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 .

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