Main Alpine Divide. Section 08. Ortler, Livigno & Bernina Alps

February 9, 2022

Day 53. Mals to Obere Stilfser Alm. 17 Km. 6 Hrs. 1340m up. 320m down. I slept in and did not get down to breakfast until 0800. Then by the time I finished it and packed and chatted with Sascha, the manager of Finka Hostal, it was already 0930. Sascha explained that the Vinschgau valley was once a major thoroughfare across the Alps and that was why there were so many churches which were all about 1000 years old and Romanesque in design with their rounded arches. However, about that time with the rise in power in Southern Germany and Innsbruck, the Brenner Pass became more important and it was an easier pass anyway. Vinschhgau was abandoned and became something of a backwater and slightly impoverished. As a result there was never the money to convert, or do up the churches so they remained as they were to this day, when suddenly they are now cherished as examples of Romanesque architecture.

356. The northern gate to the fortress town of Glurns. To give a scale the gate was just wide enough for a large bus to get through. The wall extended righ round the town in a square with a gate on each side

My route took me along the pavement of the main road which was not that busy, past pastures and apple farms, for 2 km until I had crossed the valley and reached Glurns. I thought nothing of the place until I reached it and then was astonished. It was completely surrounded by a huge square mediaeval wall, perhaps 500 metres by 500 metres. At each corner were round towers and in the middle of each wall was a huge gateway. It was a fortress town from perhaps 1000 years ago. Inside the walls a wooden staircase went to the ramparts where there was a walkway right round so people could go up and defend the town from here. It was a masterpiece and although Mals was nice, Glurns was truly exceptional. Inside this fortified square were the old streets, thoroughfares, merchants houses and shops I assume pretty much as they had been for the last 1000 years with a slight gentrification and modernization every 100 years or so. I think now it would be a very expensive place to stay but had I known about it yesterday I would have come down to explore. It was a hidden gem. I went through the southern gate and left the walled town across a covered footbridge and reached the church, which itself was also extraordinary. I think all the small curved roof tiles were glazed and they were put up in a regular pattern. The main colours were brown and green so it had the same colour as one of the green beetles I see on the track daily. 

From here my route went up a small road to a private white chapel in the top corner of a field just beneath the forest. I had been looking at it from my balcony in Mals for the last 2 days. As I approached I went to go in but saw a man looking at me. I realised it was private but then he offered to show me the main chapel with the statue of Christ on the crucifix. I thanked him and then headed into the forest. Occasionally I got some great views back up the Vinschgau valley with its huge sloping valley floor covered in fields and orchards with old mediaeval towns scattered about. The trail I went on in the forest was called the Bergwaal path and it was very pleasant, but it was dry and arid after this dry winter, spring and summer. I could see trees getting stressed with lack of moisture and some deciduous birch were already calling it a day and starting to turn to their autumn colours to hibernate early. There was an irrigation channel beside the path but it was completely dry. After an hour of the forest I smelt a dairy farm and a few hundred metres later emerged at a loose cluster of some 6-8 farms at Lichtenberger Hofe. 

357. Starting to climb up the Vinschgau valley side towards Lichtenberger Hofe and looking back to the town of Mals across the valley floor.

These farms were all quite old and established and sat in a long large strip of meadow which was about a kilometre wide and perhaps 2 long. A small asphalt road zig-zagged up here for the farmers, who all seemed to have small 4 wheel drive Fiat Panda cars. The tops of the barns were full of machinery and hay while cows remained in their stalls underneath in the shade of the cool barns. The farms were all characterful and were all being well used as the jumble of machinery and manure pits showed, but there farmers were never going to become wealthy on this steeper hillside which was only suitable for dairy and hay. 

358. One of the old farms of Lichtenberger Hofe which managed to survive on the steep hillside covered in meadows.

After nearly an hour’s interlude in the meadow I was back in the forest on a track. It climbed steadily up through the firs for a very short hour without any taxing climbs passing two small streams. I stopped by the second to have my lunch of two apples and then continued up, until a path left the track and I had to follow the former up to Schartealm pass at 1839m, when the trees became predominantly larch. There was a small idyllic log cottage here beside a small artificial lake which was all grassed over now. It was a very serene place and I could hear cowbells and smell manure. 

From Schartealm to Obere Stilfser Alm it was about 4 km and it took well over an hour. It was a glorious walk through the upper larch forest with some majestic old red trees and meadows which were once lush but browning slightly in this drought. The small path had to climb initially and then undulated the rest of the 3 km. Frequently I had to shimmy around cows who would not budge off the track, but the detour was easy underfoot. To the south of me were the glaciated peaks of the Ortler Alps but they were a little lost in the mist, clouds and haze and the visibility had closed in. In fact the forecast rain had arrived but it was not heavy enough for me to put on my jacket. Before long there was lightning far away across the valley and I did not feel any threat. It was one of the most easy pastoral and interesting 4 km walks I had done on this trip and it led right to the Stilfser Alms, as there were two. 

359. A larch tree near Obere Stilfser Alm which had been struck by lightening. The sap in the xylem vapourised so quickly it exploded shards of wood a metre long across the grass from the side the lightening hit

A good km before I got there I came across a larch tree with a bare stripe up it, otherwise it looked quite healthy. Then I noticed shards of wood, a metre long and 10cm in circumference lying about and realised they must have come from the tree even though some were 10 metres away. I deduced that this must have been caused by lightning hitting the tree. I had seen it before on the PCT walk in the USA. The bolt of lightning superheats the sap in the xylem in the tree trunk and evaporates instantly, but there is nowhere for the vapour to expand into so it blasts a strip off the tree. It was raining still and many of the cows had sought shelter under such trees and I wondered if they would be electrocuted if lightning hit their tree. I think they would. 

360. The old alm house at Obere Stilfser Alm has now been converted to a hikers refuge and the Intere Stilfser Alm has taking over all the dairy enterprises

Obere Stilfser Alm was very beautiful. It was an old Alm house which had been converted into a mountain lodge for outdoor people. It had a large dormitory with perhaps 12 beds in 6 bunk pairs and a “lager” of perhaps 12 mattresses on the floor in a row. I got the latter but I would apparently be the only one in it. The other room with bunk beds was for a German family who was here for a week as their daughter was working at the Untere Stilfser Alm which was just below. It was still very much operating as a dairy. I met the very nice and enthusiastic German family and they invited me down to the working Alm before dinner. 

