The Val Tournanche - the Breuiljoch Zermatt - Ascent of the Grand Tournalin
I crossed the Channel on the of July, 1863, embarrassed by the possession of two ladders, each twelve feet long, which joined together like those used by firemen, and shut up like parallel rulers. My luggage was highly suggestive of housebreaking, for, besides these, there were several coils of rope and numerous tools of suspicious appearance; and it was reluctantly admitted into France, but it passed through the custom-house with less trouble than I anticipated, after a timely expenditure of a few francs.
I am not in love with the douane. It is the purgatory of travellers, where uncongenial spirits mingle together for a time before they are separated into rich and poor. The douaniers look upon tourists as their natural enemies: see how eagerly they pounce upon the portmanteaus! One of them has discovered something. He has never seen its like before, and he holds it aloft in the the face of its owner with inquisitorial insolence: “But what is this?” The explanation is but half satisfactory “But what is this?” says he, laying hold of a little box. “Powder.” “But that is forbidden to carry of powder on the railway.” “Bah!” says another and older hand, “pass the effects of monsieur;” and our countryman - whose cheeks had begun to redden under the stares of his fellow-travellers - is allowed to depart with his half-worn tooth-brush, while the discomfited douanier gives a mighty shrug at the strange habits of those “whose insular position excludes them from the march of continental ideas.”
My real troubles commenced at Susa. The officials there, more honest and more obtuse than the Frenchmen, declined at one and the same time to be bribed or to pass my baggage until a satisfactory account of it was rendered; and as they refused to believe the true explanation, I was puzzled what to say, but was presently relieved from the dilemma by one of the men, who was cleverer than his fellows, suggesting that I was going to Turin to exhibit in the streets - that I mounted the ladder and balanced myself on the end of it, then lighted my pipe and put the point of the baton in its bowl, and caused the baton to gyrate around my head. The rope was to keep back the spectators, and an Englishman in my company was the agent. “Monsieur is acrobat, then?” “Yes, certainly.” “Pass the effects of monsieur the acrobat!”
These ladders were the source of endless trouble. Let us pass over the doubts of the guardians of the Hotel d’Europe (Trombetta) whether a person in the possession of such questionable articles should be admitted to their very respectable house, and get to Chatillon, at the entrance of the Val Tournanche. A mule was chartered to carry them, and as they were too long to sling across its back, they were arranged lengthways, and one end projected over the animal’s head, while the other extended beyond its tail. A mule when going up or down hill always moves with a jerky action, and in consequence of this the ladders hit my mule severe blows between its ears and its flanks. The beast, not knowing what strange creature it had on its back, naturally tossed its head and threw out its legs, and this, of course, only made the blows that it received more severe. At last it ran away, and would have perished by rolling down a precipice if the men had not caught hold of its tail. The end of the matter was, that a man had to follow the mule, holding the end of the ladders, which obliged him to move his arms up and down incessantly, and to bow to the hind quarters of the animal in a way that afforded more amusement to his comrades than it did to him.
I was once more en route for the Matterhorn, for I had heard in the spring of 1863 the cause of the failure of Professor Tyndall, and learned that the case was not so hopeless as it appeared to be at one time. I found that he arrived as far only as the northern end of “the shoulder.” Carrel and all the men who had been with me knew of the existence of the cleft at this point, and of the pinnacle which rose between it and the final peak, and we had frequently talked about the best manner of passing the place. On this we disagreed, but we were both of opinion that when we got to “the shoulder” it would be necessary to bear gradually to the right or to the left, to avoid coming to the top of the notch. But Tyndall’s party, after arriving at “the shoulder,” were led by his guides along the crest of the ridge, and consequently when they got to its northern end they came to the top of the notch, instead of the bottom - to the dismay of all but the Carrels. Dr. Tyndall’s words are: “The ridge was here split by a deep cleft which separated it from the final precipice, and the case became more hopeless as we came more near.” The professor adds: “The mountain is 14,800 feet high, and 14,600 feet had been accomplished.” He greatly deceived himself: by the barometric measurements of Signer Giordano the notch is no less than 800 feet below the summit. The guide Walter (Dr. Tyndall says) said it was impossible to proceed, and the Carrels, appealed to for their opinion (this is their own account), gave as an answer, “We are porters - ask your guides.” Bennen, thus left to himself, “was finally forced to accept defeat.” Tyndall had nevertheless accomplished an advance of about four hundred feet over one of the most difficult parts of the mountain.
