Hello everyone! Last Saturday I went to the south-east corner of Switzerland, which is already close to the Italian city Tirano. I departed from Zürich HB and the whole journey by train took more than 3.5 hours. I went to the Mountain Diavolezza and walked on the Morteratsch Glacier hiking trail. I wanted to go to Cavaglia Glacier garden but considering it took in total more than 7 hours on the way and the last train left at around 6:30 from Bernina Diavolezza train station, I didn’t risk it. However, if you plan to stay there for 2 or more days, there are actually plenty of things to do.
Don’t worry that the journey is too long because the train from Zürich HB to Chur takes around 1 hour and then from Chur to Diavolezza or Morteratsch Glacier, though you need to change twice, you are going through the UNESCO World Heritage Site by the Rhaetian Railway. I have to admit the scenery is really wonderful and you will hear introductions of specific sites on your way. I heard it in the train that this is the third railway in the world that is among the UNESCO World Heritage Site. The train goes through tunnels, valleys and mountains and you will see rivers, forests, mountains, and villages while traveling. The most beautiful and popular sites on your way are the Landwasser Viaduct, the helical tunnels between Bergün and Preda and the Brusio Circular Viaduct, but you won’t visit the last one if you only go to Diavolezza and Morteratsch Glacier until becuase it’s almost at the boarder with Italy.
1. Rhaetian Railway
There are basically two themed routes that you can choose from Rhaetian Railway, Bernina Express and Glacier Express. You can choose your starting point and destination, but I’m not interested in sitting in the train all the time, so as for me, I’d rather choose somewhere I wanna go to and then take Rhaetian Railway to go there. In this way, I do not only take the tour trains but also arrive at my destination.
For more info about Rhaetian Railway please click here. By moving your mouse to the left column, you can check the timetables, prices, updates, different routes for Bernina Express and Glacier Express and highlights on the way (including the UNESCO World Heritage Sites etc.).
On your way back, probably it’s already dark so you can’t really see much, but after several hours hiking or walking, I guess it’s a good opportunity for you to take a rest.
2. Activities in Bernina Glaciers
After you arrive at Samedan, you are already in the Bernina Glaciers area, and there are a lot of thongs you can do in this area. For example,
1. Mountain Diavolezza
Lower terminal:Diavolezza Bernina LBD
Hunters were said to have unwisely followed the beautiful red-haired mountain fairy when she bathed in the lake. Some disappeared for ever – hence the devilish name of the mountain, Diavolezza.
– UBS Mountain offer
2. “Tracing eternal ice on the Morteratsch Glacier Trail”: Morteratsch Glacier Trail
Starting from Morteratsch train station
3. Muottas Muragal
The cable car was closed when I went there. Reopen on 23rd Dec, 2016. Every day from 7:45 to 23:00. Every 30 mins.
4. “A journey through time to the Giants’ Pots”: Cavaglia Glacier Garden
5. “A Breath-taking Panorama”: Alp Grüm Viewpoint
6. “A masterpiece of railway craftsmanship”: RhB / UNESCO World Heritage
If you are interested in some more activities please click here.
Note: The panorama map and the texts with quotation marks in this section are all from the website of bernini-glaciers. If you are interested in any of the activities please click on them. I went to Mountain Diavolezza and Morteratsch Glacier Trail so next I’ll explain them to you in detail.
3. Mountain Diavolezza
I wanted to go to two mountains in my this trip. However, I was informed that the cable car to Muottas Muragal was closed. It’s gonna reopen on 23rd Dec, 2016, every day from 7:45 to 23:00, every 30 mins. Then after checking the website of Bernina-Glaciers, I changed my plan to go to Mountain Diavolezza, Morteratsch Glacier Trail and Cavaglia Glacier Garden, but unfortunately, because of the time limit, I made it only to the previous two destination. As for Cavaglia Glacier Garden, I guess I’ll have to wait for the next time. If you also come from afar, I suggest you stay for at least one night because otherwise you won’t have enough time to explore what this beautiful place offers. If you choose to go to mountain Diavolezza, you should get off at the train stop Bernina Diavolezza LBD, and the lower terminal of the gondola cable car is right next to it.
