Winter Walk, Arolla valley, Val, d’Hérens, Switzerland

Last week, Jude and I went for a drive up to Arolla to do a walk up the valley. We knew that heli-skiing (and heli-boarding) had become popular, but even we were surprised to see not one, but three helicopters waiting to take their clients high into the mountains. We were lucky in that 5 people arrived just as we got to the first one and soon they took off. (See pics 4 & 5). On our return another group arrived and a second (pic 7) soon disappeared over the horizon. As we made our way back through the woods, it seemed like only a matter of minutes had elapsed and the 5 in the first group came whizzing by, obviously eager to take off for at least a third time!

Bisse de Clavau, Valais, Switzerland

After several weeks of sub-zero temperatures and looking at snow and/or ice, it’s nice to go for a walk somewhere warmer and where things look a bit more normal… So, today, with a ‘big shop’ to do as well, Jude and I drove down to the Rhone valley, did our shopping and went for a short walk along the Bisse de Clavau, which runs along the vineyards, just above Sion..

As you will see, the skies were a little grey and not good for photography. Indeed I wasn’t going to post anything, but we saw and learnt a few interesting things:

Pic 1: The frost on the side window of our car was rather bizarre – one bit looked like a large spider had just been squashed on it and in a few other areas the ice looked like feathers… 🤔

Pic 4: There was a huge flock of what turned out to be Alpine Choughs taking off and landing in the vineyards. One minute they would all settle, then whoosh, they all took off again. I now learn that it’s called a Chattering or a Clattering of Choughs. Along the way we also saw 2 European Robins, a few Rock Buntings and a female Black Cap. (Photos far too distant and blurred to even consider posting…)

Pic 7: Wiki tells me that the yellow lichen on the branch of the tree, has a wide distribution and many common names such as common orange lichen, yellow scale, maritime sunburst lichen and shore lichen. I just liked the bright colour and the way some bits look like little suckers… (You may need to zoom in to see them).

Pic 9: The information board told us that the dry stone wall (at the top right of the photo) is the highest drystone wall in the world. Given that Sion is only about 500m (1,650ft) above sea level and therefore the wall no more than 800m (2,625ft), we doubt it’s the highest in terms of altitude, but it could well be the tallest. If so, not a lot of people know that! For those of you unfamiliar with drystone walling, I can highly recommend the Shire Guide to Drystone Walling by Lawrence Garner (who just happens to be my father-in-law!) It also features some of Jude’s photographs!

‘New’ website…

I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that I was working on adding all 33 of the walks I had documented to this website and now I’m pleased to announce, IT’s FINISHED!! 😊 I had wondered about waiting until 5am on 4th March ’21 to ‘launch’ it, but I just couldn’t wait that long! (I hope you see what I did there).

I’ve updated the banner photos too, to have a little more variety and added a Contact menu option – just in case anyone would like to comment or request any more information. So, please feel free to have a browse around the pages under the “Walks in the Val d’Hérens” heading – at anytime and especially if you are stuck at home and self-isolating. Just select Easy, Medium or Challenging and then click on any of the walks summarised underneath the overview map… You’ll then find a map and a gallery of photos, as well as a route description should anyone visit this area to do any of the walks themselves.

Below are a few random photos taken from the associated galleries… (I should have done a quiz and asked which walk they belonged to… Too late now of course!) I hope it showcases what a wild and naturally beautiful part of the world the Val d’Hérens is!

Your comments and feedback (especially for any improvements) are always welcome of course. 😊

Borgne Riverside Stroll in Winter (Walk 2), Val d’Hérens, Switzerland

After another morning of light snow yesterday, today was bright and sunny. So I set off to do a variation on my Walk 2, by taking the alternative, higher path on the far side of the river, all the way from Evolène to Les Haudères. The lower track is pisted for the cross country skiers, so signs are in place to direct you away from walking along there.

As you will see from the pictures below, I wasn’t the first person to walk along that route. And indeed, there seemed to be quite a few people out and about today, getting their daily exercise.

