Wednesday, December 2, 2020

"Mode of Travelling in the High Alps" (5)

From Edward Whymper's Scrambles amongst the Alps

Alpine advice from a founder of modern mountaineering

The danger of ice and fragments of rock falling on travellers in high mountains, may, to a great extent, be avoided by a judicious choice of route. Experience and observation enable a traveller to recognise at once the positions in which ice is detached from a higher level, and falls abruptly over a precipice, or steep slope of rock. 

In certain situations this is a matter of hourly occurrence, especially in warm weather, and as the falling ice never keeps together in a single mass, but breaks into blocks of various sizes, up to three or four hundred weight, positive risk is incurred by passing in the track of their descent. 

The guides are usually alive to this source of danger, and very careful to avoid it, unless in case of absolute necessity; it is considerably diminished when the exposed place is passed early in the morning, before the sun has reached the upper plateau from which the ice is detached, or late in the evening, after his rays have been withdrawn. 

The least avoidable, but also the most unusual, source of danger in Alpine excursions, arises from the fall of rocks, which may strike the traveller in their descent, or else detach themselves while he is in the act of climbing over them. The first accident is more frequent during, or immediately after, bad weather, and need scarcely count among the ordinary perils of Alpine travel; the second is almost peculiar to limestone rocks, which, especially in the dolomite region of the eastern Alps, often have their outer surface broken into loose and treacherous blocks, that yield to the pressure of hand or foot. Close attention, aided by some experience, will direct the traveller to test the stability of each projecting crag, so as to avoid unnecessary risk. 


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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