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… 😉

Bramois and Tour de Romandie, Stage 4, Valais, Switzerland

I’m aware that not everyone likes cycling, or even maybe sport, but this post is not just about cycling – honest! Please read on…

As I mentioned in my post on Thursday, a stage of the Tour de Romandie professional cycle race came up our valley yesterday, so I just had to post a few pictures. Although the route had no loops as such, like Stage 1, as before I managed to find 4 different places to take pictures; two near Bramois, one in the village of Vex and the fourth on the final climb, around 6km (4 miles) from the finish.

Also as before, I got into position early so I had plenty of time to wander around the village of Bramois, taking a few photos to show you what a typical Swiss or Valaisan village looks like. As you will see, it’s a mix of the very old, the traditional and the new (with a most unusual house) and with excellent sports facilities. (Even the smallest villages in Switzerland seem to have fabulous football pitches and tennis courts – no wonder they punch above their weight on the world stage). I also discovered where all those hubcaps go to that you sometimes see lying by the side of the road…

As for the race, you have to feel for these Pro cyclists. The stage included 3 category 1 climbs and the weather was awful, with rain falling throughout the second half of the race and 2 of those climbs – the last being to over 2,000m (6,500ft) with winter snow still by the side of the road. Spare a thought then also for Geraint Thomas, who took the lead with only a few kilometres to go and was tracked by Michael Woods. In the sprint finish, Thomas, with freezing fingers and only a few yards to go to the line, lost his grip of the handlebars and crashed to the floor. He got up, climbed back on his bike and finished the race and remains in second place overall, having now been overtaken by Michael Woods, but the fall cost him vital seconds and the lead.

Saillon to Produit Walk, Valais, Switzerland

I had plenty of time to get into position for my previous post on the Tour de Romandie so, after parking in Saillon, I took the scenic route over the Farinet suspension bridge and down into Produit. I’d never been up the Tour Bayart in Saillon, so that just had to be done first (though the path to it was quite interesting – see pic 5). And, on the way to the bridge, I detoured to the smallest vineyard in the world, made up of just 3 vines, which is owned by the Dalai Lama. The whole site is a place for contemplation and several famous people have visited over the years. (See pic 14 for some examples).

I’d been over the Farinet footbridge once before and knew that there was a via ferrata (climbing route) which finished nearby. I paused on the bridge but could not see anything other than the large Dove of Peace stuck to the wall and a couple of arrows. It was only when I zoomed in on my photos did I see some of the metalwork which aids climbers up the sheer rockface. (See pics 26-28).

For those who may have missed my previous post on this area, the bridge is named after a certain Joseph-Samuel Farinet who, until his death in 1880, spent most of his life on the run, but he was a bit of a Robin Hood character. However, he didn’t stoop so low as to take from the rich, he simply created his own counterfeit money and gave it to the poor. Naturally he became a bit of a hero of the people in the Valais and his legend has grown, such that almost everything in the area seems to be named after him!

Tour de Romandie, Switzerland, Stage 1

Long time sufferers, I mean followers, may recall that I ‘covered’ a stage of the Tour de France waaaay back in 2016 and some images of the Prologue of the Tour de Romandie in 2017. Well, with things being as they are, I wasn’t sure whether the Tour de Romandie would go ahead this year. So imagine my surprise (and delight) to see that it was indeed on and that 2 stages of the race would be ‘just down the road’…

Stage 1, yesterday, ran from Aigle to Martigny, and included 4 loops between Fully and Saillon (which just happens to be where I was walking last week). Not only that but Stage 4, on Saturday, starts in Sion and takes in some of the route I cycled a few weeks ago, then comes up the Val d’Hérens, to St Martin, before dropping to the village of Praz Jean, which is less than 4 miles away from our chalet. Result!

In an attempt to get some decent pictures of the event, I decided to position myself part way up the 3rd category climb to the small village of Produit. It’s normally a very peaceful village and residents must have been a little surprised to be selected for this ‘circus’ to come to town. I say ‘circus’, but it’s quite a low key event compared to the Tour de France, though many of the best riders are present since it’s one of the UCI World Tour events.

For the first two loops I managed to pitch myself next to a group of people who were obviously big cycling fans and two of them were dressed in very impressive ‘King of the Mountains’ outfits, with white and red spots. With their clanging cow bells they were well received by everyone passing by, including the motorbike outriders and team entourages, who were tooting their appreciation. Word must have got back to the organisers as a TV reporter was soon on the scene to take a video and record an interview. (See pics 4, 14 and 18).

I also took a video so that you could get a feel for the atmosphere. I aim to please. 😊 For the third and fourth loops I moved further down the road to get a different aspect or backdrop to the photos.

When I got home, I wondered whether I’d appeared on the TV coverage. I admit that I’d donned a fluorescent orange tee shirt ‘just in case’ and in TV pics 29 and 30 you have a game of Where’s the wally? to play. (Videos and games – is there no end to the fun?) By the time the leaders came around for the fourth loop, the wind had got up and I had to put on my top, so the last TV image shows me a few seconds after taking pic 27.

