by Garrett P. ServissMarch 31st, 2023
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The climbing soon became difficult, until at length we were going up hand over hand, taking advantage of crevices and knobs which an inexperienced eye would have regarded as incapable of affording a grip for the fingers or a support for the toes. Presently we arrived at the foot of a stupendous precipice, which was absolutely insurmountable by any ordinary method of ascent. Parts of it overhung, and everywhere the face of the rock was too free from irregularities to afford any footing, except to a fly.
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The Moon Metal by Garrett Putman Serviss is part of the HackerNoon Books Series. You can jump to any chapter in this book here. THE TOP OF THE GRAND TETON


The climbing soon became difficult, until at length we were going up hand over hand, taking advantage of crevices and knobs which an inexperienced eye would have regarded as incapable of affording a grip for the fingers or a support for the toes. Presently we arrived at the foot of a stupendous precipice, which was absolutely insurmountable by any ordinary method of ascent. Parts of it overhung, and everywhere the face of the rock was too free from irregularities to afford any footing, except to a fly.

“Now, to borrow the expression of old Bunyan, we are hard put to it,” I remarked. “If you will go to the left I will take the right and see if there is any chance of getting up.”

“I don’t believe we could find any place easier than this,” Hall replied, “and so up we go where we are.”

“Have you a pair of wings concealed about you?” I asked, laughing at his folly.

“Well, something nearly as good,” he responded, unstrapping his knapsack. He produced a silken bag, which he unfolded on the rock.

“A balloon!” I exclaimed. “But how are you going to inflate it?”

For reply Hall showed me a receptacle which, he said, contained liquid hydrogen, and which was furnished with a device for retarding the volatilization of the liquid so that it could be carried with little loss.

“You remember I have a small laboratory in the abandoned mine,” he explained, “where we used to manufacture liquid air for blasting. This balloon I made for our present purpose. It will just suffice to carry up our rope, and a small but practically unbreakable grapple of hardened gold. I calculate to send the grapple to the top of the precipice with the balloon, and when it has obtained a firm hold in the riven rock there we can ascend, sailor fashion. You see the rope has knots, and I know your muscles are as trustworthy in such work as my own.”

There was a slight breeze from the eastward, and the current of air slanting up the face of the peak assisted the balloon in mounting with its burden, and favored us by promptly swinging the little airship, with the grapple swaying beneath it, over the brow of the cliff into the atmospheric eddy above. As soon as we saw that the grapple was well over the edge we pulled upon the rope. The balloon instantly shot into view with the anchor dancing, but, under the influence of the wind, quickly returned to its former position behind the projecting brink. The grapple had failed to take hold.

“‘Try, try again’ must be our motto now,” muttered Hall.

We tried several times with the same result, although each time we slightly shifted our position. At last the grapple caught.

“Now, all together!” cried my companion, and simultaneously we threw our weight upon the slender rope. The anchor apparently did not give an inch.

“Let me go first,” said Hall, pushing me aside as I caught the first knot above my head. “It’s my device, and it’s only fair that I should have the first try.”

In a minute he was many feet up the wall, climbing swiftly hand over hand, but occasionally stopping and twisting his leg around the rope while he took breath.

“It’s easier than I expected,” he called down, when he had ascended about one hundred feet. “Here and there the rock offers a little hold for the knees.”

I watched him, breathless with anxiety, and, as he got higher, my imagination pictured the little gold grapple, invisible above the brow of the precipice, with perhaps a single thin prong wedged into a crevice, and slowly ploughing its way towards the edge with each impulse of the climber, until but another pull was needed to set it flying! So vivid was my fancy that I tried to banish it by noticing that a certain knot in the rope remained just at the level of my eyes, where it had been from the start. Hall was now fully two hundred feet above the ledge on which I stood, and was rapidly nearing the top of the precipice. In a minute more he would be safe.

Suddenly he shouted, and, glancing up with a leap of the heart, I saw that he was falling! He kept his face to the rock, and came down feet foremost. It would be useless to attempt any description of my feelings; I would not go through that experience again for the price of a battleship. Yet it lasted less than a second. He had dropped not more than ten feet when the fall was arrested.

“All right!” he called, cheerily. “No harm done! It was only a slip.”

