Coronavirus update – a personal view from Switzerland

Over the past 15 and a half years, I have had many reasons to be thankful and very grateful that I live in Switzerland, but, perhaps, none more so than during the current Coronavirus situation.

When the outbreak started, (it was so long ago now, I forget the exact date), Switzerland was one of the first affected regions in Europe. The lockdown came very quickly, with shops closed, a limit of no more than 5 people in a group and social distancing everywhere.

I recall checking the “Worldometers” website and seeing that the Swiss were ahead of the UK, at least in terms of cases, if not number of deaths, for several days. In the most unwanted league table (unless you are an American President perhaps?) the Swiss were in the top 10 – possibly ‘peaking’ at number 4 or 5. This was not good news for a country with no more than 8.65 million inhabitants.

Wind forward a few months and, while the virus still takes its toll all around the world, based on the figures from yesterday, I see that Switzerland are now down to number 31 in terms of Total Cases. But does this relative ‘improvement’, or worsening for those now in the top 30, tell the whole story?

If you sort the table by Active Cases, the Swiss drop to number 99 with 454 cases. Though that could be as low as 103rd as it seems the UK, Spain, Netherlands and Sweden don’t declare (or maybe don’t know) the number of Active cases. (The Worldometers website simply says N/A). To put that number into context, 454 is less Active Cases than the Maldives, Norway and Australia.

And then, if we consider New Cases, at least based on the figures from yesterday, the Swiss are 123rd (equal with Zimbabwe and Cyprus), with only 3 new cases reported. In effect, the virus has been brought under control and Contact Tracing is now in place to investigate and keep on top of any new cases.

So how did they achieve this I wonder? Well, I don’t know for sure, but I would speculate that a lot of it is due to the national psyche of the Swiss. They are conditioned to follow rules. (Well, at least most people are – there are always a few in every society unfortunately). They have rules which many might find a bit silly, like, you should not make any unnecessary loud noise (like DIY drilling, strimming or playing loud music) to disturb the peace and tranquility of the neighbourhood, before 7am, between 12 noon and 1pm and after 7pm – and certainly not at anytime on a Sunday or a Public Holiday. Cars have to be washed at a dedicated facility, not on your drive or wherever. The list goes on… (I have thought I should blog about some of these rules, but it becomes a way of life…)

Unlike the UK, the nation doesn’t have to be thanked for doing well and be urged to continue to follow the government advice, it’s simply expected of everyone, by everyone. You will also never find the Swiss bragging or gloating about how well they have handled the situation, they are far too modest for that and would probably consider it rather vulgar to do so. (It would be like Roger Federer saying, “Yes, of course I am the greatest tennis player of all time!” and then repeating that in French, German and Italian, just to emphasise the point. It’s just never going to happen).

Nor will you find them today dancing in the streets and celebrating their success. They are far too cautious to think it’s all over. We are still only in the 2nd phase of the de-confinement, though the 3rd phase starts in about a week. Gatherings of more than 1,000 are still banned until the end of August and social distancing is still in place wherever you go. As I say, the Swiss like to stick to their rules and I, for one, am sincerely glad that they do and I applaud them for it. (If I had a Swiss flag icon, I would fly it proudly here – on their behalf of course!)

Below are some stats taken from the Worldometers website together with a picture of an Idas Blue butterfly which I took on Sunday. I’ve been trying to find an excuse to post it and I hope it brightens up your day! 😊

Bisses Neuf and Vercorin Walk, Rhone valley, Switzerland

After several weeks of beautiful sunshine in the Val d’Hérens, the weather has taken a turn for the worse. We even had snow down to 1,800m over the weekend. So I wasn’t going to miss the opportunity to go out yesterday when blue skies were forecast.

I wanted to do a long walk and, after studying the map (and ruling out anything high), I decided do a section of the “Chemin des Bisses” (Swiss Route no. 58) from Nax to ‘as far as I could get in the time available’ along the Bisse de Vercorin, before retracing my steps back to Nax. In the event, I turned around at the bench and shrine that you can see in pics 27 and 28, which are about 800m or half a mile short of the northern end of the bisse.

The full Route 58 is 100 km long and runs from Martigny to Grimentz and it seems I have walked a section of this route before, about 2 years ago, from Haute Nendaz to Euseigne. See here for photos of that walk, where there is also an explanation of what a bisse is for any new readers.

