Tsalet d’Eison Walk, Val d’Hérens, Switzerland

When our road was closed on Sunday, I created a Plan B, just in case I couldn’t get out to do my walk on Monday. That was to take the cross path from our chalet to Eison, then climb around 500m (or 1,600ft) to the Tsalet d’Eison. From there I’d take the track towards L’A Vieille and then the path back down through the woods to Evolène. My only doubt was how much snow there might still be on the north facing slope.

With the weather set fair on Thursday, this was my chosen route. However, as you will see from pictures 25 and 26 there was quite a lot of snow on the return path. So rather than risk soggy wet feet, a slip or, worse still, an avalanche, I returned the same way that I came. Though it worked out pretty well, as the bright sunshine had brought out many more butterflies for me to photograph. 😊

My apologies for so many images, but I hope it gives you a flavour for the abundance and diversity of the flora and fauna I’m privileged to see on these walks (even if I can’t identify them all!)

Some favourite books

Vivienne, at “Bug Woman – Adventures in London”, had a great idea with her post yesterday, which was to describe 3 of her favourite illustrated books. It inspired me to continue the theme by mentioning 3 of my own.

With a well stocked bookshelf (or three), my dilemma was which ones to choose. So my selection criteria was their relevance to this site which, when I’m not covering holidays, tends to concentrate on Swiss mountain walks and their associated views, with a few butterflies and flowers thrown in for good measure.

With this in mind, my first choice was a big book by any standards, aptly entitled Majestics. It measures 44 x 32cm (17.3″ x 12.6″) and when you open it up you can see why it needs to be. A finalist in the Banff International Mountain Book Festival (Canada), it contains some simply amazing panoramic photos of Switzerland by professional photographer, Samuel Bitton. They are the sort of images I aspire to.

I have mentioned this second book before, but it’s constantly in use during the summer as I do my level best to identify the butterflies I’ve photographed. It’s in French and is a “Guide d’identification des papillons de jour de Suisse”, written by Vincent and Michel Baudraz. The first ‘half’ is a step-by-step guide to help you identify the butterfly. This is ok until it asks you what the underside looks like and you only have a picture of the upperside – which explains why I cannot always be sure of my naming! The second part has all the butterflies listed by family together with detailed pointers to their unique features.

Throughout the book their are beautiful and incredibly accurate coloured drawings of each. Anyone who has ever tried to identify the subtle differences between two very similar butterflies will appreciate how precise they are. Not only that but the book is ably supported by this website, which shows the distribution (albeit only in Switzerland) and has a selection of photos which can often confirm the identification.

My third choice is Our Alpine Flora by E. Landolt and K. M. Urbanska, which is published by the Swiss Alpine Club (SAC). My copy is in English, but very often it seems like another language, as the detailed descriptions mention “actinomorphic” or “pedicellate” flowers, “fruit a silique opening by 2 valves” or “lanceolate, shortly petiolate” leaves. My over-simplistic technique is to thumb through the (rather too small) photos at the back until I find one that looks like mine. I know it’s a bit hit and miss, but I’d never identify anything without it. 😊

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… 😊

Trans-Swiss Mountain Bike Ride, July 2011, Part 1 of 2

When I first moved over to Switzerland in 2005, I thought I was reasonably fit and active. But I soon discovered that a lot of the people in the office were what some might consider to be absolutely bonkers. It seemed like everyone was either running or cycling or swimming or all three, you name it, someone was a keen whatever. And it wasn’t just a mere jog or a few lengths of the pool, they were fanatical. Triathlons and Ironman events were their ‘standard’ events.

It was hard not to get sucked into their enthusiasm. Every year there was a ‘Tour du Lac’ Cyclotour – a bike ride around not just any old lake, but Lac Léman (or Lake Geneva if you like). It’s only 176km/110 miles! Though it’s not a ‘race’ as such, more of a challenge to yourself. “We’ll all go round together” they said and, after buying a very expensive road bike and a few training sessions, a group of about 12 of us set off hoping to break 6 hours. Needless to say I couldn’t keep up with the best of them (who did break 6 hours) and I finished in around 6 hours 40 mins.

A 9 stage Corporate ‘Gigathlon’ relay event – involving mountain biking, running up a mountain (not only to reach the snow, but through some of it too), cross country skiing, ski touring, running and mountain biking back down again, a swim in a lake, a 17km road bike ride and a 10km run – “Let’s form a team” and that was from just within our office. I was due to run the last 10k leg but, at the last minute, due our mountain runner not liking to run in snow (who does?!) I had to swap and run up and down the mountain. As I said, bonkers!