The Val Tournanche is one of the most charming valleys in the Italian Alps: it is a paradise to an artist, and if the space at my command were greater, I would willingly linger over its groves of chestnuts, its bright trickling rills and its roaring torrents, its upland unsuspected valleys and its noble cliffs. The path rises steeply from Chatillon, but it is well shaded, and the heat of the summer sun is tempered by cool air and spray which comes off the ice-cold streams. One sees from the path, at several places on the right bank of the valley, groups of arches which have been built high up against the faces of the cliffs. Guide-books repeat - on whose authority I know not - that they are the remains of a Roman aqueduct. They have the Roman boldness of conception, but the work has not the usual Roman solidity. The arches have always seemed to me to be the remains of an unfinished work, and I learn from Jean-Antoine Carrel that there are other groups of arches, which are not seen from the path, all having the same appearance. It may be questioned whether those seen near the village of Antey are Roman. Some of them are semicircular, whilst others are pointed. Here is one of the latter, which might pass for fourteenth-century work or later - a two-centred arch, with mean voussoirs and the masonry in rough courses. These arches are well worth the attention of an archaeologist, but some difficulty will be found in approaching them closely.
We sauntered up the valley, and got to Breuil when all were asleep. A halo round the moon promised watery weather, and we were not disappointed, for on the next day (August 1) rain fell heavily, and when the clouds lifted for a time we saw that new snow lay thickly over everything higher than nine thousand feet. J. A. Carrel was ready and waiting (as I had determined to give the bold cragsman another chance); and he did not need to say that the Matterhorn would be impracticable for several days after all this new snow, even if the weather were to arrange itself at once. Our first day together was accordingly spent upon a neighbouring summit, the Cimes Blanches - a degraded mountain well known for its fine panoramic view. It was little that we saw, for in every direction except to the south writhing masses of heavy clouds obscured everything; and to the south our view was intercepted by a peak higher than the Cimes Blanches, named the Grand Tournalin. But we got some innocent pleasure out of watching the gambolings of a number of goats, who became fast friends after we had given them some salt - in fact, too fast, and caused us no little annoyance when we were descending. “Carrel,” I said, as a number of stones whizzed by which they had dislodged, “this must be put a stop to.” “Diable!” he grunted, “it is very well to talk, but how will you do it?” I said that I would try; and sitting down poured a little brandy into the hollow of my hand, and allured the nearest goat with deceitful gestures. It was one who had gobbled up the paper in which the salt had been carried - an animal of enterprising character - and it advanced fearlessly and licked up the brandy. I shall not easily forget its surprise. It stopped short and coughed, and looked at me as much as to say, “Oh, you cheat!” and spat and ran away, stopping now and then, to cough and spit again. We were not troubled any more by those goats.
More snow fell during the night, and our attempt on the Matterhorn was postponed indefinitely. Carrel and I wandered out again in the afternoon, and went, first of all, to a favourite spot with tourists near the end of the Görner glacier (or, properly speaking, the Boden glacier), to a little verdant flat studded with Euphrasia officinalis, the delight of swarms of bees, who gather there the honey which afterward appears at the table d’hôte.
On our right the glacier torrent thundered down the valley through a gorge with precipitous sides, not easily approached, for the turf at the top was slippery, and the rocks had everywhere been rounded by the glacier, which formerly extended far away. This gorge seems to have been made chiefly by the torrent, and to have been excavated subsequently to the retreat of the glacier. It seems so, because not merely upon its walls are there the marks of running water, but even upon the rounded rocks at the top of its walls, at a height of seventy or eighty feet above the present level of the torrent, there are some of those queer concavities which rapid streams alone are known to produce on rocks.
A little bridge, apparently frail, spans the torrent just above the entrance to this gorge, and from it one perceives being fashioned in the rocks below concavities similar to those to which reference has just been made. The torrent is seen hurrying forward. Not everywhere. In some places the water strikes projecting angles, and, thrown back by them, remains almost stationary, eddying round and round: in others, obstructions fling it up in fountains, which play perpetually on the under surfaces of overhanging masses; and sometimes do so in such a way that the water not only works upon the under surfaces, but round the corner; that is to say, upon the surfaces which are not opposed to the general direction of the current. In all cases concavities are being produced. Projecting angles are rounded, it is true, and are more or less convex, but they are overlooked on account of the prevalence of concave forms.
