Bisse de Sion and Bisse d’Ayent Walk, Valais, Switzerland

As I was about to set off to do this walk yesterday, Jude said to me “Be careful!” I replied saying that there was nothing to worry about as I wasn’t going anywhere precipitous or dangerous. Er… WRONG!!

My plan was to pick off another of the many bisses or watercourses in the Valais. This time it would be the Bisse de Sion but, to make it into a loop, I would return via the Bisse d’Ayent (previously posted here). As you can tell, I wasn’t expecting any difficulties (or any snow) as bisses are generally flat and the Bisse de Sion runs at a height of around 1,750m (5,740ft) on the south facing/sunny side of the Rhone valley. Put into context, my walk on Friday was at a height of 2,000m (6,560ft) and there was only a few inches of snow.

Everything was going as expected until I was about half to Lac de Tseuzier. OK, there had been a bit of snow in the very shaded areas, but nothing to indicate what was to come. Picture 11 shows where I first encountered some significant snow but this was quickly overcome. However, there were two much bigger challenges waiting around the corner (shown in pictures 17 to 21). Thankfully the snow was well packed and the air temperature sufficiently high to make it easy to stamp solid footholds in the top of the snow. Also my new cross-country trainers have a series of studs which added to my confidence in getting around and/or over these obstacles.

If you look closely at the centre of picture 21, you will see my ‘steps’ down in the snow. It looks dangerous, but I can assure you there were some very good hand-holds on that rock to the right, otherwise I would never have attempted it.

From then on, although there was some more snow, it was very easy going and at no point throughout the walk did my feet ever sink in above the level of my shoes, let alone my ankles. When I reached the ski parking area at Les Rousses, the signs indicated that the road and my route through the tunnel was closed. (See pic 24). So, having had enough challenges for one day, I turned about and walked over 2km (1.5 miles) down the road until I found a path which led me to the much lower and snow-free Bisse d’Ayent. This did at least allow me to get a sort of bird’s eye view of the Bisse d’Ayent. (See to the right of pic 27).

I should also have mentioned in my previous post on this subject that the Bisse d’Ayant is such an iconic example that the Swiss have decided to put a picture of it on their 100 Swiss franc note. That’s about 110 US dollars or 85 UK pounds. (I’d include a picture but I’m afraid I haven’t got one!)

Arolla to Lac Bleu (Walk 10) in the (deep) snow

I promised in my post on Monday that I would return to do this walk with my GPS. I knew that things would be ‘interesting’ when the GPS showed I was about 10 metres to the right of the road I was walking on to get to the start. A walk, of around 4km or 2.5 miles, which would take me no more than 1h 30 mins in the summer, turned out to be a bit of a nightmare. Read on…

It wasn’t long before I reached the point where I turned around last time and I discovered that the path did a quick left-right zig-zag up the hill. So far, so good, but the way ahead still wasn’t crystal clear. I spent the next hour or so picking my way through the trees, often knee deep in snow, either just to the left or just to the right of the line shown on the GPS. If I was to the left, the route below and to the right often looked easier. Then I’d look up and the route above looked better. Never mind one zig-zag, I must have zig-zagged all the way along that first section.

I came across the open area where I was worried before about an avalanche. I decided to drop down to where the trees were only 10 to 15 metres apart. Big mistake. I took one step down and my leg disappeared into a huge hole. It was like stepping off a 3 foot wall (or rock probably). I was instantly thrown forward, down the slope and started to slide. The good news was that I was going head first and so I could see that I was heading for a small bush. I grabbed a branch and this arrested my slide. The bush, or at least what’s sticking out of the snow, can be seen just below the centre of picture 8, with the hole up to the right (below the middle one of the three trees top right).

Safely on the other side, the going got much easier as the snow had been cleared by the sun – but only for about 300 to 400 metres. My next challenge was a short section which was/is ‘protected’ by a metal chain. (They normally fix these where the ground goes away steeply, or straight down, to the side). The problem was that half of the chain was still under snow and I couldn’t get it out to hold onto. So I had to kick foot holds, VERY carefully over the top. (See pics 13 and 14).

And then it got worse…

I was back in the woods, zig-zagging up and down the slopes again and the snow got deeper and deeper. I reached a gully where I could see a bridge, slightly above, which I needed to cross, but the way around to it, looked too risky. So I climbed up through the trees, thinking it would be safer to make my way across and down to it. (You may have gathered by now that turning back was not really an option as I was much nearer to Lac Bleu than Arolla).

Then I heard voices, which turned out to be a some ski-tourers coming down the gully. A guide, 30 metres (or 100ft) below, was calling to his clients. I figured that if he could get there on skis, I could get across to the bridge – and so I dropped back down to where I’d started. But getting around to the bridge proved to be the hardest challenge of all.

I kid you not, the ‘slope’ of the snow must have been at least 60 or 70 degrees. So I was trying to climb up by kicking my feet into the snow, but as soon as I put my weight on my foot, it went back down to, more or less, where it started. It must have taken me about 20 minutes to cover just 25 metres. The snow was that deep it was over the top of the sides of the bridge. So I did, literally, go ‘over’ the bridge.

