This section is from "The American Cyclopaedia", by George Ripley And Charles A. Dana. Also available from Amazon: The New American Cyclopędia. 16 volumes complete..
At the height of 6,500 feet all the vegetation of the plains, including maize and the cereal grains, has disappeared; the common fruit and forest trees have ceased, and dwarfish larch, alder, and birch trees have taken their places, soon to be succeeded by the stunted pine, pinus mugho, and cembra, above which, from the line of 7,450 to about 8,500 feet, extends pasturage of a very rich and nourishing character, and a flora which from its peculiar character is distinguished by botanists as alpine. Its principal genera are androsace, sile-ne, saxifraga, ranunculus, gentiana, and pyre-thrum. Of most of these, several species are found. Even amid the eternal snows, Agassiz distinguished several varieties of lichen. - Animal life is abundant throughout the Alpine chains. Herds of cattle find pasturage on their slopes; the wolf, fox, lynx, and wildcat abound in their forests; the bear hibernates in their caves; the marmot and the mole burrow in their pasture grounds. Several animals are peculiar to the regions; among these are the chamois, which inhabits the upper limit of the forest region, the mountain goat, and a species of white hare.
Among the birds of prey, the lammergeier, a gigantic vulture,.is peculiar to the Alps, and, with the eagle, commits serious ravages on the sheepfolds of the loftier pasturage grounds. Nearly one half of all the known birds, resident or of passage, in central Europe, inhabit the Alps. The number of reptiles is not large, but four or live species of them are not found elsewhere. In the valleys of the Hantes-Alpes, the Basses-Alpes, Isere, Aosta, and the Grisons, as well as some other of the narrow and ill-ventilated ravines of the Alps, a large proportion of the inhabitants are affected with goitre and cretinism. - The Alps were formerly deemed almost impassable. Large bodies of men, hemmed in by the deep snows, perished miserably in attempting to cross them, and Hannibal's bold passage over them was considered for ages a more daring feat of military prowess than his subsequent victories. Now, however, nearly every portion is crossed by good roads. The principal roads crossing the Alps are over the following passes, of which the chief connect Switzerland with Italy: 1. The Mont Cenis, 6,773 feet high, built under Napoleon I. in 1803-'10, was crossed by diligences in eight hours, from St. Michel to Susa, connecting with the Chambery and Turin railway.
The temporary Fell railway, opened in 1868, has been superseded by the celebrated tunnel, which lies about 16 m. from the Mont Cenis pass. It was begun in 1857, and inaugurated at Bardonneche, Sept. 17, 1871. On the Mont Cenis pass there is a hospice with 40 rooms. 2. The Little St. Bernard (hospice 7,076 feet high), one of the oldest and easiest passages, supposed to have been crossed by Hannibal, was designed by Napoleon I. as a military road connecting Grenoble with Aosta and thence with Turin. There is a carriage road from Courmayeur to La Thuile, and a new road was opened in 1863 from the hospice to Bourg St. Maurice. The latter place is reached from Courmayeur in about 9 1/2 hours. The boundary line of France and Italy passes along the crest of the road.
3. The Col de Balme pass, 7,218 feet, from Martigny to Chamouni, is celebrated for its view of Mont Blanc, though inferior in variety to the Tete Noire pass (23 m.), which leads over the same ground and is much frequented.
4. The Great St. Bernard, 6,770 feet, from Martigny to Aosta, 47 m., connecting with Turin, and celebrated for its hospice and dogs. This pass was crossed by Napoleon I. with 30,000 men in 1800. 5. "The Simplon, 6,628 feet high, a colossal work of Napoleon I., built in 1800-'6, extending from Brieg to Do-mo d'Ossola, 46 1/2 m., connecting Geneva with Milan. The carriage road formerly began at Sierre, but the distance between that place and Brieg, 23 1/2 m., is now passed by railway. 6. The new carriage road over the Furca pass, 8,150 feet, completed in 1867, and connecting the St. Gothard directly with the valley of the Rhone, has considerably increased the traffic across the Upper Valais, the Bernese Alps, and the Simplon. It runs closer to the glaciers than any other road excepting the Stelvio. The Sehreckhorn, the Finsteraarhorn, and the range from Monte Leone to the Weisshorn, are seen from this road. 7. The St. Gothard. A railroad over the St. Gothard pass (6,936 feet) is in course of construction, Italy contributing 45,000,000 francs, Switzerland 20,000,-000, the North German Confederation 10,000,-000, the grand duchy of Baden 3,000,000, and the other German states the additional cost.
