« AnteriorContinuar »
usually either crushed or suffocated, and are, at any rate, so entangled that they can only be rescued by the aid of others. Such avalanches falling upon a mountain-stream, in a narrow gorge, have sometimes been hollowed out from beneath by the action of the water, until it has forced a passage under them; and they have then been left standing for the whole summer, serving as a bridge over which men and cattle might pass.
The avalanches have usually a fixed time for descending, and an habitual channel down which they slide, which may be known by its being worn perfectly smooths-ometimes even appearing polished, by the heap of debris at its base. The peasants, in some situations, await with impatience the fall of the regular avalanches, as a symptom of the spring having fairly set in.
Danger arises from avalanches either by their falling unexpectedly, while persons are traversing spots known to be exposed to them, or else (and this is the more fearful cause of catastrophes ) from an unusual accumulation of snow formed by the wind, or, in consequence of the severity of the season, causing the avalanche to deserto its usual bed, and to descend upon cultivated spots, houses, or even villages. There are certain valleys among the Alps in which scarcely any spot is totally exempt from the possible occurrence of such a calamity, though some are naturally more exposed than others. The Val Bedretto, in canton Tessin, the Meyenthal, in canton Uri, and many others, are thus dreadfully exposed. To guard as much as possible against accidents, very large and massive dykes of masonry, like the projecting bastions of a fortification, are, in such situations, built against the hill-side, behind churches, houses, and other buildings, with an angle pointing upwards, in order to break and Lurn aside the snow. In some valleys, great care is bestowed on the preservation of the forests clothing their sides, as ihe best protection of the district below them from such calamities. These may truly be regarded as sacred groves; and no one is allowed to cut down timber within them, under pain of a legal penalty. Yet they not unfrequently show the inefficiency even of such protection against so fearful an engine of destruction. Whole forests are at times cut over and laid prostrate by the avalanche. The tallest stems, fit to make masts for a first-rate man-of-war, are snapped asunder like a bit of wax, and the barkless and branchless. stumps and relics of the forest remain for years. like a stubble-field to tell of what has happened.
A mournful catalogue of catastrophes, which have occurred in Switzerland, since the records of history, from avalanches, might be made out if necessary; but it will suffice to mention one or two instances,
In 1720 an avalanche killed, in Ober-Gestelen (Vallais), 84 men and 400 head of cattle, and desiroyed 120 houses. The same year, 40 individuals: perished at Brieg, and 23 on the Great St. Bernard, from a similar cause,
In 1749 the village of Ruæras, in the Tavetsch Thal, was carried away by an avalanche; 100 men were overwhelmed by it, 60 of whom were dug out alive; and some of the houses, though removed to some distance from their original site, were so little shaken that persons sleeping within them were not awakened.
In 1800, after a snow-storm of three days' continuance, an enormous avalanche detached itself from the top of the precipice of Klucas above Trons, in the valley of the Vorder Rhein; it crossed the valley and destroyed a wood and some chalets on the opposite pasture of Zenin ; recoiling, with the force it had acquired, to the side from which it had come, it did fresh mischief there, and so revolving to and fro, at the fourth rush reached Trons, and buried many of its houses to the roof in snow.
In 1827 the greater part of the village of Biel, in the Upper Vallais, was crushed beneath a tremendous avalanche, which ran downa ravine, nearly two leagues long, before it reached the village.
One of the most remarkable phenomena attending the avalanche is the blast of air which accompanies it, and which, like what is called the wind of a cannon-ball, extends its destructive influence to a considerable distance on each side of the actual line taken by the falling mass. It has all the effect of a blast of gunpowder : sometimes forest-trees, growing near the sides of the channel down which the snow passes, are uprooted and laid prostrate, without having been touched by it. In this way, the village of Randa, in the Visp-Thal, lost many of its houses by the current of an avalanche which fell in 1720, blowing them to atoms, and scattering the materials like chaff. The E. spire of the convent of Dissentis was thrown down by the gust of an avalanche, which fell more than a quarter of a mile off.
Travellers visiting the Alps between the months of June and October are little exposed to danger from avalanches, except immediately after a snowstorm; and, when compelled to start at such times, they should pay implicit obedience to the advice of the guides. It is a common saying, that there is risk of avalanches as long as the burthen of snow continues on the boughs of the fir-trees, and while the naturally sharp angles of the distant mountains continue to look rounded. It is different with those who travel from ne
cessity in the spring, and before the annual avalanches have fallen. Muleteers, carriers, and suche persons, use great caution in traversing exposed parts of the road, and with these they are well acquainted. They proceed, in parties, in single file, at a little distance from one another, in order that, if the snow should sweep one off, the others may be ready to render assistance. They proceed as fast as possible, carefully avoiding any noise, even speaking, and, it is said, will sometimes muffle the mules' bells, lest the slightest vibration communicated to the air should disengage the nicely-poised mass of snow above their heads.
The avalanches, seen and heard by summer tourists on the sides of Mont Blanc and the Jungfrau, are of a different kind from those described above, being caused only by the rupture of a portion of the glaciers, which give way under the influence of the mid-day sun and of certain winds, during the summer and autumn, when other avalanches, generally speaking, have ceased to fall. They differ, also, in this respect, that, for the most part, they do no harm, since they fall on uncultivable and uninhabited spots. is more by the roar which accompanies them, which awakening the echoes of the Alps, sounds very like thunder, than by the appearance which they present, that they realize what is usually expected of avalanches. Still they are worth seeing, and will much enhance the interest of a visit to the Wengern Alp, the Cramont (on the S. side of Mont Blanc or the borders of the Mer de Glace; especially if the spectator will bear in mind the immense distance at which he is placed from the objects which he sees and hears, and will consider that, at each roar, whole tons of solid ice are broken off from the parent glacier, and, in tumbling, many hun
dred feet perhaps, are shattered to atoms and ground to powder.
The Snow-storms, Tourmentes, or Guxen, which occur on the Alps, are much dreaded by the chamois-hunter, ihe shepherd, and those most accustomed to traverse the High Alps; how much more formidable must they be to the inexperienced traveller! They consist of furious and tempestuous winds, somewhat of the nature of a whirlwind, which occur on the summit-ridges and elevated gorges of the Alps, either accompanied by snow, or filling the air with that recently fallen, wbile the flakes are still dry, tossing them about like powder or dust. In an instant the atmosphere is filled with snow; earth, sky, mountain, abyss, and landmark of every kind, are obliterated from view, as though a curtain were let down on all sides of the wanderer. All trace of path, or of the footsteps of preceding travellers, are at once effaced, and the poles planted to mark the direction of the road are frequently overturned. In some places the gusts sweep the rock bare of snow, heaping it up in others, perhaps across the path, to a height of 20 feet or more, barring all passage, and driving the wayfarer to despair. At every step he fears to plunge into an abyss, or sink overhead in the snow. Large parties of men and animals have been overwhelmed by the snowwreaths on the St. Gothard, where they sometimes attain a height of 40 or 50 feet. These tempests are accompanied almost every year by loss of life; and, though of less frequent occurrence in summer than in winter and spring, are a chief reason why it is dangerous for inexperienced travellers to attempt to cross remote and elevated passes without a guide.
The guides and persons residing on the moun