Snow and birds

Yesterday morning we were woken by the sound of a helicopter and bombs going off.  No, we don’t live in a war torn area (thankfully) and the bombs were not like those I remember from my days living in London in the early 70’s.  The bombs in question were being dropped to deliberately set off avalanches.  After 2 solid days of snow, the mountains can be a very dangerous place to wander and the powers that be send up the helicopter(s) to trigger the avalanches in a controlled way.  See this link for a video of some bombs being dropped in our neighbouring valley above Grimentz:
Huge Avalanche triggered by helicopter bombing

I think I’ve said before that it never ceases to amaze me that some birds hang around throughout the winter in this extremely harsh environment.  Temperatures recently have been as low as -14 C (7F) with a high during the day of no more than -4 C (25F).   The ground is now covered completely, so there can’t be many insects for them to find.  Needless to say, our feeder has proved very popular, with the birds below all photographed in the last couple of days.

Winter amble

Our car needed to go to the garage this morning to have a tyre valve changed.  It would only take about an hour, so I took my camera for a walk alongside the river via the new Nordic Arena, which has been set out in Les Haudères.   It never ceases to amaze me how wonderful nature is at producing artistic shapes, which I hope is reflected in some of the photos below.

Back running again…

I lack motivation and I need a push to get me doing almost anything these days… Happily my wife managed to nudge me bit by bit into renovating the kitchen and the cupboards are now all painted and a new floor laid.  I even managed to cut a new worktop to size, which was a first.

When it comes to running, especially at this time of year, the freezing temperatures and the lack of a decent training route is a real mental block that I need to get through.  Indeed, I’ve not been out running since my Hallwilersee Half in October.  So I needed an incentive…

Thankfully, Datasport* came to the rescue again.  (*They are the people who advised me last year, via their regular and very informative emails, of the free travel to the Half marathons).  This time, one of the “Events not to be missed” was the Winterthur Marathon on 26th May.  Now, I hadn’t really got it on my radar, even though I have a goal to run all the Swiss marathons.  I thought it might be too small to put it on my list.  However, by May, I’ll be in a new 65+ category and I read that “The first three podium ranks of the respective categories win attractive prizes in kind.”  Not only that, but I read on their website that only 2 in that category finished in 2018… and 4 h 2 mins was good enough for 2nd and 4h 18m secured 3rd in 2017.   Now call me mercenary if you like, but that was just the kick-start I needed.

So last Sunday I plodded up and down our road for about 30 minutes (or about 5k/3miles) in sub-zero temperatures.  (My lungs complained bitterly for 2 days afterwards).  And today I drove down to Sion to pootle along my favoured flat training route, beside the Rhone, for just over an hour (or around 11k/7 miles).  As weekly totals go they are not far, but it’s a start…

As you may know, I don’t like to post anything without a picture or two, so I stopped off a couple of times on my way down to Sion to capture a few distant snowy mountain tops.

Ferpècle valley walk

Note to self:
Don’t forget to take your snowshoes when you expect to walk in deep snow.

The snow has been falling on and off for the past week or so in the Val d’Hérens.  And, now the kitchen has been decorated as far as we can go, (still no sign of the tiles being delivered!), it was time to get outside and go for a walk.  But where to go….?

A lot of my usual walks are off limits due to the risk of avalanche, not to mention the depth of the snow, so I decided to repeat a walk I did waaay back in March 2016.  My hope and aim was to find some pristine snow to photograph in the Ferpècle valley.

After parking my car in La Forclaz, I was pleased to see that the road up to the small reservoir had been cleared (though there was still a barrier blocking the way for vehicles).   Once there though, it was tough going – wading through snow up to and sometimes above your knees!  (It was only when I got back and looked up my previous post that I realised that last time I had taken my snowshoes!  Doh!!)

 

Arolla to Evolène Walk

Perhaps not surprisingly, it had rained while we were away and, given the lower temperatures, it was inevitable that some snow would fall on the mountain tops.  Although it happens every year, you are still taken aback by the huge contrast between the brilliant white and the blue skies.

I was keen to find out how low the snow had fallen and so I took the bus up to Arolla to find out and to walk back down the valley to our chalet.  Although some of the snow has now melted, it’s clear that it fell to just under the 2,000m or 6,500ft mark.

I should add that we have an incredibly talented wood carver in our valley, by the name of Hugo Beytrison.  He often works with just a chain saw, but he also carves the wonderful wooden masks for the annual Evolène Carnaval in January/February.  The last 2 photos show two examples of his work, which were on display outside his workshop yesterday.  Check out his website for more details.  It’s only in French, but, as they say, a picture saves a thousand words. 😊

 

Lingmoor Fell Walk, English Lake District

Our good friends, Ian, Martin and Jan came over to see us at the end of the week, also staying in Hawkshead for a few days.  Jude and I had done this particular walk up Lingmoor three and a half years ago and enjoyed it very much, so it seemed a good route for me to take the three of them.  It’s only a small hill at 470m or 1,542ft above sea level, but again it affords excellent views of the surrounded fells – on a clear day of course!

We hadn’t expected great weather and indeed it was very grey for the first hour or so.  But, as we neared the summit, all the clouds above us seemed to part and disappear and we had fabulous views all around.  Our walk was about 6 miles or 10km long, with an overall ascent of approximately 400m or 1,300ft.

Perhaps a little known fact (again for you quizzers or simply the curious out there) is that only one of the 16 ‘lakes’ in the Lake District is called a lake – i.e. Bassenthwaite Lake.  All the others are either Waters or Meres, as in Ullswater or Windermere.
For more information on these ‘bodies of water’ check out this Visit Cumbria website.

