Tuesday, May 30, 2023

A great replacement

On Switzerland’s southern edge, the wood’s in trouble

One wet weekend in May, Project Hyakumeizan walked up to an alpine lake in southern Switzerland. From the village, the path led steeply up through green tunnels of chestnut trees, which gave way to graceful beechwoods at about the 1,200-metre mark. After weeks of rain, the trees looked as if they were enjoying life.

Beech wood in Val Cama, Grisons

Appearances may deceive. According to an article in Die Alpen, the Swiss Alpine Club’s bimonthly journal, the chestnut trees of the Italian-speaking canton of Ticino are coping badly with the drought and heat of the last two decades. A fungal disease that attacks their roots is accelerating their demise. Dying trees have to be chopped down and lifted out by helicopter – or they would end up stoking forest fires like the one started near the crags of Ponte Brolla in 2016 by a rock-climber who tried burning his toilet paper.

Edge of the chestnut wood, Cama, Grisons

It’s thought that the Romans introduced chestnut trees to southern Switzerland about 2,000 years ago. For centuries, the chestnuts fed people as well as their animals. And the trees protected the villages, as they still do, from rockfall and mudslides. So losing them will be a cultural as well as an ecological disaster.

As the chestnut woods thin out, interlopers move in. Originally cultivated in gardens, the Chinese hemp palm (Trachycarpus fortunei) is now spreading into the low-altitude woods, where it has no problem with the hotter, drier summers. More invasive still, according to the cantonal foresters who have to deal with it, are the fast-growing trees of heaven (Ailanthus altissima), also an import from northeast Asia.

Forest path above Cama, Grisons

If the chestnut trees can’t be saved – and if the low-altitude forests of Ticino are not to tumble down into a jungle of non-native exotics – then they must be replaced. On a slope near Ponte Brolla – the one that was inadvertently torched by the careless rock climber in 2016 – forest experts from the Swiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape Research (WSL) are trying out some alternative species.

Silver birches, above Rossa, Val Calanca GR

In this test plantation, oaks, birches and cherry trees have seeded themselves. The foresters have also introduced Austrian oaks (Quercus cerris) and rowans, among others. Not all the trees under trial are indigenous: Atlas cedars (Cedrus atlantica) and Turkish hazels (Corylus colurna) have also been planted. As one of the interviewed foresters said, “We can’t afford to be fussy these days; we need to try out more things.”


Anita Bachmann, “Das Bild des Waldes wird sich stark ändern: eine Reportage über Palmen und Kastanien im Tessin”, Die Alpen, 03/23.

Thursday, May 25, 2023

The irresistible rise of the mountain clubbists

By convention, Japanese alpinism started on 17 August 1902, when two salarymen from Tokyo scaled Yari-ga-take, a 3,180-metre peak in what would soon be rebranded as the Northern Japan Alps. Three years later, after a nudge from the mountaineering missionary Walter Weston, one of the salarymen – Kojima Usui – went on to found an alpine club, the first in Japan and all of Asia.

 A Sangaku-kai party on the Ushiro-Tateyama traverse in 1910

It’s a compelling story and true as far as it goes. But how does it correspond with what actually happened? When writing history, it is always wise to heed Mark Twain: “In the real world,” he jibed, ”nothing happens at the right place at the right time. It is the job of journalists and historians to correct that.”

And, indeed, some of the facts in the first paragraph do need to be kick-tested. First, Kojima Usui was surely not the first of Japan’s new middle-class town-dwellers to inspect the future Japan Alps. For instance, we learn from Japan’s most famous mountain book that Kōno Toshizō and Okada Kunimatsu made the first recorded ascent of Shirouma (2,932 metres) as early as 1898.

And, in the same year, students at the Fourth Higher Normal School – the forerunner of today’s Kanazawa University – formed a “travel club” (旅行部). This, somewhat subversively, the scientist and alpine historian Matsumoto Yukio deems to be the first club convened in Japan to undertake mountain activities.