Cause and effect help each other here. The inequalities of the torrent bed and walls cause its eddyings, and the eddies fashion the concavities. The more profound the latter become, the more disturbance is caused in the water. The destruction of the rocks proceeds at an ever-increasing rate, for the larger the amount of surface that is exposed, the greater are the opportunities for the assaults of heat and cold.
When water is in the form of glacier it has not the power of making concavities such as these in rocks, and of working upon surfaces which are not opposed to the direction of the current. Its nature is changed: it operates in a different way, and it leaves marks which are readily distinguished from those produced by torrent action.
The prevailing forms which result from glacier action are more or less convex. Ultimately, all angles and almost all curves are obliterated, and large areas of flat surfaces are produced. This perfection of abrasion is rarely found except in such localities as have sustained a grinding much more severe than that which has occurred in the Alps. Not merely can the operations of extinct glaciers be traced in detail by means of the bosses of rock popularly termed roches moutonnées, but their effects in the aggregate, on a range of mountains or an entire country, can be recognised sometimes at a distance of fifteen or twenty miles, from the incessant repetition of these convex forms.
We finished up the 3d of August with a walk over the Findelen glacier, and returned to Zermatt at a later hour than we intended, both very sleepy. This is noteworthy only on account of that which followed. We had to cross the Col de Valpelline on the next day, and an early start was desirable. Monsieur Seller, excellent man! knowing this, called us himself, and when he came to my door I answered, “All right, Seller, I will get up,” and immediately turned over to the other side, saying to myself, “First of all, ten minutes’ more sleep.” But Seller waited and listened, and, suspecting the case, knocked again: “Herr Whymper, have you got a light?” Without thinking what the consequences might be, I answered, “No;” and then the worthy man actually forced the lock off his own door to give me one. By similar and equally friendly and disinterested acts Monsieur Seller has acquired his enviable reputation.
At 4.00 a.m. we left his Monte Rosa hotel, and were soon pushing our way through the thickets of grey alder that skirt the path up the exquisite little valley which leads to the Zmuttgletscher.
Nothing can seem or be more inaccessible than the Matterhorn upon this side, and even in cold blood one holds his breath when looking at its stupendous cliffs. There are but few equal to them in size in the Alps, and there are none which can more truly be termed precipices. Greatest of them all is the immense north cliff, that which bends over toward the Zmuttgletscher. Stones which drop from the top of that amazing wall fall for about fifteen hundred feet before they touch anything, and those which roll down from above and bound over it fall to a much greater depth, and leap wellnigh one thousand feet beyond its base. This side of the mountain has always seemed sombre, sad, terrible: it is painfully suggestive of decay, ruin and death; and it is now, alas! more than terrible by its associations.
“There is no aspect of destruction about the Matterhorn cliffs,” says Professor Ruskin. Granted - when they are seen from afar. But approach and sit down by the side of the Zmuttgletscher, and you will hear that their piecemeal destruction is proceeding ceaselessly, incessantly. You will hear, but probably you will not see; for even when the descending masses thunder as loudly as heavy guns, and the echoes roll back from the Ebihorn opposite, they will still be as pin-points against this grand old face, so vast is its scale.
If you would see the “aspects of destruction,” you must come still closer and climb its cliffs and ridges, or mount to the plateau of the Matterhorngletscher, which is cut up and ploughed up by these missiles, and strewn on the surface with their smaller fragments: the larger masses, falling with tremendous velocity, plunge into the snow and are lost to sight.
The Matterhorngletscher, too, sends down its avalanches, as if in rivalry with the rocks behind. Round the whole of its northern side it does not terminate in the usual manner by gentle slopes, but comes to a sudden end at the top of the steep rocks which lie betwixt it and the Zmuttgletscher; and seldom does an hour pass without a huge slice breaking away and falling with dreadful uproar on to the slopes below, where it is re-compacted.
