Saillon to Produit Walk, Valais, Switzerland

I had plenty of time to get into position for my previous post on the Tour de Romandie so, after parking in Saillon, I took the scenic route over the Farinet suspension bridge and down into Produit. I’d never been up the Tour Bayart in Saillon, so that just had to be done first (though the path to it was quite interesting – see pic 5). And, on the way to the bridge, I detoured to the smallest vineyard in the world, made up of just 3 vines, which is owned by the Dalai Lama. The whole site is a place for contemplation and several famous people have visited over the years. (See pic 14 for some examples).

I’d been over the Farinet footbridge once before and knew that there was a via ferrata (climbing route) which finished nearby. I paused on the bridge but could not see anything other than the large Dove of Peace stuck to the wall and a couple of arrows. It was only when I zoomed in on my photos did I see some of the metalwork which aids climbers up the sheer rockface. (See pics 26-28).

For those who may have missed my previous post on this area, the bridge is named after a certain Joseph-Samuel Farinet who, until his death in 1880, spent most of his life on the run, but he was a bit of a Robin Hood character. However, he didn’t stoop so low as to take from the rich, he simply created his own counterfeit money and gave it to the poor. Naturally he became a bit of a hero of the people in the Valais and his legend has grown, such that almost everything in the area seems to be named after him!

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).

Bricola Hut and Ferpècle glacier hole update

We have five people staying in our chalet this week, who are part of a group of 16 who are challenging themselves to climb various mountains in order to raise money for the Indee Rose Trust.   After climbing the 3,796m (12,454ft) Pigne d’Arolla, one of their number, Andy, decided he needed a bit of a rest, while the others went off to the Zermatt valley.

Today he was sufficiently recovered to accompany me up the Ferpècle valley to the Bricola hut to check on the latest status of the hole which appeared in the Ferpècle glacier 2 years ago.   As reported last year, it’s still more or less there, but starting to collapse towards the front.

Long distance running (part 2)… The JOGLE, 1983

The sun has been shining brightly in the Val d’Hérens, but the temperatures have been double digit negative (degrees C, single figures F) and the ski runs are not completely pisted, so it’s time for a blast from the past…

I mentioned in April last year that I’d run my first marathon (London) in 1982.   The following year, I took part in a long distance relay race, from John O’Groats to Land’s End, or The JOGLE for short.
(For non-UK residents, these two locations represent the furthest, NE and SW, tips of mainland Britain).

The event was the brainchild of a guy called Gordon Cairns who, for 5 or 6 years, had organised an annual event called Computastars.  This competition pitted teams of IT staff in a series of quasi-athletic ‘events’, which varied from bouncing tennis balls into a bucket on your head, to an 800 metre steeplechase, complete with water jump.  But I digress…

The pre-set JOGLE route was around 860 miles (or 1,385 km) long and the only rules were that you had up to 15 people in a team and each runner had to spend a minimum of 15 minutes on the road.  Otherwise it was a straightforward, non-stop relay.

Six teams took up the challenge, all running for the two charities of the Arthritic and Rheumatism Council and the British Heart Foundation.   We added a 3rd, a local Children’s Hospice, and we spent 9 months planning, organising back-up crews and raising sponsorship.  In total, I think we raised about £3,500 for the charities.

In terms of organisation, we decided to have 3 groups of 5 runners and each group would cover a prescribed distance (usually around 60 miles) before handing over to the next group.  CB radios were used to keep in touch with each other and we had three stop-over points pre-arranged en route for a bit of rest.

Incredibly, after 50 miles, there were 3 runners side by side on the road.   Gradually though the Barclays team pulled ahead of the Computastars team with our Rowntree team about 30 minutes behind them.  I should reiterate that this was a non-stop relay and so the runners continued into, and indeed through the night, with (in our case) cyclists or the minibus ferrying the runners, lighting the way ahead.  In essence, each group was ‘on the road’ for just over 6 hours, before getting 12 hours rest, though in this time they also had to travel 120 miles or so to their next changeover point.

