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    Chapter 34

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    Chapter 34
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    CHAPTER XXXIV [The World's Highest Pig Farm]

    We hired the only guide left, to lead us on our way. He was over
    seventy, but he could have given me nine-tenths of his strength and
    still had all his age entitled him to. He shouldered our satchels,
    overcoats, and alpenstocks, and we set out up the steep path. It was hot
    work. The old man soon begged us to hand over our coats and waistcoats
    to him to carry, too, and we did it; one could not refuse so little a
    thing to a poor old man like that; he should have had them if he had
    been a hundred and fifty.

    When we began that ascent, we could see a microscopic chalet perched
    away up against heaven on what seemed to be the highest mountain near
    us. It was on our right, across the narrow head of the valley. But when
    we got up abreast it on its own level, mountains were towering high
    above on every hand, and we saw that its altitude was just about that of
    the little Gasternthal which we had visited the evening before. Still it
    seemed a long way up in the air, in that waste and lonely wilderness of
    rocks. It had an unfenced grass-plot in front of it which seemed about
    as big as a billiard-table, and this grass-plot slanted so sharply
    downward, and was so brief, and ended so exceedingly soon at the verge
    of the absolute precipice, that it was a shuddery thing to think of a
    person's venturing to trust his foot on an incline so situated at all.
    Suppose a man stepped on an orange peel in that yard; there would be
    nothing for him to seize; nothing could keep him from rolling; five
    revolutions would bring him to the edge, and over he would go. What a
    frightful distance he would fall!--for there are very few birds that fly
    as high as his starting-point. He would strike and bounce, two or three
    times, on his way down, but this would be no advantage to him. I would
    as soon taking an airing on the slant of a rainbow as in such a front
    yard. I would rather, in fact, for the distance down would be about the
    same, and it is pleasanter to slide than to bounce. I could not see how
    the peasants got up to that chalet--the region seemed too steep for
    anything but a balloon.

    As we strolled on, climbing up higher and higher, we were continually
    bringing neighboring peaks into view and lofty prominence which had been
    hidden behind lower peaks before; so by and by, while standing before a
    group of these giants, we looked around for the chalet again; there it
    was, away down below us, apparently on an inconspicuous ridge in the
    valley! It was as far below us, now, as it had been above us when we
    were beginning the ascent.

    After a while the path led us along a railed precipice, and we looked
    over--far beneath us was the snug parlor again, the little Gasternthal,
    with its water jets spouting from the face of its rock walls. We could
    have dropped a stone into it. We had been finding the top of the world
    all along--and always finding a still higher top stealing into view in
    a disappointing way just ahead; when we looked down into the Gasternthal
    we felt pretty sure that we had reached the genuine top at last, but it
    was not so; there were much higher altitudes to be scaled yet. We were
    still in the pleasant shade of forest trees, we were still in a region
    which was cushioned with beautiful mosses and aglow with the many-tinted
    luster of innumerable wild flowers.

    We found, indeed, more interest in the wild flowers than in anything
    else. We gathered a specimen or two of every kind which we were
    unacquainted with; so we had sumptuous bouquets. But one of the chief
    interests lay in chasing the seasons of the year up the mountain, and
    determining them by the presence of flowers and berries which we were
    acquainted with. For instance, it was the end of August at the level
    of the sea; in the Kandersteg valley at the base of the pass, we found
    flowers which would not be due at the sea-level for two or three weeks;
    higher up, we entered October, and gathered fringed gentians. I made
    no notes, and have forgotten the details, but the construction of the
    floral calendar was very entertaining while it lasted.

    In the high regions we found rich store of the splendid red flower
    called the Alpine rose, but we did not find any examples of the ugly
    Swiss favorite called Edelweiss. Its name seems to indicate that it is a
    noble flower and that it is white. It may be noble enough, but it is not
    attractive, and it is not white. The fuzzy blossom is the color of bad
    cigar ashes, and appears to be made of a cheap quality of gray plush. It
    has a noble and distant way of confining itself to the high altitudes,
    but that is probably on account of its looks; it apparently has no
    monopoly of those upper altitudes, however, for they are sometimes
    intruded upon by some of the loveliest of the valley families of wild
    flowers. Everybody in the Alps wears a sprig of Edelweiss in his hat. It
    is the native's pet, and also the tourist's.

