Friday 4 June 2010
We got to the train station at St Moritz about five minutes before the 10.45 train to Alp Grum was due to depart so we hastily changed into our hiking boots, purchased our tickets and sprinted to the appropriate platform. We’d hardly settled into our seats when the train set off, precisely on time, as you would expect. The views when we drove through the Bernina Pass were exquisite. Of course, the railway follows the same path through the pass so the views were similarly spectacular with the added advantages that this time Ms Playchute’s heart could stay out of her throat and I too could admire the scenery.
I suppose it’s no accident that the Bernina railway is one of Unesco’s World Heritage Sites. The engineering is simply astounding. I find it difficult enough to imagine how one can build roads in these mountains but then the roads presumably evolved from the tracks laid down as animals and people travelled from one point to another. To get a full-sized railway up and down these mountains simply beggars belief. Of course there are switch backs and tunnels to ease the ascent but all this is accompanied by a significantly steep incline all the way to the top of the pass.
Once the train reaches the top of the pass it diverts from the road (which descends the other side) and the railway runs alongside Lago Bianco and then on through a moonscape of rock and barren debris to Alp Grum, after which it descends through an amazing series of switchbacks down to Cavaglia, the scene of our expedition yesterday.
As we disembarked at Alp Grum we were greeted by the most amazing views down the Val di Poschiavo all the way to Italy about 15 km away. As you might guess, there was a café at the station but a short (but steep) climb up a series of switchback paths led to the Hotel/Restaurant Belevedere and a trail leading somewhere further on. Unfortunately, the path was still covered with snow and we were unable to proceed much past the restaurant. So, we found a comfortable bit of ground on which to consume our picnic lunch.
In our haste at the station in St Moritz, I had unfortunately left my hat behind. This wouldn’t have been any great problem except that the weather was absolutely glorious. The sky was brilliantly blue, there was not a cloud in the sky and the sun was beating down. Pen suggested that it wouldn’t cause me any discomfort as the sun wasn’t so severe high up on the mountain. This was a supposition with which I disagreed. Not only were we so much nearer the sun (almost 3000 m) with the related thinner atmosphere but also the sun reflecting off the snow was bound to intensify the effect. As I ended the day with a decidedly pink and tender head you can deduce who won that argument. Where is that spray-on hair thickener when you really need it?
I guess we spent about an hour and a half at Alp Grum before catching the train back towards St Moritz. On the way back we stopped and alighted at Diavolezza which happened to have the one gondola in the area which was open this early in the season. Up to the top we went (again, just under 3000 m) where we were greeted by some magnificent views but, naturally, not a scrap of shade. The reflection from the snow was intense which was complemented by the reflection from my bald pate. Most of the other explorers on the mountain rapidly grabbed their sun screen as soon as I came into view.
At the top of Diavolezza we noticed that there was a crew of workmen who seemed to be covering one of the ski slopes with huge pieces of what looked like white tarpaulin. We couldn’t work out what was going on so, on our return to the base station, we asked the very kind ticket agent what they were doing. He explained that this was a glacier and that it was melting increasingly rapidly due to the effects of global warming/climate change. He said that twenty years ago the glacier had been just below the level of the gondola station; now it was easily fifty metres lower. So, in that period of time it had lost something like fifty metres in depth. The intention with the white tarpaulin was, hopefully, to reflect the sun and heat and therefore prevent it from melting too rapidly. It’s a sad state of affairs and we (collectively) are still doing too little about it.
After descending the mountain we got back on the next train for the remainder of the journey to St Moritz. As it happens, we needed to do a bit of shopping so from the station we drove to the Coop, a splendid supermarket in town. When we got there I went to change back into my “normal” shoes only to discover that one was missing. Where the F**K could it be? It seems that in my haste to change into my boots in the morning I had somehow managed to leave one shoe behind. So, after a quick whiz around the supermarket we drove back to the station. Much to my relief the bomb squad had not yet been summoned in response to the threat posed by an absentee shoe bomber and Ms Playchute, crawling on hands and knees, did indeed locate my shoe underneath a car in the spot where we had parked where, presumably, I had left it.
Whilst shopping at the Coop, Pen had neglected to weigh the pears she was purchasing which one is supposed to do in the vegetable/fruit section. There’s a set of scales and one reads the number of the item from the shelf, keys it into the scales and it produces a sticky label complete with bar code. In the UK, the scales are at the till and the checkout attendant does it for you. So, we forgot and the till operator had to go and do it for us. What struck me was (a) not only was she very polite about the disruption to her routine (I guess she is used to idiotic English tourists who cannot work out even a simple requirement) but also (b) the fact that she explained the process in perfect English. Somehow I can’t imagine the check out attendants in Tesco being either so polite (although I may do them a disservice) but also being able to converse in fluent German, Italian, French or, in many instances, English.