Where once there was a glacier

Zermatt sits at the SE end of a side valley off the major Rhone valley. A road and a railway provide access to it via a twenty-mile, narrow, dramatic gorge; but if you want to travel further you use your legs, or cable cars, or a rack and pinion (cog) mountain railway, or a variety of other up-lifts that operate in winter for winter sports enthusiasts.

Zermatt is surrounded by 4,000 metre peaks and it’s also a hub from which high valleys radiate like the spokes of a wheel. Some are broad and long, some are steep ravines – gaps between  mountains. Some lead to high passes (cols) that have been used for centuries as crossing points into adjoining valleys. And the majority of these valleys were once filled with glaciers – we know that through the clues that glaciers have left behind. Three cluesin particular. There are Erratics – the name given to large boulders found miles beyond the end of a glacier today but transported by one to that place millenia ago. Valley side walls and floors that have been smoothed by the passage of ice that carried small boulders and grit that acted as nature’s sandpaper on a giant scale; and debris that has been swept aside by a glacier’s progress forming lateral and terminal moraines. All provide evidence of the extent of glaciers long ago – in length and depth. Finally glaciers very often create flat-bottomed valleys.

And so, eventually, to the headline image of today’s post. A classic view of the majestic Matterhorn from the slopes of the Findeln valley, about a half-mile short of the Fluhalp mountain hut (Click here to see the hut in winter) – one of my favourite destinations. The view from Findeln is panoramic. The edge of Zermatt can be seen deep in valley lower right on the intersection of thirds. To the left of the Matterhorn the horizon marks the border with Italy, and in winter this area – known as the Matterhorn Glacier paradise – is one of the major ski areas. But the area I want to talk about today is the ‘U’ shaped, flat-bottomed valley to the right of the Matterhorn. This is the Schönbiel valley that runs past the north face of the Matterhorn. The snow slopes on the distant horizon mark the Col d’Herens, a crossing point into the Arolla valley, 10 miles distant from where this picture was taken. Click on the image to see it full size. The image below is a telephoto view of the same valley taken later on the same day when the light had softened considerably. Extracting a quality image from the RAW file was very difficult – I’m still not happy with the result despite a lot of work on it – but it tells a story.

It provides a bird’s eye view of the Schönbiel valley floor that was once filled with the Zmutt glacier. The grey slope on the right edge of the floor is the old glacier’s lateral moraine. A number of glaciers have fed into the Zmutt glacier from the left, and the right, and the slopes that fill the distant horizon. Click on the image and you will spot an oblong highlight on the small green slope just right of dead centre. That is the Schönbiel Hut – eight and a half miles away. To walk to that hut from Zermatt takes about five hours but it is an immensely rewarding walk. The last time I did that walk was six years ago and the next two images are views taken on that last walk from the path along the lateral moraine looking towards Findeln (the reverse view) and down onto the valley’s floor.

From Schonbiel lateral moraine to Findeln. Centre horizon: Rimpfischhorn, Strahlhorn, Adlerhorn (from Lt)

This valley floor, now resembling a river’s delta of multiple melt-water streams, was once covered by the Zmutt glacier. I remember standing here six years ago and thinking: I must explore that area sometime. Finally, last month I did exactly that.

It was a two and a half hour walk from Zermatt through the forested slopes on a 4×4 track to get to Stafelalp – a little collection of old hay lofts and a well-known restaurant. (You can see the line of the route sloping diagonally up and right in the topmost image). It was trying to rain most of the way up, barely a drizzle, and clouds and mist swirled around. Not ideal but as the day wore on I was actually quite pleased that it wasn’t full sun and blue skies – the subdued light seemed to suit the pictures that I was capturing.When I reached the edge of the valley floor there was a grandstand view of the lateral moraine and in the distance, on a small little hillock with mist behind it, the Schönbiel Hut was clearly visible. Looking back through the mist I had a telephoto view across to Findeln with the Fluhalp Hut easily spotted – see image below.I spent a couple of hours exploring the flat-bottomed valley floor that lay ahead of me. The water is harvested to generate electricity, one of a number of Hydro schemes around Zermatt. Sustainability is now a high priority and Zermatt is now self-sufficient in both power and water.

