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Julia

Julia

Adrenalin, alpine huts and amazing views – week 1 on the Via Glaralpina

“What have I gotten myself into?” I asked myself as I pulled myself over the last ledge and suddenly found myself in front of a steep, exposed rock face. At the top between the clouds of fog I saw the next blue-white marker shining between gnarled, wet roots – clearly, that was where the path went through. Maybe I would have been better to take the bypass in this weather?

To the left of me, the rock dropped almost vertically about 150 meters steeply. In this wall are the metal steps, as in a via ferrata – only without the security for me and my 12.5kg heavy backpack. More raindrops fell on my face as I wrestled with a decision. What I didn’t know here yet: this is the most technical part of the whole Via Glaralpina.

I would remember this moment for a long time, as it was emblematic of my feeling at the start of this first “really” long-distance hike that I wanted to venture on this year. It was to be the Via Glaralpina, 19 stages, 280km, 18.500 meters of altitude up and down again. Never before had I hiked for so long, never before had I walked so many meters of altitude over more than a week. At the beginning of 2023, the plan was born, and the closer the departure came, my thoughts fluctuated between “so cool, this will be great” to “are you insane, this is just too big”. First every day, towards the beginning of the trip it felt like every minute. I calmed myself down with “just go and see how far you get” – and started planning and packing.

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The first days showed their wet side.

Day 1: A wet start to the Glaralpina

Sunday was supposed to be the start, but the sky had been opening its floodgates for days. Flooding and landslides were reported from parts of Switzerland. So I postponed to Monday – but even that showed its wet side. “Whatever” I thought – let’s go. I finally wanted to start and took the train to Ziegelbrücke. In new shoes and in full rain gear full I set off, excited and with my secret weapon for bad weather in my ears – audio books on an old iPod. Gray in gray, it dripped and dripped everywhere, the streams were swollen.

I reached my destination for the day, the block house Mättmen, earlier than planned, as I unceremoniously spared myself the last 300 meters to the summit: I sank in the mud and was wet from the outside and inside in the meantime. Moreover, I have already been a few times on Hirzli. In the cabin, a stove and dry wood awaited me – a dream – otherwise I was alone. Soon a fire blazed in the fireplace – I love the crackling and cracking. Soon little clouds of steam rose from my drying clothes while I watched the rain at the window and a deer. However, I spent the night restlessly, dreaming of the rushing brook next to the house that overflowed its banks.

  • The accommodation Blockhaus Mettmen can be booked online through the municipality of Glarus Nord and costs 20 CHF.
  • It has six beds, but if you are lucky you are alone.
  • Important: When registering, you will receive a code for the door, this must take with you, otherwise you will not get in.
  • Because: There is no mobile phone reception at the cabin.
  • Firewood is available for free.
  • The accommodation has running water, electric light and a toilet (outside the house).
  • I have not been able to find a power outlet.
  • It has candles, I recommend to have a lighter with you.
  • There is no shower.
  • All information about the route here: Stage 1

Day 2: The crux for the start – scramble up the Brüggler

The next morning greeted me still rainy, but at least a little less. On a steep zigzag path I now went up to the Wänifurggel, where I had to decide – blue white yes or no? “I’ll take a look, otherwise I’ll turn back” I thought to myself – this was to become the motto of my whole trip. The terrain became steeper and steeper, but I found a good grip on wet roots. Every step and every grip was double-checked, which made me very slow, but the price was worth my safety.

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Arrived at the destination: Alone at the Rautihütten.

Actually, I love such scrambling routes – just not exactly after days of rain and in the fog. And then I suddenly stood in front of the almost vertical wall described above. Up or all the way back and down again? Good advice was expensive and I could only consult with myself. The whole down again over the slippery stones seemed to me more risky than the escape forward – thus: go. Fully concentrated, I made the difficult piece and soon breathed a sigh of relief when I could see the summit cross of the Brügglers behind it. I scolded the summit briefly (“Huere schwäre Saucheib”) and then, relieved, set off on the very relaxed descent.

