Scrambles amongst the Alps in the years 1860-1869 by Edward Whymper, 5th ed., London, John Murray, 1900 (pages 146 – 152)
Whymper Edward, Scrambles amongst the alps, the Grand Tournalin.
On the 7th August we crossed the Va Cornère pass, and had a good look at the mountain named the Grand Tournalin as we descended the Val de Chignana. This mountain was seen from so many points, and was so much higher than any peak in its immediate neighbourhood, that it was bound to give a very fine view; and (as the weather continued unfavourable for the Matterhorn) I arranged with Carrel to ascend it the next day, and despatched him direct to the village of Val Tournanche to make the necessary preparations, whilst I, with Meynet, made a short cut to Breuil, at the back of Mont Panquero, by a little pass locally known as the Col de Fenêtre. I rejoined Carrel the same evening at Val Tournanche, and we started from that place at a little before 5 a.m. on the 8th, to attack the Tournalin.
Meynet was left behind for that day, and most unwillingly did the hunchback part from us, and begged hard to be allowed to come. “Pay me nothing, only let me go with you;” “I shall want but a little bread and cheese, and I won’t eat much;” “I would much rather go with you than carry things down the valley.” Such were his arguments, and I was really sorry that the rapidity of our movements obliged us desert the good little man.
Carrel led over the meadows on the south and east of the bluff upon which the village of Val Tournanche is built, and then by a zigzag path through a long and steep forest, making many short cuts, which shewed he had a thorough knowledge of the ground. After we came again into daylight, our route took us up one of those little, concealed, lateral valleys which are so numerous on the slopes bounding the Val Tournanche.
This valley, the Combe de Ceneil, has a general easterly trend, and contains but one small cluster of houses (Ceneil). The Tournalin is situated at the head of the Combe, and nearly due east of the village of Val Tournanche, but from that place no part of the mountain is visible. After Ceneil is passed it comes into view, rising above a cirque of cliffs (streaked by several fine waterfalls), at the end of the Combe. To avoid these cliffs the path bends somewhat to the south, keeping throughout to the left bank of the valley, and at about 3500 feet above Val Tournanche, and 1500 feet above Ceneil and a mile or so to its east, arrives at the base of some moraines, which are remarkably large considering the dimensions of the glaciers which formed them. The ranges upon the western side of the Val Tournanche are seen to great advantage from this spot; but here the path ends and the way steepens.
When we arrived at these moraines, we had a choice of two routes. One, continuing to the east, over the moraines themselves, the débris above them, and a large snow-bed still higher up, to a kind of col or depression to the south of the peak, whence an easy ridge led towards the summit. The other, over a shrunken glacier on our north-east (now, perhaps, not in existence), which led to a well-marked col on the north of the peak, whence a less easy ridge rose directly to the highest point. We fallowed the first named of these routes, and in a little more than half-an-hour stood upon the Col, which commanded a most glorious view of the southern side of Monte Rosa, and of the ranges to its east, and to the east of the Val d’Ayas.
Whilst we were resting at this point a large party of vagrant chamois arrived on the summit of the mountain from the northern side, some of whom - by their statuesque position - seemed to appreciate the grand panorama by which they where surrounded, while others amused themselves, like two-legged tourists, in rolling stones over the cliffs. The clatter of these falling fragments made us look up. The chamois were so numerous that we could not count them, and were clustered around the summit, totally unaware of our presence. They scattered in a panic, as if a shell had burst amongst them, when saluted by the cries of my excited comrade; and plunged wildly down in several directions, with unfaltering and unerring bounds, with such speed and with such grace that we were filled with admiration and respect for their mountaineering abilities.
The ridge that led from the Col towards the summit was singularly easy, although well broken up by frost, and Carrel thought that it would not be difficult to arrange a path for mules out of the shattered blocks; but when we arrived on the summit we found ourselves separated from the very highest point by a cleft which had been concealed up to that time. Its southern side was nearly perpendicular, but it was fourteen or fifteen feet deep. Carrel lowered me down, and afterwards descended on to the head of my axe, and subsequently on my shoulders, with a cleverness which was almost as far removed from my awkwardness as his own efforts were from those of the chamois. A few easy steps then placed us on the highest point.
