In terms of outdoor activities, the year 2012 certainly proved to be an excellent vintage for me. Although I ran no official marathon (i.e. as part of a race), the many excursions to the mountains I was able to go on certainly made up for this. What is more: not only did I discover new places, but I got to take part in activities which are a little unusual for me (as I am not really an adventurous type of person); for instance, I crossed the full length of a frozen lake and I was able to enjoy some snow-shoeing at night. I also took part in my first night race (i.e. as a runner, not as a snowshoe-goer).
As you can see from the first three pictures on the top (click to enlarge), there was not much snow in the first three weeks of January in our part of the canton of Vaud: the photos of my run to Mauvernay were taken on the 15th. Fortunately, some snow had fallen by the time of the closing of the famous annual balloon festival at Château d’Oex, as this village is not that much higher than Mauvernay (and the event is certainly not as nice if there is no snow), but the weather was too bad for the balloons to fly, so we ended up doing some ‘sledging’ on the 29th. To end the month of January nicely, I took the 31st off with a view to going snow-shoeing with a friend up to a ridge above Lake Léman, called Dent de Valerette. The weather was again too bad, so instead we decided to do some cross-country skiing near Froideville (literally ‘cold town’ in French), a region popular in winter with the people of Lausanne (and elsewhere) who like to do this sport. Although the person seeing to the cross-country skiing tracks had only started to trace them (as there had been little snow until that date), the beautiful scenery we enjoyed while going off track across the country side at Le Crêt certainly made up for the lack of snow tracks (and thus the possibility of enjoying cross-country skiing at full speed).
Early February, the combination of strong winds and temperatures below zero for over two weeks resulted in stretches and stretches of the lakeside covered with patches of ice; it also caused several yachts to sink (bottom left, click to enlarge) in the harbours of Geneva as well as pipes to burst (bottom right). However, this did not prevent me from going jogging a couple of times during my lunch breaks 😉 On my first such run (just after taking the self-portrait), I slipped and got a nasty bruise just below my left knee. This prompted me to be more cautious and it worked because I did not fall again while running in February. (Several posts with pictures of the frozen shoreline of Lake Geneva can be viewed on my wife’s blog, for instance at Geneva lakeside… icy wonderland, part 4…)
A little further north-east of Geneva lies the beautiful valley of Joux and its lake (called lac de Joux in French). Upon realising that the lake was frozen and that it was open to the public, my mind was set on this being our next excursion goal. We certainly did not regret it: although it took us about four hours of a leisurely pace to cross the lake of Joux in its full length, the sensation of freedom we derived from walking across such a wide expanse of white almost without seeing anybody over two thirds of our crossing was extremely potent, exhilarating in fact. To this I should add the beautiful contrast between a blue sky and glittering patches of ice and, later on, the splendid display of colours we saw when the sun set on vallée de Joux … Without any doubt, this was one of the highlights of 2012 as far as I am concerned!
So walking across the full length of a frozen lake was such an experience (indeed, it was a first in my life) that I convinced my wife to return to Lac de Joux the following day so that I could do the same but on my cross-country skis. So while I left her to explore the smaller lake nearby, called Lac Brenet, I unashamedly went on a four hour plus trip from Le Pont to La Golisse and back to Le Pont. On my trip back and forth, I took numerous pictures of my ride, the landscape, the people who were enjoying walking (or even sliding on their skis with the help of huge kites — see picture of the ‘kite flyer’) on the frozen lake, etc, some of the pictures I took can be viewed in an entry posted on my wife’s blog (Back on Lac de Joux…).
Although the parents of one of my best friends own a chalet at La Sage in the valley of Hérens (canton of Valais/Wallis), I had never visited the mountain village of Arolla and its beautiful surroundings until we spent the first weekend of March last year in the small, picturesque village of Les Haudères, so charming with its traditional wooden houses, some of which are several storeys high and are adorned with flowers. On the Sunday of that weekend, we took the postal bus to Arolla and enjoyed some snowshoeing near the ski slopes. What a pity that I discovered only last year that Arolla was not too remote a destination (even though it is not far from Italy) for one to consider reaching it by public transport from Lausanne (I do not own a car and therefore I have to rely on public transport to get about Switzerland). However, one can indeed describe this as a perfect instance of ‘better late than never’.
