Trans-Swiss Mountain Bike Ride, July 2011, Part 1 of 2

When I first moved over to Switzerland in 2005, I thought I was reasonably fit and active. But I soon discovered that a lot of the people in the office were what some might consider to be absolutely bonkers. It seemed like everyone was either running or cycling or swimming or all three, you name it, someone was a keen whatever. And it wasn’t just a mere jog or a few lengths of the pool, they were fanatical. Triathlons and Ironman events were their ‘standard’ events.

It was hard not to get sucked into their enthusiasm. Every year there was a ‘Tour du Lac’ Cyclotour – a bike ride around not just any old lake, but Lac Léman (or Lake Geneva if you like). It’s only 176km/110 miles! Though it’s not a ‘race’ as such, more of a challenge to yourself. “We’ll all go round together” they said and, after buying a very expensive road bike and a few training sessions, a group of about 12 of us set off hoping to break 6 hours. Needless to say I couldn’t keep up with the best of them (who did break 6 hours) and I finished in around 6 hours 40 mins.

A 9 stage Corporate ‘Gigathlon’ relay event – involving mountain biking, running up a mountain (not only to reach the snow, but through some of it too), cross country skiing, ski touring, running and mountain biking back down again, a swim in a lake, a 17km road bike ride and a 10km run – “Let’s form a team” and that was from just within our office. I was due to run the last 10k leg but, at the last minute, due our mountain runner not liking to run in snow (who does?!) I had to swap and run up and down the mountain. As I said, bonkers!

My boss at the time, Gerard, always took a week or so off work every year to do what was termed ‘The Trans-Alp’. It was legendary and involved mountain biking from A to B over passes as high as nearly 3,000m/9,840ft – not to mention haring back down again. Never having done any mountain biking, I resisted the temptation – until they mentioned going across Switzerland, from Davos to Ollon (near Montreux). “What a great way to see some of Switzerland” I thought to myself. And with 14 takers, which would be split into 4 groups (the Elite, 2 Medium level and a Beginner…) I was in. (Another expensive bike had to be purchased of course!)

Gerard decided to do it with his son, Noe, so the 2 of them and a not so fit, Pascal, formed the Beginners group and I was teamed up with the 2 organisers, Alistair and Joern. They were both experienced bikers, so I thought I’d drawn the short straw, but it wasn’t as bad as I feared. Indeed, the three weaker groups mostly stuck together and we just let the Elite group do some extra sections while the rest of us hitched a lift in the back-up minibus. 😊

As you will see from the pictures below*, it proved to be quite challenging – though more due to the weather. And if you think this looks tough – wait until you see Part 2 tomorrow… 😉

*For the record and anyone interested in the detail of this crazy pursuit, these pictures cover Day 1 from Davos to Radons Savognin via the Scalettapass; Day 2 from Radons to Safien Platz via Pass da Schmorras and Day 3 from Safien Platz to the SAC Terri mountain hut via the Pass Diesrut.

In the first picture are (L to R) Pascal, Chicco, me, Martin, Gerard, Noe, Joern, Werner, Norbert, Guy, Alistair, Stevie, Nikolaus and Jan.

Ferpècle Valley Walk, Val d’Hérens, Switzerland

On Monday, I decided to see how far I could walk up the Ferpècle valley from La Sage (where Jude dropped me off) before walking all the way back home again via Sepey and Les Haudères. I thought that I may have to turn around due to any residual snow, but I needn’t have worried, as there was hardly any at all. (I guess this just shows how warm it’s been recently).

