A Symphony of Mountains
I. Prelude 1941 (Grave)
WHILE marching on, it seems quite hard to stop and to remember, in all the forward-swing of a new life that just began, in an entirely new world, in the endeavor to adjust oneself, and under the constant influence of fresh experiences. It is not to be done without an outspoken reluctance to sit down and recall old mountains of the old countries, while from all around comes the cry of summits never climbed before.
It always has been this way, so that new impressions make the older fade. Therefore, I will not even try attempting to lift the full shrine of a treasure that is still buried under the weight of these last years, years overflowing with exciting news, with shifts of home, of deeds, and men. But I shall at least wipe the dust from the most loved of golden memories and glance again at a collection, more precious than any other goods which I could salvage from the débris over there. And while I simply gaze at jewels which I earned in many hours of the best of living, companions must remain unnamed though I owe them lots of happiness.
There shall be, I trust, the gestures which each mountain presents, from the gigantic to the sweet; the range of impulses will be from the heroic to the gentle; emotions and reflections will awake, dramatic and poetic ones; there will be light and dark, fight and struggle, violence and danger, too; and at the end a peace will reign: not comfort peace and leisure peace, but rest and ease which are the prize for toil, fatigue, and sacrifice; the kind of peace we ought to earn for life and freedom every day.
In the end, we will have found the world of mountains (as in the world of music) to be a mirror of the human soul, a reservation set aside along the dusty road of life. So that we may escape to see and feel creation which will stand the vanity of times and people, when fires rage and temples burst, and destruction rains over a maddened world.
It began in 1925. Just one week after his appendix had been removed, a lad of eighteen went on board of one of the small steamers crossing the Lake of Constance. The evening found him on the way from Oberstdorf to Einödsbach, last of the farm houses in the valley, right below the towering summits of the Allgäu group where it is the wildest. It was raining hard, and the youth, tired from the trip and with the wound still paining from the operation, was glad to reach the shelter after dusk. Next morning, radiant and cloudless, saw him struggling through new October snow, the first of the approaching winter, wading through the snow, two and three feet deep, climbing up the steep slopes of the Musskopf saddle. The summits all around him shone in brilliant light, and the young fellow, though he was finally overwhelmed by the depth of the snow, turned back in all the aimlessness of this first flight, came down to earth with a strong heart. He had, the first time, gone the path to height and freedom through nothing but his own strength, and while he tried to staunch the bleeding wound, his face was burning with a flame that mirrored the experience from which the passion was to grow.
A year went by. Again it was October, but this time the day was gray and with the threat of winter in the air. Patteriol, the mighty mountain in Ferwall, had challenged youth and all the foolishness of it. The summit was attained while fog and darkness fell; the long retreat was filled with fear and secret promises to give up mountaineering. Death was met the first time in the mountains: Another climber, starting up the same route, perished that day and was not found till two years later, crushed and half buried under rock and snow.
There were my first climbs in the Rhätikon, that lovely chain of mountains forming the border between the countries Austria and Switzerland. First came the rugged Garsellaschwester and the smooth Vollandturm, and then, in 1927, a week’s traverse from W. to E., crossing Drei Schwestern (Dreischwesternkopf, Garsel- lakopf, Kuhgratspitze), Naafkopf, Scesaplana (that admirable trail leading clear through the huge wall of the mighty face), Kan- zelkopf, Kirchlispitzen, Drusentürme, and the Sulzfluh. And back again next year to climb a mountain near the Lüner See, unsealed before and named the Kanzelwand. On this trip I enjoyed, the first time, the companionship of Dr. Blodig; Karl Blodig, 69 years old then and full of the same enthusiasm that carried him on a thousand peaks. I will hardly forget the hour when we were building our cairn; and when we crossed, on the way home, the towering massif of the Scesaplana, going down on the Leiberweg, I had not only gained a first ascent, but so much more: a friend and father who would guide me from now on right to the most secret heart of this new world.
Of all the mountains of this section, the Ferwall drew me back more often than the other peaks. A short campaign in 1928 brought Saumspitze, colossal pyramid; the Scheibler, tame and easy; the Faselfadspitze, offering us a hearty rock climb under the pressure of an approaching thunderstorm. We also made a difficult traverse of the small but compact Rautekopf, coming from W. and going down the E. side, and once again I stormed the rock fortress of the Patteriol, this time a sunny castle where, after the combat, there was the happiness of victory and wishless resting above the sleeping valleys: the great romance of mountaineering. In 1929, the Raute- turm was captured, small rocky spire between Rautekopf and See- kopf, a short climb up the sportive S. face; this was another first ascent, beside some minor variation which we invented when we climbed the Scheibler. There is also this trip to be remembered: Leaving St. Anton before dawn, we hiked to Pettneu and from there we reached the summit of the Hoher Riffler the same noon after a fast march. But I went on, alone, and climbed the neighbored Blankahorn, though rainstorms swept and gale was howling, fog locked me off from the world beyond, from understanding even of my friends.
The year 1930 brought a week of climbing first in the Swiss Alps, in the Alpstein Group, to be precise. Terrible weather, beating us with rain and snowfall day for day, could not much hinder us collecting mountains just the same. Säntis, the highest, with its Lysengrat, the steep head of the giant Altmann, Marvies and Hundstein, Fählenalpturm and, at last, the Third and Fourth of the ill-famed Kreuzberge. All are easy goals if weather is fair, but as it was, each of the trips held of adventures and excitement just enough.