Student alpinists: members of the Matsumoto High School
mountaineering club, founded in 1920

All this means that, when Kojima Usui and his colleagues did found their own alpine club, in October 1905, they found a receptive audience. Within a year, the new club had several hundred members, including a good cross section of Tokyo’s cultural and scientific elite. The latter made themselves prominent in the articles published in the first edition of “Sangaku”, the club’s journal, which included articles by Ogawa Takuji, Yamasaki Naomasa, Tanaka Akamaro and Takeda Hisayoshi.

Founded on the model of Britain’s Alpine Club, its Japanese counterpart started out simply as the “Sangaku-kai” (‘Mountain Club’). But, in early 1909, it shifted to its current name of “Nihon Sangaku-kai”, which is usually Englished as the “Japanese Alpine Club”.

Meanwhile, mountain clubs were mushrooming all over the realm. Some of the more eminent ones were the Hida Sangaku-kai in 1908, the Nagoya Aizankai in 1909, the Kobe Sōai-kai in 1910, the Shinano Sangaku-kai in 1911, the Hokkaidō University Ski Club in 1912, and a “mountain club” at the Tokyo Dai-ichi High School in 1913 that almost immediately morphed into a “travel club”. It was with this same club, as an “Ikkō” student in the 1920s, that Fukada Kyūya, the future Hyakumeizan author, gained some early mountaineering experience.

The Dai-Ichi High School students before setting out
from Nakabusa Onsen in July 1913

In its very first year, the Dai-ichi High School’s mountain club was involved in a celebrated incident. Between 20 July and 8 August 1913, some forty of its members, mustered into four groups, traversed the high ridges from Nakabusa Onsen via Tsubakuro and Yari-ga-take to Kamikōchi – a route pioneered only a few years before by Kojima Usui himself.

The fourth group, led by one Oki Misao, came down into Kamikōchi on 4 August, then climbed Yake-dake and Mae-Hodaka on the next two days. On the evening of the 6th, understandably ebullient with their haul of peaks and passes, they settled down to a celebratory “kompa” in their lodging house at Kamikōchi.

The students had just launched, uproariously, into their school song when a knock was heard at the door. And there stood a one-eyed foreigner, who addressed the company in clear if somewhat unidiomatic Japanese: “My wife and I would like to go climbing tomorrow. We all love the mountains. But would you kindly pipe down.”

Mr and Mrs Weston with the Dai-Ichi High School
mountaineering club, Kamikochi, August 1913

No hard feelings ensued from this symbolic collision between the alpine pioneer and the new Taishō era of mass mountaineering. Next morning, the students lined up at the Kappa-bashi bridge, together with the Westons, for a group photograph. And, via the travel club’s yearbook, the same photo was transmitted down the generations to the alpine historian Matsumoto Yukio, the grandson of one of the students lined up at Kappa-bashi on that August day in Taishō 2…


Okubo Masahiro, Horiguchi Mankichi and Matsumoto Yukio, Nihon no Shizen Colour Series, Nihon no Yama, Heibonsha, 1988.

All images are from the Yama to Keikoku illustrated history of Japanese mountaineering (目で見る日本登山史 by 川崎吉光、山と渓谷社)

Friday, May 19, 2023

Age shall not wither them

Back in February, Project Hyakumeizan and a visiting friend carried out something like the twentieth edition of their annual “geezers’ ski-tour” in the Alps. They neatly compensated for their advancing ages – now well over a century in aggregate – by halving the height of the mountains attempted.

Geezers on tour: halving the height of the mountains works well

Such compromises wouldn’t appeal to Carlos Soria Fontán. The news just came in that an injury has forced the 84-year-old Spanish mountaineer to abandon his bid to reach the summit of Dhaulagiri. This was one of the two eight-thousanders he had left to scale to claim the title of the oldest climber to conquer the world’s 14 highest mountains.

