The Pope as Alpine Climber, by Dr Antonio Ratti

Monte RosaEarly in June, 1889, after making arrangements with my incomparable friend and companion of Alpine expeditions, the Rev. Luigi Grasselli, I wrote to my guide, Gadin of Courmayeur, asking him to be at Macugnaga on July 28th, where we would join him on the following day. It was our intention to go by the Weissthor and the Cima di Jazzi, and so descend on Zermatt. We had also decided to give up this route if necessary for the ascent of the Dufour Spitze (the highest peak of Monte Rosa) from Macugnaga. To avoid discussion we had kept our intention to ourselves, feeling sure that if the proposal were made on the spot and in favourable conditions, it would be welcomed. Gadin’s reply, however, showed our caution to be unnecessary. “I agree,” he wrote, “to be at Macugnaga on the 28th; I advise you that, if the weather is fine, we shall do Monte Rosa.” Gadin had agreed to bring another guide, Alessio Proment, a vigorous and intelligent youth, to serve as porter. We knew that neither of these men had made the ascent of the Dufour Spitze by any route, nor had we ourselves, and we knew it would not be an easy expedition. Three years earlier, the sight of the memorial stone to Marinelli and Imseng in the cemetery of Macugnaga and the particulars I had heard of the catastrophe to which they fell victims had left a melancholy impression on my mind. I had studied the published accounts of previous ascents of the Dufour Spitze from Macugnaga; but it seemed to me that the dangers and disaster encountered in those previous ascents might reasonably be attributed to unfavourable mountain and atmospheric conditions. With regard to us, the important point was that we knew our men. It was just a year since we had attempted the ascent of Mont Blanc from Courmayeur with them. My brother Edward was one of our party at the time, he also belonging to the Milan section of the Alpine Club. Imprisoned by wind and snow in the Sella Hut, we were forced by lack of provisions and fuel to descend in spite of the storm, and it was in this descent that our men had inspired us with complete confidence in them. This trust will not seem exaggerated to those who know the locality and will imagine it covered with deep snow far below the terrace on which stood the old hut, now abandoned.

In 1867 Mathews and Morshead had formed a plan for scaling the colossus of Monte Rosa from the Pizzo Bianco side. They thought, however, it would be too risky because of the constant fall of avalanches from the highest peak. The idea was taken up by Mr. Taylor and by the Pendlebury brothers, who were the first to carry it through on July 22nd, 1872. It is evident from their account in the Alpine Journal that the widening of the crevasses of the upper glacier and the constant threat of avalanches caused serious trouble and even some moments of real panic to the English climbers. The same ascent was made in 1880 by Herr Lendenfeld of Graz.

It occurred to Damiano Marinelli of the Florence Section that it was not proper that foreigners only should attempt the ascent of the Italian side of Monte Rosa, which is as essentially Italian as the Matterhorn is essentially Swiss. He was at Macugnaga in the summer of 1881, but conditions could not have been more unfavourable. The sirocco was blowing, and there were constant avalanches. On August 8th he fell a victim to an avalanche, in the great couloir which bears his name. Another foreigner. Professor Schulz of Leipzig, attempted the same ascent and, favoured by exceptionally good conditions, was successful.

These and later expeditions previous to ours showed that what we specially needed was ice and fine cold weather, the first to secure us against crevasses, the second against avalanches. We could consider ourselves lucky if we found little frost, snow or ice on the rocks of the summit.

As it turned out, we had the good fortune to carry out the expedition under the best possible conditions.

Two days before our arrival at Macugnaga a heavy fall of snow had occurred on the side of the Pizzo Bianco. The temperature was distinctly lowered, and if any stone or cornice had had an unstable equilibrium it would certainly have already fallen. It remained to be seen how much fresh snow had fallen. To the storm had succeeded not only fine, but splendid weather, and when on the road from Vanzone to Prequartero, Monte Rosa burst upon our view, it was a vision of incomparable beauty. Around us the fresh green of forests and meadows; above us, heaven’s pavilion decked in the fairest azure that may be seen, of crystalline purity and transparency; facing us, with its immense expanse of snow and ice, with its gigantic, ten-peaked crown, about 15,000 feet high, aglow and aflame with the first rays of the sun, the Alpine colossus towered in invitation – or was it in defiance?

