The eleventh summer holiday of the GOFs commenced on the 19th August 1905. At 9.40 am on that memorable day, the first-class waiting room at Charing Cross Station was so full of GOFs and baggage, that the Conductor, who, supported by a brand new ice-axe, had been handling books of tickets to newly arrived members for the last half hour, waved his hand as a signal that they had better proceed to the platform and take possession of their carriages. The GOF carriages were not yet in; but some others were there, and a few members, in their eagerness, took possession of these in case of accidents. When the GOF carriages did back in the eager ones made a grab for their baggage and a dash across the platform, and all was well. As the happy holiday makers steamed slowly out of the station they waved frantically to a few less happy friends on the platform, and then gave themselves up to the contemplation, pleasant or otherwise, according to temperament, of twenty four hours continuous travelling. The journey to Dover was uneventful, and even from Dover to Ostend no casualties were reported, so that, after passing or dodging the Customs officers at the landing stage, our friends sat down to lunch at the buffet, feeling fairly pleased with themselves. With an hour to spare and nothing to keep one on the platform, a good many announced their intention of having a look round the town, and departed. It is a pity to have an hour to spare in a gay place like Ostend without having a run round; yet there were more than a few who did not take this opportunity. At the commencement of a GOF holiday, there are always a certain number of ‘old’, though not necessarily aged GOFs, and a certain number of new ones; and a keen observer, like the Conductor, for instance, would have noticed that it was chiefly the newer members who had gone promenading. When they returned, they found the train waiting, with their friends occupying all the most comfortable seats, and took their first lesson in continental travelling. At Brussels dinner hampers were put on board, a large stock of mineral waters was laid in from the platform buffet, and general preparations were made for the long night journey to Bâle. Even this passed without incident, or almost so; there were the usual exasperating visits of the ticket collector, and the usual restless but well-meaning persons who wander about darkened carriages asking somnolent ones how they are ‘getting on’, and receiving, in reply, instructions to go to somewhere that sounded more like blazes than Basle, but might have been either. Once or twice during the night the train would stop at a big empty station lit with glaring arc lamps, and then some of the wakeful ones would make a dash for the Refreshment Room, returning soon with cups of hot coffee and bottles of lager. It was at one of these halts that a gentleman who kindly but firmly insisted on standing large glasses of lager to several of his friends, was obliged to run back to the train without having had time to drink his own. Much genuine sympathy was extended him, but his quondam serenity could not be fully restored until the next stop.
How delighted every one is on arriving at Bâle! There is nothing very delightful about the station, though the breakfast certainly has its merits: but the very fact of being here means that the long preliminary journey is practically over, and the actual holiday about to commence. Everyone is in good spirits, even the lady who had lost her book of tickets; so they all clamber into the train for Zurich, prepared to thoroughly enjoy the scenery through which they are about to pass. Of course the Conductor has found the missing tickets, and having kept the owner a little while in suspense, hands them over. He is always doing something like that.
Zurich is a charming place, but fearfully hot. Perhaps it is not always so, but on this occasion the heat was so oppressive that our friends absolutely refused to walk anywhere. As, however, the place is rich in driving and boating excursions, they managed to amuse themselves somehow during the afternoon. Those who neither drove nor boated, lazed about the hotel, doing nothing fairly well. In the evening the whole party attended an open-air Café Concert in the grounds of the Hotel de Ville, and thoroughly enjoyed a magnificent programme. They sat around at tables, in the cool of delightful summer evening, shaded from the glare of arc-lamps by the luxuriant foliage of closely planted trees, and listened with delight to the music discoursed by a first-class municipal band. It was here that a connoisseur of tobacco, whose love for a really good cigar was only equalled by his thorough appreciation of really good music, found his nostrils assailed in a most annoying manner by the fumes emitted by his next door neighbour’s pipe. Being a man of peace and a diplomat, he politely offered the tormentor one of his own pet cigars, watched him light it, and settled down once more to enjoy his broken reverie. Hardly had he done so when the bribed one silently changed places with another pipe smoker, who set himself to emulate his friend’s example. The Connoisseur was not to be had though; for at the finish of the musical number, he turned to his new assailant, and smilingly complimented that astonished individual on the excellence of the tobacco he was smoking.
The concert over, our friends returned slowly to the hotel. A swimming bath had been discovered close by, much to the delight of the men, who forthwith arranged a bathing party for a dip before breakfast. Now a dip in the morning is one of the joys of life, and is calculated to make a man contented and happy for the rest of the day; yet the only bad tempered ones at breakfast were just those who had bathed, and as what they said to those who hadn’t was said in anger, it shall not be set down here against them.
The business of the day was to travel to Pontresina, the ‘centre’ for the first week’s rambles, where, the itinerary assured them, they would find ‘mountain ascents, charming walks, romantic gorges, and wood promenades’ abounding ‘in all directions’. This was the sort of centre to appeal to GOFs, and as they took their seats in the carriages reserved for them, they gave themselves up to pleasant day dreams of the various treats in store. Presently they were startled by a mild uproar on the platform, and were astonished to observe a GOF with a gladstone bag and a hunted look making frantic endeavours to elude the pursuit of a somewhat excited railway official. The onlookers were just beginning to appreciate the fun when the Conductor stepped in and put things straight. It was a simple matter; our friend has been observed carrying two bags, and the authorities had come down on him for an excess luggage fee, with a request for one bag to be placed in the luggage ban. All he understood was that someone was after his property – and off he bolted. By the time everything had been satisfactorily explained, ‘all aboard’ was the cry, and the train moved slowly out of the station.
The route lay along the bank of the Lake of Zurich, or, to give it its proper title, the Zuricher See, and a charming picture it made with the water shimmering in the morning sunshine. The travellers were fully occupied with the view when the ubiquitous ticket collector made his appearance, and stood aghast at the amount of luggage with which the carriage was littered. There was, undoubtedly, a good deal more than the per capita free allowance, and the Conductor knew it. He was about to offer a tip, when the indignant flush on the man’s face warned him just in time; and with masterly, though impromptu, sleight-of-hand, he palmed the coin and produced instead – a flask! The proffered drink, and winning smile with which it was accompanied, completely charmed the official, who beamed his good wishes and passed on. Lake scenery gave place in time to that of a mountainous nature,and towards midday the train was climbing the Albula Pass.
At Tiefencastel a break in the journey was made, and our friends walked to the village, where lunch had been prepared for them. They were told to leave their baggage in the carriages, which would be shunted and attached to the next train; and this they did with some misgiving, remembering what had happened, under similar circumstances, at Botzen the year before.
The village of Tiefencastel, situated on the Julièr Road, is a posting station for the diligences travelling over the pass to Silvaplana. It possesses four hotels and several dwelling houses, and at one of the hotels, the Julier, our friends found preparations made for the midday meal. And such a meal! It consisted chiefly of salmon caught in the Albula River close by, and served up in such quantities that when the travellers were utterly beaten, the last fish (was he the last?) deliberately winked a wink of triumph from his resting place on the side-board. Unfortunately for the gentlemen who had insisted on treating a large circle of friends to coffee, the proprietor remembered it had not been paid for just as they were walking out.
Regaining the station, our friends were glad to find their luggage and carriages still there, and in a short time were once more travelling over the Albula Pass. Now and then they would cross a giddy viaduct, giving magnificent views of snow peaks on high and green pastures below, and almost immediately plunge into a black tunnel, at which there would be a great slamming of windows and ventilators, to keep out the smoke and cinders which threatened to choke them. Samaden was reached towards evening, and the GOFs, piling their baggage on carts, set out on the four mile walk which, as the Conductor explained, would give them an appetite for dinner. Arrived at the village, they made the best of their way to the four hotels and innumerable dependances in which they were quartered, and the next two hours were spent in seeing to the nailing of boots, selection of stocks and, incidentally, the consumption of dinner, all of which were to render them fit for whatever programme might be issued under the hand and seal of the Conductor for the following day. Later on, visits were paid and exchanged between those who, though friends, lived apart, and the advantages of early booking were made plain. The first fifteen on the list were quartered at the Schweizerhof, a palatial hotel inhabited by the cream of Society in Pontresina; the Muller, Bernina, and Steinbok received the rest, putting out those they could not sleep, to various sheds and outhouses in their immediate vicinity. ‘Digging’ in such places in not half so bad as one might think, any little inconvenience being more than compensated by the novelty and complete change from home life. Besides this, it is in those sheds and cottages that one becomes acquainted with the native folk; and learns more of Switzerland and Swiss life than one could ever, otherwise, know.