Normal folks tend to wind down in retirement. But Carlos Soria’s climbing CV shows that the normal rules may not apply to him. Indeed, it seems that he started his eight-thousanders campaign when many people would already be drawing their first pension payments.

According to Wikipedia, Soria is the only mountaineer to have ascended ten mountains of more than 8,000 metres after turning 60, and he is the oldest person in history to have successfully climbed K2 (65 years old), Broad Peak (68 years old), Makalu (69 years old), Gasherbrum I (70 years old), Manaslu (71 years old), Kanchenjunga (75 years old) and Annapurna (77 years old). Gasp.

As you’d expect, the literature of “silver-age mountaineering” is rather slim. There was Karl Blodig (1859–1956), of course, who came out of retirement at the age of 73 to make solo ascents of the Aiguille du Jardin and the Grande Rocheuse. This was because these peaks had recently been added to the generally accepted list of 4,000-metre alpine summits, all of which he wanted to climb. 

Then there was Riccardo Cassin (1909-2009), who after making the first ascent of the north-east face of Piz Badile (6a) in the Swiss Val Bregaglia in 1937, went back and repeated the route fifty years later at the age of 78. For his part, W H Tillman (1898-1977) was one year older than that when he went down with his ship on his way to climb in Antarctica. But I'm not aware that any of these paragons left any hints on how to keep alpinistically agile in old age. 

One top mountaineer who did reflect on ageing was Furukawa Yoshikazu, a pioneer of Japan’s epic post-war phase of alpinism. He was also a founder of the second Rock Climbing Club of Japan (RCCII), an elite group of hard-core alpinists. Having helped to put up rugged lines such as the Bernina Route on Tsurugi and the Furukawa Route on the Takidani Grepon, he recorded these experiences in a memoir entitled simply My Crags (わが岸壁)

In his afterword, Furukawa, then 41 years old, mused what would happen when his peak performance was behind him. Would climbing after that high point of achievement still be alpinism, he asked himself. It would depend, he decided, on his attitude, ie his inner self:

So what kind of attitude does alpinism consist in? When your climbing involves taking a line towards the highest point, we’re constantly asking ourselves if we can really do this, whether we can get up it at all. A wall of fear looms over us, but we have to keep pushing ourselves up against it, struggling against our own selves. Isn’t this alpinism, when we confront ourselves while climbing a mountain? … But if you shirk the difficulties and climb only within your comfort zone, you may look like an alpinist on the outside but, in reality, you are no more than a hiker. But I don’t mean to impose my views on anybody as to what they have to do to be an alpinist, or how they have to behave as one. After all, it’s a free world. I do venture as far as to clarify what alpinism could mean for mountaineers in their declining years.

Furukawa (b.1923) passed away a few years ago after a long and distinguished career in both alpinism and technical research. But judging by his afterword, and if he was still around, he’d probably be giving Carlos Soria Fontán a big hand.


The Guardian, “Spanish climber, 84, injured in bid to be oldest to scale world’s 14 highest peaks”, 17 May 2023

Furukawa Yoshikazu, Waga ganpeki (My crags), Yama to Keikoku-sha, January 1975

And if you want to keep cragging into your dotage, there are some good tips over on the Climbing magazine website.

On a whim?

Project HaMo (translation): a very short essay from the Swiss Alps

A glorious late summer day. A hundred thousand peerless peaks rise into the sky: grassy hills, rocky pinnacles, snow peaks, narrow ice ridges, tall and short,  a multitude of old friends and countless strangers.

"As innocent and quiet as only a harmless pinnacle can be..."
Photo by courtesy of Alpine Light & Structure

There they parade themselves, beckoning and inviting, each in its own way: that one offering its green pillows for an easy repose, the dark one hinting at scrambling pleasures, the snow dome with its a morning’s worth of devotions, to say nothing of that promising ice ridge … Look how they beckon!

