Tuesday 13 December 2011

From ice to Nice

photo by: Will Herrington
It's only 2 weeks since the previous post and how the landscape has changed. The resorts are open at weekends and the international race teams are being relocated from other venues and are flooding in from all over Europe to race in Zinal. Us mortals benifit tremendously from all the hard work the lift company has put in and we've been making turns before most. Now the real snow has arrived and we can venture off piste too. This is from Sunday which was before the recent falls. More forcaste for the rest of the week.

Sunday 27 November 2011

Walking on water

We decided to make the most the beautiful weather, which continues dry and cold. We opted not to ski today and instead walked up to the Lac d'Arpitetta which was frozen solid - the ice about 5" deep.

Meanwhile across the valley the team at the Zinal lift company have been working miracles making water into snow up on the hill so that Zinal opened this weekend to the public making it possible to ski from 2896m down to 2195m.

Monday 10 October 2011

Yellow, snow

A cold and wet front came through at the end of last week - a good excuse for a fire. But on Sunday we woke to a stunning day - fresh snow and beautiful autumn colours. It was calm and warm down here but up high you could see the strong winds blowing off the powder snow.

Sunday 2 October 2011

Pockets full of gold

The Indian summer that started about 4 weeks ago continues, if anything the days seem even warmer now. As of last Monday (26th September) the beautiful colours of autumn are starting to appear - the birch and larch are turning golden and the mountain ash red. To add to the autumnal feel the deer are beginning to rut and their belowing calls can be heard every evening.

Tuesday 13 September 2011

Tour of the Monte Rosa

Four fantastic days of yomping around the Monte Rosa massif with mad Tom, at speed. It was all his idea - so far he's tackled the tour of Mont Blanc, Corsica's GR20 and Chamonix-Zermatt by the summer haute route, all in a fraction of the normal time, not to mention the Everest marathon, and climbing Mont Blanc with his number 5 ice axe and teeing golf balls off the top.

The tour follows some of the ancient Walser trading routes. We took a handful of pictures with a phone (we travelled very light weight). The normal length of the trip is nine days, and to judge by the straight lines on the GPS routes recorded on the internet, everybody seems to use ski lifts where available, which is an odd way of going for a walk. We didn't.


  • 4 days
  • over 9200 meters of ascent and descent
  • over 130 km's
  • 1 blister
  • highest point 3302m
  • favourite part (day 2) Colle selle Cime Bianche to Fiery

Day 1 Grachen to Zermatt: along the Europaweg as far as the Europahutte, then on to Zermatt. A beautiful walk with Matterhorn and Weisshorn views, across suspension bridges and rocky slopes. The hut was great for lunch but after that we were forced down to the valley as the high path was closed.

Day 2 Zermatt to Staffal (Italy): up through the not very lovely-to-walk-through Zermatt ski area and over the glacier to the Theodule pass. We pulled on Kahtoola MiroSpikes to give us grip on the ice - these worked impeccably even on the steepest section. Once into Italy and the Cervina side we crossed the rocky moonscape terrain and dropped into the most beautiful valley that followed the Torrent de Courthoud down to Resy -  then up and over the Bettaforca pass to Staffal.

Penny crossing the glacier with Kahtoola MicroSpikes on Scott eRide running shoes
Day 3 Staffal to Macugnaga: up to rifugio Guglielmina then across the Passo del Diavolo and down a rather sketchy footpath, in places very exposed, and into another stunning valley for lunch at Rifugio Crespi Calderini. We were soon climbing again, up and over the most amazing paved footpath: in the 1920's the Alpini (the alpine division of the Italian army) manhandled massive rock slabs to produce a series of switchbacks leading several kilometres over the Colle del Turlo and down the other side. It's an extraordinary piece of engineering which is even marked as a cycle route on our map.

Tom running down from Col del Turlo 
Day 4 Macugnaga to Grachen: Our longest day 13 hours (including a few breaks). Leaving Macugnaga and climbing up to the golden Madonna on the Monte Moro pass you had to remember to cast the occasional glance backwards to the Monte Rosa and it's glaciers. Dawn light spreading over the massive east face was an amazing sight. You must be seeing about 2600 vertical metres of ice and rock wall, and can even make out the crazy Margheria hut lashed to the Gniffeti peak, with steel hawsers, at 4559m.

View back across Macugnaga to Monte Rosa
Leaving Italy is always hard but we pushed on and down the slabs to the Mattmark reservoir, then an easy yomp down to Saas Almagell and a much needed lunch. We headed on to Saas Fee and the start of one of the most challenging parts of the trip: the high footpath back to Grachen is not to be taken lightly. Traversing at about 2300m it is extremely narrow and exposed with massive drops straight down to the valley below. The occasional memorial cross focusses the mind as do the chamois on the path which bound down the slopes at high speed when you appear. It was a relief to turn the corner into the dying rays of the sun and finally descend to where we had started just 4 days and 134 rocky kilometres ago. Not only were my feet and thighs starting to properly ache for the first time during the trip but the route as a whole, and this final leg in particular, was a big enough challenge that we couldn't be sure of making it at the outset. So it was quite chuffing when we did.

