Sardona Tectonic Arena and My Angel in a Red Coat
On the first day of our trip to Laax, Graubunden, Switzerland in July 2014, we decided to go back up to one of my favourite places – Fil de Cassons at 2674m above sea level. Today I had one of the scariest experiences of my life – and I lived to tell the tale – thanks to a lot of Trust and my “Human Angel in a Red Coat” – (my husband, Greg).
We took the cable car up to Cassons and then decided we would have a spot of lunch before we went any further. We wandered about on the top of the ridge, taking a few photographs and then, at around 1pm, we decided we would do a circular ridge map, that was marked as “moderate difficulty” on the tourist map.
The tourist map should really only be taken as a “rough guide” and really needs to be supplemented by more detailed hiking maps, that show the trails and the gradients and give a better idea of the actual walk.
Greg had these on his note tablet, but, for some reason, that we have not yet quite figured out, we did not look at these before we embarked on this 11.5km walk, which started at the ridge at Cassons and went down to Nargens, at a height of 2400m above sea level.
The leaflet said it should take approximately 3 hours and that we could catch a bus back to Laax from Nargens. It also helps to check the times of the last bus!
It would be fair to say that we embarked on this ridge walk without any real idea of what we would encounter.
We started off down the path with great gusto and managed quite well for the first couple of miles. It was a bit tricky in places and the path was a bit narrow at times, however it was very do-able.
We can to a point, where we rounded the corner and the first thing I saw was this huge expanse of rock and shale down the side of a mountain and icy, snowy, semi-glacier patches on the slope. At a guess I would say the height difference was about 200 metres, straight right down, from where we were to the bottom of the valley.
The giveaway that this bit might be “just a tad challenging” was the chains that were fixed to the rockface, for walkers to hold onto, in order to steady themselves.
I took one look at it and my first reaction was “You have got to be joking!!!! There is no way you can call that a path and I am not going down there!”
Greg turned on his best persuasive charm to assure me that it was a path, it was the right way and we would be OK, as other people (and a dog) had already walked down there earlier in the day, in front of us, and, as they were now nowhere to be seen, they must have got across safely.
We got to the bottom of the part where the chains stopped and all I could see was this mass of shale, with a very faint line across it, where other people had got across, but it certainly did not resemble a path.
At first, I was more upright as I tried to cross it and was using my walking pole for support. Increasingly I found myself leaning into the shale slope and resting my hand against it, trying to find a support and something to grip onto.
I ended up being more and more bent over, so at one point, I was going along with both hands against this shale and rock slope, so I was facing inwards and going along sideways, like a little crab.
Actually this was probably the worst thing I could have done because I had my hands on the slope, my feet below me, my bum sticking up in the air and I was essentially looking down at my feet that were below me.
In this position I could also see part of the valley below me – along way below me! I kept saying to myself “Don’t look down! One step at a time! You can do it! Hold the hand of your Angel!”
My steps were getting slower and slower and I felt myself begin to freeze. With the best will in the world, I began to see myself slipping down the side of this rock and shale slope and ending up in a nasty mess at the bottom.
Greg was in front of me, calling out words of encouragement and support, however I was hearing them less and less.
I felt panic take over and felt convinced I could not go any further. The next moment Greg was beside me, lifting one of my hands of the shale slope and taking it in his own to guide me. I felt myself start to stand up a little more and move forwards, rather than sideways.
My “Human Angel in a Red Coat” had seen the panic-stricken look on my face, had seen I was about to freeze and slide down the slope and had dropped his camera bag and poles and had almost RUN back up the slope to me.
I have heard of strange things happening to people when they suddenly need to find super-human strength. This was one of those moments when that happened to Greg. How he got back to me so quickly I have no idea. I am only very glad he did!
I felt stronger and more confident to handle the rest of this after that. It was only when we got to the bottom and looked back did I realise what we had accomplished. By no stretch of the imagination could that, what we had just crossed, be called a path!!!
On speaking to the hotel staff later, it seems that there had been a lot of rain and snow up there in the previous few days, so, given the nature of the material the slope was made from, it was not really surprising that some of it had slid away.
When we got down into the valley, we were staring up at the UNESCO Heritage site of the Sardona, with the famous peaks of the Tschingelhorner. We walked round in front of it, with fresh snow still on the ground in July and round into the next valley.
We ambled along, stopping to take photographs and to have our picnic. It was quite a pleasant day for walking, not too hot and not too cold, although we kept our waterproof coats on for most of the day.
We eventually came round to the other side, where we came down to quite a flat valley. It was actually very reminiscent of the other side of the Old Man of Coniston in the Lake District.
We eventually got to the cafe area at Segenshutte. Just as I stumbled up the hill, the cafe operator was just pulling out of the car park. This was at nearly 5.00pm. I asked her which way to get to the bus stop, to which she informed me that it was a good hour walk further on and the last bus had left at 4.15pm. My face fell and I must have looked like I was about to cry!
Fortunately she took pity on us and asked us if we would like a lift down the mountain to the Lift station at Flims. We gladly accepted and were delighted to scramble in the back of the car. It took us 15 minutes to get down the mountain in the car, so I dread to think how long it would have taken us if we had ended up having to walk down. A few seconds later and we would have missed her altogether, so I am eternally grateful to the Divine Timing that meant she was still at the cafe at the precise moment that we got there.
We got to the Lift Station and got out of the car, just as the bus pulled up to take us back to the hotel at Laax.
We decided that we would have a quieter, less adventurous day the next day and perhaps just go for a little drive somewhere.