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 (Last Part 3)

As we drove back from Diavolezza, we came across one of the most amazing, certainly sporting, sights that I have ever seen. There must have been at least 50 or 60 kite-surfers, criss-crossing the Silvaplanasee. After the extremely calm morning, the wind had picked up and the surfers were having a fantastic time – some leaping high into the air and landing gracefully, but occasionally trying some tricks (like removing the board from their feet) and then, more often than not, crashing back into the lake.

We later read that there is a particular feature of the local summer climate, called the Malojawind. This is due to the morning thermals rising above Silvaplana much quicker than the neighbouring St Moritz and Sils and thus creating a strong, warm wind.

Not only were the kite surfers having fun, but everyone watching them seemed to be smiling too. It was certainly mesmerising and entertaining in equal measure.

The unfortunately named Crap da Sass Castle, comes from the Romansh and Italian language (Crap = stone in Romansh and da Sass = from stone in Italian). It was built in 1906 by the German general Graf von der Lippe and is now privately owned, so not open to the public. However it does create a marvellous back-drop to the activities on the lake, which also include wind-surfing.

Below I’ve created my usually picture gallery. This is followed by a sequence of photos, which should be stepped through in gallery mode, to see a sort of moving image. (Just click on, or touch, the first image and click or right arrow forward). Finally, there’s an actual video, which finishes in dramatic style! I hope you enjoy! 😄

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! 😍)

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 2 of 2

We awoke to freezing cold mist. Even the bouquetins (Ibex) were looking for shelter. (See pic 1). And, I confess, the last 2 photos in my post yesterday were taken on the morning of Day 4, mainly because the evening before we were all glad to get out of the rain and into the warmth and comfort of the hut.

The four in the Elite group had done an extra bit at the beginning of Day 3 and so the rest of us waited nervously, and for what seemed like an age, for them to arrive as snow started to fall. Werner decided he’d go out and look for them and about 20 minutes later, they all arrived, but Guy was in a bad way – suffering from both exhaustion and hypothermia. He was almost incapable of speech and so was stripped where he stood, though he could barely stand. Thankfully after several hot cups of tea and a warm shower, he thawed out and was fine for the rest of the trip.

But as you will see below, the going was still not easy. At the higher altitudes it was more suitable for skiing than mountain biking. And, remember, this was during July.

The photos cover Day 4 from the Terri hut to Sedrun, via Campo Blenio, Luckmanierpass; Day 5 from Sedrun to the Grosse Scheidegg via Passo Maighels, Andermatt and the Furkapass (with a little help from a bus and train) and Day 6 from Grosse Scheidegg to Kandersteg. I offered to drive the minibus on Day 7 to Gstaad, so I have no pictures of that particular leg via Adelboden I’m afraid.

But, I have to say that, despite my inexperience and the obvious challenges posed, it was a fabulous trip!! So good in fact that I went with them the following year, from Orsières in Switzerland to Monte Carlo on the Mediterranean, all the way down the French/Italian alps ! Thankfully the weather was much, much better… Post to come in due course… 😊

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.

Wainwright’s Coast to Coast, England, UK

Let me take you back to 1995, if not a little earlier than that, when my mate Colin and I had the ‘idea’ to do the English Coast to Coast walk, created and made famous by the great Alfred Wainwright, from St. Bee’s in Cumbria to Robin Hood’s Bay in North Yorkshire. Our plan was to run the 182 mile (293km) route in relay, over the space of 4 days, with one person on the route and the other driving a car to a prearranged changeover point. This way we could travel light, leaving the rest of our gear in the boot of the car, and we’d overnight in B&Bs or, preferably, Inns. 🍻👍😊

But we soon realised that there was a flaw in our grand idea – What if one of us got lost or was injured? (Remember, this was when mobile phones were still evolving even into those early ‘bricks’). Answer therefore: Recruit another two mates, called Pete and Tim, so that we’d have 2 on each leg, for a second opinion on any tricky route finding and someone to run for help, just in case. So it was that the 4 of us lined up in traditional fashion, with our toes dipped in the Irish Sea in April 1995. (See pic 1).

The event went so well, the following year we did the Offa’s Dyke Path (this time with Liam included) and in 1997, the West Highland Way (in 2 days). These were followed by The Wold’s Way (1998), where Dave was added to our happy band of runners, the Pembrokeshire Coastal Path (1999) and a trip to southern Ireland in 2000, to do parts of the Dingle Way and Beara Way, plus a hike up to the top of Carrantuohill (which scared the living daylights out of Pete. It was only then that we discovered he suffered from vertigo).

Wind forward a few more years and, after St Cuthbert’s Way (2005), Glyndwrs Way (2007) and the Dales Way (2009), in 2010 we decided to re-visit the best route of them all – the Coast to Coast (C2C). But this time in a more leisurely 5 days (well, we were 15 years older) and with all 6 of us present. (Pic 2).

Below, we have a small selection of my photos from that event. But, because we were doing it in relay format, even after doing the C2C twice I still haven’t done it all. Due to the way we rotate the groupings each day and the different stopover points, some of the legs I covered the second time around were the same or similar to the first and I still haven’t had the joy of bog-hopping near Nine Standards Rigg. (Or maybe, as one of the main organisers of these events, I deliberately avoided that leg? 😉)

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 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. 😊