Alpine Photographer Reflects on Changing Face of Mountain Landscapes

We live in an incredible world, with increasing access to mountain regions which have previously been remote apart from all but their indigenous inhabitants. During a time period of around 150 years, which has witnessed the birth of alpinism as both an extreme sport and adventurous scientific exploration, the mountain landscapes have had their own process of change, which appears to be accelerating, and from which there can be no return.

The glaciers I visited as a child 30 years ago are retreating and the permafrost which has held majestic summits in place is melting, leading to ugly scars and new unforeseen landscapes.

Lyskamm 4527m & ski tourer (Source: Fiona Bunn).


Mountain landscapes have long had a powerful ability to produce storytellers, adventurers and, I would contend, community. From John Muir to Ansel Adams, naturalist to photographer, mountains engender a passionate advocacy and magnetic attraction; and this was many years before the current noticeable deterioration that has provoked climate debates.

Glacial and summit prophets predicted the separation of the soul to materialism and destruction of sacred places which both remind us of our “smallness” and our own breath taking elevation as we lift our eyes. Which naturally leads me to ask how can the current community of mountaineers move forward as advocates?

Taschhorn 4491m (Source: Fiona Bunn).


Many who appreciate mountains would not even consider themselves as the latter. Some could be deemed purely as adventure consumers rather than conservationists. Even so, their shared experiences of climbs, tales of survival in risky situations and appreciation of natural beauty defines them at least as active participants.

Furthermore, this community is growing and also easy to participate in, through social media groups, alpine clubs, popular outdoor magazines and research organizations such as CRED and the National Geographic Society.

Dent Blanche – OberGabelhorn – Zinalrothorn – Weisshorn (Source: Fiona Bunn).


My hope is that new John Muirs and Ansel Adams will arise, who encourage aesthetic appreciation and conservation of these sacred places. We may not be able to reverse a climate catastrophe, but we can be aware of those documenting change and supportive of the indigenous communities with creative solutions and investment.

So, in closing, how do mountains make me feel as an alpinist and photographer? Safe. Small. Hopeful.


Fiona Bunn is a British and Swiss alpine photographer. The featured images were captured in the Pennine Alps, Valais, Switzerland. For more of Fiona Bunn’s work, visit her website at

Fiona will be exhibiting her work in January 2019 for one month in Hampshire, UK. Contact her via her sign up form at for updates on her gallery events. She also now has a regular photographic column in the British edition of the Swiss Review magazine.

Photo Friday: The Alpine Photographer

Fiona Bunn, a British and Swiss Alpine landscape photographer, is committed to creating awareness of human impacts on glacier landscapes.

“My alpine photography highlights both the ageless grandeur of the Alps, yet also its innate vulnerability to humankind’s impact,” says Fiona on her work.

Her photographs are inspired by her childhood visits and explorations of Swiss mountains and interest in arts and graphic design.

The glaciers I visited as a child are now rapidly shrinking. I actually remember the physical shock of seeing the degradation in the size of the Grenz Glacier when I returned to the Valais region of Switzerland some years after my visits as a child. There is an active debate surrounding this; my main hope is that featuring the beautiful Alps and glaciers through my photography will also draw our attention to those who live there. These alpine communities livelihoods depends upon the glaciers which created these beautiful landscapes. Such extreme melt is an indicator of something drastically changing in our climate. It has gone beyond reversal in my opinion, but we can at least seek to preserve what remains as much as possible,” says Fiona Bunn.

Fiona’s photographs have been exhibited at the Menier Gallery and the Brick Lane Gallery, in London, as part of the Milan Expo, and also in the Alpine Museum in Zermatt.

For more of her work, visit her website, and follow her on Facebook, Twitter [@alpineclick]
and Instagram [@fi_bee24].  

Fiona has also recently released her 2018 calendar, which is available to GlacierHub readers at a 20 percent discount using the code GlacierHub18

30 x 20 cms ~ £12.79 ~ A saving of £3.20 (usual price £15.99)

20 x 20 cms ~ £10.41 ~ A saving of £2.58 (usual price £12.99)

Prices include postage and packing for the UK and worldwide.