Also have a look for the Dipper (in pic 5). It’s standing on a stone to the left of the ‘steamy’ river – directly above the second f in the …outoffocus watermark. And I hope I’m not the only one to think that picture 22 looks like a stag. 🤔

Sion, Valais, Switzerland

Following on from my post yesterday… When I reached Sion, I had just missed the 14:10 bus back to Evolène (by about 20 minutes). This meant I had a good hour and a half to wait before the next one. So what was a person to do with all the bars and cafés closed? Answer: Take a wander around the town and, in particular, walk up to the Valere Basilica and Chateau de Tourbillon, which were also closed, but both give fabulous views of each other as well as up and down the Rhone valley.

You do see some weird and wonderful things though while wandering around. I forgot to mention yesterday that I saw a man not just taking his dog for a walk but his cat as well! (It looked like a Siamese to me, but I could be wrong and it wasn’t even on a lead). And then as I descended from taking picture 7 below, I saw a man walking backwards up a small slope, lifting his feet quite deliberately as he did so. I hadn’t realised until I looked closely at picture 8 that I’d caught him ‘in action’. As we say in Yorkshire (and Lancashire), “There’s nowt so queer as folk!”

Pic d’Artsinol Walk, Val d’Hérens, Switzerland

Very occasionally, when I’m out walking I see the odd ‘lost’ piece of clothing, maybe a hat or a glove perhaps. But nothing could quite prepare my for the lost garment in picture 2. I’m sure there must be an intriguing story behind it, but the mind boggles!

As you will see from the gallery of photos, it was a rather a cold morning and many of the streams were completely frozen. As I approached the Pas d’Arpilles, two young guys appeared behind me and went passed in the blink of an eye. After exchanging pleasantries (in French) I caught up with them again just below the Col de la Meina. (They’d stopped to make a phone call). After another brief discussion in (my very poor) French, I heard one of them speak to the other in English. It turned out that they were British! (Both lawyers working in Geneva). You can see Sam and Alistair (my apologies if that’s Alastair) in pictures 16 and 23-25 below.

We walked together to the col, just below the Pic d’Artsinol, where we encountered another two walkers, who must have come up from the Hérémence valley. They were the only other people I saw all day. Both Sam and Alistair and I had to get back, so none of us actually went to the top and they left me having my lunch at the col, while they ran back down.

Pas de Lona Walk, Val d’Hérens, Valais, Switzerland

My last few walks have involved a drive down into the Rhone valley, so yesterday I decided to do a walk from home. But, to make this post a little more interesting (I hope), I’ve split it into 3 sections, describing each section of the walk as I go. Please let me know if you like, or indeed prefer, this type of format.

Part 1: After crossing the field to the side of our chalet, I picked up a recognised path which soon joins a wide track. This track has restricted vehicle access and ends after around 2.5kms (1.5 miles) at the small hamlet of Volovron, though there are some steep and narrow footpaths which allow you to cut off the corners.

From Volovron, the path ascends steeply into a wood where it continues to climb, though more gradually, until it exits at a cross path to a small group of chalets (and normally, in the summer, an open buvette/café) at La Vielle. This cross path is pretty much in the shade most of the day and there was a little snow and ice on the path, (pics 11 & 14), but this was safely negotiated. 😊

Part 2: Leaving La Vielle, the path is quite open, across the alpage (alpine meadow), before it turns left up to the Pas de Lona. The path becomes very steep just before the col and getting a good grip underfoot can be quite tricky. I wasn’t sure how much snow I would encounter and, before I’d turned the corner, I’d seen another walker about 300m (yds) ahead of me. I followed the recognised route, but as I crested the brow of a small hill, I saw that he had gone left and was walking up the grass and rocks, thereby avoiding much of the snow. (You can see him, in blue, towards the left of picture 20).

However, by now, I was committed to ‘my’ route, which initially involved hopping from one clear patch to another, before ultimately having to kick good foot holds into the snow to stop me sliding down the hill. It was slow, but safe, progress.

I eventually reached the col and was rewarded with a magnificent view over the Grimentz valley (pic 24). The other hiker was already there and he’s again visible in pic 22. I walked a little further across, through varying depths of snow (maybe 15cm to 40cm or 6″ to 16″) due to the drifts and was pleased to take a few pictures of the cross at the top with just my footsteps. (See pic 23). It was rather strange to see the ground completely covered in snow in one direction, but almost free of snow in another.

