Main Alpine Divide. Section 09. Oberhalbstein and Adula Alps
February 9, 2022
Day 60. Maloja to Juf. 18 Km. 7 Hrs. 1330m up. 990m down. I did not sleep so well in the room with 8 people in 12 bunks, and I woke early because I was hungry. Breakfast was not until 0800 but there were some self service facilities so I got up at 0630 and had a couple of slices of bread with delicious homemade honey one of the residents had brought to share and two cups of good coffee. I was done by 0700 when those residents who had volunteered to do breakfast appeared the kitchen became crammed. I had somehow volunteered to clean the stairs and two toilets so I did that before breakfast. I sprayed some scented liquid at the floor and then mopped it up and was done in 30 minutes, just as breakfast was ready. It was a buffet but I was self conscious people would judge me as greedy if I took my usual amount so I just had the political activist portion. It would have been fine if I had spent the day discussing how to stop the war in Ukraine, but I had to walk for 7 hours and climb 1300 metres. I eventually left around 0900 having said goodbye to a lot of people. As it was raining when I woke and the day slowly improved as the morning wore on there was no great hurry.
I left and walked on an old path into Maloja. Half way along it I met the very nice manager of the Salencina, who was walking to work. We chatted briefly and then I continued on to Maloja. I did not realise but it was right on the pass with the west dropping steeply down hairpin bends and then Italy and the Po river eventually, and the east gently dropping down a km to a large lake and Switzerland with the water ending up in the Danube. I went east down the gentle slope to the lake. Halfway there I passed the enormous Maloja Palace Hotel which looked like an aristocratic and upper class hotel from a bygone era 100 years ago. A little beyond the main road led down to the lake and I walked along the pavement beside to the edge of the lake where there was a small parking place beside the road where the footpath started. It was already 1000, but the weather was getting better all the time.
The path was reasonably small as it zigzagged up from the parking place and started to climb the hillside. I soon got a good view of the lake and the large Maloja Palace Hotel. Unfortunately beyond the lake the mist and clouds lingered on the mountains and I could not get any view of Piz Bernina, the 4050m mountain I had virtually encircled for the last 3 days. It was a sustained climb without any let up for about 2 hours during which time I ascended some 700 metres. The path went past another large herd of Highland cattle and continued up until it got to a high lake, Lagh de Lunghin at about 2500m. It was a beautiful lake nestled in on a shelf in the mountain beneath high jagged crags. Its waters were dark blue but there was a greenish fringe around it where the shallow sands lay. From here there was an easy path up a bare eroding open valley which was covered in crumbling gravel. It took over a half hour to climb this gentle slope and reach the Pass Lunghin at 2644mm. The mist still lingered in places on the peaks above me, which were not really that spectacular compared to the last 4-5 weeks.
The pass was curious in that three big watersheds met here as to the west of the pass a ridge came up the main valley bisecting it in two. To the north of this ridge all the waters flowed into the Rhine and to the south all the waters flowed into the Po. While on the east side of the ridge all the waters flowed into the Danube. There was a small concrete post at this triple watershed with 3 spouts. If you emptied your water bottle into it it would come out of all three spouts and start very different journeys to the ocean ending up in the North, Mediterranean or Black Sea. I lingered here a bit to relax and then spied the next pass I had to do across the valley to the west.
The descent went down the ridge which divided the waters from going to the Po or the Rhine. It too was covered in crumbling schist and gravel and it made for a very easy descent for a good half hour and spilled me onto the track at the bottom of the slope in a saddle. To the north the track descended to Bivio and to the south to Casaccia. It seemed to be a popular mountain bike route and there were many cyclists coming up effortlessly from both sides on their electric bikes. I unfortunately was not going down either side but up the other side of the saddle to another pass with some 400m of ascent. It was not much but my legs felt tired when they switched from descent to ascent mode and I made heavy work of it initially. I passed the Swiss French here and they were relaxing and having a picnic. Not only did I not have any food but my paltry political activist breakfast was spent long ago and the tank was empty.
The final climb was laboured and slow and it took me well over an hour to climb the 400 metres. The terrain was easy with plenty of small ponds, many of which were dry and the others were surrounded by bog cotton. There were few flowers which thrived here but one which did and illuminated the dull landscape was the yellow saxifrage. Towards the top the path left the open slopes and went into a curious small valley with bare rock on one side and moraine debris on the other. This small gully led me right to the Forcellina, 2671m. This pass was a bit more spectacular than the previous, Pass Lunghin, but not by much. The weather had improved considerably now and I could see down the upper part of the Avers valley called Juferalpa.
After descending a bit on the west side of the Forcellina the hamlet of Juf appeared. It looked deceptively close but I knew it was still 5 km away. It was perched on the side of the valley just above the river in lovely pastures. In fact the whole head of the Avers valley was rich pasture and it was well above the treeline. Below me were a line of crags blocking the route down so the path had to traverse the rocky mountainside, climbing slightly for nearly a kilometre until it could descend to the valley floor. It dropped some 500 metres in a series of small zig-zags with the terrain getting more and more gassy as I fell. At last the long awaited footpath on the valley floor arrived and I followed it north down to Juf for a good two km. The pasture here was mostly rough grazing and the sound of cow bells rang out across the valley floor. As I neared Juf there were more and more hay meadows all watered by a multitude of small rivulets which ran down the hillside from springs high above.
