Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Monday, October 19, 2009

Glacier Hotel

An Alpine Storm

Falls of the Handeck, Switzerland July 29, 1873

The surrounding scenery is anything but picturesque or even interesting when compared with Alpine grandure. My companions deem it advisable to spend an hour more in repose and I will consequently sojourn alone as far as Guttannen. From Handeck numerous groves of pines and bracken are in the valley, and abundant evidences of Glacial formations are to be seen in various places. The valley is narrow and the Aare River is frequently crossed. In many places the mountains rise almost perpendicularly on both sides of the valley which gives it a somber appearance, and in no place have I seen so many traces of destructive avalanches as here. In many places the ground is completely covered with stones for a great distance. Before arriving at Guttanen, the valley widens into somewhat of a semi-circular cove, in the center of which the small and poverty stricken village of Guttannen is located. The village contains a few mountain huts and is surrounded by countless numbers of stone piles. As I look around and see the work of avalanche and flood, I ask myself," Why will man continue to reside in such a world of chance as this? Now there is a beautiful meadow lawn before my eyes, but will it be so tomorrow?" I doubt it very much if the barometer at the inn is any index of the weather for the next six hours. A storm of two hours duration may precipitate enough water to completely deluge this bright spot, and in an hour afterwards leave it as barren and desolate as a mountain river bed.

I have refreshed myself with a good Swiss dinner, and am ready to continue my journey just as my companions are arriving. They will rest awhile and I will not wait for them, but will go on to Imhof and engage coaches to take us to Brienz this evening. The landlady admonishes me to be careful and not to be caught in the mountains today as a terrific storm is expected to take place this afternoon. I have surveyed the heavens, but I can`t see as much storm as the landlady predicts and as the barometer indicates. With no time to spend in waiting for a storm to pass by, I continue my journey, contrary to the advice of the villagers, who are watching the barometer with anxiety and preparing for a storm of great violence.
As I proceed down the valley, I am more fully convinced of its poverty stricken condition. Reader, if you have ever talked of poverty in our own broad land, and you should chance to come to Oberhaslithal, you will blush with shame for what you have said when you see real poverty among a frugal and industrious people. Below Guttannen the valley again becomes narrow, picturesque and really romantic. An occasional chalet is passed where there is enough arable ground to cultivate half a dozen hills of potatoes, and where the declivity is not so steep as to require chickensto be constantly rough-shod to keep them from slipping off.
I now begin to hear an occasional peal of thunder and that small portion of sky which is visible is overcast with dark clouds. From what point of the compass the storm is approaching, I cannot tell as there appears to be no current of air, and but one black cloud which seems to be stationary is visible. It thunders in every point of the compass and I can see about as much of the heavens above me as if I were inside of a barrel looking out of the cork-hole. A hurried look at the general contour of the valley satisfies me that I don`t want to be caught here during a storm if I ever decide to see Yankee-land again. The general shape is much like an ordinary tunnel and a heavy storm would soon deluge it so as to render it entirely unsafe for passage. The deafening peals of increasing thunder, the glaring lightning, and the almost midnight darkness caused me to pass over the space toward Imhof at a brisk run. The admonishments of the villagers of Guttanen and my experience of a few days ago near Furca Pass were vivid in my mind and prompted me to make every exertion to reach a place of shelter before the storm would commence its raging. I passed many beautiful nooks where I would like to have tarried and feasted on the beauties of nature, but I had to be contented with a wishful glance over my shoulder as I pressed forward with all speed possible. When once out of the most desolate part of the valley, I sought refuge and rest in a small barn about a mile from Imhof where I now am and am watching the awesome inspiring approach of a storm in the Alps.