View of the Grenz Glacier from Breithorn Summit (4164 m) (Source: Fiona Bunn).


View of Breithorn summit (4164 m) of the Pennine Alps (Source: Fiona Bunn)


Pollux mountain (4092 m) on the Pennine Alps (Source: Fiona Bunn)


Dawn on the 4000 m Alpine peaks (Source: Fiona Bunn).


Enduring Benefits of Endurance Races

A map of the trail, which spans a section of the alps in both Italy and Switzerland (Source: Trace de Trail).
A map of the trail, which spans a section of the alps in both Italy and Switzerland (Source: Trace de Trail).

Sporting events, both major and minor, can have significant impacts on host communities. A recent study published by Stefano Duglio and Riccardo Beltramo in the journal Sustainability examines the social and economic impacts of CollonTrek, a mountain endurance race in the Italian and Swiss Alps. The results reveal that this minor event generates significant economic benefits for the host communities and the wider area, while indirect benefits include the extension of the summer tourist season.

CollonTrek is held bi-annually on the first weekend of September. The last race occurred in 2015, and the next will be held on September 8-9th of this year. Participants compete in pairs (they register in pairs and both participants have to cross the finish line), traversing 22 km on foot between Valpelline in Italy, and the Val D’Herens in Switzerland. The trail follows a centuries-old path through the Pennine Alps used by smugglers, ending in the municipality of Arolla in Switzerland.

The trail crosses a variety of terrains, from mountain paths, hiking paths, roads, and the Arolla Glacier. The path across the glacier accounts for about one-sixth of the race, making the CollonTrek more challenging. Participants require special equipment such as crampons— metal plates with spikes fixed to a boot for walking on ice— to cross the glacier.

Participants in the CollonTrek have to cross the Arolla Glacier using crampons (Source: MattW / Creative Commons).
Participants in the CollonTrek have to cross the Arolla Glacier using crampons (Source: MattW/Creative Commons).

Events like CollonTrek are considered minor events, as they generate relatively little media interest, limited economic activity (compared to major events like the Olympics or tennis grand slam tournaments), and do not attract large crowds of spectators. Spectators do not pay to watch the race, but economic benefits accrue to host communities due to expenditure on accommodation, food and fuel.

The researchers used a combination of official data from the CollonTrek organization and a survey of 180 athletes who took part in the 2015 race to evaluate the economic and social impacts of the race. The data revealed that €11,000 (about $11,637) of public funds invested by the host municipalities generated revenue of about €200,000 (about $214,000). Around a third of this amount accrued directly to host communities.

Indirect economic benefits arise because of increased visibility of the host regions. For example, foreign participants who made up more than two-thirds of the participants surveyed expressed a desire to return to the area for tourism in the future. This event also extends the summer tourist season into September, generating more tourist revenue.

The trail crosses a variety of terrains in the Pennine Alps (Source: Pierre Thomas/Creative Commons).
The trail crosses a variety of terrains in the Pennine Alps (Source: Pierre Thomas/Creative Commons).

In conversation with GlacierHub, Duglio explained that this increase in tourism activity also helps to sustain the livelihoods of these communities, reducing depopulation of the mountain regions and helping to maintain their way of life. The race also had the effect of improving community pride, as reported by local athletes who constituted nearly a third of participants surveyed.

Climate change could affect certain segments of the race, particularly as Arolla Glacier has been retreating over the past century. “Climate change will not have much influence on the [rest of the] race, even if the passage on the glacier gives a very particular attraction to this race,” said Christian, a member of the organizing committee. “This race segment will simply be reduced if the glacier shrinks.”

Duglio also stated, “The most important aspect [of climate change] that the organizing committee will have to take into account for the future is related to the participants’ safety both in terms of mountain paths and weather conditions. We do not think, however, that climate change will bring these kind of races to a stop, at least not in the coming years.”

The research, though limited to a specific event, suggests that minor sporting events represent a form of economically and socially sustainable sports tourism activity.

Registration for the race opened last Saturday, and as Christian informed GlacierHub, “The best way to understand the race is to participate. It is an extraordinary adventure.” Check out CollonTrek’s Facebook page for more information.