361. Herding the 77 milkcows out of the pastures around Stilfser Alm to the diary for the evening’s milking.

362. The 77 cows were coralled at Intere Stilfser Alm and just let into the milking parlour 7 at a time as that was the number of milking bays were the cows were given nutritional pellets as they were being milked

I went down with them and was immediately in a procession of some 77 milking cows, who various farmers and their daughter were driving out of the larch woods. They were all slowly trundling down the road. Some looked quite arthritic and a bit infirm. After half an hour all the 77 cows had been herded into a coral beside the dairy by the farm hands and a few collie dogs too. They were then secured into the coral and the dairy door was opened and they were allowed in, in groups of 7. These 7 made a beeline for the stalls and put their heads into a small individual trough of pellets which they started to scoop up with their tongues. While they were preoccupied two farm hands went into the pit behind them and attached the milking machines. After 10 minutes those 7 were let out, the troughs were refilled with pellets and another 7 were let in. In all they got about 700 litres of milk each morning and each evening from the cows. It was fascinating to watch and it reminded me of Franz at Zaunealm some 6 weeks ago. 

363. Separating the goats into groups according to ownership so they could be milked separately in the goats milking parlour

At this Alm there were also about 200 goats. There were milked in the same way with a bribe of pellets too lure them into the milking parlour. I helped separate the goats into groups according to the number on the ear tag. The first were group 13 and there were about 25 of them. They were big strong animals but once grabbed by the horns or the leather strap round the neck with the bell hanging from it they were easy enough to manoeuvre. Once group 13 were done it was group 16 and there were only about 10 of them. The reason for this is that there is a different owner for each group and their milk was measured. However this was not the case with the cows who also had different owners but their milk was pooled and then divided up according to how many animals each owner had. Handling the goats was great work and it brought back memories of the sheep and goats from my time in Kurdistan 35 years ago with the shepherds there. 

364. The goats were milked with teats attached to a vacuum bucket. They only had 2 teats to milk. While they were being milked they had pellets to eat

365. The goats eating their pellets while they were were being milked. Each goat would produuce about a litre of milk a day.

I had to leave halfway through and walked past the enclosure of 20 outdoor pigs to return to the lodge for my meal. I ate alone and did some of the blog. Just as I finished, a hiker arrived. He was Ruben and was Flemish. He had just walked from Monaco on the Via Alpina and was heading to Trieste. He too was about halfway. We had a lively and humorous chat until I realised I still had more of the blog to do, and he had to wash his clothes in the shower as I usually do. After we had both done our chores we chatted again until bedtime around 2200.

Day 54. Obere Stilfser Alm to Ristoro Solena. 29 Km. 10 Hrs. 1390m up. 1530m down. I slept well in the attic room with the small window and was out for the count when the alarm went at 0600. The staff provided a good breakfast and Ruben and myself could easily get enough calories for our respective days. I paid the bill and was just about to go when the host offered me a Zirbenschnaps she had just made. She took me through to the kitchen and showed me the pine cones for the next batch. They came from the Arolla Pine and she had to climb the tree to get them. She then cut them in slices with a very sharp, serrated knife and put them in a bucket. She then added a bit of sugar and 5 bottles of vodka and let it infuse for a month. At the end of that it was strained and the zirbenschnaps was decanted into a glass samovar ready to drink. I had a small glass and it would be lost among the breakfast.

366. Zirbenschnapps. This cherished liquor is made from the pine cones of the Arolla Pine (top left). Which are sliced and then infused in vodka with a bit of sugar added to them.

367. The early morning sun illuminating the centuries old tradition of summer farming at the alm ((transhumance). The cow are already leaving the dairy after the morning milking.

I set off at about 0730 and went down past the diary where the cows and goats had already been through the milking parlour and were now on their way to the pastures amongst the larch trees. For the next two hours the path contoured the mountainside keeping above the treeline for nearly all of it. It kept above the large active Prader Alm and then dropped down to Rifugio Forcola at the top of the ski lift where there was a cafe and perhaps overnight accommodation also. There were many cows here and I think the building beside the Rifugio was also a dairy. As I walked along here I saw a pair of falcons. I think they were kestrels,  and then a bit later a pair of golden eagles with their fan shaped tails. Across the valley the Ortler range was very impressive and its north side was covered in large glaciers which streamed down the mountain in rivers of ice with large crevasse and longitudinal streaks of moraine. The main mountain Ortler, 3905m, stood head and shoulders above everything else but it was lost a little in the haze and cloud. I stopped at the Rifugio Forcola for a drink as I thought it might be the last place for a while. 

368. A pair of kestrels were just finding enough lift in the early morning air currents to circle up and find a meal

369. Lookiing across the Trafoiertal valley to the giants of the Ortler Apls with Ortler, 3905m on the left and Giesterspitze, 3467m, on the right.

From Rifugio Forcola the path continued its slow rising traverse up the mountain. Once it burst out of the small forest it climbed on the Goldenseeweg for another good two hours going in and out of stony rock filled cirques with dry streams. The further it climbed the more dry and rocky the terrain became until it was quite inhospitable for flora and fauna. Far down in the Trafoiertal valley was the village of Trafoi, almost lost in the haze. There was a road down there and it soon came up a huge collection of hairpin bends to the pass I was walking to, called Stilfserjoch, 2838m. I could hear a constant buzz of motorbikes roaring as they laboured to get their usually fat drivers up the road. After the path went into a final cirque it emerged onto the moonscape of the Stilfserjoch pass. It was strewn with old fortifications as this is where the frontlines of Austria and Italy once met over 100 years ago, with the Swiss border meeting here also overlooking the conflict but not taking part. There were also a handful of mountain huts here but I should think they all now subsist from the passing motor trade in the summer and the ski trade in the winter as no outdoorsman would want to linger here anymore given the developments and road.

370. Ortler, 3907m, was the biggest mountain I had passed so far on the trip and was capped by a crevassed glacier

371. The central mountaiins of the main Ortler ridge were a jumble of peaks rising from the glaciers on the north side of the massif. The highest peak here was Giesterspitze, 3467m.

From this high pass at 2838m, I dropped down a quiet path on the Italian/Swiss border to where two valleys came up from Switzerland and Italy respectively to meet at a watershed called the Umbrailpass, 2506m. I could see a collection of Rifugios on that watershed and my Pavlovian juice started to flow at the thought of a bowl of pasta. When I got there an hour later I found they were just ruined military barracks on the Italian side and 2 sets of customs buildings on the Swiss side. There was nothing here at all so I just carried on across the road and onto the next part of the day which was an easy 4 km walk across the grassy mountainside to another smaller pass which I had to climb for some 200 metres. It was called Passo Forcola, 2768 m. En route to this pass across the hillside there were many small rivulets emerging from springs with cool clear water which I stopped at to drink. 

I had finished with the climbing today after the Stilfserjoch and Passo Forcola, but still had another 9 km to go down the Valle Forcola to get to Rifugio Solena. I could see the valley curving round to the west on the north side of the path I stood on. It was a wild and dry valley with a ring of bare grey rocks encircling a scree filled bowl. It hardly had any green in it and it looked almost like some arid semi desert from Central Asia. Within an hour of descent however the path turned into a rough track and a grassy area appeared and there were even a few springs sending trickles into the dry boulder strewn riverbed. I have never come across such a density of marmots and it seemed every minute there was the high shrill whistle from a sentry to warn others of my approach. The place was teeming with them and I must have seen a couple of hundred as I walked down. 

