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Monday, 3 September, 2001, 15:59 GMT 16:59 UK
Alpine climbers quizzed
To listen to coverage of the forum, select the link below:

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A party of British and Swiss mountaineers, dressed in 19th Century costume, will take your questions on the penultimate day of their Alpine expedition.

They are trying to draw attention to the changes in mountaineering - and to the Alps - in the last 150 years.

As they retrace the routes of the early pioneers, they will find that much has changed - glaciers have melted, and a huge network of cable-cars and ski-lifts has been built.

Find out what it was like to climb the Eiger dressed in a suit and tie, with trilby hat and Norfolk breeches - or for the female member of the party, in a long tweed skirt.

What has been the impact of tourism - and of the mountaineers themselves - on this once pristine environment?

Who were the first people to conquer the Alps? And how have the aims and techniques of climbers evolved?

The climbers - Les Swindin, Philip Martineau, Johann Kaufmann, Andreas Abegglen, Bernhard Stucky, Lorenz Frutiger, Dale Bechtel and Alison Henry answered your questions in a live forum.



Newshost:

Welcome to BBC News Online live forum with the Alpine climbers, Alison Henry, Les Swindin and Philip Martineau. BBC News Online has been tracking a group of mountaineers who are braving the Swiss Alps dressed in 19th century costume. Their aim has been to raise awareness of how mountaineering has changed over the past 150 years.

We have had a lot of interest in this and a lot of e-mails have come in to us. I am now going to ask the climbers to answer some of those questions, beginning with Alison Henry. Alison, I gather the weather is fine out there is it?


Alison Henry:

Yes, it is absolutely wonderful. We have got blue sky and sunshine and snow glistening on the mountains - it is absolutely heavenly.


Newshost:

Before I come to some specific questions can you give us some idea what you are dressed in when you go climbing?


Alison Henry:

I have got a full-length tweed skirt, a silk shirt and a tweed jacket - I have got silk underwear as well. I have long woollen socks, which are very itchy.


Newshost:

Let's take the question of the skirt because Mr A. Brown from Dorset asks: What is it like trying to climb a mountain in a skirt rather than modern slacks?


Alison Henry:

Well, it's been easier than I had expected. I have got a little system of ribbons inside the seams of the skirt so I can raise the hem a little bit, so I can see my feet when I am climbing. We haven't done any really steep climbing - nothing vertical - a lot of it has really just been what I suppose you would call scrambling. It's not really got in the way at all. It's been comfortable. It's fairly windproof because it is quite dense tweed so it has kept me warm when it's been cold and windy and yet when it's hot you've got a lot of air circulating underneath it - so it is cooler than trousers. I have actually been quite impressed with it.


Newshost:

So not necessarily an improvement on modern clothes then I suppose?


Alison Henry:

I think where it really would have failed would have been if we had very cold and wet weather. We've had quite a lot of wet weather but it has always been warm at the same time. So I just let myself get wet and not worried about it. I think if it had been very cold and wet at the same time it would have been pretty unpleasant.


Newshost:

Stephanie Dewar from Blackburn wants to know what you are wearing on your feet. Are you using traditional old-fashioned climbing boots?


Alison Henry:

I am afraid we are not, no. We've been using modern boots - although leather boots not plastic ones.


Newshost:

Why are you using the modern boots and not the old ones?


Alison Henry:

It was partly on the insistence of the guides because they felt that it was just taking an unnecessary risk to use old boots which wouldn't have been as secure on steep ground or icy ground. So they felt it wasn't worth running that risk just for the sake of authenticity.


Newshost:

James Trotman, from London, UK asks: How is the old-fashioned clothing standing up to the cold?


Alison Henry:

Well it has been absolutely fine. The tweed is fairly windproof. I have got several layers of clothing - I have a silk camisole vest and a silk shirt, a silk lining for the jacket and then the outer tweed of the jacket as well - so there's quite a few layers there.


Newshost:

He also wants to know if you're using traditional hawser ropes?


Alison Henry :

No. Again that was something that the guides insisted on for the sake of safety. It just wasn't worth running the risk of using old rope. So we haven't taken any unnecessary risks at all for the sake of the project. With the clothing it was reasonably easy to be pretty authentic with that to experience what it was like regarding the clothing of the period.


