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OF THE

ATTEMPTS THAT HAVE BEEN MADE

TO

ATTAIN THE SUMMIT OF MONT BLANC.

WRITTEN IN THE YEAR 1786.

[FROM SAUSSURE.*]

WHEN I was writing the preliminary discourse and the first part of this work, I looked upon the summit of Mont Blanc as absolutely unattainable. In my first excursions to Chamouni in 1760 and 1761, I had it published in all the parishes of the valley, that I would give a considerable recompence to whoever should find a practicable route. I had even promised to those who made unsuccessful trials to pay them for their labour: these promises were of no avail. Pierre Simon made one attempt at the Tacul side, and another at the side of the glacier of Buissons, but returned without any hope of success.

However fifteen years after, that is to say in 1775, four of the Chamouni guides attempted to gain it by the mountain de la Cote, this mountain which forms a ridge pretty near parallel to the glacier of Buissons, approaches to the ices and snows which continue without interruption to the top of Mont Blanc.

There is some difficulty to overcome before entering on these ices, and to cross the first crevices; but these first obstacles once surmounted, there remains no more than the length of the way, and the difficulty of accomplishing in one day the ascent and descent. I say in one day, because the people of the country think it not safe to run the risk of passing the night on these snows.

These four travellers got very well over the first obstacles; they then endeavoured to follow a great valley of snow, which appeared to conduct them immediately to the summit of the mountain. All appeared to promise them the most happy success; they had the finest weather imaginable, they neither met with openings too large, nor precipices too rapid: but the reverberation of the sun on the snow, and the stagnation of the air in this valley made them undergo as they said a suffocating heat, and gave them at the same time such a distaste for the provisions with which they were provided, that overcome by inanition and weariness, they had the grief to be forced to return the same way they went, without having met any visible insurmountable obstacle. It however appears that the efforts they had made were very great, for their strength was very much tried in this excursion, and from it they became more or less ill.

This disappointment however did not prevent three other of Chamouni guides from undertaking the same task, and by the same road in 1783. They passed the night at the top of the mountain de la Cote, crossed the glacier, and followed the same valley of snow. They had already got to a good height, and were proceeding courageously, when one of the boldest and most vigorous of the three was suddenly seized with an insurmountable propensity to sleep: he desired the other two to leave him and go on without, but they could not think of abandoning him, and leaving him to sleep on the snow; persuaded as they were that the heat of the sun would kill him: they therefore Voyage dans les Alpes, ii. 550.

VOL. IV.

*

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renounced the undertaking and returned back together to Chamouni. For this propensity to sleep, produced by the rarity of the air, left him as soon as they had descended low enough to find themselves in a thicker atmosphere.

It is very likely that even if this overpowering propensity to sleep had not stopped these brave fellows, they would not have been able to have gained the summit of the mountain, for in effect though they had attained a great height, they had still a great way to go, the heat incommoded them excessively, a thing surprising at this height; they had no appetite; the wine and provisions that they took with them had no charms for them. One of them* told me seriously that it was useless to carry any provisions in this excursion; and that if he should make another trial by the same way, he would only take a parasol and a smelling bottle. When I figured to myself this tall and vigorous mountaineer grapling with the snow, and holding in one hand a little parasol, and in the other a bottle of eau sans pareille, this image had something in it so ridiculous and strange, that nothing could be more convincing to my mind than the idea he had formcd to himself of the difficulty of this undertaking, and of consequence of its absolute impossibility for people who have neither the head or the joints of a good guide of Chamouni. Yet M. Bourrit would again make another trial at the end of the season, he likewise slept at the mountain de la Cote, but an unexpected storm coming on obliged him to turn back just at the entrance of the glacier.

For my part, after the informations which I had received from those who had made the attempt at this side, I looked on the success as absolutely impossible, and this was the opinion of all the intelligent people of Chamouni.

M. Bourrit, who interested himself more than I did in the conquest of Mont Blanc, thought he ought to try it by some other side; he gained from all parts all the intelligence he could; at length he learned that two hunters in following some chamois had got on some ridges of rock to so very great a height, that from the place to which they were come, to the summit of Mont Blanc, there remained no more than four or five hundred toises to get up by the declivities of snow which were not very rapid, and in so open an air that there was nothing to fear from that sort of suffocation, that had been found in the valley of snow which ends at the mountain de la Cote.

Charmed with this discovery, M. Bourrit ran to La Grue, the village where these hunters lived, and immediately engaged them to make another trial with him. He left the village the same evening, and arrived with them at break of day at the foot of some steep rocks which it was necessary to pass. The morning air was of an extraordinary keenness; M. Bourrit seized by the cold and overpowered by fatigue could not follow his guides. Two of those, after having left him with the third at the foot of the rocks mounted alone, not only to the top of the same rocks, but very far on the snow: they said that they had reached to the foot of the highest summit of Mont Blanc, from which they were separated only by a ravine of ice, in which, if they had had more time and help they could have made stairs by which they might easily have got to the top. As soon as this trial had permitted me to believe in the possibility of success, solved to make the attempt as soon as the season would permit; I charged two men of the neighbourhood † to watch near the mountain, and to give me notice as soon as the melting of the snows would render it possible. Unhappily they accumulated during the rigorous winters of 1784 and 1785, and those which have frequently fallen during the cold and rainy summer which has succeeded this winter have retarded my departure till the middle of September.

* Jorasse.

f Pierre Balme and Marie Goutet.

I re

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I always prefer making these excursions with my guides only; but M. Bourrit, who was the first to make known this route, having desired that we should make this attempt together, I consented with pleasure. We took with us his son, a young man of twentyone years of age, whose talents promise a most happy success, and whom the love of botany, and the grand objects of contemplation that our Alps present, has often conducted on the traces of his father.

