Officers were called together, the tactics of the fight were described to them, and in a few minutes the battalion and company commanders were scattered about studying with their glasses the opposite mountain, each, as they explained to me at the time, picking out for himself and for his men a line for ascending to the attack.
Then the word was given for the advance, and the infantry went off in long strings of men armed with alpenstocks and ropes. Ropes were used for lowering each other down bad places, and for stringing the men together when they got on to the snows to save them from falling into crevasses, etc. But the exciting point of the day was when the artillery proceeded to move down into the ravine; the guns were all carried in sections on the backs of mules, as well as their ammunition and spare parts.
In a few minutes tripods were erected, the mules were put into slings, guns and animals were then lowered one by one into the depths below until landed on practicable ground. Here they were loaded up again and got into their strings for climbing up the opposite mountains, and in an incredibly short space of time both mules and infantry were to be seen, like little lines of ants, climbing by all the available tracks which could be found leading towards the ice fields above.
The actual results of the field day no longer interested me; I had seen what I had come for—the special troops, their guns, their supply and hospital arrangements, their methods of moving in this apparently impassable country, and their maps and ways of signalling.
All was novel, all was practical. For example, on looking at one of the maps shown to me, I remarked that I should have rather expected to find on it every goat track marked, but the officer replied that there was no need for that; every one of his men was born in this valley, and knew every goat track over the mountain. Also a goat track did not remain for more than a few weeks, or at most a few months, owing to landslips and washouts; they are continually being altered, and to mark them on a map would lead to confusion.
My mountain climbing came into use on another occasion of a somewhat similar kind. A map had been sent me by my superiors of a mountainous district in which it had been stated that three forts had recently been built. It was only known generally what was the situation of these forts, and no details had been secured as to their size or armament.
On arriving at the only town in the neighbourhood, my first few days were spent strolling about looking generally at the mountains amongst which the forts were supposed to be. I had meantime made the acquaintance through my innkeeper of one or two local sportsmen of the place, and I inquired among them as to the possibilities of partridge or other shooting among the mountains when the season came on.