From these wet regions we went on, to meet only worse weather. After a stop in Bregenz, spent in the home of Dr. Blodig, we rode to the Silvretta Group. A set of aiguilles, called the Totennadeln, held much attraction for ambitious climbers. However, weather was as bad here, and after a traverse of Rauher Kopf, descending its staircase-like E. ridge, we merely scaled the western-most of our courted “deadly needles,” to find it harmless and, aside from raging gale and hail, even quite friendly to the newcomers. The two ;Buins, though, gave us more than trouble. After we reached the summit of the Piz Buin in walking record time up from the Wiesbadener Hut, we disregarded thunderclouds and heavy storm, and we attacked the smaller brother of the two, the Piz Buin Pitschen. The climb was hard and took time; and while we were still struggling with the icy couloir that led us to the final ridge, snow was falling, thick and wet, developing to a blizzard when we shook hands beside the cairn. The descent took six hours and the last we had to give: stamina of body and of heart still more, when we were lost on windswept glaciers, pulling each other out of trapping holes, jumping crevasses, stopping slips, escaping avalanche and other danger, to reach the shelter late and then by luck, good luck that had remained a friend all day. However, friend to us alone. Four others were victims of the same blizzard, three killed by lightning on the glacier, while the last man fell to death in precipices while looking for help.
By then I had been made a member of the Kletter-Gilde Battert, a small group of ambitious climbers, among whom were Walter Stösser, Fred Gaiser, Ludwig Hall, all killed by accident in later years. The hardest climbs in west and east along the long wall of Alpine summits were credited to members of the K. G. B. The Battert in the Black Forest, only a short distance from world- famed Baden-Baden, offers a little paradise for rock climbers. All kinds of practice may be found, and more: a veritable home for mountaineers to meet, remembering the deeds that lie behind, planning for great things still ahead, to learn and to discuss, make friends and feel the same strong impulse for adventure stream through the other fellow’s veins. For some of the most treasured experiences I must be grateful to the Battert, and beloved memories somehow originated there and terminated there as well. Of all the spires which I climbed throughout the provinces of Southern Ger- many, the Battert ranks high for thrilling sport and sheer beauty.
In July, 1932, the summer campaign found its start in Kander- steg, gem of the Bernese Alps. Sektion Altels of the Swiss Alpine Club to which I have the honor to belong, has its home there. Weather was bad, and all the dreams of climbs in ice, designed as training for Mt. Blanc, were drowned by the daily cloudburst. But we did climb the Felsenhorn, a long pull from the village, with 3600 m. difference in altitude in one day. Waiting for clear skies on the Blümlisalp Hut, we forced the Wilde Frau one afternoon, though rain was soaking the glacier like a swamp. Rain ran over the slippery rocks, lightning struck through the darkness of the clouds, and thunder was competing with the crash of falling stones. We made the summit, but I felt that we had gone too far this time, that we had trespassed where we were touching ground that is forbidden to humans, where punishment should have been law. And yet, storm tore from me all that was left of fear, and if death had closed its grip that day, it would have come almost expected.
1933. After a full week in Zermatt (on the summits which surround this Mecca), I travelled via Oberlap taking Pazzolastock and Rossbodenstock between two trains once more towards the “White Silvretta.” Dr. Karl Blodig and two other friends were met in Landquart. The trip continued to Lavin in the Unterenga- dine. The evening saw us sole guests of the Chamanna Linard, lovely cabin built by the S. A. C. And next noon found us lingering around the cairn of Piz Linard. Karl Blodig was then 74, and how amazing was the ease with which he had accomplished this proud feat, 1500 m. of steep rock and snow in average climbing time from the hut.
While we were sitting on this lofty lookout, the peaks of Queen Bernina were parading in haze and mist of the far S., and twelve months later we were there. After a climb of Piz Palü, the Brega- glia Group attracted us, famous for mountains like Badile, Ago di Sciora and others. The one we picked was Cima del Largo, a savage bugaboo, a fantastic and amazing sight. The rocks of Largo gave us more than scores of peaks before and after. We almost flew over the steepness and found what was considered difficult a play. We rocked the huge block on the summit, gazed down the smooth slabs where we had come up, with fear first, then with hearty laughter. No precipice could frighten us in that hour!
The N. ridge of the Piz Bacone, armoured with slabs, the tiny Kluckerzahn, the broad Monte del Forno, the Monte Rosso finally were other goals which, despite rain and fog, we added to the harvest before we left this unique land of wildest glaciers, granite bastions, and the sweet smell of a southern paradise.
While my vacation time in the ensuing years was devoted to climbs in ice, another phase of mountaineering had begun for me when we tried reaching summits not only in a week’s vacation, but with a fast dash over a week-end. We mostly left on Saturdays, long after noon, by car or train. We drove for hours, eight or more, to Switzerland, Bavaria, or Liechtenstein, to reach, mostly by midnight, the foot of the prospective mountain. Sleep then was short, as 3 A.M. is usually the time to set out for a major climb. There is the Gletschhorn in the Urner Alps, with the finest rock that possibly is found on any granite peak of its size. We picked the S. ridge for ascent, a difficult and intriguing route and one which, due to sickness of my friend, I had to lead throughout. The descent via S. W. face was high adventure in its own, avoiding the right couloir which had brought death to three young people, not more than two short weeks before (while glissading on snow they lost control and were thrown over rock walls in terrific speed). Avoiding this we climbed at random down the smooth slabs much farther to the W. till they broke off with overhangs; the rest was rappelling and taking chances till we could smile again in safety on the boggy glacier. Three hundred miles of home trip followed, and Monday morning found us working, at usual time, at our desks in bank and factory.
Another week-end trip went to the Allgäu: A jolly revoir with Einödsbach, the place from which I started years before. This time ambition pushed and carried me. After traversing Hochfrott- spitze and Mädelegabel, always along their rocky ridges, the Tret- tachspitze was ascended, in a thrilling climb straight up the ill- famed S. face. Rushing down the precipitous N. W. ridge and hurrying to our car, we were at home soon after midnight, travelling fast through all southern Germany. End of October the same year a lightning trip to Liechtenstein was staged, traversing the whole Drei Schwestern ridge and counting eight climbed summits as the booty of this clear autumn day. I will not forget the adventure at the Jahnturm when I forced my way up an icy pitch to reach the summit of the Vollandturm, finally securing retreat for us who had been trapped by overhands. The same night I was lecturing in Vaduz, capital of Liechtenstein, talking of mountains and of mountaineers, and—tired as I was—hardly hearing myself what I was saying. I knew, however, that my words filtered through fresh experience that had just penetrated heart and soul. Dr. Blodig, sitting in the front row between the friends (the one who had shared today’s jaunt and the companion of a past adventure: Piz Buin), smiled while I tried forming words of thoughts which never could be said.
