Rested and satiated, we continued on, now following waymarks painted on rocks and boulders. We soon came to a crossing of the main stream, which turned out to be our first challenge of the day. The trail crossed the stream on an exceedingly simple bridge: two planks of unsecured wood placed side-by-side. The planks of wood were perhaps 5 metres long, which made them rather bouncy and springy in the middle. Crossing this narrow and somewhat unstable setup was a bit of an exercise in calming one's nerves.
Above the crude bridge, the trail began winding its way up the Val Acletta's headwall. We were treated to increasingly spectacular views back across the Vorderrhein valley to the peaks on the other side. Brian was feeling a bit under the weather and was moving a little slower than usual. Waiting for him to catch up was no trouble at all - not with these sorts of views to occupy your time.
Climbing out of Val Acletta
Soon we topped out above Val Acletta and arrived at a grassy terrace known as Lag Serein, presumably named after the little pond of water nearby also known as Lag (Lake) Serein. There was a small building/hut thing here, which looked a bit like a place that hikers and skiers could stop at, but for whatever reason it was closed and no one was about today. Perhaps it was too early in the summer season for it to be open. We spent a bit of time here taking another rest break. Fabulous views to the south.
From Lag Serein, we again followed the blue signs for the Cavardiras Hut (blue trail signs, by the way, indicate 'alpine routes' in Switzerland). The signs pointed to a fainter path that led up behind the little building we had stopped at, heading uphill into another higher valley called the Val da Lag Serein. This was a much higher, more alpine valley than was Val Acletta. In fact, the headwall at its upper end is part of the main backbone of the Glarus Range. We would be surmounting this 'backbone' of rock at a spot called the Brunni pass.
But first, back to the lower part of this new valley. As I had mentioned a page or so back, Switzerland had recently received a very late spring dump of snow, and this was clearly now in evidence. We could see that the snowline was not far away, perhaps only at about the 2200m (7200ft) level - somewhat low for this time of year. Furthermore, the land below the snowline was criss-crossed by many small rapidly flowing streams of snowmelt. The hot almost-summer sun was doing its work on all of that fresh snow!
Soon we reached the snow - and it was indeed soft, although at first, not quite as bad as we had expected. Donning an extra layer of sunscreen and ensuring that we had our sunglasses on (for it was now blindingly bright without them), we started kicking steps in the snow. Above, the scene was now all rugged alpine grandeur - sharp, jagged peaks and ridges of rock, streaked and coated with brilliant white snow. No greenery at all up here.
Climbing under Piz Acletta
Climbing under Piz Acletta
We had initially thought that despite the fresh snow and warm temperatures, that the snow wasn't all that soft. Well, either we were initially deluded or the snow got softer as we ascended, for it was not long before we seemed to be sinking in deeper as we went along. The snow had a not-quite-slush-but-still-quite-soft quality to it. We were sinking in past the tops of our boots, which is typically a sign that you are climbing in conditions that are too soft.
When snow gets this soft, there is always the possibility of wet snow avalanches. Indeed, looking up to the walls of the valley, we could see recent evidence of precisely that. Every so often there was the telltale sign of a slide of snow - a scar of mottled looking snow that cut down an otherwise smooth-looking slope. We kept going, thinking that perhaps these slides had happened during the days immediately after the snows, and that things were more secure now. At any rate, so far we had not noticed new slides occurring.
Andrew, Val da Lag Serein
View downwards, Val da Lag Serein
Beautiful weather... too beautiful
Although we weren't quite sure about the snow stability situation, we were becoming quite sure about the level of effort required to climb in these conditions - and that level was definitely high. The collapse of a half-foot or more of soft snow under your feet with each step adds a very substantial amount of effort. Think of it as climbing in soft sand - but worse. Our progress slowed considerably.
The head of the Val da Lag Serein slowly, painfully slowly, got nearer. From our vantage point, it looked like a fairly formidible barrier - a solid curved wall of rock barring further progress. However, as we got closer, we saw that there were a couple of fingers of snow that seemed to extend steeply up the right-hand area of the wall. Could one of these fingers of snow be the route up to the Brunnipass?
The closer we got, the more it seemed like this was the way to go. Confirmation came with the spotting of a large arrow-type symbol, painted in blue and white, on the bare bedrock to the left of the gully of snow. In summer it is quite likely that this gully is entirely free of snow, but on this day it was mostly entirely full of snow. It looked steep but it looked quite doable.
We stopped for a break and to put on helmets - always a wise choice when there's any danger of sliding down steep snow.
Since we were a little bit wary about the stability of the snow, we chose our route carefully, thinking about the best route to mitigate any fall that might result from an uncontrolled slide due to a failure of the snow to hold our steps. We then carefully kicked solid steps up the steep gully, our ice axes easily plunging in right up to the head.
Looking up, we saw a sharp crest not far above, and beyond that, a sign on a metal post. A few minutes later the steep snow climb was over, and we stepped onto the crest of the Glarus Alps - at this point a ridge perhaps 3 or 4 metres across. We had arrived at the Brunnipass.