Monday 29 August 2011

Bank holiday blues

Fabulous weather this weekend. The temperature is just perfect and the sky crystal blue. We are still in training for the tour of the Monte Rosa and have just got our new shoes - the eRide by Scott. They are light as feathers and give a terrific spring to your step.

We thought we'd put them to the test with a hike up to the Cabane du Grande Mountet. Its a long old way and 1330m of ascent, but you get wonderful views of the glaciers tumbling down from a cirque of mountains, including the 4000m Imperial Crown: Bishorn, Weisshorn, Zinalrothorn, Obergabelhorn and Dent Blanche

Saturday 13 August 2011

Berry berry lovely

It's a bumper year for redcurrants this year. All around the chalet bushes are strewn with strings of ruby's which glow in the sunlight. Although free and abundant, there's still a cost to picking them as the best bushes seem to be buried in fields of nettles. The other day we came back with 7.5 kgs of fruit. Having filled the freezer we started making jelly - can't wait for the next leg of lamb...

Tuesday 9 August 2011

Better late than never...

Col des Arpettes
Just getting a bit of training in for an early September tour of the Monte Rosa - normally an 8 day hike - which we're doing at a run with mad Tom, hoping to condense it into four 30-odd km stages. But it's the ascent and descent which will cause the trouble: the worst day is 2906m up and 3400m down. Here's a google earth track to the stunning Col des Arpettes above our house which we nipped up as a test-run which my phone miraculously recorded and which also tells me I can now eat an extra 6.7 Twixes. So it's not all bad.

Wednesday 20 July 2011

Himalayan Alps

Despite the mixed weather recently we were able to have a wonderful walk on Monday up the Grand Chavalard with some friends. Despite the cloud swirling around we still got some amazing views down onto the Rhone valley, a vertical drop of about 2400m. It brought back memories of a walk we did in the Langtang in Nepal a couple of years ago (left Switzerland, right Nepal). It's not the first time that we have been reminded of the Himalayas since being here - different cows though...

Gd Chavalard, Switzerland (left), Eric in Langtang, Nepal (right)

On a clear day you would have an amazing 360 which takes in Mt Blanc, the Bernese Oberland and the Matterhorn - something to come back for.

Wednesday 27 April 2011

Imperial Haute Route

Finally, nearly four years after arriving here, we've done the classic tour of the valley including an ascent of the 4153m Bishorn. It's probably not the first time this peak has been climbed by people with blisters covering more than fifty per cent of the surface of their feet, but full marks to Anthony and Axel for an impressive display of mental fortitude. Arse-of-the-tour award for skiing the best pitch of powder with one skin still attached - doh! - goes to Eric.  And everyone in the group gets a medal for days one and four which involved a lot more walking than normal due to thin snow conditions. Thanks to chief guide Graham Frost and to Mark Walker for getting us to the top of the correct mountain and keeping us in such good spirits.

Saturday 2 April 2011

Rosenhorn - heil ski touring from Meiringen

A quick trip up the Rosenhorn (3689m) and then a ski down the Rosenlaui glacier: amazing views of the Eiger from the east, looking much slimmer than it does from the north. A chilly start to the day, though we might have been trembling for other reasons along the summit ridge. The ski down was in spring conditions and then super-warm slush at the bottom though we easily skied to the door of the lovely Hotel Rosenlaui where they helpfully dispense drinks to thirsty ski tourists even though they're not yet open at this time of year; they even go and get your car from wherever you parked it when running late for the heli, if you ask nicely. Thanks to Christian Willi our guide and to Christine and Ueli from Haslital Tourism for joining us for this great ski day.

Monday 28 February 2011

Proper powder

A snowy weekend has left the whole Val d'Anniviers in great shape. Lots of powder in the Chamois, top to bottom, putting the pleasure back into our run home.

Friday 25 February 2011

Normal service has been resumed

Two snow storms, last weekend and yesterday, have put an end to the recent snow drought. In fact the pistes stayed in pretty good condition but it's nice to have plenty of fresh powder off piste again.

Thursday 27 January 2011

Still finding powder

It's been 2 weeks since it last snowed, but the cold temps have kept the north facing slopes in good condition. You now have to skin to find some fresh tracks but if you know where to go it's still there to be skied. It also gave us the perfect opportunity to try out our new ski touring kit. Eric has some Dalbello Virus and I've got some Scarpa Gea touring boots. Both of them are light weight but aimed at tourers who want to go down as well as up and they ski really well.

Thursday 6 January 2011

Blue sky

Another beautiful blue sky day, so we decided to skin up towards the Petit Mountet hut. A lovely walk across the plats and on up towards the Himalayan like views of the imperial crown. Groups were ice climbing on the frozen waterfalls, which are in excellent condition at the moment due to the super cold temps.
However, it was warm enough to sit and have a picnic before skiing back down to Zinal.