We arrived at Pestarena as a group of gold-miners, lamp in hand, were about to go down again to the galleries, after their early meal. It is well known that the practical sense and characteristic courage of the English finds a way of employing advantageously no small capital in this far corner of Italy. And I say no small capital, not only for the importance of the work and the number of men employed, but also (be it said with praise) for the generosity with which our workmen’s security is provided for at Pestarena where they are not, as in so many other places, victims of a homicidal economy.

Thanks to the courtesy of the English Consulate at Milan and the kindness of the overseer at the mine, we were able to watch the chief work at the mine and see how the king of metals is separated from the crushed earth.

It was half-past eight in the morning, and Pestarena was not far behind us, when our men came into view. They had not expected us so early, but the greeting was none the less cordial. “Well, sirs, Monte Rosa is there, and we shall do it,” said Gadin at once. The good man had made up his mind, and had already done something to ensure the success of the expedition. Arriving a day ahead of us, he had not wasted his time, but had employed it in collecting information and studying the ground on the spot, going with Proment as far as the Pedriolo Alp. With the intuitive, almost divining, instinct of a proved and expert guide, he had already mapped out the route to take from the Marinelli Hut to the Dufour Spitze. For anything that eye or glass could see, there was not a crevasse, not a hanging or threatening cornice, not one disturbing evidence of fresh snow or visible trace of ice on the highest peak. It was hardly possible to distinguish the bergschrund. Arriving at the Monte Moro Inn, we found that our project had received a most encouraging vote of confidence. The proprietor, Sig. G. Oberto, had been on the Dufour Spitze with the first English expedition of Mr. Taylor, and knew our men. “With such weather and such men,” he said to me, “you will get on all right.”

I have gone into these details at length to make it clear that the idea of a desperate adventure had never crossed our minds. In truth it seems to me that if we were on the whole fortunate we were not foolhardy nor, properly speaking, rash. I do not say this for the benefit of experienced climbers, but rather, if I may be pardoned for the expression, for the profane. I would wish to assure the latter that mountaineering proper is not necessarily rashness, but is entirely a question of prudence and of a little courage, of strength and steadiness, of a feeling for nature and her most hidden beauties, which are often awe-inspiring, and for that reason the more sublime and the more suggestive to a contemplative spirit.

We stopped at Macugnaga long enough to refresh ourselves and to pay a brief visit to the solitary and charming little church, and a briefer one to its pastor, whose cordial hospitality we are surely not the first to record. Let this simple mention thank him also for the almost fraternal anxiety with which, armed with his field-glasses, he followed with his eyes a good part of our long ascent.

A little before noon we began the climb to the Marinelli Hut, where, after being greeted on the way by a herd of chamois, we arrived about seven in the evening, without any other discomfort than that of a mortal drowsiness, which assailed the writer in the course of the climb, and against which, if the excellent reasons of Gadin had no effect, a few drops of ammonia had. I was not surprised by this phenomenon, which is not unusual while climbing. The sufficient reason was the sudden rise from the plain of Milan to this height of almost 10,000 feet. But, from personal experience, I had full belief in the final effect of climbing on my organism, and I can say such faith was largely realized. At the hut the first contretemps, inconvenient but not serious, befell us. We found it only half closed and full of snow. It may be imagined how we felt, longing as we were for a little warmth. But thanks to a wise division of labour, we were able to put the intruder out, and make ourselves masters of the place. Melted snow and Liebig’s Extract of Beef furnished not the only, but the useful part of our supper, while one or other of us kept going out to consult the weather or to enjoy the glorious view which the evening presented from this height. There was solemn silence, an unending vivid sparkling of stars above the deep blue velvet of the sky, the enormous masses of the vast summits towering against it with their gigantic shadows on the white expanse of snow and ice.

A little before 11, we stretched ourselves on the bare boards that were our bed and went to sleep. Our slumber was more brief than we could have wished, for Gadin, as agreed, waked us about one o’clock, and in a few minutes our little company was on foot. Not one avalanche had disturbed our short repose, and the cold and fine weather still continued; then, forward. To save ourselves from the possibility, I will not say risk, of avalanches, we had decided to cross the Marinelli couloir by night, so that even in case of a difficult crossing we should have made it before the sun rose to disturb the snow and ice which lie above.