It is only when you start to walk this area that you realise how extensive it is. I covered only a fraction of it. A series of small dams control the water flows.

To one side, the rock wall at the foot of the N face of the Matterhorn has been smoothed by the original glacier’s progress.

A collection of inter-linked small lakes covers a wide area. Water levels were quite low when I visited and the lakes were carpeted by sedimentary deposits creating elegant lines.

In other areas water meandered its way through young forest.

And wild flowers added colour. This I believe is Alpine Willowherb (Epilobium Fleischeri).

There was so much to photograph and a lot yet to be explored. What struck me most was the fact that nature is an Artist. I saw it in the elegant lines created by water flows; the placement of rocks and boulders; and the shaping of the broader landscape. I must return her again. I am already thinking ahead to next summer, but before then there is a skiing season and this winter I will be back here again, skiing down from the lower slopes of the Matterhorn to Stafelalp and from there down the track to Zermatt. This flat-bottomed valley will be carpeted with snow.

Enjoy the gallery below. Click on the first image and navigate through.






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Forest Walk

There are some walks that I never tire of walking. And this is one of them. A short uphill walk from Zermatt leads to a balcony walk – a traverse – a couple of hundred feet above the village. It’s maybe only a mile or so in length and at it’s far end it drops back down through Winkelmatten at the top end of the village. A nice way to spend a quiet afternoon.

It’s all that a forest walk should be: a peaceful stroll, away from the crowds, and taken at a leisurely pace. I came across a quote yesterday from the American country singer, Carrie Underwood: ‘Don’t forget to stop and smell the roses.’ I know exactly what she means. There were plenty of stops along this walk, and plenty of ‘roses’.


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Water Grass

Where there are mountains there are likely to be lakes – large or small. The Zermatt valley is a classic example,  with a number of small lakes among the high mountains. Some are filled from glacial meltwater and are recently formed – the consequence of global warming and glacial retreat; others are simply in natural hollows that have probably been present for thousands of years. The Riffelsee, not far from the Gornergrat railway is an example of the latter. A pretty little lake in which, on a calm, day there is very often a reflection of the Matterhorn. Click here to view.

It is home to a lot of little fish, cotton grass and what I will call ‘water grass’. A more scientific term might be Reed. Found in clumps around the edge of the lake, the individual stems weave intricate patterns. The image above was shot two weeks ago, the one below in summer 2017.

No scene is ever precisely the same.


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A line of trees

I’ve been missing for two weeks. I’ve been elsewhere, and those of you who know me well will have figured that I was away in the European Alps, as is usual at this time of the year.

I’ve just been sitting in front of the computer for two hours or so, uploading hundreds of new images and this is the first one processed. Perhaps not what you might expect from 10 days in Zermatt – home to the Matterhorn, which, if visible, would be just peeking over the horizon towards the right edge of the image. We had good weather, and not-so-good weather – this was one of the not-so-good days. But this was an image I really wanted to work on.

I had viewed this line of trees in previous years (they are visible from our hotel bedroom across the valley); I probably walked past them about eight years ago. I have often thought: that would make a reasonable picture if I could get the right angle.  It’s a fifteen to twenty walk to get to them and so one morning with the weather looking unsettled I decided to take a closer look.

This year I made the decision to take two Nikon SLR bodies on holiday – an old D80 and a newer D7000 and two lenses: my ultra-wide 11-18mm Tokina and a 18-250mm Sigma. These lenses are a good pair, between them they just about cover every eventuality, but when I’m carrying just one camera body, I am constantly switching lenses; and in a harsh environment where there is always the risk of dust getting on the sensor, it’s a nuisance to keep uncoupling one lens and attaching another. And often I just can’t be bothered, with the result that I have probably missed loads of images in the past.  So this year I have done most of my walking with two cameras slung round my neck. I don’t enjoy the extra weight but I’ve enjoyed the options that two lenses provide.

I wonder how often you have seen a potential image some way off, envisaged how it would look, and then when you got close up discovered that finding the right point of view was difficult if not impossible. It happens. And this was one of those occasions.

