To Happyland and Beyond…

No, this is not a post about recreational drugs, though recreation and endorphins are involved… It’s about a Swiss running event, organised by Datasport, called One Million Run, where the aim is for all the participants to run a total of 1 Million kilometres this weekend. In typical, precise Swiss fashion, the event started at 00:00 this (Saturday) morning and goes on until midnight on Sunday.

Anybody (based in Switzerland I presume) can register and run any distance they wish. An app is available to monitor your progress and distance and, upon completion, the results are then transferred into the Datasport ‘Live’ results website. Or, you could use your own GPS device and upload that later. At the time of writing over 70,000 people had entered, 6,000 were running and 16,000 plus had finished (at least for today).

For my part, I’ve been doing a bit of running here and there, trying to get fit again, but my run last weekend was my longest at 7.6km (4.7 miles). So my first challenge was in deciding how far to run. 10km (6 miles) seemed a little short to be a sufficient challenge, but 20km (12.5 miles) might be just a bit too far, so I settled for 15km (9.3 miles). My next dilemma was where and when to run… The only route I have around here, is up and down the riverside, which is no more than 4km one way, so that would mean doing the 100m (328ft) climb twice! On the other hand it would be cooler here (at around 15 degrees C) versus the 20+ deg C heat down in the Rhone valley… After some internal debate, my decision was to go with the ‘flat’ of the Rhone riverside, but to set off early and run in the relative ‘cool’ of 17-18 degrees at 8:45am.

My route would start near the Sion Golf Club and take me past a couple of lakes to my expected turnaround point at 8km, just beyond the Happyland amusement park. I chose to turn around at 8km as, psychologically, it makes it lot easier to do the 7km on the way back, plus it gave me a km to warm down/cool off!

I measured the distance on my old GPS watch and it appears to have sold me short by 50 metres. Although my watch said I’d done 15km when I stopped, the GPX file uploaded to my SwissMaponline app (see below), says 14.95km (and the official result says 14.9k). Either way, I’m very pleased that I decided to take part and managed to finish without stopping or getting injured. 😊👍

Oh, and for those who may be interested, my time was 1h 22m 8s.
To save you doing the maths, that’s a shade under 5.5m per km (or 8m 52s per mile).

Alpine Flora and Butterfly Walk, Val d’Hérens, Switzerland

Yesterday my wife, Jude, and I went for a walk from the parking area near Les Farquesses up to Les Mayens de la Cretta. With the sun shining brightly and many more alpine flowers in full bloom, we were expecting to photograph a few butterflies. I hadn’t even switched the engine off and Jude announced that she’d already counted 11 butterflies fluttering around the meadow beside the car. We didn’t even need to venture into the meadow to take the pictures, as there was plenty of activity by the side of the road. About 20 minutes later we finally dragged ourselves away. I believe the first 3 butterflies in the gallery below are ‘firsts’ for this website. 😊

Pic d’Artsinol Walk, Val d’Hérens, Switzerland

Yesterday I set off from home to walk to the top of the Pic d’Artsinol (@2,998m or 9,836ft). After my experience on Monday, I was hopeful that I’d be able to reach the top, since there are some wide open meadows and the final ridge to the summit faces south. However, as you will see from photo no. 16, I had to turn around at 2,580m (8,465ft), as there was too much snow.

Nevertheless it was a great walk and I spotted a new plant for me in the Alpine Butterwort (pic 9) which my Alpine Flora book tells me is “not common” and is carnivorous. “Insects become glued to the glandular leaf surface and digested by the plant”. And at the very end of my walk I spotted a mating pair of, what I believe to be, Osiris Blues which, if correct, is another first!

Remointse du Tsaté Walk, Val d’Hérens, Switzerland

For the past few days I’ve been itching to do this walk, but the clouds have been clinging steadfastly to the mountain tops. With clear blue skies forecast yesterday, at least initially, I set off to drive the short distance to La Forclaz (VS).

