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§ 15. Alpine Passes and High Roads.
times as many as 50 of these zigzags succeed one another without interruption, and the traveller, as he passes backwards and forwards, hovering over the valley, is, as though suspended to a pendulum, and swinging to and fro. The road itself has a most singular appearance, twisted about like an uncoiled rope or a ribbon unwound.
« O’er the Simplon, o'er the Splügen winds
The travelling-carriage descends sometimes rapidly and without interruption for an hour. A drag of tempered iron is quickly worn down, in that time, as thin as the blade of a knife, so great is the friction. It is advisable to substitute for the iron drag a wooden sabot, formed of the section of a fir-tree, with a groove cut in the centre to admit the wheel.
The winter's snow usually falls upon the Alpine passes more than 5000 ft. high, about the second week in October (sometimes earlier), and continues till the first or second week in June. Yet even after this, the passage across the neck or Col, as it is called, is not stopped, except for a few days, until the snow can be cleared away. In some of the minor passes, indeed, traversed by a mere rough footpath, or bridle-path, the traffic is much increased after the fall of the snow, which, by filling up depressions and smoothing the way, permits the transport of heavy inerchandize on sledges, which move easily over the surface as soon as it has hardened.
Along the lines of the great carriage-roads strong houses are erected at intervals, called Maisons de Refuge, Case di Ricovero, occupied by persons called Cantonniers, who are employed in mending the road and keeping it free from snow in winter, and are also paid to assist travellers in danger during snow-storms.
As near as possible to the summit of the pass a Hospice is generally erected, usually occupied by a band of charitable monks, as in the case of the Great St. Bernard, the Simplon, Cenis, St. Gothard, &c. The direction of the road across the summit of the ridge is marked by a line of tall poles, which project above the snow, and, from being painted black, are easily recognised. Patrols are sent out from the hospice in tempestuous weather, when the tourmente is raging, and the mist and falling snow hide the land-marks, to guide the travel
$ 16. Chalets and Pasturages.
lers on their way and rescue those in danger. Bells are also rung at such times that the sound may aid when the sight fails.
The morning after a fall of snow labourers and peasants are assembled from all sides to shovel it off from the road. Where it is not very deep it is cleared away by a snow-plough drawn by 6 or 8 oxen. As the winter advances and fresh falls occur, the snow accumulates, and the road near the summit of a pass presents the singular aspect of a path or lane, cut between walls of snow, sometimes 10 or 20 ft. high. *Carriages are taken off their wheels and fastened upon sledges; ropes are attached to the roof, which are held by 6 or 8 sturdy guides running along on each side, to prevent the vehicle upsetting and rolling over the slippery ice down a precipice. In this manner very high passes are crossed in the depth of winter with very little risk. The spring is a season during which far greater danger is to be apprehended from the avalanches which then fall.
§ 16. CHALETS AND PASTURAGES.
From the mountainous nature of Switzerland and its high elevation, the greater part of the surface, more than 1800 feet above the sea, which is not bare rock, is pasture-land. The wealth of the people, like that of the patriarchs of old, in a great measure, lies in cattle and their produce, on which account the pastoral life of the Swiss deserves some attention. The bright verdure of the meadows which clothe the valleys of Switzerland is one of the distinguishing features of the country; and the music of the cow-bells, borne along by the evening breeze, is one of the sweetest sounds that greets the traveller's ear.
The Alps, or mountain-pasturages, for that is the meaning of the word Alp in Switzerland and Tyrol, are either the property of individuals or of the commune; to a certain extent common-land, in which the inhabitants of the neighbouring town or village have the right of pasturing a certain number of head of cattle.
" In the spring, as soon as the snow has disappeared, and the young grass sprouts up, the cattle are sent from the villages up to the first and lower pastures. Should a certain portion of these be exhausted, they change their quarters to another part of the mountain. Here they stay till about the 10th or 12th of June, when the cattle are driven to the middle ranges of pastures. That portion of the herds intended for a summer campaign on the highest Alps, remain here till the beginning of July, and, on the 4th of that month, generally ascend to them ; return to the middle range of pastures, about 7 or 8 weeks afterwards, spend there about 14 days, or 3 weeks, to eat the aftergrass; and finally return into the valleys about the 10th or 11th of October ; where they remain in the vicinity of the villages, till driven by the snow and tempests of winter into the stables.
