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THE ALPS IN 1898
ALL the world over it has been a fine season. In the old 'playground of Europe' every great peak was accessible, even by the most difficult and rarely used routes. The occupants of lofty bivouacs, for once, slept warm, and as well as men may whose mattress is of sharp and angular stones. Moreover, the weather was not only good, but steadily good, so that most mountaineers looked for a great body of new achievement and a general immunity from accident. Both expectations have, however, been singularly falsified.
The list of successes is short, the tale of accidents is long. In the Chamonix district, the Duke De'Abruzzi climbed the Aiguille sans nom, and the rock point between the pic Whymper and the Col des grandes Jorasses. In Switzerland proper, there have been a few variations of old routes, chiefly by steep faces usually plastered with ice, but this year comparatively clear. In the Caucasus, M. de Déchy has made a new ascent and a new pass, both of the second rank. In India, the famous Gurkha officer, the Hon. C. G. Bruce, has had several new climbs. In Tirol, the north wall of the Einserkofel and the Cadore face of the Antelao have been forced. Three of the loftier summits of the Canadian Rockies have been scaled, one of them so centrally placed that its melting snows drain partly into the Arctic Sea, partly into the Pacific, partly into the Atlantic Ocean. In Bolivia, Sir M. Conway has climbed Yllimani (22,500 feet high), and has failed on Sorata, after reaching a still greater altitude. There is little or nothing else worth mentioning. On the other hand, the list of Alpine catastrophes is appalling. The number of deaths at heights above 2,000 metres (6,562 feet) reaches the enormous aggregate of thirty-one. Two of these may not perhaps be, in strictness, mountaineering fatalities. Mr. Norman Neruda's death on his favourite Fünffinger-spitze seems to have been due to heart disease, and the fall of the Saxon student on the point of his own ice-axe might as well have occurred in the street. But the balance is large enough to be distressing. Of the twenty-nine victims, six were absolutely alone, more than twenty were unaccompanied by guides. In several cases they were unroped, in one case the rope is said to have been cut, and in three the party con
VOL. XIV-No. 263
sisted of two only, though they had to cross or descend a steep and crevassed glacier. The laws of mountaineering have, in a word, been broken by wholesale, and the mountains have taken a wholesale revenge.
In view of the abnormally heavy death-roll in this year of exceptionally beautiful weather, the question naturally suggests itself: Is there any connection between fine weather and fatal accidents ? Of course sunshine causes an increase in the number of expeditions, but this is hardly a sufficient explanation of the fact that fine years seem to be as prolific in calamity as rainy ones, perhaps indeed more prolific, although the ordinary mountaineering difficulties are certainly less. In the year 1865, famous for the first Matterhorn accident, that mountain was exceptionally free from ice, so that Mr. Whymper and Michel Croz, when at the top, raced along the level rocks, which are usually buried under many feet of snow. The year 1882, again, was a fine weather year, but Professor Balfour and Petrus were killed on the Aiguille Blanche de Peuteret and Mr. Penhall and Maurer on the Wetterhorn, while Mr. Gabbett and the Lochmatters fell from the Dent Blanche, then 'in quite perfect condition.' Similarly, 1895 was a record year for sunshine and also a record year for disasters. Now the chief perils of a rainy season are in the nature of things that sautent aux yeux. They are mainly snowstorms, avalanches, stones melting out of ice, rotten snow, and glazed rocks. These are, in short, of such a character that few of the less experienced, yet more hardy mountaineers, are greatly tempted to risk them without professional aid. But when skies are blue day after day, and rocks are dry, the invitation is harder to resist. The truth is, that the dangers peculiar to continuous fine weather, although much less obvious, are quite as grave as the others. First there are the stones, which, when their ice-setting is completely gone, sink gently down on sloping slabs, where they remain so delicately poised that the first movement of the morning air will send them bounding off, long before a single direct ray of sunshine has touched them. Another effect of continued drought is the gradual loosening of the foundations of big rocks, so that, though they will not move at a touch, a man's weight will send them flashing down the cliff. Of course, too, in such years, the steepest snow slopes turn to ice, and these, with a thin crust of snow on them, such as a summer flurry leaves, become the most dangerous of man-traps. On such a slope, on the Glacier des Nantillons, Mr. Aston Binns and Xavier Imseng lost their lives this year, and to gravel left on rocks by the melting out of snow many of this year's fatal slips may probably be attributed. The most terrible catastrophe of 1898 was that by which Dr. Hopkinson, his son, and two daughters lost their lives on the Petite Dent de Veisivi. They were not an incompetent party, the place was not difficult, they were properly roped, but their bodies were found at the foot of an easy cliff, literally shattered to pieces. · As their boots were on their feet, we may be sure that they did not fall far through the air, for that almost invariably results in the tearing off of the footgear, owing, possibly, to the air rushing in through loosened openings. The rope, too, was unbroken. It is probable that the foremost climber pulled a great rock upon his chest, which flung him backwards, with the result that the whole party were spun outwards and dashed in again, with terrific force, on to the face of the cliff. One must acquit Dr. Hopkinson of imprudence in going without a guide on such an expedition, but still professional instinct would probably have guessed that the rock was loose, for it is just in these small things that a good guide's flair is most wonderful.
