Image: SenseFly

Mapping the Matterhorn

A six-hour 3D modeling of the Alps’ most famous peak is one way drone planes are being beaten into plowshares. /

Eiger, Muench, and Jungfrau tower over the little mountain town of Wengen, Switzerland. Three of the world’s largest mountains rise nearly 12,000 feet above sea level and 9,000 feet above Wengen. The Eiger is a sheer slab of rock with an almost vertical north face, the Muench, more rounded, and the Jungfrau, covered in snow even in summer.

Working in Wengen one summer during college, I walked in their shadows every day, enthralled with their changing mood. On rainy days they were dark and shrouded in mist and visible only as bulky shapes. On other mornings they were bathed in sunlight and the snow glistened so much that it was blinding. Then in the evenings, as the sun set, the light turned to what in German is called Alpenrose, and the snow turned from a delicate pink to a purple deep as night. In the moonlight they were a dark blue, sharp against the sky and stars above them.

I’ve always wanted to see the peaks up close. But the terrain is notoriously shifty, dangerous, and mysterious.

In the local church I attended while working there, I met an avid mountaineer who tackled these massive peaks during his vacations, piquing my interest in the history of how, in the late 1700s and early 1800s, wealthy and intrepid men and women started the sport of mountain climbing.

They wore ordinary outdoor wear and leather boots—perhaps with steel plates to help grip the rock. The women climbed in divided skirts so as to show no glimpse of leg! Since they were visitors, they employed local farmers or woodsmen as guides, but even they had never ventured above the snow line.

In earlier periods of history, when these high Alpine regions were not easily accessible from the rest of Europe, they were seen as places of mystery ...

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Also in this Issue

Issue 53 / July 21, 2016
  1. Editor's Note from July 21, 2016

    Issue 53: Our drone-themed issue is abuzz with music, planes, and bees. /

  2. The Pitch Goes On

    My experiment with timeless, unchanging drone music. /

  3. The Curious Case of Lazy Bees

    What drone males really do all day. /

  4. Beautiful Drone Photos

    The world through the lenses of quadcopters and other unmanned remote aircraft.

  5. Wonder on the Web

    Issue 53: Links to amazing stuff.

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