Page:Travels in Mexico and life among the Mexicans.djvu/397

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In the language of a correspondent of a New York paper, writing from Mexico at the time of my ascent, I went up "alone, with three Indian guides." Well, so I did; at least, there was no gente de razon, or white man, along with me. There was my peon, in cotton shirt and pants, with only a remnant of a sarape over his shoulders, and only his sandals strapped to his bare feet. He carried my tourograph, or camera, and a canteen of "nourishment," besides the provisions. Then, there was my "guide," now degenerated into a mere compañero, or companion, who knew nothing, as I later ascertained, of the mountain; and the real guide, an old man picked up at the rancho. He also wore cotton shirt and pants, and a broad sombrero, but had his feet swathed in strips of blanket till they looked as though he had an infliction of elephantiasis.

The peon and I soon left the others behind, and plodded on, one step after another, for hours. The snow was just right for climbing over; as there had been no recent fall, it had been softened and compacted, giving quite a good foothold. It had been gnawed by the sun till it lay in great cakes, tilted up edgewise, forming a labyrinth of passages, through which we slowly picked our way.

Such terrible stories had been told me of the sufferings endured by mountain climbers up this cone of snow, that I had prepared myself to meet and overcome obstacles requiring almost superhuman strength and endurance. I had resolved to go on, step by step, taking my time, shedding my last drop of blood, if necessary; but to reach the summit by all means. So I took it serenely, following close after my peon, treading where he trod, and letting him take off the wire edge of the trail. He seemed to like that. It showed I had confidence in him, and so I had,—confidence that if he fell into a hole and disappeared, I should not follow suit. Half-way up, perhaps, my "guides" cried out, "Señor, we can't go any farther, we are lost." We were surrounded by mist that obscured everything more than ten feet away from us; but I could not see how we could get lost, when, if we went up far enough, we should reach the crater brim; or, if low enough, we