I had designs on walking up to the Becs de Bosson mountain hut and taking the path over the Pte de Tsevalire from there, but there was too much snow, so I took the ‘easy’ option and descended the way the other hiker had gone up.

Part 3: I stopped for lunch at Vielle, (a ham and tomato sandwich made with Jude’s wonderful sourdough bread. 😋), where I pondered my next move. I generally don’t like doing out and back routes, so, to make it into a sort of circular walk, I took the path down towards the village of Eison. I was surprised how much I had to descend before I turned left along a different path, again through the woods, to Volovron and then, from there, it was the same path back to Evolène.

Croix de la Chia Walk, Rhone valley, Switzerland

After being thwarted by the snow on my last walk, I discovered a route, again on the south facing side of the Rhone valley, which only went to 2,350m or 7,700ft. (This was about where the snow started last time). The objective was the Croix de la Chia, which sits at a col between two small peaks called Mont Gond and La Flava.

The map only showed a path to the col (with a route going down the other side), but I had secret hopes of trying to head towards, maybe even up to the top of, either Mont Gond or La Flava. Two dimensional maps can be deceiving of course and, if you look at pictures 26 and 27, you will see why I didn’t attempt either. There were two guys at the col when I arrived and they headed up towards La Flava, but I’m not sure if they even managed to climb over that first set of rocks.

I’ve also include a photo of the previously posted Bisse de Savièse, as seen from across the valley. (See pic 37). It highlights how much some of those bisses ‘cling’ to the rockface.

It’s not often I get the opportunity to take a photo of where I’m going to walk, but photo 1 shows where I was heading yesterday from ‘our’ side of the valley. The last photo was taken on the way back.

Finally, I was a very happy chappy throughout the walk, as the first thing that I saw as soon as I set off was the Clouded Yellow butterfly in pic 2, which was kind enough to land and have its photo taken. (Note that it could be a Pale or Berger’s Clouded Yellow, I didn’t get a good look at the upper side of the wings). Whatever, it was a joy to see so late in the year. 😊

Lac de Cleuson Walk, Val de Nendaz, Valais, Switzerland

After scouring the map for something new, I came up with this circular walk from Siviez, which takes in Lac de Cleuson as well as the Ancien Bisse de Chervé (an old watercourse). My decision to go in a clockwise direction proved fortunate in that I was in the sunshine for the vast majority of the time. The combination of low winter sun and high mountains meant that if I had gone in the reverse direction, I would have been in the shade most of the time.

As you will see from the photos, it was very cold in the shade, with the stream at the far end of the lake (see pics 15 to 17) almost completely frozen. It proved a challenge to cross but, after scrambling about 30 metres up the right hand side, I found a large, dry rock in the middle, which helped me to jump across.

The ice had the last laugh though, as on the return path I rather carelessly slipped and took a tumble. The worst bit wasn’t the pain of hitting the rock hard ice with my hip and cutting my elbow and finger (only slightly thankfully), nor the fear of sliding off the path onto a 45 degree slope as I went along on my back, nor even the embarrassment as the couple of walkers following behind came around the corner to find me struggling to get up. No, it was that split second, where time seems to stand still, when my left foot went from under me and, as I looked down, realised that the only place I could put my right foot, to correct the fall, was slap bang in the middle of the self same ice. Time restarted. I was on my back in a flash and went sliding along. I managed to dig my (very sturdy) GPS into the ice to arrest my slide and I came to a stop about 2 metres further on. Needless to say, I will be more careful in future!

To add insult to my injuries, the bisse proved a bit of a disappointment. OK, the path was relatively flat and it provided nice views over the valley, but there was hardly any evidence that a bisse ever existed. That is, apart from the struts sticking out of the rock in pic 35. In addition the final descent ‘path’, which looked good on the map, proved to be the service track up to the ski installations. (What a mess it all looks until the snow arrives!) And if you look very carefully at pic 37, you will see that the young man, on the left with the dog, is carrying a gun. The hunting season must still be under way. (It’s no wonder I never saw any animals, they must all be in hiding!)

Note that the first picture was taken on my way to Siviez.