Swiss Review 4/2022

THEODORA PETER “The ground rumbled and shook. It was like an earthquake.” The now-retired Edi Schläppi was working as a road inspector on 22 August 2005, the day when 500,000 cubic metres of rocks and earth thundered down from the Rotlouwi ravine into the valley from the mountains above. It had been raining heavily for days, but no one in Guttannen was prepared for such a cataclysmic event, Schläppi included. “I can barely describe what it was like,” he says. Schläppi was called out to inspect the cantonal road just above the village. An avalanche of rocks and mud had rolled several hundreds of metres down into the valley floor and on to the road. It had stopped the River Aare in its path – and redirected it towards the village. The water level in the church was one metre. A corresponding water mark and a sign reading “Die Aare kommt” (The Aare is coming) now commemorate what happened 17 Guttannen won’t give up Guttannen in the Bernese Oberland is used to harsh winters complete with avalanches. Climate change now raises the additional spectre of debris flows, but the inhabitants of this Alpine village want to stay put. years ago. The village church is today one of 28 stops on a theme trail called “Das Wetter und wir” (The weather and us). Inaugurated in 2021, the trail starts in front of the village hall and winds around Guttannen for almost three kilometres. The information signs contain a QR code for downloading audio content. In these recordings, villagers – including Schläppi – recount their personal experience of natural events and the local climate, e.g. avalanches in winter, debris flows in summer, and the föhn winds that blow for over a hundred days a year from the direction of the Grimsel Pass. Melting permafrost The theme trail also passes underneath the Rotlouwi. Since the 2005 debris flow, this flank of the mountain has been continually in flux. One of the reasons is climate change. Not only are rising temperatures accelerating the In August 2005, the River Aare flowed through the middle of the village of Guttannen, flooding streets and cellars with mud. Archive photo Swiss Review / August 2022 / No.4 22 Nature and the environment