I have used the term "the approach of the storm," which although incorrect when considering the nature of a storm in the Alps, is really the best term I have at command to express myself. There is really no approach as I can detect, no movement of clouds from here. A dense black cloud overhangs the valley and the adjacent mountain peaks, in which the lightning`s glare and the thuder`s roll is incessant. I can hear the common rush and roar attending violent storms, but I can detect no movement in the lower strata of clouds which have now assumed an inky blackness. From what I have seen, I am led to believe that this black cloud is the nucleus of the storm which was arrested between the snow-clad peaks of the Alps. The vapor being condensed by the cold has caused it to slowly descend into the valley, leaving a partial vacuum above which is being filled by clouds coming from every direction, which likewise have their vapor condensed to sink to this lower stratum. This appears to be the nature of this storm cloud. As the condensed vapor from above is increasing, the increased downward pressure forces the cloud lower into the valley, at the same time making it more dense. When this downward pressure becomes strong enough to condense the vapor into water, it will rain, which has just now taken place. This downward pressure has not only produced raindrops but hailstones which vary from the size of a hickory nut to that of a hen`s egg. It has hailed only a few moments, but the rain is descending not in drops but in what appears to be in continous sheets as if it were being poured down with buckets. Since there is no movement of the clouds, it will rain here until every drop of moisture is squeezed out of this cloud, and then I will see clear sky again and not before. It has rained now just one hour and the clouds begin to assume a lighter color and have risen somewhat higher, but it rains yet very steadily, although not as fast as it did the first half hour.
Every space seems deluged and the Aare River is rising with fearful rapidity. As the storm is abating, the rush and roar of the falling water increases. It has rained a little longer than one and a half hours and the blue sky is again to be seen. The storm is over and the flood has commenced. Every cliff has its cascade, many of which portray the grand and sublime. The Aare has already risen many feet above high water-mark and has deluged many bright spots with mud and stones. With much difficulty I have arrived at Imhof where I find that the Aare has risen 5 feet 4 inches above ordinary high water-mark and is in many places overflowing the levees.
The channel of the Aare of late years has been straightened and large levees constructed to prevent disasterous inundations, but the present storm has been such an unprecedented one as to over awe all preparations. Here at Imhof the Aare is as straight as an arrow for several miles and has sufficient fall to make it a continous rapid. It carries with it large masses of rock the grating of which can be heard at a considerable distance. Just now my friends have arrived, some of whom look as if it had rained lately. Coaches for eight and we are away for Brienz. P.D. Reefy

Hikers in the Swiss Alps

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Inside the Rhone Glacier - Seen by P.D. Reefy


I agree with the ideas of Saussure. If Agasslz's theory were true, glaciers would advance more in winter than in summer which, so far as has been observed, is not the case.

P. D. Reefy

(from our own correspondent)

Rhone Glacier, July 28, 1873

Dear Reader:
The Glacier appears to receive its greatest supply of material from the Schnee Stock, and descends between the Gelmer Horn and Gerst Horn on the West, and the Galenstock on the East. The upper portion or firn of the Glacier is broad, but it gradually narrows as it descends,
and presents its narrowest point almost opposite the place where the road leading over Furca Pass reaches the Glacier. This point might really be designated as the falls of the Glacier it the name were not inconsistent with the nature of the Glacier. The term "Falls of the Glacier" does not appear so inconsistent when we consider that even this frozen mass moves by an almost continuous rate, varying from eight inches to two feet per day. At the point which might be designated as the falls, the Glacier is almost perpendicularly precipitated over a high ledge of rock, and it presents an appearance as if it had at one time been a mighty river flowing down the mountain and at this point formed a cataract, which had been instantaneously converted into ice by an intense degree of cold. As this vast mass of ice slides over this declivity it gradually splits into almost countless blocks and slabs, nearly all of which present a beautiful blue color, and shine with a lustre of rare brilliancy when I viewed in the splendor of a mid-summer sun. Since the Glacier is constantly moving, these blocks are ever changing, the lower ones being lost in the mass below, while new ones are being formed above by the gradual splitting of the mass as it slowly slides over the declivity. Such a large mass of ice exerts an immense force when coming in contact with an obstruction. Masses of rock, which by other agencies would be immovable, are carried down the mountain by its force.
The amount of detritus brought down by the Glacier and deposited along its sides in huge embankments callled Moraines, cannot be conceived by the mind until it has been witnessed by the eye. Those who are unacquainted with glacial detritus will scarcely believe me when I say that I have seen at other glaciers Moraines hundreds of feet thick and upwards of a hundred feet in height. These embankments of delritus are composed of stone, gravel, and sand and are in reality nothing more than what might be very properly called the sediments of the Glacier, which is left after the melting of the ice, and which has been in process of accumulation through cycles of hundreds of thousands of years. By the gradual growth of the Moraines, the glacier is constantly being forced into narrower limits, but the process is so slow that it will take an almost incomprehensible period of time for any of the glaciers to block their own bed. There has been a time in the history of the world when Rhone Glacier extended over a much greater area than at present. The outermost limits of the Moraines are marked only by large masses of rock, time having already obliterated the traces of stones and gravel. From these outermost traces the marks of its retrocession become more apparent as we approach the present limit of the glacier, where they rise in successive embankments, the last being united with the ice itself.

