Tour du Val d’Hérens: Thyon – Grande Dixence (stage 1)
The first stage of the Tour du Val d’Hérens is a panoramic high-level hike with a dramatic backdrop: glacier-draped peaks and Europe’s tallest dam.
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The first leg of the 5-stage Tour du Val d’Hérens actually leads along a side valley: the Val d’Hérémence. The entire stage lies above 2,000 m, making for spectacular views of the valley, the mighty Grande Dixence dam and the snow-capped summits beyond. The trail follows a scenic route along the valley’s western flank, threading through alpine pastures and a natural gem: Les Gouilles d’Essertze. These tranquil ponds are set among peat bogs more than 13,000 years old; info panels showcase the local wildlife. This makes an ideal picnic site – alternatively stop for refreshments at the Cabane d’Essertze, soon afterwards. As the walk progresses, the sight of the finish point becomes ever more dramatic. The Grande Dixence is the world’s tallest gravity dam: 285 m tall, with a base 200 m wide and weighing some 15 million tons – more than the Great Pyramid of Giza. Its reservoir, the Lac des Dix, is the largest in Switzerland, and can hold 400 billion litres of water. The dam forms the heart of a vast complex that is more impressive still. About 100 km of tunnels under the mountains collect meltwater from 35 Valais glaciers for storage in an interconnected group of reservoirs. The pioneering complex also includes 4 pumping stations and 3 power stations with a total output of 2,000 MW. One of these power stations alone holds 3 world records, including the greatest drop height (1,883 m). Taken as a whole, Switzerland’s largest hydroelectric plant accounts for 20% of the country’s energy storage capacity, generating enough electricity to power the equivalent of 500,000 homes. Visitor facilities at the dam include an information centre (free admission), guided tours, a restaurant and a cable car to the crest. Highlights: High panoramic trail – spectacular views all along Les Gouilles d’Essertze – idyllic group of alpine ponds Grande Dixence – Switzerland’s tallest dam