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… 😊

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. 😊