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Swiss mountain hut celebrates 125th anniversary

The Konkordia Hut first welcomed mountaineers in 1877 (picture: www.konkordiahuette.ch) swissinfo.ch

The Konkordia Hut, a place of overnight refuge for Alpine explorers since 1877, is celebrating its 125th anniversary.

This content was published on July 15, 2002 - 08:33

To mark the occasion, the Swiss Alpine Club (SAC) staged a special hike from the Jungfraujoch to the hut itself, perched on the Aletsch glacier at a height of 2850 metres.

One man who has experience of both the Alpine region and the hut - which has served as a place of refuge for several generations of weary mountaineers - is Swiss journalist and climber, Daniel Anker.

"It is the biggest glacial region in the Alps," Anker says. "It is the Swiss version of Greenland. When you sit up there and take it all in, you see only mountains and glaciers, rock and ice - otherwise nothing... it is very moving."

One of the most challenging parts of the approach to the hut - which still today offers basic overnight accommodation to climbers - is the final 100 metres, which have to be negotiated via a ladder.

"This is very tough," Anker explains, "above all because by the time you get there, after several hours on the go, you are pretty exhausted."

Until 1975, mountaineers accessed the hut using a wooden ladder with 200 rungs, but in the intervening years this has been replaced by a more sturdy metal set of steps.

Receding glacier

For years, scientists have warned that Switzerland's Alpine glaciers are slowly melting away: since the hut was opened, the glacier on which it was built has receded by around three kilometres.

The hut warden, Christian Bleuer says the Aletsch glacier loses about a metre in depth every year.

"Because of this, the ladder has to be lengthened on a regular basis, and the last time this happened was in 1999," he says.

Hut history

When the Konkordia Hut first opened to the public in 1877, it contained 20 beds, but the accommodation space has since been expanded and renovated on several occasions.

Today, the Grindelwald chapter of the SAC takes charge of the day-to-day running of what has become a modern and well-constructed place of lodging in the mountains spacious enough for 180 overnight guests.

"Every year we have on average a total of 6,400 overnight stays," says Bleuer.

"Around half the guests come from Switzerland, while the remainder come from other Alpine countries like Germany, Austria, Italy and France. Plus we have a small proportion of people from Holland and further afield."

Water, water everywhere...

The hut complex is located above the glacier, but running water is in short supply.

"We collect snow and rain water," Bleuer explains, "but guests cannot take a shower here."

"It's a bit of a paradox really: We live in such close proximity to Europe's biggest reservoir of drinking water - but of course water just does not flow upwards," he jokes.

Both Bleuer and Anker agree that the number of people visiting the Konkordia Hut is likely to increase in the next few years as more mountaineers discover the region for themselves.

"I could easily imagine that the hut will get even more visitors," says Anker.

"Some will say to themselves: I want to see this vast glacial world with my own eyes."

by Gaby Ochsenbein

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