Looking for new walks to recharge my batteries, one place had been catching my eye for a while: the Val d’Hérens and more particularly Mont Miné Glacier, which is at the far end of a Valais valley.
I will take you for a simple but wild hike in a mountain setting that will turn into a timeless, lunar landscape.
The Val d’Hérens defines itself as a preserved valley in the heart of the Valais and the Swiss Alps, and it is true that as we cross it to reach the starting point of the walk, we encounter magnificent landscapes.
With its incredible natural assets, this valley is an open-air playground for all nature and mountain lovers who want to discover a diverse and authentic heritage and terroir (it is a French concept incorporating everything that contributes to the distinctive character of a particular site).
These are the ideas that came to mind as we gradually got closer to our starting point for our hike. On this last weekend of November 2020 and on a sunny morning, we passed by the famous pyramids of Euseigne, several famous villages such as Evolène before crossing more authentic hamlets such as Les Haudères and La Forclaz. The road was getting narrower and we were quite thankful not to cross the postal bus.
Not really sure how far we could go, we stopped at the Hôtel du Col d’Hérens, an emblematic 19th-century hotel, and left the car there. We were at this point at an altitude of 1’766m. We would later discover that we could go further, but an extra 15 minutes on foot didn’t hurt, knowing that the hike afterwards was very easy. Thus we began our walk to the Mont Miné Glacier.
Walking to the foot of a glacier
We followed the road to Ferpècle until we reached the Ferpècle dam. We thus arrived in the Ferpècle dell, which is spiritually recognised as a place with therapeutic energy resources. It is true that while walking, I felt positive waves and far away from the stress of a busy end of the year in terms of studies, and this in the middle of a pandemic. Little by little I understood that I had just found a peaceful haven to go for a walk if the frenzy of daily life could destabilize me. But to do so, I first had to find the right path.
Because yes, as usual, I tend to get lost, even on a fairly simple and well-indicated walk… we had simply read that we had to pass by the Ferpècle dam, which we took as information to go on the dam and take the path behind it. Except that this path, fortunately, was not long and led to a dead end.
We returned to the road and understood that the trail to Mont Miné started from the car park (the road up to that point is for the owners). But in my defence, it had already snowed at the end of November and snow covered the road, so we had not seen it. By the way, if you go at this time of the year (end of November), the temperature is quite cool and there might already be snow, so make sure you take good shoes as the path was a bit icy.
Another pleasant hike is the one to the Bricola hut, from where the view over the dell appears grandiose. This will be an opportunity for the next walk. This hike can be combined with the one undertaken for the Mont Miné Glacier by creating a loop hike.
So, after finding the right path, we walked surrounded by a bucolic setting but in the shade. The path is relatively easy for all types of walkers and you will simply have to follow the continuous sound of the river, which comes from the glacier, to reach, after about thirty minutes, according to your rhythm, a majestic scenery.
We found ourselves in a place out of time, on a plain which resembles of the tundra and worthy of the panoramas of the Moon, and this by a marvellous midday sun which made it possible to have a clear sight on the surroundings. Trotting (because I wanted to see everything as I was so amazed), we discovered a transparent river nestled in the middle of the mountains at an altitude of almost 2’000m. We even walked on the sand, while seeing a remnant of snow, which made us wonder where we stood given the mix of climates and landscapes.
We decided to picnic and learn more about this beautiful Mont Miné Glacier that was facing us.
The Mont Miné Glacier
Historically, the Val d’Hérens, and more precisely Ferpècle, is home to two glaciers: the one of Ferpècle and the one of Mont Miné.
From where we were, we had no idea where the Ferpècle glacier was, but the map below gives you an indication of where it is located. The map dates from 1961.
On this map, we can also see that initially, the two glaciers formed a common glacier that extended towards the hamlet of Salay. This is the place where we left the car. So what we had just walked for about forty minutes was, around 1850, an entire glacier…
Global warming, coupled with time, has caused this common glacier to split in two. Nowadays, each glacier tongue is located in a separate valley surrounding Mount Miné on either side. The glacier loses on average about 26 metres each year. Ice melting is gently put into perspective.
Whether one takes (or not, unfortunately for some people) this major issue of ice melting and global warming seriously, I felt lucky to be able to enjoy a moment in front of a magnificent glacier, “before it’s too late”. An expression that I don’t really appreciate but which is not to be taken lightly, as glaciers are natural wonders that are not everlasting.
A feeling that I had already experienced strongly a few years ago in front of the Perito Moreno in Argentina. Admittedly the one at Mont Miné is not as breathtaking as its Argentinean cousin, but the idea behind it is the same: glaciers are majestic and instructive places, and you have to be able to protect them.
The Valais abounds in these impressive places, including the one of the Rhône where you can go into the glacier (a great experience) or the one of the Trient. Glaciers that I was lucky enough to see during one of my Swiss outings. The most famous is the Aletsch glacier which I am looking forward to exploring.
To protect its natural heritage, Switzerland proposes numerous laws for the protection of nature. In fact, there is the Federal Act on the Protection of Nature and Landscape. An inventory of alluvial zones of national importance from 1992 lists 283 places to be protected. These include Ferpècle and Sallay. You can find the complete list of these areas here.
Back to the walk
All this information in our heads reasoned and we decided to approach the glacier. We then found a ground that was different from our picnic spot. We climbed on big and small rocks before deciding to go back down, being in the shade and the temperature not very high.
We continued to enjoy the sunshine in the valley where the lunar landscape is full of purity. We let ourselves be lulled by the sound of the river, the soul calms down and finally, we recharge our batteries, helped by the warm rays of the sun. We could have stayed for hours daydreaming like this, but seeing the arrival, little by little, of many hikers, we decided to return home.
Mont Miné’s access
By car, from Vevey, we drove between 1:30 and 1:45 hours to reach the car park of the Hotel du Col d’Hérens.
In any case, you will have to take the A9 highway to the Sion-Est exit and then follow the signs for Val d’Hérens (i.e. drive up the valley) to Les Haudères. Then follow the panel La Forclaz, pass this village, and then the sign indicating Ferpècle. As mentioned earlier in the article, the road narrows as you go along and you will find yourself on a mountain road. Naturally, there are still many places to cross.
You can leave the car in the hamlet of Salay, like us, or continue several hundred metres further and discover a sort of car park in a diversion. From here, the road leads to the Ferpècle dam and is only accessible to local residents.
If you arrive by public transportation, you will have to get out at Sion station and then take a post bus (n° 381) to Les Haudères. Then you will take a second post bus (n° 383) which will take you to Salay (the stop is called Ferpècle). More information here.
I can’t wait to come back in the summer or during the Indian summer. What about you?