Descriptions written only three years ago represent the lower portion of the Glacier digitated so as to present the form of an open hand. At present this is not the case. The digital extremities have disappeared, and even a part of what was three years ago designated as the palm is gone as well. This decrease of the lower portion is due to two causes, first, to the process of melting, and second, to the very slow rate of moving, which has characterized this glacial mass of late years, (since 1861). This retrocession may continue for years yet, when without apparent cause it will commence to advance at a rate of from one to two feet per day, and carry everything before it piled up in a huge moving wall, which was the case here in 1857, '59 and '6I.

A grotto has been hewn into the lower portion of the glacier to show the color of the ice. The grotto is sixty feet deep and when illuminated wlth candles presents a beautiful appearance. The ice has a deep blue color. A visit into the grotto is usually very hurriedly made, for it is like being suddenly transferred from the torrid to the frigid zone, and the sensation is by no means pleasant, and the effect on the system very injurious.

Many hours I spent today in climbing up the Galenstock. The task was extremely fatiguing, and the result of my labors nothing. When I commenced the task, the sky was clear and there was every prospect to enjoy a magnificent view of the entire Bernese Oberland. With this fine prospect before me, no obstacle appeared too hazardous for my undertaking. I climbed declivities where I was really afraid to look behind me into the awful chasms beneath. A slip of a foot would have dashed me to atoms against the rocks full a thousand feet below. After long hours of toil, with every muscle in my body trembling from the violent strain exerted in reaching a point about 11,000 feet high, I found myself above the clouds with my view so completely obscured that I at once realized that my toil was in vain, and I soliloquized in language probably not found in Webster. There were yet about 956 feet between me and the top, but I did not go further.
After resting half an hour I commenced the descent which I found far more dangerous and tiresome than the ascent. At many declivities and chasms I hesitated, but with no other alternative than to undertake it, I finally reached the footpath leading from Grimsel Hospice to Furca Pass, to which place, about three miles distant, I directed my steps, so completely exhausted that it required almost two hours to reach the Pass. It was late in the afternoon, and I sought the services of a coach to take me down to the Glacier Hotel, but remembering my ride of yesterday over that road, I specified particulaity the rate of driving I desired. When I arrived at the hotel it was already dark and my lady companions were really glad to see me for they had fears that I had been killed, not having seen me since early morning. Dead I was not, but I was about as useless as a dead man and ached as if afflicted with the compound of twenty rheumatic fevers.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Glacier and Aare River Gorge

(from our own correspondent)

Hotel, Glacier Du Rhone, July 28, 1873

Dear Reader,
Yesterday, after a brisk run of several miles, I reached Furca Pass sometime before the storm and a coachman drove me down to this place immediately after my arrival for the consideration of three francs. The ride was a reckless and lonely one. The Swiss coachman have a characteristic reckless way of driving when not in a hurry, and doubly so when urged onward by the menacings of an approaching storm. From Furca Pass to the Glacier Hotel, the distance is less than 3 miles by a zig zag road, and the difference of altitude is 2,250 feet, but for all this we went down that road at the rate of about 8 miles an hour. We often passed along narrow ledges where it would make my head reel to look down into the abyss below. The coachman was in high glee and even increased the speed on observing me to cling to the seat with both hands.

