Report: 1. Lötschental

The Lötschental (Lötschen Valley) is the watershed of the river Lonza, which flows southwest from the massive glacial complexes of the high Alps down into the Rhone. At its upper end lies the Langgletscher ("Long Glacier") —

1. A typical foreshortened view of the Langgletscher from further down the Lötschental.

— visible from almost every point within the main part of the valley. The exit from the Lötschental into the Rhone region is steep and difficult, and although there are ways to travel north into the Bernese Oberland from the valley, they are all arduous. For this reason the Lötschental was particularly isolated for a long time, even by Swiss Alps standards, and its inhabitants often never once left the confines of the valley. The Lötschentalers still speak a highly distinct form of Swiss German difficult for even other Swiss to understand, and they are perhaps best-known for a unique kind of cultural artifact, namely, frightening wooden masks made to stave off evil spirits. Until well into the 20th century, the Lötschental was an impoverished area, primarily agricultural, with farmers struggling to subsist in the rugged alpine environment. Seeing that environment firsthand, especially with the added effect of relatively fresh damage from widespread landslides that ravaged the slopes a few years ago, it's easy to see why an isolated life in the Lötschental would have been difficult.

The Lötschental's human settlement comprises four primary villages, small but densely populated, with many tiny outlying hamlets at various elevations. Its buildings are in line with the general style of the upper Valais, despite the valley's relative isolation from the rest of the region. The older buildings are almost always made of wood, and their construction style is known as Blockbau, "block construction." Structurally, it is similar to American log construction: beams are stacked on top of one another and interlocked at the corners, and the walls are built up from these beams. The principal difference is that the beams are rectangular in section, not round logs. Blockbau is the most widespread style over most of the alpine region; it is the style of the archetypal Swiss chalet. Another universal characteristic of Blockbau, as well as of most other Swiss buildings, is that basic supports for the roof are large horizontal beams rather than rafters. These beams are an integral part of the wall construction. They are buttressed, often quite ornamentally, by cantilevered stacks of wall beams underneath them in order to support the typically large roof overhangs.

2. A small house in typical Blockbau style, Blatten, Lötschental.

Above, you can see the interlocking of the wall beams at each corner, as well as the buttressed roof beams. In classic Blockbau, interior partitions may be built up out of stacked beams at the same time as outer walls and likewise interlocked. The result can be seen in the front of the house below.

3. Blatten, Lötschental.

The overall impression of the villages of the Lötschental (with the exception of Wiler, which suffered a devastating fire in the early 20th century and had to be rebuilt) is that of dark, rustic, archaic beauty; you almost feel as though you could be in the year 1805 rather than 2005 (see below). That is, if you ignore the cars and satellite dishes.

4. A pile of houses, Ferden, Lötschental.