Wednesday, September 30, 2009

P.D. Reefy on the Rhone Glacier June 28, 1873

Glacier clinbing is by no means as pleasant as a person might imagine. It is disappointing and extremely dangerous. When you think you have a clear field of a mile before you, you are suddenly brought to a stand-still by an impassable yawning chasm, which you can only cross by making a detour of a mile or more, and when you have accomplished this, you may chance to come to a second which will necessitate your return and to take quite a new route, that often after having walked for hours you will find yourself at the same place where you started, wiping the perspiration from your forehead, and casting a wishful look at some point above you that you would like to reach, and from which you know a fine view is afforded. The danger is in not knowing whether your footing is sure. Every step made must first be proved safe by your glacier staff, for if this precaution is neglected and the foot is placed on the thin film of ice or snow which covers a treacherous crevice, down, down you will go to a cold and icy grave, "uncoffined, unknelled and unknown," and with no friendly hand to embellish the spot of your frigid sleep. These crevices are by no means few and are very often covered with a thin crust of ice, and are filled with a very clear water. How deep they are and whether they extend altogether through the mass of ice, I could not ascertain. At one place where a crevice appeared to be perpendicular, I tried to measure it with my glacier staff, but with its entire length of nine feet, I did not succeed in touching bottom. I then dropped a stone into it, and at the same time placed my ear on the ice, and could hear it striking the ice in its descent for many seconds. The large crevices are not filled with water, at least I have not thus far discovered any. In many places on the glacier the rushing of a stream of water can be heard, and it appears as if it were at a great depth. In several places I could distinctly hear the roar of a cataract beneath the mass of ice.

This glacier is the source of the Rhone River, and the waters of the infant stream are as wild and turbulent when they issue from beneath the glacier as they are in their most destructive ragings in the valIey two hundred miles below. The Romans had explored the Rhone and were fuIly acquainted with its source. They called it the "Rhodanus", and named the Glacier "The Gates of Eternal Night". The Galenstock they called "The PiIlar of the Sun". The lower portion of the glacier is constantly changing and a traveler is often surprised to find so marked a change in but a single year. What may be true of the glacier as regards the general contour of the lower portion this year, may not be true next year. Within the last few years the lower portion of the glacier has receded several hundred feet.

Lake Lucerne, Switzerland

Mt. Pilatus and Lake Lucerne

The Vosges

The Bernese Alps

Rigi Kaltbad, Switzerland

Rigi - Kaltbad

Kulm, view of the Alps, Rigi, Switzerland

Jura Range

The Galenstock

Grimsel Pass, Switzerland