Engadin Valley

Steps: 30,210

Today was such an emotional roller-coaster. I don’t describe the process in detail, but every single decision we made today involved ridiculous amounts of agonizing. So when I say, we did this, what I’m really saying is, we agonized forever over the options and finally we tentatively set off and did this. And then we had many second thoughts while doing it.

A soaking in St Moritz

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The day began with rain and thunder.

But! Today was my only full day allocated to hiking in the Alps, and I was very unlikely to get another chance. I could not just stay in the hotel room and give up.

So we tried, first with a lowland walk. We barely got out of town before we were soaked through and had to head back.

Naturally, it not only stopped raining, but actually got insultingly sunny on our way back to the hotel. But it was too late. We had to dry our clothes and shoes before any more hiking. I wanted to cry.

We did our best with the meager resources at our disposal, like hangers and the hair dryer, until it got late enough that the sun came through our west-facing window. We decided to let the sun do the heavy lifting while we went to lunch.

A lunch at the only “real” Italian restaurant in St Moritz

We had lunch at an Italian place I had marked during our evening stroll last night, reinforced by a recommendation from our hotel receptionist.

As I mentioned in the previous post, we had reached the end of our patience with cold food from the grocery store. Despite the ridiculous food prices in Switzerland and especially St Moritz, we needed hot food. At this point we were simply hoping for a satisfying experience, if not a cost-effective one. And boy, did this restaurant deliver.

Adorably, the menu came printed on the inside of a pizza box.

Adorably, the menu came printed on the inside of a pizza box.

The salad, first of the two course set menu. The fixed price menu seems to be the only good deal in eating out at Swiss restaurants. I'm not a fan of the Swiss practice of pouring dressing all over your salad for you, not the dressings themselves. The greens were fresh, however.

The salad, first of the two course set menu. The fixed price menu seems to be the only good deal in eating out at Swiss restaurants. I’m not a fan of the Swiss practice of pouring dressing all over your salad for you, not the dressings themselves. The greens were fresh, however.

Daily red sauce pasta. Rigatoni with bacon and champignon mushrooms.

Daily red sauce pasta. Rigatoni with bacon and champignon mushrooms.

Spaghetti Bolognese (and here I thought the dish was purely American, but maybe they serve it here as a tourist dish)

Spaghetti Bolognese (and here I thought the dish was purely American, but maybe they serve it here as a tourist dish)

Both dishes tasted like they were freshly prepared in a real kitchen with fresh, real ingredients. (It’s horrible to be served pasta with tomato sauce that tastes like it came from a can, unless you’re in a diner.) The rigatoni was nothing special, but the Bolognese! I think we must’ve been severely meat deprived. I couldn’t even analyze the dish, I was so busy shoving it down my throat.

A lift from Pontresina

Because the sun is just that powerful, our clothes felt dry enough for us to attempt hiking again. This time, we took the bus to Pontresina, a nearby village in the Engadin Valley. I must say that I’m absolutely in love with the Engadin Valley and its transportation network. Not only do they have the usual train connections everywhere but also a lovely bus system and many, many lifts up the mountains. For most hotels, a stay of two nights or longer includes an Engadin card which provides unlimited travel on all the modes I’ve listed. Since getting a lift up the mountain can easily cost CHF 80 one way, this card is a remarkable deal and goes quite some way to mitigating the high cost of hotels.

From Pontresina, we took a chair lift to Alp Languard. Naturally it started raining again on the way to the lift station, but this time we knew better. We hid under some cover for the few minutes the rain took to stop, and ascended in sunny weather.

The view from the top

The view from the top

There were a ton dairy cows there, with no compunction against being all over the trails. Hide thought I would be gored by a bull, but he was perfectly placid. They all wore cowbells, setting up quite a constant clangour at what was otherwise a remote location

There were a ton dairy cows there, with no compunction against being all over the trails. Hide thought I would be gored by a bull, but he was perfectly placid. They all wore cowbells, setting up quite a constant clangour at what was otherwise a remote location

At the top, we took in the views and tentatively tried hiking. But the raindrops started up again and, chastened, we returned to the lift station and had a hot chocolate in the safety of the restaurant there.

Descending on the chair lift.

Descending on the chair lift.

Too wimpy to try again (imagine a 2.5 hr hike above the treeline with no shelter and inadequately waterproof shoes, pants and jackets), we opted to simply descend. While the ride up was terrifying for the both of us acrophobes, the ride down was considerably less frightening. I suppose one gets used to it.