I passed a couple of beautiful hay lofts under heavy stone roofs and then entered the wonderful hamlet. I noticed there were some large barns here which looked like they were used throughout the year which surprised me as it was still 2100 metres and above the tree line. I later found out that a small percentage of the cows overwinter here. There was a pension where I could have stayed and another couple of places offering rooms. Most of the houses had the roof of heavy flat stones and they must have weighed tens of tons as the stones were thick. Huge beams supported the roof trusses. It was a very nice hamlet and it was relatively quiet with perhaps 40 buildings in all. At the south end of the village was the Alpenrose Gasthaus where I was booked in. It also looked very traditional.
I went in and was given a small room with 2 beds. The bathroom and shower were in a shared wash area which was large and spacious. I had 2 cheese rolls and a litre of water at once to fill up the tank which had been running on fumes for half the day. I then went up and had a great shower and washed all my clothes – which was an overdue chore. I had just hung them out when the 7 French Swiss arrived in good spirits. I went down to join them and they invited me to join them for dinner in 2 hours then headed off for a shower. I went up and wrote as much as I could until dinner time. The 3 fathers and the 4 sons were doing a section of the Main Via Alpina each year and this year we had coincided for almost the last week. The fathers all spoke good English and were great to talk to and the 4 kids were all a delight and very enthusiastic about their walk. It was a great father and son bonding exercise and having 4 sons meant they could entertain themselves a bit too. It was a great meal and great company and I really enjoyed the evening, however it was at a cost to my blog which I did not finish until 2300. Throughout dinner a thunderstorm raged and it was raining heavily which added to the cosiness of the Alpenrose Gasthaus.
Day 61. Juf Ausserferrera. 25 Km. 7.5 Hrs. 410m up. 1250m down. The Alpenrose provided a superb breakfast and it was a buffet with plenty of choice and a lot for fresh fruit. Mind you the prices in Switzerland were at least double and often three times Austria or Italy so I expect a good breakfast. After breakfast I set off back through the hamlet and then down to a wooden bridge over the stream to get to the path on the west side of the stream. It was on the opposite side of the valley to the side the road was on. However, the road was very quiet and you could have walked down the middle of it.
It was an easy early morning walk on a grassy track for about 3 km. There were frequent shrills on each side of the track as sentry marmots sounded the alarm and sent the others scurrying for their burrows. The marmots here seemed quite small so perhaps they were juveniles. It seemed that the locals in the upper Avers valley were marketing the marmots and there was a “marmot path”. After a lovely hour’s walk I descended down to a collection of 3 hamlets at Juppa, where a clear stream joined from the south. I thought I was making good time but suddenly the Swiss French were right behind me. There was rain forecast for mid afternoon and they wanted to be at their destination before it arrived. We took some group photos and then I joined them for nearly an hour’s walk.
We went up to the east side of the valley again, sauntered through Juppa with its stone houses under the very heavy stone roofs with huge stone slabs, and climbed the grassy alm track which soon levelled off as it went through meadows. The meadows had all been cut and the hay already collected and stored for the winter. It was a beautiful grassy track and it gave me a good opportunity to look at the solid haylofts as we passed them. At a few verges I saw the royal blue Willow Gentian, Gentiana asclepiadea, which I had not seen before. There are so many varieties of gentians in so many different habitats and soils it did not surprise me this was a new one to me, but it was an exciting sight.
Eventually the track descended to the beautiful hamlet of Purt and dropped below the road. Just beyond I parted from the Swiss French team who continued on the Via Alpina below the road towards the hamlet of Cresta, while I crossed the stream to its west bank and went into the forest. Initially I thought I had made a mistake as the path was overgrown, small and steep in places. The roots were bare and in the dew were slippery so the going was slow. However soon this small path met a grassy track which contoured across the hillside in the larch forest which was full of magnificent old trees with a rich dark red bark. It was an easy walk now and I made good time until I dropped down to the hamlet of Crot cutting across the bends on the quiet main road a few times. Crot was very quaint, as all the hamlets in the Avers valley seemed to be. There was a pizzaria here and as I had been going for 3 hours I went in for a cheese and tomato sandwich and a litre of sparkling water. It was surprisingly cheap and the chef explained the cheese came from his family’s dairy just above. The cheese was 2 years old and strongly flavoured.
At Crot I had a choice of routes. I could either keep on the east side of the stream but this would mean a big climb over a precipitous shoulder and then a big descent. It would undoubtedly have been the more scenic path but I guess it would take 4 hours to Innerferrera this way. Alternatively I could cross to the west side of the valley again and follow a much easier, flatter route beside the road and river and I thought it would take 2 hours to get to Innerferrera this way. I chose the latter and as I ate my sandwich I saw the Swiss French walking this way also on the other side of the stream.
