Living in Sion is delighted to welcome an article from the “Grimentz Rambler”. This article is authored by Caroline Thonger, a British writer who lives in the picturesque village of Grimentz in the Val d’Anniviers, around 50 minutes from the centre of Sion.
Caroline is a keen hiker and in this post, she suggests different hikes that can be done around the Lac de Moiry – whether you are looking for a relatively easy walk of around 2-3 hours, or routes for the more experienced hiker. This lake changes colour through the seasons producing some spectacular sights as you will see in the photos below.
Read on to find out her recommendations of walks and where to find delicious “tarte aux abricots” (a typical Valaisan fresh-fruit open tart) high up in the mountains!
However many times I get up to the Lac de Moiry (and it must amount to multiple dozens of visits in the nine years I’ve lived in Grimentz), I never tire of that first view of the dam and its impressive backdrop of the glacier and permanently snow-covered peaks. The drive up from the village of Grimentz is in itself worth the effort.
The Route de Moiry takes you past the Coop and the Hôtel Cristal, winding up through the forest and ever upwards along the Vallon du Moiry, to surface by the glacier river and your first view under the dam itself. After 8 kms, a rise of 700vm (vertical metres) to well above the tree-line and a dramatically rocky tunnel, you emerge into the car park to be given your first impressions of the Lac de Moiry with its imposing dish-shaped dam.
For some people, just being on the dam at 2250m is enough, and throughout the summer the café is kept busy serving local wines and beers, a variety of fondues and croûtes, coffees and génépi, never mind their delicious tarts and pastries. Some people are simply happy to wander over the dam and back again—while others are far more serious hikers. Even though the car park can be full to bursting at the height of summer, there are so many available walks in all directions that you’ll find the crowds soon disperse once you’ve set off.
Lakeside – A scenic route for the less experienced walker
This is my walk of choice if I’m showing my local area off to first-time visitors. You can walk around the whole lake in 2-3 hours.
Going clockwise you follow the road along the left-hand mountainside, take a right-hand path beyond the southern end of the lake, down to where a bridge fords the tumbling glacial torrent, and then continue along the right-hand side of the lake back to the dam. The walk can be extended another hour or so by ignoring the first path, and continuing another half-kilometre to the end of the road by the glacier pool. Here you turn right and then follow a rocky path in parallel to the stream that emerges from the glacier pool, until it joins the lakeside path. A short climb at the northern end of the path, first up and then down takes you onto the dam, which you cross over to get back to the café. Anti-clockwise does the whole thing in reverse, starting by crossing over the dam and then getting onto the right-hand lakeside path.
This route is suitable for the less experienced walker, and even at lakeside level is notably scenic because the hillsides are so steep, and the landscape so dramatic. Expect drifts of yellow anemones (wind flowers), clumps of pink rosebay willow-herb (also known as fireweed), and at least four varieties of blue gentian.
The 2500 Path
Definitely for the more experienced hiker, this route can be tackled in a variety of ways. When I mention left and right, I’m talking about standing with my back to the dam and facing southwards.
Starting with the route on the left, you follow a fairly broad zig-zag path upwards above the car park, until you reach the 2500 level some 300vm above the dam. A signpost clearly shows the (often narrow) path to follow, taking you at that level across various gullies and streams, and above vertical rock-faces to reach the high pastures by the glacier pools. The right-hand route involves crossing over the dam, and following the steep zig-zag cow-track up the mountainside until it branches off left (before the high-pasture farm building).
Passing some mountain tarns and meadows awash with Alpine flowers, the (again often narrow) path follows the contours of the mountainside, until you reach a rocky cliff. Here there are metal chains to help you up the slope, at the top of which is the cairn with stunning views from 2600m—looking northwards the whole lake and dam, with the Bernese Oberland in the far distance; looking southwards both glacier pools, the rugged iciness of the glacier itself and all its surrounding snow-covered peaks. From here you pass another mountain tarn, and then turn left to zig-zag down the mountain as far as the lower glacier pool.
What I like about this route is that you can challenge yourself to do all or part of the 2500 path. Half the route—usually 1.5 to 2.5 hours starting from one side of the dam or the other—as far as the glacier car park, can be timed to catch the yellow post bus back to the dam. But in mid-October this year, after an entire summer’s hiking, I pushed myself to do the whole circuit. It took some 4 hours in all at the 2500 level, starting and finishing at the dam, my reward being an excellent cup of cappuccino back at the café.
- Bendolla—take the cablecar from Grimentz up to the Bendolla station (2150m), and from there take the rocky path following the high-level contours of the Vallon du Moiry, finally zig-zagging up the right-hand side to the top of the dam
- Col de Marinda—cross the dam and follow the cow-track up to the high farmhouse, and then up right to the Col (2900m). From there you can choose to take the rocky path back to the Bendolla, or else traverse the Pas de Lona as far as the Becs de Bosson mountain hut (3000m). Both these routes will take up to 4hrs.
- Col du Torrent—this follows the same path up the right-hand mountainside, but when you reach the farmhouse you continue straight on, past the Lac des Autannes and up a steep rocky ridge to the Col (2950m). From here you can descend into the Val d’Herens.
- Col de Tsaté—the route starts at the glacier pool at the far end of the Lac de Moiry, up to 2870m and then down to La Forclaz or La Sage in the Val d’Herens.
- Col de Sorebois—keep to the zig-zag path up from the dam, on the left-hand mountainside above the lake, and then follow the signs up to the Sorebois. The summit (Corne de Sorebois) is around 2950m, above the top of the winter chairlift. This crest overlooks the Zinal ski-area, and after a short but steep descent, you can take the Sorebois cablecar back down to Grimentz.
All these routes are suitable for the more experienced hiker, while climbers can access the Cabane de Moiry for more adventurous ice- and rock-climbs above the glacier.
As I said at the start of this article, I never tire of the Lac de Moiry. Not only is there a great variety of hikes all around the Moiry, but the ever-changing colours of the Lac itself are a constant wonder to me, however many times I go up there. Often my mid-summer walks are accompanied by the high-pitched whistles of the marmots ( one of them crossed my path once —I don’t know which of us was the more surprised!), and if you’re very lucky you might even encounter a shy chamois.
The Route de Moiry is closed throughout the winter season (from around the end of October), and is left untouched by the snow-clearing machines. The road re-opens from any time between the end of May and the first couple of weeks of June, depending on the amount of avalanche snow that has to be cleared. The local herds of cows (black Val d’Herens breed) are taken up to the high pastures around the Moiry dam after Inalpe (3rd weekend of June). Climbers will enjoy practising their skills on the local via ferrata. The yellow car postal runs return trips up to the Moiry as far as the glacier during the summer.
Construction of the dam
Construction of the Barrage de Moiry was completed in 1958. The dam itself is 150m high (nearly 500ft). Its maximum depth is 120m, and the surface area is 1.4 km2.
The Cabane de Moiry (CAS) is perched above a steep, rocky cliff at 2830m with stunning views over the glacier.
This typical Alpine mountain hut—originally built in the 1920s out of local stone but with a thoroughly modern annex—can be reached after a 90-minute walk from the car park by the glacier pool. It’s open from mid-June to the start of autumn, and can cater for family groups as well as inveterate mountain climbers.
The Café du Barrage, run by “Clems et Fabs”, is open from mid-June to mid-October. Not to be missed is their “tarte aux abricots”, (a typical Valaisan fresh-fruit open tart) flavoured with rosemary and best served with “Chantilly” or whipped cream.