Blanche de Pétéret, while retreating in bad weather and thick mist.

Dr G. Graham Macphee of Ulverston and I have vivid recollections of our traverse of the Aiguille Blanche de Pétéret in an attempt without guides on Mont Blanc by the Pétéret ridge; for we were overtaken by the same storm that inflicted widespread damage by cloudburst in lower Switzerland and the Italian Lakes on 11th August 1927. It is impossible to describe such weather at an altitude of 13,000 feet, and it was only by climbing continuously for sixteen hours without a halt that we were able to fight our way down to safety. As it was, our total time from Courmayeur was no less than thirty-six hours-a time which may convey some idea of the length of these expeditions on the southern flanks of Mont Blanc.

With the ascent of the Innominata face, which is enclosed between the Bruillard and Pétéret ridges, by the Gugliamina brothers and Signor Ravelli in 1921, it appeared as though every possible route had been wrested from Mont Blanc. But one section-the greatest of all-remained inviolable.


was the south-east face, which is bounded by Brenva ridge to the east, and the Pétéret ridge to the west. So impregnable is it in appearance, that prior to 1927 not one single attempt had been made upon it. There is indeed no Alpine face, not even the eastern precipices of

Monte Rosa, to compare with this grand wall of rock and ice, which rises in a final sweep of 5300 feet at an average angle of over 50° from the upper basin of the Brenva Glacier.

Many were those who had gazed upon it from the wellknown tourist highway of the Col du Géant; some even had planned, and Mr G. W. Young tells me that he and the late Mr G. H. L. Mallory, who perished on Mount Everest, examined a possible route; it was an ambition of Dr Preuss, most skilful of the younger generation of German mountaineers, who was later killed in the Eastern Alps; Dr Güssfeldt had studied it, and so had others; but with one exception no one had actually ventured upon the face. The exception was the late Mr A. F. Mummery's party, who diverged from the ordinary Brenva route to the left, and after cutting steps for many hours in hard ice were forced to retreat. Their route was, however, but a variation of the Brenva route, and later inspection has shown that its continuation is impossible on account of the formidable 200 feet high ice wall which protects the brow of Mont Blanc. Professor Norman Collie, F.R.S., who was a member of the party, tells me that what impressed him most was the extraordinary steepness of the ice-swept couloirs which seam the face. It was undoubtedly the threat of the impending wall of ice running along the crest of the face

that prevented any attempt being made.

The mountaineer spends the winter in eating dinners and making plans for the summer, and such is the optimism engendered by assimilation of the former that the latter are invariably made assuming perfect weather. It is a rash assumption, and my first visit to the range of Mont Blanc accompanied by Mr T. B. Blakeney in June 1927 was was fraught with two weeks of the most continuously foul weather that I have experienced.

There was little that we could do, save to trudge up to the Col de Géant and gaze regretfully at Mont Blanc scowling beneath a mantle of ashen 66 tourmente."

Previously Blakeney had suggested the possibility of an attack on the south-east face, and we had plotted routes on photographs, but my first view of the face plastered with snow and ice confirmed a certain scepticism for the project.

We retreated to Chamonix in tempest, snow, hail, rain-every weapon Mont Blanc thought fit to utilise to the completion of our discomfiture, and returned to England. During a fortnight's holiday we had not climbed a peak or crossed a pass.

But in spite of Mont Blanc's ungenerosity, I conceived a fascination for the great peak. The Oberland I know and love, Tyrol has always charmed, the Engadine and the Zermatt giants I shall return to, but

"There is only one Mont Blanc. He is king of all" And all that is finest in mountain architecture and mountaineering is to be found on the range he rules.

In July I returned to the attack, and in company with Dr R. O. Ward and Mr G. S. Bower, ascended the Brenva route without guides.

The weather had improved a little since June, but was unsettled enough to cause anxiety on every long climb. We were lucky on the Brenva, and laboured up its interminable slopes under a grilling sun. Owing to the snowy nature of the summer the ice, which usually necessitates much tedious step-cutting, was overlaid with good snow, and instead of straddling the well-known ice ridge à cheval, as did Mr A. E. W. Mason's hero, we were able to walk upon its crest. It is exceedingly sharp nevertheless, and we moved along, with our "Eckenstein " crampons 'carefully implanted at every step and toes pointed out, not unlike a procession of Charlie Chaplins.

It was the condition of the snow which prompted reconsideration of the south-east face. If this snow which lay uniformly on the Brenva route extended along the whole mountainside, there might well be justification in an assault. But, as always, thought and imagination would be brought to a dead stop against the final ice wall defending the summit of Mont Blanc. To reach it, after per

haps two days of difficult and exacting climbing, and then have to return was unthinkable. As August wore on storm succeeded storm with monotonous regularity, and one by one my friends returned to the even more doubtful humours of the British climate. It was at this stage, when everything seemed against any attempt on the climb on which I had now set my heart, that I was fortunate in discovering that Professor T. Graham Brown, F.R.S., who was also climbing with the Montenvers Hotel as his centre, was able and willing to stay on until the middle of September, if necessary. I accordingly suggested that we should join forces in an attempt to scale the south-east face, and I was more than delighted when he agreed to do so. Indeed, I soon found that he shared my enthusiasm for this unclimbed side of Mont Blanc, and had examined it from the Col du Géant.

But as day after day passed, and the high peaks whitened and whitened under the merciless lash of the blizzards, our spirits wilted with the enforced inactivity. We were reduced to planning desperate ascents on the peaks, traced out by the hotel barograph. Helped by a judicious bang the unfortunate instrument would always rise nobly to the occasion, only to sink lower than before. The other relaxation was the rotary gambling machine-a remarkable source of revenue to the proprietor. My friend, Mr

J. H. B. Bell of Auchtermuchty, Fife, had, I should add, previously spent a considerable time in working out the odds on every colour, and finding them heavily in favour of the machine, wisely resisted its blandishments.

