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Julia

Julia

Wind rotors and narrow tracks – week 3 on the Via Glaralpina

Hadn’t the wind just blown from behind? And were those small stones flying into my face? The forecast had predicted blue skies and the best hiking weather – but here I was, all alone finding my way through the dense fog from marker to marker at over 3,000 metres.

I had no idea about any of this the day before. I had woken up in the Bifertenhütte above Brigels, said goodbye to my mum and set off for the Panixerpasshütte. I was hiking alone again – the next day was to be the queen’s stage of the Via Glaralpina: blue and white on almost 11 km over the Bündner and Glarner Vorab.

Day 12 - Mice visit, ptarmigan sighting and ibex neighbours

So I set off in beautiful morning light but a cold wind. From a distance, I first watched the helicopter delivering new food to the hut for a moment and then a red dot – my mum – making its way through the vast landscape before being swallowed up by a few hills. One flat, barren plateau after another opened up in front of me. Not much changed, sometimes I climbed through a small dry stream gorge, sometimes I lost my way in the endless expanse.

Until suddenly a stone started moving in front of me – no, a ptarmigan! It had come out of its crouch in front of the rock and was now waddling leisurely along the path in its white shoes for five minutes before it turned off and went on its way. After a few hours, I finally reached the very simple and rustic hut on the Panixer Pass. I was alone – the hut is unattended – and it would stay that way. As I had started early, I now had the afternoon for myself.

I spent it reading at first, but my eyes soon closed. I slumbered away, snuggled up in my sleeping bag – until a noise abruptly woke me up. Drowsy, I opened my eyes – and saw a fat mouse sitting on the stone floor in front of me, staring at me. Oh, hi! Its rustling had brought me out of dreamland. After I had found its hole and watched it for a while, my gaze wandered to the window – and just at that moment, four ibexes passed leisurely by outside, very close to the hut.

A deep sense of calm spread through me, as I could almost feel the silence here – apart from the wind blowing around the house. After a simple evening meal on the camping cooker, I soon went to bed to be fit for the next day. I would remember the peace up here for a long time to come.

  • The hut is unattended and cannot be booked. It has about 20 beds, but then it gets very cramped – 12 is the more relaxed occupancy.
  • The overnight stay costs CHF 8, wood consumption CHF 3 per stove filling. Payment slips are in the hut.
  • The hut has no running water but a spring is 500 metres away. Canisters are available for transporting water.
  • Wood and a stove are available.
  • There is a toilet outside (Kompotoi) about 30 metres from the house, but it was in such a dubious state during my visit that I didn’t use it.
  • Reception is available with Swisscom (just about). On the route there was also usually reception until shortly before the hut.
  • You have to bring your own food and cooker, there are also pots and emergency food on site that can be heated on the stove with a fire.
  • The beds are rather old and dusty, as are the woollen blankets. I recommend bringing your own sleeping bag.
  • In my time there was a mouse in the dormitory, so I recommend not leaving any bags with edible contents on the floor.
  • All official information about the route here: To the stage

Day 13 - Queen's stage in the foehn rotor

After a relaxing night and a warm porridge in the morning, I checked my weather app one last time. The weather forecast was still good, so I set off in the direction of Sether accommodation, always along the border between Graubünden and Glarus. The gusts of wind were pulling at my hair and chilling my fingers on the ascent, so I had to use my gloves, hat and rain jacket as wind blockers for the first time.

Grey and dense clouds were already crouching above the peaks over which my path would lead. The path became narrower and narrower, the gusts stronger and stronger. Not the best combination, I thought to myself as I frowned at the dark bands of cloud on the horizon. Was the weather going to change unexpectedly? Should I keep going? I pulled myself up the next section on a chain, quite exposed. Hmmm. “Hopefully it won’t stay that steep in this wind.” A brief consultation with Christina, who knew the rest of the route, reassured me – the terrain was wider at the top. All right, on we went.

I soon reached the cloud line and was swallowed up. Everything appeared dull and grey, and I began to shimmy from marker to marker on my way to summit one. The surroundings were surreal, shadows kept appearing in the mist only to disappear again. Every time the path ran to the left of the ridge, I was able to breathe a sigh of relief as I had some protection from the wind, which constantly pulled at my clothes and brought tears to my eyes. Finally, the cairn at the summit of the Bündner Vorab appeared like an apparition out of nowhere. Number 1 done – unfortunately no view!

A few metres further on, strange struts suddenly emerged from the fog, which soon turned out to be the unoccupied mountain station of the Flims/Laax ski resort. I hadn’t expected that up here! However, the way there almost knocked me over – literally. At the pre-saddle between the two peaks, the wind was blowing so hard that I had to make lunges and small stones were blown into my face. Ok, that was a bit too intense, I didn’t want to get them in my eyes. I fled to a chairlift operation hut and could hardly believe it when I pressed the handle and the door opened. Hallelujah!

