17 mountain guides, 154 umbrellas and me - On the trail of Mark Twain in Zermatt
“I sat there with a rock-hard determination, because in spirit I was already wrestling with the dangers of the mountains, and my friend stared at me through his tears in adoring admiration. Finally, he threw himself onto me with a loving hug and called to me in a self-denying voice “Your Harris will never leave you. We will die together!”
“Climbing the Riffelberg” is satire at its finest. The story, taken from the travel report “A tramp abroad” from 1881, was written by none other than Mark Twain (1835 - 1910): helmsman on the Mississippi, gold-digger, gossip reporter, travel writer and author of the classics “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” and “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn”.
Twain visited Zermatt on his second European journey through Germany, Switzerland and Italy. He arrived there on the 27th August 1878, at three o’clock in the afternoon, accompanied by his friend, the Reverend Harris Twichell, and initially stayed in the village, probably in the Hotel Monte Rosa, which is mentioned in the story. He must have stayed longer at the Riffelalp or on the Riffelberg, however – which was also scene of the events recorded.
The year 2010 is the hundredth anniversary of the death of Mark Twain. Reason enough to read through this amusing description of an expedition onto the Riffelberg once again. The Riffelberg was not yet accessible by train at the time, and was certainly not an easy stroll.
The appeal of the Riffelberg episode, which can be easily read within an hour, arises from the heroic and completely exaggerated presentation of an expedition, with 205 participants, including mules, cows, ironing ladies and pastry chefs – crazily equipped with 22 barrels of whiskey, 154 umbrellas, 27 bottles of opium tincture ... It was Twain’s intensive reading of the reports of mountaineers on the first evening of his arrival that led him to take literary action in his typically satirical manner. In this respect, “Climbing the Riffelberg” is also a unique homage to the genus of mountaineering reports, and a piece of world literature.
Twain for gourmets: you can browse through Twain’s books while enjoying the view from the Mark Twain Terrace of the Riffelalp Resort.
Twain for literary hikers: Mark Twain Trail from Riffelberg to the Riffelalp (18) in 50 minutes downhill.
Twain for sturdy hikers: Arvenweg Trail (14) over the Findelbach to the Riffelalp (2 hours), Swiss Topwalk (23) to the Riffelberg (30 min.), uphill.
Twain for the reader with tired feet: “Climbing the Riffelberg/ Riffelberg-Besteigung”. Published by Verlag Dorfpresse, in a bound edition, in two languages, with illustrations from the original issue of 1881.