A young mountaineer sets out cheerfully, as if answering a summons. How could he resist? Which one of the mountain throng was it? Won’t it be hard for him to make his choice? Unerringly, he cleaves to his path, carelessly leaving behind whole chains of mountains, each of which could enchant him, as he weaves through the massifs. On foot, he marches up a long valley surrounded by marquee peaks, further and further, inexorable.

Somewhere in the serried rows of mountains a gap yawns and a valley opens up, one like a thousand others, and beyond it, hardly to be remarked by mere mortals, beckons a little white peak, as innocent and quiet as only a harmless pinnacle can be.

The mountaineer quickens his step as he enters the valley. Suddenly a fever seizes him, and breaking into a run, he finally achieves the summit, overjoyed to be on his little white peak.

As for those hundred thousand other peaks, could it be that they are envious?


This is an excerpt from a centennial translation of Ihr Berge (1916), a mountain memoir by Hans "Hamo" Morgenthaler (1890-1928). Translation (c) Project Hyakumeizan.

Friday, May 5, 2023

Tozan-shi (6) – Japan discovers the Himalaya

How a cultural warrior inspired climbers to explore the Greater Ranges

Conveniently for mountain historians, it was in 1900 that a Waseda professor finished translating Marie de Ujfalvy-Bourdon’s Voyage D'une Parisienne Dans L'himalaya Occidental, the first book on the Himalaya ever to be published in Japan.

Climbers on the summit ridge of Nanda Kot, 1936

Strictly speaking, nobody in Japan needed Mme de Ujfalvy-Bourdon to learn of these great mountains – they’d been there for centuries, shimmering in the awareness of monks and scholars. And as soon as ordinary folk could travel abroad, it was a monk who was among the first to translate such vague aspirations into action. Indeed, Kawaguchi Ekai (1866-1945) was already well on his way to Lhasa when the Japanese version of the Frenchwoman’s book came out.

But Kawaguchi’s exploits belong more to the history of exploration. For would-be climbers in the Himalaya, the key influencer – as we would call him today – was Kanokogi Kazunobu (1884-1949). 

More than most, Kanokogi (right) was a bundle of paradoxes. During the war with Russia, as a young naval officer and a practising Christian, he is said to have stopped his vessel, against orders, to rescue shipwrecked sailors from the enemy fleet. Later he renounced Christianity and signed up with the Yūzonsha, an ultra-nationalist group and a pulpit from which he inveighed against liberalism, democracy and individualism.

After his naval service, Kanokogi launched into an academic career, studying philosophy at Kyoto, then Columbia, where he wrote a master’s thesis on Nietzsche (1910), and finally Jena in Germany, where he married the German-Polish daughter of a philologist and wrote up a doctoral thesis on the philosophy of religion (1912) – you can still buy a reprint of this book today. By the time the First World War broke out, he was back in Tokyo teaching philosophy at Keio.

Along the way, the young philosopher had picked up a good knowledge of the Alps. In 1911, he’d set out from Jena on a walking tour of the usual Swiss tourist spots, distilling these experiences into a book entitled Alpine Travels (アルプス行). This recommended him to Maki "Yūkō" Aritsune, who signed him up as a kind of advisor or elder to the mountaineering club he was founding at Keio in 1915. As to where alpinism fitted into Kanokogi’s broad range of interests, a professor who has studied his thought says that

Kanokogi found respite from his anxieties concerning Japanese society in his frequent mountain-climbing expeditions. Yet even those escapes were related to his political outlook, for his love of the mountains, which he acquired in Germany, was inspired by a Nietzschean quest for enlightenment upon craggy peaks. Other German influences were also at play: contact with nature held an important role in volkisch thought, a hodgepodge of romanticism and nationalism that contributed to Nazi ideology. Kanokogi considered the mountains an appropriate environment to hone the qualities necessary in the future leaders of his totalitarian state. It was thus to prepare a generation of students for service as philosopher-kings that he founded alpinist clubs at Keio and at Tokyo Imperial University.