The desolate, outside pines of the Z’mutt forests, stripped of their bark and blanched by the weather, are a fit foreground to a scene that can hardly be surpassed in solemn grandeur. It is a subject worthy of the pencil of a great painter, and one which would tax the powers of the very greatest.
Higher up the glacier the mountain is less savage in appearance, but it is not less impracticable; and three hours later, when we arrived at the island of rock called the Stockje (which marks the end of the Zmuttgletscher proper, and which separates its higher feeder, the Stockgletscher, from its lower but greater one, the Tiefenmatten), Carrel himself, one of the least demonstrative of men, could not refrain from expressing wonder at the steepness of its faces, and at the audacity that had prompted us to camp upon the south-west ridge, the profile of which is seen very well from the Stockje. Carrel then saw the north and north-west sides of the mountain for the first time, and was more firmly persuaded than ever that an ascent was possible only from the direction of Breuil.
Three years afterward, I was traversing the same spot with the guide Franz Biener, when all at once a puff of wind brought to us a very bad smell, and on looking about we discovered a dead chamois half-way up the southern cliffs of the Stockje. We clambered up, and found that it had been killed by a most uncommon and extraordinary accident. It had slipped on the upper rocks, had rolled over and over down a slope of débris without being able to regain its feet, had fallen over a little patch of rocks that projected through the débris, and had caught the points of both horns on a tiny ledge not an inch broad. It had just been able to touch the débris where it led away down from the rocks, and had pawed and scratched until it could no longer touch. It had evidently been starved to death, and we found the poor beast almost swinging in the air, with its head thrown back and tongue protruding, looking to the sky as if imploring help.
We had no such excitement as this in 1863, and crossed this easy pass to the châlets of Prerayen in a very leisurely fashion. From the summit to Prerayen let us descend in one step. The way has been described before, and those who wish for information about it should consult the description of Mr. Jacomb, the discoverer of the pass. Nor need we stop at Prerayen, except to remark that the owner of the châlets (who is usually taken for a common herdsman) must not be judged by appearances. He is a man of substance, he has many flocks and herds; and although, when approached politely, he is courteous, he can (and probably will) act as the master of Prerayen if his position is not recognised, and with all the importance of a man who pays taxes to the extent of five hundred francs per annum to his government.
The hill tops were clouded when we rose from our hay on the 5th of August. We decided not to continue the tour of our mountain immediately, and returned over our track of the preceding day to the highest châlet on the left bank of the valley, with the intention of attacking the Dent d’Erin on the next morning. We were interested in this summit, more on account of the excellent view which it commanded of the southwest ridge and the terminal peak of the Matterhorn than from any other reason.
The Dent d’Erin had not been ascended at this time, and we had diverged from our route on the 4th, and had scrambled some distance up the base of Mont Brulé, to see how far its southwestern slopes were assailable. We were divided in opinion as to the best way of approaching the peak. Carrel, true to his habit of sticking to rocks in preference to ice, counselled ascending by the long buttress of the Tête de Bella Cia (which descends toward the west, and forms the southern boundary of the last glacier that falls into the Glacier de Zardesan), and thence traversing the heads of all the tributaries of the Zardesan to the western and rocky ridge of the Dent. I, on the other hand, propose to follow the Glacier de Zardesan itself throughout its entire length, and from the plateau at its head (where my proposed route would cross Carrel’s), make directly toward the summit up the snow-covered glacier slope, instead of by the western ridge. The hunchback, who was accompanying us on these excursions, declared in favour of Carrel’s route, and it was accordingly adopted.
The first part of the programme was successfully executed; and at half-past ten a.m. on the 6th of August we were sitting astride the western ridge, at a height of about twelve thousand five hundred feet, looking down upon the Tiefenmatten glacier. To all appearance, another hour would place us on the summit, but in another hour we found that we were not destined to succeed. The ridge (like all of the principal rocky ridges of the great peaks upon which I have stood) had been completely shattered by frost, and was nothing more than a heap of piled-up fragments. It was always narrow, and where it was narrowest it was also the most unstable and the most difficult. On neither side could we ascend it by keeping a little below its crest - on the side of the Tiefenmatten because it was too steep, and on both sides because the dislodgment of a single block would have disturbed the equilibrium of those which were above. Forced, therefore, to keep to the very crest of the ridge, and unable to deviate a single step either to the right or to the left, we were compelled to trust ourselves upon unsteady masses, which trembled under our tread, which sometimes settled down, grating in a hollow and ominous manner, and which seemed as if a very little shake would send the whole roaring down in one awful avalanche.
