|You are in: World: Europe|
Tuesday, 4 September, 2001, 17:23 GMT 18:23 UK
Alpine expedition goes online
BBC News Online tracks the route of a group of mountaineers who are braving the Swiss Alps dressed in 19th century costume.
The swissinfo group is retracing some of the most famous routes in the history of Alpine exploration to draw attention to the way mountaineering - and the Alps themselves - have changed.
Click on the links to follow the route, which will be updated daily with e-mail despatches from the climbers - weather permitting! And you also have a chance to ask them questions in a live online forum from the Eiger summit.
The walk takes about four hours - a distance covered today by cable car in less than 30 minutes.
Villa Cassel was the summer residence of the English banker, Sir Ernest Cassel, one of the most prominent of the late 19th century tourists to the Aletsch region.
Tweed jackets were draped over long Alpenstocks as mountaineers suffered 30C temperatures, buckets of sweat pouring down their faces.
Clothing turned three-hour hike into an ordeal. "I thought I was going to explode," said Alison Henry, kitted out in full regalia with hat and ankle-length skirt.
Bernhard Stucky, expedition's only member from Aletsch region remains upbeat, despite the heat.
A pioneering British-led effort to photograph the glacier in 1865 used a teenage boy to carry the camera tripod and fetch the water needed for the photographic plates once they were exposed.
Today the glaciers are rapidly receding.
In an effort to preserve them, Switzerland is bidding to have the region declared a Unesco World Heritage Site.
For much of the three-hour march up the glacier, the sound of boots crunching on the ice and guides cutting steps with ice-axes replaced conversation.
After two days of hiking, we reached the Konkordia Hut. We're now in striking distance of our next challenge: the Jungfrau summit.
Weather conditions permitting, the party will turn west to make an ascent on the Jungfrau.
The Jungfrau was first climbed by two Swiss brothers from canton Aargau in 1811, who first had to identify the peak.
Among the equipment of one successful ascent in 1828, were three ladders, 84 fathoms of rope, a gun, and an iron flag.
In 1853 a Russian princess led an unsuccessful expedition to reach the summit. It was finally conquered four years later by the German Sigismund Porges.
Leaving the summit, the swissinfo team will head to the Bergli hut, built more than 3,000 metres high in 1883 at the top of deeply crevassed slopes.
Long-handled ice axes doubled as convenient walking sticks while crossing glaciers, but proved cumbersome on steep slopes leading up the Jungfrau.
Indulged in traditional champagne celebration on reaching summit and planted a fir tree in honour of the first climbing team to reach the top in 1811.
Bedded down early for the night in preparation for arduous ascent of Mönch (4,099 metres), our second serious challenge in 24 hours.
The railway was an unparalleled engineering feat in its day, and made the world of glaciers and high peaks accessible to the public.
The party then crosses the Challiband by foot, passing the Eiger caves, which served as a bivouac before the Bergli hut was built.
Finally they cross over the Fiescher and Eismeer glaciers to arrive at the Schreckhorn hut, lying 1,500 metres below the Schreckhorn summit.
The Schreckhorn was first climbed by Sir Leslie Stephen in 1861, who described how he sat down to "enjoy a pipe and the beauties of nature" at the top.
Bad weather delayed departure by three hours, and forced a change of plan to avoid being stranded at high altitudes.
Instead of climbing the Schreckhorn, team descended to the lower Mönchsjoch, following the sound of a chainsaw through the fog and falling snow.
From there, headed to the Jungfraujoch station and civilisation. The multi-levelled complex, with souvenir kiosks and sterile self-service restaurants, proved something of a culture shock. The night before was spent in the rustic and cosy conditions of a mountain hut - sustained by hot tea made from melted ice.
During a crossing of the pass in 1859, a well-known Grindelwald guide is said to have casually thrown one end of his party's rope loosely over his shoulder in order to have a free hand to carry the folded crinoline of his female employer.
The Unteraar Glacier area was the scene of groundbreaking glacier research in the first half of the 19th century.
The first permanent accommodation was built above the Unteraar Glacier in 1843.
More bad weather kept climbers off the mountain.
Headed off to Grindelwald on trail of 19th century climber and mountaineer, W A B Coolidge.
Then five-hour hike to Hotel Faulhorn, built 1830, on summit of Faulhorn (2680m).
Rain turned to snow as we arrived. Hot drinks all round.
The first British tourist to climb the Wetterhorn, Sir Alfred Wills, described in 1854 how he camped at Gleckstein, and took a bath in a nearby glacial stream that "was icy-cold, but did me more good than a weary night in the hole".
Less than 30 years after the hut was built, Europe's first cable car went into operation, connecting Grindelwald with the trail just below the hut.
After a long week of climbing and trekking through snow drifts, spent night in historic Alpine hotel first built in 1832.
Refreshed after good night's sleep, set off for two-hour march through driving snow and rain towards Grosse Scheidegg Pass.
Avalanches could be heard in near distance but remained hidden by thick fog.
Rain turned to snow as we climbed above 2,000-metre level and arrived at our home for the night - the Gleckstein Hut at the foot of the Wetterhorn.
Sir Alfred Wills' ascent of the Wetterhorn in 1854, which he mistakenly believed was the first, marked the beginning of the so-called "Golden Age" of mountaineering.
From that time on, climbing as sport became fashionable.
The five to six-hour climb from Gleckstein is now one of the most popular climbs in the area.
After the climb, the party takes the train from Grindelwald village to the Hotel Bellevue - a large inn that was built before the railway.
Visitors to the Bellevue include Lord Byron, Sir Leslie Stephen and Karl Marx and Frederich Engels.
Fresh snowfall on Wetterhorn at 3,701 metres forces change of plans as assault on summit proves too dangerous.
Embark on climb to top of Chrinnenhorn, 1,000 metres below Wetterhorn summit, and are lucky enough to catch sight of ibex as we trudge back down through the snow.
Overnight at Kleine Scheidegg and pray snow will lift in time to tackle Eiger in the morning.
The climb from Kleine Scheidegg takes about eight hours.
Although this is considered the ordinary route, there is danger of falling rock and the path is difficult to find in fog.
Les Swindin describes the flank that the route follows as resembling "a tiled roof covered in debris".
Heavy snow once again forces us to abandon planned Eiger assault, so team decides at sunrise to attempt rock climb over Rotstock located at foot of Eiger's west flank.
Greeted by sunshine upon reaching Rotstock ridge and enjoyed views of celebrated Bernese Oberland trio of peaks: Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau.
Sporadic icefalls thundered down the rocks as we made our descent to Kleine Scheidegg, where we found rooms at 19th century Bellevue-Des Alpes Hotel.
From Grindelwald the trip takes about 30 minutes.
In 1838 it took more than four hours by horse-drawn carriage.
The sprawling resort of Interlaken still attracts tourists in their thousands - many of them British.
The group spends the final night in the Victoria-Jungfrau grand hotel, built in 1865, to accomodate wealthy tourists.
Bliss to be pulled through the streets after ten days of climbing and trekking through the mountains.
Alp-horn players greet us as we arrive at Victoria-Jungfrau Hotel in time for champagne reception to mark end of expedition.
Mixed emotions as group realises the trip is over - time to hang up our 19th century ice-axes and pack away our tweed breeches for the last time.
The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites
Top Europe stories now:
Links to more Europe stories are at the foot of the page.
Links to more Europe stories
|^^ Back to top
News Front Page | World | UK | UK Politics | Business | Sci/Tech | Health | Education | Entertainment | Talking Point | In Depth | AudioVideo
To BBC Sport>> | To BBC Weather>>
© MMIII | News Sources | Privacy