Yesterday I went out for a walk with our guests, Pat, David, Katie and Fergus. They have done quite a bit of walking in and around our valley, so I suggested a route that they had never done before – into and along the Val de Rèchy. To avoid a huge climb, we drove the car as high as we were allowed, along the tracks leading up to Lovégno and parked up. Nevertheless, with two short, but sharp, detours up to the Becca de Lovegno and Mont Noble, we still ascended around 1200m or 4,000ft in total.
As I hope you all know by now, I’m always looking to find somewhere new to show you. So today I have a treat… In that this is the first time I’ve ever done this walk, which heads up from Arolla towards the Vignette Hut. However, ordinaray walkers, (i.e. without crampons and a Mountain guide) need to stop at the Pièce Glacier. It’s a bit of a climb, but well worth it for the great views of the Arolla valley and the surrounding mountains. 🙂
Every two years, our village plays host to the CIME (Célébration Interculturelles de la Montagne, Evolène) festival, where musicians and dancers from different mountain areas around the world come to perform and make friends. This year, there were representatives from Russia (Urals), Poland (Tatras), Uganda (Rwenzori), Spain (Montserrat), India (Mont Girnar) and Bolivia (Andes). As well as impromptu shows in the local villages and organised evening performances over the 5 days, the Festival ends on the day of Assumption (15th August) with a procession through the village of the performers inter-mingled with local people in their traditional Val d’Hérens costumes.
Last Friday was another beautiful day in the Saas valley, so I made another attempt to walk up to the end of the valley and look into Italy – but, (unlike on the Tuesday), this time to the Monte Moro Pass. The distant ridge was completely clear when I arrived at Mattmark, but 2 hours later, when I reached the pass, the clouds were coming and going. So I never did get to see Monte Rosa (or Dufourspitze). At 4,634m (15,203 ft) it lies between Italy and Switzerland and is the second highest mountain in the Alps and western Europe (after Mont Blanc of course).
There were, however, lots of excitable and rather noisy Italians at the top and some mountain bikers, who had decided to pop over to Switzerland for the day. They passed me going down some very steep rocks (carrying their bikes), so I have no action shots of them cycling down the descent I’m afraid.
This is the last in this “Saas” series. Normal Val d’Hérens service will be resumed in the next few days, (when it stops raining!)
Possibly the most interesting and certainly informative walk of our week was the ‘Flower Trail’ which runs from the top of the gondola lift at Kreuzboden to the Almergelleralp, From there it’s quite a steep drop down to Saas Almagell. As you will know, I often post pictures of wild flowers and this walk pretty much had every one that I must have posted over the years. But even then there were some new plants that I had never seen before. All the way along the route, there were information boards, but not all of the plants were covered. So, unfortunately, I haven’t had the chance to look up and name each of the images below, (life’s too short), but I thought it better to show them than not, to give you a flavour for the diversity and abundance of flowers (and bugs) on show in the Alps at this time of the year.
Sometimes I wish I could add sound to some of my photos, to bring you the full effect of the moment or scene. (OK, I guess I could do a video, but…) This applies here as, for this walk, I had to cross a raging torrent of meltwater, which was already overflowing the bridge. (See pics 7-9). As you will see, the huge volume of water cascading down was just missing the bridge. The incredible noise as it rumbled and crashed down the valley made it quite scary to cross.
It had been a warm week, but it also shows how much the glaciers must be melting. The stream next to our campsite was but a trickle in the morning (after some very cold nights) but by the afternoon, it was also running very fast and deep.
Last Tuesday (1st August) was Swiss National Day. In Saas Grund, the traditional procession wasn’t due to start until 4pm, so I hoped to be back from my walk in time to watch it go by. I’d planned to go over the Ofental Pass into Italy, then along a (quite precipitous) ridge and return down the Furggtall valley. However, when I got off the Postbus at Mattmark, the wind was blowing a gale (which isn’t good if you plan to be exposed on a ridge) and I could see the distant mountains were engulfed in clouds. (See pics 1 and 2 for the contrast in weather). So, a re-think was required, and a quick scan of the map revealed a nice walk, with a 671m / 2,200 ft climb, to the Schwartzbergchopf.
On the way, the signposts also said it was the way to the Britannia Hut. But, to get there, I knew that you had to cross a glacier (or two in fact) but I didn’t think I was equipped to take on that challenge. At least that was until I saw several other groups coming the other way (including a family with 2 young children) without ropes or crampons or a guide… After catching up with a group just above the glacier, a very nice lady explained that it was perfectly safe to cross as long as you followed the blue posts which had been placed at around 30m/yard intervals. She even pointed out a group of walkers who were already crossing, (see pic 10).
Now, regular readers will know that I have already been across a glacier (twice) with my mate Pete. (Indeed I’ve walked up the Aletsch glacier – but that was with crampons and a guide!) But this seemed different somehow… Anyway, my concerns were unfounded, as there were no gaping chasms (aka crevasses) for me to fall into and there was quite a re-assuring crunch underfoot as I stepped across. To my surprise, (and relief after our experiences last year), despite there being some meltwater running down the glacier, it was not slippery at all.
From the Britannia Hut there was a third glacier to cross (also waymarked) before I took the path to Plattjen, where I caught the gondola lift back down to Saas Fee and, from there, walked to Saas Grund, just in time to catch the procession. 😊
Day 2 saw us take the Kapellenweg, or Chapel Trail, up to Saas Fee. The route has 15 small chapels, each depicting a scene from the Bible. Just below Saas Fee, there is the much larger pilgrimage Chapel of Mercy called St Mary of the High Steps (Maria zur Hohen Stiege), which was originally built in 1687, but extended with an Italianate portico in 1747.
From Saas Fee we took the gondola and telecabine lifts up to the Langflue mountain hut/restaurant at 2,869m or 9,413 ft. Given it’s position overlooking the valley and Fee glacier, it’s not surprising that the views are simply stunning. But the best part for us was spotting a group of young marmots playing in the rocks. (How they survive at that altitude, I’ll never know). Their parents must have been fast asleep, as they played happily only a few metres away from our feet. My apologies for posting so many pictures of them, but it’s not often you get that close and they are such cute creatures!
There are many, many beautiful places to go walking in Switzerland, but there can’t be many finer than the Saas valley. It’s the lesser known neighbour of the famous Zermatt valley (turn left instead of right at Stalden) and it’s surrounded by no less than 18 four thousand metre (13,123 ft) peaks.
Judith and I had a week ‘spare’ and, as it’s only 1h 20 mins drive away (though only about 35km / 20 miles as the crow flies) from our home here in Evolène, we decided to go camping at the Mischabel Campsite in Saas Grund. A huge bonus for anyone staying in the area for two or more nights, is that you get free lift and bus passes during your stay. This saves an awful lot of leg work I can tell you!
So, for our first adventure, we took the Hohsaas lift up to over 3,100m / 10,000 ft, where we marvelled at the mountaineers descending from the Weissmies and wandered around the 1.1 km / 1,200 yard loop which has information boards describing the first ascents of all the major Peaks, before we walked down to the small hamlet of Triftalp.