Francisque Arban

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Francisque Arban (1815 - 1849) went up from Marseilles alone on 2 September 1849 and landed in the early hours of the following day near Turin in Italy, having crossed the Alps.

This is his account:

Francisque ArbanI left from Chateau-des-Fleurs on Sunday 2 September at six-thirty in the evening; at eight o'clock I crossed the forest of Esterel, at a height of 13,000 feet. It was cold but dry, and my thermometer read 4 degrees below zero. The wind was blowing from the south-west and was carrying me towards Nice. For over two hours I was enveloped in thick clouds; my pelisse [quilted vest] was not sufficient to protect me from the cold, from which I suffered a great deal, especially in my feet. I resolved nevertheless to continue my journey, and decided to cross the Alps, to which I knew myself to be close, my provision of ballast being sufficient to carry me above the highest peaks.

The cold increased, the wind became regular, and the moon shone out on me like the sun in broad daylight. I was at the foot of the Alps; the snow, the waterfalls, the streams sparkled; the abysses and rocks formed black masses which cast shadows on this enormous tableau. The wind prevented my progress from being constant; I was obliged to move down and up in turns in order to cross the peaks which constantly presented themselves. It was eleven in the evening when I arrived at the summit of the Alps; the horizon cleared, my progress became steady, and I was able to think of eating.

I was at a height of 15,000 ft.; I had no option but to continue my journey and reach Piedmont; I could see before me only chaos, and it would have been impossible for me to descend in those regions. After having eaten, I had the idea of throwing my empty bottle into the middle of the snow so that if one day some adventurous traveller climbed the peak, he would find a sign which would make him believe that someone had explored these uninhabited regions before him. At one-thirty in the morning, I found myself above Monte Viso, which I knew, having explored it in an earlier voyage in Piedmont. The Po and the Durance have their sources there. I recognized it by its position and its magnificent snow-fields. Before this confirmation of my position, a singular effect of mirage, produced by the moon on the snow and the clouds, almost made me believe that I was in the middle of the sea. The stars confirmed the evidence of my compass, and then I saw Mont Blanc, towering above the clouds, like an immense block of crystal which shone with a thousand fires and whose position on my left indicated to me that I was nearing Turin.

At two forty-five, Monte Viso, which was behind me, showed me for certain that I was very close to Turin. I decided to bring the balloon down, which I achieved without difficulty, still retaining some ballast at my disposal. I came down near an immense farm; several guard dogs surrounded me, but my pelisse protected me from there caresses. Their barking woke the farmers, who were more surprised than frightened at my presence, and invited me into the farm-house; they told me that it was two-thirty in the morning, and that I was in the village of Pion Porte, near Stubini, 4 miles from Turin.

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