372. The Malga di Forcola was in the arid high Forcola valley which led down to the east end of lakes above the town of Valdidentro.

About half way down the valley the track fell steeply to a lower bowl and this was a bit more grassy. There were perhaps 100 cows here, mostly penned into a large enclosure with an electric fence. The grass within the fence was chewed flat and there was no nourishment on the ground. I wondered if the farmer had forgotten about them or was a halfwit. There was a diary here with an old red tractor outside but no other sign of life. I thought if the cows really did get hungry they could just push through the single strand of electric fence and help themselves to the plentiful grass on the other side. From this dairy called, Malga di Forcolo, 2313m there was a better track all the way down to the refuge some 4 km away. I strode out down it and made good time as the stream beside me swelled with springs and got to Rifugio Solena an hour later. Just before I got there I met a Spaniard who was doing the Via Alpina from Monaco to Trieste. He looked rugged and wizened with a craggy face and long hair. He spoke no German or English, just Spanish and mine was very rusty. 

After 10 hours I finally reached the refuge. It was located beside the lake, but the lake was dammed and very low in this drought so the water was far away. The refuge was run by an eccentric older couple and was very basic. If I was generous I could say it had rustic charm. The bottled drinks were warm and the food was what a young man might cook once he had moved on from instant noodles. The bathroom was shared between all the 3 rooms which I think could sleep 20 combined. It was a large bathroom, big enough to put a sofa in beside the rickerty shower cabinet. There were just 4 other people staying here, a group of 4 Estonian friends doing the Ortler High Route which they really liked. I chatted with them after the meal until about 2130 and then realised I still had to write the blog. I finished just before midnight but tomorrow was an easy day.  

Day 55. Ristoro Solena to Rifugio Viola. 24 Km. 7 Hrs. 560m up. 210m down. The eccentric quirky theme continued through to breakfast. It started with cake, a pot of yoghurt, some delicious chunks of local artisanal cheese, 3 slices of stale white bread, a litre of fresh orange and great coffee, and packets and packets of dull biscuits. There was enough to keep me going most of the day. The quirkiness of Ristoro Solena was growing on me and it was certainly a tranquil and calm place tucked away in the pine forest in its own time zone, which was about 50 years behind anything else. The couple running the place were also very attentive and maternal to us 5 guests. 

I left at about 0830 and headed down to the dam. It was very empty in this current drought and the murky turquoise waters were well below the normal with clean washed rock strata very visible. At the far end of the lake was a dam and another lake beyond that which would usually be higher but in this crisis it might have been emptied. There were some cormorants far below and I saw some rings of rising fish which is what the cormorants were after. Once on the other side I leapt forward 50 years as I reached a huge parking space, another more modern rifugio, Ristoro Monte Scale Park, which I would say was quite boring compared to the Rifugio Solena, and a large bike hire outfit with perhaps 100 electric bikes for people to hire and go round the lakes or on other tracks. I had to walk on the road here but there were many cyclists and other hikers and the cars were slow. 

I kept on the road for another km as I went round the side of a small natural lake which was private. There were many trout and some coarse fish in it. The trout were easily visible in the shallows as they cruised along above their shadows looking for insects. Halfway down the lake was a lovely Pension covered in geraniums, called the Villa Valani, which looked very traditional and I am sure would have been a nice place to stay also. A little beyond the south end of this lake was a historic tower, Torn di Fraele. I think it was significant in WW1 when this area between Italian Lombardy and Austria south Tyrol was very much on the front line. My route left the road here and from the map I could hardly work out what was happening. Just after the tower the road began a series of 12 sharp hairpin bends as it descended steeply to the town of Valdidentro 600 metres below in the valley. My path however went below the tower and dropped steeply to pick up the fourth hairpin bend. The road was awash with cyclists and there also seemed to be a race with a peloton blasting down at a tremendous speed. From the fourth bed down I had to walk up slightly to the third bend down where a track with a no entry road sign left the road. 

This track was the Sentiero Decauville and it was either a military supply road for the front line or a very well made alm road. I suspect it was the former as it was so well made and flat. When I say flat I mean absolutely railway line flat, and it continued like this for perhaps 14 kilometres with me neither gaining or losing any height at all. It seemed to be very popular with mountain bikers, who were speeding along without breaking sweat on their electric bikes. About 50 passed me in the course of the 3-4 hours but the track was wide and there was plenty of room. There were a few other hikers, and a couple of runners, but it was predominantly electric bikes. It was an easy run and I could put my mind into neutral and admire the view without worrying about tripping over a stone. There were some spectacular views across the valley to the Livigno Alps which were not that high at about 3000-3400 metres, but there were some quite steep, fast moving and crevassed glaciers tumbling down their north faces which I was looking at.  Initially the track went above the meadows and they had virtually all been cut, dried and collected. There were still a few families collecting the dried grass and I saw just one meadow which was being cut with a motor scythe with spiked wheels. The haylofts here were a bit more ramshackle and not as idyllic as their Austrian and South Tyrol counterparts. Many were predominantly concrete or stone with just a few wooden log walls and their roofs were largely rusting corrugated sheets. 

373. A motorised scythe with the spiked wheels so they can be pushed across very steep slopes, almost 40 degrees at times, to cut the hay meadows.

The grass collection was largely done with rakes and then the same motor scythe with the spiked wheels, but with the cutting blade replaced with a grating, attached like a bulldozer blade which pushed the racked, dried rows into a huge pile. Then a small truck with a large caged load bed would reverse to the pile and its integrated spikes on a conveyor belt would rake the hay up into the load bed squashing against the front until it started to compress and then it would fill the layer behind this until the cage was full. It would then drive off to the hayloft and reverse the conveyor belt and the load would be discharged into the barn for winter fodder. These trucks looked clumsy but were perfectly adapted to scoop up, transport and discharge hay on steep ground. 

374. Once the had is cut and dried it is buldozed into piles at the back of a special vehicle which scoops it up on a conveyor into the cage at the back and then transports it off to the hayloft to unload

There were a few farms and barns beside the road but they were largely dormant now or were being done up as holiday accommodation. At one a lady had set up a fast food caravan which also did drinks and ice cream. I stopped here for half an hour, with a few mountain bikers going past ignoring the place. However quite a few families and friends working with the hay harvest dropped in for a beer or Aperol spritz and a chat. They were all in massive mountaineering boots one would use for a 6000 metre Himalayan peak with great ankle support and the ability to kick steps in steep snow. The women also had them on as they were obviously the best thing to wear for this task. 

