Saas Valley Walk, Day 1 of 4, Gspon to the Weissmies mountain hut, Valais, Switzerland

To set the scene… The plan for our 4 day walk was as follows:

  • Day 1: Gspon to the Weissmies hut
  • Day 2: Weissmies hut to the Berghotel at Almagelleralp, with an extension up to and back from the Almageller hut
  • Day 3: Almagelleralp to the Britannia hut
  • Day 4: Britannia hut to Saas Grund

After driving for just over an hour from our chalet to Stalden, which sits at the ‘confluence’ of the Saas and Matter valleys, (the latter being most famous for the Matterhorn), Pete and I bade farewell to my wife, Jude, and took the gondola lift up to Gspon. As an aside, we were squeezed in with about 7 other walkers and another 8 cyclists with their mountain bikes. So much for social distancing! But, thankfully, masks were compulsory (and a week later, I’m still feeling OK. 😊)

I’d read that Gspon was ‘famous’ for having the highest football pitch in Europe. It often hosts the European mountain village championships so, as keen football fans, Pete and I had to take a look. (For more info. please read here).

From Gspon the path undulated along the east side of the Saas valley, passing some tiny hamlets and a beautiful church at Finilu. Several rocks and boulder fields were safely negotiated before the final climb up to the mountain hut, where we had a room (normally sleeping up to 8 people) all to ourselves.

As you will see the weather was a little grey, but the sun did eventually come out and the small amount of rain, which was forecast for late afternoon, didn’t materialised until the evening. 👍

Walk to the Aiguilles Rouges hut from Satarma, Val d’Hérens, Switzerland

This is another of my favourite walks, which I normally do from Arolla but, for a change, I thought I’d do it in the opposite direction. Parking at La Gouille has become a bit of an issue, due to the number of visitors, so I decided to set off a little further down the road, from Satarma.

I was about three-quarters of the way to the hut, when I heard a rustling sound to my left. A parapentist was sorting out his gear and getting ready to fly. So I paused and decided to take a video. If anyone has not seen them taking off, it’s quite a tense moment, for the observer anyway. So I’ve added it at the end of this post. (Note that there was quite a lot of background wind noise, even though there was hardly any wind, so I’ve set it to play muted).

Walk from La Forclaz (VS) to the Col de Bréona and Col du Tsaté, Val d’Hérens, Switzerland (Part 2 of 2)

As I arrived at the Col de Brèona, the clouds were still swirling around. In the mist, I noticed two climbers descending from the Couronne de Bréona. They stopped to remove their harnesses and rope, while I was checking out the cloud cover. About 5 minutes later, the clouds started to clear and I followed the two climbers along the path up to the small, unnamed peak by the side of the col. If you look closely at the first picture, you can see them on the left and on the far end of the ridge in picture 3. They are also visible in photo 5, while two hikers are coming up the path which I would soon take. The climbers turned right into the Val du Moiry.

I’d seen nobody during my ascent to the Col de Bréona, but suddenly the ‘top’ was quite busy with another 2 climbers and around 10 people hiking up to the Col du Tsaté as I descended. Apart from 3 more people at the small lake at Remointse de Tsaté, (one is just about visible in red in pic 13), I saw no-one until I arrived back in La Forclaz. Maintaining a good social distance is rarely an issue while walking in the mountains!

If you missed Part 1 and would like to catch up, please click here.

Evolène, Val d’Hérens, Valais, Switzerland

The 15th August is normally the date when the Mid-summer Festival takes place in our village. But this year, for obvious reasons, it was cancelled. So we were not treated to the helicopter rescue of the dummy which had fallen (or was he pushed?) off the rockface, nor the stream of vintage cars. And the usual procession, of the villagers demonstrating the traditional arts and crafts, will have to wait until next year.

So, I decided to have a wander through the village and take some photos to show you what our village looks like during the summer. Normally the main street would be packed from one end to the other but, this year, there were just the usual weekend and holiday visitors. It was also nice to see the locals dressed in their traditional costumes, simply relaxing and enjoying some time with their families.

If you would like to see an example of what we all missed, here’s a post of the Mid-summer Festival from 2016.

Note that the last two images, courtesy of Wiki, position Evolène on the map of Switzerland and the canton of Valais and give some facts and figures about the Commune – just in case you wondered… 😊

Walk to Villa and La Sage, Val d’Hérens, Switzerland

After three and a half weeks of ‘rest’, (well, not doing anything too strenuous), yesterday I decided to test out my heel on a short walk up to Villa, across to La Sage and then back home again. It was a bit sore by the time I got back, but it feels OK today, so it must be more or less on the mend. 😊

In the photos below (pics 2 and 5) you can see people climbing on the via ferrata. It looks pretty dangerous, but they are attached via a harness and short ropes to a cable which runs alongside the various stemples (which look like thick staples), metal plates and a ladder, which are fixed into the rockface.