Place Fell Walk, English Lake District

For our second walk we chose to drive over the Kirkstone Pass to Patterdale in the north east of the Lake District.  Often smaller peaks give you a much better all round view of the distant hills and Place Fell at 657m or 2,156ft did not disappoint.

Our route started from the car park in the village and ascended to Boredale Hause, before turning left (north) to the summit.  From there we turned north-east and descended around High Dodd to the east side of Ullswater.  An undulating path then returned us alongside the lake to Patterdale.  In total the walk was 7 miles long with an overall ascent of 550m or 1,800ft.

Imagine our surprise when we (well, Jude) spotted 2 Alpine Club plaques on the side of a building next to the school – one of which was Swiss!  It seems the former school canteen, which subsequently became Parish Rooms, have been turned into a bunkhouse.  It was officially opened on 4th October 1975 and named the George Starkey Hut, after a former member who had recently passed away.  It has 20 beds and can be hired by recognised clubs and organisations.  For more information read here.

Windermere cruise, English Lake District

A visit to the Lake District wouldn’t be complete (for Jude anyway) without a trip on a boat.  And since the forecast for the day was a sort of cloudy grey, we opted to catch a ‘steamer’* from the aptly named village of Lakeside to Bowness-on-Windermere.

*Our outward journey would be on the MV (Merchant Vessel) Tern, which was built in 1891, but I’ve since learnt that it’s not driven by steam at all but is motor powered.

After a little retail therapy and a nice lunch, we returned on the MV Teal, which was built in 1936.  (See pic 8).

The boats link up with the Lakeside and Haverthwaite railway, which is only 3.2 miles/5k long but, during the season, (broadly April through to the end of October) mostly runs steam trains to take people back and forth, as you will see from the last few pictures.

A perhaps little known, but useful piece of information here, (for keen UK quizzers or maybe those who holiday in exotic locations by the sea) is that all British owned ships must fly a flag with the Union (Jack) flag in the top left corner.  The remainder of the flag is either red, indicating a merchant vessel (as with the Tern and Teal); white, together with a St George’s Cross, for the Royal Navy, or blue for other ships, which have a special warrant from the Admiralty.

For more information on Windermere Lake Cruises, check out this Visit Cumbria website.

The Old Man of Coniston, English Lake District

One of our main goals for our week in the Lake District was to walk up to the top of the Old Man of Coniston (@802m or 2,631ft).  We were staying in the village of Hawkshead, which is only a few miles away, so it just had to be done.

On our way there we stopped off at the northern end of Coniston Water to take a few pictures, as the scene was so calm and peaceful.  It’s easy to see why Sir Donald Campbell chose Coniston Water for his water speed record attempt on 4th January 1967.   Almost unbelievably, even today, he averaged 297.6 mph on his first run, before his ill-fated return pass.  Read more about Sir Donald Campbell here.

We continued through Coniston village and up to the parking area on the Walna Scar Road.  There were only a handful of cars and we weren’t to know that it would become probably one of the busiest days on the Old Man ever.  Thankfully we chose to ascend via one of the less well trodden routes alongside Goat’s Water.  However, at the summit there must have been at least 50 people and 100 or more either ascending or descending the main path below.  We therefore didn’t get a ‘selfie’ at the top, but I hope I’ve avoided a few of these ‘extras’ in the pictures below.
(Note to self: Never go to the English Lake District during Half Term again!)

On the way back to our cottage, we stopped off at Tarn Hows to take advantage of the late evening sunshine.

 

Hallwilersee Half Marathon and Swiss Trains

One way to run an Autumn marathon is to run two Half marathons. 🤔  When I discovered that there were two in quick succession, I didn’t think I’d be able to run either, let alone both.  So I’m very pleased to post another report, this time on the Hallwilerseelauf.  (In case you missed it here is my Greifensee Half report from a few weeks ago).

You may recall that Sarah, Karl and I just failed, by only 13 seconds, to dip under the 2 hour mark.  So after a little bit more ‘speed’ training since, I had (perhaps too) high hopes of running 1 hour 55 mins, or in any event under 2 hours.  The course had a downhill start, which was nice, but inevitably you are drawn into going off too quickly.  With the sun shining brightly (again) and the temperature around 23 degrees, I once more suffered in the middle to late stages, but I “dug in” (as you have to in these races) to finish in 1h 57m 27s.   OK, it wasn’t 1h 55m, but one of the things driving me on towards the finish was the thought that the sum of the two races just had to be under 4 hours… 😀

As before, I didn’t carry my camera or a phone, so I have no photos of the race itself, but here is a link to my own personal video of the race courtesy of the organisers/sponsors.  I’m the guy in the red vest and black cycling type shorts and long socks by the way. 👨  Depending upon your internet speed, you may have to wait a few seconds for the video to come up and it’s best viewed, of course, by maximising the screen (via the top right hand corner of the video window). Enjoy!

Once again, I had free travel to and from the event, but it involved catching a bus and 5 different trains to get there and 6 different trains to get back to Sion (where Jude would pick me up).  With connection times between trains of as low as 3 minutes, perhaps only in Switzerland would you even dream of getting there and back in a day.  But that’s exactly what I did.  It didn’t matter that there were weekend engineering works along one section of the route, the schedule had been adjusted and all 11 trains were exactly on time.  (See my outward and return timetables below).  Words cannot describe my admiration for the Swiss train (and Postbus) network. ⏱👍👍