3.1 General info
3.1.1 Cable car timetable
- 22.10.16 – 25.11.16: 07:40 – 16:20 every 20 minutes
- 23.12.16 – 26.02.17: 08:40 – 16:20 every 20 minutes
- 27.02.17 – 21.05.17: 08:00 – 17:00 every 20 minutes
3.1.2 Ticket prices for return journey:
- Adult: 35 CHF
- Young person (13-17years old): 23.30 CHF
- Child (6-12 years old): 11.90
P.S. you don’t get any discount with GA or Half-price card
3.1.3 Some other practical info
- If you are interested in the history of Diavolezza aerial cableway please click here.
- If you are interested in the extensive modernization of the Diavolezza aerial cableway please click here.
- If you wanna check the webcams and weather forecast please click here.
- For more info about winter or summer activities, snow report and mountain events please click here.
- If you are interested in eating on top of the mountain or staying overnight on the mountain please click on the links.
3.1.4 “La Diavolezza” – The Beautiful She-Devil
If you are not interested in the history or modernization of the Diavolezza cableway, what about a fairy tale of the mountain devil who lived here long time ago?
Once upon a time, many, many years ago, there lived a beautiful mountain fairy. She resided in a rocky stronghold high up between Chapütschöl and Munt Pers, a place surrounded by towering crags and vast fields of scree and set amidst a flower-strewn Alpine pasture, where a deep-blue lake reflects the glittering sunlight, where herds of sprightly chamois gambol and graze on the lush green grass, where grouse cackle, take flight, then elegantly glide back down to the ground to feed and cackle some more, and where wide-eyed mountain hares daydream, then suddenly start and dash away in a long-limbed gallop.
Hunters rarely spotted this magnificent she-spirit – and only ever fleetingly. But when they did, they gazed on lovingly as she crossed the rock face of the Munt Pers to the Lej da la Diavolezza to bathe in its refreshing waters. But as time went by, the young huntsmen became quite besotted with her and careless in their ways. They followed her – protected as she invariably was by her herd of chamois – across the rocky cliffs to her fortress of stone.
No-one really knows what happened then; we are only left to guess. One by one, the hunters disappeared, erring forever on the “lost mountain”, Munt Pers. Such a fate also befell Aratsch, a handsome youth from the village, who failed to return from the hunt one day. The villagers searched for him high and low, but he was nowhere to be found and they were finally forced to assume that he had fallen into a glacier crevasse on Munt Pers or plunged to his death. Indeed, anyone who lingered near the Bernina massif at nightfall could hear the wailing voice of La Diavolezza, borne on the drifting wind, calling: “Mort ais Aratsch (Aratsch is dead)”.
This story was passed down from one generation to the next, and in time the beautiful Alpine meadow in the basin of the Bernina massif became known as Alp Morteratsch. But La Diavolezza did not rest, not until the glacier had inched its way down the mountainside and covered the entire alp with ice and scree, right down to the valley. Only then did she finally depart from Munt Pers and was never seen again.
– Berghaus Diavolezza
3.2 On the way up and down
For this gondola cableway journey, I strongly recommend that either going up or down the mountain, choose at least one time to stand by the door or glass, from where you have a close view of the east because you will have the opportunity to look at the amazingly blue Lago Bianco. The lake is so blue that you can hardly miss it if you are not blocked by people in front of you.
The whole journey takes around 8 mins and takes you from autumn to winter.
3.3 At upper terminal station
There should have been a lot of hiking, climbing trails starting from the upper terminal of the cable car. However, since it’s already winter season and the paths are already totally covered in snow, it’s more for skiing or other winter sports now than for hiking.
