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.

Snowy walk around Arolla, Val d’Hérens, Switzerland

By stark contrast to the Spring-like conditions of my post yesterday, the situation up at the top end of our valley, in Arolla (@2,000m or 6,560ft) couldn’t be more different. The snow is still 60cm or 2ft deep in places and, on Sunday, the place was over-run with skiers getting their end of season fix.

My plan was to walk the last of my “Easy” walks (Walk 10) from Arolla to Lac Bleu, but I soon discovered that the path was hard to find. (Note to self – take the GPS next time!) Picture 4 below shows the signpost where I was due to turn left. I thought twice about it, but persevered. About 20 minutes later, having seen no way markers for the past 10 minutes, I gave up and came back to the same junction and went right.

This lower path was meant to be a snow-shoeing route but, again, I somehow managed to get off the official route and found myself facing a trudge across an open snow-field with a slope of at least 45 degrees from up left down to the right. Now, almost every week we hear of people dying in avalanches, so, with the sun blazing down, I wasn’t going to risk adding to that statistic and I made my way, very carefully, down to the road under the ‘cover’ of several bushes and trees.

“What now?” I thought to myself and, rather than walk back along the road, I headed across to the other side of the river and followed the snow-shoeing route, before taking a rather cheeky short cut across the cross-country piste back to Arolla. At least it gave me the chance to take some more photos for you. 😊

I shall return later this coming week, with GPS in hand, to complete Walk 10 (if I can).

Snowy walk to Lac d’Arbey, (Walk 8), Val d’Hérens, Switzerland

The plan was to do this walk on Sunday but, on Friday, we awoke to perfectly blue skies, instead of the “very cloudy” day which was forecast. So I decided to go for it. The snow shoes were left at home, as I expected someone to have walked up there already – and so it proved. On the ascent there were clear boot marks, which I was extremely grateful for as that made the climb much, much easier. And on the descent I was lucky that the young lady, seen in picture 7, was snow-shoeing up the way that I would be coming down. She was obviously very fit as she was already resting by the cross (see pic 21) when I arrived. Both routes are pretty much the same distance from the left or right turn (see map) where picture 7 was taken.

I was also very impressed with the little person in picture 3. That track is very steep and he or she was making light of it. They obviously start them very young around here! 😊

Walk to La Sage, La Forclaz and Les Haudères from Evolène, (Walk 6), Val d’Hérens, Switzerland

As expected, we did get some overnight snow, but it was only a very small amount down to around 1600m or 5,250ft. So, while the underfoot conditions were favourable, I decided to pick off another of my ‘Easy’ walks – no. 6 to Les Haudères, via the villages of La Sage and La Forclaz. (This leaves only walks 8 and 10 to do, if I can, before this ‘winter’ is over).

As you will see from the gallery below, the walk started brightly enough, but the clouds soon came along to make things a little tricky for my point and shoot camera. (I’ve had to lighten a couple of the images). But, I hope you enjoy the walk as much as I did. 😊

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. 👍👍

Walk from La Luette to Sion, Val d’Hérens, Switzerland

Most times my walks go very smoothly but, occasionally, there are a few hiccups… Yesterday, I drove down to La Luette, with the intention of walking down the east side of the valley to Sion. I’d no sooner got out of the car when I discovered I’d left my camera at home. A quick about turn to pick it up and 20 minutes later I was setting off. Less than five minutes later, I was taking my first photo and the camera said it couldn’t read the SD Card. My heart sank! I was sure I’d put the card back in and, thankfully, I had. But, for some reason, it took 3 attempts to get it working. Phew!

Not long after that, I came across the sign in pic 2, saying the path was closed due to the danger of rock fall. You can see where the rocks are sticking out (in pic 3), so I ignored the sign and maybe 150 metres later I exited the danger zone (having kept a watchful eye on the rocks above!) Phew 2!
Note: this is not recommended practice of course and should only be undertaken by intrepid explorers or idiots like me!

Another unusual encounter was with a herd of goats, which decided to follow me from their apparent home at Ossona. You can just about see them to the bottom left of pic 8. As I continued along the track, I was suddenly aware of the tinkling of bells behind (see pic 9). I stopped to see if they would continue to some unknown destination, but no, they just hung around. (Maybe it was the smell of Jude’s delicious peanut butter biscuits in my bum-bag, I don’t know). All I could do was continue and they seemed to drop back, but again they decided I was worth following (pic 12) and I only got rid of them when I reached a gate about 500 metres later. Phew 3!

