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.
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
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.
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.
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.
On the summit of Weissmeis, my first 4000 m peak in the Swiss Alps.
After many years since I had last been climbing on high mountains (Mt Kenya long ago, plus some easy peaks in Britain, Norway and Italy), I decided in 2007 I should do an alpine trip seeing as I was living here in Switzerland. So I contacted a guide and he suggested we climb Weissmies. At 4023 m, Weissmeis is the western-most 4000m peak of its range near Saas Fe (not far from Zermatt).
Last weekend of March, temperatures definitely spring-like in the valley, around 20 C. Headed up to Verbier with the boys for some spring skiing. Verbier is one of the higher ski areas, the highest point is Mont Fort at 3300 m, from which it is 1800 vertical descent to Verbier village.
Two boys on the piste at around 2500 m.