Haldensteiner Calanda

  • Haldensteiner Calanda
  • 2806 m
  • Primary factor 1449 m
  • Location: North 46:54 , East 009:28
  • Near Chur, Switzerland
  • Difficulty: YDS class 2+
  • Attempted: August 30, 2011, did not summit.


How to get there:
This peak can be climbed from the small village of Haldenstein, located just north of Chur (east side), or from the village of Vättis on the west side. The east route can also use a mountain hut located about 3.5-4 hours from Haldenstein. The shortest approach is from the west and will be described here.
Locate Bad Ragaz, about 23 kilometer north of Chur. The travel time from Zürich airport should be about 1.5 hours (125 kilometer). Near the center of Bad Ragaz, locate signs that give directions to Vättis. Follow the signs and drive uphill with sharp curves, then into the valley while the road stays high on the left side. The distance from Bad Ragaz to the upper (south) end of Vättis is close to 15 kilometer. As you enter the village, take the left fork and drive to a small open place with a small gas station / grocery store and a bridge going left across the river. This locatíon is N46:54.564, E009:26.406, elevation about 940 meter. Keep track of your distance from this bridge.
Continue across the bridge and stay right on Langgasse. After about 100 meter, fork left just before a water fountain, onto Calandastrasse. This road will cross another small river on a bridge after about 300 meter. Take the second left fork after this bridge, the road has a sign saying Los. The road starts gently uphill and the pavement ends at about 400 meter. Continue uphill through forest until emerging at a farmers field at about 700 meter. There is a road fork and a sharp left curve here, also stacks of fire wood. This is the trailhead, location N46:54.237, E009:26.324, elevation close to 970 meter. Find parking off the road and without blocking any access.
The small village of Vättis has two hotels. I stayed at Tamina, a very friendly place that also served good local trout for dinner. as an alternative to driving 700 meter, I just left my car in the hotel parking lot.
Route description:
From a few meter up the road after the 180 degree left curve, you will see a sign on the uphill side of the road saying Calanda. Pick up the very tiny trail and proceed uphill. The trail is marked with red paint on trees as it clings to the unreasonably steep hillside. The trail is clear, but very narrow in places. The slope that you traverse is mostly very steep, ie. one needs to stay on the trail at all times. After 500 meter of vertical gain, you reach a somewhat more level plateau at location N46:53.960, E009:26.528, elevation 1470 meter. Shortly, you will see a cabin on your right, while the trail curves left before continuing somewaht more gently uphill.
However, the trail is soon back at climbing more steeply in order to reach the top of a small shoulder, from where it can traverse a steep slope (uphill is now on your left side) and reach a rocky gully at location N46:53.774, E009:27.168, elevation about 1815 meter. Cross the gully and continue along a tiny, but clear trail ascending the steep terrain to the right of this gully. The trail continues steeply uphill with zig-zags in grass terrain among low pine tree vegetation. Higher up, the slope eases somewhat as you enter a sloping valley with rocks at the upper side. The route traverses a bit right and runs directly towards the rock band where it seems lower. The trail is well marked here and turns into (YDS) class 2+, the use of hands is convenient, but possibly not absolutely needed. At the top you emerge at some sort of treshold to a flat, grassy valley with steep slopes all around. There is a big pole with a solar cell panel and some sort of instruments (automatic weather station) right in front of you.
Continue straight ahead along a trail that initially is very clear, but then fades out among grass and rocks and completely vanish. Unfortunately (in 2011), the red paint showing the route is missing as well. There is a steepish looking crack in the rocks at the far end of the valley, leading up to what appears to be the lowest point on the horizon towards the east. Climb this narrow passage and reach the saddle. Around here, you merge with the trail that ascends from the east side of the mountain (from Haldenstein). Turn north (left) and follow the marked path to the summit, marked with a large cross.