The route was 2 hours but it was not the most satisfying as it was close to the road for much of the time. The road was quiet and sometimes it made more sense to walk on the road rather than a small path beside it. After a dull hour the road entered a tunnel and the path went between the road and stream, which was really a river now. This part of the path was sensational and it more than made up for the dull sector above. I think the path pretty much followed the old road which was only 5-6 foot wide and it contoured round the side of a forming gorge. It was grassy with old stone bollards along the edge. Beyond the edge the cliffs plunged down to the crystal clear river below in the bottom of the gorge. About half way down the gorge, 2 other streams came tumbling down their own gorges spilling their water into the river. It was a spectacular place and very unworldly compared to the pastoral slopes of the morning. I followed this path clinging to the side of the gorge all the way to Innerferrera which appeared at an opening up of the valley again.
I did not go into Innerferrera but continued on the west side of the river. I still had 5 km to go. It turned out to be a very disappointing 5 km. Initially the path was on a track but this vanished and I now had to slither across roots and slippery boulders in a mossy fir forest. It was slow going and I was glad it ended after a good half hour. However the next part seemed to go through a slightly industrial area of a hydroelectric station and transformers. I now decided to throw the towel in and walk down the main valley road. I would have to do this soon anyway as there was no option for the last 2 km. The road was still quiet and the river had cut a deep slot in the steep V shaped valley. After a while there was a metal walkway beside the road. It was a kind of grating pavement on the safe side of the crash barrier. It was pouring rain for the last kilometre so I just plodded on only noticing the gorge was becoming very impressive with steep slabs of rock soaring up each side into the mist hundreds of metres above me.
I got to Ausserferrera, which was also a nice hamlet but without the heavy stone slab roofs as they had been replaced with modern tiles. I found the Edelweiss Guesthouse and went in. It was full of thin young people in T-shirts drinking beer. There were perhaps 20 people in all. The guy who ran the place was the same build. It clicked then that they were all climbers and had come into shelter. As I checked it dawned on me I had arrived at a climbing Mecca which was well known throughout Europe. It was called the Magic Wood and was a bouldering paradise. The boulders were scattered through the woods here at Ausserferrera and had thousands of routes on them all 5 metres or less. There were bouldering crash pads deposited all over the building drying off. The crash pads were used by the climbers to fall onto when they fell off the boulder.
I was given a key in another building and walked across the carpark. It was full of old cars and vans from all over Europe. Many of the climbers were staying in the different facilities Edelweiss Guesthaus had, and others were camping. I had a room to myself with a great shower. Everything was wet so I washed it all and then went over for my meal of salad and pizza. By now the small rustic restaurant was packed with climbers drinking jugs of beer and pizza. They looked rough with long wet hair and unkempt beards but they were the fittest collection of people probably in Switzerland and the young men and women were all in T shirts showing their ripped biceps, developed from years of climbing and a very considered diet so they kept a good power to weight ratio. Thomas, who ran the place, helped write the guide book to Magic Wood was especially ripped. It was almost like being at a cult gathering. The meal was great but I was tired and writing the blog afterwards was hard work but I had finished at 2300.
Day 62. Ausserferrera to Hinterrhien. 25 Km. 8.5 Hrs. 1230m up. 910m down. I had to wait until 0800 for breakfast. I was the only one having and it was the host Tomas who served me. It was nothing spectacular but he sat nearby and we chatted and I could glean a lot about the Magic Woods bouldering area. He also spoke about the conservative and traditional valley in which Tomas must have stood out as he was quite radical, worldly wise and well travelled. I had a choice of 2 routes this morning, either round the north side of the mountain to Sufnersee or over the mountain to Sufnersee. I had already planned the route over the mountain and Tomas confirmed it was the better one.
I went back through the hamlet, which was not as traditional looking as the others further up the valley, crossed the wooden suspension bridge over the gorge and then almost immediately started the climb. It was quite relentless for 2 hours as the small footpath zig-zagged up through the firs. The path was so faint in places I lost it frequently but it was easy to find again using the GPS. It was not a pleasant climb as there were no views at all with the dense trees blocking everything. However some of the firs here were humongous and bigger than most I had seen before in Europe. A few had a bole of nearly 1.5 metres diameter. It was obviously too difficult to harvest them here so they were left to grow. After ascending 700 metres I reached the Nursera alm with its single house and barn. It had either sheep or goats, which were away foraging elsewhere in the day.