Through meadows and fields, my tour led me first to the Obersee and then on to the Rautihütten. In the meantime the water smacked in my shoes after 10 hours through wet grass and rain. With a frown I looked at the white powdered peaks, on which actually my route should lead the next day. I wondered if that was possible. But first I had to arrive – after some back and forth I finally found the right hut, the tourist camp. Gratefully I breathed a sigh of relief when I saw a stove and dry wood inside. Sometimes it does not take much to be happy… So I chopped some logs, lit a fire and dried my shoes before I put my bed (aka my sleeping mat) on the table next to the stove – because I didn’t want to go into the unheated sleeping room, the wetness was still too much in my bones. On the alp I was once again alone, and so I had everything for myself anyway. Now only the question: What would be my route the next day?

  • The Brüggler can be easily bypassed, various options are available for this purpose. It is not recommended in wet conditions.
  • The accommodation costs CHF 20 (can be paid with Twint) and is very simple, there is no electricity and no running water. The latter must be fetched with buckets at the well and also disposed of.
  • Candles are on site, it is recommended to have a lighter with you.
  • There is a kitchen/dining room with fireplace in one house and a dormitory in another house.
  • If there is no-one on the alp, be sure to ask in advance where the tourist camp is. I did not have the information. Tip: There is a Glaralpina sign on the door.
  • Sleeping bag, food and stove must be brought with you. There are some spices and oil in the cupboard in the kitchen (no guarantee).
  • If the alp is managed you can buy dinner on site (by arrangement).
  • Cell phone reception is almost non-existent, only at the very beginning of the huts with Swisscom.
  • There is no shower possibility.
  • All information about the route here: Stage 2

Day 3: "That was actually planned differently".

After a brief consultation with Maya from the Glaralpina that same evening it became clear – the next piece I would have to skip. Too much snow for the blue-white route on the Wiggis. So I headed via Längeneggpass to the Klöntalersee and the Gasthaus Richisau, this time I even stayed dry. This route was not very spectacular, but I was looking forward to a dry, warm accommodation. When I arrived my room was unfortunately not yet ready, so I sat in the guest room and tried to keep my eyes open – because yes, the first two nights had not been the most relaxing. After an incredibly delicious lunch (recommendation!) I got the key and finally jumped under the shower – long had the warm water not felt so good…. Then I sank into the soft, clean bed and disappeared for 2 hours into the land of dreams.

  • The route via Wiggis can be bypassed in case of bad weather / snow via Längeneggpass.
  • The Gasthaus Richisau offers clean, modern rooms and very fine food. Rooms cost from CHF 100 per night.
  • Mobile reception is mostly available, there is a well-functioning WLAN in the hotel.
  • Shower facilities and public transport connections are available.
  • All information about the original route here: Stage 3 (attention: I had to choose a different route due to the weather so this is not the one that I hiked)

Day 4: A base camp at almost 2000 meters

The next day, my route led me to the Glärnischhütte – or more precisely, to the Nepalese-style base camp. Due to a rebuild of the hut, a kind of tent city was erected next to the hut this season, with a dome in the middle and Exped tents all around. In the ascent, I was accompanied a bit by my mother, who had come from Germany to visit and hiked the tour directly to “warm up”.

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The Basecamp at Glärnisch accommodates guests in tents during the reconstruction of the hut in 2023.

After my arrival at the hut, I spent the time reading – and pondering about my route tomorrow over the Zeinenfurgglen. After some discussions (crampons? Ice?) finally the hut keeper Fridli gave his assessment: “Even I would currently not attempt it in these conditions” That’s a word. So another change of plan. Together with Felix, whom I had met there and who also hiked the Glaralpina in individual sections, the path would lead me tomorrow via Brunalpelihöchi to Braunwald. After a fantastic raclette and lots of laughter at our table, I soon snuggled into my sleeping bag to be fit for the next day.

  • The route via Zeinenfurgglen should be bypassed in bad weather / snow. Take the route via Brunalpehöcheli instead.
  • The Glärnischhütte was completely rebuilt and renovated in 2023 and reopens in 2024. The base camp was only in use in 2023.
  • Mobile phone reception is not available anywhere, with any provider. This is something to consider when planning the next overnight stay.
  • No shower facilities available in 2023 at Basecamp, no running water, toilets are Kompotoi.
  • No extra charge for gluten-free food.
  • All information about the original route here: Stage 4

Day 5: Things often turn out differently than you think

The next day greeted me (finally!) with sunshine and blue skies. I started early to be able to enjoy the trail in peace and have time to take pictures. At a longer break, Felix joined me and we walked together for the next few hours. The landscape was huge, the ascent pleasant and constant, the sun warmed me pleasantly – finally, this is how I had imagined hiking the Glaralpina!