For the record, the peloton eventually overhauled the breakaway group of six riders and the stage was won by Peter Sagan, (seen in pic 24), in a sprint finish. Rohan Dennis remains in overall lead, with his Ineos team mates, Geraint Thomas and Richie Porte in 2nd and 3rd. (See pics 15 & 23).

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).

Saillon to Fully Walk, Valais, Switzerland

With temperatures set to soar into the 20’s C (70’s F) down in the Rhone valley, it was an easy decision to go for a walk in that area yesterday. After a quick scan of the map, I settled on doing another section of the Swiss Regional Route no. 36, “The Chemin du Vignoble”, between Saillon and Fully.

As you will see from the gallery below, the route also takes in a lot of the other farming activity which goes on along the valley floor – most notably the orchards and various poly-tunnels encouraging what looked to me like strawberry plants.

Of course I was also hoping to find a few ‘new’ (for this season anyway) flowers and butterflies and I was not disappointed. There were two distinct ‘hot-spots’ where I must have spent 20 to 30 minutes trying to chase down a Clouded Yellow – but the best shot I got was from a distance and hence why pic 21 is so poor. However, as any Twitcher or enthusiast will understand, I was extremely excited to discover a completely new ‘find’ (for me) when I checked the identity of pic 23. According to this Papillons de Suisse website (see last entry on the page) the Chequered Blue is only found in some parts of the Rhone valley, Ticino and a few other ad hoc areas in the south of Switzerland. Now that’s what I call a good day out!! 😊

Bisse de Sion and Bisse d’Ayent Walk, Valais, Switzerland

As I was about to set off to do this walk yesterday, Jude said to me “Be careful!” I replied saying that there was nothing to worry about as I wasn’t going anywhere precipitous or dangerous. Er… WRONG!!

My plan was to pick off another of the many bisses or watercourses in the Valais. This time it would be the Bisse de Sion but, to make it into a loop, I would return via the Bisse d’Ayent (previously posted here). As you can tell, I wasn’t expecting any difficulties (or any snow) as bisses are generally flat and the Bisse de Sion runs at a height of around 1,750m (5,740ft) on the south facing/sunny side of the Rhone valley. Put into context, my walk on Friday was at a height of 2,000m (6,560ft) and there was only a few inches of snow.

Everything was going as expected until I was about half to Lac de Tseuzier. OK, there had been a bit of snow in the very shaded areas, but nothing to indicate what was to come. Picture 11 shows where I first encountered some significant snow but this was quickly overcome. However, there were two much bigger challenges waiting around the corner (shown in pictures 17 to 21). Thankfully the snow was well packed and the air temperature sufficiently high to make it easy to stamp solid footholds in the top of the snow. Also my new cross-country trainers have a series of studs which added to my confidence in getting around and/or over these obstacles.

If you look closely at the centre of picture 21, you will see my ‘steps’ down in the snow. It looks dangerous, but I can assure you there were some very good hand-holds on that rock to the right, otherwise I would never have attempted it.

From then on, although there was some more snow, it was very easy going and at no point throughout the walk did my feet ever sink in above the level of my shoes, let alone my ankles. When I reached the ski parking area at Les Rousses, the signs indicated that the road and my route through the tunnel was closed. (See pic 24). So, having had enough challenges for one day, I turned about and walked over 2km (1.5 miles) down the road until I found a path which led me to the much lower and snow-free Bisse d’Ayent. This did at least allow me to get a sort of bird’s eye view of the Bisse d’Ayent. (See to the right of pic 27).

I should also have mentioned in my previous post on this subject that the Bisse d’Ayant is such an iconic example that the Swiss have decided to put a picture of it on their 100 Swiss franc note. That’s about 110 US dollars or 85 UK pounds. (I’d include a picture but I’m afraid I haven’t got one!)

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…

Walk to Le Vanil des Cours and Mont Bifé, Gruyère, Switzerland

The mountains of the Swiss Prealps are relatively small compared to their taller cousins to the south east. (Indeed, I’ve just read here that there are 1206 named peaks in the Prealps, stretching from the eastern end of Lac Léman/Lake Geneva all the way across Switzerland to Lichtenstein and the highest of them is the Schilthorn at 2,973m or 9,754ft). So, while Jude took a drive up the Jaun Pass, I walked from Charmey to the top of two of them, the Vanil des Cours (@1,562m or 5125ft) and Mont Bifé (@1,482m or 4,862ft).

As I walked between the two peaks I was pleased to spot a Crossbill enjoying the view over Lac de la Gruyère. He hung around for quite a while, so I decided to take a video in the hope that the zoom might get a closer view. Sadly this was not to be but, while filming, his mate came along with some nesting material and he decided to vacate his perch to a lower branch (see pic 21). He obviously knew his place! Please check out the video after the image gallery. (It’ll never make the Wildlife Film of the Year awards, but you’ll get the idea). 😊

Walk around Lac de Montsalvens, Gruyère, Switzerland

Like many of you no doubt, Jude and I have been longing to get away for a bit of a break. The hotels in Switzerland are still open and we took advantage of a special Dinner, Bed and Breakfast offer at a hotel in the small village of Charmey.

I think it’s fair to say that the Gruyère region is more ‘chocolate box’ pretty than the more rugged Alps of the Valais, as I hope these photos show.