However, my plan was nearly scuppered when, on Sunday evening, they closed the only road out of our village, due to a huge (200m3 or 500 tonne) piece of rock, which was threatening to fall after sensors showed that it had moved 70-80 cm during the day. On Monday morning the all clear was given, so I duly set off and returned home around 5pm – only for the rock to fall yesterday evening around 9:30pm. I guess 4.5 hours is not close, but I’m glad I wasn’t under it. See here for a picture of the rock on the road. Thankfully nobody came to any harm and they are hoping to open the road later today, if only for one way traffic using traffic lights. So we and the rest of the commune of Evolène are definitely in isolation at the moment!

Wainwright’s Coast to Coast, England, UK

Let me take you back to 1995, if not a little earlier than that, when my mate Colin and I had the ‘idea’ to do the English Coast to Coast walk, created and made famous by the great Alfred Wainwright, from St. Bee’s in Cumbria to Robin Hood’s Bay in North Yorkshire. Our plan was to run the 182 mile (293km) route in relay, over the space of 4 days, with one person on the route and the other driving a car to a prearranged changeover point. This way we could travel light, leaving the rest of our gear in the boot of the car, and we’d overnight in B&Bs or, preferably, Inns. 🍻👍😊

But we soon realised that there was a flaw in our grand idea – What if one of us got lost or was injured? (Remember, this was when mobile phones were still evolving even into those early ‘bricks’). Answer therefore: Recruit another two mates, called Pete and Tim, so that we’d have 2 on each leg, for a second opinion on any tricky route finding and someone to run for help, just in case. So it was that the 4 of us lined up in traditional fashion, with our toes dipped in the Irish Sea in April 1995. (See pic 1).

The event went so well, the following year we did the Offa’s Dyke Path (this time with Liam included) and in 1997, the West Highland Way (in 2 days). These were followed by The Wold’s Way (1998), where Dave was added to our happy band of runners, the Pembrokeshire Coastal Path (1999) and a trip to southern Ireland in 2000, to do parts of the Dingle Way and Beara Way, plus a hike up to the top of Carrantuohill (which scared the living daylights out of Pete. It was only then that we discovered he suffered from vertigo).

Wind forward a few more years and, after St Cuthbert’s Way (2005), Glyndwrs Way (2007) and the Dales Way (2009), in 2010 we decided to re-visit the best route of them all – the Coast to Coast (C2C). But this time in a more leisurely 5 days (well, we were 15 years older) and with all 6 of us present. (Pic 2).

Below, we have a small selection of my photos from that event. But, because we were doing it in relay format, even after doing the C2C twice I still haven’t done it all. Due to the way we rotate the groupings each day and the different stopover points, some of the legs I covered the second time around were the same or similar to the first and I still haven’t had the joy of bog-hopping near Nine Standards Rigg. (Or maybe, as one of the main organisers of these events, I deliberately avoided that leg? 😉)

“First Up” by Arthur Manton-Lowe

Firstly, please accept my humblest apologies for all the emails that this site has been generating for the past 24 hours.  I’ve been trying to resolve an issue where the picture gallery doesn’t appear in the emails which are sent out.  My testing proved inconclusive (with different results for two almost identical posts), so I left it with the WordPress Happiness Engineer to resolve and he did some more, also inconclusive, testing.  He advised switching to the latest WP Editor, which I may well do, the next time I get a chance!

In addition, by following myself, I’ve seen how the gallery images have been listed, one beneath the other, which isn’t ideal.  So I may also switch to using the Read more (of this post)… link to encourage people to view the gallery with the black background of my template.

But, to more interesting things…  Life en Suisse, during the Corona virus…

Today my wife, Jude, and I took a trip down to one of the DIY stores to pick up a painting which we’d left for framing.   In Switzerland, the lockdown is not as severe as in some countries and, after they called yesterday to say it was ready, Jude agreed a time to pick it up.  So we drove down and joined a queue of about 8 cars waiting patiently in a line in the car park.   One by one, as each car reached the front of the queue, the occupants were checked in (as having an appointment) and the driver (or passenger) got out and walked to the ‘office’ (which was carefully segregating customer from staff) to pay and to be given instructions where to collect the item.

As I was waiting, I saw our painting being brought out on a trolley and it was left at collection point A.  (Thankfully it wasn’t raining, indeed the skies are perfectly blue this week).  Jude soon arrived back and we drove around to said collection point, loaded up and drove home.  After unwrapping the picture, we were delighted with the result.  So I thought I’d share it with you… 😊  (Well, I hope it’s below, but if not, please click on the title of this post).

