Photo Friday: Glaciers in the Canton of Valais

The canton of Valais in Switzerland features ten of the 12 highest summits in the Alps. Alpine photographer Fiona Bunn’s 2019 calendar includes many of these 4,000-meter peaks found in Valais. Her images, all captured this past year, include the largest glacier in the Alps. The Aletsch is situated in the Bernese Alps and is 23 kilometers long.

The Aletsch Glacier, known in German as Grosser Aletschgletscher (Source: Fiona Bunn).

 

Fifty kilometers south, is the Grenz glacier, which flows between the Monte Rosa and Lyskamm mountains of the Pennine Alps.

Monte Rosa at 4,634 meters (Source: Fiona Bunn).

 

The 4,357 meter Dent Blanche at dawn (Source: Fiona Bunn).

 

Bunn recently reflected on changing mountain landscapes in a guest post to GlacierHub: “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.”

Indigenous Valais black-nosed sheep (Source: Fiona Bunn).

 

Lyskamm at 4527 meters and Grenz Glacier (Source: Fiona Bunn).

 

There is a special discount of 10 percent for GlacierHub readers. The alpine calendar is printed on premium photo paper, size 30 x 20 cms (A4). Price £9.99 P&P UK £5, ROW £7. To receive the special discount order via fibunnphotos@gmail.com. Payment either by Paypal or invoicing via direct transfer or check. All images copyright Fi Photos.

Fiona Bunn is a British and Swiss alpine photographer. For more of Fiona Bunn’s work, visit her website at www.fiphotos.org.

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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 www.fiphotos.org.

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

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Glaciers, Geoheritage and Geotourism

Painting of The Great Eiger, as seen from Wengernalp in Valais (Source: Maximilien de Meuron/Creative Commons).
Painting of The Great Eiger, as seen from Wengernalp in Valais (Source: Maximilien de Meuron/Creative Commons).

The Valais in southern Switzerland is a mountainous canton that draws tourists each year for its spectacular scenery, including some of the largest glaciers in the central Alps. From a recent article written by Emmanual Reynard in Geoheritage and Geotourism, we learn that more than half of the canton’s workforce are employed by the tourism sector. Valais has long been a tourist hub in Switzerland, attracting sightseers and skiers to the two alpine ranges that lie on either side of the canton. This landscape played an important role in European art and literature, and Valais is also known as a key site for the development of glaciology. Tourists venture to the province not only for a glimpse of frosted peaks such as the famous Matterhorn and Weisshorn, but also to engage with the canton’s long history of geotourism and geoheritage which dates back to the 1800s. 

Winter Tourism, 1900-1910 - Mediatheque Valais
Winter tourism in Valais, 1900-1910 (Source: Mediatheque Valais).

The word geoheritage originates from the term “geological heritage,” and is defined by the diversity of geological features within a region. The Geological Society of America (GSA) applies the term to scientifically and educationally significant sites or areas with geologic features such as distinctive rocks, minerals and landforms. Geotourism is the exploration of such places.

Sarah Strauss, an anthropologist at the University of Wyoming, has conducted extensive research in the Valais region. She believes that geoheritage is “very similar to landscape and a sense of place that is specific to the geologic rather than the broader environmental context.” Moreover, geoheritage is valuable because it permits geotourism. Canton Valais’s long history with tourism has reinforced its status as a geotourism hot-spot as climbers and hikers come to experience this glacial history for themselves.  

Painting depicting geotourism, 1868 (Source: Médiathèque Valais).
Painting depicting geotourism, 1868 (Source: Médiathèque Valais).

As the GSA explains, “geological sites are critical to advancing knowledge about natural hazards, groundwater supply, soil processes, climate and environmental changes, evolution of life, mineral and energy supplies, and other aspects of the nature and history of Earth.” These sites should be protected and cherished for their natural beauty and importance. The tourism industry in Valais continues to celebrate its geoheritage through geotourism.

The complex geology of Valaisthe result of uplift and compression when the Alps first formed 20 to 40 million years ago has made it a site of geoheritage throughout the centuries. Today, tourists and hikers can view crystalline and carbonate rocks formed millions of years ago on trails rising 800 to over 4,200 meters in elevation. Moreover, the region contains glacial valleys and horn peaks, as well as moraines, the masses of dirt and rocks deposited by glaciers.

The Aletsch region of Valais is a UNESCO World Heritage site and is heralded as a site of outstanding natural and cultural importance. This region makes up the most glaciated part of the High Alps along with Jungfrau and Bietschhorn. The Aletsch is also home to the largest glacier in Europe. “While the Matterhorn is impressive, the Aletsch region is equally remarkable,” Strauss recalled to GlacierHub. “There were chapels and hotels built at the tongue of the glaciers.”

Chapel (lower left quadrant) was built in 19th c. next to glacier in Dalatal. By 2003, it was far from the remnants of the same glacier (the upper right quadrant) (Source: Sarah Strauss).

Tourists that journey to Canton Valais will not be disappointed by the geologically significant province which embraces its geoheritage wholeheartedly. If you are unable to make the journey to Switzerland any time soon, enjoy pictures from the Valais tourism website here.

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