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View to Glattalp after crossing Brunalpelihöchi

I was pleased to notice that I had neither sore muscles nor blisters so far. While the landscape became more and more karstic, Felix explained to me a few things about the geological background. Exciting! I felt good on my tour and happy. Eventually he took a different path, planning to go to Braunwald via Bärentritt, while I headed for Gumen. On the last few kilometres it suddenly happened: out of nowhere a twinge in my left leg, on my calf, at knee level. Surprised, I thought to myself “I’ve never had anything like that before”, and continued walking for the time being. But soon every step hurt and I had to grit my teeth to make it to the hut. Shit, what is this?! A rest day would be great now, but I had planned it only for the day after tomorrow. I thought to myself, “Hopefully it will go away overnight”. In the evening I took all the medicine and ointments I had with me.

  • Various accommodations, depending on the route (via Brunalphöcheli or Zeinenfurgglen), one or the other is recommended.
  • My accommodation at Gasthaus Gumen cost CHF 78.20 including breakfast and dinner.
  • There was electricity / charging facilities and a hot shower.
  • Mobile phone reception is only available again about an hour before Gasthaus Gumen (coming from Glattalp / Bützi).
  • Connection to public transport is possible here via the gondola to Braunwald.
  • Dinner can be chosen from three dishes.
  • All information about the route here: Stage 5 (attention, due to the weather I had to take a different route)

Day 6: Stop n go to full stop - (temporary) abort

During the night I woke up several times with pain. Not a good sign… The next day I decided to continue walking to the Glattalphütte anyway and hoped that the break day would solve my problem. I had often thought to myself beforehand “I’ll be happy if I make it to Braunwald” – to set myself an intermediate goal, so to speak – but now that I was there, I certainly didn’t want to stop!

As a compromise, however, I decided on the gentler tour to the Glattalphütte via Charetalphüttli – fortunately, because for the last few hours I could no longer bend my leg at all and limped like a weird hiking gnome the last few kilometres to the hut. I knew there would be difficult moments. And yet you don’t like them when they are there. Sadness, frustration and disappointment dominated my thoughts, while a little later I looked from the terrace at the rock face through which stage 7 would lead. But that was out of the question at the moment.

After two more nights, I came to the bitter realisation that I had to stop here for the moment and see the doctor. At least this part of the hike ended with a magnificent sunset before I packed my things the next day and took the train down to Sahli. After changing to the bus and a cow traffic jam, the public transport brought me back to Zurich. Wistfully, I took one last look at the mountains for the time being – I would come back as soon as possible, I promise!

  • Two options for accommodation on Glattalp. For SAC huts, cancellations can be made free of charge up to 2 days in advance, but not for other accommodation.
  • Electricity / charging facilities were available at the SAC Hütte Glattalp and also a hot shower (at extra cost).
  • Gluten-free food costs CHF 9 extra.
  • Mobile phone reception is excellent (mast near the hut).
  • Connection to public transport via gondola to Sahli (beware, the bus only runs until the end of September!).
  • All information about the route here: Stage 6 (attention, due to my injury I chose a different route)

Facts & Figures

The overall route of the Via Glaralpina: green my route, red the sections I bypassed.

The first week took me from Ziegelbrücke to Glattalpsee – a total of 80.4km with 2930 positive and 2850 negative metres of altitude. Due to the snow, I had to hike stages 3 and 5 differently (my route in the graphic in green, the original stages in red). I voluntarily walked stage 6 differently due to my injury, but it was about the same distance with slightly less altitude metres.

Stories with videos from each day with more details can be found on my Instagram profile under “Highlights”.

Disclaimer: This blog post was written in collaboration with Via Glaralpina and Glarnerland Tourism. However, the report reflects my own experiences. This text was also written without AI (Chat GPT and Co.).

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