Thyon Ridge Snowshoe Walk

I mentioned earlier in the week that the weather was set to improve and for the past 3 days we’ve had glorious sunshine.  The mountains are looking wonderful with their white tops against the blue skies so, in an attempt to capture as many as possible for you, today I went for a walk along the Thyon Ridge.   At least this time I remembered to take my showshoes. 😊

The Thyon ski resort isn’t fully open yet, but most of the pistes have been prepared.  There were also quite a lot of people ski touring up to Mont Carré (@2,468m or 8,097ft). 

 

Riverside walk in the snow

I think there’s something uniquely satisfying about the deep sounding ‘creak’ or crunch that you get when walking on fresh snow.  I’m not sure if it’s just the sound, or the knowledge that you are the first person to walk on that particular spot for a while, or the fact that you have some grip and are less likely to slip, or maybe it’s all three.  Anyway, our car had to visit the garage to have its winter tyres put on, so I went for a walk up and down the river (Borgne).  As you will see from the images below, it was a little misty, at least to start with, but I think that adds to the atmosphere.  To add to at least my interest, there were a lot of fresh animal tracks around, but no animals to be seen unfortunately.

We have a few days of sunshine forecast, so I hope to bring you some brighter pictures later this week.  😀

Mdina, Malta

My apologies for not publishing a ‘real’ post for a while but, like many bloggers it seems, I’ve been busy doing nothing in particular.

Anyway a few months ago now, my wife organised a trip to Iceland with her friend Kate, so I had a look for something to do while she was away.  Naturally I wanted to find some warmer weather and I looked at the AIMS marathon calendar for some inspiration.  To my delight I discovered that the Malta Challenge Marathon was on at the same time.  It consists of 3 races over 3 days, covering a 10 miler, a 5k then a Half marathon.   So I entered, arranged all my travel and set about getting fit.  My training was going really well (even running while I was away in Finland and Mykonos) and I’d managed to get up to 20k in a respectable 1h 50 mins, so I figured I was ready…  That is until my final training run, the Saturday before I left, and my left calf seized up yet again!  (Insert a suitable curse or emoji here).

Thankfully I had another reason to go… My father spent some time in Malta after the War, as a Signalman on a minesweeper and he had mentioned enjoying some time ashore down a street which he called “The Gut”, but is actually called Strait Street in English.   So when my wife and I went to Malta / Gozo a few years ago, we searched for a copy of a book by George Cini, called Strait Street.  We couldn’t find an English copy anywhere, so I got in touch with George and managed to get hold of a copy to give to my dad.   During my email exchanges with George, I mentioned my dad’s book and he suggested I present a copy of it, personally, to the Fondazzioni Wirt Artna (FWA), which is an organisation dedicated to preserving the history of the island.  And so that was also arranged…

So, like London buses, you don’t hear anything from me for a while and now a few posts of my, sometimes very wet, time in Malta & Gozo, beginning with the Mdina…

 

Winter has arrived…

While the UK is recovering from yet more wet weather, the upper parts of the Val d’Hérens have had their first serious snow of the year.  Yesterday about 20 – 25 cm (8-10″) fell in our valley and this morning it’s decidedly crunchy underfoot.

I’m sure I’ve posted similar images to these before, but perhaps not this early in the year.

Aiguilles Rouges hut walk from Arolla, Val d’Hérens, Switzerland

This weekend we had the pleasure of welcoming four of my friends and former work colleagues.  Three of them are very fit, keen walkers, so yesterday I took them on one of my favourite walks, from Arolla to the Aiguilles Rouges mountain hut, returning via the lower path from Lac Bleu.  Julia meanwhile relaxed at the chalet reading her book in the glorious sunshine.

 

Åland Islands, Finland

Let me take you on a little journey from Stockholm to the Åland Islands, which are an autonomous region of Finland…

Travelling to new countries (and blogging about them) certainly teaches you a few things, like there is hardly any tidal movement in the Baltic sea (which is why the thousands of islands are always visible); the water is not as salty as the ‘normal’ sea and, despite belonging to Finland, the islanders all speak Swedish (and most also speak English thankfully).

We caught a Viking Line ferry, called Grace, which was more like a cruise ship, from Stockholm to Turku, on the Finnish mainland.  It’s a sailing which is highly recommended, if you ever get the opportunity, as the boat weaves its way through the almost impossibly narrow channels between the many islands.   After an overnight stop and hiring a car, we then hopped on and off 2 more ferries to get to the group of interconnected islands called Brändö. (See map pic B11).

A particular highlight of our time there was a day on the island of Jurmo.  We arrived too early for the ferry, but an extremely friendly local, called Ari, offered to give us a lift in his small boat.  There was a harvest festival type celebration on that weekend and we were treated to a tour of the island on a tractor trailer.

Like yesterday, I’ve divided my photos into 3 distinct galleries. (Click on any image to get a larger view).

