Col du Tsaté and Col du Bréona from Evolène, Val d’Hérens, Switzerland (Part 1 of 2)

My apologies again for the delay in posting these images, but my feet have hardly touched the ground since we arrived in Wales. Six weeks already! Where does the time go? (I do know of course – visiting and being visited by family and friends and a few games of golf in between, but I’ll not bore you with all the details). So, without further ado, let’s catch up where I left off…

On the glorious 12th (of August) I set off to walk from our chalet to the Col du Tsaté then along the (mainly side of the) ridge to the Col de Bréona and back again. It’s a walk I’ve done before, but never in this direction. As you will see the skies were perfectly blue and the butterflies were out in force. 😊

Part 2 tomorrow… (I hope).

Val de Réchy Walk, Val d’Hérens, Switzerland (Part 1 of 2)

With everything going on with regard to selling the chalet and organising our move back to the UK, I’m a bit behind with my blogging. However, I’m determined to bring you as many of my favourite walks as possible before we leave and this is a walk I did last week (on 29th July).

I had hoped to find a Cynthia’s Fritillary (Hypodryas cynthia), which are often seen in the Val de Réchy, but it wasn’t to be. But then I did see a lot of butterflies and, in Part 2, I’ll bring you an image of so many I bet you won’t be able to count them. (I did count 18 and a moth in pic. no. 22 below, but that’s just an appetiser for what’s to come tomorrow…)

Thyon Ridge Walk, Valais, Switzerland

I mentioned in my last post that my walks and subsequent posts tend to concentrate on some combination of views, flowers and/or butterflies. Well, almost incredibly, given the warm weather we’ve been having, this walk has no butterflies at all! I did capture a very poor picture of a Tortoiseshell, but I didn’t think that worth posting and the Swallowtail at the top of Mont Carré flew off before I could catch my breath and switch on my camera. Others either flew off up or down the slope to the side, making it difficult to follow them.

As you will see in the gallery below, there was a bit of cloud around for a while, but this more or less cleared as I reached the turnaround point at Greppon Blanc.

Aiguilles Rouges Cabane from Arolla, Val d’Hérens, Switzerland

The weather across Europe has taken a turn for the better this past week and on Sunday I decided to take advantage of the blue skies. I was rather hoping to find the Small Apollo butterfly, which I’ve seen on this route before, but I was to be disappointed.

That said, whenever I set off on my walks I wonder whether there will be more butterflies, flowers or scenic views – or some combination of all 3. This was certainly a good mixture., which I hope you enjoy. 😊

Alpage walk from Les Haudères, Val d’Hérens, Switzerland

Yesterday, our car had to go in for a service and the internet was going to be off for 4 hours for maintenance work… So, you may not be surprised to read that I decided to go for a walk. The planned route would take me back home from the garage via the ‘scenic route’. I deliberately kept it below the snow line, so as not to get into any tricky situations, but nature often has a way of surprising you…

As I emerged from the woods to cross what would have been the Torrent de la Sage stream, I was faced with a torrent of a different kind. During the winter, a huge avalanche had completely filled the gully – flattening almost everything along the way. The snow must have been at least 3 or 4 feet thick. Thankfully it had been there for some time, as it had settled and was quite solid (but not too icy) to walk on. I managed to cross to the path at the other side by walking about 40 to 50 yards up the slope of the avalanche. (See pics 18 to 20).

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

Although we had a little more snow overnight down to 1800m, (5,900ft), I finally decided to do a walk from home in our valley. Unusually, I didn’t check the forecast before setting off and it was a little chilly with clouds covering many of the mountain tops. But I needn’t have worried as the sun eventually burnt them away, to leave perfectly blue skies all around. 😊

Sierre-Zinal initial climb, Valais, Switzerland

Since my aborted attempt to run the Swiss alpine K23 race back in July last year, I thought my ‘running’ career might be over and I didn’t go for run at all for the remainder of last year. But there is something about getting out there and putting one leg in front of the other as fast as you can which appeals, to me anyway . It’s partly the fresh air, partly the desire to keep fit, but it’s mostly the sheer joy and satisfaction of completing a run.

So it was that about 12 weeks ago I embarked upon my latest comeback. After a couple of 5k’s (3 miles) I’ve managed to get the distance up to nearly 13k (8 miles). Part way through this period, I received my usual email from Datasport (i.e. the people who manage the entries and timing for most Swiss races). The email contained the usual “Races not to be missed” and that included the Sierre-Zinal mountain race (which is 31km/19 miles long and has an ascent of 2,200m or 7,218 ft).

