Once you've tackled the Sentier des Chamois from La Chaux through to Fionnay, its name may seem a little strange to you. Alongside a few marmots – easily identifiable by their shrill cries – you will most likely have seen more ibexes than chamois! However, chamois – which are much wilder by nature than domestic goats – do in fact live here.
Equipped with a keen sense of smell and the ability to detect the slightest movement in their habitat, chamois will flee from humans who come within 300 metres of them. Ibex, on the other hand, are happy enough to be approached, as long as they see you coming and you move calmly. This difference in the chamois's behaviour, as well as its body shape, can in part be explained by the fact that it is still hunted for two weeks a year. It has therefore remained agile and wild, its slim build ensuring it can run at high speeds with great mobility on steep terrain. A real virtuoso! During the summer months, the chamois’s coat is the colour of chanterelle mushrooms. The coat becomes almost black when autumn arrives and thicker during winter.
The ibex, whose coat has a lighter colour in the early summer, disappeared from the Valais Alps at the end of the 19th century. Times were hard back then, and the docile and curious ibex was hunted for its meat, and sometimes for the fine trophy it made. They were symbols and attributes of freedom, with the male ibexes proudly presenting their large, serrated horns as they stood on rocks overlooking the abyss. The continued presence of the ibex today is down to its reintroduction to Bagnes by hunters at the start of the 20th century, and because it is now forbidden to shoot them. In fact, hunting is prohibited in a large part of the right side of Haut Val de Bagnes, from Mont-Pleureur up to the south-western ridge of the Bec des Rosses. Although it cuts a more impressive figure than the chamois, the ibex is a phlegmatic creature. It will make you feel dizzy to watch these animals munching the food they risked their lives to find. Their stable hoofs and fine balance make them incredibly agile climbers. But they can make you feel lazy, too, as you watch them lying in the sun for hours chewing the cud. Ibexes live in this often bleak mountain area all year round, so when the weather is good, they make the most of it. The males and the females (who have much shorter horns) gather together in a group to watch over their young.
If you want to observe untamed nature, you should take inspiration from the creatures that live there: all the species of animals become active in the first or last hours of the day, so they can ruminate and digest in the midday hours or during the night. For this reason, I suggest tackling the Sentier des Chamois early, ideally starting from the Mont-Fort or Louvie mountain huts. Without forgetting the schedule for the day, however! With a difference in altitude of 1,200m, the descent from Col Termin to Fionnay requires a lot of energy. Don’t go too fast on the descent, you don’t have emergency brakes!
Article written by François Perraudin
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