The Austrian Alpine Club, Vienna, had taken me into its ranks that same year (1934), and I was eager to prove worthy of this group. More week-end trips gave the occasion, and though I more and more was drawn to ice and snow, they being my preferred expression of mountain beauty and the purest symbol, there were some hearty rounds of fight in steep rocks yet to come.
The month of June again and Urner Alps. The Rigidalstock, precipitous as well as vicious, with the lofty bridge which we were crossing while balancing along the knife edge, the so-called W. ridge leading to the Spitzmann, taking the overhanging headwall from the front. Remember, too, the wild set of eight ragged Kreuzberge. Unforgettable will remain the W. ridge of the Fifth, narrow and steep like the long ladder of a fire-truck. But at the Sixth I found a pitch which will demand the limit of strength and courage from anyone who wants to try to reach the top. The “Güttlerriss,” cracking the E. face, is the most strenuous and awkward length of rope which has ever confronted me. It did not make it more inviting that traces of fresh blood, resulting from a recent accident, were still spotting the ghastly path. And then, he who wants to see the Kreuzberge, this strangest fence of limestone spires between the higher mountains of the Alpstein, must climb the Mutschen on some afternoon, or hike over the tame crest of the Roslenfirst, to have a sight not readily forgotten.
Two more of those week-end climbs will close the ring of dashes, of our hunting for the mountains’ bliss. One night in August, the year was 1936, we walked from Engelberg towards the Spannort Hut, intending to climb the Gross Spannort in the morning. Two hours of a doubtful rest were spent on dirty floor boards of the crowded shelter; then we set out for our goal. Soon after sunrise our eyes gazed down, high from the towering summit of magnificence, to see tremendous avalanches of rocks tear a huge scar across the mountain face below. The day was young and calm the air, the sky stayed cloudless like a fire-mirror. The Schlossberg tempted, glorious and close, and we attacked the barricade which its smooth S. face holds as shield. It was a grim fight to get through, a hot, a hard, a scenic climb indeed, with cracks and chimneys leading the climber through the labyrinth of quite incredible overhangs. Descending, we rappelled from ledge to ledge, using the iron spikes which guides have left, facilitating job and responsibility. Reaching safe ground the minute in which fog fell in, we hiked away the trail in joy and sheer exhilaration.
And finally, the Salbitschyn, a fascinating granite peak which gained fame with every climber who claims to know his Switzerland. Once more, a hurried car trip to the base, a nightly ascent to the cabin, the lustless upward struggle during dawn, snow couloir and rock ridge to the needle top, truly the most challenging summit one can find. Again then, also, the short rest on the small roof of a great world far below, the hour of rest bringing reward for all the effort which seemed vain, prize for the strain and pain, uplift and downfall, all flowing to the end that must be set to everything.
Farewell to all this utopia, farewell, but also new hopes for tomorrow. While rushing down towards the valleys, to meet the dust, the duty, and all condemnation which is assigned to us, the laborers in eternity, while realizing that, once more, the blossom is about to fade away, to wither into night and past, out of the memory rises the question, and all the impulse and the impetus of living: Which height is there to set the eyes on now ? Which peak is next in my desire ?
Ice (Andante maestoso)
As said before, ice appears to me to be the true expression of a mountain’s face: cold, merciless, and all beauty. You think, after long years of glacier travel, to know the everchanging lights, the play of shadow and reflection, the million figures and contours carved in ice. Come back and find that you arrive not to renew, to renovate an old impression, but to be startled and entranced anew by magic wonders. This is the kind of love which keeps the fire flaming, this is allurement which through eternity draws us with questions before the dazzling eyes of the double-headed sphinx: one head smiles love, and one threats death.
In 1911, though, I did not yet feel a presentiment that any mountain, seen with the eyes of childhood, would haunt me later. I was just five, and my dear mother had taken me along to hills above the town of Interlaken, to Eiger Glacier and to the lookout named Schynige Platte. I well remember the alp-glow which lit up the Jungfrau, the awe which fell upon the crowd of watchers. Over a period of twenty years I carried in me these first memories, till I came back to Western Alps, this time to reach out for the Matterhorn. Well do I recall that evening in Winkelmatten at the small chapel on the hill, looking upon the mountain that is most beloved, and feared, adored, condemned and cursed, the peak which has become a symbol of the universe, a destiny and even a divinity for some: the Matterhorn in all its glory.
A sleepless night high on the Hörnli, winds sighing round the house like animals, dark skies and rocks, grey morning then, clouds closing in and thunder banging down, roar, lightning, gale, and within upset elements our assault was enervated, and at the end disheartened retreat. Next morning we traversed the Théodule Pass, turning backs not to a mountain, but to a hated enemy, on which to take our vengeance was then the only aim.
Gran Paradiso, down south in Italy, gave consolation plentifully and compensation for the immense distance which one must travel to get there. Italian National Park and a paradise indeed; the mountain sheep is right at home, the words and names taste sweet like wine, silence and solitude are truly solemn. We climbed the king, Gran Paradiso, a walk on ice and snow clear to the top, which yields a splendid panorama. Becca di Monciair was sharper food: a badly crevassed glacier to the bergschrund, in itself a good climb, thence a ridge with gendarmes to the steep, small summit. Ciarfo- ron, the neighbor, looks sheer forbidding with its overhangs, resembling balconies welded in ice. We crossed the Colle del Lauzon, and hellish weather was the reception which Punta del Inferno had in store for us. Fine was the climb along the long ridge which rises via the Becca Gran Vallon and Cima Grand Vallon to the Gran Sertz, where a small silver cross marks the summit. The Grivola was our last objective, but snow and fog caught us while climbing and the attack was given up after we reached the Punta Nera, a mountain near the final peak. Descent to Cogne and homewards through Aosta and the Grand Bernard.
