The Rhine-forest peak
Wednesday, June 19
The morning of June 19th. A wednesday. We had picked out our last Swiss mountain adventure for this trip: a climb up a mountain called the Rheinwaldhorn - a 3400m (11,600ft) peak in the Lepontine Alps not far south from the flat. The mountain is the second highest in that range, and is named after the Rheinwald or Rhine-Forest - a woodland in a nearby valley below the peak. The valley is one of the high sources of one of Europe's major rivers: the Rhine (in fact, one of the highest drainage faces for the Rhine River is the Rheinwaldhorn's northern face).
4th Breakfast in Switzerland
We had gotten up at 6 a.m., and after eating breakfast made the final preparations for our outing, which would be another two-day affair involving an overnight stay in a mountain hut. Before leaving, we checked the weather forecast one last time. Whereas the first four days of our trip had been basically perfectly clear and sunny, the next two were actually looking a bit iffy. A period of unsettled weather was moving through the Alps, and the forecast contained a good chance of intermittent showers and even a few thundershowers. On the other hand, the temperatures were forecast to moderate somewhat, something we hoped would firm up the soft snow conditions we had encountered earlier in the week.
Another calm morning
The start-point of our climb of the Rheinwaldhorn was in one of the Italian-speaking parts of Switzerland, in the province of Ticino. To get there, we had to drive up the Vorderrhein valley as far as Disentis, then take a highway south that led over the Lukmanier Pass. The height of land of the pass marks the boundary between the German-speaking province of Graubunden (where the flat is located) and the italian-speaking province of Ticino.
Once over the pass, we descended into Valle di Blenio, dotted with mountain towns that did indeed have a more Italian-looking quality to them. The weather was partially overcast and hazy. Absent were the clear blue skies we had experienced earlier in the week. As we neared the town of Dangio - our start point - we looked up in vain to catch a glimpse of the Rheinwaldhorn (actually called Adula by the Italian-speaking people in this valley), but clouds and haze obscured our view.
Once in the town of Dangio, we stopped a bit to get our bearings. My research indicated that we could start from this town (there were a couple of other possible start points, but I preferred this one the most), but it wasn't immediately clear where the best trailhead access point was. We explored a bit of the town, which was defnitely Italian in both character and language), admiring the dusty industrial elegance of an old chocolate factory (Cioccolato Cima Norma) along the way.
Soon we located the trailhead and car park right in the town itself; however, I had also noticed, on the car's nav system, that a narrow road that seemed to wind up into the hill above town, roughly parallelling where the trail seemed to go. Was it possible that there was a higher car-park along the trail system?
To find out, we guided our rental car up a narrow and steep (but paved) street (called the Zona Ciasureta) leading up through the town. The road remained clear, paved and navigable, quickly rising in switchbacks across open fields and past houses before plunging into a thick forest. Presently we arrived at a wider gravelled area with a gated hydro-electricity related tunnel on one side. The road continued, now gravel, but there was a "no non-authorized vehicles beyond this point" red-and-white circle, forcing us to stop. Happily, though, we also saw trail signs marking the same path as we had seen down below in town. This was indeed a higher access point. Carefully parking the car against the far edge of the parking area, we got our stuff ready for the beginning of our climb.
Heading up the Val Soi
The weather above wasn't looking so hot as we shouldered our packs on. It was overcast and looking a little dark. Combined with the forecast for unsettled weather, it looked as if we might be about to head into our first bit of wet-weather hiking.
A construction worker happened past as we were getting ready to go. He gave us the once-over, quickly assessing that we were about to do something mountainous. He then uttered a single word: Adula? I nodded yes in the affirmative, and he then gave a dubious look at the sky overhead. I responded with a small helpless shrug and an "I know".
It was shortly after 10am by the time we started walking up the gravelled road. We were following the Val Soi valley for a ways, up to a point where the trail would veer off left and begin what looked like (on the map, anyway) a very steep and switchbacking ascent of the valley side, culminating in a flat terrace a full thousand metres (~3300ft) above us.
Although the skies looked pregnant above us, it did not rain. Mostly we were walking on a gravelled road, and occasionally the trail markers would guide us off onto a grassy shortcut that would bypass a few switchbacks in said road. We would also occasionally get glimpses of old-looking houses in little meadows here and there through the thick trees, and once in a while a 4x4 vehicle would drive by. It seemed as if there were some people living in houses up in this valley. Or perhaps these were summer cottages of some sort. Some of them, we noticed, were actually up for sale.