By pure chance (or was it just brilliant planning?) we had arranged for all 15 of our team to be together for the last 50 miles, just in case we had any injuries.  It turned out that 5 had problems, so we had 10 ‘fit’ runners available to complete this last section.  It was also around this point that the organisers decided to scrap the 15 minute rule – just to make the finish a little more interesting.  So we set about catching the Computastars team who, unfortunately for them, only had 4 people available for this part of the route.   So, instead of the usual 2.5 to 4 miles, we began to run 1 mile at a time and we were prepared to drop people off ‘parachute style’ if necessary to catch them.  The buzz of excitement in the minibus as we closed in on them was incredible.

In the event, the Barclays team won the race, in a time of just over 3 days and 18 hours.   We managed to catch the Computastars team in the last few miles to finish 2nd, but only by a mere 46 seconds!   Our times were 3 days and a little over 22 hours.
For the runners amongst you, (to save you doing the maths), this works out at a little over 9 miles per hour, or 6.5 minutes per mile.  (If only I could do that now!!)  Each runner covered an average of 57 miles (or 92km).

Unfortunately I have no pictures of the event myself, so I’m very grateful to Cliff Baughen, of the Computastars team, for the pictures below.  He published a similar post here some years ago.  You’ll see Cliff stonking along in the last picture. 🙂

HandiCapRando* trip to Saillon

Before I retired, I put my name down to help with a group of Nestlé volunteers, who give up their time to take disabled people into the mountains.  They use a specially designed  ‘Joelette’, which has one wheel supporting a sort of modern sedan chair. (See pic 5 or link below).  It has a disc brake to slow the descent and a little motor to help going uphill.

The weather forecast for the afternoon of our trip (i.e. last Friday) was not good, so the route was changed to be a relatively straightforward meander through the vineyards above Saillon.

I’ve been to Saillon a few times, but I learnt so much that day from Jean-Michel, the organiser and leader of the group.  For example, I learnt that:

  1. The vineyard region is named after a guy called Farinet (1845-80), who escaped from an Italian jail and was a famous counterfeiter.  You would think that this would make him unpopular, but he became known as the Robin Hood of the Alps, because he helped the poor.  He’s now buried in Saillon and there’s a ‘Fausse Monnaie’ museum in the centre of the village in his honour.
  2. The world’s smallest registered vineyard, which has just three vines, is located above the village.  Each year famous personalities from the world of sport, art and politics, come to ceremoniously work on the vines.   (Some of their names are painted on signposts in the vineyard).

    For a long time, the vines belonged to Abbé Pierre, but he bequeathed them to the Dalai Lama, who is still the owner today.  There are hundreds of hand-written plaques placed near the vineyard with religious or spiritual messages.

    Unfortunately, due to the rain and my hands being busy holding the Joelette, I didn’t manage to capture any images of this particular area. Sorry !

*For more information on the HandiCapRando organisation please see this link (in French).


Just a little run around Britain

Here’s a little story which you runners and charitable people might like… (and believe me, this is not a joke !)

Yesterday evening, Jude and I were sitting quietly in the Waterside Café in Lochcarron, NW Scotland, when a guy walked in looking a bit tired and he asks Geoff, the owner, if he could have a glass of warm water.  He says he’s a little de-hydrated after running over from Applecross on the west coast. (That’s at least 17 miles by road according to Google, not to mention going over the steep pass called the Bealach).  We strike up a conversation and it turns out his name is Simon Clark and he’s running around Britain for the Ecologia Youth Trust charity.  (The Trust works with children and young people around the world who have been abandoned, orphaned, made vulnerable by poverty and disease).

Now, I like a challenge, but that’s a cool 5,000 miles, which will take him about a year to complete.  His target is 100 miles per week for 50 weeks.  Not only that but he’s carrying all his own gear in a small rucksack and sleeping wherever he can, only using B&Bs or the like when he feels the need to freshen up a bit.

Thanks to the wonders of modern technology you can follow his progress around the UK ‘live’ here.  Of course I’m also sure that Simon won’t mind if you would like to support this very worthwhile cause – see above website or quick link here.

It makes a marathon seem like look like a sprint !