    All the morning, as we loafed along, having a good time, other
    pedestrians went staving by us with vigorous strides, and with the
    intent and determined look of men who were walking for a wager. These
    wore loose knee-breeches, long yarn stockings, and hobnailed high-laced
    walking-shoes. They were gentlemen who would go home to England or
    Germany and tell how many miles they had beaten the guide-book every
    day. But I doubted if they ever had much real fun, outside of the mere
    magnificent exhilaration of the tramp through the green valleys and the
    breezy heights; for they were almost always alone, and even the finest
    scenery loses incalculably when there is no one to enjoy it with.

    All the morning an endless double procession of mule-mounted tourists
    filed past us along the narrow path--the one procession going, the
    other coming. We had taken a good deal of trouble to teach ourselves the
    kindly German custom of saluting all strangers with doffed hat, and we
    resolutely clung to it, that morning, although it kept us bareheaded
    most of the time and was not always responded to. Still we found an
    interest in the thing, because we naturally liked to know who were
    English and Americans among the passers-by. All continental natives
    responded of course; so did some of the English and Americans, but, as
    a general thing, these two races gave no sign. Whenever a man or a woman
    showed us cold neglect, we spoke up confidently in our own tongue and
    asked for such information as we happened to need, and we always got a
    reply in the same language. The English and American folk are not less
    kindly than other races, they are only more reserved, and that comes of
    habit and education. In one dreary, rocky waste, away above the line of
    vegetation, we met a procession of twenty-five mounted young men, all
    from America. We got answering bows enough from these, of course, for
    they were of an age to learn to do in Rome as Rome does, without much

    At one extremity of this patch of desolation, overhung by bare and
    forbidding crags which husbanded drifts of everlasting snow in their
    shaded cavities, was a small stretch of thin and discouraged grass, and
    a man and a family of pigs were actually living here in some shanties.
    Consequently this place could be really reckoned as "property"; it had
    a money value, and was doubtless taxed. I think it must have marked
    the limit of real estate in this world. It would be hard to set a money
    value upon any piece of earth that lies between that spot and the empty
    realm of space. That man may claim the distinction of owning the end
    of the world, for if there is any definite end to the world he has
    certainly found it.

    From here forward we moved through a storm-swept and smileless
    desolation. All about us rose gigantic masses, crags, and ramparts of
    bare and dreary rock, with not a vestige or semblance of plant or tree
    or flower anywhere, or glimpse of any creature that had life. The frost
    and the tempests of unnumbered ages had battered and hacked at these
    cliffs, with a deathless energy, destroying them piecemeal; so all the
    region about their bases was a tumbled chaos of great fragments which
    had been split off and hurled to the ground. Soiled and aged banks of
    snow lay close about our path. The ghastly desolation of the place was
    as tremendously complete as if Dor'e had furnished the working-plans
    for it. But every now and then, through the stern gateways around us
    we caught a view of some neighboring majestic dome, sheathed with
    glittering ice, and displaying its white purity at an elevation compared
    to which ours was groveling and plebeian, and this spectacle always
    chained one's interest and admiration at once, and made him forget there
    was anything ugly in the world.

    I have just said that there was nothing but death and desolation in
    these hideous places, but I forgot. In the most forlorn and arid and
    dismal one of all, where the racked and splintered debris was thickest,
    where the ancient patches of snow lay against the very path, where
    the winds blew bitterest and the general aspect was mournfulest and
    dreariest, and furthest from any suggestion of cheer or hope, I found
    a solitary wee forget-me-not flourishing away, not a droop about it
    anywhere, but holding its bright blue star up with the prettiest and
    gallantest air in the world, the only happy spirit, the only smiling
    thing, in all that grisly desert. She seemed to say, "Cheer up!--as long
    as we are here, let us make the best of it." I judged she had earned a
    right to a more hospitable place; so I plucked her up and sent her to
    America to a friend who would respect her for the fight she had made,
    all by her small self, to make a whole vast despondent Alpine desolation
    stop breaking its heart over the unalterable, and hold up its head and
    look at the bright side of things for once.

