Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 82.djvu/564

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THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY

which took a traveler only to the foot of the lower valleys. Although De Saussure, the Swiss pioneer, had done his work on Mont Blanc as early as 1787, he had had so few successors that he seemed almost a contemporary. Professional guides were few, not especially experienced or adventurous when new territory was contemplated, so that we must not be astonished to find that Whymper, Tyndall, Forbes, Kennedy, Sir Alfred Wills, Sir Leslie Stephen sometimes dispensed with guides or used them more as porters or servants than as advisers.

It was the heroic age of Alpinism. The vast flood of development and facilitation—vulgarization, let us say—did not come until the seventies or eighties. Almost every ascent was a geographical achievement, accomplished by the bitterest toil. The early sixties were a school in which were educated some of the great climbers and explorers of the nineteenth century.

Having learned his first lesson on the Pelvoux, Whymper dallied for no further lessons, but attacked the Matterhorn at once, in his vacation of 1861. The Matterhorn was then the last great Alpine peak that remained unsealed; less on account of the difficulty of the feat than by the doubt inspired by the invincible appearance of the mountain. It was regarded with terror by the climbers and with affrighted superstition by the natives. Even to-day it is dreadfully impressive to the casual tourist; it never seems commonplace and stands almost alone among mountains. It still has no rivals in the Alps for difficulty, and but few in the world.

To-day it is curious to read of Whymper's fruitless searchings here and there to find guides for the Matterhorn. There was apparently only one man in the Swiss valleys who believed that the mountain could be ascended, and that was Jean-Antoine Carrel, destined later to become the most famous of guides. With him Whymper made his first attack upon the peak, in August, 1861. One other guide, J.-J. Carrel, accompanied them. They failed, but learned valuable lessons. Similar attempts were made in 1862 and 1863 without success, but all the time Whymper was making marvelous progress as a scientific mountaineer.

Whymper's impatience with his guides led him in 1862 to make another attempt on the mountain alone. Many of us read in our first readers the story of his solitary scramble on the Col du Lion, terminating in a terrific fall down an ice slope. Here he was saved only by a hair from a fall on to the Glacier du Lion, a thousand feet below. This early experience seems to have been a valuable one for him.

In 1864 Whymper turned aside from the Matterhorn to make what seems to the writer one of his chief feats—the ascent of the Pointe des Ècrins. This is the highest of the French Alps, and in 1864 was still unconquered. It is an exceedingly steep and smooth tooth of rock.