The Dent Blanche: detail from a photo by Gabriel Loppe (1825-1913)

After a short rest at the top, we started down. High up, everything went well, but as we descended, the wet snow sloughed away in small avalanches or clogged up the rock. For safety's sake, we moved very slowly. At five o'clock in the evening we turned the Grand-Gendarme. I remember the time, because the accident happened twenty minutes later. Then we doubled up the rope to come down the middle of the slabs where the Lochmatters came to grief in eighty-two, together with their English client. This was now a sheet of snow-covered ice, into which we had to cut steps. It was hard work, but my guest carved them out like a real mountaineer. Spikes of rock poked out through the ice, marking our passage. The pitch wasn’t so difficult, but it was dangerous enough.

My guest was then twenty meters below me, on a good stance. He was waiting for me to join him and watching the ropework. Suddenly, just as I turned towards the cliff to go down, I got a violent jolt on my back, as if I’d been grabbed by a brutal hand that meant to toss me out into space. I fell a few feet, scraping down the wall, terrified – surely I was gone. But my hands instinctively went for a rocky edge, where I was able to stop myself. The rope was still pulling me viciously, stretched like a steel bar, but I couldn’t see anything below.

“Herr Bartmann! Herr Bartmann!” I yelled, “What’s happening? Get a grip and hold on!”

No answer. I yelled down again. Still nothing.

After five minutes in this position, I couldn't take it anymore. My legs were shaking and my torn-up fingers were stiffening, slowly letting go of their hold.

For the second time, I knew I’d buy it if I didn’t do something. This was nightmarish! By some extraordinary effort, I managed to get up on the slab I’d been hanging off, and the first thing I saw, to my horror, was my guest, hanging on the rope like a sack, head lolling back, arms hanging out, face towards the sky. My first thought was that he was dead. Or, if he’s just passed out, I thought, it wouldn’t be long before he came round again.

“Herr Bartmann! Herr Bartmann!” I shouted again. But what had happened? Will we ever find out? Anyway, gentlemen, as I said on the day I was sentenced, nothing had fallen on us, not a stone, not an ice-block. Herr Bartmann must have had some sort of attack and slumped over, without saying a word.

A thought struck me: I swung the rope, but the body just trembled a bit and then was still; I tried again, and it was the same. So you can see how I was placed. It was absolutely impossible for me to do what had to be done to rescue my guest – either haul him up to me, or let myself down to him. Oh, this corpse who was dragging me into the abyss! For a moment, I thought I’d go mad. I screamed, I sobbed, I groaned... An hour passed, the most terrible hour of my life. My strength was fading, and I all but let myself fall rather than draw out the agony. Then I managed to hitch the rope around a rock. I thought I was almost saved. Evening came, then night and its solemn silence amid the peace of these great white glaciers and the serried mountains!

It was a beautiful summer night, crowded with stars. I could see everything very clearly – and how my life would end, as a bundle tied to a rope lying the snow. Well, sirs, one curious detail comes back to me: I counted eleven shooting stars that night, as they arced over me through the dark sky, so bright but so quick to snuff out that they somehow touched me to the heart. And I said to myself that, when I saw a twelfth shooting star, I would cut the rope. But I never did see a twelfth, as I then fainted away.

(To be concluded)

References

This is an excerpt from Project Hyakumeizan's centennial translation of the third story in La Croix du Cervin (1919), a collection of alpine fiction by Charles Gos (1885-1949). Translation (c) Project Hyakumeizan. This was the story that, in the words of an alpine historian, "greatly agitated the guides of Zermatt".

Monday, August 10, 2020

The case of Séraphin Mochay, alpine guide (2)

Continued: a tale by Charles Gos from the belle époque of alpinism

We had been sitting round the fire for barely an hour, smoking our pipes, when all of a sudden we were surprised to hear a strange noise. It sounded as if some animal, attracted by the glow of the bivouac, had paused in its tracks, startled after sniffing a human spoor.

Engraving of the Valsorey environs
Image courtesy of the Cantonal and University Library of Lausanne (Viaticalps)

We sensed an invisible presence. Something was spying on us, watching us – we didn’t know how, but we could feel it. The same sixth sense made us turn towards the opening. We saw nothing but the night and the streaks of snowflakes wavering in the fleeting light of the campfire. A chamois, somebody said.

But no chamois could have been there, so late on a snowy night like this one!

