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June 10th 2019

Another nice hike with many spring flowers

Today a stage of the Via Alpina was on the program: a next hike as a continuation of the wonderful track I have hiked last year, on op September 23th 2018. That has been Stage 61 of the Red Trail of the Via Alpina: from the Caschina Hut to St. Antönien, but which I have hiked as a round trip: from St. Antönien to the Carschina Hut and back again. That tour was such a joy! The next stage, Stage 62, runs from St. Antönien to the village Gargellen, just across the border in Austria. AS it still is early in the year and in winter, but also in recent times, a lot of snow has fallen, the authorities have warned for the dangers of hikes above 2.000 metres: not only because of the soft layers of snow where one can sink in, but definitely also for the patches of hard snow, on which one doesn’t have any grip and can easily slip away. Therefore I knew that I would not be able to hike this stage in its entirety, but I could manage at least a part of it!

That is why this morning again I took the 09.18 hrs Postal car from the railways station in Küblis to the village of St. Antönien, which is situated to the north of Küblis on the mountain slopes of the Landquart valley. It was quite busy in the Postal car: today it was Whit Monday, a non-working day! It was a trip through a familiar, but still impressive scenery, with still some wisps of fog between the trees on the slopes of the valley with the Schanielbach stream which will mouth into the river Landquart near Küblis. I stayed on the Postal car until the final stop: Rüti. Last year I went straight on to the north into the direction of the mountain tops of the Wyss Platte. Now a sign – even with an indication of the Via Alpina – to the right: St. Antönier Joch, Gargellen! Straight on of to the right: it doesn’t matter much for St. Antönien, for the slogan for this village is “Hinter dem Mond links” (behind the moon, to the left)! This emphasises the character of their authentic Walser village situated in an unspoiled mountain landscape…

At Rüti the Schanielbach stream from the north and the Gafierbach stream from the east join and flow underneath the small bridge. In comparison to Autumn last year these streams had turned into wild mountain stream carrying a lot fast-flowing water. At first I walked on a paved road along the Gafierbach. I had a nice view on the mountain Wyss Platte, which wasn’t just white because of the limestone, but also with snow on its steep slopes. On a large information panel was mentioned that Berghaus Edelweiss had opened: that hut is upstream in the Gafia valley and that was my final destination.

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Above St. Antönien: here the Schanielabach stream and the Gafienbach stream come together, with lots of water

The Gafia valley is a rather narrow valley with on the mountain slopes green, steep meadows, remote farms, sometimes in small groups and woodlands, mainly spruces. This is an ideal area for all types of hikers, as it is accessible by car: there are thirteen parking plots – the last one is near the Berghaus Edelweiss. The trail runs along the Gafierbach. At first the stream flows rather on the same level alongside the path, but later on the water is murmuring deep below, especially in the wooded areas with spruces. Under a small roof quite a pile of burning wood has been stacked en a few moments later I spotted down by the stream a picknick table and a grilling spot built in bricks with a fixed metal grid. I have read somewhere that the Swiss love making fire and grilling – when somewhere along a hiking trail wood is put near a “Feuerstelle” (fire place) they get excited. Around the “Grillplatz Furra” the area was still covered with some large patches of snow, but apparently that could not spoil the fun, as on my way back I heard happy children’s voices and I saw a few kids playing around in the snow and others near the stream, while the parents were busy preparing the picknick! A fire was crackling and it smelled nicely of barbecue…

After threequarters of an hour hiking along the Gafia stream I suddenly arrived on a broad and open part of the valley: the surroundings were wide with many green meadows and at the beginning of the valley a mountain range, that was still covered in snow almost completely till into the valley: a. o. the Madrisahorn (2.803 m) and the Rätschenhorn (2.703 m). This mountain range forms the separation between this valley and the area above Klosters in the Landquart valley. Here also is the crossroads on this hike. The track of Stage R62 towards Gargellen turn towards the northeast – I will surely follow that road any time in the future! After a few minutes I arrived at a road sign indicating “Dörfji, 1.605 m” with an arrow pointing east towards the Rätschenjoch, the pass to Klosters. On one of the boards of the wooden fence was an arrow pointing to Berghaus Edelweiss. In the meantime the sun had managed to break through the clouds and the temperatures were higher. I had already been en route for more than an hour.

