On our way to the coast to catch the ferry to the UK, Jude and I pulled off the motorway to take a look at the American war cemetery and memorial at Saint-Avold. It’s a moving sight to see 10,489 headstones laid out so neatly, row after row after row. There are also another 444 names of those ‘missing in action’ etched onto 2 large tablets either side of the main memorial. We owe every single one of them a huge debt.
“Those interred at the Lorraine American Cemetery died mostly in the autumn of 1944 during the Allied advance from Paris to the Rhine as the Americans sought to expel the Germans from fortress city of Metz and advance on the Siegfried Line during the latter stages of world War II. They were mainly part of the U.S. Third and Seventh Armies.
In the late 1940s many bodies from the Saint Avold region were repatriated to the US or concentrated at Lorraine.”
It’s difficult to reflect the size of the cemetery in a few photos, so I’ve added a video at the end (muted because there was a lot of wind noise).
Jude and I are currently on one of our (now annual) “UK Tours”, the main event of which will become clear in due course. To break the journey, we stayed in a village called Kientzheim, which is in the wine growing region of Alsace in eastern France. The village houses, chapel and abbey are beautiful and the wines, based on our short tasting session, are excellent. 😋 👍👍
In the event, I didn’t see it at all, as I was too low down in the valley. Though, after zooming in on some of my photos, I have just spotted the top of it, peeking out on the hump to the left of picture 18. Nevertheless, it was a new and exciting walk for me.
As you will see, it’s a big glacier and I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to get onto it, but another hiker came along as I was taking some photos and I followed his tracks up to the central, medial moraine of the glacier. (You can just about see him, slightly to the left of centre, in picture 17).
After our 4 day, Saas valley trek, which finished with a steep descent into Saas Grund, Pete’s knees and body were just about shot. But it’s amazing what a few beers, a fabulous meal and a good night’s sleep can do. 😊 So, for Pete’s last day, we decided to do one of the many bisse walks in the Valais.
After a quick search of the Bisse website, I discovered a circular walk quite nearby, which I’ve never done before. It actually took in three bisses and started in the village of Mâche. Two of them were dry, but the third did have quite a bit of water running along the channel. Along the route also, we discovered several wooden carvings and a number of items which must have been left by some school children. Perhaps the most surprising was a beautiful glass pendant which (as this is Switzerland) I would imagine has been there and will remain there for some time. There are quite a few good cycling routes around that area too, so I may have to get on my bike and check to see if it’s still there in a few weeks time.
Footnote (for anyone new to this site and, as the Bisse website explains): “Bisses are historic irrigation channels of the Valais. A bisse is an open ditch delivering priceless water from mountain streams – often by daring routes – to arid pastures and fields, vineyards and orchards. Many bisses are still in use today and so are carefully maintained. Numerous trails accompany these historic watercourses, inviting visitors to varied hikes on historic trails.”
Another blue sky day and another glacier to cross… though this time just a short 100 yards or so, before we commenced the long descent into Saas Grund. Our plan was to head for Plattjen, then traverse around the valley to Saas Fee but, at a fork in the path, a signpost indicated for us to go right, when we should have gone left and we had dropped around 300m (or 1,000ft) of height before we realised our mistake. Neither of us wanted to climb back up, so we continued along the very steep path down to Saas Almagell (much to the annoyance of Pete’s knees) before walking along the riverside path to Saas Grund.
Naturally we enjoyed a celebratory beer, before Jude arrived to pick us up and drive home. 🍻😊
Continuing where we left off yesterday, Pete and I had just the small matter of two glaciers to cross to get to the hut, where we would spend the night.
Now, I should emphasise at this point, that glaciers can be dangerous, even fatal, so walking on them is not to be undertaken lightly. There are generally two types – wet and dry. Wet ones are covered with snow and this can hide crevasses and the like. So you should NEVER cross one of these without a qualified guide and, normally, be roped up. Dry ones however, which are not covered in snow and the dangers are generally visible, can be crossed in some cases without a guide and only if marked and considered safe to do so.
Anyhow, anticipating that most of you may never have the opportunity to do this, or maybe never want to, even if you had, I have taken a couple of videos to give you a sense of what it’s like. (Links are below the usual gallery).
You can see from the photos that Pete and I were only wearing trainers and you may expect glaciers to be quite slippery (being mainly ice of course) and often crampons are needed. However, you will see from picture 23 that these particular glaciers had a sort of icy crust on the top, which made it quite easy to get some traction.
The Britannia hut is perched (as you can see from many of the pics) at 3,028m (9,934ft) and after a refreshing beer, we decided to hike up the nearby peak, called the Klein Allalin, which took us over the 10,000ft mark (at 3,070m).
In terms of the accommodation, we shared a room, normally for 8, with two others, where they had the top bunks and we had the lower bunks. (See pic 37).