375. Looking across the Valle Viola valley to the Cima de Piazzi, 3439m, with its glaciers on the north face.

After the snack van the track went into the deep slot of the Foscagno side valley and then veered south for another 3-4 km For this section it was largely in the fir forest which was cool and easy. The track then started to get squeezed between the main road coming up from the valley and the same road coming down from a pass. They met at the hamlet of Arnoga in a hairpin bend and a cluster of largely closed hotels, pensions and restaurants. Just before Arnoga was a Husky dog mushing business with loads of large 5-8 dog sleds outside and I presume 50 odd huskies flaked out on the floor of their cages under a large protective roof to keep the heat off. There was not a whimper from any of them so perhaps they were somewhere else and these cages were empty. 

376. One of the beautiful alm houses in an abandoned dairy which has been converted into liesure accommodation

After Arnoga the level track bisected the hairpin bend and carried on for another hour on a path beneath the small quiet valley road. These 3 km were very easy as they contoured through the larch forest with the odd hayloft about. However some 50 metres above me the quiet valley road seemed to go through old working farms and characterful houses and I am not sure if it would have not have been the more interesting way to go. They both met after an hour where the stream of the valley floor had come up to meet the flat contouring path which was now, after some 13 km finally at an end. My legs grumbled as I started to climb slightly on a track passing some old farms now converted into private holiday homes, some very pretty.  After an hour or so I finally reached Baita Caricc, which was an Agriturismo set up in a beautiful old log barn which was exceptionally large and very old. Like a lot of agriturismo businesses this one had gone very upmarket and was primarily doling out plates of high markup food and coffee to walkers and cyclists who had come up from the end of the road at the hairpin bend in Arnago. I had a drink here and then carried on for the last 4 km.

377. Looking up at Cima Viola, 3374m, from the dairy at Baita Caricc where the cows were relaxing in the nearby pasture waiting for the late afternoon milk.

The track vanished now and the route became a boulder strewn footpath. It was much slower going and I had to place each step rather than blast along with my head in the view. I quickly reached a working dairy with people relaxing in the afternoon before the evening milking starts. Up the side valley from the dairy a milk light brown stream drained a few small glaciers from some of the highest peaks in the Livigno Alps. My path continued up the main Viola valley on very rocky ground now for a good 2 km beside a small clear stream flowing beside dwarf willow thickets. I passed a few small tarns and then reached a meadow all connected by the bubbling stream. The meadow was full of cows all with their bells ringing. At the top of this meadow the valley became much more pastoral and there were two old dairies here. One was still working and the other had been converted into the Rifugio Valle Viola. It soon appeared beside a lake and was very nicely sited but the building looked like a ranch house from New Mexico and was totally out of place. Inside it was very homely with a local friendly staff. There were a few rooms with multiple bunk beds but I had already booked a small room with 6 beds and its own bathroom with a shower. I would be the only one in it as there were just 6 of us in the Rifugio that evening, 2 Italians, 2 Germans, A Swiss and Me. The food however was disappointing. Polenta was served with everything however their idea of a vegetarian meal was just to give me the same as all the carnivores but without the pork fillet. I would not have minded if the price was different but it was the same and that infuriated me. There was no way back for Rifugio Val Viola after that.  

378. The Rifugio Valle Viola siits like a New Mexico ranch house beside the azure waters of a small lake

Day 56. Rifugio Viola to Poschiavo. 20 Km. 6 Hrs. 260m up. 1540m down. There was quite a thunderstorm in the night with flashes of lightning illuminating the room every minute or so and heavy rain to accompany it. The Thundergods had been building up to this for a good few weeks and at last they were unleashed. By breakfast the weather was dry and overcast however, I felt it was far from settled. Breakfast was a disappointment with no cereal and just 3 small rolls and miniature packets of butter and jam. The only redeeming ingredient was coffee which was strong and plentiful. I left well before 0800 and walked up the track, under the working dairy and on for perhaps 2 km until I got to the top of the shallow pass, Passo Viola, 2528m, which was also the border between Italy and Switzerland. The rain from last night had impregnated the soil and there was no dust anymore. 

379. Looking west from the Passo Viola into Switzerland. The lake is the Swiss Lago da Valle Viola. In the far distant on the right is the the huge glaciated massif of Piz Bernina with its 4000m peak

The descent down the other side from the pass seemed to be different. The trees grew at a higher altitude on this side and the pastures were more varied and lush. I don’t know if this was just a geographical quirk or whether it was to do with land management. Certainly by the time I got down to the Swiss Lago da Val Viola, 2159m, I was in the larch forest, while the Italian Lago di Val Viola, 2267m, although 100 metres higher, was completely in the alpine zone and surrounded by grass. There were many cattle by this Swiss lake and a gorgeous little shepherd’s log cottage. Beside the cottage was a small coral with 4 suckler calves penned inside it and their anxious mothers on the outside. 

380. The idyllic alm house beside the Swiss Lago da Valle Viola. Beside the house wasa coral where the suckling calves were separated from their mothers.

The good path down from this alm descended through a mixed forest with a thick undergrowth of rhododendron, blueberry and shrub willow for about a km when there was a detour down to the fabled Lago da Saoseo, 2029m, a lake of renowned beauty. It was raining when I got to the lake but that did not diminish the views across the azure waters to the forest fringe around it and then the amphitheatre of jagged peaks beyond on the Swiss/Italian border. I watched the rain ripple the surface and then headed down for another 15 minutes on a boulder strewn path to reach the Rifugio Saoseo at 2000m. It sat at the top of a beautiful meadow which had been cut and the hay stored. There were a few summer farms up here dotted around the meadow in small clearings in the forest. 

381. The serene Lago da Saoseo was surrounded by larch and swiss pine and then a semi circle of peaks on the Italian/Swiss border.

I walked past the Rifugio, where the post bus offered me a lift which I had to decline, and onto the alm track. It was a well made and well maintained gravel track. I followed it down past many more meadows and small summer chalets in the fir forest making good pace. In fact I was going so smoothly I never checked the map and overshot the turnoff I needed by 500 metres and ended up at the main road in a scattered hamlet called Sfazu,1622m. I decided to try and regain my route but it meant walking down the main road for nearly a km and then climbing up a gentle forest track. The route once I was back on it was a rough stony footpath in the forest above the main road. It was neither scenic nor cultural. I would have been better off crossing the main road at Sfazu and then dropping down the very quiet road on the west side into the valley. It would have taken me past some characterful farms. Both my route and the one which in retrospect I should have taken both ended up on the valley floor in the hamlet of Angeli Custodi, which had about 4 farms and a church to it. 

382. Having crossed the busy main road in the Val Poschiavo valley and about to head down to the farming hamlet of Angeli Custodi, centre bottom.