We strained our ears in vain; the noise did not come again. Even so, I couldn’t relax. An indefinable something told me that someone was watching and spying on us, that an alien somebody was out there, disturbing our peace.

Suddenly, the noise came again, footsteps crunched on the pebbles, and a voice rang out, making us jump:

“Evening, all!”

A snow-dusted man appeared, bent down under the archway, threw a huge grey bundle to the ground and walked towards the fire.

Quickly recovering from our surprise, we greeted the stranger politely. We made a space for him; he pulled a bottle out of his pocket and took a nip of brandy.

“I took you for Italian customs officers at first," he said, "and we saw them prowling up to the camp at Roz last week, those carrion-eaters! Also, I didn’t want to be judged by my profession, but when I saw your axes and ropes, I said to myself they’re good people; you can trust them. And so here I am: Séraphin Mochay, formerly a guide.

Tall and well-built, the man was getting on for fifty. A broad kerchief of greying beard framed his honest face. The snow was slowly melting in the folds of his robe and on his shoes. As he spoke, he tamped tobacco into his pipe and lit it up with a twig from the fire.

We quickly warmed to each other’s company. Our new acquaintance, who had been smuggling for years, was about to cross the Valsorey Pass, alone, at dawn, in order to carry 45 kilos of prohibited foodstuffs over to the other side. He was undaunted by the fog and snow. On the contrary. He told his story with a natural bonhomie and a sober simplicity that I had to admire. What a man!

More than once, he said "When I was a guide", as if proudly highlighting this allusion to former times. And then I suddenly remembered: this Séraphin Mochay, smuggler, must be the same Séraphin Mochay who’d been sentenced to gaol and struck off from the roster of guides for having cut the rope during a mountain accident. I had heard this hoary story told a number of time: the agonising moral dilemma it raised seemed to be beyond the power of reason to resolve. Attempting a neutral tone of voice, I ventured to ask when he’d been a guide? But wasn’t that a long time ago? And wasn’t it you who... He interrupted me, his face creased into a frown.

“That's me, yes. They accused me of cutting the rope; and that's true; I did cut the rope; but (here the smuggler took the pipe out of his mouth), but I swear to you, gentlemen, that when I cut it, my client was already dead. But the scoundrels wouldn't believe me, or, if they did, they still wanted to blame me. And the rest of them hounded me out of the valley and banned me from being a guide again!”

His voice trembled; the colour had drained out of his face.

“Oh! if I could give you my side of this case, as I would give it to a tribunal, shout it out to the whole valley, this man would be innocent, do you hear? Innocent!”

I can still see him crouching by that bivouac fire, in the full red light of the flames, as he told his story. And when somebody speaks like that, you have to believe them. There are moments in life that bring home the facts with a force that is more certain than actual experience itself. And there, a stone's throw from the glaciers, amid the snow and the wind, the old guide could not lie. And so, quite straightforwardly, he told us his story.

(To be continued)

References

This is an excerpt from Project Hyakumeizan's centennial translation of the third story in La Croix du Cervin (1919), a collection of alpine fiction by Charles Gos (1885-1949). Translation (c) Project Hyakumeizan. This was the story that, in the words of an alpine historian, "greatly agitated the guides of Zermatt".

Monday, August 3, 2020

The case of Séraphin Mochay, alpine guide (1)

Another tale by Charles Gos from the belle époque of alpinism

For Guido Rey

There was no Valsorey Hut at that time.

This was one of my first alpine tours, with my brother and a friend. We were climbing without a guide. I was a novice, and my two seniors, both excellent mountaineers, were training me up on difficult routes. The season had started badly: June was coming to an end and in two weeks we hadn't seen three fine days. It snowed every night down to the edge of the pastures, and still the heavy grey clouds came piling in from the east, lowering over the valleys and sending down flurries of snow.

Smugglers on the Grand St Bernard Pass (old postcard)
Photo by courtesy of notrehistoire.ch

One evening, with another storm on our heels, we came up into the Valsorey valley. God! What a grim amphitheatre of peaks, and we were going to spend the night there. Shrouding the Velan and the Combin, the fog drifted dolefully on the wind. Snowpatches streaked the monotonous grey of the scree and moraines and, up there under the glacier, yesterday’s snow carpeted the boulder terraces, picking out their contours; some stray rays of sunlight had melted everything underneath. Sodden rakes of grass covered the valley bottom. We would have much preferred to bed down in some chalet, on hay perfumed with fennel and mint, rather than the uninviting bivouac that awaited us. But instead of retreating, we kept on upwards. Some black birds, standing ponderously on a rock, flapped away on silent wings, and suddenly it started to snow. That was all we needed! We quickened our pace towards the dark loom of a rocky shoulder, where surely we would find some niche to bivouac in. And there indeed we found a place, more hospitable than we’d dared hope, dry grass and shingle on the floor, and a solid granite roof three metres thick. We’d fallen on our feet.