After refreshing ourselves with a little Liebig and warm wine, and carefully extinguishing the fire and closing the hut door firmly, we took to the rope. Gadin tied himself first with great care, then I, and after me Proment, and last Prof. Grasselli, and in this order we continued during the climb. Proment carried one lamp and Gadin another until we reached the rocks. A short climb above the hut found us on the edge of the famous couloir. We had planned to cross it diagonally, always tending upwards, nor did it seem as though it would be difficult to gain the rocks of the Imsengriicken which loomed up before us. Gadin handed me the lamp, and after him we all struck out on the snow. Bad luck! Under a thin crust we sank in up to our knees. It seemed to Gadin after careful examination that this was a purely local accumulation due to a recent small avalanche, and this turned out to be the case. We had to go down further to seek better going, and our diagonal crossing was thus enormously lengthened. When we got down we found the snow not only solid but extremely hard. This was another misfortune, especially for Gadin, who had not expected to begin cutting steps so early. Poor Gadin! When I think what hard labour he endured for almost the whole of that day, without ever wishing to let another take his place, I still feel amazed at his steadiness and at his muscles of steel.

Another unwelcome discovery soon followed. The great couloir was composed of an endless number of smaller ones which enormously multiplied its surface and our difficulties. I find no mention of this detail in any account of previous ascents, and perhaps the absence of this circumstance and of similar ones I noted explains how others crossed the couloir in much less time than we did. We were continually obliged to go up in order to go down, and to go down in order to go up, gaining very little ground on the whole breadth of the couloir, the lamps almost always hidden behind the ridges dividing the different couloirs. Very often we heard Gadin’s tranquil voice: “Prenez garde, messieurs, c’est un mauvais pas.” Gadin, who spoke his Italian well and held his own even in English, in difficult moments seemed to prefer a kind of French of his own, like many in the Aosta Valley. Meanwhile our eyes were instinctively raised and lowered along the steep couloir to fix themselves hungrily at last on the rocks of the Imsengriicken. After a good hour and a half of hard going we still seemed to be in the middle of the couloir and at an insuperable distance from the rocks, like the shipwrecked sailor so fitly described in Dante’s well-known verses.

A rest of fifteen minutes and something to drink, whether coffee or wine I cannot say, and then we began to climb as straight up as we could on the rocks which end in forming a narrow ridge between the couloir and the upper glacier. It wouldn’t have mattered so much if the rocky ridge had been continuous. A ridge of good rock as this was, however steep it may be, always presents firm and relatively easy footholds. The trouble was that at a few yards from the edge of the glacier the ridge abruptly ended in a gulley whose sides were as steep as they were smooth. This might perhaps have proved an insurmountable difficulty if it had not been for a little ridge of snow which rose gently and easily from the base of the precipice and joined the rock to the glacier. It was not the best of crossings, but there was no other, and the snow wall, though thin, was almost as firm and solid as ice. Its length was equal to that of the rope between two of us, which is the limit of safety. “Tenez-moi la corde, monsieur,” said Gadin, making up his mind after a short consultation. And while I and the others, planted firmly on rock, followed him with our eyes, our hands on the rope ready to help, he crossed up with enviable self-possession and in perfect safety, and took up his position on the glacier. What was difficult enough for the leader was not so bad for the others, and we all went ahead without other incident than the writer being ordered to halt for a minute or two in the middle of the acrobatic crossing by Gadin, who wished to find firmer footing on the glacier. The moment must have appeared most serious in the judgment of our gallant guide, as (finding the unwelcome halt was prolonged) I asked him if I might go ahead. “Monsieur,” he replied, without turning, “je vous en prie, ne parlez pas; cela me derange Tesprit.”