I followed my leader, who said not a word, and did not rebel until we came to a place where a block had to be surmounted which lay poised across the ridge. Carrel could not climb it without assistance, or advance beyond it until I joined him above; and as he stepped off my back on to it I felt it quiver and bear down upon me. 1 doubted the possibility of another man standing upon it without bringing it down. Then I rebelled. There was no honour to be gained by persevering, or dishonour in turning from a place which was dangerous on account of its excessive difficulty. So we returned to Prerayen, for there was too little time to allow us to reascend by the other route, which was subsequently shown to be the right way up the mountain.
Four days afterward a party of Englishmen (including my friends W. E. Hall, Crauford Grove and Reginald MacDonald) arrived in the Valpelline, and (unaware of our attempt) on the 12th, under the skilful guidance of Melchior Anderegg, made the first ascent of the Dent d’Erin by the route which I had proposed. This is the only mountain which I have essayed to ascend that has not, sooner or later, fallen to me. Our failure was mortifying, but I am satisfied that we did wisely in returning, and that if we had persevered by Carrel’s route, another Alpine accident would have been recorded. I have not heard that another ascent has been made of the Dent d’Erin.
On the 7th of August we crossed the Va Cornère pass, and had a good look at the mountain named the Grand Tournalin as we descended the Val de Chignana. This mountain was seen from so many points, and was so much higher than any peak in its immediate neighbourhood, that it was bound to give a very fine view; and (as the weather continued unfavourable for the Matterhorn) I arranged with Carrel to ascend it the next day, and despatched him direct to the village of Val Tournanche to make the necessary preparations, whilst I, with Meynet, made a short cut to Breuil, at the back of Mont Panquero, by a little pass locally known as the Col de Fenêtre. I rejoined Carrel the same evening at Val Tournanche, and we started from that place at a little before 5.00 a.m.on the 8th to attack the Tournalin.
Meynet was left behind for that day, and most unwillingly did the hunchback part from us, and begged hard to be allowed to come. “Pay me nothing, only let me go with you. I shall want but a little bread and cheese, and of that I won’t eat much. I would much rather go with you than carry things down the valley.” Such were his arguments, and I was really sorry that the rapidity of our movements obliged us to desert the good little man.
Carrel led over the meadows on the south and east of the bluff upon which the village of Val Tournanche is built, and then by a zigzag path through a long and steep forest, making many short cuts, which showed he had a thorough knowledge of the ground. After we came again into daylight our route took us up one of those little, concealed lateral valleys which are so numerous on the slopes bounding the Val Tournanche.
This valley, the Combe de Ceneil, has a general easterly trend, and contains but one small cluster of houses (Ceneil). The Tournalin is situated at the head of the combe, and nearly due east of the village of Val Tournanche, but from that place no part of the mountain is visible. After Ceneil is passed it conies into view, rising above a cirque of cliffs (streaked by several fine waterfalls), at the end of the combe. To avoid these cliffs the path bends somewhat to the south, keeping throughout to the left bank of the valley; and at about thirty-five hundred feet above Val Tournanche, and fifteen hundred feet above Ceneil, and a mile or so to its east, arrives at the base of some moraines, which are remarkably large, considering the dimensions of the glaciers which formed them. The ranges upon the western side of the Val Tournanche are seen to great advantage from this spot, but here the path ends and the way steepens.
When we arrived at these moraines we had a choice of two routes - one continuing to the east over the moraines themselves, the débris above them, and a large snow-bed still higher up, to a kind of col or depression to the south of the peak, from whence an easy ridge led toward the summit; the other, over a shrunken glacier on our north-east (now, perhaps, not in existence), which led to a well-marked col on the north of the peak, from whence a less easy ridge rose directly to the highest point. We followed the first named of these routes, and in a little more than half an hour stood upon the col, which commanded a most glorious view of the southern side of Monte Rosa, and of the ranges to its east and to the east of the Val d’Ayas.
