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On The Matterhorn
by [?]

Owing to my having read very little Alpine literature, I have seen but few attempts to analyse the mental experiences of the novice who, for the first time, ascends any of the higher peaks. And having read nothing upon the subject I was naturally curious, while I was at Zermatt this last summer, as to what these experiences were. I may own frankly that the desire to find out had a great deal to do with my trying mountaineering. A writer, and especially a writer of fiction, has, I think, one plain duty always before him. He ought to know, and cannot refuse to learn, even at the cost of toil and trouble, all the ways of the human mind. And experience at second-hand can never be relied on. The average man is afraid of saying he was afraid. And the average climber is one who has long passed the interesting stage when he first faced the unknown. I was obviously a novice, and a green one, when I tried the Matterhorn. That I was such a novice is the only thing which makes me think my experience at all interesting from the psychological point of view. And to my mind that point of view is also the literary one.

On looking back I certainly believe I was very much afraid of the mountains in general and of the Matterhorn in particular. It is difficult, however, to say where fear begins and mere natural nervousness leaves off. Fear, after all, is often the note of warning sounded by a man’s organism in the face of the unknown. It is hardly strange it should be felt upon the mountains. But if I was afraid of the mountains (and I thought that I was) I was certainly curious. During my first week at Zermatt I had done a good second-class peak, but had been told that the difference between the first and second class was prodigious. This naturally excited curiosity. And I began to feel that my curiosity could only be satisfied by climbing the Matterhorn. For one thing that mountain has a great name; for another it looks inaccessible. And it had only been done once that year. If I did it I should be the first Englishman on the summit for the season. And the guides were doubtful whether it would “go.”

But, after all, was it not said by folks who climbed to the Schwartzsee that the mountain was really easy? Were not the slabs above the Shoulder roped? Did not processions go up it in the middle of the season? And yet it was now only the first of July and there was a good deal of new snow on the mountain. And why were the guides just a little doubtful? Perhaps they were doubtful of me; and yet Joseph Pollinger had taken me up three smaller peaks. I decided that I had hired him to do the thinking. But I could not make him do it all.

The day I had spent upon the Wellenkuppe had been a time of imagination, and I had seen the beauty of things. But from the Matterhorn I can eliminate the element of beauty. I saw very little beauty in it or from it. I had other things to do than to think of the sublime. But I could think of the ridiculous, and at one o’clock in the morning, when we started from the hut with a lantern, I said the whole proceeding was folly. I was a fool to be there. And down below me, far below me, glimmered the crevassed slopes of the Furgg Glacier. I grew callous and absorbed, and I shrugged my shoulders as the dawn came up. I did not care to turn my eyes to look upon the red rose glory of the lighted Dom and Taschhorn. Let them glow!