Saas Valley Walk, Day 3 of 4, (part 1) Almagelleralp Berghotel to the Schwarzbergchopf, Valais, Switzerland

Pete and I have been doing multi-day events together for over 25 years – ever since we ‘ran’ Wainwright’s English Coast to Coast, in a relay format, with our good friends, Colin and Liam, in 1995. But I don’t think we’ve ever had a day as spectacular as this one. So I hope you will forgive me for splitting it into two parts. Even by my standards I took a lot of photos (almost 600) and, together with Pete’s, I couldn’t possibly pare them down to just one post.

By contrast to the mists of Day 2, we awoke to perfectly blue skies. (See pic 1). So the descent to Saas Almagell was cool, but very pleasant. And, for the first time ever, we decided to use public transport to get from there to the Mattmark reservoir. This saved our aging legs around 6 km (3.5 miles) of walking and 500m (1,650ft) of ascent, on what was already going to be a big day.

The Mattmark reservoir is one of many in the Valais, generating renewable energy for the canton – hence it’s marketing strapline of “Source d’Énergie”, which equally applies to the feeling you get when you visit this wonderful part of the world.

Tomorrow, I will bring you not just photos of Pete and I crossing the Allalin and Hohlaub glaciers, but a video or 2 as well. So stay tuned… 😊

Saas Valley Walk, Day 1 of 4, Gspon to the Weissmies mountain hut, Valais, Switzerland

To set the scene… The plan for our 4 day walk was as follows:

  • Day 1: Gspon to the Weissmies hut
  • Day 2: Weissmies hut to the Berghotel at Almagelleralp, with an extension up to and back from the Almageller hut
  • Day 3: Almagelleralp to the Britannia hut
  • Day 4: Britannia hut to Saas Grund

After driving for just over an hour from our chalet to Stalden, which sits at the ‘confluence’ of the Saas and Matter valleys, (the latter being most famous for the Matterhorn), Pete and I bade farewell to my wife, Jude, and took the gondola lift up to Gspon. As an aside, we were squeezed in with about 7 other walkers and another 8 cyclists with their mountain bikes. So much for social distancing! But, thankfully, masks were compulsory (and a week later, I’m still feeling OK. 😊)

I’d read that Gspon was ‘famous’ for having the highest football pitch in Europe. It often hosts the European mountain village championships so, as keen football fans, Pete and I had to take a look. (For more info. please read here).

From Gspon the path undulated along the east side of the Saas valley, passing some tiny hamlets and a beautiful church at Finilu. Several rocks and boulder fields were safely negotiated before the final climb up to the mountain hut, where we had a room (normally sleeping up to 8 people) all to ourselves.

As you will see the weather was a little grey, but the sun did eventually come out and the small amount of rain, which was forecast for late afternoon, didn’t materialised until the evening. 👍

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… 😊

Exhibition Walk from Farquèses to Lac d’Arbey

For the fifth year running, the Tourist Office has organised an exhibition of paintings along the path which runs from Farquèses to Lac d’Arbey. This year it showcases 26 pastel paintings of Swiss artist, John-Francis Lecoultre, who was born in Locle, Neuchatel in 1905. He was obviously inspired by the mountain scenery around Lac Léman (Lake Geneva), the Saas and Zermatt valleys and, of course, the Val d’Hérens. 😊👍👍

As you will see, huge copies of the paintings are hung between the trees at suitable intervals along the path. My apologies for not including all the French accents in the names of the paintings (or indeed some of my photos), but WordPress doesn’t seem to replicate them properly in the image gallery.

My apologies also for not naming the 8 butterflies, but I wanted to get this post published and I don’t have the time to look them all up. Also, I thought some of you might like a challenge! Hopefully it doesn’t detract from what is a beautiful walk (if only virtual for you). 😊

As an experiment*, I’ve set the first image as a featured image, to see if that arrives in the emails which are sent out. I’ve noticed that the emails have recently changed from including every picture (which I didn’t like as the emails were too long – sorry about that!) to having nothing in them at all, but the heading link to the post. OK, I could include a “Read more of this post” somewhere in the text, but hopefully this provides a more suitable alternative ‘teaser’. Please let me know what you think or prefer.

