Matterhorn Flight from Sion, Switzerland

For my 2nd ‘archive’ post, I’ll stay with the airborne theme of the Chateau D’Oex Balloon Festival and take you on a tour of the Matterhorn…  But first, some background:

For several summers after we arrived in Switzerland, my wife, Jude, worked for a mountaineering company.  (Her afternoon teas were, indeed still are, legendary!  ☕🍰)   Guests would be taken by qualified Mountain Guides to the summit of many of the (often 4,000m+) peaks in the Alps.  One of the guides, Anthony, was learning to fly and when he passed his test he offered to take me and another guest for a flight.  This was on the assumption that we paid for the ‘hire’ of the plane, which actually wasn’t that expensive at 2 Swiss Francs per minute.

So it was that, one fine Saturday morning, we took off from Sion in the Rhone valley in a 4 seater plane, with me in the co-pilot’s seat and headed up the Val d’Hérens.  Anthony was in contact with the Control Tower until we left the Rhone valley and then we were on our own.  “If you see anything, let me know” he said!

We gradually gained height as we passed over Vex and then on to the Arolla valley, doubling back to turn right at the ‘twin peaks’ of the Dents de Veisivis.  From there we passed by the Aiguille de la Tsa and it was only later, when I zoomed in on the photo, that I noticed 4 climbers on what looks like an impossible spike.  (See pics 16 & 17).

A slight left turn took us past the snowy face of the d’Hérens and across a massive glacier to circumnavigate the iconic Matterhorn.   Again, it was only later that I noticed the Solvay bivouac hut clinging to the Hörnli Ridge.  This is the ridge the mountaineers take to climb the Matterhorn from Zermatt, though there is another route up from the Italian side.

Our steady descent took us down the Zinal valley, alongside the Ober Gabelhorn, Zinalrothorn, Weisshorn ridge then over the Moiry mountain hut and reservoir of the same name.  As we approached the Rhone valley, about an hour after taking off, we regained contact with the Control Tower and were given permission to land.  After a perfect landing Anthony said: “That’s the best landing I’ve ever done!”

As you can imagine, it was an exhilarating experience and one I hope you enjoy too via these pics.  The quality isn’t great I’m afraid as the vast majority were taken through the cockpit window.

P.S. Don’t forget to look for the hidden face or “The Scream” in pic 27.  😊

Mayens de Cotter Walk, via Volovron

A few weeks ago now, I placed my camera on the kitchen worktop.  When I went to pick it up, rather ironically, the safety strap got caught on a drawer handle and pulled it out of my hand, such that it fell on the tiled floor.  At first it didn’t work, but after switching it off and on a few times, it miraculously came back to life.  It had a blurred spot in the bottom left corner of the images anyway, so I decided to buy a new one, just in case it decided to pack up when I needed it most.

Having invested in spare batteries, I decided to by the same make, but ‘upgrade’ to a more expensive model (as would-be photographers tend to do) – a Sony RX100 (from a WX500).    On the face of it, it was the same camera, with much the same functions, but it had a 1″ sensor and had rave reviews.

It was only when I’d got it out of the box and tried it a few times that I realised it had a very poor zoom of only 3.6x. (My old one had a 30x zoom).  And it appears the ‘wide’ panorama isn’t quite as wide as my old one.  But, the images do seem to be a lot better.  To cover all the bases, I took both cameras with me on my walk from home today.  The route was a little challenging in places, due to the snow, but the weather was fantastic.

I always shrink the images to around 250k (to save WordPress space and you waiting aaages for the images to load).  Four of the images below, were taken with my old camera, but I would guess that you cannot tell which they are.

Spring is in the air…

When I look out of the window today, it seems inconceivable that only a week ago it was snowing and we had around a foot (30cm) of snow covering our garden.  However the temperatures have risen quite sharply since and all that snow has now gone.  Our daffodils are starting to emerge and there are signs of Spring everywhere.

Over the weekend we were pleasantly surprised to see at least a dozen different birds in and around our bird feeder.  We had the usual Great, Blue, Coal, Crested and Willow/Marsh* Tits, who are regular winter visitors, but in addition there were several Goldfinches, Chaffinches, Blackbirds and Rock Buntings plus a Robin, a Greenfinch and a Pied Wagtail.
*I never can tell the difference.