    We stopped for a nooning at a strongly built little inn called the
    Schwarenbach. It sits in a lonely spot among the peaks, where it is
    swept by the trailing fringes of the cloud-rack, and is rained on, and
    snowed on, and pelted and persecuted by the storms, nearly every day of
    its life. It was the only habitation in the whole Gemmi Pass.

    Close at hand, now, was a chance for a blood-curdling Alpine adventure.
    Close at hand was the snowy mass of the Great Altels cooling its topknot
    in the sky and daring us to an ascent. I was fired with the idea, and
    immediately made up my mind to procure the necessary guides, ropes,
    etc., and undertake it. I instructed Harris to go to the landlord of the
    inn and set him about our preparations. Meantime, I went diligently to
    work to read up and find out what this much-talked-of mountain-climbing
    was like, and how one should go about it--for in these matters I
    was ignorant. I opened Mr. Hinchliff's SUMMER MONTHS AMONG THE ALPS
    (published 1857), and selected his account of his ascent of Monte Rosa.

    It began:

    "It is very difficult to free the mind from excitement
    on the evening before a grand expedition--"

    I saw that I was too calm; so I walked the room a while and worked
    myself into a high excitement; but the book's next remark--that the
    adventurer must get up at two in the morning--came as near as anything
    to flatting it all out again. However, I reinforced it, and read on,
    about how Mr. Hinchliff dressed by candle-light and was "soon down among
    the guides, who were bustling about in the passage, packing provisions,
    and making every preparation for the start"; and how he glanced out into
    the cold clear night and saw that--

    "The whole sky was blazing with stars, larger and brighter than they
    appear through the dense atmosphere breathed by inhabitants of the lower
    parts of the earth. They seemed actually suspended from the dark vault
    of heaven, and their gentle light shed a fairylike gleam over the
    snow-fields around the foot of the Matterhorn, which raised its
    stupendous pinnacle on high, penetrating to the heart of the Great Bear,
    and crowning itself with a diadem of his magnificent stars. Not a sound
    disturbed the deep tranquillity of the night, except the distant roar
    of streams which rush from the high plateau of the St. Theodule glacier,
    and fall headlong over precipitous rocks till they lose themselves in
    the mazes of the Gorner glacier."

    He took his hot toast and coffee, and then about half past three his
    caravan of ten men filed away from the Riffel Hotel, and began the steep
    climb. At half past five he happened to turn around, and "beheld the
    glorious spectacle of the Matterhorn, just touched by the rosy-fingered
    morning, and looking like a huge pyramid of fire rising out of the
    barren ocean of ice and rock around it." Then the Breithorn and the Dent
    Blanche caught the radiant glow; but "the intervening mass of Monte Rosa
    made it necessary for us to climb many long hours before we could hope
    to see the sun himself, yet the whole air soon grew warmer after the
    splendid birth of the day."

    He gazed at the lofty crown of Monte Rosa and the wastes of snow that
    guarded its steep approaches, and the chief guide delivered the opinion
    that no man could conquer their awful heights and put his foot upon that
    summit. But the adventurers moved steadily on, nevertheless.

    They toiled up, and up, and still up; they passed the Grand Plateau;
    then toiled up a steep shoulder of the mountain, clinging like flies to
    its rugged face; and now they were confronted by a tremendous wall
    from which great blocks of ice and snow were evidently in the habit of
    falling. They turned aside to skirt this wall, and gradually ascended
    until their way was barred by a "maze of gigantic snow crevices,"--so
    they turned aside again, and "began a long climb of sufficient steepness
    to make a zigzag course necessary."

    Fatigue compelled them to halt frequently, for a moment or two. At one
    of these halts somebody called out, "Look at Mont Blanc!" and "we were
    at once made aware of the very great height we had attained by actually
    seeing the monarch of the Alps and his attendant satellites right over
    the top of the Breithorn, itself at least 14,000 feet high!"

    These people moved in single file, and were all tied to a strong rope,
    at regular distances apart, so that if one of them slipped on those
    giddy heights, the others could brace themselves on their alpenstocks
    and save him from darting into the valley, thousands of feet below. By
    and by they came to an ice-coated ridge which was tilted up at a sharp
    angle, and had a precipice on one side of it. They had to climb this, so
    the guide in the lead cut steps in the ice with his hatchet, and as fast
    as he took his toes out of one of these slight holes, the toes of the
    man behind him occupied it.

