Thursday, July 29, 2010

St-Luc to Zinal, July 18, 2010

This was my third trip to St-Luc, so I wanted to do a few new hikes, as well as revisit some trusty old friends.

On Sunday (18th July) we were both not in top shape after the transatlantic trip. We decided to do something known (no surprises) and settled on the spectacular high elevation hike from the top of the Tignousa finiculaire (saving us about 500 meters of elevation gain) to Zinal. This is part of the well known Sierre to Zinal marathon, run annually in early August. This is an intermediate hike: a moderate distance (about 16 kms) and minimal elevation gain (about 300 meters). The weather was excellent and the views promised to be spectacular!

After a short walk we reached the finiculaire (no discount for half fare card; 10% off for old fogies) and were whisked up 500 meters. The first three or so kilometers (until the alpage of Le Chiesso) are flat walking on a wide, smooth track. Nice views to the west, but the views to the south, with the collection of 4Ks, were yet to come. Then came the main climb, up to the Hotel Weisshorn, which was quite lively on a sunny Sunday morning:

Near the hotel we saw a couple of horses:

We also started seeing the peaks to the south:

For the next few kilometers we walked below the ridge of the Pointes de Nava that we saw from St-Luc:

As we got further south the views opened up even more:

I was most interested in the tiny bi-horned peak at the extreme left of the photo above, it is the Bishorn, seen with more zoom here:

The Bishorn had, for many years, fascinated me. I am a hiker, not a climber, but it is probably the easiest "honest" (no lifts!) alpine 4K. So easy that it is known as Le 4000 des dames (the English "Ladies' 4,000 meter peak" seems much less commonly used).  That led me to hope that I might, perhaps, one day climb it. A few years ago I concluded that I would never climb it, but I still think of "what might have been".

The slopes here are steep, and there is constant danger of both rock and snow (avalanches) sliding. So we saw several forms of protection, avalanche barriers:

metal netting to hold rocks:

and walls:

Beyond that we came upon a site where a mountain stream is diverted to the Grande Dixence system, through pipes and pumping stations. The photo shows the stream flowing above the station, with almost no flow below it:

As we got nearer to Zinal encouraging signs for the runners began to appear:


The final descent was brutal, but we reached Zinal with over an hour to spare before our bus back to St-Luc. We sat at an outdoor café and ordered two chopes de biere; well deserved after the hike.

A good start to my summer in Switzerland!

A few more photos here .

A week in St-Luc, Switzerland

This summer my plans were for a five week trip to Switzerland, spending one week each in St-Luc, Evolène, Mürren, Saas Fee and Brig.  The first four are alpine villages, the last is a small town in the Rhône valley.  A frequent hiking companion was going to join me for the first ten days.

By coincidence we booked the same flight from Boston to Zurich, and met at the airport for a pre-flight dinner (departure was at 9:30 PM, so we decided not to wait for dinner on the plane).  The flight was uneventful (as usual I did not get any sleep at all), and we arrived in Zurich a few minutes ahead of schedule.

There is a railroad station inside the airport, and I quickly renewed my half fare card (from 2008) and booked my ticket to St-Luc (train to Visp, second train to Sierre, bus to St-Luc with change at Vissoie).  We had over an hour's wait for the bus in Sierre, so we went food shopping at the station convenience store (expensive!!).

We reached St-Luc at 16:30, and went straight to the real estate office from which I had rented the apartment.  Once the final paperwork was done they kindly gave us a ride to our apartment; it was a short ride but was welcome.

My two previous apartments in St-Luc (2007 and 2008) had a view across the valley to the modest ridge that separates the Val dÁnniviers from the Val d'Hérens (highest peaks just a tad over 3,000 meters):

but limited views up the valley.  This year's apartment had no view across the valley (a building across the road blocked it), but had good views to the south.  First, a bit east of south, there was the ridge of the Pointes de Nava (note the plural; a series of pointy peaks) and the famed Hotel Weisshorn:

Here is a zoomed view of the hotel:

Much more interesting was the view to the south, where for the first time I could see from my apartment the famous "Imperial Crown" of peaks at the end of the valley:

They were even more impressive later that evening when they turned reddish:

Here is the Matterhorn before it goes to sleep:

Early next morning:

A bit later:

The Matterhorn waking up:

And the Obergabelhorn:

Many more photos here!

