Coronavirus update – a personal view from Switzerland

Over the past 15 and a half years, I have had many reasons to be thankful and very grateful that I live in Switzerland, but, perhaps, none more so than during the current Coronavirus situation.

When the outbreak started, (it was so long ago now, I forget the exact date), Switzerland was one of the first affected regions in Europe. The lockdown came very quickly, with shops closed, a limit of no more than 5 people in a group and social distancing everywhere.

I recall checking the “Worldometers” website and seeing that the Swiss were ahead of the UK, at least in terms of cases, if not number of deaths, for several days. In the most unwanted league table (unless you are an American President perhaps?) the Swiss were in the top 10 – possibly ‘peaking’ at number 4 or 5. This was not good news for a country with no more than 8.65 million inhabitants.

Wind forward a few months and, while the virus still takes its toll all around the world, based on the figures from yesterday, I see that Switzerland are now down to number 31 in terms of Total Cases. But does this relative ‘improvement’, or worsening for those now in the top 30, tell the whole story?

If you sort the table by Active Cases, the Swiss drop to number 99 with 454 cases. Though that could be as low as 103rd as it seems the UK, Spain, Netherlands and Sweden don’t declare (or maybe don’t know) the number of Active cases. (The Worldometers website simply says N/A). To put that number into context, 454 is less Active Cases than the Maldives, Norway and Australia.

And then, if we consider New Cases, at least based on the figures from yesterday, the Swiss are 123rd (equal with Zimbabwe and Cyprus), with only 3 new cases reported. In effect, the virus has been brought under control and Contact Tracing is now in place to investigate and keep on top of any new cases.

So how did they achieve this I wonder? Well, I don’t know for sure, but I would speculate that a lot of it is due to the national psyche of the Swiss. They are conditioned to follow rules. (Well, at least most people are – there are always a few in every society unfortunately). They have rules which many might find a bit silly, like, you should not make any unnecessary loud noise (like DIY drilling, strimming or playing loud music) to disturb the peace and tranquility of the neighbourhood, before 7am, between 12 noon and 1pm and after 7pm – and certainly not at anytime on a Sunday or a Public Holiday. Cars have to be washed at a dedicated facility, not on your drive or wherever. The list goes on… (I have thought I should blog about some of these rules, but it becomes a way of life…)

Unlike the UK, the nation doesn’t have to be thanked for doing well and be urged to continue to follow the government advice, it’s simply expected of everyone, by everyone. You will also never find the Swiss bragging or gloating about how well they have handled the situation, they are far too modest for that and would probably consider it rather vulgar to do so. (It would be like Roger Federer saying, “Yes, of course I am the greatest tennis player of all time!” and then repeating that in French, German and Italian, just to emphasise the point. It’s just never going to happen).

Nor will you find them today dancing in the streets and celebrating their success. They are far too cautious to think it’s all over. We are still only in the 2nd phase of the de-confinement, though the 3rd phase starts in about a week. Gatherings of more than 1,000 are still banned until the end of August and social distancing is still in place wherever you go. As I say, the Swiss like to stick to their rules and I, for one, am sincerely glad that they do and I applaud them for it. (If I had a Swiss flag icon, I would fly it proudly here – on their behalf of course!)

Below are some stats taken from the Worldometers website together with a picture of an Idas Blue butterfly which I took on Sunday. I’ve been trying to find an excuse to post it and I hope it brightens up your day! 😊

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).

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!

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)!

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!)

Oberland Odyssey, Day 6

Our last day of the trip would be a ‘straightforward’ walk back down the Aletsch glacier, retracing our steps on Day 2.  At least the weather was clearer to take in the fabulous views – and for me to show you what a glacier looks like, close up.

The Aletsch glacier is a ‘dry’ glacier in that it’s not covered in snow (in the summer anyway) so that you can see where the crevasses and holes are.  Hence the reason we are not roped up below.   On previous days, we had been on ‘wet’ glaciers where, as Des discovered, you can disappear down an unseen hole!

Even then though navigation is not that easy as the edges of the glacier tend to be all gnarled and bumpy, with lots of crevasses.  More than once we had to retrace our steps to find our way through the maze to the middle.  That’s where the glaciers coming in from each of the valleys above collide and create a relatively flat surface to walk on.

I hope you have all enjoyed this series of images and thanks for allowing me this little trip down memory lane.  Picture 4 remains one of my all-time favourite photographs.  😊

Oberland Odyssey – Day 5

Day 5 would prove to be the sunniest day of our trip and ‘perhaps’ (that’s Yorkshire for ‘definitely’) the scariest from my point of view…

From the Finsteraarhorn hut we walked directly across the Fiesch glacier to the Grünhornlücke col.  After a short descent we turned right (north) to ascend the Grünegghorn (@3,860m or 12,665ft).  All seemed quite straightforward as we approached what I though was the summit, as there were already 2 people standing there.  But then I looked ahead and saw Hannah, our guide, obviously preparing to go along what looked like a knife edge (to me anyway) – AND it was covered in snow!  (See pic 11).  Are these people completely crazy I thought to myself!

