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On The Glacier
from the diary of Margaret McNee

 

Monday July 27th 1908.

Well we have really been amongst the snow mountains at last.  Up at 6.30.  I had my arms to attend to – exceedingly sore.  “T” put on my boots for me as I could not bend for the bursting pain in my arms.  Everybody has a genius for touching them, and I simply howl with the pain.  After breakfast we speculated on smoked glasses & paid 1.50 for them.  These we afterwards found very soothing to our eyes, and a great protection from the glare.  We once more hired an alpenstock paying 30 c there for. Then we tucked up our skirts, and decided to leave our cloaks at home, after a great deal of worry and indecision about the business.  For the days outing we had to pay 3 francs, as we had not taken this excursion before leaving home.  Some of the older folks caused our leaders a great deal of worry, and us considerable amusement by their determination to attempt climbing over the glacier.  Mr Thomas told them fearsome tales, and everybody tried to persuade them, that this was not for them, but all was of no avail; go they would.  One gentleman, with the intention of showing his “old woman” a good example, stayed at home.  The desired effect was not obtained; as the lady’s daughter remarked: “Ah, you don’t know mother.”  “Mother” is evidently a “sh/kirgeon”.

There was nothing for it but to “endure” what could not be “cured”.  We had four guides in whose footsteps we followed along the road to the Lower Glacier.  We had viewed it from afar, or rather from the Hotel, ever since we came, and today we were to make its closer acquaintance.  Auntie Phemie came with us part of the way, but, like a wise woman, she intended to spend the day in attempting something easier than a scramble over snow and ice.  After we had crossed the Lütschine, the road went steadily uphill.  Attie Phemie bade us goodbye at the bridge, and we waved, till we lost sight of her.  And now, though all the world was storming at the old ladies, I was blessing them.  The brae was stey, stey [steep], and my supply of wind scanty.  I was slow, but the old ladies were slower, so that I could take my time without fear of being left behind.  I got into the swing of the thing quite nicely, though I did not deave [deafen] anyone with my chatter.  No, no, breath was too scarce for that.  We had a fine view of Grindelwald from the path we were treading, & Jeannie Rae and Mr Lister will have some nice photos of the mountains and glacier, if their snapshots turn out well.  By and bye, some of the old folks got a bit fagged, and Mr Thomas sent two of the guides to act as traction engines.  We kept beside one of the guides, and tried our German on him.  If he objected to the slaughter of his native tongue, he gave no evidence of it, but told us the names of the flowers &c, to the best of his ability.  We sometimes went beyond his depth, in the botany line, and really, when one comes to think of it, there is no particular reason why mountain guides should qualify in botany.  We insisted in calling the bluebells “Scottish Blue Bells” but the guide smiled and said: “finger hut,” i.e. thimbles – and a very suitable name.  He understood a little English, and, to quote Mr Pepys, we were “very merry”.

Fiesherhorn (1900s photograph)

The Fiesherhorn from Grindwald valley


Half way to the Baregg hut, we had a little rest under the shade of a cliff, and after some two hours plodding, we reached the hut itself.  Another party got mixed up with ours on the way up, so that, for a time, the Baregg people were busy.  We ordered coffee, for which we paid 80c {the quantity we got for that sum of money was sufficient to serve about three people, if they had only provided us with the requisite number of cups.  They were too wise to do that however, so that it was a case of “waste” or “bust”.  I preferred to “waste”.}  “T” was a long time in appearing.  I wondered what she was up to, as the people she had stayed to help had arrived.  At last we saw her “fairy form” appearing, and we besieged her with questions.  She had noticed some German people, who were coming down gesticulating frantically, and as she passed, they spoke to her, and pointed to a man sitting up on the mountain side.  She gathered that the man was in danger of some kind, and told Mr Thomas about it, when he came along.  He sent one of our guides to help, and the guide of the other party went too.  They scrambled up to the man in difficulties, and roped him to themselves.  We saw them assisting him down, and once we were mightily amused to see them catch him by the scruff of the neck and swing him over a stiff place.  It turned out that he had only lost his nerve.  Our sympathy for him vanished, when the guides told us that he actually haggled over giving them a tip.  Their task had been no easy one, as the man was really in a very dangerous place, and nobody could fathom what he had been doing there at all.  The guides tried to persuade him to come to the Baregg hut, but he preferred to go down the road.  Perhaps he was wise.  A short distance from the hut are the steps leading to the Glacier.  These are really a sort of ladder, and we had our photographs taken in the act of descending.  We were now on the glacier, but it was so thickly covered with morrain, that walking was comparatively easy.  Only occasionally did we really see the ice.  Through time however, the layer of stones became thinner, and bye and by, we were walking almost entirely upon ice.  We were then roped together, each guide taking nine people on his rope.  This precaution was really necessary, as the ice was full of fissures and cracks.  We were up hill and down dale, and the guide had to be continually cutting steps for us with his ice axe.  While scrambling about in this way we were photographed once more.  The folks on our particular “string” were all young and spry, and our guide did not spare us.  We rather enjoyed it than otherwise.  He took us to see all the sights.  These included some of the largest fissures and two glacier mills.  The former were sometimes so deep, that we could not see the bottom, and the beautiful blue colouring of the ice was surprising.  The latter were great round holes in the ice, with streams of water pouring down and turning round the stones at the bottom.  We saw the great round holes and the rushing water, but the depth was so great that the bottom was quite invisible.  While we were being thus hard wrought, we saw one of the other guides taking his party up the medial mountain.  Most of the old people were on that rope, and we afterwards learned that some of them had fallen.  In fact, one lady had fallen into a fissure twice, and, as she was rather stout, those, who had to support her felt rather compressed round the middle for a time.  While we were still on the glacier, we saw that one party had reached the mountain path, by which we were to return to the Baregg hut.  We thought we must be rather slow, but it afterwards turned out that they had not seen all the sights that we had been lucky enough to see.  The scenery all around us was magnificent, but we had to watch our footing so carefully that we had no time to see it as we progressed slowly along.  Only when we came to a stand were we able to do so.  Several times we came to “Halt” attracted by noises like thunder.  The cause thereof was falling snow, or to put it more grandly, avalanches.  We saw several of these, and particularly at one place – on the Fiesherhorn I think – where there was a great precipice of black rock shining out from amidst the snow.  Frequently we saw the snow pouring over this precipice like a waterfall.  We all had a much longer walk over the glacier than most parties have.  When we came to a certain point, the guides informed Mr Thomas that it was now time to leave the glacier, but we were enjoying ourselves so much that Mr Thomas bargained with them to take us farther on, and on we went.

