Little Mother Up the Morderberg


 

Quite frightful language they used, and two ladies with them, too! [Photo] Andreas Schmidt

The next day there was something very like an organized attempt to prevent our start. They brought out the landlord, they remonstrated with mother, they did their best to blacken the character of my two guides. The landlord's brother had a firstclass row with them.

"Two years ago," he said, "they lost their Herr!"

"No particular reason," I said, "why you 66 shouldn't keep yours on, is it?"

That settled him. He wasn't up to a polyglot pun, and it stuck in his mind like a fishbone in the throat. Then the peeling gentleman came along and tried to overhaul our equipment.

"Have you got this?" it was, and "Have you got that?"

"Two things," I said, looking at his nose pretty hard, "we haven't forgotten. One's blue veins and the other Vaseline."

I've still a bright little memory of the start. There was the pass a couple of hundred feet or so below the hotel, and the hotel—all name and windows—standing out in a great, desolate, rocky place against lumpy masses of streaky green rock, flecked here and there with patches of snow and dark shelves of rhododendron, and rising perhaps a thousand feet toward the western spur of the massif.

Our path ran before us, meandering among the boulders down to stepping-stones over a rivulet, and then upward on the other side of the stream toward the Magenruhe Glacier, where we had to go up the rocks to the left and then across the icefall to shelves on the precipitous face on the west side.

It was dawn, the sun had still to rise, and everything looked very cold and blue and vast about us. Everyone in the hotel had turned out to bear a hand in the row—some of the deshabilles were disgraceful—and now they stood in a silent group watching us recede. The last word I caught was, "They'll have to come back."

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"We'll come back all right," I answered. "Never fear."

And so we went our way, cool and deliberate, over the stream and up and up toward the steep snowfields and icy shoulder of the Morderberg. I remember that we went in absolute silence for a time, and then how suddenly the landscape gladdened with sunrise, and in an instant, as if speech had thawed, all our tongues were babbling.

I had one or two things in the baggage that I hadn't cared for the people at the inn to see, and I had made no effort to explain why I had five porters with the load of two and a half. But when we came to the icefall I showed my hand a little, and unslung a stout twine hammock for the mater. We put her in this with a rug round her, and sewed her in with a few stitches; then we roped up in line, with me last but one and a guide front and rear, and mummy in the middle carried by two of the porters. I stuck my alpenstock through two holes I had made in the shoulders of my jacket under my rucksack, T-shape to my body, so that when I went down a crevasse, as I did ever and again, I just stuck in its jaws and came up easy as the rope grew taut. And so, except for one or two bumps that made the mater chuckle, we got over without misadventure.

Then came the rock climb on the other side, requiring much judgment. We had to get from ledge to ledge as opportunity offered, and here the little mother was a perfect godsend. We unpacked her after we had slung her over the big fissure—I forget what you call it—that always comes between glacier and rock—and whenever we came to a bit of ledge within eight feet of the one we were working along, the two guides took her and slung her up, she being so light, and then she was able to give a foot for the next man to hold by and hoist himself. She said we were all pulling her leg, and that made her and me laugh so much that the whole party had to wait for us.

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