Book #19: Mountain Texture: The Pyrenees from the Sky

Since almost four years have passed since arriving in Europe, and prior to this book, 11% of my books were on European subjects, I decided to change the editorial workflow and shove some current content into the pipeline while I continue to chip away at remaining subjects from the USA.

This my third texture book and second Pyrenees book. Texture is interesting, as it is something that I collect, almost universally unexpectedly, while on a flight taking what are otherwise landscape images. That is how ‘Field of Dreams’ and ‘American Texture’ images were acquired. With my newest release, I had a chance to narrow down geographic focus, while retaining the same criteria for texture images. That affords an opportunity to furnish knowledge of the essence of the Pyrenees region, while still producing a book that looks like a tour of an art gallery.

I made some tweaks to layout and flow compared to prior books, resulting in my highest image count yet, organized in some different and interesting ways. It is available on and various Amazon sites in Europe.



Flight: Switzerland (BE, VD, UR, VS): Oberland, Andermatt, Münster, Interlaken

I find it interesting how consistently ignorant expectation differs from reality. In this case, I stumbled across a small airport in Münster, Switzerland, and because it was in such a deep valley, so high up (4,354 feet), and only open June to August, it must have been the pinnacle of backwoodsness and difficulty.

Since it’s a PPR field (“prior permission required”), I called the aerodrome manager, got referred to his deputy, and had some cautious inquiries into what kind of pilot I was. Since I have a clearly American accent (and potentially since they are “deep in the Valais” – who knows), there was some suspicion until I said I’d be coming from Saanen (3,304’, surrounded by towering terrain). “Coming from Saanen? Ok, you can come here.”

I decided to head over the Oberland without heading straight for the glaciers, at least initially. I squeezed beneath Mönch, then into a “cathedral” of glaciers under Ischmeer, east along vertical ridges, over the Aare River valley, then the Sustenpass, south to Andermatt, then west to Furkapass and then Grimselpass, before heading down the Goms Valley where I had to hold for gliders, skimming steep terrain in a tight valley then making an unimpressive landing.

After powering down, the scene was something to behold. Fresh temperatures, dry air, illustrious sky tones, an alpine meadow, and a bunch of Swiss Germans dutifully attending to various tasks (except for one guy for which we chatted for 30 minutes). I walked over to the Rhône River, which ran along the field, and watched the turquoise water rush beneath. It was interesting to stand on a bridge and gaze to the distance, where the Rhône Glacier proudly stood, the source of the Rhône River, just a few kilometers away.

In a nutshell, it was a Swiss Cerdanya. Colors, tones, weather, altitude, rural solitude – it was the same thing just further north, and a much tighter valley. Ironically, the feelings I had when it was this gnarly unknown were so very different than when I landed there; I saw less menace and more beauty, though that is usually what happens.

I went back to base via the Grimselpass, Aare River valley, over Interlaken, then into the Oberland with a very large smile on my face.

Just south of Schronried. The Oberland in brilliant summer glory.


North of Männliflue.

Oeschinensee, from above Kandersteg.

Eiger, Mönch, and the Jungfrau, playing hard to get from behind Sulegg.


Waterfall protruding from Ischmeer.

Big rock.

Aare River valley.

Wendenstöcke. Reminds me of Cadí-Moixeró in Spain a bit.

Stucklistock, now in the Canton of Uri for the first time.

Up the valley from Hospental.


Goms Valley, holding for gliders. The mountain behind me is very close, making it quite tight. In 1419 Berne sent troops to smash early forerunners to the Republik Der Sieben Zenden, a power base that grew away from the church and sprang from medieval peasantry. Somewhere to the left of the image, the Zendens gave the Berners a beatdown, so they burned everything while retreating to Grimselpass. Then everyone got together and worked out a deal. 600 years later, and people come for tourism, fondue, and skiing! I am skipping over centuries of intrigue in between….

Goms Valley, with the Rhône River below and Rhône Glacier on the horizon.

Climbing out from Münster.

Approaching Grimselpass.

Flying over Grimselpass.

The other side.

Blattenstock. I’d gladly build a house in the trees on the summit, if it was allowed.

Looking left toward the Eiger. I came from right to left in front of those rocks earlier in the day.

Interlaken Ost with Brienzersee below.

Almost back to base. Zweisimmen airport in center left. 


Flight: Switzerland (BE, VD, VS), Italy: First Snow in the Alps

I interrupt my regular blogging procrastination to post something current. It snowed roughly down to 7,000 feet over the weekend. I dutifully raced to the airport on the first flyable day and chased it like I usually do every year.

There is something intriguing and almost spiritual about the “first snow.” In the Alps, there really is no such thing as a “first snow” as any rainstorm of consequence will leave hints of snow at 4000m/13,100’ during the course of the summer. As last year proves, an August snow can descend as low as 9,000 feet. For some reason, July and August snow, even in the high Rockies and Pyrenees, while it can happen, just doesn’t count as the “first” snow, the harbinger of coming winter; rather, it’s a delightful anomaly endemic to high mountain existence.

