Friday, 7 October 2016

A Second Day of Hiking in the Sardona Tectonic Area

This is, as the title says, the second day of hiking in this region; the first day can be found here. This post is going up a day late due to midterms - I'm still working at keeping a consistent posting schedule!

When I woke up on Sunday morning in the Segneshütte, I took my time getting out of bed, still revelling in the luxury of a private room and the joy of staying in this hut high in the amazingly beautiful Swiss alps.

I’d had vague thoughts of rising early to see about photographing sunrise light on the Tschingelhörner but had ultimately chosen sleep, and – this being the height of summer – by the time I awoke the sun was already high in the sky though it was still fairly early.
Late-morning sun and brilliantly blue skies as I set out on my hike.
The visitor centre for the Sardona Tectonic Area is right next to the hut. I popped in for a quick look before starting my hike; the visitor centre is really aimed at children, so I found it uninteresting and was done within a few minutes (it’s also only in German, so be warned).

The informational tablets next to the hut were slightly more useful, though I’d seen the majority of the information in my pre-hike research.

I didn’t linger long and was soon leaving the hut behind. However, I didn’t go far to begin with, only down into the valley to find a nice flat rock to eat my breakfast on.
I've definitely had breakfast in worse locations...(excuse the grass in the forefront of the picture, this is what happens when you travel without a tripod).
Then I shouldered my backpack and camera bag and began retracing my steps from the previous evening.

The waterfall was no less awe-inspiring by daylight than it had been the evening before, its thunder no quieter and still a sound felt as much as heard. At its base the water is first a narrow, fast-moving stream, but quickly widens and calms into dozens of little, meandering rivulets in a gravel bed. It is the kind of landscape I loved playing in as a child, throwing rocks and making dams, and I did at various points in time see young families splashing around in the water.

A long, narrow bridge made of tree trunks sawed in half crosses at the base of the waterfall. Balancing across the bridge, thundering water to one side of me and (comparatively) deep and fast-flowing water below and to the other side, was a bit of a thrill and lent a sense of adventure to the beginning of my hike.
Approaching the back of the valley; the trail continues up and towards the left.
At the back end of the valley, the ascent with its switchbacks heading back and forth was steeper than it had appeared from a distance the day before. Due to a combination of not being used to walking up (a problem that would haunt me for the remainder of my time in Switzerland) and not being acclimatized, I was huffing and puffing badly and had to take frequent breaks. 
Getting close to the end of the valley!
But, looking back down the way I’d come, I was amazed both at the view that opened ever further before my eyes, and at how quickly I’d ascended the elevation in front of me.
The view back the way I'd come.
Then, suddenly, the trail stopped witching back and forth and heading straight back again. Looking around, I realized I was in a second, higher valley, above the one I had admired and spent so much time in the day before.

In contrast to the long, steep lower valley, this one looked to be a glacial cirque, round and gently sloping. The mountains still rose sheer and steep and awe-inspiring above me, but I was far above that flat expanse I had hiked through not long before.
In the upper valley, hiking below the Tschingelhörner.
The ground had changed as well. Gone was the smooth meadow of the lower valley; though there was still vegetation clinging stubborn and green to whatever soil it could find, much of the valley bottom was rock, ranging from scree and rubble in patches and landslide paths to near-house-sized monoliths standing lonely and exposed on the valley floor.
View back, inside the upper valley. I wish I'd taken a picture of myself next to the big rock; it was easily twice my height.
There was a further, important change from the lower valley, as you can see in the picture above: snow. Patches and fields of snow, distributed seemingly arbitrarily across and in between the vegetation and rock.

And one of these snow fields was right in my path…
Snow in my path!
There would be several more before the hike was done.

