OUR EUROPEAN LETTER
(from our own correspondent)
Hotel, Glacier Du Rhone, July 28, 1873
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.