It was more in hope than expectation that I drove the few miles to La Forclaz yesterday. The sun has been out for the past week and, although the snow has completely gone now from our garden (at 1,400m / 4,600ft), I wasn’t sure if even the south facing slopes at 1,700m to 2,100m (5,600ft to 6,900ft) would be clear. As it turned out, after a short stretch of snow leaving La Forclaz, the footpaths were as good as clear up to the Mayens de Bréona. However, the descent tracks, which were mainly through the woods, were still covered in about 30cm, or a foot, of the white stuff.
While I was away in Krakow it snowed, as indeed it did the day I came back, so our little valley was completely white once more. As ever though, it seems, the sun has been out since and doing its best to clear it all away again, particularly on the south facing slopes and this has led to the emergence of the first Spring flowers… (My little Swiss Alpine Flora book has been gathering dust for 6 months, so it was good to get it out again. 🙂)
I decided to get some fresh air yesterday and took a short (maybe 3km / 2 miles) walk behind our chalet along the still partially covered paths and tracks in the area called Les Flantses, which lead up to the small hamlet of Volovron. As you can see below, you don’t have to walk very far to get a good view of the valley and surrounding mountains.
Although I’ve walked up to this little lake many times before, I’ve never done it in winter. I had planned to get out my snowshoes, but the lock on the storage container at the back of the chalet (which gets no sun) was frozen solid. Anyway, it didn’t matter as plenty of people had been up there before me, although their tracks had been covered by a light dusting of snow overnight.
My apologies again for so many photos, (and for the sun spots but, hey, who’s complaining about sunshine?) but I thought it might make you feel like you’d been on the walk yourself… Enjoy! 😁
For the past week or so we have had a flock of Siskins (Eurasian variety) hoovering up around our bird feeder. It started with maybe 8 of them, then there were maybe 15 and the other day, I couldn’t count how many there were. It must have been between 30 and 40. We have had these cute little visitors in the summer, but never in the winter, so it was a very pleasant surprise.
My RSPB bird book suggested that they were “nut basket feeders”, but all of ours were seen scurrying around the floor, picking up what the other birds (mainly Great Tits, but also Blue, Coal, Marsh/Willow, Crested and Long Tailed Tits) had dropped onto the ground. That is until yesterday, when we saw several of them hanging off the nut basket. And today I’ve noticed a distinct absence of Great Tits. So I think the Siskins have ganged up on the 10 or so Great Tits and scared them off.
Anyway, while I was taking some photos with Jude’s SLR camera (my point and shoot is hopeless in the sunshine as you can’t see what you’re pointing at) who else should make a short appearance but our old friend the (Eurasian) Nuthatch. Not only that but my photo shoot was interrupted when I noticed what I thought were 4 parascenders in the sky, but it turned out that they were hot air balloons. I then remembered that the Chateau D’Oex Balloon Festival takes place around this time of year. So they must have taken off from there (which is many miles from here) and they were heading south over the glaciers and mountains to Italy when I last saw them!
Even after deleting many, many photos, I still couldn’t decide which of these pictures were “the best”, so I thought I’d post them all. Please stick with the gallery as the quality (at least of image) improves towards the end as I edged closer to the feeders. Also check out the look of the 2 birds on the feeder in pictures 13 and then 14 as the bird above hops off its perch. (I thought it was quite amusing anyway). There was quite a bit of squabbling going on as you will also see.
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.
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!!)
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.
While I was out walking the other day, I noticed that the snow had melted quite a bit on the south facing slopes. (See this pic). So I thought it might be possible to walk to the small lake or pond at Béplan without having to tramp through the snow. Well, I was almost right…
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. 😊
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… 😊