Now, I hate running uphill. Throughout the past few months I’ve driven down to Sion to run, well jog, along the cycle path by the side of the river Rhone – to avoid even the slightest climb between our home here in Evolène and Les Haudères. But this is an iconic race, (part of the Golden Trail World Series) which I’ve always wanted to do and I figured (possibly quite rightly as it turns out) that a lot of it would be walking up steep paths.

Entry to the race was on a strictly first-come-first-served basis and, although there were a few technical problems due to the number of people applying, I did eventually manage to get registered for the race. There are two categories, “Runners” and “Tourists”. I presumed the latter was/is for people, like me, who just want to do the race and so that’s the category that I’m in, though they do start at 5am in the morning! (This could be a good thing as the race is on 7th August and the sun could be blazing down by mid-day. The Runners start at 10am).

As you might expect, I have no idea how long it’s going to take me to complete the race (assuming of course that I do!) Apparently Runners average 4 and a half hours. On the official website, they provide a useful calculation spreadsheet to help you work out the timings at different stages. This is OK if you know your expected time and I had an idea that I might be able to do it in maybe 6 hours. (I’d certainly be happy with that time sitting here now!) The website also provides a course profile which indicates the percentage effort to reach the various feed stations. (See gallery).

Of course, Sierre is ‘just down the road’ for me, so yesterday, with the sun shining brightly, I decided to check out the first section of the race – which is pretty much uphill all the way to Plonchette. It’s ‘only’ about 6.5 km / 4 miles but rises over 1200m / 4,000 ft and represents about a third of the effort or time required to complete the course.

I’ll not divulge how long it took me to get there, but suffice it to say that, even though my legs felt like jelly, I did feel good enough to continue a little further along the course – that is until I reached the point where ‘running’ was impossible due to the snow. (See pic 22).

Note that all of the pictures below were taken with my mobile phone – and on my return/descent from that furthest point. Accordingly, they have been rearranged into ‘ascending’ order… 😉

Ferpècle valley walk, Val d’Hérens, Switzerland

Yesterday I decided to take a wander up the Ferpècle valley to see how much snow there was and to check on the progress of the tadpoles in the small pond. The road up to the small reservoir had been cleared so that was very easy going, but from there to the pond, the snow was still at least 30cm or 1ft thick. Luckily, I didn’t have to walk far to get to the pond, which was still iced over. (See pic 10). I’ll return in a week or two when the ice has melted to see if anything is swimming around.

On my return, I had a quick look at the small reservoir, to see how full it was and I was slightly taken aback. The level of the reservoir had obviously dropped leaving huge cracks in what would have been the frozen top. It was like something from the Antarctic (but on a much smaller scale obviously).

There was also a bit of a surprise as I walked up the road as there had obviously been an avalanche to the right of the road. It had completely filled the gully or ravine between the road and the far rockface. The river had somehow managed to work it’s way through as water was still flowing lower down. (See pics 5 & 6).

As you know I’m always on the look out for different or very special butterflies and I have seen quite a few Camberwell Beauties this year already, but I’ve not managed to capture one on camera. So it was very pleasing to find one merrily flitting down the side of the road and posing nicely for me to take several photographs. (See pic 24 for the best of them).

Mayens du Cotter Walk, Val d’Hérens, Switzerland

After a week of sunny, but cool, weather, yesterday I decided to check out how high the snow line had risen to on the south west facing side of the valley. I expected the small pond at Béplan to be still under snow, but the chalets at Mayens du Cotter to be clear and so it proved…

My plan was to walk along the relatively flat track from there and drop down to Les Haudères. But I’d forgotten that the cross path went up again and I could see that it was still covered in quite a lot of snow. Not wishing to have a repeat of my epic walk of 2 weeks ago, I decided to make my way back down to Villa. From there, to make it into a sort of figure of 8 loop, I walked down the road to La Sage and took a quick detour up to the small Chapelle de Saint-Christophe, before descending the path to La Tour and home again.

As you will see from the gallery below, I still managed to find a little bit of snow, but it was only between 5 and 20 cm (2 to 8 inches) deep. It must have been pretty cold too, as most of streams were partly frozen. (See pics 9 and 10).

And I’m glad I did this walk yesterday as, overnight, we’ve had another 5cm (2″) of the white stuff. Hopefully that’s the last for a long while…

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.