We wanted to a do another big walk before leaving the Park, so we decided to climb up to the Macun basin. This is a large cirque at the top of a mountain above Zernez. A cirque is a circular depression at the head of a valley which is carved out by a glacier.
As promised, Ruedi picked us up in Zernez at 7.30 and drove us up the gravel track that forms the start of the trail for about 15 minutes. On the way we had really interesting chat about the park, and conservation.
We found out that the reason we haven’t seen any clear cutting in Switzerland is that it’s not allowed. You are only allowed to cut single trees or small groups within a larger forest. The weight of felled trees must not exceed the weight of new trees that grow per year, so Switzerland’s forests should remain stable, and beautiful! Anna asked if that means Switzerland is a net importer of wood, but apparently not, it is a net exporter.
We mentioned again that there are no big predators in the National Park, so the deer are able to to browse the young trees with no fear of predation. This probably means that the forest is recovering slower than it would do if the deer were more stressed. Ruedi said that is true, but in the National Park they don’t like to think of the forest recovering, because that implies that there is a perfect state for it to be in. In fact, the forest cover has changed constantly during and before human history, and it will continue to do so. During the last ice age the majority of the park was covered with a huge glacier, and not much would have grown there at all. There is no right way for it to be. The deer and other browsers in the park maintain their habitat, and that’s fine. If wolves eventually make it back to the park, things will change, and that’s ok too.
Once we reached the timberline we jumped out, and there was time for a quick photo before Ruedi had to go to work. That’s the last time we’ll see him (on this trip anyway), and we had to agree that he couldn’t have been more supportive of our trip. He’s made sure we’ve seen a lot of the park, met some of the team and had a glimpse of some really interesting projects. He lent us his own binoculars and telescope so we could have a chance to see the wildlife. He also arranged for us to spend a night in the park essentially for free when he found out we’re on a tight budget. What a guy!
We got onto the footpath and walked up through the alpine meadow, in between the avalanche protection barriers. We heard marmots squeaking their warning calls into the cold morning air, and saw a chamois picking his way across the hillside. As we got higher we walked into the sunrise and immediately the chill was gone. Coats off! There was still some snow on the hill in pockets protected from the sun, and we had to carefully cross a few, kicking footholds with our boots.
We walked out of the meadow and into the scree, and the view opened out in front of us. We could see most of the park spread out beneath us, Piz Quattervals in the distance, and the Cluozza valley where we spent the night a few days ago. Up and up through the scree, following the markings sprayed onto the rocks.
Eventually we reached the highest point on the rim of the cirque, Munt Baselgia at 2,945 m. As we looked into the cirque, with the scattered snow patches and the beautiful blue-turquiose lakes it was amazing the think of the whole basin, and the valleys around it filled with ice, and to think about the massive forces that carved out the basin as we saw it today.
We found a billy can wedged in a cairn, and opening it, found a visitor’s book inside. It was cool looking through the entries over the last few years, everyone seems to have been very happy with their walk! We added our own outburst of gratitude and excitement, and replaced the book for the next traveller.
We headed down into the basin and before long we hit the first big patch of snow. It was wet and deep in places but we had fun half-skiing across it. We met a group of four Swiss, who were all retired, and making the most of it. They were part of a hiking club and they put us to shame with both their kit and their pace!
We stopped for lunch next to one of the lakes and swapped hiking stories (mostly about mosquitos and midges) with our Swiss friends.
After lunch the trail split in two, with one option to go and see the “Dragon Lake”. Both paths rejoined later on. Anna stated quite confidently the direction we should go to see the lake, and, off guard, I assented. We walked past a lovely stream that was flowing out from under all the snow that was still hanging around on the higher parts of the basin.
As we got to a crossroads I realised that this was where the paths rejoined, and we’d actually gone the wrong way. D’oh! I was pretty annoyed with myself for falling for the Heslop “talk confidently and everyone will believe you” method AGAIN, and went charging off down the other path to see the Dragon Lake. Poor old Anna trailing along behind, not enjoying the extra climb we had to do. Once we got there Anna waited at one end of the lake while I went to the other end to get a photo of the lake with the glacier on the other side of the valley in the distance. In the end it wasn’t as good as the one that Anna took from her end, but I did have a lot of fun skiing down a particularly steep bit of snow, so it wasn’t wasted trip.
Reunited, Anna and I hiked out over the lip (the lower wall) of the basin into the massive glacial valley behind it. It was a looooong way down, over scree at first, then through flower-filled meadows and finally into the forest. We were checking for ibex all the way down, but sadly no luck. The views were spectacular though, and we were so glad we’d decided to go. On the way down through the forest we saw loads of nutcracker, and thankfully one of them stayed still enough to get a photo!
We also walked through an Alp, the cows either wanted feeding or wanted to kill us, we’re not sure.
We got into the town of Lavin and rushed to the train station for the train back to Zernez. We couldn’t decide the quickest way to the station, so we asked in a shop. The lady gave Anna very, very detailed directions. After which, Anna asked what time the next train to Zernez was. The answer? “Er, now”. Ah well, so we missed that one! We bought some melon in the shop and went up to the station to feast while we waited an hour for the next train. We decided it was pretty good though, we couldn’t do anything, so we didn’t have to feel bad about being lazy!
When the train arrived we took the short ride home, went to the shops and went back to cook dinner. We’re leaving Zernez and the National Park behind tomorrow as we cycle over the Albula Pass towards Chur. There we will pick up the River Rhine, which we will follow all the way to the Netherlands. Apparently it’s going to be hot tomorrow and we have to climb about 700 m up the pass so we want to get an early night and beat the heat!