Never before has the Internet accompanied a party of climbers who have set out not only to conquer high alpine peaks, but also to explore the rich history of alpinism. Both are challenges.This content was published on July 2, 2001 - 14:54
Dressed in period costume and equipped with the kind of gear usually found in dusty museum cabinets, the swissinfo group of English climbers and Swiss guides will (are) trace(ing) the roots and development of alpine exploration and adventure, and the important role mountaineering played in opening isolated regions of the Swiss Alps to the outside world.
The very first expeditions about 250 years ago were far from humble - adventurers were exploring a realm largely unknown despite being in the heart of Europe.
They were followed by the writers and painters of the Romantic age, who were themselves followed by the first climbers climbing for pleasure. The British were at the forefront of this alpine exploration, and it wasn't long before mass tourism was born. The Alps were open to everyone.
The swissinfo party will traverse the same awe-inspiring landscape these early adventurers found, which is still dominated by 4,000 metre high peaks and mighty glaciers. Over time though, nature and man have altered the landscape.
Since the first exploratory climbs into the high Alps for the sake of science, the glaciers have proven their unpredictability. They've receded, expanded and receded again, and occasionally during periods of recession, have discarded the remains of unlucky climbers.
The swissinfo party will traverse the glaciers which pioneering scientists once studied to challenge the accepted wisdom of the time. The ice sheets now reveal new evidence that could prove beyond a doubt that the latest glacial recessions are among the greatest and most rapid ever, due to manmade emissions warming the atmosphere.
It's with a sense of urgency that Switzerland is bidding to have the natural wonders of the (Jungfrau - Aletsch - Bietschhorn) region declared a Unesco World Heritage Site.
In contrast, many of the grand hotels left over from the Belle Époque show no sign of ageing. Designed to meet the high standards of the British climbers and the tourists who followed in their wake, they are well-preserved relics still haunted by the ghosts of the past.
by Dale Bechtel
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