While sitting on the summit crest of Paradiso, our eyes admired most the steep walls of the huge Mt. Blanc, towering with tremendous pillars and radiating with the vast abundance of glaciers which flow from the ridges. The longing grew through winter’s length, the wish to scale the highest peak that Europe has to offer. July of 1932 arrived, and we sat waiting day after day, strolling the streets of Chamonix, reluctantly busying ourselves with bagatelles like Aiguille de I’M, Clochetons de Planpraz, Pointe de Vioz, and Aiguilles Rouges, all while the rain poured constantly, and slowly giving up the hope that, in the few days of vacation which finally were left to us, fulfillment would be granted to our prayers. But one clear morning came that made us quit the praying all at once, take sack and iceaxe, and storm on. The afternoon at Tête Rousse brought new snow, and we were ready to descend again, this time for good, but dawn was bright, and on we went, scaling the steep ice couloirs and rocks of the N. W. face of the Aiguille du Goûter. It snowed again as we reached the summit. The clouds around us and the precipice below held us trapped fast, now prisoners of the mountain which we had come to conquer. The small hut on the summit gave us shelter, and we lay freezing on the bunks, wondering when and how we might escape the grip. There was no hope, of course, to push on to the summit, still far away. But when a cloudless morning dawned, all vicious clouds now way below us, we set out for a last attempt. The snow was deep and reached the hips; we plowed all day more than we walked. Traversing the huge glacier peak Dome du Goûter we dropped down to the Col du Dôme, to tackle wearily but with determination the last slope which led to the Cabane Vallot. From there along the narrow ridge upwards to Europe’s highest crest was elevation and reward for many dark and disappointed hours. It was four in the afternoon, the third day after the departure, when we rammed our iceaxes into the snow which builds the top of the Mt. Blanc, to mark the goal and to look down and up, down to the world and up to heaven.
After Mt. Blanc, I turned my wishing to the one mountain that I had thought of more than of any other those last years. The summer of 1933 saw me back in Zermatt. It was a week of cloudless weather, though strong winds blew relentlessly around the summits and the ridges. A hearty walk brought us into shape, along the crest from the Stockhorn, traversing Hohthäligrat and Gornergrat and ending on the rocky Riffelhorn. It was past nine o’clock when we arrived at Bétemps Hut, and midnight was the early rising hour to see us on the way again. So, with no rest at all, we started up Monte Rosa. It was an especially cold day to be on this, one of the coldest of mountains, and I recall vividly how the members of another rope came running down the slope close to the Silver-saddle, jumping crevasses and in breathless haste, to save their feet which were about to freeze. We were the only party of the five or six which had set out, to reach the top that day. The narrow ridge up from the saddle, and some short pitches just before the summit were quite impressive, spiced by icy gales which forced us often to crawl and inch our way along the knife-edge. The few minutes on the Dufourspitze, finding us closely nestled to the cold rocks and greeting warmth and scent of Italy’s wide plains, looking down into valleys 10,000 ft. below, were all we needed to feel like kings. Back at Bétemps by noon, we hurried down the Gorner Glacier, the trails of Riffelberg down to Zermatt, the peak of peaks always before us, ensnaring in its sheer beauty, growing in height like the desire we carried with us to its foot.
Next day found us on the march again. It was the first of August, 1933. This time with confidence and full assurance, I slept well in the Hörnli Hut. Out before dawn, we climbed the steep rocks of the Swiss ridge which build a staircase from the fundament clear to the roof, 4000 ft. in height and garnished with varied difficulties : the first pitch right behind the hut, an overhand climbed on a narrow ledge; the very steep rocks at the “Old Hut” (the ruins of a former camp which was abandoned long ago) ; the Moseley slab which brings the climber right to the doorsteps of the Solvay Hut (small shelter, highly welcome if the weather breaks) ; the vicious snow slope, covering the “shoulder”; and finally the steepest part: the red rocks of the “head,” 1000 ft. of hard work above tremendous precipices. A number of fixed ropes on those grim walls are of some help, but still the Matterhorn is and remains the lion which it was called, and which is ready from time to time to beat its victim to the ground. The storm of Monte Rosa was still blowing when we scaled pitch by pitch the gorgeous peak. It blew so hard that a lone climber whom we met in the Solvay Hut, offering him to join our rope, declined and was brought to death. While gliding down the ropes, coated with ice, the wind turned him around and kept him dangling, smashing his shoulder hard against the wall. His feet slipped off, and there he hung suspended for a little while, till his cramped hands let loose. For us who spent a minute only on the summit crest, enough time to melt passion into ecstasy, the mountain had received another face: it was the altar now to which a man brought willingly his blood and body.
Two nights thereafter we pitched our camp at the small lake below the waterfalls, where the big moraine, called “Eseltschuggen,” swings up towards the Trift Glacier. It was a mild night breathing beauty; the full moon swimming over Monte Rosa, Lyskamm, and Breithorn, shining like crystal. A fine trip followed when we climbed the racy Zinal Rothorn, offering all a mountaineer’s heart can wish: glacier and snow ridge, rock at its best, everything steep and highly exposed. We made the summit at an early hour, bathing in light, in carefree abandon. Thus ended my first climbing week in the Valais, and thinking back over years to that campaign, I wonder whether youth and its impetus have ever climbed since then to equal heights of spontaneous impulse.
Bernina called me to its ice palaces in the year which followed. We toured by car, carrying tent and sleeping-bags with us and never entering hotel or inn. The first night saw us camped at Fuorcla Surlej, scaling Piz Mortel and Piz Corvatsch in the morning. Diavolezza and Piz Trovat the next day, to have an early start for the Palüs. Deep powder snow and bad crevasses offered us a struggle, the icy slope to the E. summit is steep, especially when bad conditions make it slippery. But how much glory did await us then when we were walking over balconies of snow, the famous cornices of the “white hell,” across the saddle to the main summit. And how rejoicing was my heart when, in the afternoon, sitting atop of rocky Munt Pers I saw the Piz Palü again, a mountain now which I had climbed, bare of all terror and of all temptation, unfolding only serene, immaculate beauty, a shimmering dome, a blinding diamond, most secret tale of hidden possessions, treasures existing, but buried in ice.
