The Pyramids of Euseigne are one of the more bizarre geological features created by the last ice age. They are in the Val d’Hérens, one of the southern side valleys off the Rhône valley of Switzerland. The entire Rhone valley and its side valleys were under glaciers at the height of the last ice age around 23,000 years ago. An old university friend who is a geologist visited Switzerland at the beginning of the year and invited me to join him for an exploration of some of the landscape features created by the glaciers of the last ice age.
In the photo below, my friend is looking south towards the junction of the Val d’Hérens and Val d’Hérémence where two glaciers met and continued down towards us. The pyramids are located on the ridge separating the two valleys, We are standing on the remnants of a glacial lake delta formed by the damming of the melt waters of the joined glaciers. The glaciers retreated about 11,000 years ago when humans expanded north back into Northern Europe and Britain again.
The Pyramids are the remnants of a ground moraine created from finely ground silt and sand with embedded larger boulders. Some of the boulders protected the underlying compacted silt from erosion, forming protective caps.
The pyramids form a line down to the river at the bottom of the valley. In the distance about 12 km away is the Rhone Valley. Turn left and it is about an hour and half drive to Geneva on the motorway. The glaciers retreated around 11,000 years ago. These capstones have been sitting there for a long time. Heavy rainfall in big storms caused a number of landslides and undercutting of some of the towers in January this year. They may not be around for much longer.
Some photos of the French Alps from the Saulire on the mountain ridge between Méribel and Courcheval. The Saulire is at 2738m and has spectacular views of the surrounding mountains, including Mont Blanc in the distance 63 km away. And then a thousand metre descent which made for great skiiing.
Looking west over the Méribel valley towards Val Torens
Thanks to the President of China, I spent a day in January skiing at Les Houches near Mont Blanc. Xi Jinping was visiting my organization, and we were told to avoid coming to work if possible, as the security arrangements were extreme. Juras and Swiss Alps were forecast to have low temperatures, low visibility and strong wind, so I headed up towards Mont Blanc where it was sunny and no wind. The temperature was still low at about -10 degrees C.
Mont Blanc seen from Les Houches
I was cleaning up my photo files, and came across these photos from a trip in September 2012 to Les Ecrins, the southernmost part of the French alps, about 100 km south of Grenoble. There are a number of peaks over 4000m but our objective was to climb Mont Pelvoux, just below 4000m at 3946 m (12,946 ft). Bad weather in the Swiss Alps had led us to flee southwards looking for better weather. There was heavy rain all the way to Briancon, so we stayed down in the valley for the first night rather than climb to Refuge de Pelvoux in the rain. But that meant a big day the next day with a 2700 m climb to Pelvoux. We left at 3.30 am, amd climbed the 1200 m to Refuge de Pelvoux in about 3 hours, arriving just as the sun was rising. Continue reading
I chose a day with perfect weather to go up to Verbier to do some skiing. I did not have the boys with me and took the opportunity to go up to the summit of Mont Fort (3330 m) and ski down the Mont Fort Glacier (about a 400 metre descent to Col des Gentianes. From there its another 1500 vertical descent to Verbier. The glacier is usually well covered in snow and crevasses are not a problem as long as you don’t stray too far off the main route. But it is very steep and develops large moguls, that can be icy. I’ve done this descent several times, but never too gracefully. On this trip, I was skiing above 3000 m in brilliant sunshine, about zero degrees, no need for gloves or too many layers. In fact, I was sweating and got sunburnt.
Following are a few photos from the same trip.
The Jura mountains lie about 15 km west of Geneva in France. Lower than the Alps to the east of Geneva, but they still have great skiing in winter if there is enough snow. The following video was from a trip mid-March 2016 to Le Crozet, less than half hour drive from Geneva. If had snowed the day before, and the pine trees were covered in snow, incredibly beautiful scenery in the sunlight. Up on top, it was quite windy and got colder as the clouds came over. We had trouble staying on our feet, until we could ski below the crest of the range. To the east we had spectacular views across Geneva to the Alps, with Mont Blanc lit by sunlight about 100 km away.
Below are some photos from a trip to the Monte Rosa – Matterhorn region of the Alps in late September 2011. Our plan was to climb the main Dufourspitze peak of Monte Rosa. At 4,634 metres (15,203 ft)，Dufourspitze is the highest peak completely inside Switzerland. Our start was delayed three days by bad weather, with heavy snowfalls and we no longer had enough time for this trip. So instead we set out to climb Pollux, which involved around 5 km travel on a glacier at close to 4,000 m.
Yannick breaking the trail in about 50 cm fresh snow.