I love the Spring, as it’s like starting all over again to discover ‘new’ flowers, bugs and butterflies every time you go out. And this walk was no exception. I should point out that I generally post photos of my ‘first sightings’ each time I see something new, (assuming I can get a picture of course – the Camberwell Beauty eluded me again on this walk). So, unless I get a particularly good photo, you shouldn’t see the same flower or butterfly again. But don’t worry, there are plenty of things out there for me to (re)-discover this season. 😊

Wainwright’s Coast to Coast, England, UK

Let me take you back to 1995, if not a little earlier than that, when my mate Colin and I had the ‘idea’ to do the English Coast to Coast walk, created and made famous by the great Alfred Wainwright, from St. Bee’s in Cumbria to Robin Hood’s Bay in North Yorkshire. Our plan was to run the 182 mile (293km) route in relay, over the space of 4 days, with one person on the route and the other driving a car to a prearranged changeover point. This way we could travel light, leaving the rest of our gear in the boot of the car, and we’d overnight in B&Bs or, preferably, Inns. 🍻👍😊

But we soon realised that there was a flaw in our grand idea – What if one of us got lost or was injured? (Remember, this was when mobile phones were still evolving even into those early ‘bricks’). Answer therefore: Recruit another two mates, called Pete and Tim, so that we’d have 2 on each leg, for a second opinion on any tricky route finding and someone to run for help, just in case. So it was that the 4 of us lined up in traditional fashion, with our toes dipped in the Irish Sea in April 1995. (See pic 1).

The event went so well, the following year we did the Offa’s Dyke Path (this time with Liam included) and in 1997, the West Highland Way (in 2 days). These were followed by The Wold’s Way (1998), where Dave was added to our happy band of runners, the Pembrokeshire Coastal Path (1999) and a trip to southern Ireland in 2000, to do parts of the Dingle Way and Beara Way, plus a hike up to the top of Carrantuohill (which scared the living daylights out of Pete. It was only then that we discovered he suffered from vertigo).

Wind forward a few more years and, after St Cuthbert’s Way (2005), Glyndwrs Way (2007) and the Dales Way (2009), in 2010 we decided to re-visit the best route of them all – the Coast to Coast (C2C). But this time in a more leisurely 5 days (well, we were 15 years older) and with all 6 of us present. (Pic 2).

Below, we have a small selection of my photos from that event. But, because we were doing it in relay format, even after doing the C2C twice I still haven’t done it all. Due to the way we rotate the groupings each day and the different stopover points, some of the legs I covered the second time around were the same or similar to the first and I still haven’t had the joy of bog-hopping near Nine Standards Rigg. (Or maybe, as one of the main organisers of these events, I deliberately avoided that leg? 😉)

Lac d’Arbey to Les Haudères Walk, Val d’Hérens, Switzerland

The snowline is gradually getting a little higher in the Val d’Hérens, so yesterday I decided to walk up to Lac d’Arbey. From there I took the cross path to Farquèses, before descending to Les Haudères and returning to Evolène along the riverside track.

There was very little snow on the ascent, (just one small patch in a shaded hollow) but, on the cross path, I had to pick my way carefully over the remains of an avalanche. (See pic 11). From then on though all the paths were clear and the views over the valley to the mountains were superb.

There were very few butterflies around, but I did manage to capture a couple, one of which, if my Northern Wall Brown identification is correct, is a first. 😊 I also managed to zoom in on a Spotted Nutcracker. (See pic 17). Given the distance between us, I didn’t think the photo would come out very well, (especially as it was towards the sun), but it seems to be OK.

La Sage, La Forclaz and Les Haudères Walk, Val d’Hérens, Switzerland

The difference between my walk earlier in the week at 700m to 1,000m was quite different to yesterday’s walk from Evolène at 1,400m to La Forclaz at 1,700m. The flowers are at least 2 weeks behind and, perhaps as a consequence, the butterflies were very thin on the ground. Nevertheless I managed to spot one or two ‘new’ ones (for this season anyway) for you to enjoy. 👍😊

I was also amazed to see how much snow there was on what was the cross-country skiing piste, near Les Haudères. It’s in the shade for most of the day, but nevertheless it’s still around 2ft (60cm) thick in places. (See pic 24).

Circular Walk to the Passarelle de la Grande Combe via Euseigne, Val d’Hérens, Switzerland

I have posted pictures of this walk before, indeed, twice, so this time I thought I’d do it in reverse. 😊 It requires a short drive down the valley from Evolène to La Luette, but I knew that the paths would be clear of snow after all the warm and sunny weather we’ve had for the past month. It’s also always a good route for spotting butterflies and I certainly wasn’t disappointed.