But what a slip! If the balloon had not carried the anchor several yards back from the edge it would have had no opportunity to catch another hold as it shot forward. And how could we know that the second hold would prove more secure than the first? Hall did not hesitate, however, for one instant. Up he went again. But, in fact, his best chance was in going up, for he was within four yards of the top when the mishap occurred. With a sigh of relief I saw him at last throw his arm over the verge and then wriggle his body upon the ledge. A few seconds later he was lying on his stomach, with his face over the edge, looking down at me.

“Come on!” he shouted. “It’s all right.”

When I had pulled myself over the brink at his side I grasped his hand and pressed it without a word. We understood one another.

“It was pretty close to a miracle,” he remarked at last. “Look at this.”

The rock over which the grapple had slipped was deeply scored by the unyielding point of the metal, and exactly at the verge of the precipice the prong had wedged itself into a narrow crack, so firmly that we had to chip away the stone in order to release it. If it had slipped a single inch farther before taking hold it would have been all over with my friend.

Such experiences shake the strongest nerves, and we sat on the shelf we had attained for fully a quarter of an hour before we ventured to attack the next precipice which hung beetling directly above us. It was not as lofty as the one we had just ascended, but it impended to such a degree that we saw we should have to climb our rope while it swung free in the air!

Luckily we had little difficulty in getting a grip for the prongs, and we took every precaution to test the security of the anchorage, not only putting our combined weight repeatedly upon the rope, but flipping and jerking it with all our strength. The grapple resisted every effort to dislodge it, and finally I started up, insisting on my turn as leader.

The height I had to ascend did not exceed one hundred feet, but that is a very great distance to climb on a swinging rope, without a wall within reach to assist by its friction and occasional friendly projections. In a little while my movements, together with the effect of the slight wind, had imparted a most distressing oscillation to the rope. This sometimes carried me with a nerve-shaking bang against a prominent point of the precipice, where I would dislodge loose fragments that kept Hall dodging for his life, and then I would swing out, apparently beyond the brow of the cliff below, so that, as I involuntarily glanced downward, I seemed to be hanging in free space, while the steep mountain-side, looking ten times steeper than it really was, resembled the vertical wall of an absolutely bottomless abyss, as if I were suspended over the edge of the world.

I avoided thinking of what the grapple might be about, and in my haste to get through with the awful experience I worked myself fairly out of breath, so that, when at last I reached the rounded brow of the cliff, I had to stop and cling there for fully a minute before I could summon strength enough to lift myself over it.

When I was assured that the grapple was still securely fastened I signalled to Hall, and he soon stood at my side, exclaiming, as he wiped the perspiration from his face:

“I think I’ll try wings next time!”

But our difficulties had only begun. As we had foreseen, it was a case of Alp above Alp, to the very limit of human strength and patience. However, it would have been impossible to go back. In order to descend the two precipices we had surmounted it would have been necessary to leave our life-lines clinging to the rocks, and we had not rope enough to do that. If we could not reach the top we were lost.

Having refreshed ourselves with a bite to eat and a little stimulant, we resumed the climb. After several hours of the most exhausting work I have ever performed we pulled our weary limbs upon the narrow ridge, but a few square yards in area, which constitutes the apex of the Grand Teton. A little below, on the opposite side of a steep-walled gap which divides the top of the mountain into two parts, we saw the singular enclosure of stones which the early white explorers found there, and which they ascribed to the Indians, although nobody has ever known who built it or what purpose it served.

The view was, of course, superb, but while I was admiring it in all its wonderful extent and variety, Hall, who had immediately pulled out his binocular, was busy inspecting the Syx works, the top of whose great tufted smoke column was thousands of feet beneath our level. Jackson’s Lake, Jenny’s Lake, Leigh’s Lake, and several lakelets glittered in the sunlight amid the pale grays and greens of Jackson’s Hole, while many a bending reach of the Snake River shone amid the wastes of sage-brush and rock.

“There!” suddenly exclaimed Hall, “I thought I should find it.”


“Take a look through my glass at the roof of Syx’s mill. Look just in the centre.”

“Why, it’s open in the middle!” I cried as soon as I had put the glass to my eyes. “There’s a big circular hole in the centre of the roof.”

