Page:Whymper - Scrambles amongst the Alps.djvu/150

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chap. v.

The most capable men agree that there are two species of fool-hardiness which merit emphatic condemnation. The first is attempting to traverse the upper (snow-covered) portions of glaciers without using a rope, and the second is ignoring the instability of new snow. Lives are lost every year through one or the other of these imbecilities. In each case the dangers are perfectly well known, and the results may be predicted with tolerable certainty. A man who attempts to traverse the upper parts of glaciers by himself, or with others, unroped, does not necessarily take harm on the first attempt, but if he perseveres he is certain to come to grief sooner or later. He may go on with impunity for a considerable time, or he may perish on the first attempt; but, whatever may be the case, he is foolhardy, because he incurs a risk which can only be incurred by the neglect of the simplest of precautions. In the second case one cannot, unfortunately, speak with the same precision, because there are three elements involved, all of which are subject to continual variation. The first is the quality of the snow, the second is its quantity, and the third is the angle at which it reposes. Still it is not very difficult in practice to determine when a new fall of snow is dangerous to traverse or not. For example, it may be laid down as a general rule that it is imprudent to meddle with any slope exceeding thirty degrees for several days after a heavy fall. It is equally certain that slopes considerably exceeding this angle are traversed, or attempted to be crossed, every year, by incompetent persons, within twenty-four hours of heavy falls.

It may be questioned whether those who commit these imprudences consider they are endangering their lives. In some cases such things have probably been done from mere ignorance, but in others the clamour and protestations against departure have at least taken it out of the power of those concerned to say that they were unaware of the opinion of those who were the most fit judges. Whether such things are done from ignorance or from conceit, it is not unfair to class them as acts of foolhardiness.