From Angeli Custodi it was just a 4-5 kilometre march down the quiet asphalt road passing the lovely village of San Carlo, where a barn was built over the road. There were farms all the way along here and I could peer into all of them looking at the farm machinery and awards for dairy farming from the last 20-30 years which the farmers displayed on the barn door. At San Carlo the small farm road in the valley joined the main road for a few hundred metres but there was a pavement. It then cut off again, crossed the silty torrent over a bridge and went down the west side of the river past more interesting farms and hamlets for 2 km until it reached Poschiavo, 1000m. Although the last  6-7 km were all on a tarmac road, it was a quiet rural road with plenty of farms and rural living to quench my curiosity until suddenly I was walking into the ancient town with its host of clock towers. 

383. Approaching Poschiavo town from the north with its multiple church towers, monastery and old streets.

There was a hotel at the northern end of town. It was 2 star and looked perfect but it was full. She suggested 4 hotels around the main square. However they were also all full on this Saturday evening at the height of summer. There was only one left, the Croce Blanco and it too was full but it also managed rooms at the Veochio Monastero, the Old Monastery, which was just off the main square. I took it even though it was double what I wanted to pay and walked the few hundred metres back to it. It was a very quirky old room which must have been a monk’s bedroom. It was completely lined in wood with a simple desk and hard chair which thrust you forwards. There was a simple cot bed with a duvet and a light and that was it. However spartan it was, it was perfectly adequate and even cosy. It did not have any plumbing, indeed none of the 10 rooms did, but we each had a large dedicated bathroom off a corridor with 10 bathrooms. I washed my clothes and then went the 100 metres or so to the main square. I had a bruschetta with ricotta cheese and a coffee and that came to 22 Euros. Welcome to Switzerland. I decided to eat in and went to a small market to get a bread and cheese dinner rather than spend 40 euros eating out. I was going to have a day off here tomorrow but in light of the prices have decided to push on out of this Swiss enclave and back into Italy. Despite the cost Poschiavo looked like a lovely old traditional town with beautiful buildings and streets.

384. One of the quiet narrow streets of centuries old Poschiavo town leading towards the bustling main square with its hotels and cafes.

Day 57. Poschiavo to Rifugio Ca Runcasch. 15 Km. 6 Hrs. 1610m up. 480m down. The hotel provided a truly magnificent breakfast which started at 0700. I was there as the door opened and I was still eating at 0800 and then filling my pockets with the fresh fruit provided. With the price they charged for the monks’ cell I felt quite justified. It was a shame Poschiavo was so expensive as I could have spent my day off here quite easily but I would probably feel like an unwashed billy goat amongst some refined pampered sheep. Instead I decided to continue for another day which would take me back into the cheaper Italy and spend my spare day at the Rifugio Ca Runcasch on the south flank of Piz Bernina mountain. I am sure there would be much fewer refined sheep up there and probably some goats. I left at 0830 on a beautiful sunny day with a few clouds scattered about the sky. 

385. Looking back down to Poschiavo from the start of the climb up to the lovely hamlet of Selva

386. Heading up the path to Selva through the hazel trees on what I though was once an old alm or drove road as it was cobbled with rough stones

I walked SW out of town across the railway track. It was part of the Rhaetian Railway network which is privately operated and is narrow gauge. It has a number of lines in this canton of Grisons in Switzerland and many lines are renowned for their scenic journeys. I had to wait for a 3 carriage train to go past on its way south to Tirano just over the Italian border. After the railway, the path quickly left the small road and started to climb the hill on what I thought was an old drove road as it was cobbled with very rough stones between two stone walls for various sections. The woods on each side of the path did not have the resin smell of conifers, but more a musty smell of leaf mold and hazel. There was a very well made gravel track climbing the hillside here too and the path I was on bisected it as it went up a few hairpins. Eventually both my path and the track emerged onto a pastoral shoulder where there was a picture perfect hamlet of stone houses under solid stone roofs. There were also two small stone chapels here in the middle of the cut pasture. Everything was well maintained and preserved with great attention to detail. There was nothing ramshackle and no abandoned machinery, old cars or even rolls of disused fencing spoiling the chocolate box prettiness. Just like the Irish have a flair for conversation so the Swiss seem to have a flair for well ordered aesthetics. The hamlet was called Selva and it was about 400 metres above Poschiavo.

387. The idyllic hamlet of Selva with its 4-5 farms and two chaples (left of pic) spreadout on a lush shoulder on the mountainside above the Val Porschiavo valley below on the left

The path and alm track continued up the hillside above Selva, passing more perfectly maintained old stone summer farms under stone slab roofs. By now all the trees were conifers and the smell of resin was restored. Occasionally the footpath and alm track coincided with each other but generally they were apart. The footpath here was also part of the red Via Alpina route, which went from Monaco to Trieste in a convoluted way. I did not pass anyone doing this since Ruben and the Spanish guy. They are generally easy to spot as they are rugged and grubby with sunbleached and frayed equipment. Most people I passed were in new clothes, often fluorescent as is the current rage, well groomed and smelt of soap or scent. After at least 3 hours climbing the path reached a couple of beautiful stone alm houses and barns, of course in perfect condition at Alpe Cancian, which was pretty much at the tree line of 2100m. There was a lush pasture here in a bowl fed by the glacial stream which cascaded down the edge of the bowl. Gray cows with small black horns, big black eyes and large cow bells lazed on the grass chewing cud. There seemed to be fewer flies around this herd than I had seen previously. The dairy would have been quite small scale with perhaps 15 milk cows but I think the Swiss government heavily subsidises the alpine farmers so they can continue farming traditionally. 

388. The alm house and summer dairy at Alpe Cancian lay at about 2100 meters just below the tree tine.

389. Alpe Cancian lay in a well watered bowl at the treeline and hosted about 15 milk cows and a few bullocks and heifers

After this lovely alm the path became much smaller and more of a mountain footpath as it skirted round the side of the bowl the pasture nestled in and then climbed gradually up to gain the valley above the bowl. This high valley, Val Cancian, was alpine and was largely covered in old settled moraine and turf. As I climbed it more and more of a glacier revealed itself flowing down from the peak to the south, called Pizzo Scalino, 3323m. Virtually the whole glacier was bare ice now, with just a crescent of last year’s snow remaining at the top in the accumulation zone. I reached the Passo di Cancian saddle where the Swiss/Italian border was at 2464m. Here a glacial torrent tumbled down from the icefields above and continued down the valley I had come up. However after the watershed there was another stream from a different part of the same glacier to the south, and it flowed north and then west into Italy. I crossed this Italian stream and then had a final climb over a spur at Passo di Campagneda, 2626m, to finish the 1600 metre climb. I had hoped for a view of Piz Bernina here and saw something of the lower slopes but the multiple summits were largely covered in mist. All the lower slopes were covered in large glaciers and icefields, even though they were south facing slopes. I stopped for two apples and hoped the mist would clear, but it did not. 