Orders were issued in due course that the programme for next day would be the ascent of the Piz Languard, intending climbers to meet at the Hotel Steinbok at 7 am. The Landguard is a rocky peak whose summit, 10,715 feet above sea level, means a climb of 4,800 from Pontresina. About forty GOFs lightly undertook the task, for though Baedeker speaks of the ascent as fatiguing, they knew that others of their friends had done it, and noticing that neither guides nor ropes were necessary, looked upon it as an ordinary ‘promenade’. Soon after seven o’clock they started off from the Steinbok, and zigzagged their way up through the pines at the back of the village. After half an hour’s slow and steady progress, the long Indian-file formation became gradually broken, and those in the rear were seen to be popping across short cuts, overtaking and passing all who, in front, stuck to the path, and streaming away in twos and threes, at the pace best suited to their own inclination and individual climbing powers. In an hour they were all out of the pines, on the ridge where stands the first hut, and Pontresina was lost to view below. Leaving the hut behind them, they bore away to the right, along the side of the mountain, until they came in sight of the magnificent snow clad Bernina Group; the great white peaks standing out in all their loveliness against the azure sky, and the Morteratsch Glacier running down from their bases, into the valley beneath. Our friends gazed with a personal interest at the lovely picture, for they knew that those who undertook the Diavolezza Tour would pass through this snowy region, and travel down over those two miles of glacier on their homeward journey. But they must get on, for they had as yet only ascended about fifteen hundred feet; and the sun, beating down with ever increasing force, reminded them of Baedeker’s advice that ‘the ascent should be commenced not later than 5 am in order to escape the sun as far as the foot of the peak, and avoid the later mists’.
Our climbers now encountered several fairly steep slopes, and then for an hour and a half plodded along on their upward path, towards the base of that rocky summit which was their goal. During this part of the ascent it occurred to many that a forty-eight hour railway journey, with only one break, is not quite the sort of training to fit one for a five thousand foot climb. Rests were frequent and progress slow. In time though they arrived, as they must, at that point where the mule-track ends, and further advance meant climbing over rocky boulders, and scrambling up through loose stones and earth. This was where their trouble commenced. About half an hour up this section and fifteen minutes from the summit was a spot which witnessed the cracking up of nine out of ten of the participants in the excursion. Here, as they arrived fairly blown after the last bit of work, and saw that the next was steeper still, they sat down wearily, and cared not whether they went to the top or stayed where they were. If they had only known – but that follows. One little party were fortunate in deciding that they would go just a little further before settling down for a rest, and five minutes afterwards were rewarded with a vision more beautiful to their eyes than anything they had yet seen. It consisted of a wooden shanty, a few tables and chairs, and real live people contentedly eating, and drinking beer and wine out of real glasses. What joy was theirs! They scrambled on to that little plateau, and sitting down at a table, attacked their portable lunch with a voracity only known to those who have climbed for four hours on a light Café complet. The consequent revival was simply wonderful. In a short while they were completely restored, both morally and physically; and, like giants refreshed, were fit for any new exertion that might be put upon them. A lady, bethinking her of that spot, just below, where some more of our friends were probably even then debating whether they would continue the ascent or not, ran to the edge and looked over. Yes, there they were, eight or ten of them looking utterly weary, and some actually asleep. She picked up a couple of empty bottles and dangling them in the air shouted: ‘Hi! Hi! there. Here’s the hut!’
One or two turned their heads and looked up; caught sight of the bottles, and jumped up. In two minutes they were scrambling over the intervening ground like mountain goats; and their first remark on arriving was:
‘Why didn’t you let us know before?’
From the hut, excursions were made to the summit, just above and within easy hailing distance, from which was obtainable the finest view in Switzerland. Some made one and other two or more excursions to this point, and stayed there any time from ten minutes to two hours. The high altitude, and the surrounding snow peaks and glaciers, rendered the air delightfully cool and fresh, notwithstanding the brilliant sunshine overhead; and the climbers thought they could not do better than stay here as long as possible. One of the later arrivals was a gentleman whose brother had accompanied several previous tours, and, by his descriptions at home of what he had accomplished in Switzerland, appeared to have kindled in his kinsman’s breast a spirit of the keenest emulation and competition. This tour was his first experience of Switzerland, and the climb, the first he had ever undertaken. As he arrived, utterly worn out, on the little clearing where some of the others were congregated, he murmured to a friend admiring the view:
‘I’ll bet my brother’s never done a climb like this.’
‘Oh, yes; he has’, said the other.
‘I’ll tell you what he hasn’t done though.’
‘He’s never been so high as the summit.’
‘Hasn’t he? Right-O!’ and presently John Bunyan as he was called, owing to his somewhat bizarre method of wearing a soft black felt hat, was seen climbing manfully over the rocks which separated the hut from the topmost platform, until, having reached it, he became jubilant at the thought that he had already beaten his brother’s very best, by a margin of several hundred feet.
From the platform rose a trigonometrical figure, about twenty feet high, used in the measurement of surrounding peaks. The Hut also was originally here; but a streak of lightning had scorched it up, and only a few charred beam ends marked the spot where it had stood. It was necessary to stay on top some time in order to see all that is visible from this point; for the clouds and mists resting on the distant ranges lifted from time to time, moving along to other resting places, and disclosing to view some one or other of those dazzling peaks to contemplate which they had come so far. Immediately before one stands the Bernina Group, with the Pers and Morteratsch Glaciers. Twenty miles to the east can be seen the Ortler, which they so nearly climbed the year before, and a little to the left and somewhat nearer is the Stilfser Joch, on whose glacier one of the party had come to grief. Away to the south-west, the farthest visible point is the Monte Rosa; but it is doubtful if any of our friends saw this, although some fancied so.
Between three and four in the afternoon the descent to Pontresina commenced. There was no sign of fatigue as they dropped down the steep short cuts and stepped briskly out along the bridle paths, neither was there any doubt that the exertion of the morning had done them considerably more good than harm. The last little group posed to several cameras before leaving, and their late start got them caught in a thunderstorm before they were more than half way down. There was no shelter nearer than the lower hut, so they swung along at their best pace, and though wet through when they reached it, took shelter till the storm blew over.
The Schweizerhof being by far the largest and most comfortable hotel in the village, it was perhaps not unnatural that, after dinner, it should occur to those quartered elsewhere that they might as well call on their more fortunate friends. They did so: and there appeared some danger for a time that the bona fide Schweizerhof guests would be crowded out. This was happily avoided, and the hall presented a brilliant and animated appearance when, every available table and chair in the place being requisitioned, it was occupied by about fifty GOFs and as many other guests, all talking at once over their coffee, and retailing various incidents of the day’s work. One gentleman related to a circle of envious listeners how the keeper of the Languard Hut, mistaking him for the Conductor, had smilingly presented him with a bottle of champagne, which he and a friend had consumed, with much inward satisfaction, on the way down. A good deal of amusement was caused in the party when those quartered at the Steinbok brought the news that two gentlemen at that hotel had come down to dinner in evening dress. Seeing that they were old GOFs who ought to have known better, they were deservedly laughed at: the standing order on dress being ‘Travel light’. Such a splendid opportunity for a musical evening the Conductor did not allow to pass. Those who could sing or play he sent to fetch their music, and set about organising a ‘Social’ in own sweet way. A few dances, also, were indulged in; and the whole evening passed so pleasantly that the interlopers were loth, even at midnight, to return to their own hotels, especially as, outside, rain was falling in torrents. Incidentally, this rain brought a severe rebuff to the Ideal Beau. A young lady having asked him to assist her across a puddle, he laughingly offered to do so for a kiss. Much to his discomfiture, she turned up her nose – and skirts – and walked through it.