On 21st August a temporary clearance in the weather tempted us up the Petite Aiguille Verte, an easy peak of 11,400 feet. Deep new snow covered everything, and a biting wind whirled stinging spiculæ of ice in our faces. Winter appeared to have come into her own, and our pessimism, born of much disappointment, decreed weeks of good weather to put Mont Blanc into safe climbing condition. The weather on the 22nd again brought discouragement, which was confirmed by even worse weather on the 23rd, when new snow lay on the veranda of the Montenvers Hotel, and the last visitors of the season went shivering down to Chamonix.

There appeared no alternative but ignominious retreat to England or the Italian Lakes. Our position resembled that of two swains mooning around the skirts of a mistress who repulsed with every weapon of primitive savagery. At this crucial stage Graham Brown was seized with a brilliant idea. We could at least go for a walking tour on the lower hills to the west of Mont Blanc, until such time as the mountain thought fit to receive us. The idea was good, for anything was better to better to moun

taineers in training than the languors of the Italian Lakes or the leaden skies of Britain, and the same day saw us strolling leisurely over the pleasant pastures between Sallanches and Mégève.

We spent the night at the latter village, and for the first time that season found ourselves in an hotel that was not monopolised by our fellowcountrymen. The prices, too, were a revelation after the cosmopolitan tariffs of Chamonix. At dinner we were entertained by a swarthy Italian minstrel who accompanied himself well on a mandoline. He sang Neapolitan songs in a rich songs in a rich tenor, and wound up with the traditional "Funiculi funicula," in which the audience, forgetting their dinner, joined lustily. After dinner we were amused by a strolling acrobat, and our eardrums sorely tried by his small daughter, who sang in a piercing falsetto. Those who tire of the Anglicised table d'hôtes of Chamonix or Zermatt should visit these charming uplands and quaint old villages to the west of Mont Blanc.

It rained hard next day, but we were by now well inured, and trudged over the hills to the south-west of Mégève. But as the day drew on, the mist drooped low upon the grassy hills, a mournful wind sobbed through the dripping pines, and the rain descended in a deluge worthy of Cumberland. To escape a complete soaking we sought shelter in a deserted

cattle hut, and spent a warm night in its snug hay - loft, which, strangely enough, harboured neither mice, rats, nor fleas.

The weather improved the following morning, and as we tramped over the gentle pineclad ridges, the clouds to the east were drawn back as though from some titanic stage, to reveal Mont Blanc aloof and stately in a sky of ominous steely blue. Later it rained again, but not maliciously, and in the golden calm of a perfect evening we descended to the little village of la Giettaz, on the southern slopes of the Col des Aravis.

For some reason we both felt unaccountably depressed. Perhaps the village itself is depressing in situation, lying as it does at the entrance to a gloomy gorge, and girt around by lofty craggy hills, whose abrupt precipices are darkly stained as though the mountains' lifeblood had oozed from their veins. Edgar Allan Poe would have found inspiration in the old post inn. Never had we stayed in so dismal an habitation. No one spoke, and blackcowled monks from the neighbouring monastery crept noiselessly about on their sandals. Most mysterious of all, the bells and clocks struck not once but twice.

In spite of an excellent dinner and a bottle of good vintage wine, we went to bed behind a locked and barricaded door. Once I awoke from a horrid dream to hear the deep-toned

monastery bell strike midnight, each reverberating boom echoing solemnly around the encircling hills, followed by a minute's silence and repetition. We laughed at our unreasonable fears next morning, and set off in drenching rain to the inn on the Col des Aravis; but we did not laugh when we reached the inn and learnt from a newspaper of the disaster on the Montenvers railway, in which twenty-three persons lost their lives. It is strange that the accident occurred in phase with our extraordinary feeling of depression during the evening that we spent at the

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traverse the Col du Géant. The irony of their fate lay in the fact that they were remonstrated with, and every attempt was made to prevent them from starting; but they declared that if they did not return to Italy within a stipulated time they would be liable to imprisonment and loss of nationality. High mountains care little for State regulations, and Mont Blanc exacted the ultimate penalty on these three unfortunate young men. Their bodies remained undiscovered, and lie hidden in the ice of the "Glacier of the Giant."

On 29th August we returned to Chamonix in perfect weather, to find the town burying the dead of the railway disaster. As we walked up to the Montenvers Hotel we stopped to examine the wreck of the train.

Sinister Inn," as we called it. The same evening that we arrived at the Col des Aravis we watched Mont Blanc disentangle itself from a cloudy drapery and sink peacefully into a cold bath of stars. We Just below the hotel the did not then know that two railway bends round over an parties, consisting altogether of S-shaped viaduct, and it was five men, had been done to from the second bend of the death by a blizzard the same S that the train left the metals. day. Of these Dr Grünwald The gradient is steep at this and Herr Bischof, whom I had point-about 1: 8-and the previously met at Courmayeur, acceleration of the train must were actually spending their have been terrific once the cogclimbing holiday on the range wheels of the engine mounted of Mont Blanc with the object, out of the rack. The maximum unknown to us, of attempting speed of the trains on the line the south-east face. Uncertain is nine kilometres per hour, weather had forced the aban- and this speed is governed by donment of their scheme, and an automatic braking arrangethey had crossed Mont Blanc ment on the locomotive. The by a conventional route to latter utilises its steam as a Chamonix, only to lose their brake on the descent by comlives on the Aiguille de Bion- pressing it in the cylinders nassay. The other party of against the movement of the three young Italians disap- pistons. The driver, however, peared in endeavouring to accidentally turned on full

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