Whilst we were resting at this point a large party of vagrant chamois arrived on the summit of the mountain from the northern side, some of whom, by their statuesque position, seemed to appreciate the grand panorama by which they were surrounded, while others amused themselves, like two-legged tourists, in rolling stones over the cliffs. The clatter of these falling fragments made us look up. The chamois were so numerous that we could not count them, clustered around the summit, totally unaware of our presence; and they scattered in a panic, as if a shell had burst amongst them, when saluted by the cries of my excited comrade, plunging wildly down in several directions, with unfaltering and unerring bounds, with such speed and with such grace that we were filled with admiration and respect for their mountaineering abilities. The ridge that led from the col toward the summit was singularly easy, although well broken up by frost, and Carrel thought that it would not be difficult to arrange a path for mules out of the shattered blocks; but when we arrived on the summit we found ourselves separated from the very highest point by a cleft which had been concealed up to that time: its southern side was nearly perpendicular, but it was only fourteen or fifteen feet deep. Carrel lowered me down, and afterward descended on to the head of my axe, and subsequently on to my shoulders, with a cleverness which was almost as far removed from my awkwardness as his own efforts were from those of the chamois. A few easy steps then placed us on the highest point. It had not been ascended before, and we commemorated the event by building a huge cairn, which was seen for many a mile, and would have lasted for many a year had it not been thrown down by the orders of Canon Carrel, on account of its interrupting the sweep of a camera which he took to the lower summit in 1868 in order to photograph the panorama. According to that well-known mountaineer, the summit of the Grand Tournalin is 6100 feet above the village of Val Tournanche, and 11,155 feet above the sea. Its ascent (including halts) occupied us only four hours. I recommend the ascent of the Tournalin to any person who has a day to spare in the Val Tournanche. It should be remembered, however (if its ascent is made for the sake of the view), that these southern Pennine Alps seldom remain unclouded after mid-day, and indeed frequently not later than ten or eleven A. M. Toward sunset the equilibrium of the atmosphere is restored, and the clouds very commonly disappear.
I advise the ascent of this mountain, not on account of its height or from its accessibility or inaccessibility, but simply for the wide and splendid view which may be seen from its summit. Its position is superb, and the list of the peaks which can be seen from it includes almost the whole of the principal mountains of the Cottian, Dauphine, Graian, Pennine and Oberland groups. The view has, in the highest perfection, those elements of picturesqueness which are wanting in the purely panoramic views of higher summits. There are three principal sections, each with a central or dominating point, to which the eye is naturally drawn. All three alike are pictures in themselves, yet all are dissimilar. In the south, softened by the vapours of the Val d’Aoste, extends the long line of the Graians, with mountain after mountain twelve thousand five hundred feet and upward in height. It is not upon these, noble as some of them are, that the eye will rest, but upon the Viso, far off in the background. In the west and toward the north the range of Mont Blanc and some of the greatest of the Central Pennine Alps (including the Grand Combin and the Dent Blanche) form the background, but they are overpowered by the grandeur of the ridges which culminate in the Matterhorn. Nor in the east and north, where pleasant grassy slopes lead downward to the Val d’Ayas, nor upon the glaciers and snow-fields above them, nor upon the Oberland in the background, will the eye long linger, when immediately in front, several miles away, but seeming close at hand, thrown out by the pure azure sky, there are the glittering crests of Monte Rosa.
Those who would, but cannot, stand upon the highest Alps may console themselves with the knowledge that they do not usually yield the views that make the strongest and most permanent impressions. Marvellous some of the panoramas seen from the greatest peaks undoubtedly are, but they are necessarily without those isolated and central points which are so valuable pictorially, The eye roams over a multitude of objects (each perhaps grand individually), and, distracted by an embarrassment of riches, wanders from one to another, erasing by the contemplation of the next the effect that was produced by the last; and when those happy moments are over, which always fly with too great rapidity, the summit is left with an impression that is seldom durable because it is usually vague.
