As the year 2013 has drawn to a close, I thought the time was appropriate to reflect upon some of the highlights of the last twelve months in terms of the places I visited whilst on running or walking trips or whilst on an outing with the purpose of attending a particular event or even when I was doing some sightseeing whilst on holiday.
As I do not ski unfortunately (yes, it is possible to find such people here in Switzerland!) and as for some reason we did not go on any raquette (snowshoeing) excursions in January (I cannot remember why), I have to resort to a picture I shot during a run I made to the neighbouring wood of Sauvabelin. Interestingly, this picture shows two peaks I would end up climbing in July in Alpes Vaudoises (red circle) as well as the chimney pipe of ‘Usine de Pierre de Plan’ (a plant for generating heating and electricity mostly from urban waste here in Lausanne) spewing waste fumes towards the UNESCO-listed region of Lavaux, a process which has left me pondering about any possible health hazards of late as I have noticed how frequently such clouds are being released into the air above our heads by this plant as well as by its sister plant of Tridel.
However, let us not start this brief review of the year 2013 from the perspective of some personal recollections on too gloomy a note. Instead, I shall recall that in February, we went to Lötschental, a remote valley in the canton of Valais (or Wallis in German), to be able to catch sight of the Tschäggättä, villagers clad in furs and donning wood masks that no longer roam about the streets of the village of Wiler but march through them in a procession of some hundred Tschäggättä or so. This tradition, which goes back maybe as far as the 16th century, was a great experience. I look forward to attending other events of a similar nature in the next few weeks, for instance either the Chläuse of Urnäsch in the canton of Appenzell on 13 January (it was too late to see them yesterday as I had been a little too busy at work) or the ‘peluches’ and ‘empaillés’ (fluff and straw men) of Evolène (in a French-speaking valley of the canton of Valais).
Three days after having seen the Tschäggättä at Wiler in the valley of Lötschen (Valais) where there was really a lot of snow, I was able to run along a snow-covered lakeside during my lunch break at work in Geneva. Although the sky was grey, it was a delight because the snow had been cleared to form a continuous path along the western end of Lac Léman (or Lake Geneva as it is wrongly described in English) and there were no stretches of slippery ice to have to contend with, unlike a year earlier, as the weather was not as cold. The downside was that I did not get to admire any of the beautiful ice formations that I had seen a year earlier (see the photos I took and which were posted on my wife’s blog).
On the 18th of February, we took a special and very early train to Basle to enjoy Switzerland’s most famous and most impressive carnival. Although it was tough to be there in the early hours of the morning and in the cold, it was really a remarkable experience. I understood then why a colleague of mine who was born in that city was so enthusiastic in his descriptions of the event after I had asked him some information on the carnival of Basle. My wife and I took so many photographs of the carnival that we have found it too discouraging to go through the process of making a selection of photographs for a blog entry until now. I suppose we shall have to attend another edition of this great carnival before being again in the mood to do so.
Although this year I did not get to do any snowshoeing or cross-country skiing, I nevertheless got to cross the full length of Lac de Joux when it was frozen. The weather was not as nice as it had been a year earlier, but the thrill of reaching the other side of the lake as dusk fell made it a memorable experience indeed. The lake seems to be already frozen this year, so we might go there this weekend in case the weather were to become warmer too quickly for us to otherwise enjoy a crossing of the lake this winter.
To make up for the lack of physical activity on the snow this year, towards the middle of April I decided to try to make it to the pass of Riedmatten (2,919m; middle of this photo) from the village of Arolla (canton of Valais) on foot (i.e. by running on ski slopes). An avalanche a few hundred of metres away from me a little later on prompted me to call this off. Once back down in the valley, I decided to run towards the glacier of Arolla (at the foot of Mont Collon). However, there too the snow was melting with flows of snow coming down a mountain near me almost like lava from a volcano, so I called that one off, too. Once I reached Sion (the capital of Valais in the valley of the Rhone), I understood why the snow had been melting so fast: the temperature was 27 degrees Celsius mid-April!
A few days later and off we went to Italy to visit relatives in the valley of Non in Trentino Alto-Adige. En route, we stopped at Riva del Garda, a small lakeside town I am particularly fond of. We were fortunate to have been able to enjoy the sight of some cherry trees almost in full bloom: what a delight for the eyes, this display of the pink colour on a bright, sunny day (for close-up shots, click here)!
