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.

Ferpècle Valley Walk to Bricola, Val d’Hérens, Switzerland

Long-time followers will recall how a ‘hole’ mysteriously appeared in the Ferpècle glacier in 2015. Each year since then I’ve been back to see how the hole has collapsed and receded to what it is today.

You can walk along the Ferpècle valley and scramble up a rock slab at the end to get a closer view, but this year I decided to walk up to Bricola, where you can look directly down upon the glacier.

The glacier doesn’t look to be much different from last year, but there was plenty of water rushing down the Borgne as I crossed the wooden bridge. It was so loud, I was drawn into taking a video. (It’s funny how, once you find a ‘feature’ on your camera, you keep using it! 🤔) However, I’ve spared you that today.

Walk to Roc Vieux, Val d’Hérens, Switzerland

If you look out from our chalet balcony, you cannot help but notice the ‘twin peaks’ of the Grande and Petite Dents de Veisivi. I have posted several pictures of these over the years – including this one from last week. To get to the top of the smaller one, which is ‘only’ 3,183m (or 10,443ft) high, you need to be a proper climber, using ropes, etc. However, I’m advised that it is possible to walk, or maybe scramble, up to the top of the larger one, at 3,418m (or 11,214ft), but I’ve not tried that yet. (We hear rocks falling off this peak all the time, so it’s not a proposition to be taken lightly).

Thankfully, about half way up the ‘front’ of them, there is an area called Roc Vieux, which affords a wonderful view back down the valley. I’m not sure if there is a precise spot or ‘old rock’ as such, but there is a wooden cross, so that serves as a good point to aim for.

On the map I noticed another path, which was only partly marked, to the hamlet called Lu Veijuvi and I decided to give it a try on the descent. It turned out to be safe enough, (if you avoid the bridge in pic 25), but it was quite steep.

As you will see from the pictures below, there were quite a number of butterflies around, including an Alpine Grayling and a Small Tortoiseshell laying her eggs. (I wondered why it never flew off when I took the first set of photos). 🤔

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)!

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.