I had hoped that was the end of the strenuous part of the day but there was still another 200 metres to climb to take me to the crest of the ridge. Far below I could see the Val Schons valley which led down to the town of Thusis out of sight round a curve in the valley. The descent down the west side of the ridge was slow. The route was rough and there was no worn beaten path, just a route through the shrubby boulders where someone had strimmed the vegetation. There were lots of micro ascents and descents each of 2-3 metres, and all of it tricky underfoot. I could not stride out at all and had to carefully pick my steps. I made slow progress until the path started to descend more directly and steeply to a pasture with an alm house. The pasture was called Schwarzalm. Just after it was a bridge over a very deep canyon with the stream plummeting down a series of steep cascades into deep pools. On the other side my intended path continued in the same tricky terrain which worried me as time was tight today. There was also a larger footpath which descended to the Sufnersee lake and I deduced a track along its south shore to the west end. I made a quick decision to abandon my original rough path and took the good path down to the lake, reaching it in half an hour. My hunch was right and there was a splendid track all the way along the south side of the lake. The track was closed to cars, but was quite popular with walkers and cyclists, and it was very easy underfoot. It only took another half hour to reach the west end of the turquoise lake.
Here I had another difficult decision, I could either go back up a little way and rejoin the path I should have been on or cross the busy main road using an underpass to reach a minor road on the north side of the valley. I still had about 13 km to go today and it was nearly 1400 hrs. If the path on the hillside above me on the south side of the valley was anything like it had been an hour earlier at Schwarzalm I was going to be late. So I opted for the minor road on the north. It did not take long to get to the underpass and climb up onto the minor road. To my delight it was actually a gravel forest track. The trees screened me from the busy road and also blocked the noise. I could have been anywhere. About half an hour along this track from the end of Sufnersee lake I started to smell hay and soon enough the forest ended and there were extensive meadows on each side of the track. There was an old ruined stone fortress here which must have been mediaeval. I now had a delightful walk across the meadows on the excellent track.
Old browned haylofts under heavy stone roofs peppared the hillsides each side on the track and many were probably full of the summer’s hay. All the haylofts had the same construction of 4 massive stone pillars, one in each corner. Between the pillars were 4 log walls which did not meet as they butted into the edge of the pillars. Across the tops of the pillars were huge strong wooden beams and the roof timbers sat on them, with the heavy stone slabs covering these roof timbers. The haylofts were two stories high with the top story being accessed from the uphill side and the lower story being accessed from the downhill side, so you could walk into either story. On the top floor was all the hay while on the bottom were stalls for 4-8 cows. I assume some cows might overwinter in these haylofts or certainly spend the month before the snow and a month when it is melting in these small barns. The main herd I would think would be in the large barn at the farm.
I peered into a few of these lofts as I passed them and they were all the same with cow stalls below. Pretty soon after the ruined fortress, the town of Splugen appeared spread out on the valley floor. It only took half an hour to reach it and I went straight down the road into it hoping for a small cafe. I was surprised it was so busy and thriving. There were quite a few hotels near the main square and it would have been easy to spend the night here, but perhaps expensive. There was a bakery which did not have any bread left, but told me where a supermarket was just over the main bridge connecting the two halves of the town. I went down to it, passing a few cafes and more hotels until I reached the bridge. Like the rest of the town even the bridge was covered in flower boxes with colourful displays. The bridge was over the Hinterrhein River, one of two forks, although I think the junior fork, which made up the source of the Rhine. On the southside was a small supermarket, so I got bread, cheese, tomato lunch and some drinks and sat on a bench in the sun and ate them.
Studying the map over lunch I saw that the track through the meadows on the north side of the valley went the remaining 11 kilometres all the way to Hinterrhein where I was booked in at a farmhouse B&B. It seemed the obvious thing to do was to take it and to reaffirm my choice, I saw I had planned to go this way already and had the GPS route already on my watch and phone. I walked out of town and found the meadow track on the western outskirts. It was tarmac but it was closed to all unauthorised traffic, meaning only locals and farm vehicles would be using it. It was an easy, fast pleasant walk and I made great time as I went along the gently undulating track. After a short hour I passed the lovely hamlet of Medels which had a few big farms above the track and a cluster of houses at the heart of the hamlet. This was cow county and there were cow bells hanging from balconies in displays. I think many of these bells are ceremonial and used when the cows depart for, and return from, the high alms in the early summer and early autumn respectively. After Medels there was a good hours walk through cut hay meadows and haylofts to the village of Nufenen. It was a lovely village with an old church and a long square. There were a few B&B’s here and some looked very nice in old buildings. Indeed almost all the buildings were old and under the heavy stone roofs. It crossed my mind to cancel the B&B I had in Hinterrhein and stay here as it was so nice. There was even a small supermarket but it was already closed for the weekend and a cafe below the village beside the main road. I thought that would be unfair on the couple waiting for me at Hinterrhein so continued for another hour along the same easy empty road through meadows and a small section of forest until I reached Hinterrhein.