Although guideless climbing, or going with only one guide over glaciers, always involves a risk requiring justification, it is altogether venial compared to solitary climbing. In addition to the external dangers common to all mountaineering expeditions, and which are reduced to insignificant dimensions in the case of a properly organised party, a slight slip, a fall into a crevasse, a broken leg, even a badly sprained wrist, may prove fatal to a man climbing alone. It is urged, of course, that many such expeditions have been successful. Professor Tyndall came safely back from Monte Rosa, Mr. Morshead from Mont Blanc, Mr. Girdlestone from many glacier passes. But few realise the demands made on the lonely mountaineer. A fair measure of skill, courage, and experience is not enough, unless reinforced by that rarest of all qualities, the capacity for taking quite abnormal care for many hours at a stretch. This becomes inexpressibly tedious on a long expedition, and the nerves of only a few are equal to it. A number of famous climbers have thus lost their lives, like Herr Winkler, the conqueror of the Cima della Madonna, who started alone from Zinal for the Weisshorn and never returned. This year a similar fate befell M. Roche on the Southern Aiguille d'Arves in Dauphiné, a mountain which has a mauvais pas hardly to be matched outside the Dolomites. M. Thorant (subsequently killed on the Meije) climbed it alone in 1895; now M. Roche has attempted to repeat that tour de force, and has paid the penalty of failure with his life. And not only are the failures of these mountaineers calamitous for themselves, but their successes arouse a dangerous emulation in others, only their equals in courage, with the result that inexperienced men and women go light-heartedly scrambling in the mountains who at home have compunctious visitings on the edge of a sea-wall.
For 1899 the Alpine Club has a new President in the person of Mr. James Bryce, and so for the second time in its history the English Club, the Société Mère of all the Alpine Clubs of the world, has for its head a Privy Councillor and an ex-Minister of the Crown. In politics Mr. Bryce is not exactly reactionary, but in regard to the Alps he is known to hold thoroughly conservative opinions. He has done much to deserve our thanks in preserving our old mountain paths from encroachment. We shall have reason to be still more grateful if he can induce the forward school of mountaineers to quit these perilous 'new departures,' and to return once more super antiquas vias.
THE DREYFUS DRAMA AND ITS
I. ARREST, TRIAL, AND SENTENCE
On the 29th of October, 1894, the Libre Parole, edited by M. Edouard Drumont, the leader of anti-Semitism, asked if there had not been 'an important arrest for the crime of high treason. On the morrow the Eclair replied that the statement was true. On the Ist of November the Libre Parole published an article with the sensational title, “Arrest of a Jewish Officer.' The Petit Journal and the Intransigeant accused the Minister of War of wishing to stiile the affair because the officer is a Jew.' On the 5th of November M. Drumont published an article from which we select the following passage: 'Look at this Ministry, which should be the sanctuary of patriotism, and which is a den, a place of perpetual scandals, a sewer to which one could not compare the Augean stables, for no Hercules has yet essayed to cleanse it.' The article finished by telling Deputies that 'to-morrow, without doubt, they will applaud the Minister of War when he comes to boast of the measures which he has taken to save Dreyfus.' On the same day, in the Intransigeant, Rochefort published an article commencing with these words:
A person named Mercier, a general by trade, and Minister of War in consequence of circumstances independent of his will, should, several days ago, have been taken by the scruff of his neck and thrown, with the utmost violence, down the stairs of his department, because, after having refused to order the arrest of the traitor Dreyfus, he only decided to do it under the menace of a scandal which the honest colleagues of the said Dreyfus were resolved to stir up.
These insults continued till the 7th of November. On this day General Mercier, the Minister of War, seeing that he had all to lose -save honour-in resisting, and that he had all to gain—save honour-in yielding, capitulated. On the next day a complete change came o'er the spirit of Rochefort's dream. For him, now, General Mercier became, with General de Boisdeffre, the patriot, the great man, who had made up his mind to go right through with it and have Dreyfus shot.' Those who would prevent the fulfilment of