While the UK is recovering from yet more wet weather, the upper parts of the Val d’Hérens have had their first serious snow of the year. Yesterday about 20 – 25 cm (8-10″) fell in our valley and this morning it’s decidedly crunchy underfoot.
I’m sure I’ve posted similar images to these before, but perhaps not this early in the year.
This weekend we had the pleasure of welcoming four of my friends and former work colleagues. Three of them are very fit, keen walkers, so yesterday I took them on one of my favourite walks, from Arolla to the Aiguilles Rouges mountain hut, returning via the lower path from Lac Bleu. Julia meanwhile relaxed at the chalet reading her book in the glorious sunshine.
Last weekend, my daughter Sarah and her husband Karl came to stay for a few days. They have done many of the walks in our valley already, but they had never been up to the Cabane de la Tsa. Although closed at this time of the year, the mountain hut sits at 2,607m (8.553ft) and provides a nice circular walk from Arolla.
I’m quite often pleasantly surprised when I go out for a walk and last Thursday was no exception. Although I didn’t manage to capture a picture of Cynthia’s fritillary, which is quite common in this remote valley, I did get some, albeit long range, photos of 3 different birds. (I’ve made my best guess at each, though I’m sure there is at least one person out there who may be able to identify them for me…?)
One of the reasons I missed the Cynthia’s fritillary was because I was distracted by a herd of over 20 yaks, with no apparent shepherd looking after them. As you can see from pictures 17 to 21, I managed to overtake them as they headed to the nearest watering hole.
Most of the butterflies were just by the roadside where I parked my car!
I should mention at this point that my mate Pete suffers from vertigo. He also currently has 2 bad knees (as you can possibly tell from his knee supports in the photos) and, as Monsieur Alfonse used to say on ‘Allo ‘Allo, a dicky ticker. Plus, he will tell you that he only has one lung. (Of course, if this were true, he would never have been able to run a half marathon in around 76 minutes, but we have to humour him…)
That said, our route for Day 2 looked simple enough on paper – a descent back down the path we had climbed the day before, a casual stroll along the valley floor, over the Col du Rawil and then up to the wonderfully (and as it turned out appropriately named) Col des Eaux Froides (Cold Waters), before dropping down again to the Cabane des Audannes. It’s a distance of no more than 7 miles and around 750m (or 2,500ft) of ascent. Simple.
However, the forecast was for rain by mid afternoon and what we didn’t know, was that there was a huge area of limestone to cross, which involved scrambling up and down over the sharp rocks. Apart from the danger of falling down one of the many gullies, one slip and you could have been cut to ribbons. This was not ideal with rain imminent. So we pushed on, very carefully of course, foregoing our lunchtime picnic and we managed to reach the Col des Eaux Froides just as the clouds were gathering. A flurry of white stuff started to descend, the wind got up and the air was increasingly cold. Somewhat different to our previous 2 days. (New readers to this series, please see the images from Day 1 and Day 2).
Even once inside the mountain hut, all was not as cozy as it might seem, as the toilets were in a small building outside. This is just about visible to the right of the main building in some of the last photos.
As before, Pete’s photos are suitably watermarked.
Although we had only 18km (11 miles) to cover, Pete and I knew that, with over 2,000m (6,500ft) of ascent, our second day would be the toughest (at least in terms of effort*). Most people stop at Iffigenalp, but we chose to continue and do the Wildsrubelhutte variant. So an early start was called for.
After a morning of lush green meadows, we had a short climb up to the Tungelpass and into the Iffigtal, passing the impossibly turquoise blue Iffigsee (pic 17). We then stopped to catch our breath and a quick drink at Iffigenalp before setting off on the 1200m (almost 4,000 ft) climb to the hut. As you can see from the pictures below, the terrain changes quite dramatically once you get above 2,500m (8,200 ft). The only thing spoiling the views were the stanchions which supported two cable car lifts, which ran from Iffigenalp to the Wisshorelucke. From what I heard, these were not for skiing as you might expect, but for use by the Swiss military.
*Days 3 and 4 would have their own challenges, but I’ll get on to them tomorrow… 😊
Again, Pete’s pictures are suitably watermarked.
We have two of our regular guests staying this week. Malcolm is on one of the Frost Guiding courses, while his wife, Helen, is simply relaxing and enjoying the fresh Swiss air and reading her book. In between times, she also likes to go out walking, so on Monday we took the bus up the valley to Arolla, to walk to the Plans de Bertol (@2,664m or 8,740ft). It’s a walk I’ve posted before, but not for 3 years, so I thought I would share my photos with you all. 😊
You may have noticed that there was something missing from the pictures of my last walk – butterflies. That wasn’t because there were none around, I just didn’t have the time to stop (or wait for them to stop) and capture them on camera. Anyway, on Sunday I made up for that, and some, when I decided to walk to La Gouille, via the Alpage de l’Etoile. There was one very small area, at the Mayen de la Cretta, which must have had at least a dozen different species fluttering around just a few thistle plants.
So my apologies if there now too many in this gallery, but even now I’ve left out the Marbled White, the Tortoiseshell and the Peacock. At last though, I’ve finally captured an Apollo (which was rooted to the spot and I must have taken 20 or more photos of that one alone – see pic 16).
I also just happened to have my camera in my hand when the Hummingbird Hawkmoth came hovering by while I was having a little refreshment at the Hotel Dents de Veisivi. 🍺😊
Today I had another opportunity to do a ‘new’ walk and this time it was from the small village of Champex-Lac to the Cabane du Trient (@3,169m or 10,297ft) which overlooks a huge expanse of glacier called the Plateau du Trient. I cheated a bit by taking the chairlift to La Breya (@2198m or 7,211ft) but it was still a good hike over some rough terrain and included a little bit of snow and a short section of metal stemples* to climb.
(*Think, thick staples stuck into the rock and you’ll be close).
As you will see below the views of the glaciers were incredible, but I was surprised to find a strange looking statue outside the cabane. Since returning home I’ve discovered it was created by sculptor Nikola Zaric, who sadly died of cancer in 2017. It was only meant to be there as part of a temporary exhibition but, after his death, a crowd-fund was set up to buy the statue, in order to donate it to the Swiss Alpine Club to ensure it remains in its current position. It also looks like they have now reached that target.
Anyway, it wasn’t the only unusual thing seen at the cabane… My blogging buddy, Stephen Black, has been getting a bit of stick for over-marketing his book ‘The Kirkwood Scott Chronicles: Skelly’s Square’ on his website, FracturedFaithBlog. Having put together my dad’s book, I know how much effort that goes into proof reading and editing, let alone actually writing it. So I’m unashamedly plugging it here. 😊 If you would like to purchase a copy – please click here.
I’m now hoping that I have literally taken it to a new level and my picture is the ‘highest’ picture ever taken of his book(?)
Earlier this year, I promised you something ‘new’ in the way of walks and, with blue skies forecast, yesterday I set off to walk to the top of the Grand Chavalard (@2,900m or 9,500ft) from the small village of Chiboz. In March I posted this picture of it, then snow covered, in the background.
What I hadn’t factored into my plan was that it had rained quite heavily the day before and there was an awful lot of early morning cloud circling around the mountain tops. But I trusted that the forecast would eventually come good and, although the valley to the east was completely obliterated by the mist during my ascent (unlike the west side, thankfully), the clouds finally lifted… 😊