My aim was to reach the small lake or pond at the area called Remointse du Tsaté (@2,502m or 8,209ft). I had no idea how much snow there would be and, in the event, my route to the lake was clear, but the lake was almost surrounded, as you will see below.

I was quite lucky because the sun had all but gone in when I arrived at the lake, though the distant mountains were still as bright as ever. I took a few photos and then, miraculously, the sun came out, so I took them all over again! It was an amazing sight for sure and one which I had all to myself. 😀

Butterfly photo experiment

The other day I went for a short walk behind our chalet, taking my my wife’s SLR camera, complete with telephoto lens. I wondered whether it might give better results than my point and shoot and the results can be seen below.

Note that with the SLR telephoto lens I couldn’t get it to autofocus from within 1 metre / 3 feet, so all the pictures had to be taken from afar. This was a great advantage as I didn’t disturb the butterflies as much and I managed to capture maybe 80% of the ones which landed nearby. With my point and shoot, it’s a case of stalking the butterfly, taking photos as I get closer and closer, until it either flies away or I get to within 5 to 8 cm or 2 to 3 inches. With this method I maybe capture 30 to 40%. However, if I do manage to get that close, then the images from the point and shoot, as you might expect, are much better. Though that could be down to my handling of the SLR of course.

So, is it better to capture more butterflies with ‘OK’ results or are we seeking to achieve that ‘perfect’ shot? If you have any views, I’d be pleased to receive your comments.

Most of the butterflies in this gallery you will have seen before but, given the cloudy weather conditions that we’d had during the day, I was amazed to photograph 12 different sorts in the hour or so that I was out. (One photo of a female ‘blue’, which I couldn’t identify anyway, was too blurred to include).

Tsalet d’Eison Walk, Val d’Hérens, Switzerland

When our road was closed on Sunday, I created a Plan B, just in case I couldn’t get out to do my walk on Monday. That was to take the cross path from our chalet to Eison, then climb around 500m (or 1,600ft) to the Tsalet d’Eison. From there I’d take the track towards L’A Vieille and then the path back down through the woods to Evolène. My only doubt was how much snow there might still be on the north facing slope.

With the weather set fair on Thursday, this was my chosen route. However, as you will see from pictures 25 and 26 there was quite a lot of snow on the return path. So rather than risk soggy wet feet, a slip or, worse still, an avalanche, I returned the same way that I came. Though it worked out pretty well, as the bright sunshine had brought out many more butterflies for me to photograph. 😊

My apologies for so many images, but I hope it gives you a flavour for the abundance and diversity of the flora and fauna I’m privileged to see on these walks (even if I can’t identify them all!)

Bisses Neuf and Vercorin Walk, Rhone valley, Switzerland

After several weeks of beautiful sunshine in the Val d’Hérens, the weather has taken a turn for the worse. We even had snow down to 1,800m over the weekend. So I wasn’t going to miss the opportunity to go out yesterday when blue skies were forecast.

I wanted to do a long walk and, after studying the map (and ruling out anything high), I decided do a section of the “Chemin des Bisses” (Swiss Route no. 58) from Nax to ‘as far as I could get in the time available’ along the Bisse de Vercorin, before retracing my steps back to Nax. In the event, I turned around at the bench and shrine that you can see in pics 27 and 28, which are about 800m or half a mile short of the northern end of the bisse.

The full Route 58 is 100 km long and runs from Martigny to Grimentz and it seems I have walked a section of this route before, about 2 years ago, from Haute Nendaz to Euseigne. See here for photos of that walk, where there is also an explanation of what a bisse is for any new readers.

However, my plan was nearly scuppered when, on Sunday evening, they closed the only road out of our village, due to a huge (200m3 or 500 tonne) piece of rock, which was threatening to fall after sensors showed that it had moved 70-80 cm during the day. On Monday morning the all clear was given, so I duly set off and returned home around 5pm – only for the rock to fall yesterday evening around 9:30pm. I guess 4.5 hours is not close, but I’m glad I wasn’t under it. See here for a picture of the rock on the road. Thankfully nobody came to any harm and they are hoping to open the road later today, if only for one way traffic using traffic lights. So we and the rest of the commune of Evolène are definitely in isolation at the moment!