*Update: My experiment didn’t work, as no image appeared in the email. (Maybe I set the featured image incorrectly. I’ll have to check).

Swiss Trip to the South-East (Part 1)

For our first full day in the Engadin, we decided to walk from Maloja along the path which runs by the side of Lej da Segl or the Silsersee to the village of Sils Maria. Jude was keen to see what it looked like as Colletts Mountain Holidays have (or at least would have, had it not been for COVID-19) started running holidays there.

Quick aside here: I first met Jude while on a Colletts Mountain Holiday in the Italian Dolomites in 2004. Jude was the chalet host. The rest is history as they say… 💕😊

Anyway, even before we’d left our apartment, we’d noticed some people, running in pairs towards the lake. Only the day before, Jude had read about an event called the ötillö, which required a team of 2 people to run, swim, run, swim, run, swim, etc. for a total of 45km. (39km of this is running and 6km swimming across the 2 lakes in the Engadin). One of the rules is that the 2 competitors should never be more than 10 metres apart, so they are tied together with a piece of rope. (The madness of the human race never ceases to amaze me!) On the plus side, if there is a plus side, they are allowed to use paddles on their hands and floats between and on their legs. (In the second picture below you can see the 2 competitors had them on their shins, but not everyone had them). Of course, these had to be carried during the run sections. All I can say is, it’s not an event you’ll catch me doing!

We stopped at the rather quaint village of Isola on the way for a coffee, where there’s a huge cascading waterfall. Sils Maria itself was quite charming, with restricted motorised transport from what we could see. It’s clearly a great base to explore some of the excellent walking routes and attractions in that area. (But it’ll never beat the Val d’Hérens of course! 😉)

We returned to Maloja via a small ferry boat, which criss-crosses the lake to pick up passengers. Apparently it’s the highest operating ferry in Europe, at an altitude of 1,797m or 5,896ft. Swiss facts – Jude has them all! (It’s no wonder I married her! 😍)

Swiss Trip to the North (part 3)

For the second half of our holiday, we drove over to Schaffhausen, primarily to see the Rhine Falls – but more of them later…

On the way we stopped off at a small village called Kaiserstuhl, which sits on the Swiss side of the Rhine and border with Germany. So we took great delight in walking over the bridge into a different country. Indeed, although we had planned to stay wholly in Switzerland during our trip, we were encouraged by not being challenged at gunpoint on the border (in fact we saw nobody), so we decided to take the direct route to Schaffhausen from there. This involved going into or, rather, through Germany not once, but twice. (Such is the weird shape of the border in that area, that there is even a small German enclave completely inside Switzerland, called Büsingen am Hochrhein). Maybe it was because we crossed the borders at lunchtime, but we didn’t get stopped once.

Having checked in to our hotel, we again went for a wander around the town. I can certainly recommend a visit and I hope my pictures do justice to both of the locations we visited.

Interesting footnote: Although Switzerland was not directly involved in the 2nd World War, Schaffhausen and the building in the last photo in particular, was bombed on 1st April 1944. This was apparently due to a navigational error, caused by bad weather conditions. Wiki says that it was mistaken for Ludwigshafen am Rhein, as it sits on the north side of the Rhine. Four million dollars were paid in restitution and, the writing on the front indicates that, the building was rebuilt in 1945.

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.

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).

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.

Chateau D’Oex Balloon Festival

Like most of you, I’m pretty much confined to barracks for the duration of this Coronavirus outbreak.  So I thought I’d dig into my archives to find you some interesting items to cheer you all up (and to give me something to do of course! 😊)

For the first in this series, I’ve gone back to January 2006 and 2008, when I visited the Chateau D’Oex Balloon Festival.  As you will see below, the balloons on display are many and varied, with some incredible designs.  The colours are so vibrant, especially in what was bright sunshine, I just had to take a lot of photographs.

Stay safe and healthy.  And a big THANK YOU to all those who are working tirelessly to keep the rest of us alive and well.