Attempt on Oberalpstock
Sunday, June 16
I had done a bit of pre-planning before heading out on this trip, with regards to what mountain-outings we'd consider attempting. I came up with a pool of five or six different climbs, of varying levels of difficulty and length. As our trip approached, I spent a lot of time trying to gauge what the mountain conditions would be during our week-long stay. Weather, snowpack depth, snow quality, our own fitness levels - all of these would have an impact on what choices we would make.
Just two weeks prior to our arrival, Switzerland received a rare late and heavy spring snowfall. The weather reports indicated that the Glarus Alps region (where we were located) had received upwards of 100 centimetres of snow at higher elevations. This concerned me, since it meant that there was likely to be a large amount of fresh and as-yet unconsolidated snow (typically by the end of June, the snowpack is settling into summer firn conditions, which yields a relatively solid surface upon which to climb). Furthermore, the weather for the next few days was forecast to be unseasonably warm. This would probably only further exacerbate the soft snow problem.
I had half-thought about bringing snowshoes on the trip, but they would have added a considerable amount of bulk to our already bulging luggage, and in the end we left them home.
First day of climbing
As a result of the uncertain conditions, we chose to cross a couple of the more challenging, higher ascents off our our list. As our first outing, we settled on something which on paper seemed relatively straightforward - a climb of a 3295-meter (10,800-foot) peak called Oberalpstock. The climb of the summit was rated as easy, and furthermore we could use a mountain hut close by as a good launch point.
Idyllic Swiss Countryside
As predicted, the weather was sunny and very warm - a beautiful day, really - just a little too warm for our purposes. We packed the car with our gear and headed off out of Waltensburg on a little narrow back-road that headed up-valley on the terrace above the Vorderrhein river. The scenery was so nice in spots along this little farm road that we simply had to stop and take a few pictures.
Stereotypical Swiss Scene
Eventually we re-joined with the main valley highway and headed west for another twenty minutes or so to the town of Disentis, home to a large and notable Benedictine Monastery, dating back to the 700s.
In my research, I had found that there was a chairlift that we could use to assist our start and lessen the elevation gain. This chairlift (called the Caischavedra lift) brought one up from the town to an altitude of 1862m (5500 feet), saving us about 400m (1500 feet) of elevation gain. However, when we arrived at the chairlift's base station, the parking lot was dead, and all doors were locked. Bummer.
After a little bit of discussion we felt that we'd just absorb the extra effort, as it would be too much trouble and not time efficient to re-vector to another destination at this point. We had deliberately started a little later than usual in order to recover a bit from our travels of the day before, and we didn't really have the time.
Ready for Oberalpstock
We spent a bit of time exploring the little mountain roads above Disentis, searching for the one that would allow us the highest start. We eventually located such a spot in one of Disentis' little satellite hamlets - a place called Acletta. We found a convenient little parking wayside at an altitude of 1293m (4240ft).
Shortly after noon, we were ready to head out, looking forward with interest to our first climb up into the high country on this trip.
Our plan was to climb the Oberalpstock over two days. There is a mountain hut situated high up, only three kilometres from the peak. In order to make the climb a bit less rushed, we decided that we would stay there for the night, get an early start the next morning to summit the peak, then descend down back into the valley. A tidy little plan that was definitely reasonable and achievable - so long as the conditions were in our favor.
No cars beyond this point
For now, at least, the conditions were just fine - sunny, a little breezy, warm. Perhaps a bit too warm, but still nice. We started off up an asphalted road, following the blue trail signs marked for the Cavardiras Hut - the high mountain rifuge that would be our destination for the night.
We were climbing up via a deep and straight side valley that plunged down from the high country above. Called the Val Acletta, it is one of the many little valleys that drain the southern slopes of the main spine of the Glarus Alps.
We settled into a slow but steady pace. The trail we were following doubled as a rough farm track, and it pretty much followed the straight line of the valley floor, and did not wander or switchback very much. It grew steeper in its midsection, climbing up through a band of thick forest. The farm track itself stayed next to the valley's stream, and the land was cleared for some distance to either side. Therefore, it was completely open to the sun. Being at the bottom of a sheltered valley meant very little wind, and this section of our hike was therefore quite sweaty and hot.
Fortunately, the air grew cooler - as it always does - as we ascended. By the time we reached treeline, at about 1700m / 5600ft, it had become both a bit cooler and a bit breezier - a welcome change. Up above, we could see tantalizing glimpses of snow-covered alpine peaks.
Now past the forest, we emerged into the treeless alpine bowl that marked the upper end of the Val Acletta. Meltwater rushed down from many several little streams to merge with the main channel in the valley bottom. In the near distance, we could see a low stone farmhouse, and decided to use that as a our first major stop, for both rest and food.
Typical Brian Ortho Break