My boss at the time, Gerard, always took a week or so off work every year to do what was termed ‘The Trans-Alp’. It was legendary and involved mountain biking from A to B over passes as high as nearly 3,000m/9,840ft – not to mention haring back down again. Never having done any mountain biking, I resisted the temptation – until they mentioned going across Switzerland, from Davos to Ollon (near Montreux). “What a great way to see some of Switzerland” I thought to myself. And with 14 takers, which would be split into 4 groups (the Elite, 2 Medium level and a Beginner…) I was in. (Another expensive bike had to be purchased of course!)

Gerard decided to do it with his son, Noe, so the 2 of them and a not so fit, Pascal, formed the Beginners group and I was teamed up with the 2 organisers, Alistair and Joern. They were both experienced bikers, so I thought I’d drawn the short straw, but it wasn’t as bad as I feared. Indeed, the three weaker groups mostly stuck together and we just let the Elite group do some extra sections while the rest of us hitched a lift in the back-up minibus. 😊

As you will see from the pictures below*, it proved to be quite challenging – though more due to the weather. And if you think this looks tough – wait until you see Part 2 tomorrow… 😉

*For the record and anyone interested in the detail of this crazy pursuit, these pictures cover Day 1 from Davos to Radons Savognin via the Scalettapass; Day 2 from Radons to Safien Platz via Pass da Schmorras and Day 3 from Safien Platz to the SAC Terri mountain hut via the Pass Diesrut.

In the first picture are (L to R) Pascal, Chicco, me, Martin, Gerard, Noe, Joern, Werner, Norbert, Guy, Alistair, Stevie, Nikolaus and Jan.

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? 😉)

Ascent of the Dents du Midi, (@3,257m or 10,685ft), Valais, Switzerland

For my 4th ‘archive’ post, let me take you back to August 2006…

I’d only been in Switzerland for a few months and one of the guys in the office said, “How do fancy a trip up to the top of the Dents du Midi?” Now, anyone who has been to Vevey or Montreux will have seen this very impressive, sawtooth of a mountain, which dominates the horizon at the eastern end of Lac Léman (or Lake Geneva). See pic 1, which was actually taken a few years later from our apartment in Mont Pèlerin.

The plan was to leave work early on a Friday afternoon, drive up the Val d’Illiez and park near Champéry, before hiking up to the Susanfe mountain hut. (I didn’t know this at the time, but I now know it was about a 7km or 4.5 mile walk and a climb of a little over 1,100m or 3,600ft). After spending the night in the hut (dinner and breakfast was included in the price of the accommodation), we’d walk up to the top of the Dents du Midi, then descend and walk to the Salanfe hut at the end of the lake of the same name. (This would be 11.5km or 7 miles and 1,200m or 3,950ft). Again, after a hearty meal, possibly a few beers, I couldn’t say 😉, a good night’s sleep and breakfast, we’d retrace our steps back over the Col de Susanfe and descend to the car park. (This would be the longest day at 14.5km or 9 miles, but ‘only’ 700m or 2,300ft of ascent).

After putting my name down to go with 12 others, I realised that I was double booked and my daughter, Sarah, who was only 16 at the time, was coming over to visit that very same weekend. Ooops! She thought she might slow the group down but, after a only a little(?) persuasion, she agreed to join us.

The weekend got off to a good start, with everyone meeting up on time, but it soon became clear that one couple could not keep up. So they dropped out and stayed at the Bonaveau refuge on the Friday night. The rest of us reached the Susanfe hut in good time for dinner. Saturday saw the 12 of us reach the Col but, as the going got quite steep from then on, about half way to the top, another 5 decided enough was enough and they turned around and headed down to the Salanfe hut.

By this time, Kevin and Cristina were well ahead and they had reached the top and were on the way down when they passed the 5 remaining “heading strongly for the top”. And, as you will see from pic 19, we all made it! 😊

This was the first time I’d stayed in a mountain hut (or 2) and certainly the first time I’d ever been to over 3,000m (or indeed 10,000ft). Sarah was an absolute star and, I think, she has just about forgiven me, (if not for this post)!

Walk to Béplan from Evolène, Val d’Hérens

The weather in the Val d’Hérens has been incredibly warm and sunny for the past week or more. So, on Thursday, I decided to head a little further up into the mountains, to see if I could reach a small lake (more like a pond) at an area called Béplan. When I plotted the route on the Swiss online mapping app*, I noticed that there was an alternative way via Lè Lachiores, which would allow me to do a more circular route.