After more zig-zagging through the trees, I came to another gully. And the view back down to Satarma (pic 16) looked infinitely more appealing than another 20 minutes or more working my way around to what might have been a good path to Lac Bleu and then a descent to La Gouille and Satarma. So that’s what I did, I ‘walked’ (more like, stumbled) down the snowy slope, sometimes ankle deep, sometimes knee deep and more than once up to my thighs. Twice I got myself stuck, where I couldn’t move either leg, but luckily there was a branch nearby to help haul myself upright and out.

Five hours and 45 minutes after setting off, I arrived in Satarma. My feet were wet and soggy after all the snow that had melted into my boots. I took them off, wrung out the water from my socks and put them back on before trudging, disconsolately, back up the road to Arolla. I’ve never been so pleased and relieved to finish a walk.

I hope you’ll forgive me if I avoid snowy walks for the next few weeks…

Note that the last 3 photos below were taken on the way back to Evolène.

Châteaux de Sion et Environs, (Route 140), Valais, Switzerland

Most of the routes that I use are derived from the SwitzerlandMobility website, which is a fantastic resource (should you ever wish to explore this fine country). Not only does it show every single walking path or track, but it also includes cycling, mountain biking, roller blading and, would you believe, canoeing routes. It’s very easy to use – just zoom in to the region you’re interested in then select the appropriate type of exercise on the left and specify whether you’d like to view the National, Regional and/or Local routes. You can also draw and download your own routes, (as I do frequently), but this requires an annual subscription of around 35 Swiss francs (35 US dollars/£30). Well worth every cent, I’d say!

So, while searching for another new route to walk, I had a quick look at the cycling options and discovered this circular, regional route (no. 140) around the villages above Sion. At 42 km (or 26 miles), it didn’t seem to be too far, for a part-time cyclist like me, though it did have 950m of ascent. The altitude profile suggested that it would be done in 2 separate climbs, with a level-ish section in between, so I thought it might not be too difficult. It was only during the drive down to Sion with my bike in the back of the car that I realised it was the equivalent of cycling back up to Evolène from Sion. (My family and friends, who have visited us, will appreciate how big a climb that is!)

Anyway, all went well as you will see from the images below. Though, try as I might, I couldn’t get the Speed Checker by the side of the road to register anything, such was the incline (see pic 18). The first climb had an average incline of 8.5% over 4.5 km and, purely in the interests of producing this post of course, I did stop frequently to take a few photos. 😊

Lastly, I should also praise the Garmin Edge, which you can see in Pic 9. I’d only used it in the past to track where I’d been and this was the first time I’d downloaded a route to follow. For something so tiny it did an amazing job, giving an alarm around 150 metres before and then at any significant change in direction and also an alarm when I went slightly off the route, plus confirming when I was back on track. 👍👍

Croix de la Chia Walk, Rhone valley, Switzerland

After being thwarted by the snow on my last walk, I discovered a route, again on the south facing side of the Rhone valley, which only went to 2,350m or 7,700ft. (This was about where the snow started last time). The objective was the Croix de la Chia, which sits at a col between two small peaks called Mont Gond and La Flava.

The map only showed a path to the col (with a route going down the other side), but I had secret hopes of trying to head towards, maybe even up to the top of, either Mont Gond or La Flava. Two dimensional maps can be deceiving of course and, if you look at pictures 26 and 27, you will see why I didn’t attempt either. There were two guys at the col when I arrived and they headed up towards La Flava, but I’m not sure if they even managed to climb over that first set of rocks.

I’ve also include a photo of the previously posted Bisse de Savièse, as seen from across the valley. (See pic 37). It highlights how much some of those bisses ‘cling’ to the rockface.

It’s not often I get the opportunity to take a photo of where I’m going to walk, but photo 1 shows where I was heading yesterday from ‘our’ side of the valley. The last photo was taken on the way back.

Finally, I was a very happy chappy throughout the walk, as the first thing that I saw as soon as I set off was the Clouded Yellow butterfly in pic 2, which was kind enough to land and have its photo taken. (Note that it could be a Pale or Berger’s Clouded Yellow, I didn’t get a good look at the upper side of the wings). Whatever, it was a joy to see so late in the year. 😊

Self-isolation in Evolène, Val d’Hérens…

Jude and I are now back home and, thankfully, over half way through our self-isolation period of 10 days. There are, of course, worse places to be holed up, but I’m feeling a bit like a caged tiger, wanting to get out and about, especially while the sun is shining and there’s not so much snow on the ground. (I’d estimate the snow line to be at around the 2,500m or 8,000ft mark).

I’ve kept myself busy by posting some of our good friend Arthur’s paintings of his time in the Comores. Click here for two examples, with 4 more to come over the next 4 days.

But, with nowhere to go and wanting to post something on this site, I decided to take a few pictures from both within and around the chalet.