In 1918, Kanokogi resigned from Tokyo University, where he'd also helped to found a mounaineering club, and travelled to India. Given a miserly 15 day permit to visit the Kanchenjunga region, he managed to climb a minor peak of 4,810 metres – the first Himalayan ascent by any Japanese citizen. Then, before he could get in touch with Indian pro-independence activists – another purpose of his journey – he was arrested by the British authorities and deported back to Japan. Nevertheless, he’d shown young mountaineers that Himalayan peaks could be reached and climbed.

View of Nanda Kot, from the 1936 expedition

One who got Kanokogi’s message – at least, the mountaineering part – was Mita Yukio (1900-1991). As a founder member of the Keio mountaineering club, he joined Maki in pioneering winter climbing and ski mountaineering – indeed, it was Mita who skied through a blizzard to Tateyama Onsen to raise the alarm after Maki’s party got into trouble in January 1923.

Despite this tragedy, which resulted in the death of Itakura Katsunobu, Maki saw these excursions as training for the Greater Ranges: after his return from the Mittelegi Ridge in 1921 he visited Yamamoto Isoroku, soon to become famous as a proponent of naval air power, to ask if the oxygen masks used by military aviators might be adapted for Himalayan climbers.

In the summer of 1925, Maki took Mita along with Hayakawa Tanezō and three Swiss guides to make the first ascent of Mt Alberta (3,619m) in the Canadian Rockies. By this time, Mita had graduated from Keio and had decided to join a trading company. He did well in business, ultimately rising to headup the Singapore branch of Iwai Sangyō, a forerunner of Nisshō Iwai and hence today's Sojitz.

Unsurprisingly for an alpinist of his calibre, Mita’s professional success did nothing to dull his Himalayan ambitions. A posting to India put the Himalaya within closer reach and, in the winter of 1931, he got as far as the Rohtang Pass (3,980m) with a party of 13 porters and sirdars. Alas, the weather prevented the planned ascent of a nearby peak of 4,500 metres, which Mita saw as a preliminary to attempting Kanchenjunga. And then his hard-won three weeks of leave were over.

Porting loads on Nanda Kot, 1936

In the end, Mita could do nothing more than look on as expeditions from Europe fanned out into the Himalaya. In 1931 alone, Paul Bauer led his second expedition to Kanchenjunga, and Frank Smythe succeeded on Kamet (7,756 m), the highest peak anybody had so far climbed. Mita reported on these and other expeditions to his colleagues in Japan, exhorting them to train for expeditions in the winter mountains.

Mita’s frustrations were widely shared. In June 1931, three former students of Kyoto’s elite Third High School had set up the Academic Alpine Club of Kyoto. Their aim was specifically to climb in the Himalaya. To do so, they first had to master a new set of techniques – setting climbing camps progressively higher up the mountain until the summit was in reach. The AACK first tested this “polar method” on Mt Fuji over the 1931 year-end. But after Japan left the League of Nations two years later, the country’s growing international isolation got in the way of everybody’s Himalayan ambitions.

High on Nanda Kot in 1936

In the end, it was neither the AACK, nor Mita Yukio, but a Rikkyō University expedition that bagged Nanda Kot in October 1936, helped by an experienced crew of Sherpas led by a veteran sirdar who’d been on both Everest with the British and Kanchenjunga with the Germans. The expedition leader, Hotta Yaichi, had been inspired and encouraged by Hasegawa Denjirō, a furniture designer by appointment to the Imperial court ,who’d gone to view and photograph Mt Kailas and Nanga Parbat in 1927-28. Nanda Kot was Japan’s first and only pre-war Himalayan summit.

After the war, Kanokogi was arrested as a war criminal, spending some months languishing in Sugamo Prison until released on grounds of ill-health. Meanwhile, the members of the AACK were rekindling their Himalayan ambitions. In October 1952, Imanishi Kinji, one of the club’s founders, led a reconnaissance expedition to Manaslu (8,163m). The following year, a party led by Mita Yukio made a serious attempt on the mountain’s northeast face, reaching a height of 7,750 metres. In 1954, yet a third expedition, led by the aforesaid Hotta Yaichi, was blocked by obstructive villagers and diverted to another mountain.

