Augusta Raurica

I went to Basil for a powerlifting competition in mid-March and stayed in a small town just outside Basel called Kaiseraugst. In this town are the remains of the Roman town, Augusta Raurica, which was founded around 15 BC and named after Augustus Caesar and the local Celtic inhabitants, the Raurici. At its height around 100 AD, the town had around 15,000 inhabitants. The surrounding modern town is now called Kaiseraugst (Caesar Augustus) and I stayed in a hotel just across the road from the fortress (see below). I spent an afternoon visiting the ruins of Augusta Raurica, which  has the best-preserved Roman theatre north of the Alps. This theatre once seated between 10,000 and 12,000 visitors.

A short walk from the theatre is the remains of the Roman Forum, where I saw this piece of Roman graffiti carved on the side of one of the columns.

A little further on, are the remains of a shopping district, mostly low remains of walls and foundations, but also the remains of the communal bath-house.  The baths were serviced by water from a well, which had an underground service tunnel. It was possible to descend through this tunnel under the baths to look into the well.

In the late third century AD, under pressure from the Alamanni (German tribes) the Romans withdrew from the territory north of the Rhine river, and August Raurica was on the frontier of the empire. A large fortress nearly a kilometre in length was built on the bank of the Rhine and a Roman Legion was stationed there.

The Rhine River at Kaiseraugst.

Where I am standing to take the above photo is in Switzerland. The other bank is in Germany and a little upstream the other bank becomes France.

Around 351/352 AD, the Alamanni crossed the river and burnt the fortress to the ground. Fearing this might happen, high-ranking officers buried a hoard of silver treasure just inside the walls of the fort (just near where I stood to take the photo below). The treasure comprises silver platters, bowls, tableware and coins made from 58 kg of silver. These items were gifts from the emperor, or family heirlooms collected by one or more officers of the Legion.

Walls of the Caastrum Rauracense, the Roman fortress in Kaiseraugst.

The treasure remained hidden there until it was accidentally unearthed by a bulldozer in 1961. It contains 270 objects made of pure silver and weighing 58 kg, it is one of the largest ancient silver hoards ever found.

I saw it on display in the Roman Museum next to the Roman theatre.

In the second half of the 5th century, the Romans lost control over their provinces north of the Alps. With the rise of the Alemannic settlement of Basel in the 7th century, Kaiseraugst dwindled to become a small fishing village.

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Glacial Erratic Blocks in the Rhone Valley

Continuing our glacial explorations (see also The-pyramids-of-euseigne), we visited a number of enormous glacial erratic blocks in the wooded slopes above the town of Monthey in the Rhone Valley. These blocks played a pivotal role in the realization that there had been great Ice Ages in the past. There are eight blocks along a trail about 5km long between Monthey and Collombey. ( MT_Blocs_Erratiques_Web.pdf). The first and largest of these blocks, “La Pierre des Marmettes”, is now in the middle of the parking lot of the Monthey Hospital.

La Pierre des Marmettes

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The Pyramids of Euseigne

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.

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Snow on the pines

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

Mont Blanc seen from Les Houches

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Parapente flight from France to Switzerland

Yannick has combined parapente (paragliding) with alpine climbing and has a tandem harness. He told me he could arrange two more pilots and my boys and I could do a flight over Mont Salève, in neighbouring France near Geneva. The boys were very excited, my older boy had been lobbying for several years to do a parapente flight. And Yannick is very experienced and I know he does not take risks. So around the end of August, off we went. All three of us launched from the grassy slope on top of the Salève out over the cliffs. I cruised around the cliffs and above them. Saw the boys from time to time, though they ended up going up to around 1700 m altitude, much higher than me. Guess I am a bit heavier.

Below is a short 2:30 video of my flight. In the second half of this video, I flew the wing for a while, then Herve did some acrobatics before we landed back in Switzerland.

Skiing Mont Fort near Verbier

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.

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A trip to the Monte Rosa – Matterhorn region of the Swiss Alps

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.

Yannick breaking the trail in about 50 cm fresh snow.

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