Hinterrhein was an absolutely fantastic place. All the buildings were very old and all were under heavy stone slab roofs. Some of the buildings and especially the balconies looked very rickerty. I passed my unassuming B&B and got to the main square which was quite modest and had the church on one side. Someone told me where the B&B was so I went back and found the door to an old building next to other old buildings with their stone roofs almost touching. There was a honesty shop selling cheese outside. The door was open so I went into the house and hollered. There was no reply. A few minutes later a car stopped in the street and a family got out and came into the house to find me sitting in the hall. He was the son of the owners Georg and Agnes Trepp. He explained his mum and dad were milking the goats but would be along soon, and he would show me the room. The house was bursting with history and character; he said it was hundreds of years old. I got a very cosy wooden room on the second floor with hefty old wooden farmhouse furniture. He then went to help with the goats. Before he went he said his parents had goats and cows and he lived much further down the valley and had cows, mostly Aberdeen Angus. I was very surprised to hear there were wolves in the area and they took a goat quite regularly and sometimes even took a cow. He said the wolves were very smart and often two would cause a distraction while the other 3 made the unopposed kill. His parents 30 goats joined a herd of 100 each morning from the village to graze under the eye of a goatherd and then returned to their barn every night in the village.
After my shower I met Agnes who had come back from milking the goats. I asked If I could come along tomorrow and she said that was no problem. I should turn up at 0630 before breakfast at the barn at the other end of the village where there was a small balcony for the goats. She also explained where the restaurant was. I browsed through their village passing the restaurant and got to the barn where a few goats were enjoying the last of the sun on their balcony. Then came back through the village noticing the rich unblemished traditional culture here. There was not a modern house amongst the old architectural jewels. Hinterrhein was a living museum. I went into the restaurant which was surprisingly upmarket. I had to eat here as it was the only place. The restaurant was in an old farmhouse and after the meal the waitress showed me round all the vaulted rooms at the back and then took me down to the two cellars. I opened the massive door on one and it was a store room for all the vegetables on large revolving shelves. She said it never froze in the cellar in winter despite the small window. The other cellar had the same heavy old door and when I went in I saw racks and racks of cheeses, all in 5 kg truckles. They were their own cheeses made in the alm and then brought down here to mature. They used them when they were about a year old. The waitress said the farmhouse I was staying in also had cellars and they would be full of the cheese Georg and Agnes Trepp had made. She said most of the village houses dated from before the Black Death. Indeed the village church was shared with the village of Nufenen 3 kilometres away, but at the Black Death the villagers here said they had to build their own and not to worship in their church. After quite a few disappointing days in Switzerland I had finally found a hidden gem, and Hinterrhein lifted my spirits.
Day 63. Hinterrhein to Vals. 17 Km. 6 Hrs. 900m up. 1260m down. I managed to get up at 0600 and went down to the barn where the goats were. Agnes was already there when I arrived and had the 30 large back and white milking goats in the stalls. There were 3 other goats in a pen and she explained they were just adolescents and not ready for milking yet as they had not had kids yet. There was also a stall with 5 small kids in it who were jumping about excitedly. It took about half an hour to milk all the goats with just 3 machines with 2 suction tubes on each unit. There was a lot of clearing up to do the whole time as these 30 goats were often peeing or defecating on the boards they were standing on. Agnes was constantly scraping the droppings into the central gutter with a board on a handle. By the time all the goats were done and the milk was strained and then put into traditional churns there were 3 full churns with 20 litres in each. Agnes got about a litre morning and evening from each goat.
The milk churns were all going down to Sufers beside Sufnersee where there was a dairy which would process the milk into cheese for them. A bucket of milk was kept back. It was for the 5 kids. It had about 7 rubber teats sticking out from the bottom and each one was blocked with a clothes peg. Agnes hung it on the wall and then let the 5 kids out of their stall. They all made a beeline for the bucket and Agnes took 5 clothes pegs off and the milk started to flow. The kids latched onto a teat and started to suck also. I could see the level in the bucket going down as the kids drunk the 6-7 litres in it. The ones which were only 2 weeks old, filled quickly and left before they burst, but the 4 week old ones continued until there was nothing left. Agnes they released the 30 milk goats from their stalls and they quickly overwhelmed the barn and surrounded me. At 0800 a goatherd would come and collect these and a few other goats and take all 70 up onto the mountain for the day.
When I got back Agnes and Georg were already having breakfast and I joined them. Georg was a powerful man with strong arms after years of farming. However he said his knees were giving out on him so it was mostly tractor work he liked to do now. He had his own cheese on the table; a recent one, a one year old and a three year old. Agnes preferred the 1 year old while Georg preferred the 3 year old which was quite like a mature cheddar. They were all maturing in his cellar right under us. The conversation went back to the wolves. There were apparently quite a few groups of them in this canton of Graubauden and they were strictly protected. Georg, like his son, hated them. He showed me a app on his phone which Graubauden farmers subscribed to. Each time there was a wolf attack a farmer would report it with the damage caused. There were 2 or 3 reports every day for months going back and each report documented the killing of multiple sheep – sometimes 25 in one go by a wolf pack attack on a single herd. He said goats were also vulnerable and recently there had been reports of attacks on cows and he showed me a few pictures of the mauled animal. They got compensation for their losses but I think the farmers were more upset by the animals they nurtured and cared for being killed like this. Just like in Norway there is a big debate between the farmers and the public, many of whom are urban, about how to manage the predators. Georg I am sure would have wanted to kill the lot.