When we had all crossed, we began to advance on the glacier, for some time steering to the left and climbing between the Zumstein Spitze and the Dufour Spitze, then to the right towards the rocks of the final peak. . . . The ice was in as perfect condition as one could desire, firm and continuous, but was, unfortunately, covered by a layer of snow, which was not old or hard enough to bear us, and required the cutting of steps in the actual ice, which added much to our fatigue. Partly for this reason and partly because of the steepness of the ice walls our progress was slow, but we kept steadily ascending, though in long zig-zags. After several hours of silent and weary work, we stopped at a short distance from the bergschrund in the shadow of a massive wall of the pure ice, which jutted out over us like a crystal pavilion. Numerous icicles hung from its extreme edge like a fringe of enormous diamonds. For the first time since we had left the hut we looked at our watches and found it was about one o’clock. We had been going for the greater part of twelve hours with practically no stop except at the Imsengriicken. We had won the right to a little rest, so we sat down on the snow to contemplate the sublimity of nature, refreshing ourselves with Suchard chocolate, which was then and later a real providence for us: not that we lacked other graces from God, but our stomachs did not seem disposed to require them. The Dufour rocks seemed very near, but this was an optical illusion. I have no record of having looked at the aneroid we had with us, due probably to the clearness of the air. Everything is on a great scale at that height, the mountains grouped round, the distances that separate them, the general lines of the landscape and its details. But for this very reason the grandeur of the details is lost in the general harmony. This may be noted in the great works of human art. The climber who has seen Saint Peter’s and the Bernini portico, so colossal and so gracefully harmonious, so easy to gather up in the magnificent simplicity of a glance in spite of the variety of detail, knows that even in this particular it is in the imitation of nature that our art is most strictly related to that of God, first artificer of every lovely thing. But who of us had a head for such matters? What was certain was that in a couple of hours we should reach the summit, and the same evening (what matter at what hour) we should sleep on our laurels, or in other words, on the soft beds of the RifFel, with its comforts made doubly precious.

Again the snow, which in the Marinelli couloir and on the glacier had so effectually hindered our progress, was about to serve us badly and in an even worse degree. We set out with renewed vigour, taking a route which, while not the shortest, had not the disadvantage of being dominated by masses of ice which at that hour feel the full effects of the sun and discharge their avalanches. We were obliged to scale an ice wall which rose perpendicularly on our left. It took a good half-hour to overcome a height of several yards, using every assistance from hands and feet. This passage overcome, only a snowy slope, not too steep, separated us from the rocks. We started out on it, when to our amazement the rocks seemed to get further away as we went towards them, and the last peak rose higher and steeper than before. Illusion gave way to reality, and the reality was that a long distance remained to climb before reaching the summit. Then the snow became increasingly soft and yielding, so that very soon we were no longer walking, but most painfully rolling along. Gadin confided to me later that at this point he almost gave up hope of reaching the summit that day, and he had looked out for shelter for the night on the first rocks, though, as turned out best, he said nothing at the time. At last we touched terra firma – we were on the rocks! The nearness of fear sharpens desire. The sun distinctly setting showed us that we had not a moment to lose. What of rest and what of the night? We attacked the rocks of the ridge rising above the Imsengriicken. It is easier to imagine than to tell how we struggled on the bare slate and masses of reddish gneiss that form the summit. At one point I heard my companion cry out, and turning, I saw his ice-axe fly like an arrow down the rocks to the nearest snow field. What was to be done? We could not even attempt to find it, and all that evening and the following morning Prof. Grasselli had to have his hands on ice and in snow, and got them so frost-bitten that they did not recover for months. The almost conquered giant was taking his revenge. A little later the wind blew so hard that the Professor’s hat was blown off (evidently Monte Rosahad an unenviable predilection for him), followed almost immediately by mine and Proment’s. Gadin*s was reserved for the ire of the Matterhorn. But our efforts were finally rewarded, and it must have been at half-past seven that we found ourselves on the Ostspitze, the highest summit of Monte Rosa. I shall not waste a word in describing what we saw and felt in that unforgettable moment. To the experienced the memory of such moments speaks with its own incomparable eloquence. To others no words would suffice or appear credible.

We had every reason to believe our expedition practically accomplished. We reserved for the following morning the Allerhochste Spitze. (Here follows a discussion of the various summits of Monte Rosa, quoting especially Longman in the Alpine Journal.)

