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.

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!!)

 

La Luette Walk

I’ve agonised over posting pictures of this walk (from last Thursday) because ‘silly Mike’ forgot to take his camera with him and these images were taken on his phone.  After downloading them, it soon became clear that the zoom on a mobile phone does not take very good landscape images.  You all probably knew that, but I don’t use my phone very often, (even for calls), so it sort of came as a surprise how blurred and grainy they were.  However, I was very impressed by the close ups and, in particular, the quality of the first image…

I was also pleased to see one or two butterflies still around, though I suspect picture 7 will probably the last one for this year.  The weather has turned decidedly cool in the Val d’Hérens over the past week and is currently barely over the freezing point.

 

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. 😊

 

Col des Ignes Walk, Val d’Hérens, Switzerland

The forecast for the week was (indeed still is) bright, with sun followed by more sun, so I just had to do a new walk, which I’ve been promising myself for the past year or so.  The route sets off from Arolla and climbs to the Pas de Chevres, with its infamous set of (now new) ladders, before dropping down slightly and turning right up to the Col des Ignes at 3,183m or 10,443 ft.  From there the path descends quite steeply before returning to Arolla via the Remointse de Pra Gra.

During my drive up to Arolla, I noticed that the grass was all covered in frost and the car warned me that the temperature had dropped to 3 degrees, so I wondered if my fleece and light windproof top would be enough.  But I needn’t have worried as within 20 minutes of setting off, the fleece was off and it never went back on all day.  With hardly a breath of wind, it turned out to be THE most perfect day for walking in the Alps… 😊

Lammerensee Walk, nr Leukerbad, Switzerland

My daughter, Sarah and her fiancé, Karl, are visiting this week.  We’ve done some of the ‘usual’ walks (already posted recently), so, in trying to find something a little bit different, we headed over to Leukerbad yesterday to take the cable car lift up to the top of the Gemmipass.  From there we set off to find the Lammerensee, which sits beneath the Swiss Alpine Club Lammerenhutte at the end of the valley.  As you will see from the series of pictures below, it’s a pretty wild and remote area, but a relatively flat and easy walk.  Anyone wanting to make it into a more challenging walk, could always walk up the impossible looking path to the Gemmipass from Leukerbad.  😓

Click or tap on any image to view the full screen, gallery display.

Circular Walk via La Sage, La Forclaz, Sépey and Les Haudères

Grass plays a very important part in the lifecycle of the mountains.  It’s around this time of year that the farmers take their second cut to feed the animals during the long cold winter.  And, of course, where there is grass, you will often find an abundance of tiny creatures, which leap out of your way as you walk along the paths.  Below are just some of the grasshoppers and crickets that I managed to capture.  (They are devilishly quick at jumping out of the way when you approach with a camera).

I’m often asked what’s the difference between a cricket and a grasshopper and the answer is that, in general, crickets have very long antennae, whereas the grasshopper’s are quite short.  The same sort of distinction can be made between moths and butterflies where, again in general, the latter have a sort of bulb at the end of their antennae, while moths don’t and theirs can be more feathery or saw-edged.

Ferpècle valley walk (and glacier ‘hole’ update)

A few weeks ago, my friend Matt asked me what had happened to the hole in the Ferpècle glacier.  I told him that it had collapsed last year, but I hadn’t been up there recently to see what the latest was.  So off I went on Wednesday to provide this report…

Although my photo from last year is not really comparable, as it was taken from above, near the Bricola hut, it is clear the collapsed ‘end’ of the glacier no longer exists and the whole glacier must have receded somewhere between 20 and 50 metres.  (It’s hard to gauge when you are standing maybe 500 metres away).  Perhaps a better comparison can be made with these two  photos though they were taken 2 years ago.

I also came across what must be one of the smallest species of frog in the world.  The little creature in picture 14 was no bigger than my little finger nail.  How they survive through the winter, when this whole area is covered in snow and ice for several months, is a complete mystery to me.

Walk to the Pas de Lona, Val d’Hérens

I am very fortunate to be able to do quite a number of walks, some quite challenging,  from my front door.  One of those is to the Pas de Lona at 2,787m or 9,144ft.  It starts easy enough, along a track and then takes a path up to Volovron, before turning up through the woods to the alpage across to La Vieille.  It’s still a good walk to get there (and back of course).  But the real challenge starts when you set off to climb up to the col, where the path just seems to get steeper and steeper and your legs start to burn.  Once there you can go even higher to the Cabane Becs de Bosson (which many do, to rest for the night, as part of the Tour of the Val d’Hérens) but, since I’d set off quite late and we had some visitors coming, I simply headed back home again.

Now, just imagine how the cyclists must feel having to do that climb pushing or carrying their bikes as part of the Grand Raid, which takes place on Saturday…  There are 4 distances to choose from, either starting in Verbier, Nendaz, Hérémence or my village of Evolène, but they all have to do that climb before descending (and climbing again briefly) to the finish in Grimentz.  I’ve put my name down to support the riders by handing out drinks and/or maybe giving directions, but I’m not sure where I’ll be stationed yet.  It could be in the village or on the mountain side somewhere, but wherever it is, I hope to bring you some pictures next week.  In the meantime, I hope you enjoy this walk…