I set off at 0830 after a really wonderful stay. It ranked with Zauneralm as one of the best. Georg and Agnes were probably both in their late 50’s and were very welcoming, warm and genuine. I had a spring in my step after my stay with them and sauntered up the alm road. It recently had two concrete strips placed where the tyres went so it was suitable for cars also. I climbed in the sun past many haylofts. In the past Agnes said the men worked all day to harvest the hay and even slept in the loft on the hay, with the women bringing food up to them daily. The hay harvest determined how many cattle or goats you could keep. If you had great land and a team of strong sons and daughters you could harvest a lot and sustain a bigger herd, and therefore get more milk and make more cheese to sell. Once the hay was in undercover the farmers must breathe a sigh of relief.
It took two hours to climb up the track to Pianatschalm passing many haylofts en route. On some of the ground too steep to cut I saw clusters of Giant Yellow Gentians, Gentiana lutea. Their roots are huge tubers and are used as one of the main ingredients of bitters. The harvesting of the hay was quite slow here and there were many meadows where the grass was just recently cut and it was still lying there green and not even turned yet to dry it thoroughly. There were motorised scythes parked on verges all the way up the track and especially at Pianatschalm where there were about 5. The views down to the valley and Hinterrhein were good but slightly ruined by the busy road in the valley, which actually disappeared into a tunnel just above Hinterrhein. The mountains were rugged but not that high and had very few glaciers or snowfields on them, so although jagged, with serrated ridges, they did not look that impressive. At the Pianatschalm there was a large herd of light brown alpine cattle. The farmer must have just put a salt lick out because the cows came bounding down the steep hillside. I was surprised they could move so fast. They could easily out run me and also perhaps outrun an athlete. From the alm there was another hours easy climb up a path across grassy slopes to reach the Valserbarg pass at 2502m.
The pass was quite underwhelming. I had hoped for a great vista to burst upon me when I popped my head over the saddle but there were no large glaciated mountains to speak of. The valley below Vals just seemed to peter out into rolling hills until the haze obscured the view. Hardly any of the mountains I could see were above 3000m and those that were only just made the mark. This particular section of the Central Alps is probably one of the lowest and least glaciated in these Central Alps. I went down the north side to a large Alm covered in cows. The sound of 200-300 bells was pretty much a constant clunking which rang out across the mountains. Beyond this alm the path passed the small Zum Hirt cabin and then dropped steeply down to the hamlet of Peil on the valley floor. The descent was long and steep and took nearly an hour to drop the 600 metres.
Peil had a large dairy at the end of the road, which I think was for goats. There were none here now as they were all on the hill but it smelt of goat. Just beyond was a day trippers cafe and it was crammed full of people who had walked the kilometre to enjoy a rustic meal. There was nowhere to sit so I just continued as it was only 5 km to go on an easy track. There was a choice of 3 tracks in fact one up either side of the valley and one beside the stream. The ones on the sides climbed a bit but went through old summer farms and would have been more interesting but longer. I took the easy duller option of the valley floor and blasted down it for 4 km by which time the track had entered the fir forest. All the way down the valley I passed meadows which had been cut. They were some of the steepest meadows I had seen cut and it must have been quite a feat to wrestle the motor scythe across these slopes. Just before Vals the route left the track and dropped down a steep meadow for a good 200 metres which spilled me into the south end of the town. I strolled down the main street admiring the lovely old buildings. Vals must have had some very strict planning permission and preservation orders from the municipalities as it was quite perfect. All the houses had the massive stone roofs. At the main square I lingered a bit to enjoy the ambience and then walked up the street for a couple of minutes to reach B&B Gassa where I was staying.
I was prepared to have a discussion about the price as previously the quote was for two people. So I expected to pay about 75% of the quote. However Corsin Albin who owned the place completely took me by surprise and said it would only be 50%. He made me feel very welcome and was quite charming so I decided to eat here too. After my shower I did the blog and then went to eat. Corsin was now in his chef’s jacket with his warm wife waiting. The food was good but the prices were Swiss. However Corsin had good vegetarian options and these were significantly cheaper than the meat dishes. It is not always the case and often with a half pension it is the same for a dull risotto as the neighbouring table would pay for a schnitzel. Corsin would also make me a breakfast pack and a lunch pack as tomorrow is my longest day and I intend to start at 0500.
