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A Snow-Grind
by [?]

Perhaps it is not wholly an advantage that most Alpine literature has been done by experts in climbing, by men who have climbed till climbing is second nature and they see Nature through their snow-goggles as something to be circumvented. That this is the attitude of most mountaineers is tolerably obvious. And though much that is good has been written about the Alps, and some that is, from some points of view, even surpassingly so, most of it is a proof that climbing is a deal easier than writing. Who in reading books of mountain adventure and exploration has not come across machine-made bits of description which are as inspiring as any lumber yard? For my own part, I seldom read my Alpine author when he goes out of his gymnastic way to express admiration for the scenery. It is usually a pumped-up admiration. I am inclined to say that it is unnatural. I am almost ready to go so far as to say that it is wholly out of place. In my own humble opinion, very little above the snow-line is truly beautiful. It is often desolate, sometimes intolerably grand and savage, but lovely it is very rarely. It is perhaps against human nature to be there at all. There is nothing to be got there but health, which flies from us in the city. If life were wholly natural, and men lived in the open air, I think that few would take to climbing. And yet now it has become a passion with many. There are few who will not tell you they do it on account of the beauty of the upper world. Frankly, I do not believe them, and think they are deceived. I would as willingly credit a fox-hunter if he told me he hunted on account of the beauty of midland landscapes in thaw-time.

And yet one climbs. I do it myself whenever I can afford it. I believe I do it because Nature says “You sha’n’t.” She puts up obstacles. It is not in man to endure such. He will do everything that can be done by endurance. For out of endurance comes a massive sense of satisfaction that nothing can equal. If any healthy man who cannot afford to climb and knows not Switzerland wishes to experience something of the feeling that comes to a climber at the end of his day, let him reckon up how far he can walk and then do twice as much. Upon the Alps man is always doing twice as much as he appears able to do. He not only scouts Nature’s obstacles, but discovers that the obstacles of habit in himself are as nothing. For man is the most enduring animal on the earth. He only begins to draw upon his reserves when a thing becomes what he might call impossible.

But this is but talk, a kind of preliminary, equivalent in its way to preparing for an Alpine walk. As for myself, I profess to be little more than a greenhorn above the snow-line. I have done but little and may do but little more. Yet there are so many that have done nothing that the plain account of a plain and long Alpine pass may interest them. I will take one of the easiest, the Schwartzberg-Weissthor, and walk it with them and with a friend of mine and two well-known guides.

The Schwartzberg-Weissthor, a pass from Zermatt to Mattmark in the Saas Valley, is indeed easy. It is nothing more than a long “snow-grind,” as mountaineers say. It is supposed to take ten hours, and it can certainly be done in the time by guides. But then guides can always go twice as fast as any but the first flight of amateurs. My companion, though an excellent and well-known mountaineer, took cognisance of the fact that I was not in first-class training. And I must say for him that he is not one of those who think of the Alps as no more than a cinder track to try one’s endurance. He was never in a hurry, and was always willing to stay and instruct me in what I ought to admire. It is perhaps not strange that a long walk in high altitudes does not always leave one in a condition to know that without a finger-post. Sometimes he and I sat and wrangled on the edge of a crevasse while I denied that there was anything to admire at all. Indeed, he and I have often quarrelled on the edge of a precipice about matters of mountain aesthetics.