“ That portion of the cattle, on the other hand, which is not des
Ø 16. Chalets and Pasturages.
tined to pass the summer on the higher Alps, and are necessary for the supply of the village with milk and butter, descend from the middle pastures on the 4th of July, into the valley, and consume the grass upon the pasturage belonging to the commune, till the winter drives them under shelter. The very highest Alpine pasturages are never occupied more than 3 or 4 weeks at the furthest.”—Latrobe.
Sometimes the owners of the cattle repair in person to the Alps, and pass the summer among them, along with their families, superintending the herdsmen, and assisting in the manufacture of butter and cheese. The best cheeses are made upon pastures 3000 ft. above the sea level, in the vales of Simmen and Saanen (Gruyère). and in the Emmenthal. The best cows there yield, in summer, between 20 lbs. and 40 lbs. of milk daily, and each cow produces, by the end of the season of 4 months, on an average, 2 cwt. of cheese.
The life of the cow-herd (Vacheror Senner) is by no means such an existence of pleasure as romances in general, and that of Rousseau in particular, have represented it. His labours are arduous and constant; he has to collect 80 or 90 cows twice a-day, to be milked, to look after stragglers, to make the cheese and keep all the utensils employed in the process in the most perfect state of cleanliness.
The Chalet (Germ. Sennhutte) in which he resides, is literally a log-hut, formed of trunks of pines, notched at the extremities so as to fit into one another at the angles of the building, where they cross: it has a low flat roof, weighted with stones to keep fast the shingle-roof and prevent its being blown away by the wind. A building of this kind is rarely air-tight or water-tight. The interior is usually blackened with smoke and very dirty, boasting of scarcely any furniture, except, perhaps, a table and rude bench, and the apparatus of the dairy, including a huge kettle for heating the milk. A truss of straw, in the loft above, serves the inmates for a bed. The ground around the hut on the outside is usually poached by the feet of the cattle, and the heaps of mud and dung render it difficult to approach the door. This description applies to the commoner sort of chalets; those in which the owners themselves reside are generally better, but they are also less numerous. There is another kind of chalet, a mere shed or barn, in which the hay is housed until the winter, when it is conveyed over the snow in sledges down to the villages below. A pastoral Swiss valley is usually speckled over with huts of this kind, giving it the appearance, to a stranger, of being much more populous than it is in reality: in the Simmenthal alone there are, it is said, 10,000 chalets.
The herdsmen shift their habitations from the lower to the upper pasturages, as their cattle ascend and descend the Alps, at different seasons, and they sometimes have 2 or 3 places of temporary abode. The weary traveller in search of repose and refreshment, after a long day's journey, is often disappointed, on approaching what he conceives to be a human habitation, to find either that it is a mere
hay-barn, or else a deserted chalet; and thereby learns, with much mortification, that he has still some tedious miles to trudge before he can reach the first permanently-occupied dwelling. What an agreeable contrast to reach a well-appointed chalet of the better sort, where delicious milk, cooled in the mountain stream, fresh butter, bread, and cheese, are spread out on a clean napkin before the hungry and tired stranger !
The cattle are frequently enticed home, at milking-time, by the off of salt, which they relish highly, and which is, besides, considered wholesome. The allowance for a cow, in some parts of Switzerland, is 4lbs. or 5lbs. of salt in a quarter of a year.