I took the following Friday off and we travelled to the other side of the linguistic border (or Röstigraben as some call it after the dish of mashed potatoes that originates from German-speaking Switzerland and which is more common in that part of the country), to Schwägalp (altitude of approx 1,350m) in the canton of Appenzell as my dear better half was extremely keen to experience snow-shoeing at night along the Laternliweg, a path illuminated by lanterns over the weekend nights in winter, as well as to check for herself whether it was indeed possible to see six countries (Switzerland, Germany, Austria, Liechtenstein, France and Italy) from the top of Mount Säntis, the mountain towering above that area, at approx 2,500 metres of altitude. Even though we failed to spot all six countries, our short stay (especially further down, at Gasthaus Passhöhe, altitude 1,280m) and raquette outings in the very deep snow in the canton of Appenzell were definitely another highlight of the year 2012.
To round off the winter season, three weeks later on we returned to Val d’Hérens for an extended weekend, but this time we stayed at Arolla. We were able to enjoy three different snowshoe outings and we saw three glaciers. Even though I did not even catch a glimpse of the pass I was hoping to reach (Pas de chèvres; 2,855m) when the bottom right picture was taken (and I might therefore have been put off ad aeternam from contemplating an excursion there again), I have such fond memories of Arolla that I am considering returning to the area and even taking part in a race that will take place in the region on 6-7 September, called Collontrek.
In April, we paid two visits to the beautiful small town of St Moritz in Grisons. As part of our ride on the UNESCO-listed Bernina Express, we had to spend a night in the canton of Grisons as it is not possible to do this train journey from Lausanne and back in a day. However, this did not bother us at all because we love that canton. As we were unable to book anything at the Youth Hostel in Pontresina, we decided to stay overnight at St Moritz, a mountain resort we are both very fond of. The following morning, we decided to walk to the railway station by going round the other side of the lake, for once. This gave us the opportunity to enjoy a very nice walk even though I had to lug a suitcase whilst doing so. Needless to say that the next time I go to Sankt Moritz, I intend to go jogging round the lake in full unless the path is really too frozen for me to feel safe with my Yaktrax shoe straps (with steel coils) — in which case I suppose I shall simply run again on the racetrack that lies close to the lake and borders the town centre.
In May, I accompanied my parents to Saintes Maries de la Mer, a seaside resort in Camargue (a region in the south of France famous for its paddy fields, bull farms, pink flamingoes, gypsy heritage, etc), as my father was hoping to carry out some reconnaisance of the area with a view to purchasing some property and subsequently retiring there. Although I must admit that I was at first a little disappointed given that with the exception of Southeast-Asia my holidays by the sea had got me used to seaside areas with more rugged terrain (England, Scotland, Italy, Malta, etc). However, I did enjoy the two runs I did along the seaside promenade (as well as the excursions to famous destinations such as Avignon, Les Baux-de-Provence, Aigues-Mortes as well as a détour through Nîmes and Arles on our way back).
June was rather a quiet month in terms of excursions for various reasons. On 2 June, we went on a day-long excursion to the mediaeval hilltop village of Gruyères in the canton of Fribourg and then to the Cailler chocolate factory at Broc. Initially, one might be tempted to dismiss this day-long outing as not belonging to the category of physical activities conducted outdoors, but this would not be fair as both visits involved a substantial amount of walking!
To break the monotony of my usual runs uphill to Mauvernay, I decided to be a little more daring and run to the beautiful village of Lutry in Lavaux (the difficult part consists in running back to where we live as from Ouchy — which could be described as Lausanne’s harbour — onwards the course is mostly uphill). When the weather is nice, the stretches along the lakeside make for a particularly pleasant run. And this certainly proved to be the case on that day.
We spent almost ten days in Singapore from the end of June until 9 July to be able to attend my sister-in-law’s wedding. A little drowsy from the heat and the humidity, I decided after having got up twice a little on the late side that my stay in Singapore would be the opportunity to try to catch up a little on my lack of sleep (in part related to the fact that I commute to Geneva quite early during week days). Another brother-in-law and his family kindly provided us with their generous hospitality. As my brother-in-law was thinking of registering for the Singapore marathon (which was to be held in December) we went running together once. We did so at Bedok Stadium with a group of friends of his who were preparing for a triathlon event at Port Dickson in Malaysia. I really enjoyed the experience and the sense of camaraderie emanating from this group. During my stay I think I went running six times, including several runs at another racetrack closer to my brother-in-law’s home (Innova stadium). What struck me upon that visit to Singapore (although it was probably my eleventh) was how popular running had become, despite the climate (which is hot and humid).