Next morning was bright and fine, and as no set excursion had been arranged, most of our friends took things easily in exploring the village and making a few purchases. One or two made little ascents or excursions on their own account, but the greater number decided to accompany the Conductor to the Morteratsch Glacier after lunch. At midday the sky became overcast, and shortly afterwards the place was deluged with rain. When the time arrived for the afternoon excursion to start, rain was still steadily falling, and only a dozen enthusiasts were found, besides the Conductor, willing to take a soaking with an afternoon walk. Needless to say, the contempt evinced by these twelve for any kind of weather conditions raised them inestimably in the eyes of that gentleman; and in great good spirits he led them light heartedly through the dripping pine woods to the glacier, which was reached after an hour’s walk. The rain had ceased by now, and glad were these brave spirits that they had come out here, instead of moping about the hotels of Pontresina. After exploring an artificial grotto in the ice, they clambered up the moraine to get a closer view of the Glacier itself. Finding then that it was a simple matter to get on it, they got on, and here the trouble commenced. Having got on in nice easy fashion and had a look round, they discovered it quite impossible to get off again, without risking a broken limb or two. Their only chance now was to find their way, without a guide, across that sea of ice to the opposite moraine, and endeavour to get off there. The details of the expedition will live long in the memory of the devoted thirteen. How they climbed up and down, and up again, in that wilderness of ice and rocks; how after two hours of hard and hopeless sort of work they got down, at last, to the moraine on the opposite side of the stream which rushes from underneath the glacier, and how some of them spent another half hour in a fruitless endeavour to ford the stream, not knowing there was a bridge a little further on, are incidents in an adventure upon which they may now look back with some sort of satisfaction, but which certainly did not seem very jolly while it lasted. At the Hotel Morteratsch were some GOFs who had come down by road when the weather cleared, and had for the last hour been watching, from the roof, the helpless wandering of the lost sheep. A cup of tea and a short rest set up every one for the walk back to Pontresina, where they found that a Ball had been organised for that evening at the Hotel Schweizerhof.
The proprietor had evidently laid himself out to do the thing in style that night. The great dining hall was cleared, and a band, such as no one dreamt of finding in Pontresina, was there to discourse sweet music. The guests in the hotel were in a high state of excitement at the prospect of seeing an English dance, and the noses of half the village inhabitants appeared to be flattened against the dining-room windows. The other foreign visitors were extremely shy of dancing, and though they crowded every approach in order to look on, only GOFs joined in the fun, with the exception of one young German lady who danced charmingly. The Ideal Beau had discovered her, and he monopolised her attention during most of the evening. Eighteen hardy ones had put in their names for the Diavolezza Tour next morning, and as they would have to start on the expedition at four o’clock, most of them retired pretty early; but the dance went on with undiminished gaiety until half past eleven, when every one went home, well satisfied with a most enjoyable evening.
Four o’clock on a frosty morning! Ugh! The stars twinkled merrily in a dark blue sky, and big white clouds caught a glint of light from the waning moon. Day would be breaking shortly, in the meantime – breakfast. Ah! the GOFs were not the only ones there, for many other tourists were bent on climbing expeditions that day, and every now and then one or two would drop in, with a pleasant greeting, and tip-toe their way across the stone floor of the Speisesaal to the accompaniment of a screeching of shoe-nails which, in the morning’s silence, seemed to re-echo throughout the building. At half past four, out they bundled into the cold twilight, and along the road to the Steinbok, whence the expedition was to start at five o’clock. The guides were there, and a few GOFs, and every few minutes some one or other arrived, till the party was complete with the exception of those staying at the Schweizerhof. What were they up to? As the time for starting passed, the guides became restless; for the actual ascent commences five miles up the Bernina Road, and this distance had to be first covered on foot. Presently there was a shout, and the Conductor arrived with news. The Schweizerhof people had only just been called: if those already waiting would go on, they would obtain a carriage and drive after them without any time being wasted. Action at last! Away went the walkers, down the road to the Morteratsch, then to the left, and upwards. A shrill whistle from behind caused their leaders to look back, and find a guide directing their attention to a short cut which they were passing by. Fancy GOFs passing a short cut! they blushed to think of it. Arriving, higher up, on the road again, a splendid view of the Morteratsch Glacier was disclosed, and while enjoying a breather some of them tried to trace out, from this exalted position, their wanderings of the day before. It was hopeless. Continuing the journey, they arrived, in an hour and a half, at the collection of wooden huts called Bernina Houses. During the walk, a lady whose name, if not descent, was distinctly Scottish, had been carrying on an animated conversation with a guide who only spoke, besides German, a little Italian. The mixture of German-Italian and London-Scottish had evidently proved highly successful, for the gratified guide referred affectionately to his new acquaintance as ‘Meine Vrou’ for the rest of the day. In a few minutes the carriage containing the remainder of the party came bowling along the road, and its occupants disentangled their half frozen limbs and climbed out.
A glass of hot milk all round, and then away they go. First a guide, then a lady, then a gentleman, then a lady, then a gentleman, then a guide; and so on, down the line, with the gallant Conductor bringing up the rear. For the first hour there is a mule track; then grass stones up to the little Diavolezza Lake, where a short rest is taken. A glance at the watch showed that they were ten minutes inside time, and a grunt from the leading guide was taken to express approval. Off again, and this time over rocks; enormous boulders are they piled on top of one another in endless confusion, and how the guides find their way over them is a puzzle. Once more that piercing whistle; and our friends turn, to find that one of their number has fallen out to take a photograph. A serious offence is this, and the whole line had to wait till he had once more taken his place. He did so with a smile, for he had got his picture, and the column moved on. Suddenly, above them, they saw snow; and a dumb question to the guide brought the information, also in dumb show, that there lay the path. It seemed a long way off; quite half a day’s journey, and near the top there was a string of people, looking like flies, only smaller, and moving so slowly that they hardly seem to move at all. On went the GOFs; climbing and jumping, and climbing again until, long before they expected, they also arrived at the foot of the snowfield. Baedeker gives of the next part of the journey a terse but graphic description as follows: ‘3/4 hour over fatiguing snow’. It was not very fatiguing; but some care had to be exercised, and the vividly reflected sunlight caused the immediate production of blue goggles by all who possessed them. Now and again a foot slipped, now and again they paused and looked upward. By and by, they felt, by a reduced gradient, that they were nearing the top; then a turn to the right, a scramble over some rocks, and they were on the pass. The Hut stood before them, and just beyond, a sheer drop of a thousand feet to the Pers Glacier, and – looking across that sea of ice – the Piz Cambrena, the Palü, the Bernina, the Bellavista, and away on the right the Piz Morteratsch, the whole making a beautiful and dazzling panorama. In all this blaze of white there was only one dark object; the Isla Persa, a low rocky island standing out in bold relief between the Pers and Morteratsch Glaciers. It was a magnificent sight, and well worth coming here to see. They had accomplished the ascent from Bernina Houses in twenty five minutes under the scheduled time, and all agreed that the climb had been a ridiculously easy one, at all events in proportion to its lavish repayment.
And now for that most important function, lunch. The guides threw off their rucksacks, and out came the same old rolls, the same old fowl, and the same old cheese as from time almost immemorial have constituted a portable alpine meal. And bottles of claret were there, and at the hut, bottles of lemonade and lager could be procured. What a feast! The people who had, from below, looked like dots on the snow were still on the pass, and soon recognised our friends as the English folk whose dancing they had watched the previous evening at the Schweizerhof. Greetings, on one side in German and the other in English, were most cordial; and the GOFs were both surprised and pleased to find that their overnight efforts in the Terpsichorean Art had been so evidently appreciated. A German lady, stout but agile, laughingly insisted on showing them how her compatriots waltz, and, seizing a GOF man, the pair went spinning around over earth and stones, among tables and chairs, until the fear of spinning down on to the glacier below pulled them up. Until eleven o’clock our friends amused themselves on the pass, and then commenced the precipitous descent to the Pers Glacier. Having safely accomplished this, they struck out across the ice for the Isla Persa, an hour from the pass, and there rested before setting out on their two hour’s journey down the Morteratsch Glacier, to the Restaurant where the expedition proper would finish. While resting on the island the guides once more put down their rucksacks, brought out the half empty wine bottles left over from lunch, and passed them round. Finding no wine was required, they emptied it down their own capacious throats, and threw the bottles on a heap consisting of some thousands of other bottles left there by previous visitors. Resuming the journey, our friends had to climb down the coast of the island from the level of the Pers, to the lower level of the Morteratsch, and strike out once more across the ice. The going was not easy, for the surface of the glacier was much serrated and crevassed, and a glance around gave one the impression of a tumultuous, tempest driven sea, suddenly frozen still as death, and left for wanderers to look at. And look at it they did; not gazing at the view around, for that was only possible during a halt; but at that part of it immediately in front of them on which they were going to tread. Eyes and feet had to move together here, and, at the pace they were going, the strain was considerable. They soon passed their German friends, who had left the Hut half an hour before them, and the guide’s piercing whistle occasionally pulled up the leaders with a jerk, for the rear of the column to be re-formed. It was noticed that this gentleman stuck to ‘meine vrow’ all the way; and tenderly assisted that experienced hand over every crevasse, great or small, while less experienced ones had to do the best they could. During a halt he stood, in all the glory of conscious pride, while she photographed him on a doubly exposed film, and beamed with pleasure when she promised to send him a copy. It was all very delightful while it lasted, but in time they arrived at the lower end of the glacier, and, jumping off where they ought to have got off the previous afternoon, descended the moraine to the restaurant, just as rain began to fall. Here for an hour they revelled in tea and cakes, while outside the rain came down unceasingly; then took their way along the road to Pontresina, where they arrived, tired but jubilant, between four and five o’clock.