I had reckoned on sleeping as high as possible under coverings in form of tents: but M. Bourrit had conceived the happy idea of sending two days before three men of Chamouni to construct for us under shelter of a rock, near the base of the Aiguille du Goute, a sort of hut or hovel of dry stones; an excellent precaution which would secure us from the danger of a storm, if we should have the misfortune to meet one.

These dispositions made, we agreed to meet on Monday the twelfth of September at the village of Bionassay, situated about a league to the north-east above that of Bionnay, M. Bourrit and his son came there from the priory of Chamouni, which is four leagues to the north-east of this village. I left Geneva the eleventh of September, and came in a carriage to Sallenche; and the next morning I went on horseback to Bionassay passing by St. Gervais and by Bionnay.

The village of Bionassay is situated in a very uneven valley, open to the south-east, and shut at all other sides. It is commanded by the glacier of the same name, and separated, at the north-east, from the valley of Chamouni by a small chain of slate and calcareous mountains.

I observed between Bionnay and Bionassay some remarkable stones, but I mean to give the lithological account of this little journey in another place; those details would too much damp the interest of which it is susceptible.

I arrived the first at Bionassay with Pierre Balme, who had come as far as Sallenche to meet me; we should have slept at this village, but as there was no inn there, I had asked at Bionnay which of the peasants of the place was in the best situation to entertain us, they directed me to the Conseiller de la Commune named Batandier. This honest peasant received me with great cordiality; and M. Bourrit coming in the evening from Chamouni, our host gave each of us a good little room, with a bed filled with fresh straw on which I passed a very good night.

The next morning I felt some uneasiness for the weather, the barometer not having mounted during the night more than the sixteenth of a line; which is much under what it rises to from evening to morning, when fine weather is perfectly settled. My observation, compared with that which M. Pictet made at Geneva, gives to the situation of Batandier's house four hundred and eighty-eight toises above our lake, and of consequence six hundred and eighty above the sea.

We had then still to mount one thousand eight hundred toises before we could get to the summit of Mont Blanc, but we had two days to perform it in: as the first day we were only to go as far as our hut. As its situation had been left to the choice of its constructors, we were ignorant of its height, but wished to find it placed as high as possible.

At day-break one of the Chamouni guides, who had worked at the construction of the hut, came to inform us it was almost finished, but that it would be necessary to take another piece of fir, to make the roof more solid. We ordered a man of Bionassay to carry one, and two others loaded themselves with straw, and two more with wood for firing. Others carried provisions, furs, and my physical instruments, and thus we formed a caravan of sixteen or seventeen people.

788

M. Bourrit the father even wished I had hoped that we might have gone near two leagues on our mules, but it was with difficulty we could make use of them even for one.

to go the whole way a foot.

We immediately mounted an easy slope by the side of a profound ravine, in which runs the torrent which issues from the glacier of Bionassay. Then a rapid ascent conducted us to a little plain below the glacier: we traversed this plain in its whole length: we then coasted the glacier for some moments, and we finished by leaving it and taking a straight north-east direction by a very rough but not too fatiguing slope, and without any danger.

All the upper part of this slope is called Pierre-ronde, without the origin of this name being known; for there is neither rock nor stone there remarkable for its roundness. This slope is free from wood, bushes; and almost all vegetation is covered only with fragments, and presents a most savage aspect. At the left are seen bare rocks which conceal the valley of Chamouni, and to the right, the rocks and ices of the base of Mont Blanc; for as for its head and shoulders, they are concealed by its low and projecting

bases.

Although this ascent was long enough, I was always afraid to see the end of it and come to the hut, because I wished to get as high as possible the first day, and to make the most of the second, which would be the most interesting, but at the same time the most painful: thus, always counting for nothing the present fatigue, we ascended, almost without perceiving it, the seven hundred and forty-one toises which our hut lay above the village: we got to it about half an hour after one, although we had not set out till eight, and divers little accidents had made us lose more than half an hour of the time.

The situation of this hut was the happiest that could have been chosen in so wild a situation. It was joined to a rock in the bottom of an angle, sheltered from the northeast and north-west at about fifteen or twenty paces, above a little glacier covered with snow, from which issued a clear and fresh stream which answered every purpose wanting

to our caravan.

Opposite the hut was the Aiguille du Goute, by which we were to attack Mont Blanc. Two of our guides,* who had scaled the Aiguille, shewed us the ridge which we should climb. They even offered to take advantage of what remained of the day to reconnoitre the mountain, choose the easiest route and mark steps in the hard snow: we accepted the offer with thanks. To the right of these rocks we admired a summit of snow called la Rogne, which appeared to us of a prodigious height, we were however told we should see it under our feet, from the Dome of l'Aiguille. All the lower part of this high summit was covered with extremely rugged glaciers, which emptied themselves into that of Bionassay. At every moment vast masses of ice detached themselves from this glacier, which we could see fall, and precipitate themselves with a horrid crash and dissolve in clouds of dust, that the air raised by the fall of ice rose up like clouds to a surprising height.

Behind our hut was a small chain of rocks about forty feet above it. I made haste to get up it, my travelling companions quickly followed me, and there we enjoyed one of the finest views I ever met on the Alps.

These rocks, whose height is one thousand two hundred and twenty-nine toises above the lake, and one thousand five hundred and twenty-two above the sea, are at the northwest side quite precipitous. There is seen under the feet the southern extremity of the valley of Chamouni, above which we were about nine hundred toises. The rest of this charming valley is shortened in the view, and the high mountains which border on it

*Gervais and Goutet.

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