Along the walk I saw many, many Marbled Whites (I gave up counting after 20), quite a few Damon Blues and Small (Cabbage) Whites, three or four Spotted Fritillaries and a Chalkhill Blue or two. But, since I’ve recently posted pictures of them, I’ve only included the ‘new’ ones.

If anyone knows what the brown butterfly is in pic 21, please let me know. I didn’t find a very good match to any of those in my Swiss book.

Swiss Trip to the South-East (Last Part 3)

As we drove back from Diavolezza, we came across one of the most amazing, certainly sporting, sights that I have ever seen. There must have been at least 50 or 60 kite-surfers, criss-crossing the Silvaplanasee. After the extremely calm morning, the wind had picked up and the surfers were having a fantastic time – some leaping high into the air and landing gracefully, but occasionally trying some tricks (like removing the board from their feet) and then, more often than not, crashing back into the lake.

We later read that there is a particular feature of the local summer climate, called the Malojawind. This is due to the morning thermals rising above Silvaplana much quicker than the neighbouring St Moritz and Sils and thus creating a strong, warm wind.

Not only were the kite surfers having fun, but everyone watching them seemed to be smiling too. It was certainly mesmerising and entertaining in equal measure.

The unfortunately named Crap da Sass Castle, comes from the Romansh and Italian language (Crap = stone in Romansh and da Sass = from stone in Italian). It was built in 1906 by the German general Graf von der Lippe and is now privately owned, so not open to the public. However it does create a marvellous back-drop to the activities on the lake, which also include wind-surfing.

Below I’ve created my usually picture gallery. This is followed by a sequence of photos, which should be stepped through in gallery mode, to see a sort of moving image. (Just click on, or touch, the first image and click or right arrow forward). Finally, there’s an actual video, which finishes in dramatic style! I hope you enjoy! 😄

Swiss Trip to the South-East (Part 2)

We awoke to another beautiful day with blue skies and high clouds. We also soon discovered that there was hardly a breath of wind. As we drove along the lakeside road, we just had to stop. I certainly don’t remember ever seeing such a perfect mirror-like reflection on such a large lake as the one we saw on the Silsersee. (See pic 2).

Our plan for the day was to tour around to the Val Bernina and take the cable car up to Diavolezza. Jude had read that this gave the best view of the 4,049m (13,284ft) Piz Bernina and how right the guide book was! As you will know, we have seen many, many glaciers. The views from the Gornergrat (of Monte Rosa amongst other 4,000m peaks) and the Aiguille du Midi (of Mont Blanc) are very impressive, but I think the panorama we encountered from Diavolezza was even better.

From the viewing platform there’s a relatively easy walk to the summit of Munt Pers (@3,206m or 10,518ft). Unfortunately the top was in cloud most of the time and we never did get a view to the east. But it did clear sufficiently to get a glimpse of the Morteratsch valley. (See pic 16).

I was so blown away by the views, I decided to take a video for you as well. 😊 (See end of this post).

P.S. Happy Swiss National (& Yorkshire) Day everyone!

Swiss Trip to the South-East (Part 1)

For our first full day in the Engadin, we decided to walk from Maloja along the path which runs by the side of Lej da Segl or the Silsersee to the village of Sils Maria. Jude was keen to see what it looked like as Colletts Mountain Holidays have (or at least would have, had it not been for COVID-19) started running holidays there.

Quick aside here: I first met Jude while on a Colletts Mountain Holiday in the Italian Dolomites in 2004. Jude was the chalet host. The rest is history as they say… 💕😊

Anyway, even before we’d left our apartment, we’d noticed some people, running in pairs towards the lake. Only the day before, Jude had read about an event called the ötillö, which required a team of 2 people to run, swim, run, swim, run, swim, etc. for a total of 45km. (39km of this is running and 6km swimming across the 2 lakes in the Engadin). One of the rules is that the 2 competitors should never be more than 10 metres apart, so they are tied together with a piece of rope. (The madness of the human race never ceases to amaze me!) On the plus side, if there is a plus side, they are allowed to use paddles on their hands and floats between and on their legs. (In the second picture below you can see the 2 competitors had them on their shins, but not everyone had them). Of course, these had to be carried during the run sections. All I can say is, it’s not an event you’ll catch me doing!