However, both Des and Aiden, who were in front of me, seemed quite relaxed, so I prepared myself for what turned out to be an amazing experience.   We climbed Alpine style, with everyone moving together.  Hannah was placing slings (short loops of rope) over the jagged edges of rock, which our connecting rope ran through, or we hooked our rope over suitable sturdy rocks in case one of us fell to the side.  At one point I placed my ice axe into the snow (long end downwards, like a walking stick to steady my progress) and when I removed it I could see daylight below!  Phew, that was a relief/scary, I can tell you!

After the obligatory photos, (you may have seen the one which Des took of me before somewhere on this website), we descended back to the Konkordia hut for a well earned beer! 

Take a good look at picture 17 of the Aletsch glacier.  Tomorrow I’ll show you a close up picture of said glacier. 😊

Bernese Oberland – Day 4

There is one key feature concerning mountain huts in the Alps, very early starts are the norm.  This is largely to make the best of the conditions, e.g. so that any ice bridges stay exactly that and don’t give way as you cross.  It’s especially true also when you plan to climb a 4,274m (or 14,022ft) peak called the Finsteraarhorn.   Des had opted out, so it was just Hannah, Aiden and I who were up at 4am to have breakfast before setting off.

Head torches on, the first rocky section was simple enough, but we soon found that we were the first group to attempt this peak since the rain/snow of Day 2.  This made going a lot slower, as poor Hannah (our guide) was having to break trail.  Every step was into a foot of snow, my feet were only a little larger and Aiden I guess had the best of it as he brought up the rear.

About half way up we spotted another group behind, taking advantage of our tracks and they soon overtook us.  We then benefited from their footprints.  The weather was relatively clear, but as we approached the shoulder, called the Hugisattel, we could see that the peak was covered in mist or cloud.  The wind had also picked up and spindrift (very small particles of ice) was battering us from the side, making life quite unpleasant.  Perhaps not surprisingly, Aiden decided he’d had enough, though Hannah convinced him to give the ridge a go.  We were already at 4,087m (13,409ft) after all, so we ‘only’ had about 200m (650ft) of height gain to go.

After rounding a large rock and climbing along the inside of a rocky ridge for no more than 50 metres/yards, Aiden reiterated that he didn’t want to continue.  My view was that I had no great desire to slog my way up a ridge in those conditions, if I was not going to get the benefit of the views from the top, so we all turned around and retraced our steps back to the Hut.

In a way it was disappointing, but my personal goal, at the beginning of the week, had been to climb higher than 4,000m and I had achieved done that and at least seen the views from there!

You may also wonder why there are so few images below – especially when there was so much magnificent scenery around.  It is true that I never used to take as many photos as I do now, but the main reason is that, when you are roped up, you don’t stop very often.  Also, quite a lot of concentration needs to go into watching the rope (for a novice like me anyway).  The rope between you and the person in front needs to be just right; not too slack (in case someone disappears down a crevasse and yanks you forward, off balance, so that you cannot arrest their fall) and not too tight, (so that you are hindering their progress).  By the end of the week, I likened it to fishing, where you are watching the line, just in case something happens.  As a result the camera tends to stay in its case until a pause is called by the leader.

 

If this whets your appetite for more, then take a look at this video courtesy of Richard Pattison.  You will see what I missed and get a sense of the strength of the wind at the top.

Evolène Carnival 2020

You could never accuse the Swiss of not knowing how to throw a good party.  Today was the last Sunday of the annual winter Carnival in the village, which starts every year on 6th January.  (So that’s at least 7 weeks of celebration!)  Today, the programme promised music and a procession of the main characters, namely the Peluches (who wear masks and sheepskins) and the Empaillés (who also wear masks and a rather large sacking ‘suit’ stuffed with straw).  In addition several people attend wearing fancy dress and there’s a huge amount of confetti, either thrown, usually by the children, or cannoned out from the top of a bus… (See pic 18).

Snowman Update IV

Elton, the snowman that my brother and his 2 sons built on 28th December, is still ‘standing’.  As you can see in the photos below, he’s a shadow of his former 6ft self (being only about 2 ft ‘tall’ now) and remains, defying gravity, bending over, almost impossibly, backwards.

Also, you may recall from my post on 27th January, that his head had melted away, but, remarkably, a new one seems to have appeared.  It’s held on by the slenderest of threads to the body but is supported by a short column of ice.  He’s now 47 days old, so if he’s still there on Saturday, I think we should celebrate.  😊