A little more than a fortnight later and we got to see this beautiful magnolia tree in bloom at Rieterpark in Zurich on an afternoon excursion we made to Switzerland’s largest city (although the primary purpose was to visit its botanical gardens).
The next day, we went first to the city of Fribourg (Fribourg is both the name of a city and of a canton, as is the case with Geneva, Basle, Berne, etc) to visit its botanical gardens (and after that its beautiful old town), then to the town of Morges (which is closer to home) to admire the beautiful display of tulips at Parc de l’Indépendance. What a treat it was for the eyes.
For my birthday (which conveniently fell on a Saturday), I went early in the morning on a run to Ouchy and, from there, to this vantage point to enjoy the panorama. In the afternoon, I went to Geneva and I took part in the first international Veggie Pride ever to have been held.
We had some really lousy weather starting from the third week of May and during most of the following month, which resulted in very disappointing crops in the region (and the same held true for the vegetables my wife was growing on our balcony). To the extent that on the first weekend without any rain, we decided to try our luck and go on a narcissus-spotting outing. We did not see many and, as a result, my wife came back home highly disappointed. For my part, this painting representing the period of the year when the cows are brought to mountains (inalpage as opposed to désalpage, which we came too late to see at l’Etivaz late September) that adorned a chalet (together with the beauty of the surroundings) was able to make up for the scarcity of narcissi at Les Avants.
As I was supposed to be taking part in my first half-marathon in the mountains only two weeks from then without having done any training in that type of terrain, I decided to take the following Wednesday off and go to Les Pléaides, which are some mountains not far from Lausanne. Although not very high, these mountains were supposed to be the home of many a narcissus. This proved to be the case … to the delight of my wife and to mine – as it even reactivated in my mind a long-forgotten memory of my first encounter with such flowers more than 40 years ago.
For my first mountain race, the Aletsch half-marathon at Bettmeralp proved to be much tougher than I had expected it to be. Although we were unable to run along the usual course (in fact we had to run along a shorter course, some 17.5km long, and out of sight of the famous, World Heritage-listed glacier) because of the snow, I nevertheless enjoyed my first race in the mountains precisely because it was more difficult. Towards the last quarter of the race, Sia, a high school friend recognised me and we ran together. Far more experienced a mountain runner than I am, she was even able to give me a rough estimate of the time it would take me to complete Sierre-Zinal, a 31km run in Valais. I must admit that she was not far off the mark!
Given my disappointing result at the Aletsch half-marathon and the fact that I had already registered (and paid) for the fortieth edition of Sierre-Zinal, I felt it was time to get more training in and I decided to go running in the mountains above Leysin after work. My goal was to reach Tour d’Aï (2,331m) and get back to Leysin (1,400 m) before it would be too dark. However, as I had not really studied the course, I ended up taking a détour via La Berneuse (2,045m) so that I reached the top of Tour d’Aï as dusk was setting in. However, the beauty of the orangey scenery before my eyes was without doubt the highlight of 2013 as far as my outdoor excursions were concerned (click here for more panoramic shots).
With Sierre-Zinal less than three weeks away, I felt I needed to do some running over some longer distances as well as at a higher altitude. As I am a staunch supporter of public transport (as opposed to driving cars), this meant going to some place not too far in Valais. I opted for the Aletsch region so as to enjoy unobstructed views of the glacier of Aletsch, this king of European glaciers I did not get to see while doing the Aletsch half-marathon, from Riederalp (which I reached by cable car, I must admit) to the small lake of Märjelen. If it had not been for the fall I made after the lake while fiddling with one of my running poles (which sent me flying and got a young German to come to my assistance with words like ‘Sind Sie verletzt?’ and ‘Vorsicht’), this 25km run from Riederalp down to Fiesch railway station might have vied for the no.1 position as regards my highlights for 2013.
The Friday after, I was able to set off a little earlier after work and I decided to return to the region of Leysin, this time with the objective of reaching the other of the two peaks I circled on the first picture displayed on this post, Tour de Mayen (2,326m). As the days were becoming shorter and as Tour de Mayen is further away from Leysin than Tour d’Aï, I was unable to stay on the peak for too long (anyhow, I had got there too late to admire the earlier, most picturesque part of the sunset). In my rush to get down the mountain before it would be too dark (I had not brought a lamp this time), I fell just after having left the peak – fortunately, my Polar watch bore the brunt of the shock … but it has not worked since. [Click here for more photos of the view from the top of Tour de Mayen]
On Swiss National Day (1st of August), I decided to return to the region of Aletsch with the hope of reaching the alpine refuge of Oberaletsch through the lower part of Aletschwald (the famous forest of Aletsch, where my wife and I once got lost), then across the river Massa on the hanging bridge and up to the panoramaweg. Unfortunately, this proved to be too ambitious an objective as I felt too tired and I therefore decided to call it quits. However, I made my way back home via Belalp (cable car station), not Riederalp.
