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Missed ascent fails to dampen Alps Walk team's spirits

Alison Henry (foreground) and the Alps Walk team at the Rotstock ridge


Though heavy snow forced swissinfo's select team of seven British climbers and Swiss guides to miss out on an assault of the Eiger, the group made the most of an alternative ascent during the penultimate stage of a ten-day long Alpine expedition.

"Today's ascent gave us a chance to say farewell to the Alps," said team member Philip Martineau, after completing a rock climb over the Rotstock, located at the bottom of the Eiger's west flank and adjoining the north face.

The route followed by the group was established at the turn of the 20th century by fixing ladders and ropes up the steep rock.

The climbing aids were erected following the construction of the first station of the famous Jungfrau Railway.

"They used to take tourists out on to the Eiger glacier," said fellow team member, Les Swindin, "but they also gave them a taste of climbing by taking them up this route."

Route recently reopened

The route fell into disuse for most of the 20th century, and was only reopened to a new generation of intrepid mountaineers two years ago.

"It was pleasant getting into the terrain of the north face without seriously stepping on to it," added Swindin, who will end the expedition without being able to add the Eiger to his long list of successful Alpine ascents.

Martineau considered the short, two-hour scramble "a sporting outing".

"It's a very tangible piece of evidence of the way tourism has physically affected some of the rock climbs around here and is perhaps rather too festooned with cables," he added.

Andreas Abegglen, who has been serving as one of the Alps Walk team's mountain guides, countered that the climb was set up for the very purpose of giving people a taste - albeit a secure one - of the Eiger north face.

Sunshine greeted the team as it reached the crest of the Rotstock ridge, where they enjoyed spectacular views of the flowing glacial flanks of the celebrated Oberland trio: the Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau.

Icefalls thundered past

As sporadic icefalls thundered down the rocks, Alison Henry, the only female member of the Alps Walk team, jokingly remarked that she had almost certainly made the first 21st century ascent of the Rotstock dressed in a 19th century replica skirt.

Henry recalled the 19th century writer, John Ruskin, and his famous description of the Alps as "cathedrals of the earth".

"It felt very much like that today when we were climbing up beyond the couloir," Henry explained.

"We got into this huge amphitheatre with steep, soaring walls. It was very similar to looking up at the soaring vaults of a cathedral."

Swindin, who has proved to be the expedition's master of understatement, offered a somewhat more functional assessment of the Rotstock climb: "It proved to be a rather pleasant outing for an off day."


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