We must now turn our attention to those of our friends who chose not to face the perils of the Diavolezza Pass, but rather to amuse themselves in and around the village. For these an excursion was arranged to the Roseg Glacier, and the Old Stager, with his usual goodness, undertook the guidance of the party. At nine o’clock a considerable number set out through the woods, along what is known as the Ruselas Promenade, a path which, in an hour and a quarter, brought them out on to the road again, half a mile short of the Hotel du Glacier. The weather had been fine, but by the time they reached the restaurant it gave signs of breaking up, and rain appeared imminent. Several gave up the the excursion at this point and started homewards. Those who elected to proceed remained a little while at the Restaurant, and were shortly joined by some stragglers who had followed the road throughout. The weather soon became so bad that many announced their intention of remaining at the Hotel while the others went in search of the glacier; the edge of which had once been just outside the door, but which had so shrunk in course of time that it now lays some two miles distant. This shrinkage had an important bearing on the afternoon’s proceedings; for there being apparently more than one way of arriving at their destination, the explorers set forth in two parties; some sticking to the guidance of the Old Stager, while others placed themselves under the care of the Joker. This gentleman, like a now famous duke, ‘led them up a very high hill’, he can hardly be said to have ‘led them down again’ though, for finding eventually that he was making not for the Roseg Glacier, but the Tschierva Hut fifteen hundred feet above it, he made a sudden turn and scrambled down the mountain side, reaching the glacier by a way far too steep and difficult for the others to follow. When it dawned on these that they had been duped and abandoned, they commenced sadly to retrace their steps to the restaurant. Presently they heard, perhaps in fancy, a soft chuckle float upward through the mist, and the things they said about that arch-traitor the Joker may not be here repeated. With souls full of wrath, and boots full of rain, they ultimately got back to the Restaurant, where the cold lunch and warm sympathy provided by their friends served partially to restore their equanimity. By and by they all joined in welcoming the Old Stager’s party, who had found and explored the glacier, and though soaked to the skin, were perfectly satisfied with their outing. The excursion, as such, could hardly perhaps be called a brilliant success, but GOFs on a holiday manage to enjoy themselves under every possible condition; and when these fold, in the evening started talking of their adventures, the deeds of the Diavolezza climbers paled into utter significance, and their merits were left unsung.
During the evening there was some music, a little dancing, and a lot of talking: while a general air of rest and contentment pervaded over all. It was the last night in Pontresina, and our friends felt that, while there, they had not wasted their time. They had ‘done’ everything they had come to do, and found, as usual, that the things most worth doing were those which entailed the greatest amount of exertion. The Conductor announced that in the morning they would meet at ten o’clock, at the Hotel Kulm, St. Moritz, from where they would drive to the top of the Maloja Pass, and walk down the other side to Promontogno.
The morning was of that dull, grey, and damp description which appears to be quite the usual thing at this famous climbing centre, and the heavy clouds rolling around the mountain tops, and down their slopes, gave sure promise of a wet journey. An early breakfast preceded the one hour’s walk through the woods to St. Moritz, where, the town being much larger than was expected, some loss of time occurred before the Hotel Kulm was discovered. In fact, several members were still searching for the rendezvous when the procession of carriages set out; but these were happily overtaken in their wandering before the outskirts were passed, and picked up. The ten mile drive to Maloja, accomplished in two hours, led along the shores of the Silvaplaner and Silser See, and provided charming lake views which were rather enhanced than spoilt by the lowering clouds and occasional heavy falls of rain. It was raining very hard indeed when the vehicles pulled up, one after the other, at the Restaurant on the Pass; and to such an extent was the ardour of our friends dampened that some absolutely refused to leave their carriages, and enjoined the drivers to go on, at any cost, to the end of the journey. Others would only give up possession on condition that they should re-enter them after lunch, and drive to Promonogno instead of walking. This was ultimately arranged, and they crawled out. On the verandah of the restaurant were tables and chairs, and although no arrangement had been made, the GOFs were soon supplied with hot soup and wine, with which to assist the discussion of their ‘portables’. The Restaurant stands just off the road, in open country, and commands very fine views of the pass, the lake, and the surrounding peaks. In the near fore-ground is the magnificent Kurhaus, built on the shore of the Silser See, from which there presently issued several golfing parties who, totally indifferent to the weather, were soon lost in the fascination of their pastime. Their conversation proclaimed them English, and our friends watched the play with interest until, following up their drives, they disappeared in the heavy mist.
Luncheon over, those who were driving started off, while the walkers hung about for a time, hoping that the weather might clear. The Conductor assured them that there was no hurry, as although the distance by road was twelve miles, the short cuts so reduced it that it was really only a two hours’ walk. His hearers smiled at his optimism, and recalled various other occasions on which he had volunteered a rough estimate of a prospective walk, to the utter discomfiture of both prophet and disciples. They did not hurry though, for it mattered little what time they might arrive at their destination, and they thought they would rather start after the rain than in it. About two o’clock some set out, and were followed at intervals by groups of three and four until, at three o’clock, the last little band shook the mud of the pass from off their feet, making room for that of the Val Bregaglia down below.
This little party were fortunate in discovering the Great Short Cut. It commenced a little way beyond the Restaurant, and before the zigzags came in view. After contemplating it for some moments, and noting how it apparently tumbled over a cliff, and disappeared into the mist below, they decided that they would risk it. It was not exactly a path of roses, in fact one could hardly call it a path at all; but by a succession of jumps from rock to rock, slides through mud and water, and forced passages through dripping foliage, they ultimately arrived on the road again, and were gratified to find that they had, in one effort of twenty minutes, descended the whole way from the pass to the valley, a drop of nearly a thousand feet. Of the twelve zigzags by which ordinary traffic descends they saw no sign; and plumed themselves considerably on the wisdom which prompted them to take the path they had, forgetting that, but for the Conductor, they would have passed it by.
The road along the Val Bregaglia swerves gradually downwards around the bases of great mountains on either side, and the gradual development both in quantity and quality of the vegetation, is most marked. That must be so, for Baedeker says it; but the GOFs noticed little or nothing of the scenery on this part of the journey, for when rain was not descending the surroundings were wrapt in a wet mist, and little inclination was evinced by our friends to stand still and admire the view. Instead, it seemed a fitting opportunity to test the Conductor’s computation of the duration of the journey; and with this end in view they got along as quickly as possible.
Two hours. The time was nearly up; and what village was this? Promontogno? They hoped so. Some of the rearguard were just entering the main street of a large village, and the time given by the Conductor had almost elapsed. Could he have been right after all? Impossible! Nevertheless here was a large hotel, and there, at a first floor window, were some GOFs who hailed them. Good old Conductor, he must have been right! They rushed upstairs and into the room where their friends were so comfortably seated at tea, only to be told that they were not at Promontogno, and not even near it. How much further? Six kilometres? What that is four miles! Oh! that wretched Conductor; why –
The fastest time for the journey was three hours and five minutes. What did it matter? They all arrived before dinner, and a jolly dinner that was. Under the impression that they had performed some particularly meritorious feat, our friends treated themselves particularly well; and the wine of the country, and that of other countries, flowed freely round the festive board, conducting, with the sparkling sallies of the Joker, to the general hilarity of the proceedings. The Conductor announced that next morning’s walk to Chiavenna was nine miles, and that the train would start from there at 10.20. He did not commit himself to an estimate of the time required, but said there were no short cuts, and they had better start early so that they need not hurry. Those who had driven that day would be able to do so again if they wished, for the horses were staying at the same hotel as themselves, and would be at their service in the morning. The Company then adjourned to the important function known as ‘Coffee-in-the-hall’ after which music and billiards kept the ball rolling till bedtime. During the night those who were not exceedingly heavy sleepers witnessed a magnificent mountain thunderstorm. While rain descended in torrents, crashes of thunder reverberated from side to side, filling the valley with stupefying noise. Now and again the scene was lit up with brilliant flashes of lightning, which sometimes threw up the surrounding peaks with an outline of living fire, and anon shot down into the valley between, apparently setting alight the trees and shrubs therein. During the heaviest part of the storm, two young ladies who had been watching the spectacle through the open window were somewhat startled to discover that they were not alone in their room. Someone or something had entered and could be distinctly heard moving about. Something, evidently, for it had wings. From the description afterwards given by the ladies themselves, the intruder might have been anything from a moth to an albatross, and certain it is that after spending sometime in fruitless endeavours, with umbrellas and alpenstocks, to drive out the restless being, they came to the conclusion that they must ask for assistance from the next room. No sooner had they opened the door for this purpose than the unwelcome visitor, pleased no doubt to find some other outlet than the window, vanished, and once more there was peace in the darkness.