An intermezzo in the Bregaglia followed, adventure sport between great experiences. A wild trip then ensued when we chased our old car over the passes, the Albula and Oberalp and Furka, a one-day journey from Maloja to St. Moritz and Samaden, through Thusis, Andermatt and Brigue to Stalden. To close vacation that year, we watched the sunrise from the Klein Matterhorn, proceeded to Breithorn and Bosse du Rollin, wading through glacier mud with burning faces, to cool them next day when we swam in Lake of Geneva’s quiet waters, Chateau Chillon claiming the one shore and the Dents du Midi guarding the other.
Again it was the Mt. Blanc Group, the highest and the wildest in the Alps, to call me back in 1935. This time we came from S., where Pétéret and Brenva rest, where more adventures had origin and found their end. Hotel Savoy in Courmayeur became headquarters, and I recall the jolly table round of friends, presided over by old Dr. Blodig, the man who had sat there a generation and a half before with Eckenstein and Kugy and with almost every other man who came to fame in ice and rock. Yes, here he was again: Karl Blodig with the thin, white hair, the body old, but young his heart. What he intended, was to add another peak of 4000-meter height to his long record, the Punta Elena of the Grand Jorasses, small tower on the main ridge of this mighty mountain. We went up to the tiny cabin, anchored on slabs, pressed to the stone between the glaciers, but on the march our friend fell ill. After a bad night in the cabin, he gave up in the first part of the glacier. We brought him back again to the cabane, and though the hour was late by now, we undertook attempting the Jorasses. Not less than 19 hours passed before we again reached the hut, and all this time we struggled on the softened slopes of snow and ice, on steep and loose rocks of the S. face, to reach the summit ridge at the Pointe Michel Croz, to have a breath-taking look down the N. face. This is indeed tremendous (it was climbed first this same year, after scores of attempts, and while three competing ropes had already made the mountain from the N. side, we were by some unexplicable chance the first group to ascend it on the common route). Turning back without pause, we could not hasten down the dangerous way, but used all the necessary care, and were home only long after night had come again.
Three days later lightnings illuminated our narrow path; caught by a thunderstorm right on the summit spire of the Dent du Géant, we had to fight for access to the narrow top. It was a rare and solemn minute when we stood unexpectedly before the little silver statue of the Madonna which pious guides have placed up there. Her smile was kind in all the uproar, only to see her meant a prayer. And we departed confident, making our way down through the hellish weather, over those pitches difficult enough in sunshine, with deepest calmness and the firm belief that we were safe.
Weather remained bad for the two days after, but on the second day I broke out from the crowded hut on the Col du Géant, to climb alone the Grand Flambeau, Petit Flambeau, and Aiguille de Toule, comparatively small summits at the head of the great Géant Glacier, but each of them with characteristics of their own: loose rock on the bigger of the Flambeaus, a snow ridge on the Petit; and lots of mountain crystals on the Toule.
Next morning we set out again. After the test which the Géant had given, the Dent du Requin held no horrors. Having crossed the wild Glacier d’Envers du Plan in a veritable rush, we climbed carefully the bergschrund and the ice gully, we almost flew up to the shoulder where, quite suddenly, the summit tower shows its horrifying, fantastic face: the open pharynx of a shark! To climb those smooth and exposed rock faces takes a strong heart. But when we swung ourselves over the knife-edge of the highest block, we barely had been on the way three hours from the Col du Géant. Happy we sat and looked around, shook hands with Bron Ottone, one of the crack guides nowadays, and felt how much fraternity there was between his party and our guideless selves.
It would have been a perfect summer, but tragedy came at the end. Two friends of ours, en route to Mt. Blanc via the ridge of Pétéret, met falling stones on the Noire. One killed, the other badly hurt; and as hard as any a rescue. And then the night when I stood guard alongside of the dead in that chapel, dark hours at the cemetery, the night of mystery and of illumination, the secret voices speaking back and forth, heroic ones and those of vanity. If ever was rebellion against fetters which a passion welded, I fought that night in desperation. But when it dawned again Mt. Blanc rose in glory, clouds sailing high above like ships of sunny fortune, the thunder of the avalanches not as a threat of death, but like the pompous music of a feast, music of Nature that breaks down today, only to resurrect on the morrow.
We travelled home over the Grand Bernard, to visit the Cabane du Valsorey in passing. A weak attempt on Grand Combin, however, was frustrated by fog and snowfall, the same snow that was just about to cover the lifeless bodies of Walter Stösser and Theo Seybold, beaten to death by an ice avalanche while they tried climbing the N. face of the Morgenhorn, that huge mountain wall of the Bernese Alps. It was on the way home, in Basle, that we first learned the shocking news; and when, a few days after, the brave guides of Kienthal declined to risk more human lives in searching for the bodies on the cliffs, the Kletter-Gilde Battert set out to make an effort of its own. A large group of members left by truck, riding through the night to Kandersteg, to be at the Blümlisalp Hut early in the afternoon. Good weather failed us, though, and our two attempts, one this same day, and one next morning, could not be carried any farther than to the saddle between Wilde Frau and Weisse Frau, from whence we had planned to descend into the couloir which we knew to be the grave of our comrades. The clouds were dense, rain poured without a pause, the séracs fell at short intervals, not leaving any doubt that it meant suicide to salvage what was already dead. With two friends I ascended the grim Blümlisalpstock, despising weather’s fury and the difficulty of the climb, and on the summit there we held memorial for our friends, the most forlorn of services that ever found a stage. And over there, hidden in fog, there was enthroned the monument which will remain when our friends have slept enough in the embrace of ice and snow, have bleached to dust in the débris.