We return to our story. We were on the Ostspitze, but we could not remain long. Pursued by the wind, which was unbearable at the height and by the advance of night, we soon descended to a ledge of rock some hundred feet below the summit, bare of snow, and there settled ourselves as well as we could. It was half-past eight, and the aneroid showed 15,300 feet above sea level. The spot we were on was not a comfortable one for those who had passed such a day as ours, and could certainly not compete with the beds and comforts of the Riffel. It was, however, quite safe for anyone who could feel safe about himself, although extremely narrow. It was impossible to take a step in any direction. When we sat down our feet were hanging over space. We were able to exercise them, however, taking care not to lose our balance. And there was great need of these elementary gymnastics. The cold was intense. Without being able exactly to determine the degree, I remember that our coffee and wine were completely frozen, and our eggs not only undrinkable but uneatable. We had recourse to the chocolate again and to some excellent kirsch. In such conditions of temperature and place it would have been most imprudent to give way to sleep. But who wanted to sleep in that pure air which penetrates every fibre in us, and with such a magnificent scene before us! At that height, in the midst of that grandest of grand Alpine theatres, in that pure and transparent air, under that dark sapphire sky, lighted by a thread of a moon and as far as the eye could reach all brilliant with stars in that silence – No, I will not try to describe the indescribable. Both Prof. Grasselli and I are firmly persuaded that it will hardly be given us again to see so magnificent a natural spectacle. We felt we were in the presence of a new and marvellous revelation of the omnipotence and majesty of God. How could we complain of the fatigues we had endured, how could we even think of them? Many climbers must have experienced in themselves, as we did then, the profound truth of the line, “Del mondo consacro Jeova le cime!” While we were lost in meditation, the great silence was broken by a rumbling like tremendous thunder. It was an avalanche which detached itself beneath us, but at too great distance to disturb us, and began to move. Shaken and deafened, we followed the formidable ruin with our ears, unable to do so with our eyes, as, ever growing, it fell just as Dante said, with “Un fracasso d’un suon pien di spavento,” until it was stopped on the lower glacier. WTien silence returned, it seemed to us even more profound and solemn.

In contemplation and in exchanging a few fleeting words of wonder, we spent that marvellous night which none of us will ever forget. We were permitted also to enjoy from these heights the ever beautiful spectacle of the dawn of a perfect day, the first spreading of daylight, the east decking itself in loveliest colours, and the sun sparkling from peak to peak, its rays extending like a mantle of fire over a thousand summits, and in its descent over the slopes of ice and snow working miracles of splendour and of colour. An artist would have gone mad. For us it was time to move and climb to the ridge.