$ 17. GLACIERS. The glaciers, one of the most sublime features of the Alps, and one of the most wonderful phenomena of nature, are composed of those vast accumulations of the snow which falls during nine months of the year on the higher summits and valleys, remaining for several months a dry and loose powder, until the heat of the summer sun begins to melt and consolidate it. Under the influence of its warmth, the snow assumes first a granular form ; and to pass over it in that state is like walking among rice or peas, in which the foot sinks up to the knees. Lower down, or as the heat increases, so as to melt a considerable portion, and cause the water to percolate it, it becomes a compact mass. The frosty temperature of the night hardens that which has been dissolved in the day, and thus, after repeated thawings and freezings, the whole undergoes a fresh crystallization, being converted into ice of a coarser grain and less compact substance than common ice. Thus there appears to be a regular transition or passage from the loose powdery snow, to the more dense ice of the glacier. The Swiss, indeed, have two distinct terms for these modifications of the snowy covering of the high Alps. The upper granular and scarcely consolidated part they call Firn, (which for want of any corresponding English word we may represent by Snow-field,) and apply the term glacier (gletscher) to the lower limbs of more solid ice, which stretch down into the valleys. Hugi, a naturalist of Soleure, who, after Saussure, has made the most laborious and curious researches into the nature and formation of the glaciers, maintains, that the point at which firn changes to glacier is unvariable among the Alps; and his investigations fix it at an elevation of about 7800 feet above the sea-level.*
* A very serious error is conveyed by the common expression “the line of perpetual snow,” or “ where snow never melts.” There is no spot on the Alps, nor on any other snow-clad mountains, where snow does not melt under the influence of a summer sun at mid-day. It melts even on the top of Mont Blanc, but there, and on the summits of the other high Alps, the accumulation of snow is so great, and the duration of the sun's heat so short, that in the end there is far more snow than the sun can dissolve. What is
Ebel has computed the number of glaciers among the Swiss Alps at 400, and the extent of surface occupied by them at 130 square leagues; this, however, must be but a vague estimate. They vary from a few square yards to acres and miles in extent, covering, in some instances, whole districts, filling up entirely the elevated hollows, and basins between the peaks and ridges of the Alps, and sending forth arms and branches into the inhabited valleys, below the region of forests, and as far down as the level at which corn
It is such offsets of the glacier as these that are presented to the view of the traveller from the villages of Chamouni and Grindelwald. These, however, are, as it were, but the skirts and fringes of that vast, everlasting drapery of ice which clothes all the upper region of the Alps. These fields or tracts of uninterrupted glacier have been called “Seas of ice” (Mers de glace, Eismeeren), and there are three such among the Swiss and Savoyard Alps which merit especial mention; that around Mont Blanc, that around the Cervin, and that of the Bernese Oberland, around the Finster-Aar-horn. The last sends out no less than thirteen branches, and its extent has been estimated at 125 square miles.
The greatest thickness of the glaciers has been commonly estimated at between 600 and 800 feet. This is probably an exaggeration. Hugi rarely met with any thicker than 150 feet; he estimates the average depth at between 60 and 100 feet, and the greatest thickness of the Mer de glace near Chamouni at 180 feet. Saussure had calculated it at 600 feet.
Notwithstanding their great extent and solidity, the glaciers are by no means stationary, even in the winter. Although the movement is slight, they do not remain quite still. They are undergoing a perpetual process of renovation and destruction. The arms or skirts descending into the lower valleys are gradually dissolved by the increased temperature which prevails at so low a level. The summer sun, aided by particular winds, acts upon the surface, so that, in the middle of the day, it abounds in pools, and is traversed by rills of water. The constant evaporation from every part exposed to the air produces great diminution in the upper beds; but, above all, the temperature of the earth, which is at all seasons greater than that of ice, is constantly melting away its lower surface. The vacancy thus caused from below is partially or entirely filled up from above by the winter's snow falling upon the mountain-tops, and on the whole upper region, which is drifted into the higher valleys, and pressed down by its own weight. After called “the snow-line," does not depend on elevation alone, and can be taken only as a very general test of it. Independently of its variation, according to the degree of latitude in which the mountain is situated, it varies on the two sides of the same mountain, being higher on the S. side than the N. The snow will likewise rest longer and extend lower down upon a mountain of granite, than upon one of limestone, in proportion as the two rocks are good or bad conductors of heat, and this is the case even in contiguous mountains, members of the same chain,