Now to make some soup. The wood was wet, the fire wouldn't take, but finally, the flames licked out, crackling and cracking, chasing away the smoke that was making us cry.

On the pallid slopes, a spectral light filtered through a rift in the fog, vaguely illuminating the hollow of the valley, where night was already creeping in. It was no longer snowing. The dripping rocks were dark. From outside, a voice called to me:

"Let’s take a look at the smugglers' pass!”

“The smugglers' pass, where’s that?”

I went out, and my companion motioned for me to follow. We walked for a few minutes, heading for the fantastic landscape created by this unexpected play of light.

“The smugglers' pass: it's that ice-slope over there, in the clear patch. It’s actually the Col de Valsorey, but I’m calling it like it is, because this is the smugglers' favourite way over. And quite a few have snuffed it there. Just a winter ago, six of them fell into those crevasses. They’re rough and ready folk, though good people in their way in spite of what they do. They don’t get much sympathy around here, so they deserve a mention in this bleak patch of earth that’s buried so many of them.”

The snowy cliffs were gradually fading, as the mists pierced by the ray of light thickened again. Here and there, the snow piled up on outcrops of rock. Ridges cut into their arched spines. Little snow-slides had made regular smears down the flanks of the Velan. You could still make out the glaciers by the chaos of their snow-covered pinnacles and sagging crevasses. Then night came on and the darkened mists slithered towards the valley.

We made our way back to the bivouac in a sombre mood. But the red gleam of our fire, relieving the darkness, cheered us up. Under the rock, the flames crackled and the soup smelled appetising. We sat down on our sheepskins, the warm bowls clutched in our hands, and everyone took his share of cheese and his slice of brown bread. While eating, we talked about smugglers. In this vile weather, they had a good game. “Wouldn’t be surprising,” my brother said “if we didn’t get a visit from them tonight!”

Little did he know what he was saying.

(To be continued)

References

This is an excerpt from Project Hyakumeizan's centennial translation of the third story in La Croix du Cervin (1919), a collection of alpine fiction by Charles Gos (1885-1949). Translation (c) Project Hyakumeizan. This was the story that, in the words of an alpine historian, "greatly agitated the guides of Zermatt".


Friday, July 31, 2020

Images and ink (43)




Image: View of the Hörnli Ridge (Photo courtesy of Alpine Light & Structure)

Ink: From The cross of the Matterhorn, being Project Hyakumeizan's centennial translation of La Croix du Cervin (1919) by Charles Gos.

On the Zermatt side yawns the terrifying abyss, its sheer drop streaked with snowy edges, glazed with patches of shimmering ice, and plated with blackened walls. The cliff falls away, steepens, curves downwards and drops into nothingness. The pallid gleam, far below, is the glacier onto which Whymper’s unfortunate companions tumbled, shattered in every limb. Further off, and to the right, are discerned the tawny chalets of Zmutt and, lower still, the village of Zermatt straddling the Visp, with its smudges of building activity. No other summit in the Alps, perhaps in the world, gives such a chilling sensation of emptiness as does the Matterhorn. In its splendid isolation, the peak simply stands there, seeming to touch the sky, like some great reef engulfed and battered by the void....

Face à Zermatt, dévale le monstrueux abîme: à pic formidable, tacheté de franges neigeuses, poli de plaques glacées miroitantes et barbelé de murs noircis. La pente file, se raidit, arque son échine et s'éclipse, c'est le vide... puis, le glacier d'une blancheur candide, où roulèrent, fracassés, les infortunés compagnons de Whymper. Plus bas, en ligne droite, on distingue les chalets bronzés de Z'mutt, et plus bas encore, Zermatt, à cheval sur la Viège, avec ses pâtés de constructions... Nulle cime dans les Alpes entières — dans le monde peut-être ! — ne donne autant que celle du Cervin la frissonnante sensation du vide. Dans son splendide isolement, la pyramide du mont est là, comme un écueil géant cerné par la mer, cernée, elle, par le vide, battue par le vide béant de tous côtés, et sem- ble toucher le ciel....