Until the completion of this railway, the road over the St. Gothard (built in 1820-'30) continues to be crossed by the diligence from Flt'ie-len to Bellinzona in about 15 hours, connecting Lucerne with Milan. The passage was known to the Romans. Avalanches caused great loss of life in 1478, 1624, and 1814, the road being unprotected against precipices. Suvaroff's successes over the French in 1799 are recorded in an inscription on the top of the mountain. 8. Bernardino, 6,770 feet, built in 1822, extending from Coire to Bellinzona, distance by diligence 16 hours, and thence connecting with Milan. A bridge over the Rhine, below the village of Hinterrhein, the Marscholhorn, and the Schwarzhorn, are the principal sights. The road was known to the Romans. 9. The Spliigen, 6,495 feet, built in 1818-'22, crossed in about fourteen hours from Coire to Chiavenna, connecting with Milan. Macdon-ald's troops, while crossing the Spliigen, Nov. 27 to Dec. 4, 1800, were almost buried by avalanches, nearly 100 men and as many horses being lost. 10. The Bernina, 7,672 feet, connecting the Engadine by way of Sa-maden and Tirano, 39 m., with the Valtellina. A footpath of 10 hours, up the Val de Fani to the Col of La Strella, leads to the baths of Bormio (Worms). The old path over the Bernina is so dangerous that horsemen prefer the huge circuit by Pisciadella. 11. The Julier pass, 7,558 feet, from Coire to the Engadine. The road begins at Churwalden and ends at Samaden. That by the Valbella pass meets the Julier road at Tiefenkasten, whence there are three passages, through the Julier, Val-bella, and Albula passes, to the celebrated valley of the Inn. 12. The Stelvio pass, 9,100 feet, connecting Milan with Innspruck. It is the highest Alpine road practicable for carriages.
It was built in 1820-'25 from Stelvio (Stilfs), a village of Tyrol, to Bormio, in the Valtellina, and extended in 1825-'34 to Lecco on the lake of Como. This pass is remarkable for glaciers, especially of the Ortles range, for the gorge of Spondalunga, and above all for the scenery of the lake of Como. The damage done to the road in the Austro-Italian war of 1859 has been repaired. 13. The principal road connecting Tyrol with Lombardy is the railway over the Brenner, from Innspruck to Botzen, opened in August, 1867. The old road, known to the Romans as Mons Brennius, has been accessible to carriages since 1772, and is crossed in four hours. This pass was one of the scenes of the Tyrolese rebellion of 1809. 14. The Semraering railway, from Gloggnitz to Murz-zuschlag, completing the connection between Trieste and Vienna, opened in July, 1854, and remarkable for its numerous tunnels and colossal viaducts, passes over the Semmering pass, which is situated on the boundary of Lower Austria and Styria. A hospice was built by a Styrian duke in the wilderness of the mountain in the 14th century. A carriage road completed in 1728 was superseded in 1840 by a new road.
Besides these there are many passes of minor importance, though some of them remarkable for beautiful views and scenery. - The "Alpine Club," established in London in 1858, gave new impulse to explorations among these summits. The president of the club, Mr. J. Ball, has published "The Alpine Guide " (3 vols., 1863-7); and the "Alpine Journal," recording Alpine phenomena and ascents, has been published since 1863. Alpine clubs have since been established in Vienna (1862), Turin (1863), Bern (1863), Aosta (1868), and Munich (1860). The proceedings and explorations of these associations are recorded in various periodical publications, as the Giornale delle Alpi, degli Apennini, e dei Vulcani, published at Turin since 1864; the Jahrbuch des osterreichischen Alpencereins, at Vienna since 1865; Jahrbuch des schueizer Alpenclubs, at Bern since 1864; Zeitschrift des deutschen Alpenvereins, at Munich since 1869; Alpenfreund, at Gera since 1870; L'Echo des Alpes, at Geneva since 1870. The explorations in Switzerland are conducted systematically according to Dufour's topographical map, the Alpine club of Bern being divided into committees for expeditions to the different mountainous regions.
The committee relating to the Glarus (Todi) district caused a panorama of the Ruchen Glarnisch to be published by A. Hein (Glarus, 1870), with the statistics of about 350 mountains, peaks, passes, and lakes. - Among the principal recent works on the Alps are the brothers Schlagintweit's Untersuchungen uber die physikalische Geogra-phie der Alpen (Leipsic, 1850), and Neue Unter-suchungen tiler die physikalische Geographie und Geologic der Alpen (1854); Prof. Tyndall's "Peaks, Passes, and Glaciers" (London, 1860-'62), and "Mountaineering in 1861" (1862); Schanbach's "German Alps" (5th ed., 1864-'7); Tschudi's Thierleben der Alpenwelt (8th ed.. Jena. 1868); Edward Whymper's " Scrambles on the Alps, 1860-69, including the First Ascent of the Matterhorn and the Attempts which preceded it" (London, 1871); Berlepsch's Alpen (4th ed.. 1871); and "The Switzers," by William Hepworth Dixon (London, 1872). Geological descriptions of the Alps are contained in Prof. Sedgwick's and Sir Roderick Murchison's contributions to the London geological society.