Walk from La Forclaz (VS) to the Col de Bréona and Col du Tsaté, Val d’Hérens, Switzerland (Part 2 of 2)

As I arrived at the Col de Brèona, the clouds were still swirling around. In the mist, I noticed two climbers descending from the Couronne de Bréona. They stopped to remove their harnesses and rope, while I was checking out the cloud cover. About 5 minutes later, the clouds started to clear and I followed the two climbers along the path up to the small, unnamed peak by the side of the col. If you look closely at the first picture, you can see them on the left and on the far end of the ridge in picture 3. They are also visible in photo 5, while two hikers are coming up the path which I would soon take. The climbers turned right into the Val du Moiry.

I’d seen nobody during my ascent to the Col de Bréona, but suddenly the ‘top’ was quite busy with another 2 climbers and around 10 people hiking up to the Col du Tsaté as I descended. Apart from 3 more people at the small lake at Remointse de Tsaté, (one is just about visible in red in pic 13), I saw no-one until I arrived back in La Forclaz. Maintaining a good social distance is rarely an issue while walking in the mountains!

If you missed Part 1 and would like to catch up, please click here.

Evolène, Val d’Hérens, Valais, Switzerland

The 15th August is normally the date when the Mid-summer Festival takes place in our village. But this year, for obvious reasons, it was cancelled. So we were not treated to the helicopter rescue of the dummy which had fallen (or was he pushed?) off the rockface, nor the stream of vintage cars. And the usual procession, of the villagers demonstrating the traditional arts and crafts, will have to wait until next year.

So, I decided to have a wander through the village and take some photos to show you what our village looks like during the summer. Normally the main street would be packed from one end to the other but, this year, there were just the usual weekend and holiday visitors. It was also nice to see the locals dressed in their traditional costumes, simply relaxing and enjoying some time with their families.

If you would like to see an example of what we all missed, here’s a post of the Mid-summer Festival from 2016.

Note that the last two images, courtesy of Wiki, position Evolène on the map of Switzerland and the canton of Valais and give some facts and figures about the Commune – just in case you wondered… 😊

Walk to Villa and La Sage, Val d’Hérens, Switzerland

After three and a half weeks of ‘rest’, (well, not doing anything too strenuous), yesterday I decided to test out my heel on a short walk up to Villa, across to La Sage and then back home again. It was a bit sore by the time I got back, but it feels OK today, so it must be more or less on the mend. 😊

In the photos below (pics 2 and 5) you can see people climbing on the via ferrata. It looks pretty dangerous, but they are attached via a harness and short ropes to a cable which runs alongside the various stemples (which look like thick staples), metal plates and a ladder, which are fixed into the rockface.

Along the walk I saw many, many Marbled Whites (I gave up counting after 20), quite a few Damon Blues and Small (Cabbage) Whites, three or four Spotted Fritillaries and a Chalkhill Blue or two. But, since I’ve recently posted pictures of them, I’ve only included the ‘new’ ones.

If anyone knows what the brown butterfly is in pic 21, please let me know. I didn’t find a very good match to any of those in my Swiss book.

Swiss Trip to the South-East (Part 2)

We awoke to another beautiful day with blue skies and high clouds. We also soon discovered that there was hardly a breath of wind. As we drove along the lakeside road, we just had to stop. I certainly don’t remember ever seeing such a perfect mirror-like reflection on such a large lake as the one we saw on the Silsersee. (See pic 2).

Our plan for the day was to tour around to the Val Bernina and take the cable car up to Diavolezza. Jude had read that this gave the best view of the 4,049m (13,284ft) Piz Bernina and how right the guide book was! As you will know, we have seen many, many glaciers. The views from the Gornergrat (of Monte Rosa amongst other 4,000m peaks) and the Aiguille du Midi (of Mont Blanc) are very impressive, but I think the panorama we encountered from Diavolezza was even better.

From the viewing platform there’s a relatively easy walk to the summit of Munt Pers (@3,206m or 10,518ft). Unfortunately the top was in cloud most of the time and we never did get a view to the east. But it did clear sufficiently to get a glimpse of the Morteratsch valley. (See pic 16).

I was so blown away by the views, I decided to take a video for you as well. 😊 (See end of this post).

P.S. Happy Swiss National (& Yorkshire) Day everyone!

Swiss Trip to the North (part 1)

Back in April, Jude and I were due to go to Basel, to see an Edward Hopper exhibition. But this, of course, had to be cancelled due to the COVID-19 outbreak. However, museums, hotels and restaurants have now re-opened in Switzerland, so we decided to re-book our trip.

In addition, we hope to visit every canton in Switzerland and see some of the many delights the country has to offer. So we decided to include a couple of nights in Schaffhausen, to see the famous Rhine Falls, which are the largest in Europe. But more of them later…

After driving directly to Basel and checking in to our accommodation, we had just enough time to visit the Kunstmuseum, which also has an excellent collection of artwork on show.

As you will see from my selection of photos below, I often find the detail of some paintings more fascinating than the overall images themselves! For example, I was particularly amused by the 3 tiny people standing on the glacier in the painting of the Finsteraarhorn by Kaspar Wolf. (See pic no. 7). It looks like one of them might be waving. Kaspar obviously had a great sense of humour as the 3 people sitting on the rock in the next painting look incredibly relaxed for such a precarious position.