Whoever bore the guilt, the four victims certainly met a horrifying death. Lord Francis' body was never found and still lies somewhere beneath the great glacier. The others were stripped of their clothes and boots by the violence of the fall; mere fragments of fabric were recovered; some of their mangled limbs had been torn right off; Hudson was identified only by his whiskers and part of a cheek.
The descent of the three survivors was a waking nightmare. Whymper's overwrought imagination even conjured up the notion that the two Taugwalders might try to murder him, and he sat all night with his back to a rock, his ice ax in his hand. Next morning the three men entered the Monte Rosa Hotel and were met by Seiler, the proprietor. Whymper said, "The Taugwalders and I have returned." Realizing at once the dreadful import of these words, Seiler burst into tears.
Two days later, Carrel achieved the first ascent of the Matterhorn from the Italian side. So ended the duel between the two men, but not the controversy, which has raged ever since. Back in England, a leading article in The Times thundered criticisms of such wanton waste of life. Queen Victoria wanted all mountain climbing banned. Ironically, however, the tragedy brought Whymper enormous success as a writer and assured him a lifelong income; his Scrambles Among The Alps has become a classic of mountaineering literature. In it he wrote, "There have been joys too great to be described in words, and there have been griefs upon which I have not dared to dwell; and with these in mind I say, climb if you will, but remember that courage and strength are nought without prudence, and that a momentary negligence may destroy the happiness of a lifetime."
They joke today that Matterhorn climbers are in most danger from slippery orange peel left behind by trippers. Now that the ascent can be made in a day by mere slips of girls, with 60 climbers a day going up in summer, it is hard to believe what a cruel giant it once seemed. But in the little cemetery in Zermatt, dominated by the huge black outline of the mountain, pilgrims come to visit the victims' graves, to relive the shock and sorrow of the disaster and to puzzle once more over the unsolved mysteries of the first ascent. Why did the climbers descend in that ludicrously unsafe order? Why was the weak rope really used? Could Taugwalder have saved the four victims if the stout rope had been used—or would all seven men have been pulled to their deaths? And who was really responsible—was the fault Carrel's for letting Whymper down; or Hudson's for bringing young Hadow; or Taugwalder's for using the weak rope; or Whymper's for recklessly assembling an unsafe party?
Zermatt is a tranquil village, full of peaceful little inns. But late at night, when the wine flows freely and tempers are raised, the air still rings with accusations and counteraccusations about the accident. The enquiring stranger, particularly if he is an Englishman, is met with a sudden silence. And above the valley the mighty Matterhorn grimly preserves its secrets.