Finally, in 1956, the summit was reached via the mountain’s north side, making Manaslu “Japan’s eight-thousander”. Led by Maki Yūkō, this expedition was organised by the Japanese Alpine Club, like its predecessors, but it was nonetheless an AACK man, Imanishi Toshio (no relation to Imanishi Kinji), who was the first to top out. The academicians had at last made good on their prewar Himalayan dreams. 


Yamazaki Yasuji, Nihon Tozan-shi, Hakusui-sha, 1969 reprinted 1975.

Christopher Szpilman, "Kanokogi Kazunobu: Pioneer of Platonic Fascism and Imperial Pan-Asianism", Monumenta Nipponica, vol 68, no 2, 2013.

Hito wa naze yama ni noboru no ka, volume 103, Taiyō Bessatsu: Nihon no kokoro, Heibonsha 1998.

Kinichi Yamamori, "Japanese Mountaineering in the Himalaya before and after World War II", (translated, edited and supplemented by Tom Nakamura), The Himalayan Journal, no 73, 2018.

Hotta Yaichi, "The ascent of Nanda Kot", The Himalayan Journal, no 10, 1938.

Photos of the 1936 Rikkyō University expedition to Nanda Kot are from Yama to Keikoku's Me de miru Nihon no Tozanshi.

Monday, May 1, 2023

"If we don't get to grips with this, we will lose our snowy mountains"

Switzerland’s Sonntagszeitung yesterday interviewed Zurich-based glacier researcher Matthias Huss on why another massive melting of the alpine glaciers is imminent. What follows is a summarised translation.

The Swiss glacier monitoring network GLAMOS, which Huss heads up, has inspected 15 glaciers throughout Switzerland in recent weeks. They regularly survey the major glaciers in April, because the maximum snow depth is reached around this time after the winter snowfalls. 

During last year’s measurements, Huss noticed that again there was alarmingly little snow – a factor that accelerated the historic glacier melt in the disastrous summer of 2022. At that time, more than 300 million tonnes of snow and ice meltwater flowed from Swiss glaciers in a single week in June. That's enough to fill an Olympic swimming pool every five seconds.

"What is happening now is something I have never seen before," Huss told SonntagsZeitung in September 2022. One might think that nature would ease off after such a drastic and record decline. But the new measurements that Huss and his team have taken show the contrary.

Unfortunately, practically all the glaciers are in as bad a condition this year as they were in April 2022, and in some cases even worse. Only in the very west of the country are things looking better. Across Switzerland, the measurements are once again far below average. The condition of the Swiss glaciers is now critical for the second year in a row at the start of the melting period.

So the risk of another record glacier melting is increasing. In 2022, there was as little snow in April as there is now, and that was one of the main reasons for the record melt. But there was also a very warm May, and then a hot summer. It would be less bad for the glaciers if it stays cooler this year, as in 2019 when the melting started late.

Climatologists expect even higher global temperatures this year than in 2022. The risk is very high that we will have another massive loss of glacier ice. If there is no snow in winter, there is no "food" for the glaciers, and the ice has no protective layer when the temperatures rise. This time last year, there was practically no snow on the Findel glacier above Zermatt.

The Findel Glacier above Zermatt in 2009
Photo by courtesy of Alpine Light & Structure

It's more or less the same again this year. Again, there is only a thin layer of snow on the Findel glacier, even though these measurements were taken up on the Cima di Jazzi, at 3,800 metres. This also poses a risk for the team taking the measurements, as normally there are several metres of snow up there in April. This covers the crevasses, and the GLAMOS team previously never had to rope up. But last year and this year, the crevasses were hidden under only a thin layer of snow, and there was a danger of breaking through.