A walk to Punt Muragl Telstation

At this point my hopes and dreams for a proper Alpine hike had been crushed. In a pathetic attempt to rescue part of the day, we decided to walk from Pontresina to Punt Muragl Telstation another lift station.

We walked beside a river...

We walked beside a river…

Had great views of the mountains...

Had great views of the mountains…

... And even got to see lots of trains! The path we chose followed the tracks.

… And even got to see lots of trains! The path we chose followed the tracks.

It didn’t rain at all, luckily for us. Between the river, mountains and trees it was a lovely walk. But very flat.

If you look closely at the top of the mountain, you can see our destination, the hotel Muottas Muragl.

If you look closely at the top of the mountain, you can see our destination, the hotel Muottas Muragl.

A hike in the Alps

At Punt Muragl Telstation, the lift is a funicular that takes you to Muottas Muragl, a hotel on top of the mountain. The funicular was very cool.

Notice how the funicular is built at an angle to the ground, so that passengers don't fall over due to the extreme angle of the route.

Notice how the funicular is built at an angle to the ground, so that passengers don’t fall over due to the extreme angle of the route.

In fact, the slope of the route is so extreme that the funicular is hauled up by a cable system.

In fact, the slope of the route is so extreme that the funicular is hauled up by a cable system.

There are two vehicles operating on the route, on opposite ends of the cable. They always pass each other at the same point, so everywhere else the route is single track. It's very elegant.

There are two vehicles operating on the route, on opposite ends of the cable. They always pass each other at the same point, so everywhere else the route is single track. It’s very elegant.

Our destination, the Muottas Muragl hotel.

Our destination, the Muottas Muragl hotel.

The view from the hotel. I can absolutely understand why somebody would build a hotel up here and expect it to be successful.

The view from the hotel. I can absolutely understand why somebody would build a hotel up here and expect it to be successful.

To help you take in the view better, they have chairs with wind/sun screens, footstool and side table for your drinks. And room, of course, for one other person, for what could be more romantic?

To help you take in the view better, they have chairs with wind/sun screens, footstool and side table for your drinks. And room, of course, for one other person, for what could be more romantic?

The valley to which we descended, as we deliberated where and how far to go.

The valley to which we descended, as we deliberated where and how far to go.

The mountain stream at which we made the fateful decision to try and make it to Lej Muragl, a mountain lake theoretically 1.25 hr away. Note that the time was 7:30, the sun set just past 9, and we would still have to hike back.

The mountain stream at which we made the fateful decision to try and make it to Lej Muragl, a mountain lake theoretically 1.25 hr away. Note that the time was 7:30, the sun set just past 9, and we would still have to hike back.

From this point forward I took almost no pictures because we were in a rush. We didn’t want to be stuck on the mountain after dark, becoming those idiots who froze to death in the Alps.

Glaciers are beautiful when seen from a train, not so much when you're on a hike of indeterminate length with the sun setting and the world getting colder and windier. Then glaciers are simply terrifying. They look like death waiting to happen.

Glaciers are beautiful when seen from a train, not so much when you’re on a hike of indeterminate length with the sun setting and the world getting colder and windier. Then glaciers are simply terrifying. They look like death waiting to happen.

As we climbed higher and as the sun set, it got colder and colder, especially for Hide, who was woefully underdressed. Every few minutes, we were stopping to catch our breath, ask where the hell the damn lake was and check the time anxiously. At every point it was touch and go between turning back or pushing forwards, but eventually the desire to take the high path back dominated our decisions.

We found it! We found it!

We found it! We found it!

We were pushing around the nth corner, coming up to the nth rise, when the lake came upon us all of sudden. With a huge sense of relief we immediately took off for the high path. We had ascended 400m and now, after climbing one last slope to the highest point of the trail, we would be descending 300m to the hotel. It was 8:30, and in theory the hike back would take 1 hr.

And indeed it took an hour. I thought we were going at a pretty good clip, but apparently not.

Hide decided against having a drink at the hotel before heading back to St Moritz on account of the prices (note, dear readers, how I refrained from making any puns about elevated prices in the mountaintop hotel), so we just took the funicular down and waited almost an hour for our bus connection. Fortunately we struck up a conversation with a similarly aged Swiss couple, and the time passed quickly.

My feelings alternated between despair and hope as it rain and shone, and between fear and elation as we searched for and found the lake. Today was certainly the most emotionally intense day so far this trip. Well, except for the wedding, which was far more intense but only for a few moments.

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