390, The glacial torent which drained the glacier on the north side of Pizzo Scalino into a boulder strewn alpine valley which was slowly getting covered in turf and flowers

391. Looking from Passo di Campagneda towards the lower slopes of Biz Bernina, 4049m, which were covered in icefields.

The last 4 km to the Rifugio Ca Runcasch were all downhill. Initially the path was very rough with large boulders and even a small section of chain to negotiate a short step down to a dark blue alpine tarn in a pocket of bare rock. After that the terrain softened a little as it descended to another deep tarn in a bowl of rock and turf. These two kilometres were quite slow due to the terrain but after this the path dropped into a large pastoral bowl covered in pastures and ringing out with the sound of about 200 cows. This pasture was green, lush and was obviously prime grazing. It had been divided into different grazing areas with electric fences, which must have corresponded to different owners or herding groups. It was a very easy pleasant descent and it took me down to a dairy and then the Rifugio Ca Runcasch just beyond. 

The Rifugio was set amongst a cluster of dairies and below it were 2 or 3 on a spur. Although it was quite high at 2170m it did not feel that alpine due to the sunny weather, the other dairies and the throng of day trippers who had walked up about a half hour from the end of the road. The Rifugio was run by Juan Carlo who was 63. He spoke great English, which surprised me until he explained he had trained and worked at the Hilton in London as a young man for 4 years. I told him his English was like a BBC newsreaders, which it was, and this made him chuckle. He also spoke excellent German and French as he had worked in those countries, also in the hospitality trade. He gave me a small room with 2 beds and an attached bathroom with a shower and hot water. I had not expected such luxury.  There were two other groups here,  a team of French fathers and teenage sons who were doing the Via Alpina in sections a week a year, and a Swiss couple who were here climbing for a few days on the serpentine rock nearby. The Swiss man had climbed Piz Bernina and said I would not see the summit for a few days as the high foothills would block the views. I chatted with both of the groups after the great meal which Juan Carlo cooked and served. He had the engaging mannerisms and charm of someone who worked at the high end of hospitality, but was witty and cheerful to go with it. It was definitely a good move to spend my free day here rather than in Poschiavo. 

Rest Day. Rifugio Ca Runcasch. 0Km. 0 Hrs. 0m up. 0m down. I was a day ahead again, due to cancelling the rest day in Poschiavo and having it here instead. I needed it to catch up with paperwork and also just to rest my feet.  After the 0730 breakfast I watched Jonas and his girlfriend head off to the crags for a day of sports climbing and then went up to finish my paperwork. I was done by mid morning so went out to explore the immediate area. 

Initially I went down to what I thought was a dairy. It was not. However, it was run by the same people who ran the dairy just above the Rifugio Ca Runcacsh I was staying at. It was a low key agriturismo business which also sold some dairy products like cheese and butter. It seemed to even have rooms and there was a small cafe. I went in and was greeted enthusiastically by an old mother and middle aged daughter. I had 4 items and expected the bill to be about 16 euros but it only came to 10 and the food and coffee was excellent.

392. Looking north from the knoll to the south of Rifugio Ca Runcasch towards Piz Bernina, Not only was the summit lost in the clouds but the visible foothills blocked the view to the summit

After the meal I wandered south up the larch-covered knoll to see if I could see any of the higher peaks of Piz Bernina. it was both too cloudy and the lower peaks would have blocked my view anyway. I circled round to the east and then went to visit the dairy. It had a portable milking parlour which was pulled by a tractor. The trailer could take 5 cows at a time with the milk getting pumped into the shed. I peered into the large barn but the main part of it was empty save for a single bull who was tethered in a dark corner eating hay. It was early afternoon and too early for milking and the dairy was deserted. 

I returned to the refuge and had a siesta. By the time I woke it was approaching the evening milk so I went up to have another look. It seemed there were two diaries here, one at each end and both were using a generator to power the machines. There were about 20 cows milling around waiting their turn for the portable trailer with 5 already in. Down at the other end everything was happening inside but I guess there were less than 10 cows for dairy at the other end. I wanted to go and get a closer look but felt a bit self conscious hanging about. In fact I thought they might think I was loitering to take photos to show to agricultural officials, so after I had a few shots I returned to the refuge.

393. Lookiing west from Rifugio Ca Runcasch towards Monte Disgrazia perhaps 20 km away where a thunderstorm was brewing

Jonas and his girlfriend arrived back at the same time. At supper they invited me to sit at their table and they took the trouble to speak English. Giancarlo cooked a large meal and we were all full at the end of it. We chatted for an hour or so afterwards as the weather unleashed a thunderstorm. It lasted a good hour until we went to bed around 2200, which is quite late in a refuge. I did not sleep well due to the lack of exercise and also the siesta so listened to the rain outside until I fell asleep. 

Day 58. Rifugio Ca Runcasch to Chiareggio. 20 Km. 6.5 Hrs. 620m up. 1130m down. Last night’s thunderstorm had cleared the air and it was a beautiful morning with mostly blue sky. Giancarlo made us another good breakfast bringing in seconds of bread and cheese when the first serving vanished quickly. I Had enjoyed my stay here and Giancarlo with his happy chuckle and excellent English certainly played a big part. It was also nice to meet Jonas and his girlfriend, the Swiss sports climbing couple, who based themselves here for 3 days climbing. I set off around 0830 by which time the cloud had already started to build as it often does through the morning. I sauntered down the track to the small agriturismo cafe which was a part of the dairy above and where I had some yoghurt and cake yesterday. The lady running it was out walking her Australian sheep dog and greeted me as I passed. Far to the west in the direction I was going was Monte Disgrazia, 3648m. It dominated the view to the west and was the only heavily glaciated mountain I could see. It was just here after a few hundred metres where I left the comfortable track and headed off on a footpath. 

394. Looking west from Rifugio Ca Runcasch down to the small Agriturismo business just below with Monte Disgrazia in the distance in clear weather

The footpath was strewn with boulders, which I think were serpentine. They had been polished by tens of thousands of feet and my now slick soles slide occasionally. I wandered down through the larch trees and after some 20 minutes came to the first of the 3 sports climbing crags. They were very well bolted and had a route every metre of two going up the entire height of the crag which was about 20 metres and all of it was vertical. The routes all seemed to be from 6a to 7c, which for those who don’t know is very hard and only the elite can manage these standards. Soon the lake appeared with another dam higher up the valley beneath some large glaciers. I could not see the higher lake but the lower lake was quite low and its silt laden waters a brown turquoise in the morning sun. I had hoped to see some of the peaks around 4000m from here but the foothills, which were all 3000m mountains themselves, blocked the view. At the end of the lake just below me were another couple of refuges, Zoia and Porschiavo, and they were just discharging their residents from last night, many of whom were coming up the path. I passed another two climbing crags before I got to the refuges. 