A short break, briefly out of the wind, a quick chat on the mobile phone – the information from the valley: Julia, you’re in a foehn rotor! A few hundred metres further down is blue sky! A second hallelujah. After a short visit to summit 2, the Glarner Vorab, I quickly set off on the descent and actually felt the sun on my face again about 300 metres below. Crazy! I’d never heard of a foehn rotor before.

I now descended steeply over smooth, washed-out slabs towards the Martinsmadhütte. Luckily the rocks were dry, otherwise it would have been a real slide. The last few hundred metres were quite a challenge – almost vertically down to the bottom of the Martinsmad on chains. Now full concentration and one last time mobilising the remaining strength! Step by step, I balanced and shimmied my way down, and soon I reached my destination. Relieved, I ordered a hot chocolate and crawled into the warm hut – finally out of the wind, which was blowing strongly down here too, like in a wind tunnel.

  • The first part of the route up to shortly after the Sether Hut is the most exposed part of the traverse, with very narrow, screey paths and steeply sloping flanks. The rest of the route over the two summits is wide and unproblematic.
  • The descent towards Martinsmad is definitely not recommended in wet conditions, as it is characterised by large, very smooth slabs. The last hundred metres in altitude are covered almost vertically on chains.
  • Gluten-free food was no problem at the Martinsmadhütte (by prior arrangement).
  • The hut has running water, electricity and toilets in the building. I think I saw a shower, but I don’t know if it’s for guests.
  • Reception was possible in front of the hut and almost everywhere on the route itself.
  • All information about the route here: To the stage

Day 14 - Eye food in shades of green

The last day of my holiday on the Glaralpina – I could hardly believe it. The muscle inflammation at the start had thrown my plan into disarray, but I already had a new plan of how I could still complete the tour this year. Still a little tired from the night, I set off early again to make the descent to Elm, where I would once again meet my mum. The foehn was still blowing wildly and plucking at my clothes and hair. I didn’t feel particularly well that morning, was unfocussed and slipped on loose scree for the first time on the whole tour. Maybe I should leave it at that today and head home?

Once I reached the valley, I allowed myself a short break before my familiar mantra appeared in my head again – “you can start a bit and see how far you get. Otherwise you’ll turn back”. Spoiler: I’ve never turned back before… So off my mom and me went on the ascent, which, after all those days in grey scree, was a pure pleasure for the eyes – it ran through soft grasslands. The path gently climbed up to the ridge, where the Fanenstock suddenly fell away abruptly and as if cut off.

After we had mastered a short blue and white passage, the long descent into the valley began – I would have nearly 2000 metres of negative altitude on my watch that evening from the whole day. On the way, we fantasised about ice cream – but we wouldn’t find anything on a Sunday, would we? While my mum visualised delicious ice cream, the metres in altitude gradually melted away. Finally, we emerged from the forest onto the valley floor and arrived at the first farmstead: and could hardly believe our eyes. There was ice cream in the self-service shop! What a feast!

  • The blue and white section has a short chain section and is otherwise simply characterised by a fairly steep grassy slope. I wouldn’t recommend it in snow and wet conditions can also be difficult, even if there is no direct danger of falling.
  • As I went home there, I have no information about accommodation.
  • Reception is available throughout the route.
  • All information about the route: To the stage

Day 15 - First and last time or cancellation in the snow

Final spurt! Almost, at least. My last Glaralpina block had begun, and now I really wanted to finish as quickly as possible – because the snow had arrived once again. I’d already had to reverse my stages and had started at 17 instead of 15, hoping that the sun would clear my route again. A race against winter, so to speak, as I was now back at work and only had a few days to spare.

In the evening I met Christina and Domenica, who had also started the Glaralpina this year and had caught up well in the meantime. We spent the night in Weissenberge, where we set off early again after a delicious breakfast. Winter was clearly putting out its feelers, the peaks around us shone white and the blueberry bushes had already put on their red autumn garb. Above all, the sun shone from a cloudless sky, yet small clouds of breath danced in front of our mouths as we climbed. We had soon left the tree line behind us when Christina spotted an avalanche barrier: “Have you ever taken a break up there?” We hadn’t. And so, like a ladder, we climbed the scaffolding and soaked up the landscape – accompanied by M&Ms and a few self-timer snapshots. What must be, must be!

The path led us further towards the Gulderstock, but after first our ankles and then our calves sank into the snow, we had to admit to ourselves – there was no point today. The terrain was too steep and the blue and white route too icy and snowy, and we hadn’t even reached the critical section yet. Breaking off and recognising the limit is also an art, and so we made our way down, slithering and sliding. When we soon reached a small lake, we took advantage of the perfect temperatures for a nap – we now had more than enough time. As we didn’t want to walk the long way back, we then made our way across country through some pretty bristly blueberry bushes. Let’s put it this way: I’ve come down the mountain easier and more elegantly before 😉

Nobody was motivated for the last ascent in the blazing sun on tarmac – while Christina and Domenica took it in their stride, I took my time and filmed and photographed a bit more. I was quite astonished when I arrived at the top – the two of them were already lying relaxed in the ice-cold trough in front of the house! Of course I had to try it out, and so I had my second “first time” that day (No. 1 was the avalanche defence). After the hut warden Werner had fulfilled one of our wishes – Älpermagronen! we went to bed early again. While the two of them abandoned the Glaralpina for the year, I wanted to try my hand at the next ridge tomorrow – and fervently hoped for less snow.