The hiking routes include
- hiking to Munt Pers at 3207 m
- hiking to the BBQ spot Sass Queder (not recommended in late autumn or winter, but the hiking trail is still open in winter)
- Glacier hike: Diavolezza–Morteratsch (must have a tour guide, for more info please click here)
- from Diavolezza to Lej de Diavolezza
- from Diavolezza upper terminal to Diavolezza lower terminal (children friendly walk. Diavolezza summit station – Lej Diavolezza – Lej da las Collinas – Lej Pers – Las Stüertas – Diavolezza valley station. for more info please click here.)
- For mountaineers please click here for more info about climbing to Piz Palü, Piz Trovat, Piz Cambrena, or Munt Pers.
Considering the upper terminal is almost totally covered in snow and skiers were everywhere, I only stayed at the viewing platform for some time and climbed (or walked) up a bit. If I was wearing special shoes to walk on snow I would have walked a bit farther but for this time of the year, hiking here is not a good option anymore and more and more skiers are gonna take over the mountain. If you go to the viewing platform, you can see the Pers Glacier and Morteratsch Glacier, and if you walk towards your right side when you’re facing the glacier, you can climb some rocks and get to a higher point, which gives an even better view.
I suggest that you download for free a “Bernina Glaciers” app before you go and you can use it not only on this mountain and the Morteratsch Glacier, but also some other attractions. On the viewing platform, you can see the numbers on the billboards and know more about the glacier or mountains. There are many functions of this app. For example, there are “audio tour” on the mountain Diavolezza and “Panorama”, which helps you to identify the mountains in front of you. On the Morteratsch Glacier hiking trail, you just need to scan the QR code and you can listen to the Audio Tour Morteratsch. You wanna know the names of the mountains but you forgot to download the app? Don’t worry, you just need to read the billboard at the platform and you will recognize them. Basically the mountains you can see are Piz Trovat (3146m), Piz Cambrena (3606m), Piz Palü (3901m), Bellavista (3922m), Crast Agüzza (3869m), Piz Bernina (4049m), Piz Prievlus (3751m), Piz Morteratsch (3751m), Piz Tschierva (3546m) and Piz Boval (3353m).
4. Morteratsch Glacier walking trail
After you go down from Mountain Diavolezza, you can either go to Cavaglia Glacier Garden, choosing the train going in the direction to Tirano, or go to Morteratsch Glacier Trail, choosing the train going in the direction to St. Moritz. Though I’ve seen some glaciers from the top of some mountains, I’ve never been to the foot of and so close to a glacier, so I chose to take a walk on the Morteratsch Glacier Trail. You just need to take the train going in the direction to St. Moritz and get off at stop Morteratsch, which is only two stops, 7 mins away from stop Bernina Diavolezza.
When you are at Morteratsch station and facing north, on your right is children’s playground and on your left is the starting point of the Morteratsch Glacier walking trail. You will see a strange sculpture, which looks like a gate.
4.1 Introduction of Morteratsch Glacier
The Morteratsch Glacier is the largest glacier by area in the Bernina Range of the Bündner Alps in Switzerland. It is, just after the Pasterze Glacier and Gepatschferner, the third largest and by volume the most massive glacier in the eastern alps. The Morteratsch Glacier is a typical valley glacier with a pronounced ice front. The accumulation zone lies between the peaks of Piz Morteratsch, Piz Bernina, Crast’ Agüzza, Piz Argient, Piz Zupò and Bellavista. From Piz Argient to the ice front in the Val Morteratsch, its horizontal extent is about 7 km, with an altitude difference of up to 2000 m. Together with the Pers Glacier, originating at Piz Palü, which joins the Morteratsch just below the rock formation Isla Persa (“Lost Isle”), it covers an area of about 16 square kilometers. The volume of the ice is estimated to be about 1.2 km3. The Morteratsch Glacier drains through Inn River and Danube into the Black Sea.
4.2 Walking towards the Morteratsch Glacier
Less than 200 years ago, the end of the glacier was actually very close to the train station. As time goes by, it retreats. The Morteratsch Glacier walking trail is actually a trail where you can trace the glacier and see what it has done to the rocks or earth. On your way to the current end of the glacier, you will notice in total 15 columns with info billboards. Each of them is marked with year, which tells you where the glacier was at that year. If we came 100 years ago, we wouldn’t have needed to walk 50 mins to see it. It’s really amazing to see where the glacier was at certain year and how it moved. What’s more amazing is that you can see how the plants, earth, and rocks change when you walk closer and closer to the glacier.