    "Slowly and steadily we kept on our way over this dangerous part of the
    ascent, and I dare say it was fortunate for some of us that attention
    was distracted from the head by the paramount necessity of looking after

    "Great caution, therefore, was absolutely necessary, and in this exposed
    situation we were attacked by all the fury of that grand enemy of
    aspirants to Monte Rosa--a severe and bitterly cold wind from the north.
    The fine powdery snow was driven past us in the clouds, penetrating the
    interstices of our clothes, and the pieces of ice which flew from the
    blows of Peter's ax were whisked into the air, and then dashed over the
    precipice. We had quite enough to do to prevent ourselves from being
    served in the same ruthless fashion, and now and then, in the more
    violent gusts of wind, were glad to stick our alpenstocks into the ice
    and hold on hard."

    Having surmounted this perilous steep, they sat down and took a brief
    rest with their backs against a sheltering rock and their heels dangling
    over a bottomless abyss; then they climbed to the base of another
    ridge--a more difficult and dangerous one still:

    "The whole of the ridge was exceedingly narrow, and the fall on each
    side desperately steep, but the ice in some of these intervals between
    the masses of rock assumed the form of a mere sharp edge, almost like a
    knife; these places, though not more than three or four short paces
    in length, looked uncommonly awkward; but, like the sword leading true
    believers to the gates of Paradise, they must needs be passed before
    we could attain to the summit of our ambition. These were in one or two
    places so narrow, that in stepping over them with toes well turned
    out for greater security, ONE END OF THE FOOT PROJECTED OVER THE AWFUL
    these occasions Peter would take my hand, and each of us stretching as
    far as we could, he was thus enabled to get a firm footing two paces
    or rather more from me, whence a spring would probably bring him to the
    rock on the other side; then, turning around, he called to me to come,
    and, taking a couple of steps carefully, I was met at the third by his
    outstretched hand ready to clasp mine, and in a moment stood by his
    side. The others followed in much the same fashion. Once my right foot
    slipped on the side toward the precipice, but I threw out my left arm in
    a moment so that it caught the icy edge under my armpit as I fell, and
    supported me considerably; at the same instant I cast my eyes down the
    side on which I had slipped, and contrived to plant my right foot on
    a piece of rock as large as a cricket-ball, which chanced to protrude
    through the ice, on the very edge of the precipice. Being thus anchored
    fore and aft, as it were, I believe I could easily have recovered
    myself, even if I had been alone, though it must be confessed the
    situation would have been an awful one; as it was, however, a jerk from
    Peter settled the matter very soon, and I was on my legs all right in an
    instant. The rope is an immense help in places of this kind."

    Now they arrived at the base of a great knob or dome veneered with ice
    and powdered with snow--the utmost, summit, the last bit of solidity
    between them and the hollow vault of heaven. They set to work with their
    hatchets, and were soon creeping, insectlike, up its surface, with their
    heels projecting over the thinnest kind of nothingness, thickened up a
    little with a few wandering shreds and films of cloud moving in a lazy
    procession far below. Presently, one man's toe-hold broke and he fell!
    There he dangled in mid-air at the end of the rope, like a spider, till
    his friends above hauled him into place again.

    A little bit later, the party stood upon the wee pedestal of the very
    summit, in a driving wind, and looked out upon the vast green expanses
    of Italy and a shoreless ocean of billowy Alps.

    When I had read thus far, Harris broke into the room in a noble
    excitement and said the ropes and the guides were secured, and asked if
    I was ready. I said I believed I wouldn't ascend the Altels this time. I
    said Alp-climbing was a different thing from what I had supposed it was,
    and so I judged we had better study its points a little more before we
    went definitely into it. But I told him to retain the guides and order
    them to follow us to Zermatt, because I meant to use them there. I said
    I could feel the spirit of adventure beginning to stir in me, and was
    sure that the fell fascination of Alp-climbing would soon be upon me. I
    said he could make up his mind to it that we would do a deed before
    we were a week older which would make the hair of the timid curl with

    This made Harris happy, and filled him with ambitious anticipations. He
    went at once to tell the guides to follow us to Zermatt and bring all
    their paraphernalia with them.
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