For info. (since many of you may be wondering what the situation is with these rather remote mountain huts…) Included in the ‘demi-pension’ price is a 3 course evening meal (we had a table to ourselves and wine and canned beer was also available to buy at this one) and breakfast (which, at the Brtiannia, consisted of cereals, ham, cheese, bread and preserves as well as tea and/or coffee). They are not quite ‘huts’, like you might expect, but then I wouldn’t call them hotels either. Some huts are better, but at the Britannia, there’s very little running water available (certainly not drinkable) and hence there are chemical toilets and no shower facilities. But then, this is offset by the fabulous views! 😊
I hope you enjoy these pictures and videos as much as Pete and I did taking them.
Pete and I have been doing multi-day events together for over 25 years – ever since we ‘ran’ Wainwright’s English Coast to Coast, in a relay format, with our good friends, Colin and Liam, in 1995. But I don’t think we’ve ever had a day as spectacular as this one. So I hope you will forgive me for splitting it into two parts. Even by my standards I took a lot of photos (almost 600) and, together with Pete’s, I couldn’t possibly pare them down to just one post.
By contrast to the mists of Day 2, we awoke to perfectly blue skies. (See pic 1). So the descent to Saas Almagell was cool, but very pleasant. And, for the first time ever, we decided to use public transport to get from there to the Mattmark reservoir. This saved our aging legs around 6 km (3.5 miles) of walking and 500m (1,650ft) of ascent, on what was already going to be a big day.
The Mattmark reservoir is one of many in the Valais, generating renewable energy for the canton – hence it’s marketing strapline of “Source d’Énergie”, which equally applies to the feeling you get when you visit this wonderful part of the world.
Tomorrow, I will bring you not just photos of Pete and I crossing the Allalin and Hohlaub glaciers, but a video or 2 as well. So stay tuned… 😊
We awoke to find that the hut was shrouded in mistand visibility was down to about 20 yards. But we hadn’t been going more than 10 minutes when the clouds miraculously lifted.
We had chosen to take the less steep service track down to Kreuzboden, but we hadn’t realised that the overnight rain had swelled the stream, which the track had to cross several times. Our first crossing was OK, as there were some decent stepping stones, but we had to scramble down by the side of the stream to find two other crossing points. (As in pics 1, 4 & 8).
By the time we neared Kreuzboden the cloud had come down again, so it was with some amusement that, after we had crossed for the third time (pic 8), we noticed that there was a bridge not more than 30 yards away. (See pic 9). Oh, how we laughed!!
I was also extremely excited to find out (later of course, when I looked it up) that the Incised Bellflower, (pics 13 & 14) is described as “very rare” in my Alpine flower book, which I think is a first. In Switzerland it only occurs in the south of the Valais and in NW Ticino. (I therefore thought it deserved 2 photos. 😊)
Our plan for the day was to drop off our rucksacks at the Almageller Berghotel, where we would stay for the night* and then walk up to the Almageller mountain hut and back again. The 700m or 2,300ft of ascent/descent was certainly a lot easier without our packs.
*At the Berhotel, not only did we have a room to ourselves but, apart from the staff, we were the only people staying that night, so we had the whole place to ourselves! (This also happened on our Tour de Muverans trip a few years ago, so hiking midweek in September is certainly recommended, if you want to keep away from the crowds).
To set the scene… The plan for our 4 day walk was as follows:
Day 1: Gspon to the Weissmies hut
Day 2: Weissmies hut to the Berghotel at Almagelleralp, with an extension up to and back from the Almageller hut
Day 3: Almagelleralp to the Britannia hut
Day 4: Britannia hut to Saas Grund
After driving for just over an hour from our chalet to Stalden, which sits at the ‘confluence’ of the Saas and Matter valleys, (the latter being most famous for the Matterhorn), Pete and I bade farewell to my wife, Jude, and took the gondola lift up to Gspon. As an aside, we were squeezed in with about 7 other walkers and another 8 cyclists with their mountain bikes. So much for social distancing! But, thankfully, masks were compulsory (and a week later, I’m still feeling OK. 😊)
I’d read that Gspon was ‘famous’ for having the highest football pitch in Europe. It often hosts the European mountain village championships so, as keen football fans, Pete and I had to take a look. (For more info. please read here).
From Gspon the path undulated along the east side of the Saas valley, passing some tiny hamlets and a beautiful church at Finilu. Several rocks and boulder fields were safely negotiated before the final climb up to the mountain hut, where we had a room (normally sleeping up to 8 people) all to ourselves.
As you will see the weather was a little grey, but the sun did eventually come out and the small amount of rain, which was forecast for late afternoon, didn’t materialised until the evening. 👍
As mentioned in my previous post, my good mate, Pete, came over from the UK last week to do a 4 day trek around the Saas valley. Due to a certain youknowwhat, both his flights were cancelled and, after re-booking them, his stay became 6 days long instead of 5. However, that meant that we could have a ‘warm up’ and ‘warm down’ walk either side of our hike.
So this was Pete’s acclimatisation walk (of 15km, or just under 10 miles, with over 930m, or 3,050ft, of ascent) and your ‘aperitif’ before the main course starts tomorrow. 😊