Monday, July 20, 2020

"Gladys" (9)

Concluded: a tale by Charles Gos from the belle époque of alpinism

No one replied, but we saw a flake of ice shining in the small of her back, embedded in the flesh, that seemed to rise and fall all but imperceptibly. Gladys was breathing!

The Matterhorn at sunrise, a painting by Albert Gos
Opening her mouth, which was frighteningly slack, we poured brandy down her throat. Her complexion was completely white. Her nostrils didn’t twitch, her eyes stayed closed and her ears frozen white. The expression of sheer terror on her face spoke eloquently of the torments she’d endured. It was the grimace of a corpse. We tried in vain to lift her leaden weight: the ice had welded Gladys to the glacier, as if they were one and the same thing.

This was ghastly. To release her from that monstrous embrace, and to avoid hurting her, we had to patiently dig her icy body out of the snow that gripped it and to cut away her tresses. Then we set her down on a blanket, putting a coil of rope under her head, and started to rub her down with alcohol. The clots of snow on her started to melt, all too slowly.

What grim and dismal work this was. And what a picture we must have made, we three men, silently kneeling on the glacier around this lifeless figure, half unrobed, under the flickering light of the lanterns hanging from our ice axes! The light reflected in glints from her golden tresses, mingling in the snow, amid a patch of darkness, a remnant of beauty abandoned to the glacier.

A hint of dawn started to flow around the horizon, projecting the outline of the ridges more clearly against the sky. And as if climbing back from death to life, in a kind of trance, Gladys opened her eyes under the fading stars.

For ten months after this hazardous rescue, Gladys made a slow recovery from pneumonia with complications, hovering a long while between life and death. She came close to losing her frost-bitten feet and hands, but in the end only the little finger of her right hand had to be amputated. On medical advice, the Earl set out with his wife for the island of Ceylon. Only there could the sun finally triumph over the fatal malady she’d contracted in the icy grip of the Tiefenmatten Glacier.

Towards the middle of the following spring, a letter from Gladys reassured me that she had made a good recovery and gave me a rather remarkable account of that terrible night on the glacier. As it documents her state of mind at that time, it might be worthwhile for me to reproduce the letter here, to accompany the above outline of the story of her first accident:

Kandy (Ceylon), Spring 19...

My dear friend, you will doubtless be surprised to receive this letter instead of the promised impressions of our trip to the Temple of the Moon Festival; but let that be as it may. Oliver says you would be interested, and that I should have written about this a long time ago. He may be right. But, you know, I still feel uneasy about this shred of the past, and I’m somehow reluctant to revisit it. Sometimes, I can’t stop this sense of dread overtaking me, and dark images come back to torment me, before subsiding into the depths of whatever subconscious lurks beneath our souls. And then, leaving the sense of dread aside, there is my right hand, my poor little finger, as a hideous reminder.

Alas! I can’t get used to this mutilation, and I have stopped playing the piano for good and all. Sometimes I used to forget myself, but suddenly one note or other wouldn’t play. Then I remembered, but those were dreadful moments and I burst into tears at the keyboard. Then the doctors said I shouldn’t practise anymore because of my nerves, and I did as I was told. I feel like I’ve reached the summit of my life’s trajectory, and now I’m rapidly slipping down the descending arc. 

But let me return to the accident. How can I talk to you about it when, around me, bamboos and palm fronds rustle in the musky airs of this Hindu land? Isn’t it some nightmare that I am about to summon up? My husband told you about our fall. So you have already heard how an avalanche took us in the Penhall Couloir, carrying us down onto the Tiefenmatten glacier, at the foot of the Z’mutt face.

Lifted by a wave of snow, I slid on my back, arms crossed, while the cataract burst around me. Then nothing. Oblivion. When I came to, I found myself alone in the rubble of the avalanche. Crushed by the silence, battered and half buried, I couldn’t grasp what had happened, so much did the horror of the situation dull my senses and, feeling my whole body float away as if under the sway of an anaesthetic, I fainted again. From then on until I regained consciousness, thanks to you, at the end of that tragic night, my mind was so shattered by the fall, exhaustion and shock that it was taken over by some sort of hallucination.

