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Expedition to recreate historic alpine trek

Grindelwald guide, Johann Kaufmann, will be one of the Swiss taking part in the expedition

(swissinfo.ch)

A party of British climbers and Swiss guides is to set out on August 26 on a 10-day journey to explore Switzerland's alpine history by recreating a 19th-century climbing experience.

The expedition, sponsored by swissinfo, will show how mountaineering has changed as the group, in 19th century garb, treks through a region that Unesco is expected to name as the first alpine World Heritage Site.

The project organisers, climbers and guides are attempting to portray the Alps as they were in the 1800s, when man began to make his indelible stamp. The project will show the changes that tourists and climbers ushered in, including their environmental impact.

The expedition route will cross the inhospitable world of glaciers between cantons Valais and Bern. Just as early mountaineers tried classic ascents of peaks including the Jungfrau, Eiger and Wetterhorn, so will the swissinfo team.

"British climbers of the 19th century played an important role in exploring the Alps," says Dale Bechtel, swissinfo travel editor and project leader. "One way to demonstrate their role is to re-enact a 19th century expedition, bringing together British climbers and Swiss guides."

Following climbers' progress

The climbers and guides were chosen because of their records as mountaineers, their knowledge of alpine history and environment, or their ties to the past.

They will put themselves in the shoes of the early adventurers by donning the standard dress of their predecessors. Male climbers of the era wore wide-brimmed hats, tweed jackets and knickerbockers, while the women dressed in sturdy skirts. They all carried poles that served as precursors of the modern ice axe.

The climb will explore the relationship between climber and guide. The guides who led the British to the summit often risked their lives blazing trails over unstable slopes, or carving steps for the climbers in steep ice.

The expedition will highlight the fragility of the alpine environment, and show how crumbling rock faces, shrinking glaciers, dams and mountain railways have altered the landscape. In the footsteps of their predecessors, the swissinfo team will learn the extent to which the landscape has changed.

Online, swissinfo will follow the expedition's progress on its special "Alpswalk" site (link below), with daily reports and videos and a forum that enables website visitors to question the climbers and guides.

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