The village seems to me to consist of three parts.  First there is the original farming village, old buildings crowded together with narrow roads.  Then there is an area of dense "chalet like" apartment buildings, were our apartment was located.  Further out there are more spread out new buildings, some apartment buildings and some chalets.

On one street we saw movable wooden toadstools that could be used to block it off:

One house had a delightful black cat at the top of its chimney:

Another one had an interesting wooden carving:

Here is a closer view:

We had planned to hike Sunday and Monday, then take Tuesday off.  But the weather was excellent on Tuesday, so we decided to do an "easy" hike (turned out a bit more challenging for me than planned).  We definitely planned to take Wednesday off, but the combination of excellent weather and a deteriorating forecast for the rest of the week led us to hike again, four days in a row!  Thursday I went down to the valley (Sierre and Sion) for some errands.  On Friday we spent a delightful day at the Fondation Gianadda in Martigny, I have written a brief report on the trip, and here are the photos.

Finally on Saturday it was time to move.  I took the bus, train and another bus to Evolène, while my friend took the bus to the Lac de Moiry and walked over the Col de Torrent to Evolène.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Sorebois to Zinal via Cabane du Petit Mountet, July 20, 2010

After two days of hiking I should have taken a day off, but the weather was perfect and I had a companion who was clearly able to hike again.  So I chose an easy hike, with most of the elevation gain done by cable car.  I knew from my 2005 trip that it has wonderful views of the mountains to the south of Zinal, above all the Weisshorn, Zinalrothorn and the glaciers that cascade down from them.

The Swiss travel system is efficient: a bus to Vissoie, followed by a bus to Zinal and the cable car to Sorebois got us to the start in no time.

I will first say a few words, with a few photos, about the hike, then give what you really want, the mountain photos!

After about five minutes on a road the trail veered off.  The photo below gives a feel for the whole trip: meadow and rock on our side of the valley, uninterrupted views of the mountains on the other side:

Most of the time the trail was nice and smooth crossing the alpine meadow:

but there were a few interesting rocky areas:

and, as everywhere in these mountains, areas of rockfall to cross:

There was a small snowfield above the trail, at these elevations precipitation often falls as snow in summer:

The trail was certainly not crowded on this Tuesday, but we did meet several groups.  Here we pass a group having a picnic with a view:

We passed through an interesting area of shrubs; by then I was photoed out and unfortunately took no pictures.  Soon we were above the hut:

Here is a closer view, note the parasols.  It is an easy hour's walk from Zinal, so is a very popular destination for the less ambitious walkers vacationing there:

We were worried about catching the bus back to St-Luc, so we did not stop for a beer at the hut.  From there to Zinal we took a wide track (there is a trail that we decided to bypass) and reached Zinal with an hour to spare.  Ample time for a beer with a view.

And now for the mountains!!  First an overview, note that my identification skills are, at best, limited!  The first photo shows the western part of the Imperial Crown.  The leftmost mountain, with clouds around it, is almost certainly the Weisshorn.  The black mountain at the extreme right is Lo Besso, small but prominent since it is much closer than its bigger neighbors.  I think that the mountain to the left of Lo Besso is the Zinalrothorn; it might be one of its immediate neighbors  Way down you see the valley, with the Zinal glacier at its upper end and streams flowing down from it:

Probably the Weisshorn:

Zinalrothorn, Besso and hanging glacier:

Weisshorn to Zinalrothorn:

Another look up the valley:

You can see the whole gallery here.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Chandolin to Illhorn to St-Luc, July 19, 2010

On Monday we decided to do an easy summit hike, the Illhorn, a small peak (2,716 meters, 8,900 feet) with 360° views, taking the bus from St-Luc to Chandolin. The hike was four rather easy kilometers each way, with around 800 meters of elevation gain (2½ miles and about 2,800 feet for the metrically challenged). Given that buses from Chandolin to St-Luc are infrequent we decided that we would walk back if we had a long wait, an extra 4½ kilometers. All in all a reasonable hike (a few years ago I would have called it an easy hike!).