Remnants of a glacier collapse, Morteratsch Glacier, 2011
Photo by courtesy of Alpine Light & Structure

This year, Huss was also on the Strahlhorn, at over 4, 000 metres – this was the first time that the monitoring programme had made snow measurements at over 4,000 metres. To their astonishment, there was no snow even at these altitudes. The bare ice showed through. It is possible that in May, when it slowly gets warmer, some more snow will accumulate. But we don't know that yet.

This may also be an effect of last year's record melt. In autumn, there was only a glassy, icy surface left on the Strahlhorn instead of a layer of old snow. On this surface, the snow didn't stand a chance in the winds up there. It was simply blown away, and this was seen very impressively.

As this was the first measurement to be made above 4,000 metres, Huss can’t say how often this has happened. But it is clear that at these altitudes the glacier has to feed on snow. Ice is always lost in the lower part, even in cooler years, and this must be compensated for in the upper part. If a glacier receives too little or no snow in winter, then it can't accumulate. So if it's losing mass at 4,000 metres, no glacier can withstand that in the long term. No snow, no glaciers, it's very simple.

It has been raining at lower altitudes for the past week, and there was an appreciable catch-up in snowfall during April. However, the measurements made by GLAMOS show that this was not enough to make up for the overall deficit of the dry winter.

The Jungfraujoch in 2017
Photo by courtesy of Alpine Light & Structure

On the Jungfraujoch (3,463 metres), for example, snow measurements have been taken every year since 1921 using exactly the same method. Up till now, the snow that falls there in winter has always melted only partially in summer, allowing the glacier to accumulate. But last summer, for the first time ever, more snow melted than had fallen the winter before. So for the first time there was a loss on the Jungfraujoch. That was also because there was so little snow in 2022. This winter, however, GLAMOS found even less snow in the same places at the end of March.

In the west of Switzerland this winter, there were some weather conditions in December and January that brought a lot of snow. That's why, for example, the Tsanfleuron glacier near Les Diablerets is even a little above average. But conditions are particularly bad in the southern Valais, in Ticino and in the Engadine. On the Pers glacier right next to Morteratsch, there should be over two metres of snow on the tongue at this time. GLAMOS often found less than one metre.

Of the 20 glaciers that GLAMOS measures precisely, the team had to stop measuring three last year. In 2023, the team will probably also have to give up the measurements on the St Annafirn glacier above Andermatt. Not because the glacier is completely gone, but because it has simply collapsed so much. It is dissolving and is now only covered by debris. It is no longer worthwhile to continue measuring. It would also be too dangerous because of the falling rocks from the unstable rock faces. Last year, boulders were falling continuously.

Switzerland’s small glaciers will be lost, even if global warming is limited to 1.5 degrees, and that is already a huge challenge for the international community. “We have to try to stabilise the climate in such a way that we can at least still save the large glaciers. If we don't manage that, we will lose our snowy mountains. In summer we will have only grey rubble,” Huss says.

Huss is campaigning for the adoption of the Climate Change Act, on which Swiss citizens vote on 18 June. Opponents say that the law is too expensive, that a different path should be taken. Huss comments that “We definitely don't have time to debate for decades. We have been talking about climate change for at least 30 years now. The climate models have been confirmed and we are already suffering from extreme events worldwide. We have to act now.”

“When you stand on a glacier like this, when you go to the same place again and again and see how quickly the landscape is changing, it becomes very clear. And for us in Switzerland, climate protection is also landscape conservation. If we want to preserve our beautiful Alpine panorama, if we still want to ski in winter instead of sliding down white synthetic snowchutes, then we have to stop climate change. As a wealthy country, Switzerland can and must make its contribution here. And we can afford to pay for it. In the long run, this will pay off in any case.”


Oliver Zihlmann,  «Wenn wir das nicht schaffen, dann verlieren wir unsere weissen Berge», Interview with Matthias Huss, head of GLAMOS (Swiss glacier monitoring programme), published on Sonntagszeitung website on 29 April 2023.