He broke forth in a Swiss Alpine song to which he kept time with the cracking of his monsterous long whip. His singing was good, but I could not appreciate it just at that time, for I expected every moment to be tumbled down into some yawning chasm. It was a source of considerable relief to me when I learned that we were over the worst part of the road, and I could again survey the surroundings with composure. To my regret I found that I had missed the finest view of the Rhone Glacier through the coachman`s reckless driving. I had scarcely time to realize my disappointment when the rain commenced to fall in torrents, and there was not the slightest means of protection at hand. "To grin and bear it" was my only resort. But just think of it, there was my fine new "Sunday-go-to-meetin" shiner (top hat) getting all the gloss knocked off of it by those large rain drops! Yes, it would sound like a muffled snare-drum whenever one of the hailstones struck it. I am afraid its beauty hath vanished forever. When I arrived at the hotel I found I was more than wet, for my coat-tail pockets were full, and my boots were running over. Having no other clothing with me (for I had sent my baggage to Brienz from Lucerne) I was in rather an unpleasant condition, and even much like the man who had only one shirt and was always obliged to go to bed to have it washed. The landlord, however, who is a short, thick man, very kindly offered me the use of a suit of his, which I did not refuse. I hurriedly changed my clothing, but O, great Caesar, what a costume! The Sandwich Islanders (Hawaiians) after the first visit of the Missionary Commission, could not have produced as grotesque a figure as I in my new dress. The shirt had an old-fashioned, sharp pointed standing collar on it, which was starched to the inflexible stiffness of an icicle, and ever time I turned my head I was in imminent danger of having my ears cut off. In fact, it was just such a collar as N. L. Johnson wears at the opening of every term of court. The trousers were 9 inches too short in the legs, and the body large enough to reach twice around me. The coat was after the old Swiss claw-hammer style, with tails long and sharp enough for tooth picks. The sleeves only extended a little below my elbows. The stockings were truly Swiss, and extended fully four inches above my knees, and made up the 9 inches of deficiency in the trouser legs. My costume was ornamentally complete with a pair of No. 14 wooden shoes. Thus clad, I graced the head of the table at the fashionable six o`clock Table d'hote, and, as the landlady said was much admired for my fashionable attire.
Today I am attired in my own suit, and, with the exception of my hat, (which has much the resemblance of a frontier election hat), it even looks better than before the wetting.

This morning, provided with pencil and paper, I will take a stroll of several hours along the Rhone Glacier to examine this vast field of ice. Much has been written in late years by geologists regarding the so called Glacial Epoch in our world's history. The theory is advanced by many that there was a period in the history of the earth when a greater portion, it not its entire surface, was covered with glaciel masses. This theory is somewhat substantiated by immense masses of rock found in localities where normally such geological formations do not exist, and which must have been carried thither by some powerful agency analogous to glaciers. That glaciers at some past period were far more numerous in the mountain regions, is not to be doubted for a moment, but that they extended over as vast an extent of surface as some claim, is at variance with the present accepted theories of glacial formation. In the Alps abundant and unmistakable evidences remain to show the localities of glaciers that must have ceased to exist thousands of years ago. No doubt many of my readers will ask, "What are these glaciers, and how are they formed?". This question I often asked myself, and it was never answered to my satisfaction until yesterday, when I asked Nature herself, in inspecting the formation of Tiefen Glacier. It is a very simple process, which we can observe almost every winter in our own country, particularly during one of long continued snow, and when the snow is well packed and remains until early spring. In examining a snow-drift in a fence corner, or on the shady side of a wall in early spring, you will find that the snow does not exist flaky as when it fell, but is granular, or, in other words, contains small granules of ice. These granules of ice may have been formed in two ways: First, by the action of the sun in softening the snow, when it contains small globules of water. This water freezing produces the ice granules. Second, a shower of rain may have fallen on the snow and moistened it and on freezing again produced ice granules. The first process you can observe almost every part of winter....p.11