This is what I saw: I was lying limply in a meadow at the foot of a cherry tree in full bloom. The sky was a pure blue and the sun projected onto the green grass the oval shadow of the tree with its exquisite white blossoms. A silver-glinting stream meandered away between mossy banks. Suddenly, by some sleight that seemed perfectly natural to me, another blossoming tree appeared, and then three, four, five, and five and six more, until the previously empty meadow was full of trees. 

Now it was a shimmering vault of white and pink flowers, all under the tender blue of the sky. A delicious freshness wafted from the snowy branches; the flowers were filled with an enervating sweetness, while their petals, as if freighted with dreams, slowly floated away down the stream. I was bemused by this feast of light, of smells, of flowers and colours. A voluptuous numbness flowed through me. It was enchanting just to be alive.

Yet, I didn’t feel alone. Someone else was lying not far from me, someone who was like a stranger to this landscape that I alone could see. I could sense this presence without being able to define it. But who was with me in this paradise? Who was there? I wanted to know, but I could not. As if half asleep, and in spite of some hidden urge to regain consciousness, I was all but unable to respond, almost drowning in this intoxicating torpor. My willpower was slipping away, my thinking became drowsier and drowsier, washing away any shreds of energy that I could summon to make the mental efforts to find out...

Suddenly, the illusion vanished. I no longer felt this presence weighing on my delirious imagination; that enigmatic somebody was no longer there and I found myself alone in the enchanting meadow. And suddenly the light of the sun reddened. A ruddy glare now lit the white blossoms. The blue sky gave way to a leaden one, streaked with long pale plumes. The air caught fire, choking me. The meadow turned red, withering the blossoms and parching the waters of the stream under the desiccated trees. 

Astonished even more by this unaccustomed heat than by the landscape’s sudden transformation – nothing surprises one in a dream, does it? – I begin to strip off my clothes. A pink flame stretches out towards me, burning. I have to escape, run somewhere, to breathe, to cool myself ... but find myself rooted to the spot, transfixed by this searing pink flame; and to escape it I’m stripping off my clothes to the waist. I throw out my arms to push it back, but expose my whole front to the flame. A sensation of heat sears through me, unbelievably brutal. No more than half-aware in my unconsciousness, I somehow sense that this flame, although no hotter than before, has wrapped itself, coiled itself around me, crushing me...

I want to struggle, I claw, I bite, but my strength gives out at once, paralysing me. I choke as the noose tightens. I want to scream, but no sound comes out of my throat. The noose tightens, tightens, crushing me. Then I have the distinct sensation that, in the midst of my swoon, I am fainting away.

When I opened my eyes again, you were bending over me by the light of lanterns and in the dark of night. I have often tried to explain this nightmare to myself, which is more of a hallucination than a dream. A friend of ours from here, an officer that I’ve talked about it, told me that in the course of a geographical expedition to the mountains of Kashmir, he experienced something quite similar. Exhausted, at the end of his tether, he fell asleep on his feet while staggering through the scree of a moraine. A phantasmagorical landscape appeared in front of him, obliterating the real world so completely that he forgot who his companions were and even his own name. He called this a “paranormal mirage”. In explaining my own “paranormal mirage”, I feel it’s simpler to call it a “landscape of lies”.

The white blossoms can only recall the snow that passed over my retina during the fall. As for the rest of the scenery, that must have been dreamed up by my hallucinating mind. You can imagine what sort of physical and mental state I was in after being avalanched all the way down from the Z’mutt ridge. The presence that I couldn’t recognise, that must have been Oliver lying next to me; and I started to feel alone when he went off by himself. The crimson sun reddening the white blossoms was surely a kind of transformation of the setting sun’s glare on the snowy flanks of the Dent d’Hérens – which I somehow picked up on. Just then, in a fit of madness brought on by the fever, I no doubt started to strip off my clothing. And, immediately, the snow touching my skin brought about the burning sensation corresponding to the pink flame. You can imagine how this terrifying drama should have ended, the struggle of a crazed, half-naked woman, struggling in the grip of the snow at the bottom of a remote glacier, and slowly freezing to death.

And then this postscript, by way of a preface to her impending doom: “We plan to return to England, via Genoa and the Alps next July. (Alas, this time without a climb!) But Courmayeur might tempt us. Could we meet up there?”