After I left St. Antönien Rüti I had spotted again many beautiful flowers and plants, that of course made the hike even more interesting. Some were typical flowers of spring, which I normally don’t see: usually I visit the mountains much later in the year. The Spring gentians (Gentiana verna) were growing in large patches: their bright-blue star like flowers were visible from afar! The February daphne (Daphne mezereum) is also well-known in the Netherlands as a garden shrub, but it was quite special to see those barren, leafless twigs with small purple fragrant flowers against the background of mountains and waterfalls. But also here – like those sweet-smelling white narcissuses in Seewis – there is a hidden danger: some parts of the plants are extremely poisonous. In this case the berries and the twigs that can be fatal: for an adult 10 to 12 berries are lethal, for horses just 30 grams of the bark! Symptoms of asphyxiation occur and permanent damage to the kidneys and the central nervous system are possible… Another variety of the Daphne family, a creeper with a fragrant smell, which only grows in the Alps, is equally very poisonous: the Daphne striata, which literally means “Striped Daphne”, but that is also called”Alpen-Steinröschen“. Furthermore the Large White Buttercups (Ranuculus platanifolius), which grow here in the Alps and which I saw growing on the banks of the Gafia stream in large quantities in a cloud of little white flowers, the yellow Mountain Cowslips (Primula auricula), the Alpine anemone (Pulsatilla alpina) with its bright yellowish-white flower and dark foliage, the obviously calcicole Mountain avens (Dryas octopetala) which grows in the Alps, but also in arctic regions, like on Spitsbergen! The shining yellow star-shaped flowers of the yellow star-of-Bethlehem (Gagea lutea), part of the Lily family, stood also out in the sunshine. Many Butterburs (Petasites hybridus) were growing at the banks of the Gafia stream and on the humid slopes: a lot of leafless stems with dusky pink flower clusters. There also is a white variety occurring in mountainous areas: the White Butterbur Petasites albus. It is smaller and looks more elegant. The combination with the purple Alpine snow-bell (Soldanella alpina) flowering with those small calices with the fine fringes, was endearing, as were the two small snails, lying in an intimate embrace under the White Butterbur. I have respected their privacy…! I also spotted a large grapevine snail, devouring a thin, dark green blade of grass – I just didn’t hear it chomp…!

The wooden fence with the arrow to Berghaus Edelweiss belonged to a large, old farmhouse with many Berghaus Edelweiss, wooden hayracks, stored at the outside wall. Smoke rose from the chimney. This morning’s milk was “brunnengekühlt“: the milk can was put in the water basin. This was continuously filled with fresh water from a small pipe line – quite an energy-efficient cooling system! Just before the sign to Berghaus Edelweiss I had left the paved road. I had however seen a warning sign for a very steep slope of 21% and that a 4×4 wheel drive was recommended. On the way back I noticed that “1×2” does an excellent job! From a distance it was clear that the road went uphill rather steeply.

From this point I encounter several obstacle in a rather short distance. The first was a landslide with snow still in it. Had it been an avalanche that had taken the soil with it, of had it been the mountain slope that had been moving including the layer of snow and the vegetation? From a distance it looked even more impressive than from close by. Nearby a bench had been placed to enjoying the view – the track towards it had become the track to avoid the masses of soil. Next to the mixture of soil, snow and shrubs taken along already white crocuses and purple Alpine snow-bells have been growing.

Somewhere further into the valley another large field of snow was lying in the shadow of an enormous piece of rock in the middle of the valley, and around the field a kind of white “hail” has been spread out in the green grass: here also tiny crocuses had been starting to grow and to blossom as soon as the snow had melted! On closer examination I discovered that not all crocuses were white, but some also were bright purple with stripes… The huge boulder hadn’t apparently been eroded by the glaciers: they have moved around it on their way into the valley. When I saw the boulder from the paved road I noticed that a large chalet had been built against it with beautiful views on the Madrisa mountain group!

