National Geographic : 1969 Jul
Every muscle strained to the limit, Swiss yeomen strive to toss a 184-pound boulder -the Unspunnen stone-at the Unspunnenfest near Interlaken last August. Some 25 contestants managed to heave the huge stone, which bears chiseled and painted dates marking previous competitions. The winning throw measured 3.02 meters-9 feet 10.9 inches-a new record. Held approximately once a decade, the contest and festival were first staged in 1805 to rally patriotic spirit. we walked up along the last sharp snow ridge onto the top. Here, nearly three miles high, the air was crystal clear. With my binoculars I could easily see details on the slopes of Mont Blanc in France and make out Monte Viso rising above Italy's Po River a hundred miles away. To the north lay the jumble of peaks and plateaus called Switzerland. Switzerland is not large-all of it would fit easily into Ver mont and New Hampshire, with room left over. It seemed as if I could see the whole country down there between my boots. Misty Hills Hide Humming Cities The view of Switzerland from the Matter horn is mostly sweeping glaciers and jagged peaks, the roof and ramparts of this Alpine republic. Her tidy villages and humming cities are hidden in steep valleys and behind misty hills. But to know Switzerland you must first know her mountains-these giants that shaped her perspective and left their in delible stamp on her character, her culture, and her history. The same Alps that divided Europe united Switzerland.* The Matterhorn is not a difficult climb for experienced Alpinists. It was first scaled in 1865 by a party of Englishmen and their guides; now, in a good year, as many as 2,500 70 climbers reach the top. But along the way I saw small markers to some of the 125 climb ers who have been killed on this giant arrow head of a mountain (page 108). Down past the snow line and ridges of rock the climb unwound, past the hut where we had spent the night and along the moraine to the upper meadows bright with gentians and buttercups. The rest was a walk. I looked back. The Matterhorn was now spewing clouds from its sharp point. A late afternoon blizzard was raging on the summit we had left so sunny. But here, a mile lower, the air was thick and warm and fresh. Soon we were walking through the first bent shrubs, then forests of pine, and finally the friendly stir of the village. Often had I visited Switzerland, drawn mainly by these mountains. Yet like many of the millions of tourists who arrive each year, I had neglected the Swiss. It's easy to do. They are an unobtrusive people not given to mixing with strangers. This time I would stay longer and try to learn more about my hosts. Altogether I spent three months poking into every one of the cantons (map, page 72), *See, in NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC: "The Alps: Man's Own Mountains," by Ralph Gray, September 1965; "Sur prising Switzerland," by Jean and Franc Shor, October 1956; and "Switzerland Guards the Roof of Europe," by William H. Nicholas, August 1950.