Most of my photos were not particularly good, but I did also go for a short walk up the path behind our chalet yesterday and I thought I’d share a few of the better images for you to enjoy.

 

Trip to Bettmeralp, Valais, Switzerland

A few years ago now, Jude and I had promised ourselves that one day we would go skiing in Bettmeralp, or rather the AletschArena, as the lift system also links in with the Riederalp and Fiescheralp ski areas.  So, with some free time last week and the weather set fair, we did just that.

After several weeks of sunshine, we were pleasantly surprised at the depth and quality of the snow and the huge width of some of the ski pistes.  We were also very taken by a very picturesque Victorian style building, which turned out to be called Villa Cassel. (See pic 6).

Further research revealed that it was built for the German-English banker, Sir Ernest Cassell, who used it as a summer residence until the First World War.  Cassell had an interesting life.  He was born in Cologne and, at the age of 17, arrived penniless in the UK. However, he went on to become one of the richest men in Britain and was a good friend of King Edward VII, Prime Minister H.H. Asquith and Winston Churchill.  He bred race horses and had a famous art collection.

The Villa itself could only be reached on foot or by mule.  But, when the inhabitants of the town said they were going to make a better road to his property, he answered: “If you do, I’m not coming here anymore.”

After the War, the Villa was used as a hotel, but was sold in 1970 and is now run as a nature conservation centre by Pro Natura, the oldest environmental organisation in Switzerland, who take care of about 700 nature reserves of various sizes throughout Switzerland.  I’m sure Ernest would have approved.

 

Walk to Lac d’Arbey and Les Haudères, Val d’Hérens, Switzerland

After the excesses of the festive season (i.e. too much 🍰&🍺) I was keen to get out for some much needed exercise.  Many of my usual walking routes are knee deep in snow, but I thought the track up to Lac d’Arbey and then across and down to Les Haudères would be well trampled down by now.  And, apart from one or two ‘softer’ patches, so it proved…

 

Walk from Euseigne to Sion, Valais, Switzerland

While the upper part of the Val d’Hérens is covered in snow, the lower part of the valley is completely clear.  So, with the sun shining brightly, I decided to take my camera for a walk down the path from Euseigne to Sion.  Although it’s a walk I’ve done and posted before, I was certain I’d find something new or unusual to photograph and I wasn’t disappointed.

The early morning frost made for some interesting images and one of the wooden bridges had been dislodged due to a landslide last year, making it unusable.  However, I have no idea why there was a sweeping brush propped up next to the small shrine.  (See pic 24).

Fun in the snow

Firstly let me wish you all a very happy, healthy and peaceful new year.

My brother, Steve, has been visiting us this past week with his wife, Beverley, and their two sons, Gabriel and Sebastien.  Last Friday didn’t get off to a good start with snow falling all morning, but it did mean the boys could get to build a rather large (6ft/2m tall) snowman in the afternoon.  I say ‘boys’, but as you can see from the first few pictures, it was mainly Steve who built it, while Seb and Gabe did what brothers do – throw snowballs at each other.

From then on though it has been blue skies all the way and we’ve been out walking, cross-country skiing and downhill skiing.

With the sun shining brightly, as each day went by, the snowman started to tilt more and more.  Picture 29 below was taken on new year’s day (looking a bit how I felt!) and, even today, it’s still defying gravity by leaning at around 45 degrees.

Thyon Ridge Snowshoe Walk

I mentioned earlier in the week that the weather was set to improve and for the past 3 days we’ve had glorious sunshine.  The mountains are looking wonderful with their white tops against the blue skies so, in an attempt to capture as many as possible for you, today I went for a walk along the Thyon Ridge.   At least this time I remembered to take my showshoes. 😊

The Thyon ski resort isn’t fully open yet, but most of the pistes have been prepared.  There were also quite a lot of people ski touring up to Mont Carré (@2,468m or 8,097ft). 

 

Winter has arrived…

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.