It’s painted by our good friend Arthur Manton-Lowe.  He told me that the location of the building is about 2 kilometres from his home in Vienne, France and the title is “First Up”, since first up lights the fire…  The inscription on the side reads: “Never let the fire in your heart go out.  Romans 12 v 11-13”

DSC00547

 

Oberland Odyssey – Day 5

Day 5 would prove to be the sunniest day of our trip and ‘perhaps’ (that’s Yorkshire for ‘definitely’) the scariest from my point of view…

From the Finsteraarhorn hut we walked directly across the Fiesch glacier to the Grünhornlücke col.  After a short descent we turned right (north) to ascend the Grünegghorn (@3,860m or 12,665ft).  All seemed quite straightforward as we approached what I though was the summit, as there were already 2 people standing there.  But then I looked ahead and saw Hannah, our guide, obviously preparing to go along what looked like a knife edge (to me anyway) – AND it was covered in snow!  (See pic 11).  Are these people completely crazy I thought to myself!

However, both Des and Aiden, who were in front of me, seemed quite relaxed, so I prepared myself for what turned out to be an amazing experience.   We climbed Alpine style, with everyone moving together.  Hannah was placing slings (short loops of rope) over the jagged edges of rock, which our connecting rope ran through, or we hooked our rope over suitable sturdy rocks in case one of us fell to the side.  At one point I placed my ice axe into the snow (long end downwards, like a walking stick to steady my progress) and when I removed it I could see daylight below!  Phew, that was a relief/scary, I can tell you!

After the obligatory photos, (you may have seen the one which Des took of me before somewhere on this website), we descended back to the Konkordia hut for a well earned beer! 

Take a good look at picture 17 of the Aletsch glacier.  Tomorrow I’ll show you a close up picture of said glacier. 😊

Oberland Odyssey – Day 3

I’ve not mentioned mountain huts very much during my posts, but I think it’s fair to say that they vary quite a bit – at least in the facilities that they provide.  You can almost guarantee that they are built in some superb places.

The Konkordia hut is at the basic end of the spectrum, with no running water to speak of.  There is a small tap which emits a few drops of water to clean your teeth and that’s it.  I’ll not describe the toilet facilities as it might put you off your breakfast, lunch or dinner, maybe all three!  However, it is positioned with a magnificent view over what can best be described as the confluence of 4 glaciers – the Grosser Aletschfirn, the Jungfraufirn, the Ewigschneefald and the Grüneggfirn.   These all join to flow down the valley as the Gross Aletsch glacier.  (See pic 1, though I will be posting more pics of this view as we returned to the Konkordia at the end of Day 4).

Our day would take us up the Grüneggfirn to the Grünhornlücke.  There we turned right and shortened the ropes to climb, alpine style (i.e. all together) up to the top of the Wyssnollen.  After a brief stop for lunch, we descended towards the Fiesch glacier.  Though Des, who was on the rope behind me, descended a little more than he expected.  Each of us had stepped over a crack, but he somehow missed it and fell into a crevasse.  Fortunately I was keeping an eye on him and grabbed and held the rope as his body disappeared.  His head was just about visible, but he was stuck and couldn’t get out.  While I held him fast, Hannah, our guide, unclipped herself, walked back up to where he was and hauled him out.

After roping back up, we then continued to cross the Fiesch glacier and ascend the short distance up to the Finsteraarhorn hut at the other side.  If you look closely at picture 12, you may be able to make out our path across the glacier.  The mountain hut is also visible if you are able to zoom in on pictures 7 & 9.  Remember, again, all of these pictures are taken in August.

 

 

 

 

Oberland Odyssey – Days 1 & 2

I mentioned in my last archive post that my wife used to work for a mountaineering company during the summer.  Having helped out at weekends* and seen many mountaineers come and go on the various courses, in August 2010, I went on one of them myself.
(*I was still working then and it was before we moved to Evolène).

As a complete novice, I chose to do the “Oberland Odyssey”, which required little if any previous high mountaineering experience.   After a day of training on the local Ferpècle glacier, the plan was to trek, from mountain hut to mountain hut, in the Bernese Oberland region of Switzerland – with a qualified mountain guide of course.

I was teamed up with Aiden, who had been on one of the other courses before and Des, an experienced mountaineer, who had not been feeling on top form the previous week, so he decided to join our ‘easy’ group for his second week.  Hannah would be our guide.

After a brief discussion at the base chalet in Evolène, we agreed that the Finsteraarhorn, the highest peak in the Bernese Oberland, at 4,274m or 14,022ft, would be our main objective for the week ahead.   However, the weather forecast was not great.