“Look inside! Look inside!” repeated Hall, impatiently.

“I see nothing there except something bright.”

“Do you call it nothing because it is bright?”

“Well, no,” I replied, laughing. “What I mean is that I see nothing that I can make anything of except a shining object, and all I can make of that is that it is bright.”

“You’ve been in the Syx works many times, haven’t you?”


“Did you ever see the opening in the roof?”


“Did you ever hear of it?”


“Then Dr. Syx doesn’t show his visitors everything that is to be seen.”

“Evidently not since, as we know, he concealed the double tunnel and the room under the furnace.”

“Dr. Syx has concealed a bigger secret than that,” Hall responded, “and the Grand Teton has helped me to a glimpse of it.”

For several minutes my friend was absorbed in thought. Then he broke out:

“I tell you he’s the most wonderful man in the world!”

“Who, Dr. Syx? Well, I’ve long thought that.”

“Yes, but I mean in a different way from what you are thinking of. Do you remember my asking you once if you believed in alchemy?”

“I remember being greatly surprised by your question to that effect.”

“Well, now,” said Hall, rubbing his hands with a satisfied air, while his eyes glanced keen and bright with the reflection of some passing thought, “Max Syx is greater than any alchemist that ever lived. If those old fellows in the dark ages had accomplished everything they set out to do, they would have been of no more consequence in comparison with our black-browed friend down yonder than—than my head is of consequence in comparison with the moon.”

“I fear you flatter the man in the moon,” was my laughing reply.

“No, I don’t,” returned Hall, “and some day you’ll admit it.”

“Well, what about that something that shines down there? You seem to see more in it than I can.”

But my companion had fallen into a reverie and didn’t hear my question. He was gazing abstractedly at the faint image of the waning moon, now nearing the distant mountain-top over in Idaho. Presently his mind seemed to return to the old magnet, and he whirled about and glanced down at the Syx mill. The column of smoke was diminishing in volume, an indication that the engine was about to enjoy one of its periodical rests. The irregularity of these stoppages had always been a subject of remark among practical engineers. The hours of labor were exceedingly erratic, but the engine had never been known to work at night, except on one occasion, and then only for a few minutes, when it was suddenly stopped on account of a fire.

Just as Hall resumed his inspection two huge quarter spheres, which had been resting wide apart on the roof, moved towards one another until their arched sections met over the circular aperture which they covered like the dome of an observatory.

“I expected it,” Hall remarked. “But come, it is mid-afternoon, and we shall need all of our time to get safely down before the light fades.”

As I have already explained, it would not have been possible for us to return the way we came. We determined to descend the comparatively easy western slopes of the peak, and pass the night on that side of the mountain. Letting ourselves down with the rope into the hollow way that divides the summit of the Teton into two pinnacles, we had no difficulty in descending by the route followed by all previous climbers. The weather was fine, and, having found good shelter among the rocks, we passed the night in comfort. The next day we succeeded in swinging round upon the eastern flank of the Teton, below the more formidable cliffs, and, just at nightfall, we arrived at the station. As we passed the Syx mine the doctor himself confronted us. There was a very displeasing look on his dark countenance, and his sneer was strongly marked.

“So you have been on top of the Teton?” he said.

“Yes,” replied Hall, very blandly, “and if you have a taste for that sort of thing I should advise you to go up. The view is immense, as fine as the best in the Alps.”

“Pretty ingenious plan, that balloon of yours,” continued the doctor, still looking black.

“Thank you,” Hall replied, more suavely than ever. “I’ve been planning that a long time. You probably don’t know that mountaineering used to be my chief amusement.”

The doctor turned away without pursuing the conversation.

“I could kick myself,” Hall muttered as soon as Dr. Syx was out of earshot. “If my absurd wish to outdo others had not blinded me, I should have known that he would see us going up this side of the peak, particularly with the balloon to give us away. However, what’s done can’t be undone. He may not really suspect the truth, and if he does he can’t help himself, even though he is the richest man in the world.”

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This book is part of the public domain. Garrett Putman Serviss (2005). The Moon Metal. Urbana, Illinois: Project Gutenberg. Retrieved October 2022

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