And, suddenly, the Martinsloch was before me. Much like the fault line, the hole looks like something carved by human hands and not made by natural forces.
The brilliant, cloudless blue sky I had been graced with all day made for perfect photography conditions…

I had started off the hike in solitude, but as I approached the back of the cirque I encountered an increasing number of fellow hikers. This was due to both the time (it was approaching lunchtime at this point) and the fact that three different trails joined at the rear of the cirque. One was the one I was on; another one went back the way I’d come as well, but climbing above the valley in lieu of heading back down. The third one continued on the way I was heading, towards the rear of the cirque and then up and over the Segnespass and eventually down to the village of Elm.
The Segnespass, with an adorable Swiss flag at the top.
I was under some time constraints, as I had to be back in time to unpack from the weekend and repack for the trip to Jungfraujoch the next morning, so I preferred to return home from Flims where I knew the bus schedule and train connections. Had I not been constrained by that excursion, I would have liked to cross over the pass and hike down to Elm. Next time I’m in the country, maybe?

I took a small break at the spot where the three trail intersected and had the first part of my lunch (when hiking I tend to eat several smaller meals throughout the day rather than one big lunch), nodding at the hikers that passed me. Then, feeling refreshed, I set off on the higher path.

But first, I had to get through several more snow fields, including one slightly frightening one that ended abruptly at a drop-off (though the path hikers before had trodden into it carefully avoided this drop). I also broke through the snow a few times – I can tell you that feeling snow on bare legs while a hot sun is beating don on you makes for a strange contrast!

Once out of the snow, the trail narrowed as it climbed the side of the valley. At the same time, the valley was dropping away below me, and almost before I knew it my friendly trail had transformed into a narrow dirt path set in a steep cliffside, far above the valley bottom.
Further views, back down the way I'd come. I was quite high up at this point!
But this was, of course, the kind of trail I had wanted to hike, and so I continued onward. I made sure to pick my footing carefully but was not otherwise worried.

Then I got the first scree slope. I don’t particularly like walking on scree if I can avoid it, and a narrow path across a steep, scree-covered slope dropping far down to the valley below is not something I could claim to enjoy. And this with little fear of heights.
The view back and into the upper cirque. If the scree was unpleasant, at least the views were spectacular!
Then came another scree slope. Then I got to the snow field. If I had thought the scree bad, the snow field was worse. On the scree, I’d at least had a flattened path had been trodden by countless hikers talking the trail before me, and I could be reasonably certain that that path was stable and would not go sliding or tumbling out under me. Though there was also a path through the snow, I had no way of being certain that the snow hadn’t weakened under my steps, and even if it wasn’t about to go sliding off the mountain, it could still crumble under me and cause me to lose my balance, which on a steep, exposed mountainside could end quite badly. I picked my steps gingerly through the snow, testing each step carefully before committing my weight to it.
The snow field, with the final scree segment behind, giving you an idea of just how steep and exposed this segment was.
When I reached the final patch of scree, I nearly turned around and went back the way I’d come. 

The slope had been getting progressively steeper, and this field looked as thought it sat at a 60° angle to the valley floor (it likely wasn’t quite that steep, but still quite frightening). On top of the steepness, the path was less pronounced here than it had been on the previous segments, having been reduced to little more than a narrow line hinted at across the loose rock. Only the knowledge that I’d have to go back through the snow and scree I had just picked my way through, my stubbornness and dislike of giving up, and the fact that the end was in sight persuaded me to keep going instead. I mustered all of my courage and picked my way step by step across, trying to avoid looking down.

On the other side, the trail widened again, and there were steel cables to hold onto for security (far too late, in my opinion). Shaking and sweat-soaked, I took hold of the cable, leaned into the wonderfully solid rock wall, and attempted to catch my breath.
The cool texture of the rock, flaky and paper-thin.
The trail at this point was hewn into a nearly vertical rock face. While I paused, I studied the rock beside me. It had a fascinating texture, seemingly composed of paper-thin sheets layered one on top of the next, with the occasionally quartz vein gleaming in the brilliant sunlight.
Some beautiful quartz veins in the rock.
The path did not hug the cliff face long before reaching the top. Here, the trail broadened and levelled as it turned away from the edge and towards another flat, high plain. At the top there was a bench (of course!) and a small meadow, perfect for a picnic for second lunch, with sweeping views over the valley where the hut was and the Tschingelhörner to one side and the flat plain I’d seen when I crested the hill to the other.
Taking a lunch break, with views.
I was fascinated, too, by the flat plain beside me, the Upper Segnesboden (the hut is located in the Lower Segnesboden). It is a flat-bottomed bowl, peaks rising gently on its edges, water and a strange, low, reddish-brown vegetation in its center. From what I understand, this spot a high-alpine bog or moor, a very rare landscape and not one I can recall seeing before (German Wikipedia calls it a raised bog, for those curious). The two Segnesboden landscapes together make up a national protected area for both their rarity and their beauty.
The Upper Segnesboden; you can see the moor landscape quite clearly.