Next morning the whole valley was enveloped in mist, and the ground soaked with rain. The ruined chateau of Castlemur, and the hill whereon it stood were blotted out of sight, as, in fact, was everything else a few yards from the hotel itself. The castle, with its tale of ancient history, had been full of interest to the weary pedestrians of the previous evening; bearing witness, as it did, not so much to the glory of past ages, as to the fact that their home for the night must be somewhere close handy. They could have wished to make its better acquaintance this morning, but, as they were advised to start early, could not afford the time. By a quarter past seven the walkers were all on the road, and surely they may be catalogued among those who, only, deserve the fair. The journey was all down hill though, and the pace, accordingly, good. They were nearing their destination when, just after nine o’clock, the rain descended with all its accustomed vigour. Bunyan and the Ideal Beau, who led the van, had just entered the town; so, taking shelter in a restaurant, they proceeded to divide their attention between the resident goddess who waited on them, and the dripping GOFs who passed by on their way to the station.
By ten o’clock the whole party had arrived, and were on the platform. The day’s work was about to commence, and included a train ride to Colico, boat to Menaggio, train to Porlezza, and boat to Lugano. Truly, with the many portages of baggage, the hardest day’s programme they had yet faced.
At Colico, lunch was provided at the Station Buffet, a small place, whose catering department had never before risen to such an occasion. It rose magnificently this time, and the result was a feast. From the station our friends strolled, in brilliant sunshine, through the town to the landing stage, where a most amusing spectacle was the arrival in state of the Joker. He was accompanied by a large contingent of young arabs, among whom he had distributed all his personal luggage, and all the alpenstocks and rucksacks belonging to other he had been able to find. He martialled his regiment on the quay, and put the grinning urchins through their facings in true military style, much to the delight of both actors and audience.
At Menaggio the travellers disembarked, carrying their luggage, and were informed by the Conductor that the Station was ‘just round to the left’. There had been no rain here; the weather was fine and warm, and, had there been time, the town was pretty enough to have well repaid a ramble round about. As it was, our friends, knowing that their train was even then due to start, set off immediately down the main street, round to the left, and along a dusty country road which gradually took on an upward gradient, towards the station. For half a mile this caravan of human camels, encouraged by the presence and kindly sympathy of half the inhabitants, plodded gamely on, then sat on their baggage and rested. Just round to the left! Wouldn’t they have something to say to that Conductor when they caught him! Once more they struggled on, and in another five minutes arrived, to find that the train had not only not yet started, but was not likely to be in for quite twenty minutes. On a siding were the two extra carriages which would be attached for the GOFs’ accommodation, and in one of these the luggage was piled, some being placed on the end platforms. This task had just been satisfactorily accomplished, when an overcast sky, and an occasionally heavy splash of rain, gave warning that their old friend the storm was once more upon them, and they took possession of their carriages as the only shelter available. In a short while the rain had turned to a deluge accompanied by fierce gusts of wind, and from their coign of vantage inside the carriages they watched the luggage outside being gradually sodden through. The owners of the bags evinced much perturbation at the sight; but nothing could be done, and they were forced to become passive admirers of the miraculous manner in which the water gravitated towards every little crevice or opening, and found its way with great persistence on to the goods inside. One gentleman was heard to declare next morning that the only dry articles he possessed were a pair of socks and something else.
Journeying from Menaggio, on the shore of Lake Como, to Porlezza, on Lake Lugano, the train has to travel over a high ridge of land, with a long slope toward Porlezza but rising very steeply from Menaggio. The ascent is accomplished in a series of zigzags. An engine being attached to each end; one pulls and the other pushes the train up an inclined plane on to a level resting place. The guard then changes the points, and the engine which was behind, being now in front pulls, whilst the other pushes the train up another slope on to another resting place, where the changing operation is repeated. As one rises higher and higher, a very fine view of the lake is obtained, even in rain; in sunnier weather the panorama must be magnificent.
Arrived on top of the ridge which separates one lake from the other it was found necessary, for some unaccountable reason, to change trains. There was no platform, and the luggage had to be dragged across the metals; each one, in the anxiety to avoid getting wet, picked up the first bag that came to hand and deposited it in any convenient and vacant spot on the fresh train. The confusion when the journey was resumed may be imagined; anxious GOFs wandered from end to end of the train, in an apparently hopeless search for some lost article. Those who early came by their own took seats, and encouraged, with irrelevant suggestions, the unfortunates who were still prosecuting the search. It was not until they were running the station at Porlezza that the last stray bag was grabbed by its proprietor, and the last disconsolate traveller made happy. At the landing stage a steamer was waiting to convey them to their destination for the day, and having made themselves as comfortable on board as the wet decks and seats would allow them, they imagined that now surely their troubles were over. Not so: an imaginary frontier line crosses the lake, and here a squad of uniformed pirates thoroughly overhauled the whole of the baggage. That was their last trial: the rain had ceased, the declining sun, piercing at last the heavy clouds, made beautiful sky and atmospheric pictures which the photographers were quick to appreciate and record, and the whole evening aspect gave promise of a fine morrow. At a quarter past seven the boat arrived at Lugano. The weary travellers heaved a sigh of relief as they stepped on to the landing stage, and relinquished their goods and chattels into the hands of the hotel porters who had come down to take charge. What a day it had been! They were so tired.
Sunday, as everyone knows, is always a ‘free day’, and a day of rest for those who wish it. The morning was a brilliant one, and the men early signalised their freedom by splashing about in the waters of the lake. A swimming race was arranged between two, who were both novices in the art, and after a close and exciting struggle during which the contestants covered several yards, the umpire gave it as his decision that they had both lost. After breakfast, everyone turned out in full summer regalia, and sauntered forth to inspect the surroundings. One or two giddy young men had encased themselves in immaculate white ducks for the occasion, under the impression that their mission was to be inspected. A promenade along the ‘front’ brought one to the shopping quarter, in what would probably be called the native part of the town. The streets were narrow, cobbled, and arcaded, and converged on to the Square, which this morning presented a busy scene. It was full of market stalls on which were displayed choice collections of fruit, vegetables and sweets, boots and shoes, hats and caps, sticks, trinkets and nick-nacks, and all the odds and ends which go to make up a holiday bazaar. Most of the GOFs spent the whole morning among the shops and stalls, and bought all sorts of things for which they had no use. A gentleman who had lost his tweed cap on Lake Como replaced it here with a marvellous Italian confection of snowy whiteness, with which he intended to ‘astonish the natives’ when he returned home. Alas! for the vanities of this world: two days later it shared the fate of its predecessor.
After lunch a number climbed the Monte San Salvatore, in a train, and spent the whole afternoon on the summit, 2,000 feet above the lake. On their return to the lower regions, they reported the air exhilarating, and flies most affectionate. Others took lounge chairs and made themselves comfortable in the grounds of the hotel, resting from the labours of the week just past, and preparing for those of the week to come. Having basked all day in the rays of the sun, and finding the evening air still balmy and much to their liking, these good folk continued to bask, after dinner, in the light of the stars. Some, finding even the star-light too glaring, did their basking in the inpenetrable shade of the shrubbery. It was a perfect evening, and no one hurried indoors; but there was a distinct shudder next morning, when it was whispered that the night porter had had to be called in to let – how many? well, some – of our friends in.
Early next morning the whole party was en route for the St. Gotthard Pass, described in the itinerary as a ‘magnificent climbing centre’, where they were to spend the next three days. It was not until after the train had started, that the loss was discovered of an ardent photographer and his model. These two had set out early in the morning to photograph the town, and had perhaps forgotten, in their passionate devotion of Art, that a railway company would probably fail in sympathy. As the model was of the angular and unattractive sex, no fears were entertained for the susceptible photographer, and the rest of the party sped on their way to Airola, feeling quite sure that the lost sheep would soon return to the fold. Arrived at Airola, they detrained with their baggage, and scrambled across the metals to the platform, where the goods were sorted out and placed on carts, for conveyance to the summit of the pass. A gentleman discovered, just in time, that he had left a bag in the train, and went back to get it. He had hardly got inside the carriage when the door was slammed behind him, a whistle blew, and the train started. A crowd of friends on the platform watched his futile gesticulations as he disappeared in the inky blackness of the St. Gotthard Tunnel, then turned, and musing sadly on the on the undoubted eventfulness of a day which, though still young, had already witnessed the disappearance of three of their number, slowly wended their way to the Hotel.