395. The charming alm of Alpe Compascio, where there wasa group of abouut 30 horses on the meadow which was riddled with clear and silty streams

The rocky footpath now spilled into the track and I followed it across the dam and then down into the valley. Just below the dam a footpath left the track and I could have followed this also to an alp called Alpe Compascio but it was a long way round on a rocky footpath. Alpe Compascio was where the track ended in a meadow with a couple of old stone houses all set on a plain at the bottom of a gorge. The meadow had about 30 horses on it. The path crossed numerous fresh water and glacial streams on bridges as it crossed the meadow to enter the fir forest for a short walk to Dosso de Vetti, which was the bottom of a modest ski lift. 

396. Some of the stone huts in the idyllic Alpe Campolungo at the saddle and near the top of the ski lift. Its cows were grazing on the ski pistes

397. Looking west from the saddle between Monte Motta and Monte Roggione down to the west fork of Val Malenco when the village of Chiareggio lies.

The route now climbed the piste for nearly an hour. It was an easy climb but quite hot on the still sunny day without much shade, especially at the top where the larch got smaller and smaller at it approached the treeline at 2100m, There was a beautiful alp here, Alpe Campolungo, with a single working dairy and a cluster of 10 small stone buildings, all under roofs of heavy slate. Despite its proximity to the ski station it was still idyllic. I went down the piste on the west side of the saddle where there was also a modest skilift. After some 15 minutes on the piste I saw a large collection of alp houses and one covered in geraniums with tables outside. I guessed it was an agriturismo building, and it was. It was called Malga Rundai, and it lay on the grassy plain called Alpe Palu at the bottom of the ski lift I had followed down. There were about 15 buildings here all together and the heavy clunking of cow bells was ringing out across the meadow. I ordered a cheese and tomato roll when it came it was perfect, with three slices of different cheese, each made on this very meadow. I also had a jar of local yoghurt with a layer of local honey on top. Despite the simplicity of the meal, the joy it gave me exceeded most upmarket restaurants with their elaborate menus.

The lovely agriturismo business of Malga Rundai near Lago Palu which served me simple but delicious food from their own dairy next door

After the meal I continued down for a very short half hour to reach Lago Palu. It was also very low despite the fact there was no dam I could see. I wondered if some of the water was taken out of it for the snow making machines in the winter and there was just not enough precipitation this year to replenish it. Around the fringe of the lake gravel, sand and stones were exposed and there were quite a few people sunbathing on it. On the far side of  the lake was the lovely looking Rifugio Lago Palu, 1947m, which looked very picturesque. 

From the lake the path descended in earnest. It went down through the fir trees quite steeply for about 350meters. Half way down it burst out of the forest into a beautiful meadow with some picture perfect stone summer farms, small barns and haylofts. This idyllic summer hamlet was called Il Barchetto. I stopped here to take a few photos of the 3-4 summer farms and then continued down to for another half hour to reach a very large meadow on a flat shoulder on the valley side where there must have been perhaps 20 summer farms, and possibly one or two permanent ones. This large scattered hamlet was called Prati della Costa, and just below it was a Rifugio which looked very pleasant called Rifugio Sasso Nero, 1600m. I circled round the lower edge of this collection of scattered summer farms peering into each one as I passed it trying to imagine all the tasks which would be needed to keep the milk production going. 

399. Some of the lovely stone summer farm houses, barns and haylofts at the hamlet of Il Barchetto. In the background is the valley with Chiareggio and beyond that Monte Disgrazia, 3648m.

As I circled round the lower side of the hamlet I could look down into the valley. Looking up the valley I could see Chiareggio where I was heading and looking down the valley I could see the town of Lanzada. Lanzada was at the head of Val Malenco and here the valley split with a branch going up to Rifugio Ca Runcasch and a branch going up to Chiareggio. Between them they drained pretty much the whole south side of the Piz Bernina massif. 

For the last 4 km of the day the route pretty much contoured the hillside on a mix of good foot path in pinus nigra forest and the gravel farm track which ran along here connecting all the meadows and summer farms, of which there were plenty. The path was very easy underfoot and there was a wealth of cultural interest in farms so the walk was never monotonous. At last it came down and joined the main road. I had to walk along the road but it was very quiet, and when there was the option to make a slight detour on a track beside the river with no traffic I did not think it necessary to take it and continued on the empty main road for a full km to reach the lovely village of Chiareggio. There were a few simple hotels, quite a few restaurants and a few small shops here, pretty much at the end of the civilised part of this valley. I had to continue through the village for a short kilometre to reach Hotel Gembro. 

The hotel was a family business run by two brothers and I think their matriarchal mother. It was nearly at the end of the accessible road and it was quiet. I got a great room with a balcony and en suite shower room so I washed my clothes and then went down for the meal. It was a set meal as part of the half pension package. There was a large salad buffet to start with, then porcini risotto, then pizza for me while the others had a pork cutlet, and then cheesecake. Looking round the restaurant with some 30 people in it I realised I was easily the youngest. I was absolutely bursting at the end of it and even put half the pizza in a napkin for tomorrow’s lunch. The hotel was great value for money compared to the Refuges. I then finished writing and was done by 2200. 

Day 59. Chiareggio to Maloja. 14 Km. 5.5 Hrs. 990m up. 800m down.  It rained a little in the night but in the morning it was still and clear again, and the lingering mist was lifting quickly. After the relatively late breakfast which was a buffet, and that adds to the duration as I can graze until fully loaded, I did not leave until about 0900. The tarmac road ended at the hotel where it turned into an alm track entering the fir forests. It was nice to be in the trees but they blocked a great view up to Monte Disgrazia, 3678m. However as I climbed I skirted above meadows with some old stone buildings and I got some great views here. The track was well constructed and many of the hairpin bends were cobbled or laid in concrete to stop the erosion. As I climbed above the wide valley floor I could look across it and see the expanse of the meadows there in an area called Pian del Lupo where there was a hamlet of summer farms and also the Refugio Tartaglione-Crispo, where I later found out the team of French Swiss fathers and their sons were staying.

400. At the start of the climb up to the Passo del Muretto from Chiareggio village there was a wonderful to Monte Disgrazia, 3678m.

After another section of hairpin bends in the track I reached some very beautiful alm houses and barns. There were also a few stone sheds in the meadows. These were very small and I can only assume they were to keep suckler calves, or perhaps sheep or even to pen goat in for the night. Just above I came across the French Swiss who were watching two goatherds move their flock with the aid of two dogs. Even with the dogs herding them they kept scattering and heading up or down to browse. I think the goats were heading across this side valley to the beautiful Alpe Vazzeda, spread out on a broad shoulder with the glaciers of Monte Disgrazia behind it. Not far beyond was a gate and the track went through it onto the open hillside and became much rougher. 

401. There are many small alms with stone houses and barns and one with this tiny shed for sheep ot goats. In the background is Monte Disgrazia, 3678m.

402. Lookiing back to Monte Disgrazia with the alm of Alpe Vazzeda on the west side of the valley with its scattered summer houses and small barns.