I envisaged the line of four trees against the sky – no competing ridge lines, just trees and sky. I looked from this side, and the other side. I stood well back, I got up close. I moved up and down the hill. I used both lenses. There was no position that enabled the image I had in mind. What you see above was the best view I could achieve after about fifteen minutes of trying. It had the bonus of bringing a fifth tree into view.

I had an image, but I wasn’t too hopeful that I could extract a good picture from what I had captured. In colour the leftmost tree merged into the hillside in the distance. But, I had always ‘seen’ the image as having potential in B&W.  And Silver Efex has delivered the goods as it so often does. There are, I think, 37 presets to flick through in Silver Efex. For any given image thirty of those will be rubbish, but there will always be a few that are promising and often just one that hits the sweet spot. And that is what I found with this image. One option gave me exactly what I wanted – tonal separation between the trees and the distant ridge-line, the right amount of contrast, and a powerful sky into the bargain.

It’s so nice when it all comes together. This was shot at 22mm film equivalent, F16, 1/180 sec, ISO 320.

More images will follow over the next days and weeks.



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On the Way

When I go out with a camera I have no idea what I will find to capture. Even if I am going somewhere special with obvious images that I will want for my archive as a record of where I have been, there will always be the unexpected. Pictures taken literally – ‘On the Way…’ or perhaps ‘By the Way…’

And that is the thread that links today’s images. The one above was taken on Reigate Hill. It’s a place we had heard of with commanding views southwards. A mixture of woodland and open hillside. Actually (although it was well worth the walk) I found no memorable record shots of Reigate Hill itself. But…there was a small herd of Belted Galloways up there. Most of you will be scratching your heads and thinking: what the heck is a Belted Galloway? Click the link. It’s a heritage breed of cattle originally from Galloway in Scotland. They are black with a wide belt of white hair around their middles – hence the name. I got close to one of them, slowly, and took this shot. The ‘black’ part was not truly black which I think added to the interest in the image. Maybe this was a young animal or an old one – that might explain the lack of pure blackness.

More recently I was in  London to see Christo’s installation on the Serpentine in Hyde Park. Click here to view me post about that. Crossing the road on the way into Hyde Park I saw this sculpture. Getting closer I was struck by the streaks under the chin of the closest head.

Worth a shot. A detail that attracted me – I can’t explain why. Streaks created perhaps by the weather and maybe enhanced by the pollution inevitable in London.

A week later I was back in London again, visiting the Royal Academy. Wandering around new areas of the Gallery I found myself staring at the back of a marble feature and the quite extraordinary patterning thereon.

A true abstract with an almost 3D effect.

Three up-close images that are the result of always having a camera in hand, a natural state of curiosity and an interest in texture, pattern and line. There’s something special about holding a camera in your hand – it sends a sub-conscious message to your brain that says: ‘I’m looking for pictures’. It works for me. Next time you are out, don’t have your camera in a bag, try holding it in your hand, lens cap off, ready to shoot. You may be surprised what a difference that simple action makes.

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See-through Sea


I’m looking down through maybe a foot of water. The tide is coming in, the water is calm with a few ripples as tiny wavelets lap against the sea wall on which I am standing. The sun is shining; sunlight is being reflected and refracted by the sea and strands of sunlight are piercing the water and tracing delicate lines that dance across the seabed.

There’s only one word for it – enchanting. All the elements combine to create something that is constantly evolving. It’s mesmerising. It’s a light show. It’s nature at its best. Every step I take changes the picture. Every image is unique.

It’s inspiring. Wow!

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Blazing summer means a short brown autumn

‘Blazing summer means a short, brown autumn’ was the headline in the newspaper today. And here is further visual confirmation of the consequences of the UK’s recent heatwave. Leaves are already dropping – dead, burnt, fried.

My previous Post, click here to view, showed the evidence, and today’s image was taken on the same short walk.

The newspaper article went on to explain that a warm slightly moist summer is best for a good autumn display of foliage because trees need a healthy balance of sun and rain to produce sugars, which create the colours in their leaves. It quoted a forestry commission director: “unless there is some rain soon autumn will be brown and crispy and much less colourful. It may all be over by September.” What a dismal prospect.

We have had a day of very welcome rain, but that seems to have been just an intermission, the heat is now re-building with no sign of imminent rain.


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