Updated: Jun 19
Suonen adventure in the Valais
Escaping the grey cold skies of Grindelwald, I decided to take the short train ride to the sun drenched Kanton Valais, or 'Wallis' as it is called in German. It always amazes me that just a 20 minutes journey through the Lötschberg tunnel can have such an impact on the weather conditions at the other side of the mountain range.
Now before I carry on, you may ask what a 'Suone' oder 'Bisse' (in french) is.
These are ancient water canals and channels to carry water from the mountains to the dry and hot lower farm lands. For the farmers and of course the habitants of the county, these were often life and existance saving constructions. Nowadays, the newer systems carry water in underground pipes and through tunnels.
But the value of the Suonen has been rediscovered as a tourist attraction for hikers and us trail runners. Often, these Suonen carry water over long distances along spectacular cliffs and through unspoilt country side. For the maintenance, there are trails along most of these water channels.
Back to my adventure run. The planned route was to run along the no. 61 Walliser Sonnenweg. But somehow, coming from the railway station at Visp, I managed to miss the turn off completely and ended up higher at the pretty village of Eggen.
So I decided to 'follow my nose', as one unfriendly second home owner later remarked to me as I was asking him for the way. But let me not jump ahead.
So, that's how I ended up on the 'Gorperi' Suon trail. I started to enjoy the twisting path along the water channels and canals almost straight away. Round every bend...and there are many of those, the views change constantly. It is a very runnable trail almost for almost the whole distance. But the eyes and senses tell your brain to slow down and soak up the impressions.
Just as well it is to slow down. There are many small short tunnels blasted into the mountain. In quite a few of them, it is necessary to duck down as the height does not allow to stand upright.
And then I arrive at the 'Chänilzug Mehrheji'! Just the name is a mouthful for anyone. The word 'Chänilzug' means 'length of channel', made of wood fixed to the outside of a cliff to channel the water around it. The blanked tree at the outside was used to gain access for maintenance of that channel.
These days, there is another tunnel blasted out of the mountain. So, no need to risk life and limb by going around the outside. But then again, people pay money to get thrills. To me, it was a must to walk around the outside. For the local people not that long ago it was essential for their livelyhood to walk these planks!
Just a short distance further along, the trail climbs underneath a cliff over which a waterfall tumbles. I am sure, in the hot summer months, this waterfall is not as spectacular. But on this Wednesday in May, there was no getting away from a shower and the thunder of the cascading water.
The trail is heading now to the other side of the valley. A little further back, a huge avalanche blocks further progress towards the 'Baltschiederklause' a remote Swiss Alpine Club refuge high up towards the Breithorn peak.
The bridge across the Baltschieder river from which the Suonen are fed, looks like it has been just rebuilt. Probably, due to avalanche damage dduring the winter months. No doubt, the only way in our modern times, would have been the use of a helicopter to carry the materials and the construction workers to this remote spot .
Heading towards the village of Ausserberg, the trail now follows the 'Niwärch' Suone, just as spectacular as the other side of the valley. It again twists and turns along the rock faces rising high to the right and the cliffs falling away on the left side of the path. Warning signs are displayed here, too. There is a shortcut in the shape of a tunnel by-passing the beautiful trail. It is a pretty long tunnel and I imagine not possible to go through, unless you have a torch. The walking time on the sign post, tells of a 20 minutes hike and the length is about one Mile long.
But, I prefer to follow the Suone all the way to Ausserberg on a soul soothing path with splashes of spring greens and glimpses of blue sky along the slow and gentle moving water.
Once again at Ausserberg, I am not sure which path to follow. I decide, to climb towards the hamlet of Leiggru. A typical small ancient collection of traditional Valais buildings, solely used these days as holiday homes. There, I met the grumpy man, clearing up around his proud holiday home after the winter ravages. During the winter months, Leiggru is out of bounds to everyone. The narrow access road has only just been cleared of the avalanche left overs and rock falls.
The highest point of my journey reached, the Swiss mobility map showed me a trail right down between the houses heading back towards the flat plain of the Rhone valley. The trail was not signed and not obviously visible between the little dark brown chalets dotting the hillside. So I asked the guy with the stetson hat for direction.
Not prepared for his short answer of 'Surely you have a sat nav!', I was not quite sure what to say next. But he gave me no chance to think of an answer, because he carried straight on that this trail was not advisable to go down and anyway, all those mountain bikers and other sports people invading the hamlet and asking for water he has to pay for and leaving rubbish behind...and even worse... should be all banned. After around 5 minutes listening to him, only managing to nod occasionally, he changed subject and started raving about the bio farmers down the valley.
When he eventually realised, that his efforts where lost on me, he lifted his stetson and bade me farewell with the parting words;
"Anyway, down the path over there and then just follow your nose!"
It was a steep downhill until finally reaching my originally planned route flattening out again along the busier no 61 trail. When the impressive church of Raron came into sight, I decided that it was plenty of adventure for one day and time to head back to the other side and the gloomy mountains of the Bernese Oberland.