Newshost:

Perhaps we could now have a word with Philip Martineau. Hello Philip, welcome to Online. We have got some questions for you from the people who've sent in their messages - many of them are on environmental issues. Karl Langley from Warwickshire, UK asks: would the team consider trying an Everest expedition with traditional clothes?


Philip Martineau:

Well I personally wouldn't. I've never been to Everest, I have never been to the Himalayas - that would be a project for someone else. I think it would be a very interesting one but perhaps tourism in that area hasn't quite developed to the state it has here so the project would have the useful aims that this one has.


Newshost:

Colin Brown from London, UK asks: Has global warming made climbing more dangerous in your view?


Philip Martineau:

Yes, I think one has got to be aware of the way the glaciers are changing all the time. I think what happens is that people, if they are wise, talk to the local people and work out where the routes have become more dangerous as a result of the glaciers receding. There are often changes in routes that can be taken to avoid the dangers where the terrain has changed.


Newshost:

You're undertaking this very intriguing project - I know you are raising funds. Is there going to be a book or film about it?


Philip Martineau:

No, I think it is just simply an internet project where we are trying to raise awareness of the way the Alps have changed in the last 150 years as a result of tourism and global warming. The idea is that this will make people more aware of the issues. One would hope - and this is a question for the Swiss people to decide where they strike a sensible balance between developing tourism to increase the prosperity of the Alps but yet making that tourism sustainable by making sure that it's not damaging the environment too much.


Newshost:

The question of the environment is very much on the mind of Dennis Morrod from Saltash, UK. He asks: Why is alpine rock still being deliberately damaged by the drilling and placing of expansion bolts by so-called mountaineers?


Swiss Guide:

That is not completely true. Only in exposed areas are bolts put in the rocks. You have to find a balance between security and risk particularly on routes which are used a lot. Particularly with groups which aren't as experienced as other groups - so there is an extra risk there and so the route has to be secured so as not as to endanger lives.


Newshost:

Hello Les, we've had a number of questions sent into us about the differences with the past. John Casner, Hartford, Connecticut, USA asks: Are climbers today as likely to help distressed climbers as they were in the past?


Les Swindin:

Probably his question arises from some of the controversy of accidents and people being abandoned in the Himalayas. I think it is quite different in the Alps. I can't imagine anyone climbing in the Alps coming across somebody injured who is not going to give some assistance. A lot of climbers - certainly British climbers - do have first aid experience. People do first aid courses often arranged by local clubs. Certainly as regards to myself, if I encountered anybody injured I would offer whatever first aid I could.


Newshost:

Keith Stallan, Basildon, UK asks: Does any of the party feel that with all the technological advances in climbing in the last 50 years, that something has been lost?


Les Swindin:

I don't think so at all. The earlier climbers took a lot more risks and the climbing in those days was much less safe. There were a lot of accidents and near accidents because people didn't use the rope properly. There has been a steady progression in making climbing safer. I don't think anything has been lost - what people tend to do is just climb harder routes these days to get the excitement.


Newshost:

Patrick from the UK asks: You hear stories about how crowded Mount Everest is getting with eager climbers. Are we going to see snack bars opening up on mountain peaks?


Les Swindin:

I hope not. Again, I can't speak for Everest because I've not been to the Himalayas. But in the Alps there is no suggestion of any snack bars on peaks. There are huts at the foot of most mountains and you can get all the refreshment that you require there.


Newshost:

Matt in Leeds, UK asks: Do you actually think it's possible to achieve the feats of modern climbers without the equipment and clothing developed over recent years?


Les Swindin:

The answer is no.


Newshost:

Robert del Valle, Detroit, USA asks: Have all the Alpine peaks been conquered or are there still two or three that still defy mountain climbers?


Les Swindin:

There's probably isolated pinnacles which have not been climbed. I would say that all the named mountains have been climbed.


Newshost:

Paul Machin, London, UK asks: Will you undo your top shirt buttons only when you reach Eiger's summit?


Les Swindin:

I'm not quite sure what he means by that question. But if he is saying do we relax when we arrive at the summit - I think the answer again is no - the climb isn't over until we have got back to the valley.


Newshost:

When do you hope to complete your project?


Les Swindin:

Well it is virtually completely now. We've climbed our last hill and all we've got now is the train ride down to Interlaken and celebration there.


Newshost:

So it has been a success?


Les Swindin:

Yes, I would say so. Unfortunately we were disturbed by the weather so we weren't able to complete the course that was planned.


Newshost:

Thank you very much indeed.

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