No views create such lasting impressions as those which are seen but for a moment when a veil of mist is rent in twain and a single spire or dome is disclosed. The peaks which are seen at these moments are not perhaps the greatest or the noblest, but the recollection of them outlives the memory of any panoramic view, because the picture, photographed by the eye, has time to dry, instead of being blurred while yet wet by contact with other impressions. The reverse is the case with the bird’s-eye panoramic views from the great peaks, which sometimes embrace a hundred miles in nearly every direction. The eye is confounded by the crowd of details, and unable to distinguish the relative importance of the objects which are seen. It is almost as difficult to form a just estimate (with the eye) of the respective heights of a number of peaks from a very high summit as it is from the bottom of a valley. I think that the grandest and most satisfactory stand-points for viewing mountain scenery are those which are sufficiently elevated to give a feeling of depth as well as of height - which are lofty enough to exhibit wide and varied views, but not so high as to sink everything to the level of the spectator. The view from the Grand Tournalin is a favourable example of this class of panoramic views.
We descended from the summit by the northern route, and found it tolerably stiff clambering as far as the col, but thence, down the glacier, the way was straightforward, and we joined the route taken on the ascent at the foot of the ridge leading toward the east. In the evening we returned to Breuil.
There is an abrupt rise in the valley about two miles to the north of the village of Val Tournanche, and just above this step the torrent has eaten its way into its bed and formed an extraordinary chasm, which has long been known by the name Gouffre des Busserailles. We lingered about this spot to listen to the thunder of the concealed water, and to watch its tumultuous boiling as it issued from the gloomy cleft, but our efforts to peer into the mysteries of the place were baffled. In November, 1865, the intrepid Carrel induced two trusty comrades - the Maquignazes of Val Tournanche - to lower him by a rope into the chasm and over the cataract. The feat required iron nerves and muscles and sinews of no ordinary kind, and its performance alone stamps Carrel as a man of dauntless courage. One of the Maquignazes subsequently descended in the same way, and these two men were so astonished at what they saw that they forthwith set to work with hammer and chisel to make a way into this romantic gulf. In a few days they constructed a rough but convenient plank gallery into the centre of the gouffre, along its walls, and on payment of a toll of half a franc any one can now enter the Gouffre des Busserailles.
I cannot, without a couple of sections and a plan, give an exact idea to the reader of this remarkable place. It corresponds in some of its features to the gorge figured upon, but it exhibits in a much more notable manner the characteristic action and power of running water. The length of the chasm or gouffre, is about three hundred and twenty feet, and from the top of its walls to the surface of the water is about one hundred and ten feet. At no part can the entire length or depth be seen at a glance, for, although the width at some places is fifteen feet or more, the view is limited by the sinuosities of the walls. These are everywhere polished to a smooth, vitreous-in-appearance surface. In some places the torrent has wormed into the rock, and has left natural bridges. The most extraordinary features of the Gouffre des Busserailles, however, are the caverns (or marmites, as they are termed) which the water has hollowed out of the heart of the rock. Carrel’s plank path leads into one of the greatest - a grotto that is about twenty-eight feet across at its largest diameter, and fifteen or sixteen feet high, roofed above by the living rock, and with the torrent roaring fifty feet or thereabouts below, at the bottom of a fissure. This cavern is lighted by candles, and talking in it can only be managed by signs.
I visited the interior of the gouffre in 1869, and my wonder at its caverns was increased by observing the hardness of the hornblende out of which they have been hollowed. Carrel chiseled off a large piece, which is now lying before me. It has a highly polished, glassy surface, and might be mistaken, for a moment, for ice-polished rock. But the water has found out the atoms which were least hard, and it is dotted all over with minute depressions, much as the face of one is who has suffered from smallpox. The edges of these little hollows are rounded, and all the surfaces of the depressions are polished nearly or quite as highly as the general surface of the fragment. The water has drilled more deeply into some veins of steatite than in other places, and the presence of the steatite may possibly have had something to do with the formation of the gouffre.
I arrived at Breuil again after an absence of six days, well satisfied with my tour of the Matterhorn, which had been rendered very pleasant by the willingness of my guides and by the kindliness of the natives. But it must be admitted that the inhabitants of the Val Tournanche are behind the times. Their paths are as bad as, or worse than, they were in the time of De Saussure, and their inns are much inferior to those on the Swiss side. If it were otherwise there would be nothing to prevent the valley becoming one of the most popular and frequented of all the valleys in the Alps; but as it is, tourists who enter it seem to think only about how soon they can get out of it, and hence it is much less known than it deserves to be on account of its natural attractions.