The ferry journey:

Brändö:

Jurmo island:

Tour du Wildhorn, Switzerland (Day 4 of 4)

We awoke to see the nearby mountains covered by what can only be called a smattering of snow and we were buoyed by the forecast, which said no wind and no rain. 😀

When I’d organised the trip, I’d read that there was a ridge towards the finish, called the Arete de l’Arpille, which was not good for people with vertigo.  But, having seen some of the pictures, where it looked quite rounded, I convinced Pete, everything would be fine.  (He’s so trusting!)

However, whilst talking to a mother and daughter in the hut, who had done this section 4 days earlier, they told us about a series of ladders and ropes, which they found pretty challenging (aka scary) – though possibly no worse than what we had already done on Day 3.  Phew, we should be OK. (At least that was what I thought, but I’m not sure what was going through Pete’s mind… 😣😜😖😨😱🥶?)  But then we didn’t consider that the forecast might be slightly wrong…

As we approached the Col des Audannes and said series of about 6 or 7 ladders, each with 11 rungs, the weather gods decided to have a little fun and sent some more of the white stuff falling from the sky.  Thankfully it was short-lived, but at least this tells you that it was cold.   Pete had some gloves, but silly Mike thought he’d lost his somewhere the day before and I went down those wet, potentially slippery, rungs and snow covered ropes with my bare hands.  Gosh, it was cold.  One slip and we were gonners (see pic 15).  But, we survived. 😀

A little further along, there was another drop down a gully on a thick blue rope (see pic 21), followed by a much thinner climbing rope (pic 22).  Oh, the joy on Pete’s face was something to behold!  But we still had that last ridge to look forward to…  As it turned out, Pete’s new trainers had a much better grip than mine and he had no issues at all.  I was the one who slid a couple of times on the greasy surface.
(For the record and sake of completeness and safety, in case anyone is thinking of doing this route: The ridge goes away on each side at around 60 degrees and on 2 occasions the narrow path drops down to the side for about 50 m/yards each time, with no ropes or other form of protection.  So you have to be sure footed).

I’d like to show you some more photos of the final kilometre, but as you can see from the last few pictures, we finished in mist, with visibility down to around 25m/yds.  So, we skipped the final few kilometres and Jude picked us up at the Col du Sanetsch.  We returned home for a much needed bath and shower – not to mention a few beers and a superb chicken curry with poppadoms and dips (all prepared by Jude of course)! 😋

I hope you have all enjoyed this series of posts and our little adventure.  Clearly this route is not for the elderly or infirm… (Oh, sorry Pete! 😉)

As before all Pete’s pics are watermarked.

 

 

Tour du Wildhorn, Switzerland (Day 3 of 4)

I should mention at this point that my mate Pete suffers from vertigo.  He also currently has 2 bad knees (as you can possibly tell from his knee supports in the photos) and, as Monsieur Alfonse used to say on ‘Allo ‘Allo, a dicky ticker.  Plus, he will tell you that he only has one lung.  (Of course, if this were true, he would never have been able to run a half marathon in around 76 minutes, but we have to humour him…)

That said, our route for Day 2 looked simple enough on paper – a descent back down the path we had climbed the day before, a casual stroll along the valley floor, over the Col du Rawil and then up to the wonderfully (and as it turned out appropriately named) Col des Eaux Froides (Cold Waters), before dropping down again to the Cabane des Audannes.  It’s a distance of no more than 7 miles and around 750m (or 2,500ft) of ascent.  Simple.

However, the forecast was for rain by mid afternoon and what we didn’t know, was that there was a huge area of limestone to cross, which involved scrambling up and down over the sharp rocks.  Apart from the danger of falling down one of the many gullies, one slip and you could have been cut to ribbons.  This was not ideal with rain imminent.  So we pushed on, very carefully of course, foregoing our lunchtime picnic and we managed to reach the Col des Eaux Froides just as the clouds were gathering.  A flurry of white stuff started to descend, the wind got up and the air was increasingly cold.   Somewhat different to our previous 2 days.  (New readers to this series, please see the images from Day 1 and Day 2).

Even once inside the mountain hut, all was not as cozy as it might seem, as the toilets were in a small building outside.  This is just about visible to the right of the main building in some of the last photos.

As before, Pete’s photos are suitably watermarked.

 

Tour du Wildhorn, Switzerland (Day 2 of 4)

Although we had only 18km (11 miles) to cover, Pete and I knew that, with over 2,000m (6,500ft) of ascent, our second day would be the toughest (at least in terms of effort*).  Most people stop at Iffigenalp, but we chose to continue and do the Wildsrubelhutte variant.  So an early start was called for.

After a morning of lush green meadows, we had a short climb up to the Tungelpass and into the Iffigtal, passing the impossibly turquoise blue Iffigsee (pic 17).  We then stopped to catch our breath and a quick drink at Iffigenalp before setting off on the 1200m (almost 4,000 ft) climb to the hut.  As you can see from the pictures below, the terrain changes quite dramatically once you get above 2,500m (8,200 ft).  The only thing spoiling the views were the stanchions which supported two cable car lifts, which ran from Iffigenalp to the Wisshorelucke.  From what I heard, these were not for skiing as you might expect, but for use by the Swiss military.

*Days 3 and 4 would have their own challenges, but I’ll get on to them tomorrow… 😊

Again, Pete’s pictures are suitably watermarked.