Here some negotiated their portable meal, while others reserved theirs for a picnic on the way up the pass. Before a start was made, the arrival was announced of the gentleman who had been bag-hunting. He had arrived at Goschenen just in time to catch a train back, and had brought with him, not only his own bag, but also some other articles which had been left in the train by one of the ladies. Two short of their number, they set out on their uphill journey; and after half an hour’s work, found they had missed a lovely short cut, which would have saved quite half a mile. They continued for some time in an upward direction, some cutting, and others going round the zig-zags, and it sometimes happened that those who stuck to the road had the best of it. When a third of the journey had been accomplished rain began to fall. At first it was just a sprinkle; but later it rained quite nicely and steadily, and just at that pace at which one would expect it to last indefinitely. Cold rain too; which chilled the air as it fell, and made one wonder what the temperature at the top would be if it was like this half-way. In fact, the temperature, and the aspect of the road ahead, caused a good deal of wondering during the afternoon, as to what the St. Gotthard Pass was really like. The path soon led across dreary wastes, losing the road altogether for some time, and landed our friends into various difficulties, extrication from which gave occasion for much thought and caused the rain to be nearly forgotten. Rejoining the road at last, they plodded along until the final windings of this wonderful pass came into view. Upward, as far as they could see, the road zig-zagged backwards and forwards, rising at every turn, till it vanished over the rocky height partly obscured by the clouds above them. Miles of it they could trace, and when they should arrive at the point of disappearance, who could say how much more there would be to negotiate? Their hearts went down into their sodden boots as they contemplated the remaining portion of the journey, and the appearance, just then, of the two stalwarts who had been lost at Lugano was most opportune. They had caught the next train, and stepping out briskly from Airola had just arrived among their friends. Their advent tended to liven things up somewhat, and presently the excitement of discovering and navigating the short cuts to the top served once more to take one’s attention from the miserable weather and dreary outlook, until, an hour afterwards, the road straightened out before them and they were rewarded with a sight of the Hotel Monte Prosa. It was not an inviting-looking place, but their hearts were gladdened at the thought of the comforts they would soon enjoy, and in imagination they revelled in hot baths, warm and cosy rooms, a good dinner, and a jolly social to follow.
The excitement of short-cutting almost cut short the earthly career of our old friend Bunyan, for in his hurry to out-distance the remainder of the party, he did an enormous amount of unnecessary climbing over objects which were certainly not in his path, and eventually found himself halfway up a sheer face of rock, totally unable either to climb any higher, or get back to the road twenty feet below. At the idle suggestion of a passer-by that he was birds nesting, he contemptuously shook his head; then, fixing his eyes on the Conductor, while this gentleman, standing cautiously away from underneath, waved his arms semaphore fashion and directed the ambitious one’s foot from one projection to another, he managed to lower himself slowly and with great difficulty, down to the road again. It is thus that GOFs gather experience.
As our friends approached the hotel, and cast their eyes around the plateau whereon it stood, they came to the conclusion that the ‘magnificent centre’ was about as desolate a waste as had ever depressed the spirits of an ardent tourist. A long winding road, on each side of which is a waste of stunted grass and rock, great rocky peaks on either hand; behind, the apparently bottomless pit from which they had just emerged, in front – nothing. Away on the right, the dreary ruins of a burnt-out Hospice, nearer, a small Hotel, and on the left, a rambling and uninviting Dependance; the whole prospect and its beholders soaked with mist and rain, and there we have a picture of the great St. Gotthard Pass on the occasion of the GOFs first visit.
They entered the refectory of the Hotel, and while indulging in hot coffee, enquired expectantly after their rooms. Yes, they were informed, there were three rooms, but these had been appropriated by the three or four GOFs who had driven in carriages from Airola, and the remainder would be quartered at the Dependance. They shuddered. They glanced at the barrack-like building across the road, cold-looking and comfortless, composed of two stories, of which the lower was the common stable, cowshed and general zoological department, while the upper was apparently partitioned off into dreary dormitories, and shuddered again. Nevertheless, they listened attentively while the Conductor read out, with the self-satisfied air of a Court Chamberlain, a list of names with the number of the room which each was to occupy, and quick glances were interchanged between one another as the same number kept cropping up, each time against a different name. The mystery was soon explained, our friends were informed that there were not many rooms, but they were very large ones and would hold quite a lot! This was interesting; and as the luggage was just then being carried in, the unfortunate travellers swarmed across the road, to investigate and take possession of their new quarters. There was much excitement and rushing about, shrieks of laughter and dismal groans, as the investigation proceeded; and it was found that there were nine men in one room, seven ladies in another, four men in another, and in yet another, eight more ladies; and so on, till the whole crowd were packed away in five or six rooms. In some rooms there were several who elected to sleep in couples for the sake of extra warmth, and there being very little floor space, the baggage was piled up on the beds thus left vacant. The washing arrangements were of the most primitive, and scanty at that. It was even rumoured that the reason why some ladies were late at dinner was because one of their number had monopolised one of the only two basins among seven to bathe her feet, and the other six had to take turns at washing in the remaining one.
The dinner assembly was a noisy one, everyone talking and nobody listening. Some were revelling in the novel experience, others were filled with disgust, and wished themselves anywhere but on the Great St. Gotthard. The Conductor made a speech, in which he explained that the proprietor of the Hotel Monte Prosa was not in the habit of entertaining such large parties on the pass, and as could be seen, the accommodation was hardly equal to it. He had already announced that any who preferred to [sic: ‘the’?] warm climate to Airola to the rigours of the pass could stay down below, and, journeying through the tunnel, meet the climbers at Goschenen, proceeding with them to Vitznau; but – and on the ‘but’ he laid great stress – he would advise them all to stay on the pass and put up with the cold, for the sake of the glorious bracing air they would be breathing for three whole days. The surroundings would probably look more inviting in sunshine than in the waning light of a rainy day, and he felt that, should any desert this magnificent centre, they would afterwards be sorry. It was a forceful and touching speech, and those who had already decided to clear out at the first opportunity left the matter in abeyance till the morning, while preparations were forthwith made for an evening ‘Social’.
The big refectory was cleared of all light furniture, and the tables piled up against the wall. By the time this was done music had been fetched from the various dormitories, and a delightful programme was commenced. Round dances, and square dances, and in the abandonment of the moment not a soul thought of the weather, or the morrow, or anything except that they were having a royal time. Bedtime arrived at last, and as, owing to the doubtful weather, nothing in the climbing line was arranged for the morning, our heroes went to bed conscious that they could stay there as long as they liked.
The permission was not likely to be abused, for the rooms and bed were found to be so cold that everyone asserted the sheets must be wet. On the scientific ‘mirror test’ being applied however, they were found to be quite dry. During the testing operation, one or two artful ones, who had left the dance in order to annex blankets from the vacant beds, and make their own more cosy, were mortified to discover that their tactics had been copied by other, and later, marauders, who had not only recovered the booty, but were using it to stifle their unseemly mirth. It was galling.
The morning was wet and misty – and cold. In fact, cold was its predominating feature. Those who had almost decided to quit the pass on the previous evening, announced at breakfast that their minds were irrevocably made up, they would go. About ten o’clock the sun struggled through, and leaving the ‘defaulters’ behind to pack up, the remainder set out on a walk to the Central Lake. This is one of thirty small lakes which are dotted about on the pass, and made an interesting excursion. The grass around was found to be quite green instead of the brown colour it had appeared the previous evening, and with the morning sun and glorious fresh air, made the pass almost as pretty and inviting as a Tyrolese valley. From the shore of the lake one could row across to the foot of a glacier on the Pizzo Rotondo, the highest in the St. Gotthard group, and could almost see the summit of that monster, three thousand feet above. Presently the sun disappeared, and rain threatened as they made their way back to the hotel; but they had seen how charming and interesting their present ground could be, and decided to stick to it, in the hope of being rewarded with fine weather later on. A guide was engaged for the ascent of the Monte Prosa in the afternoon, and, a plentiful supply of postcards being at hand, our tourists spent an hour in sending home pictorial and vividly written descriptions of the fearful hardships they were undergoing in these terrible Alpine regions.
