Saturday, 20 June 2015

Go with the flow - follow the bisse...

Vercorin Bisse
Within the Valais there are over 2000km of 'Bisse' - as they're called in French, and Wasserleite or Suonen in German. These ancient, man-made water channels, traverse the mountains, bringing valuable water from rivers to villages and fields. Once they were a life-line, but after WWII many fell into disuse and disrepair as technology advanced, and the cost of maintaining them rose.
Paddles and locks control the flow of the water along the Vercorin Bisse
Today, many have been restored and you can walk the well graded paths next to the channels. Here, in the Val d'Anniviers, there are several dotted around (although not all have water). Vercorin is a favourite - through forest, and around the hill into the Vallon de Réchy. It's a great walk, and on a hot day the water acts as a natural air-conditioner below the trees. Elsewhere in the Valais, there are more 'sporting' routes, such as the Torrent-Neuf above Savièse. A great example of the risks and feats of engineering that were achieved to get water to where it was needed.
Torrent-Neuf, Saviese
The Torrent-Neuf dates back to 1430, with many extension and even tunnels added over the centuries. It has recently been restored and is open to walkers between May and November. But you need a good head for heights -  bouncy new suspension bridges, link cantilevered sections of boardwalks across the tall cliff face. An amazing route, and the information panels with old photos show just how dangerous this was to build and maintain:

For more hiking routes that follow bisse in the Valais:

The Museum of bisses is in Anzère:

Some wonderful old footage of a 'guardian' of the bisse at work:

Tuesday, 9 June 2015

White Russian

This year our end of season ski tour took us away from the Alps to the Caucasus Mountains, Russia. A very different adventure, and the chance to climb the highest mountain in Europe - Mt Elbrus 5642m.  Thanks Olly and Mountain Tracks for putting together a wonderful trip with great people.

Here's a 3 minute slide show (best viewed on YouTube) of the trip and a few stills to give you a taste...

Brown and white, mixed with ice - the perfect White Russian

Fresh snow around the Ullu Tau Lodge
Flying from London via Moscow we ended up at the Ullu Tau Lodge in the Adyr-Su Valley close to the Georgian border. So close in fact that each morning required a 45minute stop at the army checkpoint to go through papers. Time to look up at the mountains and our day ahead.

The mountains around the valley
A wonderful place to ski tour and acclimatise...

Wonderful touring
before heading over to Elbrus and its infamous accommodation - 'the barrels'...

Elbrus and it's views
after 2 days of storms and some more altitude acclimatisation, we got lucky with the weather and all made it to the top (along with 100's who were competing in the 'Red Fox Race')...

A successful summit after 2 days of storm
before returning to the valley and the villages.

Some local characters