  • An early start is recommended, as the route is one of the longer ones on the Glaralpina.
  • The accommodation has running water at the fountain in front of the door and a toilet in the house, which is flushed with a bucket full of water.
  • There is no shower, but we were able to “bathe” in the fountain.
  • Gluten-free was no problem for dinner on request, but it’s best to bring something with you for breakfast.
  • Owner Werner is an incredibly nice host and runs the hut as a passion project alongside his job – it’s not an SAC hut!
  • All information about the route: To the stage

Day 16 - Ridge walk on the sunny side

So the next morning I set off alone, snacked on a few late blueberries on the bushes and studied the summit of my next destination: the Gufelstock. The blue and white route didn’t actually look that badly snow-covered, only in the upper part did I spot a closed snow cover. A glance at the map revealed that the ridge was facing south-west, which increased the chances of it being passable. While I originally wanted to bypass it, that voice appeared again: “Why don’t you go and have a look up there, maybe it’s still possible, you can always turn round or cross the top…”

If you’ve been reading along carefully, you’ll know how it ended: just under two hours later, I was standing on the summit. And from then on I enjoyed the wonderfully easy, blue and white ridge path, from which there was a huge panorama in all directions – including the entire route of the first week. Wow, I had walked all this! A few icy patches demanded my full concentration before I finally left the snow behind me and descended towards the Naturfreundehaus Fronalp. A look back at the day’s tour was exciting – the north side of the path looked impassable, the snow was so thick on this side. And yet it had been absolutely doable – perspectives sometimes can be deceptive.

  • The route over the ridge is a rather easy blue and white tour without chain points.
  • It is worth reading the geological information about the region, for example about Rotärd.
  • There is reception almost everywhere.
  • As I didn’t stay overnight there, I don’t have any information about accommodation.
  • All information about the route: To the stage

Day 17 - On the ridge towards the destination

This stage had it all again – scenically! After an initially flat, then increasingly steep ascent from Fronalp, we soon reached the Fedensattel and enjoyed the view down towards Talalpsee. Wow, was I looking forward to this tour, and also to the fact that this would be the last time my mum would be with me. We continued northwards on narrow paths towards Walensee. Light clouds were soon billowing around the surrounding peaks, giving everything a mystical touch. We followed chains around tight bends and over exposed rocks, with every curve in the path opening up a new panorama. The purest pleasure!

Once again, the blueberry bushes glowed red and gold in the sunlight and the already yellow grass swayed in the wind, while fir and pine trees exuded their aromatic scent. This tour was definitely another favourite on my Glaralpina hike! We finally reached the Nüenchamm, where we took a break on the side facing away from the wind. I could hardly believe that my tour was almost over! We then headed in a wide arc towards Habergschwänd, from where the Glaralpina would lead to Ziegelbrücke via Filzbach. However, we climbed back towards Fronalp – because I wanted to consciously enjoy the very last tour alone a few days later.

  • The route along the ridge is partly exposed and with chain sections. Certainly not the most difficult section of the Glaralpina, but not the easiest either.
  • The scrambling sections are very muddy/slippery when wet.
  • Reception is available almost everywhere.
  • All information about the route: To the stage

Final spurt: You have to walk under 5 bridges - to Ziegelbrücke

The moment had arrived – the final spurt. The last few metres down towards Filzbach and Walensee were not particularly spectacular on the outside, but the feeling inside me was all the more so. As I reached the bottom of the valley and crossed the five bridges at the mouth of the Linth, my pace quickened. The real last hour of my Glaralpina was dawning! Past Weesen, my destination of Ziegelbrücke was within reach – and then I let it all out. With a constant, huge smile on my face, I listened to my favourite music and sang along to the cows looking puzzled along the way.

I had made it! I had left my own doubts and thoughts from the beginning behind me, had grown a bit more, had learnt a lot and had been able to experience all this beautiful nature and moments. Pure happiness, wow! When I finally arrived in Ziegelbrücke and took one last final selfie, exactly where I had started a few weeks ago, the Glaralpina came full circle for me. Words can hardly describe the feeling. Wistfully, I took one last look back out of the train window until a very small thought began to surface: Whats next?

Facts & Figures

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

The last week on the Glaralpina took me from the Bifertenhütte to my final destination of Ziegelbrücke – a total of 100 km with 6742 positive and 8321 negative metres in altitude. Due to the weather, I ran stage 17 before 15 and 16, but I have included them in the correct order in this post. Stage 15 partially had to be cancelled and bypassed due to the snow.

Stories with videos from each day with more details are available on my Instagram-Profil under “Highlights”.

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

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