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August 17th 2019

The trip to S-charl is beautiful  – in summer and in winter!

When I left Sulden am Ortler last Thursday, August 15th by bus, the driver was somehow grumpy, apparently not very happy to have to work on the festive day “Assumption of Mary”: it seemed as if he didn’t understand German, so buying a ticket to Scuol in Switzerland proved to be too large a task for me as well for him. So I bought a ticket to Mal. At the change of bus in Spondinig into the direction of Mals the ticket turned out to be wrong, but also this driver only spoke Italian – my co-passengers were interpreting for me… But the sun was shining, so why having any problems! The trip by Postal car from Mals to Zernez went well – I have cast a look to the steep slope from Taufers i.M. to the Rifairalm that I had climbed a week ago…!

When I arrived in Scuol at Hotel Altana it felt like coming home: a nice room with a view to the south and in the evening fine dining and wining in good company.

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Scuol: sunny views on the Piz San Jon (l) and the Piz Pisoc (r) from Hotel Altana

Yesterday I took a day off. Again the weather was fine – I walked through the village and did some shopping. Today I put on my hiking boots and took the crowded 09.30 hrs Postal car to the bus stop Plan da Funtanas to finish the second part of Stage 67 of the Red Trail of the Via Alpina. Here is the point I reached last time, on (June 15th). I was the only passenger to leave the bus. The Postal car soon disappeared from sight.

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Between Scuol and S-charl: at Plan da Funtanas the Postal car disappears from sight on its way to S-charl

I started my hike to S-charl, not exactly knowing how the landscape would look at that moment… Last year often extreme weather situations have occurred, with many landslides and corresponding therewith the necessary repair works to the road. It was obvious that indeed much work has been done in order to make the road accessible again…

On a wider part of the road next to a forest of spruces I spotted a small wooden shed with horse boxes: in winter there the horses are stabled that draw the sleighs from this point to S-charl. These sleigh rides are being organised by Hotel Mayor in S-charl. Now the stables were empty. When last winter I spent my Christmas holidays here in Scuol, I have made this sleigh ride. I had invited Monika and Olivier, my friends from Zurich. The only day that suited us and on which the organisation still had places available was on January 2nd. On New Year’s Day the weather had been extremely fine: plenty of sunshine with a clear blue sky, but on Wednesday January 2nd the weather was completely different… It was very cloudy with a cold wind. Nevertheless there were, apart from us three, still 12 others, who stood waiting on the square in front of the railway station, shivering, for the shuttle van to take us over the winding, icy mountain road to the starting point at the stables. There four sleighs with each two horses were waiting for us, covered with sheepskins and thick plaids. We all got hot water bottles for under our feet or in our laps, and we settled in the sleighs, full of anticipation. Every now and then some snow was falling. There were without doubt many hints at Doctor Zhivago…! As I was walking past that stable today it was warm and the sleigh ride really seemed something from another world.

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Between Scuol and S-charl: in winter this stable near Sasstaglià provided shelter for the horses that draw the sleighs

However it was remarkable that the shades of grey of the scree-covered slopes hardly were different from the colours in winter! Today and on January 2nd I passed by a hoodoo, like those can be found near Hof Zuort to the north of Vnà (see the blog of July 22nd 2018). Here erosion has created a sharp ridge in the mountain slope, with sharp peaks. The usual piece of rock that is sitting like a “hat” on the top of such a peak, was missing here – it might have fallen down. When we passed the hoodoos in winter, there wasn’t any snow on the peak, as was the case for the many steep slopes.

The wintery sleigh ride turned out to be quite an adventure. It took rather long before the sleighs started moving. Our two horses – the mares were called Meta and Zeta – got somewhat impatient from waiting. Therefore they decided to start off on their own – this to the coachman’s horror, who was able after a few large jumps to climb on the coachbox and to the horror of those who were sitting to the right side of the sleigh (like Monika) and saw the ravine approach very rapidly…! The rest of the ride was calmer, but still fascinating, because the landscape we all three know so well from our hikes in the summer season, looks so different in winter! The wintery silence was only interrupted by the cracking of the horses’ harnesses, the coachman’s soft commands and the creaking of the sleigh on those parts of the road with stones or ice. The landscape of snow, ice and rocks slid past, while we were gently swinging in de sleigh on the cadence of the silent horses’ hoofs.

Now I walked here in summer the silence was only interrupted by cars or the Postal car passing by and enveloping hikers and mountain bikers in clouds of dust. When last week it had been such bad weather in the Vinschgau at the other side of the mountain ridge, this has also been the case in the Val S-charl: there had to be done a lot of shovelling and clearing up again. That work has recently been done was shown by a dragline that had been parked somewhere, or by a lonely bucket of a mini-crane that had been left behind. The concrete bridge that has been built after the extreme weather from a few years ago was still in good order. Meanwhile a method has been applied for the masses of debris at the slopes on the right side of the valley to prevent them from passing over the road when heavy rains would occur again: on the ends of the scree fans a wide gully has been dug, a few metres for the main road to lead most of the water into a deep hole, from which it – hopefully – will flow in a “controlled” way into the Clemgia. Nevertheless at some places the area in and around the river bed looks like a moon landscape…

During our sleigh ride in winter everything had been looking even more inhospitable: then there were no contrasts in colour by vegetation like now, in summer. It resembled most images of black-and-white photography. The rough outlay of the scree-covered slopes was still recognisable. The passengers’ clothing was the only thing to render some colour to the landscape!