Some favourite books

Vivienne, at “Bug Woman – Adventures in London”, had a great idea with her post yesterday, which was to describe 3 of her favourite illustrated books. It inspired me to continue the theme by mentioning 3 of my own.

With a well stocked bookshelf (or three), my dilemma was which ones to choose. So my selection criteria was their relevance to this site which, when I’m not covering holidays, tends to concentrate on Swiss mountain walks and their associated views, with a few butterflies and flowers thrown in for good measure.

With this in mind, my first choice was a big book by any standards, aptly entitled Majestics. It measures 44 x 32cm (17.3″ x 12.6″) and when you open it up you can see why it needs to be. A finalist in the Banff International Mountain Book Festival (Canada), it contains some simply amazing panoramic photos of Switzerland by professional photographer, Samuel Bitton. They are the sort of images I aspire to.

I have mentioned this second book before, but it’s constantly in use during the summer as I do my level best to identify the butterflies I’ve photographed. It’s in French and is a “Guide d’identification des papillons de jour de Suisse”, written by Vincent and Michel Baudraz. The first ‘half’ is a step-by-step guide to help you identify the butterfly. This is ok until it asks you what the underside looks like and you only have a picture of the upperside – which explains why I cannot always be sure of my naming! The second part has all the butterflies listed by family together with detailed pointers to their unique features.

Throughout the book their are beautiful and incredibly accurate coloured drawings of each. Anyone who has ever tried to identify the subtle differences between two very similar butterflies will appreciate how precise they are. Not only that but the book is ably supported by this website, which shows the distribution (albeit only in Switzerland) and has a selection of photos which can often confirm the identification.

My third choice is Our Alpine Flora by E. Landolt and K. M. Urbanska, which is published by the Swiss Alpine Club (SAC). My copy is in English, but very often it seems like another language, as the detailed descriptions mention “actinomorphic” or “pedicellate” flowers, “fruit a silique opening by 2 valves” or “lanceolate, shortly petiolate” leaves. My over-simplistic technique is to thumb through the (rather too small) photos at the back until I find one that looks like mine. I know it’s a bit hit and miss, but I’d never identify anything without it. 😊

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

We awoke to freezing cold mist. Even the bouquetins (Ibex) were looking for shelter. (See pic 1). And, I confess, the last 2 photos in my post yesterday were taken on the morning of Day 4, mainly because the evening before we were all glad to get out of the rain and into the warmth and comfort of the hut.

The four in the Elite group had done an extra bit at the beginning of Day 3 and so the rest of us waited nervously, and for what seemed like an age, for them to arrive as snow started to fall. Werner decided he’d go out and look for them and about 20 minutes later, they all arrived, but Guy was in a bad way – suffering from both exhaustion and hypothermia. He was almost incapable of speech and so was stripped where he stood, though he could barely stand. Thankfully after several hot cups of tea and a warm shower, he thawed out and was fine for the rest of the trip.

But as you will see below, the going was still not easy. At the higher altitudes it was more suitable for skiing than mountain biking. And, remember, this was during July.

The photos cover Day 4 from the Terri hut to Sedrun, via Campo Blenio, Luckmanierpass; Day 5 from Sedrun to the Grosse Scheidegg via Passo Maighels, Andermatt and the Furkapass (with a little help from a bus and train) and Day 6 from Grosse Scheidegg to Kandersteg. I offered to drive the minibus on Day 7 to Gstaad, so I have no pictures of that particular leg via Adelboden I’m afraid.

But, I have to say that, despite my inexperience and the obvious challenges posed, it was a fabulous trip!! So good in fact that I went with them the following year, from Orsières in Switzerland to Monte Carlo on the Mediterranean, all the way down the French/Italian alps ! Thankfully the weather was much, much better… Post to come in due course… 😊