Alas, no, my dear and precious friend, never were we able to meet again, except at your little grave nestling in the shadow of the glaciers. Wounded on the Matterhorn and fallen on Mont Blanc. Poor Gladys. My imagination, darkened at first, brightens again as your luminous memory blossoms in me.

And I try to imagine that you died amid the struggle and exaltation of achieving some high peak, just as you liked them, real or allegorical. I remember you, Gladys, on that radiant morning, on the snowy heights of the Teufelsgrat, silent and ecstatic, when those words came to your lips – and now I repeat them on the other side of your tomb: “And you, ye Mountains, why are ye beautiful?”

References

This is an excerpt from Project Hyakumeizan's centennial translation of the second story in La Croix du Cervin (1919), a collection of alpine fiction by Charles Gos (1885-1949). Translation (c) Project Hyakumeizan.

Saturday, July 4, 2020

"Gladys" (8)

Continued: a tale by Charles Gos from the belle époque of alpinism

That evening, my brothers and I were the only guests at the small hotel on the Staffel Alp. The season was coming to an end. Although the fine weather had lasted longer than usual, the tourists were thinning out. The high pastures were deserted. Near the hotel, three cows without bells were grazing among the dried-up rhododendrons and the blueberry plants with their reddening leaves. The early twilights smelled of autumn. The evenings were cool and the nights cold. Every morning, frost would whiten the tawny grass. But, during the day, what a rich array of colours there was in that splendid October radiance, where the shadows flow like light itself. Now completely bare of snow, the glaciers sparkled, as if scoured and polished.

The Matterhorn by moonlight: a painting by Albert Gos

For a few days, we had been strolling, aimlessly and listlessly, through the pastures and the terraced moraines below the Matterhorn. Seen from the Staffel Alp, from so close and so low down, the Matterhorn looked twisted, heaving itself laboriously upwards like some colossal ruin. The season’s melancholy only added to its monstrous splendour. But we’d decided to leave, and the next day we would go over the Breuiljoch and down our beloved Valtournanche during the peaceful evening hours.

It might have been ten o'clock that night. We were about to retire to our rooms when a violent hammering on the door of the inn halted us in our tracks. Footsteps creaked along the hallway. Words were exchanged through the bolted door. Perhaps some benighted party arriving from Schönbühl? A key grated in the lock and the door opened. We heard an exclamation of horror. At the same time, we heard another voice, gasping, disjointed, a voice we recognised. We looked at each other in wild surmise:

“Fairness!”

“What?”

“Alone!”

Fearing the worst, we hurled ourselves down the stairs, four at a time. In the dining room, a guttering lamp revealed a maid, wringing her hands, and in front of her, there stood Fairness, without a jacket or waistcoat, his shirt in tatters, hatless, his hair a mess, face pallid and grim, trousers ripped and mud-stained. Pack, ice-axe and rope were nowhere to be seen. A bloody gash lacerated his forehead, dried blood and dirt streaked his hands. This is what death in the mountains looks like. Fearfully, we rattled out our questions:

“Gladys?”

“The Countess?”

“An accident?”

As if dazed and staring blankly, Fairness stammered out:

“We’ve had an accident. No, not dead - Gladys isn’t dead!”

Draining off a cognac in one gulp, he ran his red hand over his red forehead, like an automaton. Then the pain must have jarred him awake: looking up, he only then seemed to see and recognise us, apparently astonished as we were at this extraordinary meeting.

After our traverse of the Täschhorn by the Teufelsgrat, we'd gone our separate ways. The Fairnesses had moved to Cogne, and we had left for the Bernese Oberland. Now, after two months, this unheard-of chance had brought us together again at the foot of the Matterhorn, but this time under such unfortunate circumstances. But this was no time for reminiscences or narratives.

“We were coming down the Z'mutt ridge,” Fairness went on in that matter-of-fact way of his, “Just Gladys and I. From the Italian hut, we’d topped out by Carrel’s route. Conditions were fine on the descent as far as the couloir, but we couldn’t get down further, as there was verglas everywhere, so we kept to the face. Then we were avalanched in the Penhall couloir; it threw us onto the Tiefenmatten glacier. The fall was terrible – I was out for a while. When I came to, Gladys was still unconscious... I wrapped her in my jacket and got here as quickly I could. She's a hundred metres below the rimaye.”