Day 64. Vals to Olivone. 33 Km. 12 Hrs. 1740m up. 2080m down. The alarm went off at 0430 for my early breakfast. Remarkably Corsin volunteered to get up at the same time to make me a coffee. When I came down I saw Corsin had gone well beyond the call of duty and had laid out the full breakfast for me, and had made me a huge packed lunch. It was an absolutely marvellous service. I eventually left at 0545 just as the first light was breaking the spell of darkness. I went down to the main square which was absolutely deserted and headed up the main street retracing my steps from yesterday to the very new offices of Truffer Stein designed by Japanese Architect Kengo Kuma. Not content with operating a quarry above the town to extract Valser Quartzite which is quite an eyesore, the Truffer AG company had built a very out of place building in this beautiful town. I admit all the roofs in Vals are prescribed to be covered in Valser Quartzite and this building is, but it is a far too avant garde, charmless and sophisticated an edifice to be plonked in the middle of sleepy 15th Century Vals. It belongs in the lower half of the town. Soon after I left the last houses passed the ugly quarry on the other side of the valley and entered the woods on the south side of the valley.
For the next two hours at least I initially followed some forest tracks, and then for most of the section a small undulating footpath which climbed gently through the fir forest. Occasionally through the trees I could see the north side of the valley and it was devoid of trees and was mostly meadow with haylofts scattered all over the steep craggy hillside. It was quite astonishing how this hillside was cultivated for its grass as it was so steep, remote and covered in outcrops. Towards the end of the section there were a couple of summer farms perched on outcrops. I should imagine the younger children here would almost have to be tethered to stop them falling off, like they used to do on some of the cliff face farms on Norway’s west coast. I could see the dam occasionally through the trees and it took a while to finally reach it.
Just before the dam was a carpark and a restaurant for day trippers. I don’t think the restaurant did overnight accomodation at all. If it did it would have shaved 3 hours off this long day. For the next hour the route followed the track on the south side of the Zervrellasee lake which I think was entirely formed but the large dam. It was a very easy amble along the south shore in this increasingly dramatic valley. The water was quite low so there was an ugly contour of bare earth and rock right round the lake, especially up each of the two arms which made this a Y shaped lake. There was hardly any on the north side where the cliffs plunged straight into the lake. There was a narrow bridge over the southern of the two arms in the Y shaped lake which saved at least an extra 3 km. At the end of the northern arm the track petered out and and a footpath took over. There were some enormous boulders on the valley floor which had either toppled down from the cliffs above or had been left here when the glacier ice they were embedded in became static and then melted. One had an huge overhang and shepherds had previously built an alm house under it as it was so well protected from any winter avalanche.
Some 3-4 km after the end of the Zervrellasee up the large U shaped valley with the huge bare outcrops and slabs on either side, the route reached the lovely Lampertschalp, at about 2000m. This was a very picturesque alm which was now essentially a restaurant. There were about 200 cows in the vicinity on the valley floor and I assumed Lampertschalp was connected with them. There were a few Swiss already here having snacks and coffee and brandishing Swiss flags to celebrate their national day. I had a litre of milk which was remarkably cheap at 5 euros which he said was from the alm. It was cold and fresh and just what I needed on this hot day and I felt quite empowered after drinking it. Which was just as well as he pointed out the route up to the Passo Serado, 2758m, just up the valley. I would use all the calories the milk would give me on this climb. It was a lovely jaunt up the open valley through more alm buildings and the large herd of cows each side of the braided river which ran across the stones and gravel on the valley floor between the pastures. At the head of the valley was the reasonably impressive Adula Rheinwaldhorn, 3402m. It was a modest height for the Alps but it was the highest point in this range. There was a fast moving and heavily crevassed glacier streaming down its north side. After a good kilometre from the Lampertschalp the path forked with the main branch going up the valley and a tiny branch going up the steep craggy mountainside to the unseen Passo Soreda. There was a SAC refuge about 1½ -2 kilometres south of this fork, called the Lantahutte and I could have stayed here at this popular hut were it not for the challenge of doing this whole 33 km in one go.
The climb up to the pass was about 700 metres and took over 2 hours. Initially it zig-zagged up the steep hillside gaining height quite quickly until it got to an area where the crags on each side closed in and pinched the path into a narrow grassy gully. There were some great views from up here up down the main Lantatal valley below. Where the valley was pinched the path crossed to the south side of the gully and headed out onto the ridge on a well constructed path which looked old and well made. Once on this small south ridge it climbed steeply with the occasional chain for protection to gain a lip beyond which was a high hanging valley with a gentle incline. Looking down from the edge of this lofty lip I could just make out the Lampertschalp and the small dark specks on each side of the braided river, which were the cows.
The final good half hour up to the pass was along the floor of this high hanging valley which was covered in boulders. The path was faint and it was slow going to pick the route. Just by the final headwall were a couple of small alpine tarns which were quite shallow and recently left by the glacier which must have departed from here just decades ago. The final climb was up across large stable boulders and quite steep. As my head popped over the pass I was again surprised to see there were no large mountains beyond, but just more of the craggy dry jagged 3000 plus metre mountains. Just to the south of the Passo Soreda was the mountain of Pizzo Cassinello, 3102m, which was a huge bare slab of hard rock at a shallow angle. It would have been a fun ascent and perhaps a good hours return trip from the pass.