Soon I came to a large herd of about 30 Highland Cattle, most were black, but there were many brown ones in the herd. They were grazing below the track and I stopped to take some photos allowing the French Swiss group of 7 to catch up. They were also fascinated by the cattle who even by Highland cattle standards were exceptionally hairy and rugged. As we watched them the lead cow headed off down to the valley. The ground was rough and boulder strewn but these cows were incredibly nimble and sauntered across it with ease and speed. 

I had asked the owner of Hotel Gembro if the valley was used much for ski touring in the winter. “No” he said “It is far too dangerous”. As I climbed up I could see what he meant as the concave slopes soared up to bare rocky slabs on each side and these would be very avalanche prone. Above these slabs were sharp spires and buttresses which formed the lower mountains in the Bernina range. 

The French Swiss stopped for a pause here and I carried on up the narrow track, more of a footpath now really, up the valley as I could see the pass was within reach. It took an hour to get there after the gate at the treeline, and three hours from the hotel with the good path continuing all the way to the top which was also the Italian-Swiss border. I thought the other side would be an easy saunter with a good Swiss path. It was not. 

The descent was initially down a steep,  rocky, open couloir. There was a path of sorts with very small zig-zags but it was loose and tricky. At the bottom of this section it headed off to the right over a rock fall area with large boulders. I could see a couple going across it and it looked slow, as every step had to be considered. I decided to try the open slope of steep turf with small stones and go to the stream bed at the bottom. Then follow the gravel it had washed down until the difficult footpath and streambed met. My hunch paid off and the stream bed was easy and I overtook the couple still gingerly picking their way through the boulders above me. 

403. Having descended the north side of Passo della Muretto for an hour you suddenly reach a viewpoint down the valley to Malojapass.

However there was still another half hour of boulders to descend and the stream now disappeared into a ravine so I had to follow the path. It was slow going as the boulders were quite unstable and it would have been easy to slip, fall or twist an ankle. The valley below soon opened up as I went around a buttress and I could now see it all laid out down to Maloja far below. After the difficult 600 metres of descent I finally reached the willows growing between the boulders and then turf and the first of the larches. There was a very high rickety wooden bridge over a deep pool in the Orlegna stream which I crossed to reach the west side. Here the difficult terrain ended and there was a good path which was busy with day trippers coming up from Maloja. 

I sauntered down here through the larch and the Swiss pine. I noticed the latter had plenty of fresh cones but they were just growing at the top of the larger trees and if you wanted them for your zirbenschnaps, you would have to climb the tree and pick them. There were some lovely grassy meadows between the trees where a lake had filled in with silt and the ground was too damp for trees. In one I got a great view back up to the Passo della Muretto, which I had just come over. 

404. Looking back up the Val Forno valley to the Passo della Muretto

Below the last meadow I began to smell goats and see their droppings everywhere and soon enough I came across two dairies slightly to the south of the beautiful Lago de Cavloc lake. There were no goats at the dairy but there were about 100 of them under trees on a rocky outcrop beside the track further down. There were a lot of people milling about the lake and a few with dogs, but the goats seemed to be quite comfortable with them passing by. The goats udders looked very full and unwieldy and I hoped milking time was soon. a few hundred metres further on was the lake itself. 

There were about 100 people around the lake either sunbathing or having a family BBQ beside the water. It was on the cusp of getting overwhelmed with humanity. However, there were a few tufted ducks out in the middle, and in a quiet bay covered in small reeds was a mother with 8 ducklings. The mother emerged from the reeds and the ducklings followed here across the clear water over light sand. Suddenly all the ducklings dived and I could see them swimming about underwater as they foraged for weed. After 15 seconds they could hold their breath no more and they all popped up like small brown ping-pong balls. They continued to dive for a good 5 minutes while I watched them, and they were very adept at swimming underwater. 

405. On the Lago da Cavloc just above Maloja there were a lots of tufted ducks. This mother had 8 chicks who were already diving well for 15 seconds until they poopped up like a brown ping-pong ball.

I passed a day trippers eating hole at the side of the lake and then followed the now tarmac road down for about 2 km through the fir forest to the valley floor. The valley floor was all meadow and across the far side of it were the hotels of Maloja which I think would have been quite expensive as it was just up the valley from St Moritz. However at the south side of these meadows I had booked in to the Salencia Bildungs und Ferienzentrum. It was a converted farm run by a German Organization. It was very, very politically correct, very quirky and seemed to be full of Berliners. There were quite a few families, single mums and older women. It was not the place to inadvertently leave the toilet seat up. In fact I was surprised they were not screwed down as there were signs asking men to sit when they have a pee to avoid splashing. I was shown a room with 12 beds in 6 bunks and had to take one of the top ones as the bottom ones were all gone. I was given sheets and a pillowcase and made the bed up. However they had a self service kitchen with many coffee machines, jars of local honey and a tall fridge with two full milk churns in it with local milk and yoghurt. The meal was all vegetarian as one would expect in a place like this. I suppose in all there were about 60 people staying with 20 of them children who formed an anarchistic mob which ran riot as their mothers discussed Anti-war issues, LGBT+ issues and Veganism. I was requested to wear a mask and so not to rock the boat I put one on round my chin.  I made a couple of great coffees and found a quiet corner to write. I was soon joined by an Italian family who were not going to be told to wear a mask by the German activists who ran the place.

406. Just to the south of the town of Majola was a small alternative holiday centre at a converted farm called Salencia. It is just below the centre of the photo.

However once the blog was done I mixed in with the other residents. It was a very interesting place. Formed as a holiday collective by some left wing activists it has persisted to this day. Many of the guests came back year after year to coincide with an activity week like walking with children, choir singing etc. After the communal meal there was a friendly meeting with all the residents outside. I as a newcomer had to introduce myself as did a few others. Then there was a group discussion on  chores and who would make breakfast etc. I was allocated some stairs to clean. This was all translated by volunteers into Italian and English from German. Then the meeting ended and the kitchen crew went to wash up supper. In this way the cost of the holidays at this activist community could be kept to a quarter of the cost of a normal holiday in Switzerland. I enjoyed my stay here and enjoyed the community concept. The food which was cooked by volunteers was simple and healthy. 

I had enjoyed this last section more than I thought I would because of the cultural landscape I wandered through. The mountains were a bit of a disappointment as the Ortler Alps were shrouded in mist, the Livigno Alps were relatively small and the Bernina Alps were hidden behind their foothills. However the pastoral landscape with its working dairies and cheese production, the animals in the pastures, the hay meadows and the harvesting of the grasses and the lovely stone cottages and barns more than made up for the lack of the high mountain environment which I had in the Zillertal.          


Section 08. Ortler, Livigno and Bernina. 139 km. 47 Hours. 6770m up. 6010m down.

Section 08. Ortler, Livigno and Bernina. 19 July to 27 July 2022.

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