The scree-covered slopes are only sporadically covered with shrubs in summer and in winter, and of rosebay willow herb in summer. Looking up I saw a black pine hanging over the edge of the rock standing out like a fine papercutting against the clear blue sky. The sides of the road along the rock wall to the right side of the valley are covered in vegetation ‘though – and the rock wall itself too: here and there small colourful patches of yellow Mountain saxifrage (Saxifraga aizoides) and Campanula alpina were growing.

The further upstream I came, the less scree fans I could see: here conifers are covering the slopes. Here the Clemgia flows through a wide, flat bed. On the right mountain slope I spotted near a last scree fan a yellow sign pointing towards S-charl. Because I was fed up with hiking on the dusty road, that I had to share with bikes and cars, I chose the steep climb over the scree.

Halfway the scree-covered slope I arrived at a path through the forest, meandering in an oasis of green. The sunlight was tempered by the green shrubs and the black pines. Everywhere water streams were murmuring and therefor it was pleasantly cool. Above the path swarms of mosquitos were dancing in the sunlight. From the valley only the soft murmur of the Clemgia could be heard. Quite a difference from the road through the valley with the debris in and around the river bed…

After half an hour I could see from above the buildings of the Engadin Water Power plant in the Clemgia near the bus stop of the Postal car “Val Mingèr“, one of the access points to the Swiss National Park. The forest here was dry and sunny. There was a sturdily anchored wooden bridge over a deep side valley, through which at this moment no water was flowing, but looking upstream I saw not only large tree trunks, that had apparently been carried along in spring, but also a fresh trunk with its roots, that had come down during the last thunderstorms… Downstream the situation seemed somewhat more at ease. Down in the valley I heard the Clemgia flow with greyish blue water.

From the bridge the forest path slowly went down again to the paved road. Suddenly many grasslands appeared after passing all those scree-covered mountains and the wide, stony bed of the Clemgia – that made this part of the Stage very special.

The Mining and Bear Museum, Museum Schmelzra, is closed on Monday (as it was last time I hiked this stage…), but also on Saturday: I couldn’t visit it… Nearby the kiln is standing, the Chalchera, which has been obviously restored as can be seen from the new wooden super-structure. It is still in use: freshly processed lime had been piled up in the grass around the oven. There also were signs that masonry work had been done to the original miners’ cottages, of which now only the outer walls are still there – with freshly processed lime. A sign was put up warning that entrance was at one’s own risk… In winter we passed by the building with our horse-drawn sleigh: then all walls had been wearing white snowy heads!

Between the Museum and the village of S-charl lush grassland are situated in the wide valley, where farmers were busy bringing in the hay: it was already lying in windrows. They were raking the last hay that has been left on the meadows.

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Near S-charl: in the wide valley hay is being harvested in the old-fashioned way

When in winter, on last January 2nd, we arrived in S-charl with the horse-drawn sleighs we all went to Hotel Mayor to warm up. We had got quite chilly despite of our thick layers of clothes, the blankets and the hot water bottles! Nevertheless it was a nice and romantic sight to see the sleighs with the horses parked in front of the hotel and in front of the white church amid of a white, snow-covered landscape. Inside it was warm and very cosy. We had a warm lunch with coffee afterwards, so we were all set for the journey back. About four o’clock we left S-charl: the journey back went downhill, so we were faster. It was completely dark when we arrived at the stables, where we got into the shuttle van to go back to Scuol. This trip had been quite worthwhile!

Today, on this beautiful summer day I haven’t been to Hotel Mayor this time, but to the Gasthof Crusch Alba inn, where I had a cup of coffee and a piece of cake with plums (in fact Zwetschgen or damson plums), sitting outside on the terrace. It was a delight to sit in the semi-shadow and to relax. Afterwards I had plenty of time to return with the Postal car to Scuol. Now I have hiked Stage 67 of the Red Trail for a second time, I can say for sure that it still is very much worthwhile: despite of the situation that in the first part the road through the Clemgia Schlucht Gorge has been closed, and that the road inevitably runs via Gasthaus Avrona.

Tomorow morning I am returning home, so I took a farewell drink with my dessert: a small glass of Berner Rosen Apfelschnaps – it had a very nice taste of apples to it, and moreover it had been made from apples, grown in the garden of the Hotel! There is a big, old apple tree of the variety, that is in Switzerland well-known and beloved, the Berner Rosen. That is the way this trip with all those nice moments and all those efforts made came to an end…