I had just climbed Piz Bernina and was on my way home to Norway. Since we had climbed Bernina in only two days, but allocated three in case of weather or any other possible issue, I realized that I might have time to climb a "bonus peak" on my way back to Zürich. The obvious candidate was Haldensteiner Calanda, located near Chur and on my way back to the airport. Unfortunately, I had limited information about this peak, but I knew a few things. The question was if I should try to hike from the east (where most people go), or try the shorter route from the west. One option would be to try getting to the alpine hut already on Monday evening. A climb would then be easy taking into consideration that I needed to catch my airplane around 1400 on Tuesday. We had lunch in Pontresina before splitting up and by the time I was in Chur, the time was already 1800. I could hike to the hut, but would then arrive pretty late and long after dark. Taking my available information into account, I decided it would be better overall to stay in Vättis. I drove there and checked in on the local hotel Tamina. After an excellent evening meal (local trout), I got organized and planned an early departure.
I woke up at 0330, packed my car and was ready to go by 0400. The trail was narrow and traversed steep terrain, this much was clear in the light from my strong head lamp. At one spot, I missed a sharp right turn and continued on a tiny trail straight ahead that got so dangerous that I realized it likely was wrong. Reversing my hike, my flashlight quickly picked up some red trail paint confirming my mistake. Higher up, I passed pretty close to the hut without seeing it. The time was close to 0600 when I entered a rocky gully and again started to think that I had lost the trail. This turned out to be right, I relocated the trail and noticed that daylight was coming. Higher up, I again temporarily lost the trail before seeing that it went up the steep rocky section that required some easy scrambling.
On top, the little green valley ahead looked very nice. A big pole with quite a bit of instrumentation had been placed in the flat, grassy area. The trail led straight into the valley a bit up on its left hand side. Unfortunately, the trail soon vanished and there was no red marker to be seen anywhere. I looked at the crack straight ahead, but concluded that it could not be the route since it a) looked bad, and b) there were no red paint markers. The only reasonable way to reach higher ground seemed to be up a gully to the left of this crack.
Twice already, I had lost the trail, returned back to the last trail marker and carefully found the correct trail again. Consequently, I descended back to the big pole, got back onto the trail with red markers, then carefully tried to not loose it. However, this was again a failure. I finally decided to investigate the left going gully in more detail. There was indeed some sort of (weak) trail ascending and also some small cairns. Unfortunately, no red painted stripe on any rock. I was pretty sure that I would get to the summit this way and decided to proceed uphill.
I gained elevation reasonably fast, but the terrain was unpleasant. Loose rocks on a pretty steep slope. The whole process slowed me down as I carefully picked my way higher. I realized that the time was closing in on 0830, 4.5 hours from the start. Assuming that I would need 3.5 hours to descend, I would be back by 1200. Hmmm. My absolutely latest return time should be at 1300, otherwise I would risk not making my flight back to Norway. It did not look very realistic to summit and be back at this point by 0930. I sat down and looked around. The views were a bit obstructed by clouds, but I could still see summits in several directions.
After 10 minutes, I got up and started my descent. It was pretty clear that I had lost the route, that making the summit would be unlikely and that my best option was to hike back down and at least make my flight home. The descent turned out to be faster than expected and I was back down by 1100. Thus, in theory, I could have continued my climb and perhaps found a route (off-trail) to the summit. Despite the lack of a summit, I did have a good trip, all alone, in pretty wild terrain. I ascended about 1700 vertical meter and certainly got a good dose of exercise before my flight back home.
After getting back, I consulted more with various trips described on the Internet. This made it clear that the impossibly looking crack, must have been the correct route. The lessons to be learned are not surprising. A map would have been useful. I tried buying this the day before, but even the local hotels did not have it. More careful research of the route on the internet before leaving would have helped. Yes, but this being a bonus peak, my focus had been on the main objective, Bernina. More careful reasoning when the trail vanished. Yes, with hindsight, I should have attempted the impossible looking crack, there may very well be some red paint there as soon as you get really close into the place. Yes, one should remember that there are many examples of routes in the Alps that look "impossible" from a distance, then they somehow work after all. Here is a map documenting my hike.