The path split again; I chose the section that continued approximately in the same direction I’d been hiking before, skirting the bog and remaining above the Lower Segnesboden, towards Crap la Tgnia and eventually the gondola station.

This portion of the trail rose and fell, sometimes giving wide views to the one side or the other, sometimes hiding me between little green hillocks. As I made my way around the moor and towards the lower valley and the hut, the water from the moor gradually collected itself first into little rivulets, and from there into larger streams that eventually flowed together into a single, twisting, fast-flowing creek.
The far end of the Upper Segnesboden, with the creek starting to form.
This creek had carved itself a path into the rock, leading to the big waterfall I had seen earlier. This path turned into a narrow canyon with the water far below, remarkable, twisting sculptures  carved into the rock. Peering down into the canyon was fascinating.
Natural sculptures in the little canyon.
By the time the trail crossed the stream, the canyon was already very deep, and I held my sunglasses and camera bag carefully as I stepped across.

Unfortunately, the stream beside me highlighted a problem: I was out of water. It was hot and sunny, and I was sweating and getting progressively thirstier and risking dehydration. I didn't foresee myself making it back to the gondola station without picking up water along the way, particularly if I'd have to hike back along the dry, exposed hillside I had found so tiring the day before. After some internal debate, I decided to make a small detour back to the hut before retracing my steps from the day before.
Views on the way down.
The trail descended steeply, though it was well-built and easily manageable. The dull thunder of the waterfall was a companion for the first portion of the descent, and there was a small viewpoint around a third of the way providing heart-pounding view down the narrow, vertical cylinder through which the water tumbled.

Once rehydrated at the hut, I made my way back to the lift, partially walking fast and partially jogging. I was eager to get back home now and prepare for the trip to Jungfraujoch the next day. Unfortunately, when I got to the station I learned that the lift wasn't working...and that I'd underestimated the sun and altitude and gotten a nasty sunburn, one of the worst I've ever had. Oops!

What followed was a fairly funny story of the otherwise pretty well flawless Swiss public transit system not working, but I think I'll put that in another post. I did eventually make it home, unpacked, showered, and speed-cooked and -packed, and raced back to Brugg (my friend Dominik, who lives by the train station, had kindly offered to let me stay at his place, thus saving me the half-hour bike ride prior to catching a 6am train).

Dominik would, several weekends later, take his family to this region when they came to visit, after I raved about it, showed him my pictures, and gave him the tourist brochures I'd picked up.

To get to Flims, take the post bus 081 from Chur Main Station (it also stops at Chur Agip if you're coming from the Giger Bar), towards Laax GR. This bus runs twice an hour most of them time, though occasionally only once per hour, so it's a good idea to check the schedule beforehand. Get off at the stop "Flims Dorf, Bergbahnen" if you're planning to take a lift up.

Trains run from Zürich Main Station to Chur very regularly; the fast trains run every half hour, generally, and match up well with the post bus.

To get to the hike I did, take the lift up the station Naraus (you'll switch half way up at Foppa), then follow the signage to Segneshütte. You can find a map of the hike I did on the first day here. On the second day I hiked through the Lower Segnesboden towards Segnespass, then past the upper Segnesboden, back down to the lower Segnesboden, and then back to the station. You find the map here; I started from the hut on the lower, left-hand trail and returned on the higher, right-hand trail. (Hint: under "Maps Displayed", you can select "Hiking Trails" and see all the other paths you can connect to the ones I took!)

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