Again Mt. Blanc drew me back, in 1936, to its S. side. Bad summer weather was hostile to all plans which we had stored, and the small portions of success that we could score between long days of idling were consolation only for the goals which we gave up instead in bitterness. Aiguille d’Entreves we made in hail and snow; we traversed Petit Flambeau, descending its steep snow ridge to the N., to climb the small but wild La Vierge, an extremely sharp granite cliff. In Courmayeur I met Rudi Peters, the one who had adventures more than all in the N. face of the Jorasses. Back on the col again, the Col du Géant, we made Aiguilles Marbrées and Tour de Jetoula in heavy storm, to take a crack at the Rochefort ridge the next morning. When we had reached the base of the Géant, the weather was already full of menace, and all the way along the knife-edge ridge of ice, over the dreadfully loose summit rocks of the Aiguille de Rochefort and back again to the Géant, the storm grew worse, with hail and snow which blinded us and made the narrow bridge between the precipices a precarious walk which I recall today only with thoughts of fear and thanks for the good luck that was our guardian on every step of the long way. When we finally appeared to be in safety, in going down the lowest slopes, the fundament of the Géant, the friend who tried, bare of the rope, to glissade, tired of the painful stepping, slipped and fell more than 500 ft. till a big rock stopped his death flight. To bring him down, the tall man who was badly hurt, to the Géant Glacier and from there the long stretch over to the col, and—after two days—back into the valley, was harder work than any climb ever demanded from us, was greater satisfaction, too, than any pride gained by victory over the peaks.
A second time I was in Cogne, greeting Gran Paradiso and the Grivola from where had started all my wanderings, the happy trips through icy gardens. Many desires appeared to be fulfilled, only to raise more in an endless hunger. Again the nightly motor trips which covered miles by the hundreds (five or six hundred were not rare), to sleep two hours somewhere in the scree, the rumbling mountain stream singing the song of home, and stars winking to us their friendly welcome. Up after midnight, and the hard struggle on steep moraines and steeper glaciers, on icy slopes, torn by the vehemence of giant stonefalls, on snowy ridges that would guide us to some small point, way up, beyond and far, which meant us Heaven. The Altels and the Balmhorn were thus ascended on two week-ends, the Altels being memorable since to it went the first of these week-end assaults; the Balmhorn, since we used a motorcycle to make the trip to Kandersteg and back again, odd 750 miles beside the climb of over 16,000 ft. which was the total of our going up and down.
Then another summer neared, the summer of the year 1937. More felt than known it was to be the last of my excursions through the Alps, and I went out to make it good. One of my youngest, dearest friends was with me on these climbs. The Dom came first, highest peak which all belongs to Switzerland, an ascent strenuous enough with which to start, and to accomplish when the other parties of the day, guided and the guideless ones, gave up under the pressure of the weather, the gale and cold which made the height of this huge snow peak the more felt. How grim a laugh showed on our faces when our crampons bit the ice crust of the last cornice on the summit; how tired we struggled, returning, on the steep rocks which barricade the Festijoch. A good day’s march brought us from Zermatt over the summits of the Furgghorn and the Théo- dulehorn to Breuil, a long day in the face of the sublime and elevated Matterhorn, now free from our longing and desire. Next night in Gressoney-La Trinité (that year, the border regulations forced us to many detours to approach the mountains). From there an early start up to the Capanna Gnifetti, high refuge on Monte Rosa. This same afternoon we climbed the Vincent-Pyramide via its not too easy southern ridge. Descending N. we took along the small peak of the Balmenhorn, and we retreated to the shelter in fog and dusk, all tired out. But in the morning we were off again, collecting summits if we ever did. The Zumsteinspitze via S. E. ridge was first, and then, across the Colle Gnifetti, the Signalkuppe (Punta Gnifetti). How good it feels to rest in the small observatory which the Italians built on this lookout, gazing straight down over the E. face, the most tremendous icewall in the Alps. When we went on, we crossed the Sesiajoch, to reach another peak, the Parrotspitze over a huge bergschrund and some icy slopes. Descent into the Piodejoch along the steep and narrow W. ridge. The Ludwigshöhe from the N. side was precipitous but easy. Not the way down S., though, when a softened snow made all traversing on the slopes a slippery and quite dangerous affair. In the Zurbriggenjoch we accepted the challenge of the nearby Schwarzhorn, a bold and rugged peak; we scaled the N. face up and down, building a steep staircase in the ice. With these five summits we stopped and felt like calling it a day. A very good day and a splendid trip it was, indeed, one of the finest journeys I ever took when travelling across the mountains. Though we kept going on the ridge, not resting long during the trip, we did not miss a single sight, and all the luck and happiness which mountains give to those who come were ours on that blessed day.
Next morning we slept in, but then, farewell! Down on the Indren Glacier we repented that we would leave without a final climb, and we turned back and again up the glacier to storm in two short hours the Punta Giordani. Grandest sight: the whole E. face of the Monte Rosa stood high and glorious before our eyes, and each prong in the shimmering crown held memory. Are you now sad and melancholy, heart, crying because the day is fading? No! Be aware, how young you are. Remember always: Life has just begun!
Almost at noontime we decided then that we had better go and hurry if we meant to arrive at our goal the same night. It was a march which I shall remember. From the top of the Punta Giordani we dropped down to the Colle della Pisse, climbed the steep rocks of the near Stolemberg, continued to the Passo dei Salati, and on the Corno del Camoscio we resolved that we had had mountain peaks enough. What followed was the steep descent from Colle d’Olen into the narrow Vallone delle Pisse, admiring the cascades and the great solitude in this back corner of the world. At the chapel of San Antonio we reached the lowest point, having descended almost 10,000 ft. After the icy cold of Monte Rosa the beating sun of Italy. Heat, dust, and thirst were the companions on the steep path to the last pass; late afternoon, then evening arrived before we had reached the final height: the Colle del Turlo, cut in between fantastic spires of reddish rocks. Night fell as we ran down the steep zigzags of a good army trail; it was dark, the stars were gleaming, when we hiked the last miles to the terminus: the village of Macagnuaga. The meal we had after the days of abstinence: grapes in abundance, peaches and what not. And then the sleep which was redemption after the will had pushed our bodies into exhaustion beyond measure. And the awakening on a sunny morning, the leisure which from now was our right, the comfort that we demanded in every detail, Monte Rosa a far cry, a possessed dream, a memory.