The descent down the west side of the Passo Soreda was initially steep and loose. There was a group of people coming up the pass and I had to be careful not to dislodge stones which might roll down on them, although I think the angle was not quite enough for them to roll. There were quite a few areas where there were chains to hold onto to go down some sections but in these dry conditions they were unnecessary. Indeed in many sections there were wooden logs formed into steps or stones stacked on top of each other to form steps so as long as one was careful it was quite straight forward. Nonetheless the whole descent took the best part of half an hour until the loose terrain finished and the gradient eased. I passed another group of 4 coming up who were also going to Lantahutte. One of the blokes was very unfit with a sweaty size XXXXL T shirt hung over his very out of shape top half. His girlfriend was leading the way with her backpack on her back and his backpack on her front. She looked like an army cadet on a training exercise. He asked me how long it was to the pass. I said an hour but I think he would be lucky to make it in two. I can only imagine the trip was her idea and he reluctantly agreed to leave the sofa.
At the bottom of the slope was a beautiful shelf on the valley floor. I stopped here and put my drinks and melted chocolate bar in the ice cold water emerging from a spring then had my sandwiches and boiled eggs. By the time I had finished them the chocolate was very solid and the drinks were as if they had just come out of the fridge. It was a superb lunch and I blessed Corsin for his thoughtfulness. A team of Swiss Italians bounded down and joined me sitting on the bridge. They have been up the rock slabs of Pizzo Cassinnello. I was immediately struck by how friendly they were. Back in the Swiss German Canton of Graubunden people were very reluctant to engage in conversation but here in the Swiss Italian canton of Ticino everybody wanted to chat.
After lunch I went down off the edge of the shelf in the valley to the next level down which was a classic U shaped grass covered valley with a shepherd’s house just at the treeline. The descent from the shelf was steep and waterfalls cascaded down on all sides across the steep rock slabs. These streams all met at the bottom to form a larger stream which tumbled down the valley floor until it got to the shepherds hut. Thereafter the stream had carved a deep gorge and it disappeared out of sight. The shepherd’s hut was quite idyllic but there were no animals here at the moment.
After the hut the path became much more of a narrow rough track which was probably a drove road to get animals up and down from the alm above in the U shaped valley. It quickly zigzagged down through the trees until it got to a track at the bottom above the damned Lago di Luzzone lake, which was also a lake only on account of the dam. I followed the gravel road on the south side of the lake for an hour to the dam itself. The last kilometre was through a tunnel with the occasional car, but there was a pavement. The tunnel was beautifully cool on this hot day and it was a blessing to be in it. I crossed the dam which was extremely high. Looking over the edge was vertigo inducing as it was overhanging in the centre, having a slightly parabolic shape and had I dropped a coin it would have fallen 100m to the lawn at the foot of the concrete structure.
After the dam there was just 6 kilometres to go. Initially it was down beside the access road to the dam. The path frequently cut across the hairpin bends of this road as it plunged down into the valley. Occasionally it passed some lovely haylofts and summer farms, some of which had been converted into holiday accommodation. The path skirted round the village of Campo and then followed the main road for an unpleasant kilometre although the path was on the other side of the crash barrier which made it safer. Just as the road entered the tunnel the path left it and followed the old road for a good two kilometres all the way to Olivone. This last section was quite sensational as the old road was hacked into the side of a vast cliff with the river at the bottom of the gorge far below. It reminded me of those videos of the most dangerous roads in the world with footage of jaw dropping danger from Nepal or Himalayan India. This road was no longer in use and was abandoned in 1966 when the tunnel was made and it is just for mountain bikers and hikers now. As I walk down the old road, frequently with an overhang of rock above me I could see Olivone in its green pastures below. It was not long before I was crossing the bridge in this distinctively Italian town, with its cluster of shops and villas. In one villa was the Pension Centrale who were expecting me.
I was dog tired. I think it was more the sun than the distance which got me today as 33 km with 2 km up and down was quite manageable now I had my “hiker legs”;- meaning I could walk all day. It was 1930 and I was shown the room and then ushered into the courtyard for a meal on a large stone table. There were 5 of us in all and it was quite an artisanal mix with a retired architect, a middle aged successful couple who I think were also architects and an engaging witty Swiss lady who was staying here while attending a retreat nearby. The meal was great and I was full at the end of it but also a bit lightheaded after 3 pints of shandy. I went up at 2100 as it was getting dark and had a shower and then fell into bed, content that tomorrow was a day off.
I had found this section quite lack lustre. The two remarkable things in it were staying with the Trepp family in Hinterrhein and the expense. There was very little scenic value for the cost. It was interesting that the cheapest part of the whole section was staying with the Trepp family. This cross section of the Alps was where they dipped a bit between the big mountains of Western Austria and before they rose again in the Valais Alps in about another 5 days’ time. None the less I would walk the section again;- as long as I could stay with the Trepps.
Section 09. Oberhalbstein and Adula Alps. 118 km. 41 Hours. 5610m up. 6490m down.
Section 09. Oberhalbstein and Adula Alps. 28 July to 02 August 2022.