Just as we were leaving the glacier, our guide suddenly bent down and chipped at a rock that was lying on the top of the ice, with his axe.  Then he turned round and presented something to “T”, who was next to him.  This was a little bit of rock crystal, which she is guarding with care as a memento.  We had a great scramble to get on to the path, amongst loose stones & rocks and the heat was dreadful.  We had been fairly cool on the glacier, and some of us were rather cool about the pedal extremities – especially if we stood still.  When we reached the path, we sat down and waited for the others to arrive, and employed the time in eating the remainder of our lunch.  We had been about two hours on the glacier.  I perched myself on a rock and succeeded in getting a little air, and I should also have liked a little water but there was none to be had.  Aggie Dewar and Lois joined me on my perch.  This little rest over, we all turned our steps in the direction of the Baregg Hut.  The path led us through a regular botanist’s paradise.  The place was teeming with beautiful wild flowers.  We could not keep our “hands off”.  We got a few that we had never seen before – one I found was not unlike a bride gladiola.  I pulled some thistles, they had rather long stems and were easily plucked.  Their colour attracted me; it was such a beautiful shade of crimson lake.  Some very pretty little brown centred marguerites also suffered at my hands.  We had time too, to look at our beautiful surroundings on our homeward way, and I do not think, we shall soon forget that beautiful scene.

Some of the folks found the downward path troublesome, and Miss Abbot felt giddy.  We rested for a short time at the hut.  From the hut homewards we had the full benefit of the sun.  It was simply scorching, and we were all dreadfully sunburnt.  My arms were one mass of blisters.  As for Jeanie Rae’s, they were, and are still, like raw flesh – positively and without exaggeration.  We were home in good time for dinner.  Poor Miss Abbot was so done out, that she was not able to appear for dinner, and had to have tea sent to her room.  Mr Gilbert too, was a little bit overcome with the exertions of the day.  We were able to take a little prowl round the shops after dinner.  We were making examination of knick knacks when we found Mr Lister and his sister at the same occupation.  Miss Lister was laughing heartily at being taken for the shop lady by one of our own party.  She was rather amazed when she was asked the price of something.  I made a slight apology to Mr Lister for being “turkery”[?]  when he squeezed my poor arms.  Nan and Phys speculated on lemons (1.5 f each) and afterwards we all went to their room to have lemon drinks.  I went to borrow lanoline in the first place, and was ordered to go and get my tumbler.  I returned to find a few others congregated and by and bye there were eight of us; Nan, Phys, Mrs Smith, Miss Barr, A Miller, Beery, “T” and I.  Mrs Smith and I were in undress uniform.  As there were only two chairs in the room sitting accommodation was scarce.  We sat on what we could get hold of and Nan calmly took the pillows out of her bed, banged them on the floor and herself on top of them.  I had brought a chair from our own room, so was fairly comfortable.  Our difficulties did not end with sitting arrangements.  There was not a spoon amongst the company, and we were constrained to make use of tooth brush handles, hat pins &c for the making of our “lemonade”.  Had we been at home, we should not have considered the resulting concoction a success, but under the circumstances, we voted it A1.  It seemed to have the same effect as a much more harmful liquor, for we became very hilarious.  Jokes rained from all quarters, like a veritable hail storm, and some of them hit as hard.  Nan was the chief culprit, but she was ably seconded by the “Physical One”.  I actually began to fear for the safety of the rickety old Dépendance de l’Hotel Grand Eiger.  We “shivered its timbers” I’ll warrant, to say nothing of our own poor sides, which required the frequent support of our hands to keep them intact.  We were suggesting to Phys  that she should show the assembled multitude her “rickle o’ banes”, that is to say her neck, á la crane.  She did not favour.  “T” and I had the pleasure of seeing this entertaining spectacle the other evening, on her own invitation – (it is a rickle) but the others were not to be so favoured.  In the midst of all the row, a terrible rattle shook the door, where upon there was immediate silence.  Innocence made us brave however and Phys immediately opened the poor unoffending door, to find Messrs Thomas and Ball framed in the doorway.  With her usual calm impudence, she invited them to look in, quite oblivious of the fact that some of us were in dressing jackets &c.  Curiosity is not confined to womankind, for friend Thomas has a large share.  A peep did not do him – he came boldly in.  Mr Ball remained at the door, whether from modesty or fright, I should not like to say.  We broke up our merry party shortly afterwards – and also a table.  “This ‘ere table” had been wickedly placed against the door by the gentlemen quoted above, and, of course, whenever the door was opened, in it fell with a clatter, at the same time parting with two of its legs.  But for all Mr Thomas lecture on the lateness of the hour, (which lecture had little or no effect upon us) we were by no means last of getting to bed, for we were hopping into bed when we heard the Englishers chattering at his door, and, what is more, they were only newly in.  Bed is the finis to this day of Adventures.

 

 

 

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