The section shortly after the bridge in picture 10, proved to be particularly profitable. Several large ‘orange’ coloured butterflies also whizzed by without giving me a chance to identify or capture them for you to enjoy. Later, as I approached Ossona, I noticed 3 or 4 Swallowtails. I was just zooming in on one of them when another came along and an almighty aerial battle took place, which reminded me of the film, Top Gun. (See their rather blurry ‘fly by’ in pic 21). It went on for so long, I got bored waiting for them to land again and continued on my way.

I was also pleasantly surprised to actually spot a Small Blue (pic 35). It’s quite a common butterfly, but I believe it’s Switzerland’s smallest – possibly not much bigger than your small finger nail. (It’s on some Alpine Bird’s-foot trefoil, if that also helps to give it some scale).

My apologies for all the photos, but it was a rather nice walk, which I thought you might enjoy, especially if you have to “Stay home”, like many.

Ascent of the Dents du Midi, (@3,257m or 10,685ft), Valais, Switzerland

For my 4th ‘archive’ post, let me take you back to August 2006…

I’d only been in Switzerland for a few months and one of the guys in the office said, “How do fancy a trip up to the top of the Dents du Midi?” Now, anyone who has been to Vevey or Montreux will have seen this very impressive, sawtooth of a mountain, which dominates the horizon at the eastern end of Lac Léman (or Lake Geneva). See pic 1, which was actually taken a few years later from our apartment in Mont Pèlerin.

The plan was to leave work early on a Friday afternoon, drive up the Val d’Illiez and park near Champéry, before hiking up to the Susanfe mountain hut. (I didn’t know this at the time, but I now know it was about a 7km or 4.5 mile walk and a climb of a little over 1,100m or 3,600ft). After spending the night in the hut (dinner and breakfast was included in the price of the accommodation), we’d walk up to the top of the Dents du Midi, then descend and walk to the Salanfe hut at the end of the lake of the same name. (This would be 11.5km or 7 miles and 1,200m or 3,950ft). Again, after a hearty meal, possibly a few beers, I couldn’t say 😉, a good night’s sleep and breakfast, we’d retrace our steps back over the Col de Susanfe and descend to the car park. (This would be the longest day at 14.5km or 9 miles, but ‘only’ 700m or 2,300ft of ascent).

After putting my name down to go with 12 others, I realised that I was double booked and my daughter, Sarah, who was only 16 at the time, was coming over to visit that very same weekend. Ooops! She thought she might slow the group down but, after a only a little(?) persuasion, she agreed to join us.

The weekend got off to a good start, with everyone meeting up on time, but it soon became clear that one couple could not keep up. So they dropped out and stayed at the Bonaveau refuge on the Friday night. The rest of us reached the Susanfe hut in good time for dinner. Saturday saw the 12 of us reach the Col but, as the going got quite steep from then on, about half way to the top, another 5 decided enough was enough and they turned around and headed down to the Salanfe hut.

By this time, Kevin and Cristina were well ahead and they had reached the top and were on the way down when they passed the 5 remaining “heading strongly for the top”. And, as you will see from pic 19, we all made it! 😊

This was the first time I’d stayed in a mountain hut (or 2) and certainly the first time I’d ever been to over 3,000m (or indeed 10,000ft). Sarah was an absolute star and, I think, she has just about forgiven me, (if not for this post)!

Coronavirus update – a view from Switzerland

I’ve been encouraged by Stephen at Fractured Faith Blog to write a few words on our experiences during this ‘crisis’ period. After all, the Blogosphere is one big inter-connected and generally very supportive community. 😊 Since I might be one of the few people you might follow in Switzerland, I thought I’d give you some insights into how things are in what is generally considered a well ordered country.