As I was walking along several small, brown and orange looking, fluttery things kept taking off in front of me. I knew they were not Tortoiseshell butterflies as they were much smaller. But none of them would re-land to have their photo taken. About half way along the walk, two more appeared in quick succession, so I kept my eyes peeled for no. 3 and, bingo, I finally caught one before it took off. I’m still not exactly sure what they were, but my best guess is an Orange or Light-Orange Underwing moth. (See pic 19).

Lastly, for your entertainment, (never let it be said you don’t get full value on this website), I decided to take a video of my crossing of the Passerelle de la Grande Combe. Since WP only allows a maximum of 250Mb, I did it in 2 sections and spliced them together (cutting off the ends of each to make it small enough to upload). I hope you enjoy. (It’s at the end of the post, after the gallery).

Winter Walk, Arolla valley, Val, d’Hérens, Switzerland

Last week, Jude and I went for a drive up to Arolla to do a walk up the valley. We knew that heli-skiing (and heli-boarding) had become popular, but even we were surprised to see not one, but three helicopters waiting to take their clients high into the mountains. We were lucky in that 5 people arrived just as we got to the first one and soon they took off. (See pics 4 & 5). On our return another group arrived and a second (pic 7) soon disappeared over the horizon. As we made our way back through the woods, it seemed like only a matter of minutes had elapsed and the 5 in the first group came whizzing by, obviously eager to take off for at least a third time!

Passarelle de la Grande Combe from La Luette, Val d’Hérens, Switzerland (Walk 12)

On the way down to Sion the other day, I noticed that the path for this route on the far side of the valley was pretty much clear of snow. And indeed, but for some ice on the initial descent from La Luette, that proved to be the case.

Apart from two lost looking souls in the ‘square’ in Euseigne, I didn’t see anyone along the route at all. Perhaps that was just as well, since there would be no way of socially distancing oneself almost anywhere along the path and especially crossing the 133 metre/145 yard long suspension bridge. (See pic 14).

I’m always in awe of anyone who can paint and I think the mural on the house in Ossona (pic 18) is simply amazing. I’ve included some close-up photos to give you a better idea of the skill of the artist. I was completely blown away by the black and white ‘picture’ (which is just to the top left of the door in the main picture). Even the (apparent) wall and lintel to the right of it is painted! Incredible detail and I’m glad I can share it with you! 😊

On the descent to Combioula, I saw something flutter up in front of me – obviously a butterfly or a moth. It went high up and into the line of the sun and I lost sight of it. That was annoying enough, (it being my first opportunity of the year to capture one on camera) but only a few seconds later it happened again!! I also spotted just the tail end of what must have been a small green wall lizard. So Spring may not be far away.

‘New’ website…

I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that I was working on adding all 33 of the walks I had documented to this website and now I’m pleased to announce, IT’s FINISHED!! 😊 I had wondered about waiting until 5am on 4th March ’21 to ‘launch’ it, but I just couldn’t wait that long! (I hope you see what I did there).

I’ve updated the banner photos too, to have a little more variety and added a Contact menu option – just in case anyone would like to comment or request any more information. So, please feel free to have a browse around the pages under the “Walks in the Val d’Hérens” heading – at anytime and especially if you are stuck at home and self-isolating. Just select Easy, Medium or Challenging and then click on any of the walks summarised underneath the overview map… You’ll then find a map and a gallery of photos, as well as a route description should anyone visit this area to do any of the walks themselves.

Below are a few random photos taken from the associated galleries… (I should have done a quiz and asked which walk they belonged to… Too late now of course!) I hope it showcases what a wild and naturally beautiful part of the world the Val d’Hérens is!

Your comments and feedback (especially for any improvements) are always welcome of course. 😊

La Forclaz via Sépey from Les Haudères (Walk 9), Val d’Hérens, Switzerland

It seems I was wrong in my post yesterday and the snow is expected to fall over the next 3 or 4 days… Fortuitously this meant another sunny day for me to pick off another walk from my list. I didn’t want to take the car, so I decided to walk to Les Haudères from our home in Evolène. As you will see there’s still plenty of snow around and it’s only going to get deeper!