I have begun filming some of my flights, including this one. The process began years ago and was a complete pain in the rear. A spinning propeller is not received well on digital recordings. Airframe vibration turns the whole thing into literal jello on camera, as CMOS sensor recording order mixed with getting wiggled produces deleterious effects. Someone suggested I get recordings in the event a film is done some day, which while I understood the reasoning, I was sardonically skeptical. I had to admit, though, that I am in the air in quite rugged and unusual places. What harm could it do to have some good quality film? It may be that years from now I’ll wonder why I didn’t bother to record some.

That set off an eleven-month saga of “rage against the machine” at my new and expensive camera…and mounts….and accessories…and more accessories…and software. I have to admit the product is special, though I have been greeted in the online world with counsel that I could shorten them accommodate limited attention spans and pay for additional cinematic effects and add-ons. I am unsure of the point, as they are free videos, and I believe the best I could get here is some sort of electronic badge from YouTube to increase my self-esteem. Never mind, I’d rather go flying.

Video first, then photos. Not sure how this will translate in e-mail blasts. 16 minutes HD.

Gummfluh. A little bit of snow on the right, and contrails from Swiss military jets above.

Col de Jable, with Alps leering over the ridge.

Slopes of the Wittenberghorn, a neat mixture of green grass and snow.

Above the clouds, looking toward Lenk and Turbach. 

Approaching the Bernese Alps.

Bernese Alps…what a surprise.

Geltengletscher (the parts that are white and smooth). This is why glacier photography is done mostly in summer, to distinguish permanent ice fixtures from snowflakes.

South of Sion, in the Valais. Snow levels are higher here.

Large wall of rock with snow stuck on it. Beneath the Weisshorn.

Between Zinalrothorn and Obel Gaberhorn, with Dufourspitze on the horizon. Another lesson in why glaciers lack certain intrigue with snow on them. Kind of ironic, actually.

Matterhorn. It was too windy to fly around it, so I stayed on the upwind side and got bumped around.

West slope of the Matterhorn, looking over the ridge into Italy. I crossed over and got tossed around, so I came back.

More rock with snow on it. “Seen one, seen them all” so I have heard.

Weissmiess in the distance. A nice demonstration of snow levels as they melt upward during the day.

Back to the Bernese Alps, south side, with snow melting. It is not likely to last all the way to winter, as September sun is too strong. 

One thing I love about first snows is that mountain textures are extremely vivid. As winter progresses, these textures will be coated with meters of snow and lose detail of their texture. That can have its own beauty when it happens.

Case in point regarding texture. On the top of the image is the tongue of the Plaines Morte Glacier. Just 10 days prior, there was a roaring waterfall here, now shut off due to no glacier melt.

I flew to some of the highest peaks in the rear earlier in the flight. By now, I am absolutely freezing.

A waterfall with snow! Hallelujah!

In early snowfalls, rivers and streams show up as dark. Once they freeze, the texture is lost.

Below the clouds, in carb ice territory.

Flight: Switzerland (BE, VD, GE, VS), France: Lake Geneva

I stare at the this lake enough each day that it drives me nuts and I want to fly over it. An obstacle is the haze the lake creates, and a 6,000 to 8,000 foot tall ridge separating the Oberland from the lake, where one must then descend a mile, only to tour a beautiful lake that features no emergency landing zones in most places. I decided to get it over with and head all the way to Geneva and come back on the French side, which sneers at us visually on a repeated basis. It was rather pretty, an odd juxtaposition to glaciated towering peaks that sit not too far away. Literally within the scope of 90 minutes, a person could get off a ferry on this lake, drive a bit, and disembark a gondola just shy of 10,000′ and walk across a glacier.

Dent de Corjon (6,453′), before heading over the ridge.

Glion in the foreground, after having descended over 1000′. Note the haze over Lake Geneva, which is a microclimate.

Montreux. Working my way down.

Vineyards along the lake.

Pully, looking back toward from where I came.

Lausanne, the fourth largest city in Switzerland.

There’s something in the water…I just don’t know what it is. Off the shore of Saint-Prex.

I had heard Swiss banking was struggling, though I didn’t expect them to resort to 18th century piracy.

Crossing the lake to avoid Geneva’s control zone.

The dark side. La Motte, France.

Geneva. That is a 300 foot tall water fountain. Somewhere in this image lurks a giant particle accelerator.

Back to the dark side – Capite, France. Beginning the return toward Saanen.

Thonon-les-Bains, France. Evian water comes from up the hill to the right, out of the image.

Lugrin, France.

Suffice it to say that, should the engine have quit, I would have ended up somewhat moist.

Saint-Gingolph, the border between France (fore) and Switzerland (aft). Amazon has decided that they absolutely will not ship author proofs for my books to me in Switzerland, so I have to drive to the French post office here to pick them up. 

Silt from the Rhône emptying into Lake Geneva. 

Rhône River.

Rhône and Lake Geneva mixing.

About to turn base for runway 26, over Gstaad. Switzerland does not suck.