Day 1 – Glacier Training:

After a short drive and about an hours walk, we arrived at the foot of the Ferpècle glacier.   It’s a strange feeling strapping on crampons and walking across a glacier for the first time, but it was good to get at least little experience before setting off on our trek.  A bit of ice climbing added to the enjoyment too.  There’s something deeply satisfying when you hear that ‘kerchunk’ as the ice-axe grips into a wall of ice.  😊

Regular readers may note that this is the glacier which had the ‘hole’.   And, due to the receding ice and the difficulty of access, it’s no longer using for these training days.  (The Moiry hut and glacier iin the Val d’Anniviers, are now used instead).

 

Day 2 – Along the Aletsch glacier to the Konkordia Hut:

It was about an hours drive to Fiesch, where we took the gondola lift up to Fiescheralp and, from there, we set off towards the Aletsch glacier, carrying all our gear for the next 5 days (4 nights) in the mountains.  It has to be said that nothing, absolutely nothing, can prepare you for the sight and size of what is the longest and possibly largest glacier in the Alps (unless you are an experienced mountaineer of course!)  Not convinced?  Check out the first picture below, then look at the following image.  There are at least 14 people, almost invisible on the first photo, who were making their way off the glacier.  An even larger number are ahead of us, just below the glacier.

As you will see from the pictures below, the weather wasn’t kind and the rain soon turned to snow as we walked up the glacier to ascend to the Konkordia hut.  I think I was lucky to get these few pictures.  Remember, this was in August!  Thankfully, the weather did improve…

Mike’s Music Monday #52

Please note that this post was scheduled well before the Coronavirus outbreak, so please don’t be offended by the title of the song…  (I did think about swapping it for another song, but it is quite humorous in a ‘dark’ sort of way).

OK – some of you may be glad to know that this is the last in this series. (Hooray, I hear you cry).  I know it’s not been that popular, but it has filled in some gaps, which I may well fill this coming year with some other random posts (yet to be determined).

Anyway, for my last song, it seemed appropriate to play this one by Just Jack, called the Day I Died.  I had the pleasure of watching Just Jack live at the D Club in Lausanne some years ago.  He introduced this as a ‘happy song’, so who am I to argue.  Whatever, I think the lyrics and video are superb.  (In case you didn’t know Just Jack (Allsop) appears at the end of the video, as the medic who shakes his head).

 

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.  😊

Abbotsbury to Dorchester Walk (Day 7)

On Day 7, Pete caught the bus and train back home, but I had an extra day before flying back to Geneva.  My plan was to walk part of the South Dorset Ridgeway then turn north to Dorchester.  But it was soon obvious that the weather and, more importantly, the state of the paths, (see pic 3), would determine the best way forward.   I figured, after all, I was there to enjoy myself and not slip and slide ankle deep in mud.

A quick look at the map showed a very direct route along quiet roads and paths and so that became Plan B – especially as it went through the delightfully named Martinstown or Winterbourne St Martin, where there was a pub. 😊  I arrived there a little early so I explored the church before spending an hour or so drying out in front of a roaring fire and chatting to the locals.  That included a 95 year old gentleman who walked in shortly after me (completely unaided by an stick or other support) and quipped “You’ve got to get up early to be the first in this pub!”  He was a great character, who’d been in the RAF. He told me his home was flooded just before Christmas and he was living temporarily in a rented cottage nearby.  He hoped to be back in his house sometime during April.

The route also took me past the Hardy Monument on the top of Black Down, where there’s a 360 degree viewpoint – on a clear day of course.  (See pic 8).   I should explain that this ‘Hardy’ was not the Dorchester writer, Thomas Hardy, famous for his Mayor of Casterbridge, Tess of the d’Urbervilles and Jude the Obscure. (I’ve never read any of these by the way, Pete told me… You can learn all sorts of things on these trips…!)  The monument was built in memory of another local hero, the Vice-Admiral Sir Thomas Masterman Hardy (1769 – 1839), who was Captain of HMS Victory at the Battle of Trafalgar (1805).  Almost any British school boy or girl will tell you, as Vice-admiral Horatio Nelson lay dying, he uttered the immortal words: “Kiss me Hardy”.

That brings us to the end of my UK trip.  I hope you have enjoyed the series.  The sun is now shining brightly in the Val d’Hérens, so I hope to bring you some more Swiss pictures in the next few days. 😊