There are 460 peaks in canton Graubünden higher than 3,000 metres, and a pair of climbers is setting out to conquer all of them - in a few short months.
The two 30-year-old alpinists, Emil Inauen and Walter von Ballmoos, will need to climb between two and 12 peaks a day between now and October if they are to reach their goal.
Inauen reckons that to conquer all 460 peaks they will have to overcome at least 600,000 metres in altitude on foot, skis or mountain bikes. And they will have to take exceptional risks - to keep up the necessary pace.
"We have to follow some routes without using belays or crampons [standard climbing equipment]," explains Inauen. "And we might have to search for new routes so that we can cross an area without having to descend into the valleys."
"Using a rope means for example, that instead of six hours, a climb could take as much as 25 hours, which is time we can't afford to lose," he says. "We have to be fast, and we can only go quickly on some occasions without ropes."
The idea is Inauen's way of contributing in the way he knows best to the International Year of Mountains, as 2002 has been declared by the United Nations. The UN is calling attention to the fragility of the world's mountain chains and wants to promote sustainable development in mountainous regions.
"We in Switzerland have the potential and the money to do something for this year," explains Inauen.
"And compared to people in poor mountain regions, we have the resources to raise money for a good cause."
Inauen and von Ballmoos have put a price on the head of each of the 460 mountains they hope to ascend. Anyone interested in the climbers' project can donate as much, or as little, as they choose for each ascent. As Inauen points out, even a modest donation of one franc a peak will add up to hundreds of francs if the climbers are successful.
The money will go to the Swiss-based charity, Children of Sikkim Foundation, which supports projects assisting children in the Sikkim region of the Indian Himalayas.
One of the main sponsors of the project is Graubünden Tourism.
"I think this is a wonderful platform not only to promote the project but the beauties of our mountain landscape," says Gieri Spescha of the tourist office.
Spescha insists however, that it is more than a public relations exercise. In conjunction with the climbing exploits of Inauen and von Ballmoos, Graubünden Tourism has launched a campaign called "small and beautiful" to promote sustainable tourism in relatively unknown places in the mountainous canton.
These are places where Spescha says "tourism and agriculture are inseparable and where people have to find a balance between exploiting the region for tourism while remaining true to their rural heritage".
by Dale Bechtel
Emil Inauen and Walter von Ballmoos will begin their climbing odyssey on Saturday, April 6 by ascending five 3,000 metre peaks in succession starting with the 3,166 metres high Rotflue. Of the 460 mountains they hope to tackle, the lowest is the Crutscharöls in the Upper Engadine at exactly 3,000 metres, and the highest is the Piz Bernina at 4,049 metres. The daily exploits of the climbers can be followed on their website, Graubünden3000. An English version of the website is expected to be available by mid-April.