When we got up to Zinal on Sunday afternoon it was still bustling with weekend visitors. Something about the village immediately made us feel as though we were going to enjoy ourselves here. I’m not sure what exactly it was. Maybe the aire, located centrally, giving us easy access to the surrounding village. Or maybe it was the views of the glaciers in the hills almost in touching distance. Or the cafes and restaurants that looked so inviting and hospitable.
Whatever the reason, as we wandered around and explored the village on the afternoon of our arrival we were in a good mood about everything. The timber buildings were pretty, bedecked with geraniums and closer to my expectations of Swiss village buildings than anything we’d seen so far. The views were awe inspiring. The shop was well stocked and had a good bakery and butchers. Even the forecast of a day of rain couldn’t dampen our spirits. If anything we were looking forward to a day when we wouldn’t feel the pressure to do anything energetic.
The following morning the rain and cloud had definitely moved in. Before we went to bed we could see the stars twinkling brightly in the sky but we heard the patter of rain in the night and when we peered out of our windows in the morning cloud was obscuring our mountain views.
We used most of the day to do not-a-lot, catching up on some paperwork, reading, watching some telly. When there were dry spells between the rain we popped out to stretch our legs, beating a hasty retreat as soon as we felt the raindrops starting.
By late afternoon the dry spells had become more frequent and the cloud was lifting. Our strolls became a bit longer and we started to make some plans for the following day. It was at this point we realised that the gondola service opposite us did not run on a Monday or Tuesday. That ruled out some of our options. Paul didn’t want to do a long hike which ruled out others.
One of the reasons we had wanted to come to Switzerland was to get close to glaciers. There is a sense that time is running out for any of the year-round ice in the alps, so any opportunity to get to the places where glaciers still cling to the sides of mountains or nestle in their deep valleys is one that we want to take. So we decided we should combine a bike and a hike to get into the valley of the Zinal glacier.
The bike ride up to the Petit Mountet mountain hut was described as ‘moderate’ on the Val d’Anniviers website, but it was only a short ride so we figured we could add on a hike to take us further up into the mountains.
The bike ride started well with a gentle gradient as we followed the road next to the river down to the bridge. The milky glacial river was wide and the banks pebbly. Cows with their soft clanging bells occupied the grassy lower slopes of the hills. A few campervans and motorhomes were parked with the cars at the large parking area in the valley. We assume they are probably paying just the parking fee, something we’re not quite brave enough to try given the stories of 100CHF fines being given out. Then we started to work out what the chance of being fined actually is and whether you’re better off just parking where you like. You would probably break even if you are caught once every four nights, and we haven’t seen that many official looking police or local authority staff.
At the bridge there were lots of excavators and vehicles carrying heavy loads of gravel. We weren’t sure exactly what they were doing but the track back to the village on the west side of the river was closed and there are a lot of road repairs in the valley. Presumably use of the sediment from these glacial rivers is allowed in some circumstances.
Once we had crossed the bridge we were on a track and the route got harder. Most of the ascent was concentrated in this second section of the ride and we struggled to keep going. E-bikes would have been useful here. We overtook a gentleman who was walking up and then, when we stopped to get our wind back, he overtook us, commiserating at how hard the trail was for bikes. We did make it to the mountain hut before him but we’d barely got our hot drinks before he arrived.
At one corner we passed a group of men with hunting rifles dressed in camouflage gear. I assume hunters, although in most European countries you see them with the addition of bright orange tabards.
After checking it was ok we locked our bikes up behind the hut and proceeded on the mountain path. This is a blue alpine trail that takes hikers by marked paths over the glaciers. We weren’t intending to go that far, just to the edge of the glacier and then back to the hut for a late lunch.
The walk up through the rocky side of the valley was not too steep but it had a few cables and ropes and even a couple of metal steps to help walkers on the trail. The low foliage of bilberry bushes hid delicious purple berries which we stopped and sampled now and again. A couple of hunters strolled down from the ridge above us, burdened with nothing but their rifles, I assume an unsuccessful trip. At each vantage point we stopped and looked at the glacier.
There is an ice cave at the mouth of the glacier where the river debouches into it’s gully. The tourist office had made clear should not be approached in the summer due to risk of ice falls but we could see people walking towards it.
As the path started to drop into the glacier valley we decided it was time to turn around. This was the closest we had been to a glacier since arriving in Switzerland and we were very satisfied, but also quite hungry. We retraced our steps back to the mountain hut where we ordered some very expensive cheese on toast.