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.

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. 

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