There is not much to write about the trip. We got off the bus one stop too soon (the driver thought that your old scribe wanted to take a lift 80% of the way up) but we quickly reached the center of Chandolin where the trail starts. In about half an hour we got to the Illhorn Hut; being so close to the village it is, in fact, a café-restaurant. Too early for a snack, but we should have stopped to see if they sold any postcards that identify the numerous peaks seen from the Illhorn.

Beyond that we ascended through what in summer are pastures, in winter they metamorphose into ski runs. Lots of lifts; I do not find them offensive though I know many do. We knew that the great views awaited us on the summit, so we did not pause for photos. Ultimately we reached the Pas de l'Illhorn, a shallow pass between the summit and a poorly defined ridge. We had a good view of the nearby lake, the Illsee:

The final ascent was still rather easy, and soon we were close to the true summit. The summit is small, and we spent most of our time on a slightly lower knob, having lunch and discussing which peak was which (not too successfully). We also shot lots of pictures, but did not coordinate the shooting with the attempted identification. Worse yet, I did not record in which direction the shots were taken; in many cases it is clear from part of the context, but not in all. In other words, admire the mostly unidentified views!  More pictures here.

But first a look at the Illgraben, a gigantic crater caused by the collapse of a mountain. Here is one of the very few descriptions in English that I found:

The Illgraben is a gigantic stone circus which results from the collapse of the mountain due to erosion. This massive yellow and reddisch crevasse expands every year. This trees fall down, the side walls draw apart.

A Google image search will get you lots of good photos, this is the single one I took before photographing the mountains:

Summit, with the Bernese Alps in the background:

Shots to the south are easily identified by the low black ridge, the Arête des Ombrimtses:

The one pair of peaks that I can identify with confidence is the Weisshorn/Bishorn pair left of center; the uncompressed image on my computer shows the twin horns of the Bishorn unambiguously.

The next picture is shot, with lots of zoom, to the west:

It is much less clear what we have. I suspect that the pair of pointy peaks in the foreground are the Becs de Bosson, on the wall separating the Val d'Hérens from the Val d'Anniviers. Much more in doubt is the identity of the peaks in the background. Guide books say that the Mont Blank is visible from the Illhorn, and the big white mass seemed to be the best candidate. I then assume that the three pointy peaks in the background are some of the many Dents and Aiguilles around it. Take with many grains of salt!!

The next two pictures are to the north, two peaks in the Bernese Alps:

I should be able to identify them (did so in 2008) but alas, do not know where the postcards that had them labelled are.

I am almost sure that the next one is the Bietschhorn, a peak just shy of 4,000 meters (3,934 meters). It is closer to the Valais than the Bernese Alps, as it is one of the peaks forming the south wall of the Lötschental:

While on the summit the entire area below was visible, and the trails by and large stood out. We decided not to return to Chandolin (the descent to St-Luc from Chandolin, should we not catch a bus, is uninteresting) but go directly to St-Luc. The photos below, shot much later, show the route we took.

We descended from the summit to the col, then went along (actually slightly below) the ridge until we descended to the ski lift station to the right. It shows more clearly here:

On the way down we had a good view of the avalanch barriers on te west slope of the Illhorn, above the ski area:

Once off the ridge we followed the north side of the Arête des Ombrimtses, then contoured around its western edge to approach the St-Luc ski area. There were excellent views, but by now I was pretty much "photoed out"! The final descent to the village, as often seems to be the case, was brutally steep.