Tuesday, October 6, 2009


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.

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