We have been in lockdown mode for around 4 weeks now. Unlike France, where you need to stay within a kilometre of your home and have a piece of paper indicating the reason for not staying in, we are allowed out (but encouraged not to travel unless it’s absolutely necessary – though see below).

Like a lot of countries, we had some panic buying initially. Even in our small village, the shelves were cleared of pasta for the first few days, but normality was soon restored. The ‘Co-op’ restricts the numbers entering to about a dozen (it’s not a huge shop, but not small either) and lines are clearly marked on the floor where you must stand to respect the 2 metre rule at the checkout. Only one person is allowed at either end of the conveyor belt. So if the person in front has a lot of shopping to pack, you have to stand and wait until they’ve finished before it’s your turn. There is also hand-wash at the entrance/exit which you are asked to use. The manager told me the other day that he had not heard of any cases in our valley, which is somewhat comforting, because…

My wife and I often sit on our balcony and watch the world go by. Normally there are very few people around and about, I guess that’s because they are normally at work or have better things to do. But recently we have seen groups of up to 8 congregating and having ‘garden parties’, when the Swiss rule is no gatherings of more than 5. Not only that but one of our neighbours was actually sharing a fondue with his partner and another neighbour, which we thought was unbelievable.

Another annoyance to us is to see ‘outsiders’ arriving in the valley. Last week we observed one Austrian car and several French number plates. These countries have closed their borders to incomers, so why do they feel it necessary to travel out of their own country? In addition, all Swiss cars have a 2 character canton prefix on their number plate indicating their owner’s origin (like GE for Geneva and FR for Fribourg) and we’ve regularly observed non-Valaisan (VS) cars in and around our neighbourhood. Many Swiss have second homes and come up and/or invite their friends for the weekend, despite this being discouraged by the authorities. The Swiss are normally very good at following the rules, but even they seem to balk at the very idea sometimes.

On a more positive note, it has meant we’ve managed to get a few little jobs done around the house and my wife, Judith, has turned her hand to baking bread (and very successfully I might add – see pics below) to save us going to the shop too often. (Bread goes hard very rapidly in the dry atmosphere of the Alps!)

Anyway, that’s my little ‘piece’ said. Please feel free to Comment and/or post some of your own personal experiences.

Stay safe everyone.

Walk to Béplan from Evolène, Val d’Hérens

The weather in the Val d’Hérens has been incredibly warm and sunny for the past week or more. So, on Thursday, I decided to head a little further up into the mountains, to see if I could reach a small lake (more like a pond) at an area called Béplan. When I plotted the route on the Swiss online mapping app*, I noticed that there was an alternative way via Lè Lachiores, which would allow me to do a more circular route.

As I climbed higher and higher, I soon realised that I might struggle to get there, especially when I saw the remnants of an avalanche. (See pics 10-12). There was also a distinct lack of butterflies, flowers and birds. So I was quite surprised to spot a Ring Ousel and, not one, but two marmots. And then at the highest point of around 2,500m (8,200ft) there were several Pasque flowers, (see pic 16), which are the first I’ve seen this year.

After picking my way carefully up the slopes between the snow, I finally came to halt around 400m short of where I wanted to be. So there was nothing else to do but take in the magnificent views and then descend, again zig-zagging my way through the various patches of snow.

(*Note that this SwitzerlandMobility application is available to anyone, to view official Hiking, Cycling and even Skating and Canoeing routes in Switzerland, though you need a subscription to plot routes and download them to GPS or print the maps. See Route example at the end of the gallery).

Spring has sprung around Evolène, Val d’Hérens

To stay sane and active during the virus outbreak, I’ve taken to wandering around the back of our chalet and it’s certainly very noticeable how the flowers are starting to emerge and more butterflies are on the wing. I spotted both an Orange-tip and a Camberwell Beauty, but both were too quick for me to get a picture. However, a Comma and (I think) a Green-veined White, were more obliging . I was also amazed to see a Gentian out at this time of the year.

If a gallery of photos does not appear below, or anyway, please click on the Title to view this post and click on any image to view full size. (I’m using the new WP Editor for the first time, so anything can happen!)