Bugwoman on Location – Walking the Gaisberg Valley

IMG_3333Dear Readers, one of my favourite walks in Obergurgl is along the Gaisberg valley. But to get there, there’s a hard, steep pull up a serpentine service road. The road surface is made of slippery stone-chippings, the sun beats down, and everyone going up in the lift to the hut above has a good view of your (lack of) progress. I have taken to wearing a Fitbit, to log my footsteps. It also records my heart rate.

“What’s your BPM now?” asks my husband, as I suck in some air for the final ascent.

I squint at my Fitbit.

“153”, I say.

“Is that even possible?” he says.

And unless I’ve transmogrified into a hummingbird and not noticed, I doubt that it is. So much for monitoring.

At last we get to the entrance to the valley. I plonk down on a stone, and soon notice that the whole area is full of the blood-red blurs of Six-spot Burnet moths.

IMG_3325They are everywhere here, gathering nectar and bumping into things. As a caterpillar, they would have fed on Birdsfoot Trefoil. These moths are newly emerged, making the most of the short summer season. And less than a quarter of a mile later, there are none at all. Such is the variety of habitats on this walk.

IMG_3344The sheep are finding the heat a bit much. They would be laying in some shade if they could find some, but there isn’t any and this is a risk for humans too – I managed to get a slightly burnt neck yesterday. Here in the Gaisberg, the sheep simply form a ‘sleeping heap’, which seems to work for them.

IMG_3336IMG_3337We stop for sandwiches at a flat rock by the weather. As usual, I am surveying the hillside for marmots, and we soon see one running from rock to rock. Then another appears. This has been a good year for sightings, and I hope a good year for baby marmots.


Spot the Marmot!

As we head towards the glacier, the flora changes too.

Mountain Houseleek (Sempervivum montanum)

Mountain Houseleek (Sempervivum montanum)

The Alps are full of succulents like the Mountain Houseleek, which has the ability to conserve water in this dry environment. But what cheers me most of all is my first sight of these flowers: Snowbells.

Dwarf Snowbells (Soldanella pusilla)

Dwarf Snowbells (Soldanella pusilla)

These little flowers are the very first to appear when the snow has melted – you can see them pushing through the ruined, yellowing grass where a snowdrift has lain. In fact, they are said to melt the snow themselves, by fermenting sugars and raising their temperature. They are a member of the Primrose family, and are never found below 2000 metres, so they are true Alpine flowers.

The road home.

The road home.

We turn to head back to the hotel. A cool wind chills us as we slide down the scree and march down the service road. One day, I know, we will not be able to do this walk. Maybe (hopefully) we’ll be tramping up the hill for years to come, but the day will come when it’s too much. This is not being morbid – it’s just being realistic. Some of our older friends no longer come to this resort because of the altitude and the difficulty of many of the walks. But this year we have managed it, and that is a cause for a modest celebration – a glass of water, and a slightly-squashed cheese roll from our lunchpack. Life seems to be a balancing act between being grateful for what we have, and yet not deluded about what lies ahead.



8 thoughts on “Bugwoman on Location – Walking the Gaisberg Valley

  1. Anne Guy

    Love the marmot and the long eared sheep you’d think piled up like that they would be hotter? Hope your heart rate has come down to a human level!

    1. Bug Woman Post author

      I’d have thought they’d be hotter as well, Anne, but maybe the little ones get some shelter from the bigger ones. Who knows the mysterious ways of sheep?

  2. Lynn D.

    Thank you, Bug Woman, for taking me on this walk. I’m probably one of those too old and arthritic to take the walk myself. It’s frustrating, because no one part looks too difficult for me, but the duration would be too much. Fortunately I’ve been on some lovely walks in the Three Sisters Wilderness areas of Oregon in my day. It’s exciting that the area changes so much in the short time you are there.
    While cleaning out the raspberry patch in my backyard today, I came across the most lovely pale turquoise, translucent, shiney hard shelled bug casing on the ground (sorry, no idea what kind! At first I thought maybe I’d lost an earring years before.) So it’s nice to know that even when your world is smaller, there are still thrilling things to see.

    1. Bug Woman Post author

      Hi Lynn, so glad you’re enjoying the trip. I must admit that part of the reason for blogging daily is so that my mum and dad, and my mother-in-law, and many other people, can come along with me. You might be surprised at what you could do, actually – many of the walks are not very long, and folk generally do what they can manage and then turn back for a beer and an apple strudel, so it’s very civilised. But I think however much we have done in our lives, there will always be places that wish we’d had the chance to visit, and maybe this is not bad thing, because it means that our curiosity and love of life is still intact. And when I’m back in London, as you know, it’s all about what I can find in my little half-mile ‘territory’, so I absolutely agree with you that there is mystery and wonder everywhere.

  3. albaraven

    Don’t worry BugWoman. A BPM reading of 153 is perfectly possible. You’re probably working in the middle of zone 4 of your five zones (depending on age.) You’re just giving yourself a fabulous workout so that you can scoff cake and other goodies without a care. My top zone rate ends at 185 BPM, at which point I assume I’ll frazzle myself and go bang into the ether. That’s for me in my late 50’s! I use a FitBit too, and find it very helpful.

    1. Bug Woman Post author

      Thank you, Albaraven! I’m 55, so it looks as if I can try even harder without spontaneously combusting. The challenge is to keep up the good work when I get back to London :-).


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