On 5th July, together with my brother-in-law and my sister-in-law, we went to the Mac Ritchie nature reserve to be able to increase the number of suspension bridges we had crossed to … two names! HSBC Tree Top Walk is a ‘steel suspension pedestrian bridge with supported approach spans’, to quote from the description on a plate diplayed near the entrance to the bridge (which consists of a guarded log cabin). The suspension bridge is some 250 metres long (the length of the central span is 150m) and it hangs over the forest floor at a maximum height of 25m. Unfortunately, the weather started to change just before we had reached the entrance and once there we had to wait for about 20 minutes before being able to cross the bridge. HSBC Tree Top Walk was more stable than the suspension bridge I had walked across over the gorge of river Massa below the glacier of Aletsch (back home in Switzerland), but it was by far not as high up in the air as its counterpart in the Bernese Alps. In addition, the bridge has been designed in such a way that people are not able to do the walk back to the cabin log (there is a gate which opens only one way to prevent people from retracing their steps). However, I enjoyed the experience of crossing a suspension bridge over a tropical forest very much — I even enjoyed being caught in the downpour of very heavy rain afterwards (although it caused the demise of the pair of shoes I had been wearing for the excursion).
On my last morning in Singapore, my eldest sister-in-law, kak Leka, kindly drove me to the eastern coast of Singapore to enjoy a bicycle ride from East Coast Parkway to Changi. We rented some bicycles from a bicycle rental company next to a sea-food court and set off along the ‘coastal park connector’. This cycle path passes through gardens and nature reserves, restaurants, a cable ski lagoon, golf courses, yachting/sailing clubs, a military jetty for the SAF as well as Changi Airport. For me it, it was the opportunity to give my legs a little exercise before the long flight back to Zurich. As it was a Sunday morning, there were droves of Singaporeans cycling along the ‘coastal park connector’, some riding expensive European or US bicycles. To me, this was further evidence of the growing popularity of physical exercise among Singaporeans, which is definitely another positive development at the Merlion City/State!
Going to Vallon de Nant on the first weekend after our holidays in Singapore was very much a matter of killing two birds with one stone: my wife wanted to visit La Thomasia, a famous alpine garden at the foot of Les Muverans, a mountain range which roughly cuts through the cantons of Vaud and Valais/Wallis, and I absolutely wanted to see them from close after I had discovered that this was the name given to these mountains visible from our balcony. The hike, first from Les Plans-sur-Bex to Pont de Nant and then from this point to the alpage (grazing land for cows in the mountains) along Sentier des Thomas through the narrow vale of Nant, proved to be very enjoyable as the beautiful Vallon de Nant is part of a natural reserve which is a little troublesome to access and is thus mostly unspoilt as well as a highly peaceful area to take a stroll through.
In Europe, August is the month when Europeans traditionally head south. We were no exception to this ‘temporary migration pattern’. As part of our trip to northern Italy, we spent four and half days in the beautiful seaside resort of Monterosso al Mare, the largest of the five coastal villages that make up Cinque Terre, a region in Liguria of tremendous beauty which is part of UNESCO’s world heritage sites. Unsurprisingly, this magnificent setting prompted me to go on several runs, including to and fro the small coastal village of Vernazza (pictured above), along a steep path and on terrain quite rough at times (so much so that the pair of running shoes I was wearing on those occasions seem to have lost their bright white forever as a consequence). However, this trail was so scenic that I managed to convince my wife to do it with me on foot the next day — but for the sake of honesty I have to admit that we caught a return train to Monterosso.
On Sunday 16 September, we went to the Bernese Alps, to Nessental (in the valley of Gadmen) to take a cable car (called Triftbahn) up to the valley of Trift. From there, we embarked on a 90-minute long walk from the mountain station of the cable car (near Underi Trift), which took us first down in the valley of Trift, then across the river Trift and then up again to the bridge of Trift (which hangs over the glacier of Trift). Although we did not have much time to hang around once on the other side of the bridge (as one needs to book in advance both journeys on the cable car because it can only take eight people at a time and as our time slot was the last of the day) and although it was a little depressing to realise that only fifty years ago the glacier of Trift would have been almost as high as today’s suspension bridge (see pictures displayed in my previous entry), the whole experience was well worth the long walk up to the bridge.
