Saturday, September 5th
Hiking the Crap da Flem
Our third day in Switzerland dawned very clear and very sunny -- finally, the several day-long stretch of unsettled and wet weather had moved on.
Asmir and Miriam's knees and hiking gusto had recovered to the point where they were ready for another mountain hike, although there was some concern about another long, punishing descent. I gathered up my maps and settled into a corner, poring over them to find some outing that gave us a lot of scenic value without a lot of knee-damaging descent.
Breakfast at the Flat
I dug up a route that I had been contemplating as a possibility during early research back in Ottawa. It was a hike up to a high ridgetop that offered the possibility of doing the descent entirely via a lift system. The hike up, though having a lot of elevation gain, seemed straightforward and entirely on marked routes. Asmir and Miriam seemed keen on the idea (I think they were expecting to have to endure some sort of downhill pain, so this was a pleasant surprise). This route was probably the only way (in the immediate vicinity) we were going to do something that was not a flat valley walk.
After a hearty breakfast of cold cuts, freshly baked bread buns, and excellent cheeses (in fact, this was our breakfast for all of our days at the flat thus far), we hoisted our packs and headed out. It was a relatively short 20 minute drive down-valley to the town of Flims, a larger more resort-oriented town not far from Ilanz. We parked at the large carpark next to the base of the lift-system we would be using for our descent, and then walked over to a nearby bus stop to catch our bus to the start point of the hike (Although we could have started the walk right from the town of Flims, doing so would have added an additional 1500 feet / 500m of climbing and an extra 5km or so of walking).
As we sat in the slow-moving bus on it's way up narrow roads, we could see large walls of light-colored limestone to our north. This, I knew, was the lower end of the Crap da Flem -- A large, tilted plateau of rock that started not far northeast of town and which continued upvalley for a ways. At a bus stop partway up the route, in a little hamlet called Fidaz, a large number of outdoorsy types got off our bus and approached a few climber-like gentlemen with an array of climbing helmets and harness all around them. I suspected this was a guided group going up the 'Pinut' via ferrata that I knew existed on this lower edge of the plateau.
Continuing upwards, the bus carefully negotiated the narrow, switchbacking road up through forest for about 15 minutes, until suddenly the road levelled out and ended at a small parking lot with a few buildings scattered about. This was Bargis, the end of public road access and the beginning (for us) of our hike.
As I said earlier, our hike involved climbing up to the top edge of the 'Crap da Flem'. Essentially, the Crap da Flem is a long, tilted grassy plateau of pastureland, with rock cliffs on all sides. The route we were taking to get up onto this plateau was a very old one, having been constructed (i.e. hewn out of the rock) hundreds of years ago. If you look at the pictures here, you can clearly see the ruler-straight grade of the trail as it cuts diagonally upwards towards the plateau.
The lower end of this historic trail was just steps from where the bus let us off, so in minutes we were on our way up.
Trail and Aua da Mulins Valley
The grade started moderately steep, then quickly increased to very steep. It wasn't long before the continuous steep grade had us warm and sweating.
The bed of the trail was mostly a coarse cobblestone arrangement of stones. The outer edge of the trail was lined with electrified cattle fence, which bolstered my thought that this was how they got cattle up to and down from the plateau.
The higher we got, the more spectacular the trail was. As we came out of the vegetated zone, the trail cuts, in a very pronounced manner, diagonally up through steeply sloping rock slabs, and the outer edge of the trail was essentially the edge of a pretty precipitous drop. Down below was a great view of the verdant flat farming valley of the Aua da Mulins.
Everyone was moving very quickly, and it was in short order that we reached the top of the constructed trail and emerged onto the grassy, sloping pastures of the Crap da Flem. The trail was now much less steep, and we walked through open fields to a couple of farming buildings, thinking they were public huts. They were not, but a resident inside indicated that we could have a snack on the outside bench.
Rested and re-energized, we continued on. The route from this point on wandered up the center of the plateau, gradually increasing altitude until we got to the ridge marking the top edge.
Although the weather was overall nice and sunny, a bank of cloud doggedly kept clinging to and around the plateau, often obscuring our views and blocking the nice warm sun.
As we got closer to the top, we could see hints of the large dropoffs at the edges of the plateau around us. Far above, we could now see a line of hikers silhouetted against open sky, and surmised that they must be walking along the ridgecrest at the top edge of the plateau. We looked forwards to the [probably] fabulous view soon to come!
With one final steep push, we gained the crest of the ridge. And... whoosh... it certainly did mark the upper edge of the plateau! The land just ended, and we stood atop a massive cliff of several thousands of feet (many hundreds of metres) in height. Beyond the cliff was a grand panorama of the higher peaks of the Graubunden-Glarus divide, lightly dusted with snow from yesterday's precipitation. Most beautiful!
We stopped for a series of well-earned pictures, waiting for pesky clouds around us to clear out and give us some solid sunlight. I think it's a fair statement to say that everybody was suitably impressed with the view and the situation.