This was the march to Macagnuaga, it was my exit from the Valais Alps. I went, once more, to Zermatt on the way north. I stood at graves in the small cemetery where many victims of the Matterhorn sleep to the dawn of their eternity; I slowly walked the path to Winkelmatten, to the white chapel where I feel at home. And while I looked up to the divine mountain, a gorgeous peak not only, but a symbol, a monument of victory, of sacrifice. I realized how much my soul belonged there and nowhere else. And even now, though far away by miles and years, while on the road to unknown goals, all goes happiness with me and all the bitterness in it, that song of wandering that leads us far.
I know a book, a book of 1000 pages, should have been written about these many mountains I have named; names, boring those who do not know them, intriguing those, however, who bear the love for mountain beauty in their souls. So let me quickly find the end: swift like the skis which carried me so often down from wintry hills, which gave me thrill after the toil, and speed that tore away the veils of brain and heart.
The Arlberg was the famous cradle from which I, too, emerged, one more disciple of Hannes Schneider. In fact, tame Galzig was the very first of Alpine hills which I ascended to the top. This was on Easter, 1926, and I recall the cloudless days which we spent at the Ulmer Hut; the Queen Valluga and the Schindlerspitze which I ascended only later, were objects of admiring awe and witnesses of my uncounted tumbles. Christmas the same year saw me back again in St. Anton where Hannes Schneider then was reigning.
Most of my early ski excursions were made in the Bregenzer Wald. I visited the Hohe Kugel and the Gräsakopf, Hochälpele many times. But real skiing started only later, in March, 1929, when increased skill made me enjoy the peaks and slopes around Arosa Weisshorn and Brüggerhorn are marvellous; still more inspiring and exciting is the Parpaner Schwarzhorn. The downhill from the Hörnli saddle to the Schwarzhorn’s foot and the long slope up to the summit crest are steep and dangerous from avalanches, which have occurred and taken their toll so often in this mountain corner. We also climbed the Plattenhorn, a hugged peak near the Carmenna alp, most of the way without the skis, and it was said that previously no other visitors had made the top in winter time. Out of the order, too, was our ascent of that big rock, the Hörnlizahn, which dominates Arosa and its peaceful meadows, seeing so many skiers pass its foot, but seldom any on its summit.
Easter each year became the time to try a major Alpine goal. After Arosa in 1929, we went to Engelberg in 1930. Weather was bad, and we were just about to give up any hope, when on the last day we broke through the banks of clouds which buried us at Trübsee, broke through to sunshine on the upper slopes, to glacier and to summit dome, ploughing a path in deserts of new snow, barely escaping an avalanche that caught me at the final pitch, embracing me up to the chest. But from the summit signal of the mighty Titlis we had a run down to the Trübsee and from there on to Engelberg which was so thrilling that it is hardly surpassed by any of the other great downhills in the Alps. One flight, uninterrupted, to the lake which, while you cross it, gives just time to rest, to be prepared for the big drop, the second, down to the bottom of the valley.
Here I should not forget to mention the many of ski trips on Sundays which took me through the most beautiful woods, hills, and valleys of the famous Black Forest. Here I was home. Week after week we put our tracks on many of its lovely mountains, from the old Hornisgrinde in the N. down to the Feldberg in the S. Some of the downhills are first class: take the steep run from Belchen peak to Schönau, or the fine sweep down from the Her- zogenhorn to the picturesque homes of Bernau. However, all excursions which we ever made over these rounded hills and mountain meadows were meant as training for the bigger things, as outlet for greater ambitions. So we travelled, one March Sunday, crosscountry some odd 40 miles from Freudenstadt to Baden-Baden, and all of this distance, with climbs and downhills, in just about eight hours’ time. No wonder that, on the ensuing week-end, the Easter days of 1932, we found it little effort to carry out this strenuous trip: an all-night march from Göschenen to the Rotondo Hut and the Hühnerstock still on the same evening. Next day three summits: Leckihorn, Stellibodenhorn, and Rotthalihorn, each of them steep and worthwhile. On Easter Sunday then the famous Piz Lucendro, a truly classic peak in shape and ski fun which it offers ; and on the morning of departure the racy Wyttenwasserstock in fog and snowstorm.
There was a dash to the Bregenzer Wald: New Year’s eve in the home of old friend Dr. Karl Blodig, and from the celebrating party without sleep by train to Rankweil, starting point of our long way to the Hoher Freschen. This mountain had repulsed, always by the worst kind of weather, my previous three attempts on it, all from the N. This time, in sunshine and on New Year’s day, the peak made up for all the trouble which it had heaped on me before. Wandering over Alpwegkopf and Nobspitze, we terminated this long day on the windblown field of the bold summit just when the sun was setting in an ocean of clouds and mist and light behind the Santis. Though a small mountain, it has busied me more than a good many of the greater peaks.
A week-end trip into the Wetterstein, in February, 1934, was also fast and compressed to the limit: Saturday afternoon 300 miles to Munich and, before dawn, on Sunday morning, on to the town of Garmisch-Partenkirchen. From the Kreuzeck in a swift climb up to the noble Alpspitze, and, after running down again, the long trip back to my home town where I arrived at 5.00 a.m., early enough for Monday morning’s duties. And still another tour: the downhills at Parsenn we made one Sunday in February, 1935. Not satisfied with a superb run from Weissfluhjoch to Klosters, we took the next train back to Davos. My friends made two more runs that day, while I went to the Weissfluh summit and had, when a blizzard ceased raging, the finest downhill over 7000 ft. to Küblis on the “standard run.” This all was squeezed between two car trips, each of some 300 miles. And only sunburned faces had to tell next day to the colleagues in our office that once more an elopement had been the recreation for us week-long workers.
