In the early days of mountain recreation most of the Alps were referred to by some people generically as ‘Switzerland’, even if they were actually in France or Italy or Austria etc. It was a descriptive term to describe the stunning high peaks.
The big mountains had been feared for millenia as places of danger and homes to beasts and dragons. Nobody had been to the tops and imaginations ran wild. People feared that there would be no oxygen. Myths and fables were vivid and terrifying.
As people gained wealth and leisure time in the 18th and 19th centuries walking in the mountains became popular. People wrote poetically about the alpine splendors.
The big peaks were magnets for alpine adventurers. The Alpine Club of England actively pursued reaching the summits. Local guides were highly valued for their mountain knowledge. Huge egos and intense competition surrounded first ascents.
Mont Blanc near Chamonix, France being the tallest peak in western Europe (~4808 m or 15,771 ft.) was the biggest draw. The early climbers used large crews of guides and porters to carry the crude equipment and scientific instruments. Many of them carried out experiments to test the myths and collect basic data. They slept in the mountains rolled up in heavy carpets. A typical attempt on Mont Blanc also required dozens of bottles of wine and large piles of meat, cheese, and other food.
After Mont Blanc was conquered the elite climbers moved their sights to the other iconic peaks such as the Matterhorn, the Eiger, and Jungfrau, all of which are in Switzerland.
There are great but terrifying stories of the obsessions for these peaks. The stories are told very well by Fergus Fleming in Killing Dragons The Conquest of the Alps where most of this information came from. One group of climbers lost three men down the sheer upper rock face of the Matterhorn. They hadn’t been able to obtain the type of rope they wanted and were desperate to reach the summit during a break in the weather, so a portion of the team was using a rope the size of a common clothes line. It didn’t hold.
The mountain villages at the base of the big peaks became destinations for hikers and climbers. The Eiger and Jungfrau are both in one chain near one another. Grindlewald, Switzerland served as a base for attempts on The Eiger. Wengen, Switzerland is nearer to Jungfrau.
Today you can take an electric train up the canyon wall of the Lauterbrunnen Valley to reach Wengen. Cars are not allowed. It is a famous ski village and home of the Alpine Skiing World Cup race called the Lauberhorn downhill. Between the winter and summer holiday seasons it is a quiet and beautiful place. You can hear the many waterfalls in the distance, wind in the trees, and bird songs, but not traffic noise.
The mountain lodge in this photo is in Wengen. It is a storybook beautiful village. From the balconies of this lodge you can see Jungfrau and other incredible peaks. Residents take pride in their homes and lodges. Even firewood is stacked in artistic displays. The mountain trains, cable cars, and hiking trails provide access to amazing country. I guess we are those kind of people who enjoy looking at the mountains and are not brave enough or driven enough to need to climb them. But the stories about those who are, are spellbinding, especially after seeing the mountains ourselves.
There are more photos of Switzerland in the Photo Gallery at my website: www.earthmapphoto.com