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Gafia Valley near St. Antönien: on the north side of the big boulder is still a patch of snow, but next to it crocuses flourish!

A few minutes later it became clear that the official warnings hadn’t been given in vain. A large field of snow appeared without an indication of a path – there were some traces in the snow ‘though, proving that people had preceded me. Without sinking in or slipping away I got to the green grass again and crossed a fast-running little stream where Marsh marigolds (Caltha palustris) were growing on its bank.
From this point Berghaus Edelweiss could easily be found; soon afterwards I sat down on the outside and out of the wind with a large bowl of their home-made Bündner Gerstensuppe (Grisons barley soup) in front of me and enjoyed the view on the impressive an snow-capped mountain tops that dominate the blind valley from the east.There were more people who drank coffee or had something to eat; young children were playing in the small playing ground near the Berghaus. Many of them had made the trip from St. Antönien by foot!

After this savoury treat I went a few steps into the direction of the mountain range, but I understood very quickly that continuing would be of little use. However the pictures are very nice: both to the east, to the mountain group with the Madrisahorn, and to the west, where the snow-covered tops of the Sulzfluh to the left and of the Wyss Platte to the right emerged.

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Gafia Valley near St. Antönien: a panoramic view of the valley from Berghaus Edelweiss

It was about time to return: I chose the easy way over the paved road (it was less steep than expected!) and further along the Gafia stream. This route resulted in idyllic photos. Could one ever get enough of views on green mountain meadows, with or without cows, snow-capped mountain tops and murmuring streams…?

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Gafia Valley near St. Antönien: just a nice picture of green slopes, white snow on the mountain top and a murmuring Gafiabach stream…

When I reached Rüti, in the northern part of St. Antönien again around 13.00 hrs, I knew that there was plenty of time: the next Postal car to Küblis would leave only two hours later. I walked back to the village to have a look at the church from the 15th century. In 2010 a piece of art has been installed on the steep meadow above the church, made of wooden hayracks, the “Heinzen“: it gave the impression of a spire of a church, but then very airy. The church dates from the mid-fourteenth century and had its late gothic exterior in 1493. Then the church tower had been raised. In this area the Reformation already took place in 1524. It is a sturdy building that has resisted several avalanches. On the clock-faces on the north and west side the years 1493 and 1913 are written: then the church existed 450 years.

In the vestibule of the church a small vase with a fresh bouquet of wild flowers, such as Ox-eye daisies, Catchflies, Maidens tears and purple Geraniums, had been put on the window sill. They were shining in the afternoon light. The appearance of the outside of the church is rather stony and grey, but the interior is full of light and very spacious. The choir has a beautiful painted star-ribbed vault; the pulpit is nicely decorated. In 1966 an organ is placed above the entrance to the church, made in 1730 by the organ builder from Schaffhausen Johan Conrad Speisegger (1699–1746).

I sat down in the oldest inn of St. Antönien, that anyhow already existed in 1745 (considering the inscription on one of the beams in the barroom) and that since 1910 has been named Hotel Rhätia for a meal – in the meantime I had used up the energy from the Bündner Gerstensuppe! I chose a typical dish from here: Alpenpizzokel with mountain cheese and apple sauce – quite a filling dish made of Knödel dough, but very tasty. While I was sitting inside at ease, I could see from the corners of my eyes that the (forecasted) bad weather was coming: from the west the clouds seems to roll in over the rim of the mountain! A quarter of an hour later, when I was waiting for the 15.00 hrs Postal car, a fierce thunderstorm started. Therefore I got the chance, standing in a sheltered space, to study a picture on the wall: papier cutting artists have been working on a very detailed display with motives taken from the Swiss rural countryside from times long gone by!

The Postal car arrived on time and took us back to Küblis through the rain. It has been a wonderful day again, with a lot of surprises – and anyway I have finished a part of a stage of the Via Alpina! The first part to the bifurcation at “Dörfji” has been special and I am looking forward to the other part of this stage. Because the trail leads high above over the St. Antönier Joch pass to Gargellen, this trip will have to wait until later in the hiking season. This stage will definitely be continued…