The high-points of the winter climbs remained the Easter holidays when sun was strong, snow good and plentiful, and in us rose the ardent wishes to go and scale the major peaks as if we could not wait till summer. And so those spring ascents had mostly high and hard objectives. Success from year to year spurred us to more. In 1933, we made the Mönch, of course with axe and crampons from the Mönchjoch. Next day we climbed the Jungfrau, leaving the skis below the Rotthalsattel. Both peaks proved to be difficult under conditions as they were, and we rewarded ourselves with a plain ski trip to the Walcherhorn, crossing the huge glacier fields, called Ewigschneefeld. On the last day, I saw the proud triumvirate: Eiger, Mönch, Jungfrau from the Lauberhorn, and this view, so unique, full of elevation, will stay with me forever.
Next year, in 1934, the Bernese Alps were tempting us again. Dragging loads of food and full equipment up from Kandersteg, we made headquarters on the quiet Gemmipass, where one looks far to Matterhorn and Grand Combin and Mt. Blanc. The first day was long. Traversing the Wildstrubel ridge in its entire length (Weststrubel, Mittelgipfel, Ostgipfel and Grosstrubel) and going back again along the crest, we should have had enough, but no: there was the Steghorn yet and then the Lämmerhorn, before we skied down to the pass and fell, exhausted, into rest. Next day another dash to height: we took the summits which surround the lonely square miles of the Glacier de la Plaine Morte: Autannazgrat (Les Faverges), Gross Schneehorn, and Klein Schneehorn. In 1935, the Allgäu was re-visited, this time the ski-grounds of the Walserthal. The fine hills around Mittelberg afforded us with a good trip; crossing the steep Hoherifen from the Hahnenköpfel, we readily extended our tour to the near Hählekopf. A splendid downhill followed to the famous Schwarzwasseralm from whence a long way back to Mittelberg rounded out that trip. We rose quite early next day, which was Easter Sunday, and reached the Hochalp- pass soon after dawn. The Widderstein is a real mountain and to climb up its S. face is adventurous when snow and ice coat rock and ridge.
The Valais Alps on skis in 1936. From Saas Fee to the fine Britannia Hut, located amidst gorgeous mountains and tremendous glaciers. It snowed then day after day. A hopeless assault which we made in nothing but sheer desperation, got stuck in avalanche snow on the Adlerpass. But we came back again for more. The snow was even worse this time, but sunshine brightened toil and danger. Ploughing through depth of snow and struggling against what seemed overwhelming odds, we made Strahlhorn on Good Friday, and Saturday, when weather broke again, we took the Allalinhorn in storm. A gale was blowing on the icy slopes ! How much we had to hold on not to fly away! And after summit success, we skied down from the worst cold into the spring: Pastures were fragrant in the valleys, Easter bells ringing in Zermatt (O holy temple of the Matterhorn !), and lilies blooming all along the Rhone.
I did not know then that 1937 would bring the last of Easter trips on skis, on the stage of grandeur: the Alps. We stayed in Klosters, making some of the most famous climbs and downhills in the skier’s paradise as has been called the Parsenn region. One big trip was from Wolfgang on the Gotschna, from there along the crest to the steep Grünhorn, skiing rapidly down to the Parsenn Hut where we had lunch. The afternoon saw us climb to the Weissfluh summit, to be thrilled by the swift downhill run to Klosters. It was the next day that we were around the Parsenn Hut again, this time to do the Totalpgrat which has a fine W. ridge, composed of rocks and cornices, a comfortable downhill back to Wolfgang. A few weeks later, in the Urner Alps, the Reissend Nollen trumpted a challenge when we came with skis as far as the smaller Jochstock. There, after investigating the first sudden slopes, we clearly realized that danger of snow slides was imminent and overwhelming. And also there, under the hot May sun on the Ochsenhorn, I learned again that often defeat counts for more than summit victory, because it, coming unexpected, calls for poise. It educates us to forego what we have taken for granted, it helps prepare for major losses, the ones which come inevitably in each career of mountaineering, which come, as well, in the much harder job of daily living. But what would life then be without such setbacks and disturbances? To make this fully plain, the Reissend Nollen gave me defeat a second time when, two months later, we returned and pushed attack to within 80 meters of the icy summit ridge. One of my companions had a breakdown under the vehemence of snowstorms which were raging, and we had heartbreaking retreat, downwards in steep ice couloirs between the rock ribs of the mountain, down to the glacier, half carrying the sick man and half pulling him, step by step, through hours saving the victim who had given up himself, subdued by forces of the elements. This was when we fought the mountain, the first time, as an enemy from whom we had to tear away a prey, and our prize was more than glory in which we mirror ourselves; it was the simple tie of brotherhood.
And so I come to the last scene. Decision was already made to leave this continent of age and death. From afar was shining light and promise, the hope of finding a new world. It was the consciousness of the farewell which made it clear and sweet and almost joyful. Some days of skiing around Adelboden: Hahnenmoos, Laveygrat, Metschstand, and Regenbolshorn. There was no sentiment of bitterness and hate in realizing that all was over, that a long chapter of the best of life was definitely closing down. There were the thanks alone and the memories which last over the times and oceans. There was the relaxation and the aimlessness, anticipation, too, of new goals and new mountain love. And when I stood alone one night in Frutigen at the windy station, waiting for the train which would take me into the darkness of the future— when I was lifting up my eyes to the pale shining dome, the Altels, which was enthroned under the starry skies like a great idol in its taciturnity, then only did I know that it would be for the last time. Should it not be a final chance which has been left to us to drink, the last time, into hearts and souls the essence of it all: Beauty, Faith, and Worship, and Devotion?
There came the train, and while I turned my face away from pictures which were bound to vanish, it was no mountain any more that disappeared in night behind, no mountain and no symbol, either. Life on the heights had made its own, had welded image and experience into one. I live in it, it lives in me, and when I die, I shall be there.