We resolved to leave at once on our rescue mission. After throwing our gear together and lighting our lanterns, we went out into the night, ahead of Fairness and a porter. That unfortunate man, with all his sprains and bruises, followed us at a distance, making a desperate effort to overcome his sufferings. The gnarled limbs of the last pine trees loomed in the darkness. Pebbles grated harshly under our feet on the path. Sheep bleated as we disturbed them; a bell tinkled somewhere. The grass gave way to scree. And before us, like a coastal dune, the black mass of a moraine rose up against the stars. Beyond it lay the icy expanse of the Z'mutt glacier. We wove our way between boulders, stumbling over the ice and the scree, leaping over crevasses, the noise of water rumbling up from their black depths. No breath of wind ruffled the night. The stars twinkled in the still and utterly pure air.

Under the Matterhorn’s dark bulk, we could just about make out the white slash of its glacier, from which sounded the dull murmur of torrents. As we climbed, there were fewer blocks, and the rubble gave way to broader stretches of rough ice. The slope steepened, then eased again. The sky opened up, revealing a new set of constellations. The Tiefenmatten gully loomed in front of us.

We’d come up here in one push, driven by our fears for Gladys, who was dying or perhaps dead. Mountain veterans as we were, inured to fear, we trembled at the thought of having to retrieve a shattered body, pitiful and broken. Exhausted by our efforts, we took a moment's rest on some rocks that had fallen from the Z'mutt ridge. The frigid air cooled our sweating faces and we felt the blood hammering in our veins. A long way below us, we could clearly hear the Count's party moving up and we saw the glow of their lanterns.

Now we uncoiled the ropes and put on crampons. Roped up and widely spaced, we set off again over the hard snows of the Tiefenmatten Glacier. Was she dead or was she alive? The Matterhorn kept its counsel, browbeating us with its dark menace. Quickly arriving on the edge of the first terrace, we struggled to get our bearings. We tried to penetrate the darkness with our lanterns held high, but all we could see was a vague expanse of gray, sloping up into the gloom. Hard by, the Matterhorn loomed majestically into the night, its enormous bulk blotting out the stars in a whole quadrant of the sky. Even so, our eyes were getting used to the pallid light reflected from the snow. Now we could make out the mouth of the couloir and its bounding rimaye, bridged by the avalanche track. It was this below this sinister chasm, stretching from the Dent d'Hérens to the Matterhorn, that we had to make our search for Gladys. No sound of water broke the petrified silence. The darkness hovered thicker there, and the cold bit more deeply into us.

To assuage our fear in the face of this nothingness, I shouted out her name at the top of my voice. We waited, breathing hoarsely and with our hearts pounding. Then, attenuated by the night, the echo reached us - “Gladys” - the syllables of that pleasant name reverberating through space from the rocks lodged among the stars.

Now, more full of fears than ever, we launched ourselves into the darkness, scrambling over crevasses and across snow-bridges, scoring the ice with our sharp crampons. A hundred metres under the rimaye, we reached the avalanche zone, a chaos of snow boulders, pulverised ice, stones and earth. The snow had cascaded out of the couloir, which was now hanging right above us, and, fanning out, had ploughed a sort of giant trench with smooth, hard walls. We clambered up this rim, stopping every five paces to lift our lanterns and search the track of the snowslide. This extraordinary sight brought home to us the avalanche’s destructiveness, and we asked ourselves how Fairness could have escaped alive – and if his companion would too. We would soon find out. We hadn’t been searching for more than an hour, when one of us shouted:

“There!”

In the gleam of the lanterns, at the centre of the patch of light surrounded by darkness, a body lay flat on its stomach, stiff as a corpse, and exposed to the hips. It was Gladys, one leg bent under her, her arms flung out towards the Matterhorn in a gesture of supplication or self-defence. Around her the snow was indented with strange tramplings, as if some violent struggle had taken place. Garments, cloths, a pack, a rope, a hat were strewn about. Footprints and bloodstains showed the way the earl had gone. And there was the woman, leaning on her cheek, her lovely, finely drawn profile, the delicate features, the clenched fingers, her sunburned colour, that beautiful golden hair now disarrayed, muddied and matted with earth, looking as if she’d died in agony. We stood there and felt the pity of it, this tragic martyrdom of a mountaineer. Somebody spoke:

“She’s dead.”

(To be continued)

References

This is an excerpt from Project Hyakumeizan's centennial translation of the second story in La Croix du Cervin (1919), a collection of alpine fiction by Charles Gos (1885-1949). Translation (c) Project Hyakumeizan.