About two o’clock, two separate parties set out from the Hotel, both fully equipped for walking, but with totally different objects in view. One, composed of the ‘defaulters,’ was on the downward path (terribly so!), and hoped by tea-time to be comfortably lazing in the warm climate of Airola, while the other, composed of the needlessly energetic ones, had for its objective the summit of Monte Prosa, an easy ascent of two hours and a half. Each party extended its deep sympathy to the other, and went on its way rejoicing, the smaller being totally lost of the main body for three days. The largest party took the upward path, and progressed in first class style for quite half an hour. It then occurred to someone that immediately after lunch is quite the wrong time of day for commencing an expedition. It occurred to someone else that it was a wonder they had not thought of it before. Then sun had once more manifested its existence and was shining gloriously, and though in the wind the temperature remained somewhere about freezing point, there were many sheltered spots where the conditions were quite summery. One of these spots was just then in view, and was occupied straight away by a party of four. A party of five occupied another sheltered spot just above, and various smaller parties of ones and twos – chiefly twos – occupied various other ‘spots’ to such an extent that when the advance guard, who knew nothing of all this, reached the summit, they were astonished to find the rear-guard had fallen completely away. ‘Fallen’ was the only word to use for such conduct. Fallen Stars were they, and coals of fire were heaped on the unconscious heads of those renegade climbers, lazily sunning themselves, and perhaps even peacefully sleeping, on the grass slopes down below.
At Dinner that evening, the Victors pointed the finger of scorn at the lazy ones, and the most scornful of all scorners was Bunyan. Pluming himself immensely on having accomplished the enormous ascent of two thousand feet, he loudly demanded that those who did not finish should pay the guide’s fee for those who did. Without any demur the fines were paid, and there was peace on the Pass. The Conductor then made another speech. He said he had had pointed out to him that the generally cheerless aspect of their present abode, which had already caused the temporary secession of eight of the party, might also be distasteful to others who were, nevertheless, remaining on the pass. He had heard no grumbling, but he took into consideration that this was essentially a climbing centre, and possessed absolutely no interest for those not actually climbing. He had therefore made arrangements by telegram for the whole party to move down to Vitznau, on the Lake of Lucerne, a day earlier than was originally intended. The announcement was greeted with applause; and the Joker took the opportunity of pointing out that among the non-climbers there was such fear of melancholia, that each one had kindly volunteered to amuse and interest some other one, with the result that they were mostly wandering about the place in twos, and no particular two could ever be found.
Once ore the room was cleared for a social, and the manager of the hotel betrayed a kindly interest in his guests’ amusements by solemnly walking all over the room scraping a large candle on to the floor, in order to improve its dancing quality. Most of the powdered wax was gathered up by the ladies’ skirts; but what little they left certainly did have a smoothing influence on the somewhat rough planking, and rendered dancing a less strenuous and more graceful exercise. It was during an interval on this particular evening that the Joker volunteered a recitation. His offer was accepted with enthusiasm. The whole party of GOFs, augmented by the management and domestic staff of the hotel, prepared themselves, in great excitement, for what was bound to be the ‘star turn’ of the evening. As a raconteur this gentleman was a great artist, whose powers were known and feared; as a reciter – they would see. The audience listened with breathless interest to the opening verses of a poem which dealt with the adventures of a boy, a chair, and a pin. The excitement was at its height, and his hearers bursting to know what would happen next, when the performer stopped, and calmly informed them that he had forgotten the rest. He suggested they had better proceed with the dance. They did.
Early next morning was to be undertaken the ascent of the Pizzo Centrale, which is, with the exception of the Rotondo, the highest peak in the neighbourhood; and about 6.00 am gruff voices might be heard in various parts of the dependence telling people to ‘get up’. The care taken by the man who hasn’t got to get up early, that his friend, who has, shall not be late, is truly marvellous; especially as he need not, of course, interest himself at all in the matter. When the man who was up opened the window thought, the man in bed wished he hadn’t been so solicitous; for the temperature immediately dropped to zero, and the room was filled with ‘mountain mist’. A dozen enthusiasts were presently assembled at breakfast, and at five minutes past seven, led by a guide, set out over the lower slopes of the Monte Prosa, on the first part of the climb. The air was keen and the guide set a good pace. The lively chatter of the first ten minutes gave place gradually to a silence which was only broken by the ring of an alpenstock on a loose stone, or the crunch of a boot through a frozen puddle. This state of things went on for some time, and the pace was beginning to tell. The breathing apparatus of the climbers was working overtime; but still the guide went on, at a rate which suggested that he was either in a desperate hurry, or desirous of testing the endurance of our friends to the utmost, and he would probably have reached their ‘utmost’ had not the leaders of the file, after a whispered discussion, tapped him on the shoulder and called a halt. It was not for themselves; Oh no! they feared some of those lower down the file might want a rest. There was not much doubt about that self-same want; they had gone fifty minutes without a stop, and the whole party were fairly blown. Judge however of their surprise and delight when the guide, turning round, discovered himself to be in the same state! Perspiration was rolling down his face, and his breathing was almost as laboured as their own. It was almost a case of the biter bit. Standing still for long in a low temperature is not good; so in a few minutes away they went again, downwards for a little while, then up once more, a steep bit of rock this time, then round a corner and over boulders, with here and there a patch of snow. The ascent from here onward was like the last bit of the Landguard all the way; but that first lung-stretcher had done much good, and as our climbers steadily worked their way upward there was no sign of distress, and scarcely a hard breath to be heard for more than half an hour. At the end of forty minutes though, just as everyone was apparently going strong and enjoying the exercise, the leaders were hailed by a voice from the rear, with a request for another breather. The guide was stopped, and some surprise was felt when it was found that the individual responsible for the halt was he who had, the previous evening, so mercilessly taunted those who elected to laze about on the lower slopes of the Monte Prosa, instead of proceeding to the summit. ’Tis ever thus!
While resting, they gazed around. They were fairly high up now, and the world around them was a world of mountain tops. Back over the slope they had just breasted, was the Monte Prosa; its summit, two spurs of jagged rock silhouetted against the sky, seemed slightly higher than themselves, and they remembered that this was two thousand feet lower than their destination. For another hour they climbed steadily; and the work though fairly hard, was most interesting. At last they arrived on a little ‘saddle’ between the actual peak and a lower knoll, and here they prepared for the final effort. Everything around seemed a long way below them now, even the sky. There was a lot of mist on the distant ranges, but it moved about a good deal, disclosing, now and then, a very fine panorama. Suddenly there was a blaze of light, the mist rolled away for a few moments, and there emerged a glorious, snow-white peak of enormous dimensions apparently close at hand, on whose glistening surface the sun’s rays shimmered and shot back in dazzling glory. It was a sight to make one catch one’s breath; but the vision faded as quickly as it had come, and was again enveloped in its misty shroud. The guide told them this was the might Finsteraarhorn, twenty miles away at Grindewald.
Our friends now cast their eyes upward to their own little summit; which seemed, from here, a sufficiently hard nut to crack. They supposed the guide knew a way up, but to them it appeared so unscalable, that someone suggested there might be a ladder the other side. As the only way to the other side was over the top, the suggestion was not hailed with enthusiasm. Finding the guide spoke a mixture of French and Italian, one of the party opined, in his hearing, that the remaining distance would occupy ‘une heure’. Like a thunder-clap came the quiet response ‘encore deux’! The consternation on every face was in no way disguised, and would have appeared funny to an onlooker. Perhaps it appeared funny to the guide; for he repeated his information, and seemed to glory in doing so; much to the annoyance and disgust of his hearers. After the fourth or fifth repetition, each one with a different accent, it dawned on our friends that he was not the fiend they had taken him for: he was saying ‘un quart d’heure’! Ye gods! what fun. Only a quarter of an hour! Hurrah! but – they looked at the guide, and looked at the summit. They did not tell the gentleman what they thought of him; but they were willing to bet big things that no man but the tailed variety would get up there in fifteen minutes. ‘Mais’ expostulated he, ‘je l’ai fait en dix minutes’. This was a bit too thick. Ten minutes? Oh! go to. Allez! We are after you. Away went the guide, evidently on his mettle now, followed by most of his charges. The path could not be seen from below, but was good though toilsome. When they reckoned about twenty minutes had elapsed, they cast a swift upward glance, and found they were nearly there. Another minute, and they had undoubtedly arrived. They clambered up the last few rocks to the cairn, and pulled out their watches to take the time. Eleven minutes! Whew! that last bit was the biggest surprise of the day. Those who had taken it easily arrived a few moments later; and presently, just as they were all settling down to lunch, there slowly appeared from below the last weary face, while a voice which apparently belonged to it, gasped: ‘Is this the top? Thank – the – Lord!’