Towards the end of September, we decided to make use of the fine weather we were having to go on an excursion to La Berneuse in the Alpes vaudoises. We had already been there in winter and were keen to see how different it would look in summer. La Berneuse offers a spectacular view of Lac Léman (or Lake Geneva as it is called in English), which is why a revolving restaurant was built, called Kuklos, on La Berneuse at 2,048m. However, for my part, the primary objective of this excursion was to reach the top of Tour d’Aï (2,331m). Unfortunately, we took the wrong path and ended up at the foot of the via ferrata (see top left picture). Even though we decided not to try to find the path to the top of Tour d’Aï because we feared we would not have enough time to do so, we nevertheless ended walking down to Leysin instead of taking the cable car. Should you be interested, there are more pictures of this highly scenic area on my wife’s blog.
Early October, I finally managed to go on a trail I had been wanting to do for several months: the Panoramaweg from Belalp to Oberaletschhütte (Swiss Alpine Club’s shelter) above the glacier of Oberaletsch. I had caught sight of the glacier of Oberaletsch while paying a visit to its better-known sister, the UNESCO-ranked glacier of Aletsch, on our way to the lake of Märjelen. As a result, I had jotted down the Panoramaweg in my list of ‘to-do’ excursions for 2012. It was a great trail with breath-taking scenery, which probably explains why I took almost as many as 400 pictures during the journey to the hütte (alpine refuge in German); unfortunately, although I posted only a couple in the outline entry I wrote about this trail (click here). My feet are aching to go back to this area as part of a trail run …
A week later, I also left home early on a Saturday (13 October), but this time with a friend and bound for the Alpes vaudoises, again in Vallon de Nant. The idea was that we would climb the natural alpine path (called vire in French) leading to Frête de Saille (about 2,600m above sea level), which is the name given to the ridge between Grand and Petit Muveran, two mountains which are visible from our balcony. There had been some snowfalls in the area in September and early October and it was quite late in the season, so that at several points there were some patches of ice across the path. This made me feel quite nervous as I am no mountain climber. We made it to Frête de Saille but not to Cabane Rambert. As my friend was in a hurry to return to Geneva, we did not stay too long at Frête de Saille and made our way down again. However, to my utter dismay the patches of ice had started to melt under the sun, so that the narrow vire had become slippery. This was too much for me and I urged my friend to go down by the other side of Frête de Saille, i.e. via Plan Salentse, then reach Ovronnaz in the canton of Valais, catch a postal bus from there and then a train to Bex and finally a taxi to Pont de Nant. But things turned out differently (read my outline entry here).
The weather had changed again a week later and we decided to make use of two 50% vouchers to La Berneuse by cable car we had been given when we bought some mountain boots as they were about to expire. Before that we went on a chestnut hunt near Le Bouveret, southwest of La Berneuse and on the other side of the lake. As a result, there was not enough time left to climb Tour d’Aï again. However, I hope to be able to do so this year. As you can see from the pictures above, one can practise several sport activities at La Berneuse (more photos on my wife’s blog).
I did not register for the Marathon of Lausanne, which takes place towards the end of the month of October, as I had trained only very irregularly: I had not done any runs above 30km for a considerable amount of time (for at least several months, if not longer) and I doubt that I had done many in the 20km range either. However, so as to prove to my brother-in-law who was a little anxious about not being sufficiently prepared to run the 42km+ of the Singapore marathon, I ended up running the same distance as part of my Sunday long run … Less than a week later, I completed my first night race ever: Course du Duc.
In December, I took part in two races: Course de l’Escalade in Geneva and the Midnight Run in Lausanne. In addition, I was able to enjoy some superb runs in the snow (at Epalinges/Mauvernay) and I managed to complete again a long run of some 42.2km mostly along the lakeside.
Et voilà ! Unfortunately, I doubt that 2013 will prove as interesting a year, partly because it will be difficult to repeat experiences like crossing the frozen lake of Joux, partly because there has been some upheaval at work (with a German firm slated to take over the firm which employs me in April), but we can only hope for the best.