The evening before we had formed a good idea of the difficulties which we had yet to overcome. For speed and security we left all our small baggage, carrying with us only the ice axes and the rope. It was about 4.45 or 5 o’clock when we abandoned our perch, and, half-frozen as we were, it took us a good half-hour to climb again to the Ostspitze. This is joined to the Dufour Spitze by a narrow ridge formed of frozen snow and slabs of gneiss, interrupted here and there by projecting masses. Resting our feet now on the Italian side and now on the Swiss, sometimes literally straddling the ridge, finally cautiously traversing a projection and crossing a narrow and very steep couloir descending to the Swiss side we finally found ourselves on the rocky point of the Dufour Spitze. It was 8.20. Here the altitude is only exceeded by that of Mont Blanc, and that by only 560 feet. The weather remained fine and the air clear, but the cold and the wind also continued. We took a little chocolate instead of the traditional champagne, and we left an account of our entirely Italian ascent in a bottle which we found among the rocks, and then considered our descent. Traces of the last party who had climbed from Zermatt were still visible, and showed us the way generally followed on the Swiss side. We were tempted to take it in order not to have to climb to the ridge again, which would have been difficult. But it seemed better to return to our bivouac and take up our few traps and attempt to find the ice axe, whose loss my companion felt greatly. So we were again on the Ostspitze and at our bivouac, crossed the ridge again, took up our sacks and got down by the rocks to about the height of Zumstein Sattel. Our men failing in the attempt to recover the lost ice axe, we took to the Col itself at a point about midway between the Dufour Spitze and the Zumstein Spitze. We arrived about i p.m. Down below was the Grenzgletscher, but a large crevasse which separated it from a rock belt ran all around it as far as the eye could see, and beyond these rocks one of the steepest snow slopes I have ever seen. Many climbers have seen that wall at close quarters, and some have traversed it in climbing the Dufour Spitze by the south-west slope. The strong and bitter-cold wind did not permit us to stand long considering. I was curious to see how Gadin would take us out of the difliculty. “Faites comme moi, monsieur,” he said, and I saw that, with face turned to the wall, he began to descend backwards, making large holes in the snow with hands and feet, taking particular care to drive in his ice axe as far as possible. And down we went, I do not know in what time, but it seemed a very long time to me. With great difficulty, keeping somewhat to the left, where it seemed easiest to approach the glacier, we crossed the belt of rocks. Only the bergschrund remained to be crossed, from which we were separated by an overhanging slope of good snow. With time and patience we might have found a spot where the bergschrund narrowed, or was crossed by a solid bridge. Gadin proposed a more expeditious and as safe a method. He first, then the rest of us, moving one at a time, each taking the length of the rope while the others stood ready to hold him if necessary, we sat down on the overhanging slope over the bergschrund. Sliding at first, then flying over the bergschrund itself, we found ourselves plunged in the soft snow which covered to a considerable depth the glacier beneath. Thus in a few minutes we made an amount of progress which might have taken us some good hours. Having reached the glacier, we felt like those who set their feet on a broad high road, after leaving a rough and dangerous path. Continuing our descent, we crossed the rocks of the Dufour Spitze on the Italian side and crossed the col which opens between the Dufour Spitze and the Zumstein Spitze. If this were not so difficult, it would be a natural route between the Monte Rosa glacier on the Italian side and the Grenzgletscher on the Swiss side.

What we did may have some importance in the Alpine history of Monte Rosa, for we had made the first crossing of the Zumstein Sattely, perhaps the second highest col in the Alps. I believe there can be no doubt as to the priority of our descent by the rocks of the Dufour Spitze. From what I know and have been able to verify in Alpine publications it would appear that this col was not only never previously crossed, but not even reached from the direction of Macugnaga, and had only three times been reached from the Zermatt side, and each time by parties of English climbers.

The Grenzgletscher descends for a long distance in great terraces, like a gigantic staircase, peaks flanked by a balustrade of snow, here and there broken by vast black rocks. A real desert of snow. I remember how the lines of Salmini came to my mind:

Neve, neve, sempre neve,
Fredda, muta, fitta, lieve . . .
Una bianca vertigine.

Lower down, the glacier has the aspect and the form of a majestic river with great sweeps in it, flowing into the vast basin of the Corner, where the ten glaciers descending from the Weissthor, the Nordend, the Dufour Spitze, the Zwillinge, the Schwarzthor, the Breithorn, the Klein Matterhorn, and from the Theodule have their imposing meeting. In that immensity of dead nature, we seemed to disappear, to lose ourselves. And the best of it was that if we did not lose ourselves, we lost our way.

We knew well the paths on the Riffel Horn and the Gornergrat that lead to the Riffel Hotel, and Gadin knew them; but either his memory betrayed him, or in the strangeness of the place his eyes, half blinded by the reflection of the snow, found a path where there was not one. We went on, taking the precautions usual on crossing a glacier, like those who feel themselves nearly home and see no reason for hurrying, stopping at our ease at a spot called Blattje, where we were at last able to satisfy the thirst which for a long time had mercilessly tormented us; a thirst for which it is well known snow is no remedy. Meanwhile the sun passed the meridian, declined, disappeared and no path appeared. We went from one glacier to another, climbing the moraine to examine more closely the rocks of the Riffel Horn; but no path. Darkness came on, and at last night closed in. We lighted our one remaining lamp, but that helped little. Anyone who knows what a great moraine is like, the very image of chaos, can form an idea of our way of getting along. In a word, all search was useless. Two steps from the comfortable beds of the RifFel, we had to resign ourselves to pass the night on the hard stones of the moraine. That was a small matter in comparison with what we had gone through the previous night, and after all, we could consider ourselves fortunate. In so many hours, and in such conditions as I have already described, we had met no real peril, no grave accident, no slip of a foot even. If the fortune of the moment was adverse, it was fair and wise to bear it cheerfully. This we did, and having chosen the least inconvenient spot, sheltered from falling stones, as the lamp at last went out we fell peacefully asleep, to the real benefit of our muscles, which were beginning to feel done up.