As I climbed higher and higher, I soon realised that I might struggle to get there, especially when I saw the remnants of an avalanche. (See pics 10-12). There was also a distinct lack of butterflies, flowers and birds. So I was quite surprised to spot a Ring Ousel and, not one, but two marmots. And then at the highest point of around 2,500m (8,200ft) there were several Pasque flowers, (see pic 16), which are the first I’ve seen this year.

After picking my way carefully up the slopes between the snow, I finally came to halt around 400m short of where I wanted to be. So there was nothing else to do but take in the magnificent views and then descend, again zig-zagging my way through the various patches of snow.

(*Note that this SwitzerlandMobility application is available to anyone, to view official Hiking, Cycling and even Skating and Canoeing routes in Switzerland, though you need a subscription to plot routes and download them to GPS or print the maps. See Route example at the end of the gallery).

Oberland Odyssey, Day 6

Our last day of the trip would be a ‘straightforward’ walk back down the Aletsch glacier, retracing our steps on Day 2.  At least the weather was clearer to take in the fabulous views – and for me to show you what a glacier looks like, close up.

The Aletsch glacier is a ‘dry’ glacier in that it’s not covered in snow (in the summer anyway) so that you can see where the crevasses and holes are.  Hence the reason we are not roped up below.   On previous days, we had been on ‘wet’ glaciers where, as Des discovered, you can disappear down an unseen hole!

Even then though navigation is not that easy as the edges of the glacier tend to be all gnarled and bumpy, with lots of crevasses.  More than once we had to retrace our steps to find our way through the maze to the middle.  That’s where the glaciers coming in from each of the valleys above collide and create a relatively flat surface to walk on.

I hope you have all enjoyed this series of images and thanks for allowing me this little trip down memory lane.  Picture 4 remains one of my all-time favourite photographs.  😊

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. 😊

Bernese Oberland – Day 4

There is one key feature concerning mountain huts in the Alps, very early starts are the norm.  This is largely to make the best of the conditions, e.g. so that any ice bridges stay exactly that and don’t give way as you cross.  It’s especially true also when you plan to climb a 4,274m (or 14,022ft) peak called the Finsteraarhorn.   Des had opted out, so it was just Hannah, Aiden and I who were up at 4am to have breakfast before setting off.

Head torches on, the first rocky section was simple enough, but we soon found that we were the first group to attempt this peak since the rain/snow of Day 2.  This made going a lot slower, as poor Hannah (our guide) was having to break trail.  Every step was into a foot of snow, my feet were only a little larger and Aiden I guess had the best of it as he brought up the rear.

About half way up we spotted another group behind, taking advantage of our tracks and they soon overtook us.  We then benefited from their footprints.  The weather was relatively clear, but as we approached the shoulder, called the Hugisattel, we could see that the peak was covered in mist or cloud.  The wind had also picked up and spindrift (very small particles of ice) was battering us from the side, making life quite unpleasant.  Perhaps not surprisingly, Aiden decided he’d had enough, though Hannah convinced him to give the ridge a go.  We were already at 4,087m (13,409ft) after all, so we ‘only’ had about 200m (650ft) of height gain to go.

After rounding a large rock and climbing along the inside of a rocky ridge for no more than 50 metres/yards, Aiden reiterated that he didn’t want to continue.  My view was that I had no great desire to slog my way up a ridge in those conditions, if I was not going to get the benefit of the views from the top, so we all turned around and retraced our steps back to the Hut.

In a way it was disappointing, but my personal goal, at the beginning of the week, had been to climb higher than 4,000m and I had achieved done that and at least seen the views from there!

You may also wonder why there are so few images below – especially when there was so much magnificent scenery around.  It is true that I never used to take as many photos as I do now, but the main reason is that, when you are roped up, you don’t stop very often.  Also, quite a lot of concentration needs to go into watching the rope (for a novice like me anyway).  The rope between you and the person in front needs to be just right; not too slack (in case someone disappears down a crevasse and yanks you forward, off balance, so that you cannot arrest their fall) and not too tight, (so that you are hindering their progress).  By the end of the week, I likened it to fishing, where you are watching the line, just in case something happens.  As a result the camera tends to stay in its case until a pause is called by the leader.

 

If this whets your appetite for more, then take a look at this video courtesy of Richard Pattison.  You will see what I missed and get a sense of the strength of the wind at the top.