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Five hikes to do along the Verbier St Bernard x-trail ultra route

Verbier hosts several notable endurance events over the course of the year and in two weeks the Verbier St Bernard x-trail ultra route race starts and finishes in the famous winter ski resort. The race is 111km long passing into Italy and back, but the real challenge is in the vertical ascent and descent required, 8,572m – the equivalent of starting at sea level and climbing to within 300m of the summit of Everest and then returning back to sea level.

The Verbier St Bernard x-trail ultra route follows an outstanding route through stunning mountain scenery and takes in some of the fantastic hiking opportunities accessible to guests staying in Verbier over the summer. Below are five options along the route.

Easy and family friendly
1.       Verbier to the Chateau de Verbier. This is an excellent hike straight from Verbier and is a good option for families. The Chateau de Verbier is a ruin of a castle dating back to the 12th century built by the counts of Savoy and occupies an impressive position on the ridge between Verbier and Sembrancher with excellent views down the valley. It is easy to see why this was such an important position during war-time. The castle is reported to have been destroyed in 1476 when the Sept Dizainsconquered the Bas-Valais as part of the Burgundian Wars. They apparently destroyed the castle because of the fierce resistance locals remaining loyal to the Savoy family showed.

2.       La Fouly, the last village in the Val Ferret, is approximately the mid-point around the x-alpine route. In autumn this village hosts a festival known as the Désalpe, when the cows return from their mountain pastures. You can park and hike from La Fouly or you can follow the road that extends further into the Val Ferret. From here mountain pastures are easily accessible and are set amongst the amazing backdrop of an amphitheatre of dramatic mountains. (This can also be extended into a more substantial hike by following the path up to the Lac des Fenetre and the Fenetre pass into Italy.) A visit to La Fouly could also include some time at the sentier suspendu, where you can take to the trees Tarzan-style in a brilliant network of rope courses with options for all ages.

Moderate to difficult (in most cases these options require use of public transport or access logistics as starts and finishes are not in the same place. Further research over and above the brief descriptions below is required before these routes are undertaken).
1.       Sembrancher to Le Catogne. This is the most challenging and sustained climb for the runners of the x-alpine VSB. From Sembrancher it is a steady 2,000m climb, firstly along a series of switchbacks on forestry roads and then, after Alpage de Catogne, the climb continues along a breathtakingly beautiful ridgeline to the summit at 2,598m. From the summit, you have a wonderful sense of perspective of Verbier, the Rhone Valley (taking in Sion and Martigny), and Lac Leman (Lake Geneva). Hiking options from the peak are to return to where you started in Sembrancher or to continue over and down into Champex Lac.

2.       Bourg St Pierre or Liddes to Col de Mille and then down to Lourtier. For most competitors this section of the Verbier St Bernard x-trail ultra route will be run overnight on Saturday July 12th/13th. The route takes in the lower slopes of Mont Rogneux. Climbing first to the cabin at Col de Mille (this is a great overnight option) and then traversing across the cree-covered slopes, the path takes in excellent views of the peak (3,084m) during the steady descent from the hut at Col de Mille to Lourtier in the Val de Bagnes.

3.       Lourtier to La Chaux and finishing in Verbier. This is the final climb for runners of the Verbier St Bernard x-trail ultra route. From Lourtier the path follows the trajectory of the ridgeline through leafy forests. There are multiple points along the way providing excellent viewpoints of the Val de Bagnes both down to Sembrancher and up to Mauvoisin. Once you leave the forest behind you it is not much further up to La Chaux. From La Chaux you can pick up the bisse (old water channel route) and follow this around to Ruinette and back down into Verbier.

Myself and fellow Bramble Ski director Colin Mayo are running the full Verbier St Bernard x-trail ultra route, so if you are around for the weekend of July 12th we would love to see you out willing us on.

The other famous endurance events in Verbier are:
·         The Patrouille des Glaciers is a ski touring race that takes place along the Zermatt to Verbier section of the Haute Route every two years during the winter. It was started by the Swiss army to test the hardiness of its personnel in harsh mountain environments. The event is still organised by the Swiss army.
·         The Grand Raid is a mountain biking endurance race that starts in Verbier and finishes in Grimentz, a gruelling 125km taking in a vertical of 5,025m.
Bramble Ski director Duncan Robertson has completed both the Patrouille des Glaciers and the Grand Raid.

27th June 2014

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