Grimsel Pass July 29, 1873

Snow clad and rocky peaks rise one above the other, so that we are virtually surrounded by an uninteresting scene. Being now at the highest point of the pass (8,4oo feet) we are really surrounded by the signs of an Arctic winter. Glaciers and snow banks that never disappear greet the eye on every side. Nature has a dreary and dead aspect. Not a tree, not a shrub, nor a flower is to be seen on this frigid desert waste. No, nothing but a few species of cryptogans, which scarcely grow on the south side of rocks, are to be seen. The air and earth are alike devoid of animation. Not a bird, not an insect, nor a reptile move in the air above or on the earth beneath you. It is virtually the dead, dreary characteristic of inorganic matter. All the changes brought about are due to inorganic agencies, and nature here presents the characteristics of the earth`s period of pre-anination. `Tis nature unadorned.
To our left is the Todten See (Lake of the Dead), a small, somber-looking lake, which receives its supply of water from the snow on the mountains surrounding it.
From here we descend rapidly for nearly 1,5oo feet to the Grinsel Hospice, a two story stone structure, formerly a refuge for poor travelers, but at present fitted up as a hotel, and during the tourist season is always overflowing with patronage. It is located at the most dismal, woe-begotten place I`ve ever visited. Dark and gloomy mountains rise on every side, with only a gorge between them sufficient to admit the wild and turburent Aare River, which rises from the upper and lower Aare Glaciers some ten miles above this point. Barren rocky mountains, many of which are capped with snow, is all that can be seen. We now follow the Aare through a narrow, rocky defile, which has a somber and melanclory aspect. There is no beauty and grandeur here. The eye cannot feast on the lovely and charming things of earth in this place, where Nature ceased to work when she had completed the first state of creation. `Tis barren, inorganic matter strewn in chaos around. Life is scarcely a denizen here.
As we follow the Aare by a rough and narrow path for some distance, the gorge becomes wider and assumes the appearance of a narrow valley. A few stinted specimens of the vegetable kingdom can now be seen. The Aare is almost one continuous cataract. The rush and roar of falling water never dies in your ears in this valley. The path now leads through a defile where the Aare alone has space, and a passage is constructed above the river by planks being laid on timbers, which rest in niches cut in the rocks.

P.D. Reefey M.D. - FORWARD


Philip Reefy was born near the village of Mt. Eden in Penn Township, Wayne County, Ohio on December 29th , 1843.
He was the son of Heinrich and Marie Gnagi Ryffe who emigrated from Switzerland in 1834 and ultimately settled in this predominantly Swiss community in Eastern Ohio.
Aside from a reference to being raised in a cold and inhospitable log cabin, there isn't much in the written record about his boyhood, education, or any of the events which so frequently determine the pattern of subsequent years. However, we do know that he lied about his age and enthusiastically enlisted in the 19th Ohio Volunteer Infantry Regiment very early in the Civil War. Further, it is a matter of record that he saved the Regimental Colors when the standard bearer was shot at the Battle of Stones River and the staff with the tattered remains of the colors stands in our front hall as tangible evidence of the esteem of his comrades.
The War ended in 1865 and, after a brief tour on the Mexican Border to encourage withdrawal of the French Troops, the 19th Ohio Regiment was deactivated and Philip Reefy was free to go home. Subsequently he elected to study medicine at the University of Cincinnati and this, in turn, encouraged further medical training abroad. Thus, in 1873 at age 3O, he went to Vienna.

The European trip was financed in part by a brother who was the publisher of the local newspaper in Elyria, Ohio and the letters which comprise this volume were sent home for publication, presumably as partial repayment. This whole effort on our part was initiated because the originals of these letters were lost long ago and the printed copies clipped from the newspaper are deteriorating rapidly and will also be lost ere long. Philip Reefy was my grandfather and now that I have grandchildren of my own, it seemed appropriate that I should try to preserve these letters so that the current children and those who come thereafter may share the thoughts and experiences of this rather remarkable ancestor.

To finish the story, although not covered by his letters, I should note that he returned to Elyria, opened an office and practiced medicine there for the rest of his life. In the normal course of events, he met and married Libby Mountain whose family had recently emigrated from Canada, and this union, in turn, resulted in the birth of a son, Karl, followed by a daughter, Bessie.

He built a fine home, loved fast horses, became the mayor of the village, and delighted in pulling his children from school on fine days so that they could ride with him as he nade his daily rounds of patlents in the country. He lived a full life indeed and died at the age of 70 in 1913.

Mayo E. Roe

P.D. Reefy - Alpine Botanist

This plant produces a flower so beautiful and rich in color as to rival the sweetest smiles of earth to heaven. Every Alpine region, so far as altitude is concerned, has its special flora, which are blended into each other by many species which are widely distributed, and greet the eye from the base of the mountain until beyond the snow limit.
The pine limit produces the greatest variety as well as the most luxuriant growth, but the zone between the pine and snow limits produces many of the most beautiful as well