I suggest that you should read the info billboards but maybe on your way back, because when it’s 4 or 5 in the afternoon the sun will already be blocked by the surrounding mountains and it gets a bit dark and quite cold. If you wanna see the glacier in the sun and take nice photos of it I suggest you not go too late. I remember when I was there, when there was sun I was only wearing a sweater but when the sun was gone, I had to put on my winter jacket and windbreaker. The walk was rather easy and I think it’s suitable for all people unless you have serious health problems.
Sometimes don’t be afraid to take a small detour to the river if it attracts you, but be careful, don’t slip into it because the water coming directly from the glacier is not as warm or comfortable as you have expected.
4.3 Right in front of the glacier
When you reach the end of the walking trail, you can actually walk further but at your own risk. There is no specific path anymore but you can walk on the sands and rocks. By the time I was there, there was not much new snow so I walked a bit further. As for the glacier, the view is not that different, but it felt totally different from the walking trail because there’s basically no plants anymore. All you can see are rocks, earth and river. This actually feels like the area close to the glaciers, cold and lifeless.
4.4 On the way back
On my way back to the train station the sun was already blocked by the mountains and it got really cold. The view also changed dramatically from a warm welcome to a cold farewell.
4.5 The info billboards on the columns
As I mentioned above, I suggest that on your way back, you should read the billboards on the columns for info about not only the glacier or geology, but also the mountains, cities, people, skiing, tourism, plants, war, religion, technology etc. These info are not provided in a serious scientific way. When you read them, they are more like telling you stories or communicating with you. These info covers a wide range from culture to nature, from politics to economy, from sports to science. You can find the topics you are interested in and read more into it.
- Why does glacier move? Isn’t glacier eternal ice? Is it moving because of global warming?
- Who were the first mountaineers climbing to Piz Bernina?
- What was Switzerland like in the Ice Age?
- Who were the first pioneers and summiteers?
- What are the summits surrounding the Morteratsch and Pers Glaciers and how were they formed?
- How did the business grow in Pontresina?
- Can you tell the difference between the Swiss pine and larch? What are the typical glacier plants here?
- What happened to Bernina during the wars?
- How are the glacier foreland “constructed”?
- How does a glacier’s length development indicate climate change?
- Snow in July and warm spells in December, How is that possible?
- How does the Romansh language sound like?
- How is an ice granule formed from a snowflake?
- What are the traces that the glacier left while it was retreating?
- How do you know the glacier is moving?
- How strong are the mountains?
- How can glacier be hungry? What does glacier “eat”?
- How much has the glacier lost in recent years?
- What will Morteratsch glacier be like in the future?
- What’s the cabin of Segantini on Schafberg like? Do you remember the painter, Giovanni Segantini, I mentioned in my other post “Kunsthaus Zürich – Details of My Favorite Paintings”? Giovanni Segantini did receive recognition and encouragement as a young artist in Milan. However, it is when he returned to the mountain area Graubünden, Switzerland, that he began to realize where his heart belongs to. Here he created paintings about mountains, nature, villages, rural life, local folks and animals. He avoids the theme of urban life or big cities, because he knows that’s not what his heart seeks. What kind of scenery here could have inspired such a great artist to create such wonderful paintings?
All the answers to the questions above are on the billboards, if you read them on your way, you will learn a lot today.
I wish you a pleasant time in Bernina Glaciers area and at the same time, I hope you can broaden your knowledge after your visit. Let me finish this post with a poem by Fritz Gillinger:
Why are you crying, glacier?
Is it the sadness of a farewell that overwhelms you?
For you are constantly in motion.
Away from the cold place that feeds you.
Unflinchingly downward to where you will transform.
Or are those glacial tears of joy over the new life that you create?
– Fritz Gillinger, 2014