It had not been ascended before, and we commemorated the event by building a huge cairn, which was seen for many a mile, and would have lasted for many a year, had it not been thrown down by the orders of the late Canon Carrel, on account of its interrupting the sweep of a camera which he took to the lower summit in 1868, in order to photograph the panorama. According to the Italian Survey, the summit of the Grand Tournalin is 6086 feet above the village of Val Tournanche, and 11,086 feet above the sea. Its ascent (including halts) occupied us only four hours.
I recommend the ascent of the Tournalin to any person who has a day to spare in the Val Tournanche. It should be remembered, however (if its ascent is made for the sake of the view), that these southern Pennine Alps seldom remain unclouded after mid-day, and, indeed, frequently not later than 10 or 11 a.m. Towards sunset the equilibrium of the atmosphere is restored, and the clouds very commonly disappear.
I advise the ascent of this mountain not on account of its height, or from its accessibility or inaccessibility, but simply for the wide and splendid view which may be seen from its summit. Its position is superb, and the list of the peaks which can be seen from it includes almost the whole of the principal mountains of the Cottian, Dauphiné, Graian, Pennine, and Oberland groups. The view has, in the highest perfection, those elements of picturesque-ness which are wanting in the purely panoramic views seen from higher summits. There are three principal sections, each with a central or dominating point, to which the eye is naturally drawn. All three alike are pictures in themselves; yet all are dissimilar. In the south, softened by the vapours of the Val d’Aoste, extends the long line of the Graians, with mountain after mountain 12,000 feet and upwards in height. It is not upon these, noble as some of them are, that the eye will rest, but upon the Viso, far off in the background. In the west and towards the north the range of Mont Blanc, and some of the greatest of the Central Pennine Alps (including the Grand Combin and the Dent Blanche), form the background, but they are overpowered by the grandeur of the ridges which culminate in the Matterhorn. Nor in the east and north, where pleasant grassy slopes lead downwards to the Val d’Ayas, nor upon the glaciers and snow-fields above them, nor upon the Oberland in the background, will the eye long linger, when immediately in front, several miles away, but seeming close at hand, thrown out by the pure azure sky, there are the glittering crests of Monte Rosa.
Those who would, but cannot, stand upon the highest Alps, may console themselves with the knowledge that they do not usually yield the views that make the strongest and most permanent impressions. Marvellous some of the panoramas seen from the greatest peaks undoubtedly are; but they are necessarily without those isolated and central points which are so valuable pictorially. The eye roams over a multitude of objects (each, perhaps, grand individually), and, distracted by an embarrassment of riches, wanders, from one to another, erasing by the contemplation of the next the effect that was produced by the last; and when those happy moments are over, which always fly with too great rapidity, the summit is left with an impression that is seldom durable, because it is usually vague.
No views create such lasting impressions as those which are seen but for a moment, when a veil of mist is rent in twain, and a single spire or dome is disclosed. The peaks which are seen at these moments are not, perhaps, the greatest or the noblest, but the recollection of them outlives the memory of any panoramic view, because the picture, photographed by the eye, has time to dry, instead of being blurred, while yet wet, by contact with other impressions. The reverse is the case with the bird’s-eye panoramic views from the great peaks, which sometimes embrace a hundred miles in nearly every direction. The eye is confounded by the crowd details, and is unable to distinguish the relative importance of the objects which are seen. It is almost as difficult to form a just estimate (with the eye) of the respective heights of a number of peaks from a very summit, as it is from the bottom of a valley. I think that the grandest and the most satisfactory stand-points for viewing mountain scenery are those which are sufficiently elevated to give a feeling of depth, as well as of height, which are lofty enough to exhibit wide and varied views, but not so high as to sink everything to the level of the spectator. The view from the Grand Tournalin is a favourable example of this class of panoramic views.
We descended from the summit by the northern route, and found it tolerably stiff clambering as for as the Col. Thence, down the glacier, the way was straightforward, and we joined the route taken on the ascent at the foot of the ridge leading towards the east. In the evening we returned to Breuil.