However, on 3rd August, I went back to the area (to Belalp, to be precise) and I made it to the shelter of Oberaletschhütte (unlike on 1st August) and which, unlike in October 2012, was open. It was a great day for running, not too warm, not too cold: I really had a great time, in particular running along the beautiful panoramaweg.
On 11 August, it was race day, finally. I had decided to take part in the fortieth edition of the famous race of Sierre-Zinal mainly because I wanted to be able to pay my respects to the race’s founder (an uncle of a girlfriend of mine a long time ago). Although the uphill part was quite painful (so that the running turned out to be more of a walk than anything else), I enjoyed the race as I was able to see an area I had not been back to for over 20 years and as I appreciated the friendliness of the people at the refreshment stands, in addition to the splendid scenery that was to be admired starting from the area called la Ponchette (1,870m) onwards.
So much so that on 18 August, I went back to the valley of Zinal with the intention of making it to the alpine shelter of Grand Mountet (2,886m). Once on the glacier of Zinal, I saw some crevasses and I felt that it was unsafe to proceed on the glacier as I was on my own. Still, on my way down I fell (as I had looked at my watch whilst running) and got a cut just above my knee. To the extent that I was happy to have been able to make it on time for the postal bus I had intended to catch despite the pain.
In September, we spent a week in Tuscany. Unfortunately, I did not run in Florence (unlike what I had done many years ago), but I did so on the Isle of Elba, even though I felt that it was unsafe (as the roads are narrow and sinuous with some heavy traffic at times). I suppose we shall have to go back to Florence in May or June of this year so that I can enjoy again a run through the old town early in the morning (i.e. before there is any heavy traffic).
As I did not go on any mountain runs in September unfortunately, I felt that 6 October was my last chance to do so before the snow would make it too dangerous to be running up there. This time I opted for the area above Zermatt and the purpose of my outing was to see the Matterhorn reflected in the tarn of Riffel – if you think you have not seen this famous shot which has almost come to epitomise Switzerland and is therefore reproduced on many ‘ Swissabilia’, I suggest you watch this clip. This was not to be the case as there was some heavy mist, which means that I shall have to go back up there some time this year to catch sight of this beautiful view as well as see again these friendly goats sporting tawny-coloured collars (chèvre au col fauve).
As I had not done any long runs (i.e. runs above 30km) with the exception of Sierre-Zinal, on 19 October I foolishly decided to run from home (i.e. on the hills of Lausanne) to Villeneuve, the town at the eastern end of Lake Léman, only a week before the marathon of Lausanne.
This was a mistake because I was unable to recuperate and my participation in the marathon of Lausanne turned out to be another disappointment in terms of my running. However, I really enjoyed the fact that I was able to run along the lakeside without having to inhale any exhaust fumes and this alone was well worth the registration fees!
In November and December, I decided to take it a little easier and I only did some shorter runs (i.e. a maximum of 20km and I ran this distance only twice). I did not take part in Course de l’Escalade in Geneva (unlike last year), but I ran the Lausanne Christmas Midnight Run.
As I was recently able to swap a pair of unused Mizuno for a pair of Asics GT 2000 (which a podiatrist at CHUV had recommended to me as being the best model for my type of feet) and as I have had a new pair of insoles made especially for long-distance running, I hope that 2014 will be the year I switch to longer distances. So far, I am only thinking of taking part in one race, the super trail of Barlatay, 80km in the beautiful Pays-d’Enhaut and Etivaz region on 16 August.
Anyhow best wishes for 2014 to anybody who comes to read this entry and may the next 365 days or so see you enjoy this most human of activities, i.e. running in the fresh air, preferably in some beautiful surroundings which, I hope, you will reach by public transport or by some car-sharing scheme so as to contribute fewer greenhouse gas emissions in the atmosphere and thus help preserve our poor planet Earth …