I think it would probably be an exaggeration to say that we met with any real risks on our expedition. In regard to the real and serious difficulties we did meet with, I fully believe Gadin when he tells me that he has encountered much more serious ones in other ascents. It appears from the accounts of almost all the expeditions that preceded ours that they did encounter real and serious danger; and it seems to me that the mountain or the air, or both, must have been in very different conditions from those we experienced.

We were awakened from a deep sleep by Gadin’s voice announcing that Proment had found the path a little above where we were, and that we ought to reach it immediately. We did not need to be told twice; we ascended the glacier and were soon at the RifFelberg. It was high time; Gadin could no longer use his eyes. At the Riffel we had the benefit of a regular deluge of fresh milk, to the astonishment of those there. The explanation of this was that notice of our ascent had reached Zermatt, together with our luggage from Macugnaga. The manager of the Post Hotel there, not seeing us appear, had telegraphed to the Riffel, asking after us. We were therefore obliged to go down to Zermatt as quickly as possible, leaving Gadin to attend to his eyes and join us at his leisure. I fulfill a grateful duty in thanking, both in the name of Professor Graselli and of Gadin, the hotel staff and the guests, but especially an English gentleman, whose name, I am sorry to say, is unknown to me, for the courteous care which they gave to our guide. He needed and deserved it. It is only right to insert here a word to express in some fashion Professor Graselli’s satisfaction and mine for what Gadin did in this ascent, and especially on the 30th of July. I can only repeat the words that a famous climber, Edward Whymper, wrote long ago of M. Croz, one of the bravest of Alpine guides {Scrambles among the Alps, E. Whymper): “Could he have performed the feat upon the boards of a theatre that he did on this occasion, he would have brought down the house with thunders of applause. . .” Proment also gave us entire satisfaction.

I had finished writing this account when certain foreign publications were brought to my notice, in which the difficulties and dangers of the ascent of Monte Rosa from the Macugnaga side are especially discussed. The names of well-known English and German climbers figure in the discussion.

We are as glad to read these discussions now as we are that we did not know of them before our ascent. One’s judgment of the conditions of atmosphere and place on which the ascent itself must depend can only be calm and objective when the mind is not pre-occupied.

All things considered, in ascents of this kind I admit that it is not easy to acquire previous certitude. I also admit that it is specially difficult as regards the Eastern slope of Monte Rosa. It is entirely the merit of Gadin to have foreseen in our case and clearly divined the actual conditions of the moment. This intuition, which I should call that of the hic et nunc differing from general principles, which only experience can furnish, is one of the most valuable and necessary gifts in a guide. I never saw it developed to so high a degree as in Gadin; I was therefore not surprised to read of the ascent of Mont Blanc by a new route, which he and the guide Petigax accomplished a few days after ours.

It has been my intention to give an account, if possible exact, certainly conscientious, of a particular and concrete case; not to establish general rules. Far be it from me to give other or greater importance to our ascent than a relative or affectionate one, such as may be attributed to amateur climbers; grateful to God for having conceded to me the possibility of admiring close at hand beauties certainly amongst the greatest and most imposing of this visible world which He has created; glad if we have been able to fill certain perceptible gaps in the chronicles of the Italian Alpine Club. I wish that others may have such a concurrence of favourable circumstances as will procure for them a similar or greater satisfaction, not only with the same safety, but, as I believe to be possible, with less inconvenience and difficulty. Difficulties and inconveniences faced with the caution necessary pass, leaving mind and body refreshed; and an indelible memory of those great and marvellous spectacles, “which to see exalts me within myself.” “Che di vederli in me stesso m’esalto.” – Dante, Inferno, 4:120.

– translated from an article in the ‘Bollettino del C.A.I.’, volume 23, 1889