We went hunting for Edelweiss one late summer’s day on the mountainside above La Tzoumaz. See if you can read the whole story without bursting into song!
A few weeks ago we bumped into a local couple out hiking up the Col des Mines. Leaning on their hiking poles, they were delighted to stop and share their favourite nuggets of local knowledge from the vast encyclopaedia that they had gathered over their last 30 years here. The thing that piqued my interest the most was when they told us that you could find Edelweiss growing wild at the top of the mountain. “Whereabouts?” I asked excitedly, with my head spinning in anticipation, wondering if we could do an urgent detour on the way home. “Up by the top of the Pierre Avoi. Take the lower path, not the one that climbs to the summit, and then leave the path. You really have to know where it is, but there are about six of them, maybe 200m away from the footpath, sort of in the rocks.” In my excitement I foolishly believed that these must be sufficiently precise instructions, so the very next day we got our hiking kit together and set off with the boys, who are 5 and 7 years old. I had been talking to them about Edelweiss all summer, while pointing out all the different flowers we could see on our many hikes, explaining that it was incredibly rare and so they should look for it at all times. I have never seen the delicate yellow and white flowers growing in the wild, despite spending many happy years tramping about the Alps in summer, and held them in kind of magical regard. We were all quite excited to think that we knew where to find some, so we set off with a spring in our step, hunting for Edelweiss in La Tzoumaz.
I took the lead, with my head turning steadily from side to side, eyes constantly scanning the ground up to 200m from the path. I tripped up several times as I wasn’t really able to look where I was going without dragging my eyes away from their search. I didn’t really know where to look: separated from other flowers? in sparsely-grassed areas? in the shade of small boulders? The Alpine Flowers book that we carried said somewhat enigmatically and rather unhelpfully that “You’ll recognise it when you see it.”
We eventually neared the top, where we came across a lady who was out walking with her dog. “Hello! We were wondering if you could help us. We’re looking for Edelweiss. Do you know where we might find some near here?” “Edelweiss…? Ummm… Is that it?” and she pointed to the nearest flower. The type with a large, tough flower-head and no neck, that looks like someone has beheaded it and dropped it on the ground. Definitely not Edelweiss. We walked on, none-the-wiser, until we came across another lady, this time without a dog. “Hello! We were wondering if you could help us. We’re looking for Edelweiss. Do you know where we might find some near here?” “Umm… There are some marmottes over there…!”
Great. Marmottes. Don’t get me wrong, I love the furry little fellows. With a clever design that is a sort of cross between a giant squirrel and a miniature bear, I think they are loveable and cute and a great tourist attraction. I’m just convinced that they are all part of a conspiracy organised by manufacturers of 300mm zoom lenses. The marmottes lie in wait until we wander into their catchment area, then they shout and whistle from far away to make sure that we notice them. Then they stand still in front of stunning panoramic vistas, waiting patiently while we line up our cameras. Then the mischievous little fellows try to keep a straight face while we scowl frustratedly at the screens on our cameras and smartphones and try to make out whether we got a photo of them or just some more rocks.
Anyway, we carried on winding around the rocky outcrop, with me becoming more and more convinced that the whole outing was a disaster. My only consolation was that at least we could visit the Maison de la Foret on the way home to La Tzoumaz and see where they have planted some Edelweiss in their nature display.
Soon we arrived at the foot of the climbing area and came across two couples enjoying the climbing routes. “Hello! We were wondering if you could help us. We’re looking for Edelweiss. Do you know where we might find some near here?” “Edelweiss…? Ummm… There’s some here by my foot.” I looked up at the climber in astonishment. True enough, he was pointing at something growing 10m up the sheer rockface, clinging onto a tiny ledge near his foot. I didn’t know whether to laugh triumphantly or cry in despair as we would never get a good look at it from down here. “And here’s some more!” he said, pointing to another flower, this time only 10cm from his nose. How I longed to be up on that wall!
“Right, team!” I cried with renewed enthusiasm, “Everyone split up and start looking on all the rocks and cliff faces. Shout when you’ve found some!” Now that I knew that Edelweiss really did grow around here, I was sure that we’d get lucky and stumble across some. Sure enough, within a couple of minutes, the shout came loud and clear. “Over here!” We all scrambled over the boulders, inched precariously to the edge and peered over. There it was. My quest was over. For the first time in my life, I was looking at real, wild Edelweiss on the side of a Swiss mountain. Suddenly the Sound of Music was in my ears and I burst into song,
Every morning you greet me,
Small and white, clean and bright,
You look happy to meet meeeeeeeee!”
The boys were too young to understand the significance of finally finding something that you had for years believed was near-impossible to find, but they seemed infected with my enthusiasm. Stroking the thick soft petals gently with our fingertips, we cooed over their beauty. We called out to passers-by to come and look, but most just nodded and walked on, leaving me to wonder if the magic was somehow being eroded by today’s multi-cultural society.
Still buoyed by our success, we stopped to gather berries on the way down the hill, amassing an impressive quantity of fresh bilberries, raspberries and wild strawberries. “That was a good day!” the boys agreed later on after dinner, with sticky fingers coated in warm summer fruit tart and big grins on their tired faces.
Hunting for Edelweiss
The Pierre Avoi is accessible within about 20 minutes hike from the top of the Savoleyres telecabin, or 90 minutes if hiking up from La Tzoumaz. Best seen during July or August, but still present during September.
Take a day-pack with extra layers of clothing, sunglasses and high-factor SPF suncream. Walking boots (or strong trainers), water and a picnic are advisable. A zoom lens could be useful to thwart the marmottes. Don’t forget to remind yourself of the lyrics to the song.
Hikers, nature-lovers, families and anyone with some level of fitness who remembers the Sound of Music
Not recommended for
People uncomfortable with narrow mountain footpaths or uphill hiking.
Start looking around near the big white arrow on this map: