One of the few SAC huts to have re-opened post lockdown. And also one that is a starting point for ascending Piz Sardona, a peak that we’ve eyed for some time. Conditions aren’t nearly ready for a summit attempt, but it’s a perfect opportunity to scout out the terrain and look at the path to the top…

Gorge near St Martin

Saturday. The bus to Gigerwaldsee isn’t running. Adding 400 vertical metres to our trip… according to our route planner, we have a vertical height of 1635m and a distance of 15.5 km to cover! First stop will be St Martin, the quant little ‘berghotel’ at the inlet of the Gigerwaldsee, for a drinks break.

We start our walk in Vättis. Halfway up the hill to we get picked up by Francois and Fabienne. Barbara and I make ourselves comfortable on the backseat – keeping our ‘social distance’. Francois and Fabienne lived in Cape Town – would love to get back there. We get dropped off at the Gigerwaldsee dam and walk the rest of the way to St Martin. Francois and Fabienne have to wait until the hour to use the one way road around the dam to St Martin.

They catch up with us about 5 minutes from St Martin. After a short stop for drinks we continue… the bulk of the height gain still ahead of us… finally arriving at the hut some time after 5pm. With the help of the hut-keeper we find our bunks and get changed into dry warm clothes then head for the dining room to get warm drinks into our chilled bodies.

Dinner is shared with a couple of Austrian chaps and their Swiss friend who are planning on climbing Sardona in the morning, and 23 year old Charlene who walked down from Ringelspitz to Vättis and then back up to Sardona hut. We only walked from Vättis and we know that we’ve walked. And she’s done almost twice what we’ve done!

Sunday morning. At breakfast we decide what we are going to do for the day. We’re thinking about heading over the nearby pass – and down to Elm. It’s a pretty long way, but it feels like a good day’s outing. Our neighbours at the next table advise against it. They came up that way yesterday, and they think that the snow-covered route is unsafe at the moment. We decide to walk along the contour to Malanseralp and then down to St Martin instead. It should take us about six hours.

Helge kicking steps

A few metres away from the hut we come across the first obstacle – the path is covered in snow… at a gradient of probably close to 70 degrees… we decide to drop down lower and cross where the snow is only a few metres wide. A threesome who is heading in the same direction does the same. At the next crossing, we don’t have much of a choice to divert so we have to kick steps. Helge, one of the threesome (they’re from Germany living in Zürich), takes the front and kicks steps, making it easier for the rest of us to cross the steep snowfield. He also takes the lead on the next one. And the next one. Barbara and I stop to remove layers while they head on. We meet again when we come around the next corner. They’ve gone slightly high and have to work their way back down to the path. At the next snowfield, I’m kicking steps for Barbara and I – towards the end of the snowfield, the snow is iced over. Kicking steps become harder. I find a relatively flat stone with a sharpish edge and use that to cut steps. A trick probably first discovered by ice-age man! Despite the awkward angle I’m working at – cutting steps at foot level, while bent over on a steeply angled snowfield, the footsteps feel a lot more secure than the snow steps I was kicking earlier. Helge takes over again at the next field. And then it starts flattening out and the crossings become much easier.

Crossing snow fields

We finally reach our highpoint – the junction below Heubützlipass. We head off downwards towards St Martin – the sign says it’s three hours away and we’ve already been walking for three. And we know that we’ve got at least another two hours of walk after St Martin. We finally make it back to St Martin more than seven hours after we set off that morning. Radlers for me and Schorle for Barbara. Cheese plate for me and a rich goat cheese salad for Barbara.

View across Gigerwaldsee from our high point

Then we set off again. First we have to get to the dam wall – about 40 minutes away. As we get to the dam wall, our three friends from earlier arrive by car. We say hi and walk on. A little but further a gentleman with a little Piaggio three-wheeler offers us a lift down to Vättis. Just then our three friends pull up alongside and ask if we want a lift down. We thank the kind gent in the Piaggio and decide to jump in the threesome’s car, for a lift all the way to Bad Ragaz, saving us about 2 hours of walking/travelling time…

Home. We jump in a warm bath with salts to ease the tiredness in our legs… in two days we’ve covered more than 34 kms. Gone from 950m in Vättis to 2158m at Sardonahütte and then the next morning up to 2410m at the junction below Heubützlipass before starting our descent to 1335m on the dam of Gigerwaldsee where we got picked up.

All in pursuit of another perfect mountain day!

Valley view
View back towards Sardona hut
Large ice blocks
Gigerwaldsee and beyond
spring… flowers
another valley view

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