Super AlpineSuper Alpine

Scrambles Amongst the Alps

by Edward Whymper


Subsequent ascents of the Matterhorn

Mr. Craufurd Grove was the first traveler who ascended the Matterhorn after the accident. This was in August, 1867. He took with him as guides three mountaineers of the Val Tournanche - J.-A. Carrel, J. Bich and S. Meynet, Carrel being the leader. The natives of Val Tournanche were, of course, greatly delighted that his ascent was made upon their side. Some of them, however, were by no means well pleased that J.-A. Carrel was so much regarded. They feared, perhaps, that he would acquire the monopoly of the mountain. Just a month after Mr. Grove’s ascent, six Val Tournanchians set out to see whether they could not learn the route, and so come in for a share of the good things which were expected to arrive. They were three Maquignazes, Cæsar Carrel (my old guide), J.-B. Carrel, and a daughter of the last named! They left Breuil at 5.00 a.m. on September 12, and at 3.00 p.m. arrived at the hut, where they passed the night. At 7.00 a.m. the next day they started again (leaving J.-B. Carrel behind), and proceeded along the “shoulder” to the final peak; passed the cleft which had stopped Bennen, and clambered up the comparatively easy rocks on the other side until they arrived at the base of the last precipice, down which we had hurled stones on July 14, 1865. They (young woman and all) were then about three hundred and fifty feet from the summit! Then, instead of turning to the left, as Carrel and Mr. Grove had done, Joseph and J.-Pierre Maquignaz paid attention to the cliff in front of them, and managed to find a means of passing up, by clefts, ledges and gullies, to the summit. This was a shorter (and it appears to be an easier) route than that taken by Carrel and Grove, and it has been followed by all those who have since then ascended the mountain from the side of Breuil. Subsequently, a rope was fixed over the most difficult portions of the final climb.

In the mean time they had not been idle upon the other side. A hut was constructed upon the eastern face at a height of 12,526 feet above the sea, near to the crest of the ridge which descends toward Zermatt (north-east ridge). This was done at the expense of Monsieur Seller and of the Swiss Alpine Club. Mons. Seller placed the execution of the work under the direction of the Knubels, of the village of St. Nicholas, in the Zermatt valley; and Peter Knubel, along with Joseph Marie Lochmatter of the same village, had the honour of making the second ascent of the mountain upon the northern side with Mr. Elliott. This took place on July 24 and 25, 1868. Since then numerous ascents have been made, and of these the only one which calls for mention is that by Signer Giordano, on September 3-5, 1868. This gentleman came to Breuil several times after his famous visit in 1865, with the intention of making the ascent, but he was always baffled by weather. In July, 1866, he got as high as the “cravate” (with J.-A. Carrel and other men), and was detained there five days and nights, unable to move either up or down! At last, upon the above-named date, he was able to gratify his desires, and accomplished the feat of ascending the mountain upon one side and descending it upon the other. Signor Giordano is, I believe, the only geologist who has ascended the Matterhorn. He spent a considerable time in the examination of its structure, and became benighted on its eastern face in consequence.

Denudation in the valley of the Durance

In the summer of 1869, whilst walking up the valley of the Durance from Mont Dauphin to Briançon, I noticed, when about five kilometres from the latter place, some pinnacles on the mountain-slopes to the west of the road. I scrambled up, and found the remarkable natural pillars which are represented in the annexed engraving. They were formed out of an unstratified conglomerate of gritty earth, boulders and stones. Some of them were more thickly studded with stones than a plum-pudding usually is with plums, whilst from others the stones projected like the spines from an echinoderm. The earth (or mud) was extremely hard and tenacious, and the stones embedded in it were extricated with considerable difficulty. The mud adhered very firmly to the stones that were got out, but it was readily washed away in a little stream near at hand. In a few minutes I extracted fragments of syenite, mica-schist, several kinds of limestone and conglomerates, and some fossil plants characteristic of carboniferous strata. Most of the fragments were covered with scratches, which told that they had traveled underneath a glacier. The mud had all the character of glacier-mud, and the hillside was covered with drift. From these indications, and from the situation of the pinnacles, I concluded that they had been formed out of an old moraine. The greatest of them were sixty to seventy feet high, and the moraine had therefore been at least that height. I judged from appearances that the moraine was a frontal-terminal one of a glacier which had been an affluent of the great glacier that formerly occupied the valley of the Durance, and which during retrogression had made a stand upon this hillside near Sachas. This lateral glacier had flowed down a nameless vallon which descends toward the east-south-east from the mountain called upon the French government map Sommet de l’Eychouda (8740 feet).

Only one of all the pinnacles that I saw was capped by a stone (a small one), and I did not notice any boulders lying in their immediate vicinity of a size sufficient to account for their production in the manner of the celebrated pillars near Botzen. The readers of Sir Charles Lyell’s Principles (10th ed., vol. i., p. 338) will remember that he attributes the formation of the Botzen pillars chiefly to the protection which boulders have afforded to the underlying matter from the direct action of rain. This is no doubt correct: the Botzen pinnacles are mostly capped by boulders of considerable dimensions. In the present instance this does not appear to have been exactly the case. Running water has cut the moraine into ridges (shown upon the right hand of the engraving), and has evidently assisted in the work of denudation. The group of pinnacles here figured belonged, in all probability, to a ridge which had been formed in this way, whose crest, in course of time, became sharp, perhaps attenuated. In such a condition very small stones upon the crest of the ridge would originate little pinnacles: whether these would develop into larger ones would depend upon the quantity of stones embedded in the surrounding moraine-matter. I imagine that the largest of the Sachas pinnacles owe their existence to the portions of the moraine out of which they are formed having been studded with a greater quantity of stones and small boulders than the portions of the moraine which formerly filled the gaps between them; and, of course, primarily, to the facts that glacier-mud is extremely tenacious when dry, and is readily washed away. Thus, the present form of the pinnacles is chiefly due to the direct action of rain, but their production was assisted, in the first instance, by the action of running water.