In the island of Mauritius, in the Southern Ocean, stands Pieter Both (or Peter Botte), one of the strangest shaped and most inaccessible mountains in the world. From the sea it is most calculated to impress beholders. Its quaint shape towers above the rugged mountain mass which again dominates over Port-Louis; and its still quainter name dates from so far back as 1616, when Pieter Both d'Amersfort, a Dutch admiral, or General of the Sea, as he is described in the records, happening to be shipwrecked on the island, was perpetuated by name in the mountain which cast its shadow across his drowned body.
The travellers' tales which are heard beyond the seas of the ascents of a mountain, insignificant in size, but by reputation ranking with monarchs of Alpine celebrity, have contributed to lend a grandeur and a mystery to Pieter Both in the imaginations of those who approach him for the first time. Though various ascents have been made from time to time (one of which was described in this Journal as far back as 1834), that made in June 1876 by a party of eleven seems to have been of special interest, as the following narrative, from the pen of one of the party, will shew. His story runs as follows:
An Indian, Deebee by name, a carriole driver by calling, by repeated ascents has made himself so much at home on the mountain as to be able to arrange a system of ropes and rough rope-ladders by which any one with a good head and fairly strong muscles can reach the top with comparative ease. Deebee is a short square-built East Indian, with a pock-marked face, whose dress on the last time I saw him was a soldier's old tunic, and a lady's 'cloud,' also old, about his head and chin. This worthy, after the preliminaries are settled with the leader of the expedition, purchases a coil of two and a half inch Manilla rope, arms himself with a wonderfully battered horse-pistol and a broken cutlass, takes into his confidence sundry others of his countrymen, and starts up the mountain the day previous to that on which the ascent is to be attempted. Upon the 'Shoulder,' which I shall presently notice, he has built a small hut, where he and his band sleep; to me, who saw it empty, it seemed just capable of holding half one man, with the contingency that his other half would dangle over a precipice some hundreds of feet high. In the morning the ropes are fixed; the 'Ladder Rock' being ascended by means of a pole; the pistol is used to fire a line over the head, by which the rope is gradually hauled up; the cutlass is for cutting the rounds of the rope-ladders from the bushes; so that if all goes well, when the party gather on the 'Shoulder' they will see above them the whole apparatus, strangely suggestive of the Old Bailey on hanging mornings, with Deebee and his crew clinging thereto—a black Jack Ketch to perfection.
Pieter Both itself is one of a score of peaks situated in the rim of a gigantic crater, which can be traced at the present day from itself on the north to the Black River Mountains on the south, a distance of more than twenty miles. A mountain called 'The Pouce,' so called from the resemblance of its peak to a man's thumb, lies immediately above Port-Louis, and forms a well-known feature in the views of that town. After the Pouce, which is thirty-six feet only lower than Pieter Both, the crater-wall becomes a wall indeed. Its northern face falls down in sheer precipice to Pamplemousses, two thousand feet below its crest; the reverse, no less steep, facing the valley of Moka, green with sugar-canes, and fifteen hundred feet below. This wall is broken into several peaks, of which the last is Pieter Both, having an elevation above sea-level of two thousand six hundred and ninety-eight feet, according to a recent survey made by the colonial surveyor.
At La Laura, a sugar-mill about ten miles from Port-Louis, the final arrangements are made for carrying up the provisions and other impedimenta, including on this occasion a photographic apparatus; and that satisfactorily arranged, comes a trudge of a mile along a gently ascending cane-road.
As the path nears the woods we find their margin impervious with the matted undergrowth; the bright green of the wild raspberry, with its hairy fruit, and long straggling branches armed with fearful thorns; the scarlet and orange blossoms of the Lantana; while the snowy white and pink blossoms of the many other species of underwood crowd in beneath the shade of the taller trees in a many coloured parterre.
Side by side with many other curious varieties of trees will be noted the fluted stem and broad spreading top of the mighty Sambalacoque, now fast disappearing under the axe. On either side of the road which winds along this forest line are the tall sugar-canes, like walls high above our heads, the silver-gray blossoms waving in the softly blowing trade-wind; the rain-drops hanging from their leaves, falling in showers, and giving a none too welcome hint of slippery work a little higher up. Between Pieter Both and the mountain ridge that joins him with the Pouce is a steep gorge, wide at the base, narrowing gradually till it ends abruptly in a gap some fifteen yards across, and about four hundred feet below the summit. You can climb up to this gap, but it requires to be cautiously approached, for on looking over its edge, sharp and knife-like, you will find yourself looking down a precipice of naked rock some two thousand feet deep. The lookout is grand beyond description, and you will make out Port-Louis harbour, looking about the size of the Round Pond in Kensington Gardens, and Pamplemousses Church a dot immediately below you.