第27章 The Ascent of Mount Sneffels(2)
This being satisfactorily proved (Q.E.D.),what insensate folly to pretend to penetrate into the interior of the mighty earth!
This mental lecture delivered to myself while proceeding on a journey,did me good.I was quite reassured as to the fate of our enterprise;and therefore went,like a brave soldier mounting a bristling battery,to the assault of old Sneffels.
As we advanced,the road became every moment more difficult.The soil was broken and dangerous.The rocks broke and gave way under our feet,and we had to be scrupulously careful in order to avoid dangerous and constant falls.
Hans advanced as calmly as if he had been walking over Salisbury Plain;sometimes he would disappear behind huge blocks of stone,and we momentarily lost sight of him.There was a little period of anxiety and then there was a shrill whistle,just to tell us where to look for him.
Occasionally he would take it into his head to stop to pick up lumps of rock,and silently pile them up into small heaps,in order that we might not lose our way on our return.
He had no idea of the journey we were about to undertake.
At all events,the precaution was a good one;though how utterly useless and unnecessary-but I must not anticipate.
Three hours of terrible fatigue,walking incessantly,had only brought us to the foot of the great mountain.This will give some notion of what we had still to undergo.
Suddenly,however,Hans cried a halt-that is,he made signs to that effect-and a summary kind of breakfast was laid out on the lava before us.My uncle,who now was simply Professor Hardwigg,was so eager to advance,that he bolted his food like a greedy clown.This halt for refreshment was also a halt for repose.The Professor was therefore compelled to wait the good pleasure of his imperturbable guide,who did not give the signal for departure for a good hour.
The three Icelanders,who were as taciturn as their comrade,did not say a word;but went on eating and drinking very quietly and soberly.
From this,our first real stage,we began to ascend the slopes of the Sneffels volcano.Its magnificent snowy nightcap,as we began to call it,by an optical delusion very common in mountains,appeared to me to be close at hand;and yet how many long weary hours must elapse before we reached its summit.What unheard-of fatigue must we endure!
The stones on the mountain side,held together by no cement of soil,bound together by no roots or creeping herbs,gave way continually under our feet,and went rushing below into the plains,like a series of small avalanches.
In certain places the sides of this stupendous mountain were at an angle so steep that it was impossible to climb upwards,and we were compelled to get round these obstacles as best we might.
Those who understand Alpine climbing will comprehend our difficulties.Often we were obliged to help each other along by means of our climbing poles.
I must say this for my uncle,that he stuck as close to me as possible.He never lost sight of me,and on many occasions his arm supplied me with firm and solid support.He was strong,wiry,and apparently insensible to fatigue.Another great advantage with him was that he had the innate sentiment of equilibrium-for he never slipped or failed in his steps.The Icelanders,though heavily loaded,climbed with the agility of mountaineers.
Looking up,every now and then,at the height of the great volcano of Sneffels,it appeared to me wholly impossible to reach to the summit on that side;at all events,if the angle of inclination did not speedily change.
Fortunately,after an hour of unheard-of fatigues,and of gymnastic exercises that would have been trying to an acrobat,we came to a vast field of ice,which wholly surrounded the bottom of the cone of the volcano.The natives called it the tablecloth,probably from some such reason as the dwellers in the Cape of Good Hope call their mountain Table Mountain,and their roads Table Bay.