We stopped at the rather quaint village of Isola on the way for a coffee, where there’s a huge cascading waterfall. Sils Maria itself was quite charming, with restricted motorised transport from what we could see. It’s clearly a great base to explore some of the excellent walking routes and attractions in that area. (But it’ll never beat the Val d’Hérens of course! 😉)

We returned to Maloja via a small ferry boat, which criss-crosses the lake to pick up passengers. Apparently it’s the highest operating ferry in Europe, at an altitude of 1,797m or 5,896ft. Swiss facts – Jude has them all! (It’s no wonder I married her! 😍)

To Happyland and Beyond…

No, this is not a post about recreational drugs, though recreation and endorphins are involved… It’s about a Swiss running event, organised by Datasport, called One Million Run, where the aim is for all the participants to run a total of 1 Million kilometres this weekend. In typical, precise Swiss fashion, the event started at 00:00 this (Saturday) morning and goes on until midnight on Sunday.

Anybody (based in Switzerland I presume) can register and run any distance they wish. An app is available to monitor your progress and distance and, upon completion, the results are then transferred into the Datasport ‘Live’ results website. Or, you could use your own GPS device and upload that later. At the time of writing over 70,000 people had entered, 6,000 were running and 16,000 plus had finished (at least for today).

For my part, I’ve been doing a bit of running here and there, trying to get fit again, but my run last weekend was my longest at 7.6km (4.7 miles). So my first challenge was in deciding how far to run. 10km (6 miles) seemed a little short to be a sufficient challenge, but 20km (12.5 miles) might be just a bit too far, so I settled for 15km (9.3 miles). My next dilemma was where and when to run… The only route I have around here, is up and down the riverside, which is no more than 4km one way, so that would mean doing the 100m (328ft) climb twice! On the other hand it would be cooler here (at around 15 degrees C) versus the 20+ deg C heat down in the Rhone valley… After some internal debate, my decision was to go with the ‘flat’ of the Rhone riverside, but to set off early and run in the relative ‘cool’ of 17-18 degrees at 8:45am.

My route would start near the Sion Golf Club and take me past a couple of lakes to my expected turnaround point at 8km, just beyond the Happyland amusement park. I chose to turn around at 8km as, psychologically, it makes it lot easier to do the 7km on the way back, plus it gave me a km to warm down/cool off!

I measured the distance on my old GPS watch and it appears to have sold me short by 50 metres. Although my watch said I’d done 15km when I stopped, the GPX file uploaded to my SwissMaponline app (see below), says 14.95km (and the official result says 14.9k). Either way, I’m very pleased that I decided to take part and managed to finish without stopping or getting injured. 😊👍

Oh, and for those who may be interested, my time was 1h 22m 8s.
To save you doing the maths, that’s a shade under 5.5m per km (or 8m 52s per mile).

Trans-Swiss Mountain Bike Ride, July 2011, Part 2 of 2

We awoke to freezing cold mist. Even the bouquetins (Ibex) were looking for shelter. (See pic 1). And, I confess, the last 2 photos in my post yesterday were taken on the morning of Day 4, mainly because the evening before we were all glad to get out of the rain and into the warmth and comfort of the hut.

The four in the Elite group had done an extra bit at the beginning of Day 3 and so the rest of us waited nervously, and for what seemed like an age, for them to arrive as snow started to fall. Werner decided he’d go out and look for them and about 20 minutes later, they all arrived, but Guy was in a bad way – suffering from both exhaustion and hypothermia. He was almost incapable of speech and so was stripped where he stood, though he could barely stand. Thankfully after several hot cups of tea and a warm shower, he thawed out and was fine for the rest of the trip.

But as you will see below, the going was still not easy. At the higher altitudes it was more suitable for skiing than mountain biking. And, remember, this was during July.

The photos cover Day 4 from the Terri hut to Sedrun, via Campo Blenio, Luckmanierpass; Day 5 from Sedrun to the Grosse Scheidegg via Passo Maighels, Andermatt and the Furkapass (with a little help from a bus and train) and Day 6 from Grosse Scheidegg to Kandersteg. I offered to drive the minibus on Day 7 to Gstaad, so I have no pictures of that particular leg via Adelboden I’m afraid.

But, I have to say that, despite my inexperience and the obvious challenges posed, it was a fabulous trip!! So good in fact that I went with them the following year, from Orsières in Switzerland to Monte Carlo on the Mediterranean, all the way down the French/Italian alps ! Thankfully the weather was much, much better… Post to come in due course… 😊