The intense cold precluded anything like a prolonged stay on the summit, so after signing a round robin to be placed in the usual bottle, and eating a sandwich a-piece, the climbers made tracks for the warmer climes below. It was a helter-skelter business for about half distance, and on arriving at last where the loose stones end and grass slopes commence, most of the party elected to rest. A few pushed on down to the pass, where they arrived at lunch time, and after the meal the whole party ‘sat’ to be photographed. The climbers now found themselves with nothing to do for the rest of the day, and understood the wail of the non-climbing members. The weather at all events was making up for its bad behaviour of two days ago, and giving of its best, and the general opinion seemed to favour an afternoon’s siesta out in the sunshine. Only one or two restless spirits had sufficient energy to go wandering about the pass, and these reported on their return that there seemed very little chance of melancholia being developed by the non-climbers – or the climbers either. The social this evening was the last of the tour, but no such thought was allowed to interfere with its gaiety; the pièce de resistance was a cake walk by two of the men, whose ‘execution’ of this apparently difficult dance was so fearfully and wonderfully contrived that it fairly brought down the ‘House’.
Next morning, according to the new arrangement, our friends had to proceed on the downward journey to Goschenen. The walk was being looked forward to by many of the party, for its latter stage would take them over the ground which, three years ago, they had traversed in an opposite direction when making their way over the Furka Pass and Rhone Glacier. The first stage comprised eight and a half miles of down-hill walking, and, under the usual atmospheric conditions, mist, rain, and cold, our friends set out in twos and threes on the last walk. The gentleman who, three days ago, had been hung up on a cliff had not yet learnt his lesson, and was more than once observed climbing back on to the road, after an abortive attempt at short-cutting in the wrong direction. By way of extra punishment he missed the one cut worth taking, one which saved very nearly two miles. Once off the top of the Pass the climate became appreciably warmer, and eventually the mist disappeared, giving place to brilliant sunshine, which flooded in grateful manner the pleasant green slopes of the valley they were now entering. In less than two hours the pretty village of Hospenthal was reached, a village whose familiar streets and houses brought back a flood of pleasant – and amusing – memories to those who had been on the Furka walk already referred to. After lunch at the Hotel which had on that occasion been their headquarters, there was found to be ample time for the remaining walk to Goschenen, and before starting our friends made an exhaustive survey of their interesting surroundings, The old church, and – more interesting still – the various small hotels and dependancies where some of the present tourists had been previously quartered, several of which had been scenes of uproarious merriment, were all duly pointed out to the new members, who listened with a somewhat bored expression to many incidents and adventures in a three year old tour, which had afforded unbounded pleasure to those who had taken part in them. The walk, being continued, led onward through a bright and sunny valley to Andermatt, and thence side by side with the rocky bed of a rapid and turbulent little river to Goschenen, the railway station at the Swiss entrance of the St. Gotthard Tunnel. Here were discovered one or two of the ‘Defaulters’ who had come through the Tunnel that morning from Airola, and who volunteered the information that the others had gone on the Vitznau the previous day. Vitznau was now the objective of the whole party, and presently arrived the train which was to take them to Fluelen, on the Lake of Lucerne, whence a steamer would convey them to their destination. The remainder of the journey was uneventful, but the trip along the Lake provided much in the scenic line to command admiration. The heavy mists in which the mountain tops were seen to be still enshrouded informed them that the ‘magnificent climbing centre’ was still, and probably had been all day, in the same deep and uncomfortable state in which they had left it that morning. Vitznau was reached at tea-time, and the travellers found that on account of their arrival a day too soon they had had to be billeted at various houses in the town, all more or less adjacent to the hotel. As the programme from here onwards would probably be one of independent action, this did not matter a great deal. A merry crowd met at the dinner table, and afterwards lounged away the evening on the verandah of the hotel, watching the arrival and departure of the Lake steamers, and counting the ascents of the illuminated funicular railway on the Stanserhorn, on the opposite side of the lake.
Next day the Conductor arranged to take a party to the summit of the Rigi by mountain railway. Some, saying that it was against all GOF rules to climb mountains by train, elected to remain below and spend a lazy day on the lake. Others went shopping. Two hardy ones, saying that although it was against the rules to climb by train, it was at all events part of their duty to climb, set out up the mountain on foot. All tastes being thus satisfied, everyone had an enjoyable time. The evening was whiled away with a little music and a lot of talking by those in the hotel, and in exploring the dark lanes round about by those who preferred to take the air. It was curious how the damp air of Vitznau affected the burning quality of the men’s tobacco. Whenever a strolling group came to a seat in these dark lanes, someone’s pipe was sure to want lighting; and the glare from the many matches it would require to light it was pretty certain to annoy someone on the seat.
The following morning found the GOFs busy among the ‘fancy’ shops, where souvenirs in great variety were temptingly displayed. Having spent a most enjoyable holiday themselves, it was imperative that our friends should take home something tangible, and obviously Swiss, with which to impress the fact on their stay-at-home friends. Something was wanted, for instance, more tangible than the story of adventure to which it would, perhaps, serve to give colour, and more obviously Swiss than the usual bit of Goss china. Soon they hit upon the very thing, wooden bears; and by lunch time there was not a bear to be bought in the whole of Vitznau. The great demand for these articles had sent the prices up tremendously, and the last few animals to change hands would probably have been bought for less money in a Bond Street toy shop. Still, local ‘atmosphere’ is worth something, and there is no doubting the immeasurable superiority of the bear bought in Switzerland over the bear, carved by the same hand, bought in London.
Our friends had not all spent the morning among the shops, some had been tripping on the lake. Two arrived back at the landing stage by the boat which was taking the whole party on to Lucerne, and of course did not land at Vitznau but went on with the rest. It was a delightful trip, and one’s attention was taken up in admiring beautiful lake scenery for more than an hour. The finest view of Lucerne is obtained in approaching the town by steamer, and with its pretty white houses reflected in the lake, a very charming place it looks. Arrived at the landing stage, the travellers were soon busy sorting out their luggage and conveying it across to the Station, where it would remain in the baggage office till the evening. Here a discovery was made by the two who had spent the morning on the lake. It was a negative sort of discovery though, a discovery that they couldn’t discover their luggage. Of course, as they had not gone ashore at Vitznau, their bags were still at the Hotel awaiting collection. The anxiety of the twain was pitiful to see, and was easily understandable when one considered that those bags contained the dress suits which had caused such a sensation at Pontresina. Telegraphs and telephones were put in operation, and in a few hours elicited the information that the missing bags had been put on board another steamer, which was travelling round the Lake in the wrong the direction, and would arrived at Lucerne half an hour after the Night Express had started. The unfortunate two decided that rather than travel without the – to them – necessities of life, they would stay the night in Lucerne and catch the party up at Brussels. This they did.
To the main party we now return. Having left the unfortunate two to recover their luggage as best they might, the remaining GOFs proceeded to spread themselves over the town, in a laudable endeavour to ‘do’ as much of it as possible in the town at their disposal. Some spent the whole afternoon round about the shopping quarter, some took in the Cathedral, the Lion, the Glacier Garden, while some even had themselves photographed on to picture post cards: but all seemed rather glad to get into the train in the evening and continue the homeward journey, for when GOFs leave the mountains their holiday is practically over, and there is not much in the towns to attract them.
At Brussels a couple of old GOFs were discovered, who, though unable to go on the Swiss Tour this year, had taken in Brussels on a shorter trip, so as to meet their friends and return home with them. Arriving at 8 am the travellers devoted the remainder of the morning to sightseeing, and the afternoon to a drive in the magnificent park, where they also stayed for tea and music. At dinner a presentation was made to the Conductor, whose constant care and foresight had procured them such a thoroughly happy time, and the gentleman entrusted with the presentation speech proved a past master in the art. He spoke so fluently, and introduced so many eulogies and similes, which seemed to occur to him ‘en passant’, that another dining party, after forbearing for twenty minutes to interrupt him by entering the room, at last threw open the doors and banged the gong as a gentle hint that they were hungry and bored. At long last, and after a final rhapsody, the speaker sat down amidst great applause. As a matter of fact, the applause had been going on for some time, though he had not noticed it. After dinner some of the party spent the evening at a Cafe-Concert, others stayed in the hotel, and it is even recorded that a mixed party of four spent their time in a churchyard.
And here this short history may end; for next day our friends travelled through Ostend and Dover to London, where they separated and went their own ways to their own homes. Let us hope that most if not all of these good folk, so happy in each other’s company, who thoroughly enjoy a holiday which entails much hard work and many inconveniences, but gives them in return health and an inside knowledge of themselves and their fellows, will gather together and undertake many more such expeditions, in the same spirit, the same company, and under the same old banner, GOF.