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Climbers find tourism heritage under threat

The weather has not been kind to the Alps Walk team

After one week of walking and climbing through a landscape that has undergone great changes, the team of seven British climbers and Swiss guides spent the night in a hotel which can trace its history back to the very beginning of Alpine tourism. But the climbers discovered the historical relic may soon be no more than a forgotten ruin.

“Imagine how interesting it would be to live in this museum,” the innkeeper of the Hotel Faulhorn, Hermann Inäbnit, told the group.

Inäbnit has been in charge of the hotel high above the mountain resort of Grindelwald for two years, but has been unable to convince the owners or local heritage societies to invest the money badly needed for repairs and restoration work.

The Faulhorn was the first mountain hotel in Switzerland when it opened in 1832.

Inäbnit showed the British climbers to their rooms, which came complete with bedpans and water jugs, where they slept as the first guests must have done nearly 170 years ago.

“The rooms are as they were in the 1830s,” remarked team member Alison Henry, who works in Britain restoring and advising on conservation methods for historic buildings.

Danger of modernisation

“There’s the danger that they’ll try to modernise too much,” she said, “thinking that’s what everyone wants.”

“But we saw how much everyone enjoyed sitting around, talking and eating by candlelight,” she added.

Inäbnit has used his carpentry skills to refurbish the hotel as far as possible, but says the building still needs major repairs. He says he is ready to throw in the towel and abandon the historic property if money is not found soon.

The fact that the hotel is served by neither road, railway nor cable car has been a mixed blessing.

Its very neglect has assured the preservation of its original character, but its isolation makes it hard to attract investors.

Minor setback

Before departing the Faulhorn, the party suffered a minor setback. Les Swindin, a British climber on the team, slipped on an icy doormat as he left the building and cut open a forearm.

Though the wound required stitches, Swindin took the fall in his stride, wondering how he could have spent so many seasons in the Alps, taking on peak after peak unscathed, only to injure himself simply by walking out of a hotel front door.

Swindin is scheduled to rejoin the team to complete the ten-day expedition on Sunday morning.

The remaining team members set out for a two-hour march through the snow and rain towards the Grosse Scheidegg Pass.

Sound of avalanches

Approaching the pass, avalanches could be heard in the near distance, hidden by the fog but unquestionably rumbling down from the north face of the Wetterhorn.

“It’s the first time I’ve heard a mountain before I’ve seen it,” said Henry.

The trail then narrowed as it hugged the side of a cliff above the Upper Grindelwald Glacier, while waterfalls cascaded out of caves high above the ice field’s snout.

Andreas Abegglen, one of the Alps Walk team’s mountain guides, remarked on how the glacier has diminished, pointing out how it had covered the caves only a few years earlier.

Johann Kaufmann showed the group a disused cable car station on the slope below.

The first cable car station in Europe when it was constructed in the early 20th century, it was abandoned at the time of the outbreak of the First World War. Unlike the Faulhorn Hotel, the station has been listed as a heritage site.

The rain turned to snow as the group climbed above the 2,000 metre level and approached the Gleckstein Hut at the foot of the Wetterhorn.

The golden age of mountaineering began in September 1854, when Sir Alfred Wills set out from a boulder near the hut to climb the mountain, but the fresh snowfall has killed any chance the swissinfo team had of following in his footsteps exactly 147 years later.


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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR