Stage 4 – Elm to Linthal, Hiking the Via Alpina 1

ibex in the alps

Stage 4 – Elm to Linthal 

On the trail of the Alpine ibex

Today, we venture on the path from Elm to Linthal, we extend deeper into the Glarus Alps and enter the realm of the ibex. The ibex is unfamiliar to most North American hikers. It’s a mountain goat, (Capra ibex) closely related to the mountain goats found in the Rockies and Cascades in the west. But with large backslung scimitar-shaped horns, it looks very different from any mountain goat you’ve probably ever seen.

By the end of the 19th century, the Alpine ibex was facing extinction. Only a small remnant population of about 60 to 100 animals survived in the Gran Paradiso massif in Italy’s Val d’Aosta. The Italian royal family placed this area under protection hoping to see the herd size increase. Swiss wildlife parks attempted to acquire several Alpine ibexes, but exportation was specifically prohibited by the Italian king. Eventually, several ibex fauns were smuggled out of Italy and ended up in the Peter and Paul wildlife park in St. Gallen Switzerland. These smuggled fauns became the basis of a successful breeding program, and under protection, the Alpine ibex has flourished in Switzerland. Under protection, there are now over 40,000 ibex in the Swiss Alps.

The ibex is a true alpine species. They love hanging out well above treeline on jagged and rocky escarpments. Both sexes have horns, with the male horns being considerably longer. Adult females weigh about 40kg (88 lbs) while adult males can weigh up to 100 kg (220 lbs).

If you look closely at the front side of a male ibex’s horns, you’ll see ridges or nodes which can give an indication of the age of the animal. These nodes start developing at the age of two, and normally develop two nodes each year, although it’s possible that some ibex will only develop one or sometimes three within a year. 

Skipping Linthal and Loving Braunwald

As we descend from the pass and come out of the woods, the  pretty town of Linthal is spread out before us. But Linthal is most endearing when viewed from a kilometer away. Linthal is the little town time forgot—and not in a charming way. I spent a couple hours walking around Linthal and never found a hotel, tourism office, restaurant, grocery store, or much sign of life. I think all the smart money left for the car-free mountain resort of Braunwald just a short funicular ride up the hill. And since the funicular operates from 5:25 a.m. to 11:55 p.m., there’s no stress about missing the last funicular up or down. Bottom line—If you’re hiking the Via Alpina, stay the night in Braunwald

Linthal Switzerland
Linthal, Switzerland. Photo credit: Greg Witt

The lower funicular station is right across from the Linthal Braunwaldbahn railway station. Once on board it’s an eye-poppingly steep funicular that slingshots you from the valley floor at 654m to this sunny perch at 1256m in just seven minutes. At the top, you can explore in many different directions. There are hotels, restaurants, a sports show and on-site activities. Our next day’s destination is set, but Braunwald has lots of appeal and I hope to return for a longer stay—either summer or winter.

Breathing mountain air

The Braunwald funicular was built in 1907 to take visitors up to a sanitorium located just below the funicular’s top station. The sanitorium was one of hundreds built in Switzerland in the late 19th and early 20th century. As tuberculosis ravaged much of the northern European and British population, enterprising doctors in Switzerland developed a treatment which consisted of not much more than lying on lounge chairs in the fresh air, drinking lots of milk, and eating well. The Swiss Alps soon became a haven for tuberculosis sufferers as people came to believe the fresh mountain air held the cure. Many of the sanatoriums remained until the 1950s when doctors started treating tuberculosis with antibiotics.

Today the sanatoriums are gone but people still come to Braunwald to ski, mountain bike, hike, and sometimes to just breath the mountain air. Today city people in Zurich are poaching in 90°F weather as I sit on my balcony overlooking the Glarus Alps. The temperature is around 70°F—maybe 72°. As the sun sets, the mountain peaks are still fully illuminated for another couple hours. The temperature drops a few degrees. The stars appear and I’m still on my balcony, just breathing mountain air. 

Todi view from Braunwald
Todi view from Braunwald, Switzerland. Photo credit: Greg Witt

Wildflowers: Our trail-side treat today was this wild mountain rose. We also saw the alpenrose, which is not a rose, but a rhododendron, but we’ll cover that later.

Wild Rose
Wild Rose. Photo credit: Greg WItt

Food Tips: Don’t miss the Glarner Wine Soup at the Tödiblick Hotel in Braunwald. Are those Läderach chocolates on a welcome plate in my hotel room?—Yes! Läderach is Switzerland’s leading chain of boutique chocolatiers and they have a production facility just down the valley in Ennenda.

Join us on the Via Alpina next summer on either of two exciting tours, the Via Alpina or Bernese Oberland Traverse.

Next: Via Alpina Stage 5 – Linthal (Braunwald) to Urnerboden


Stage 3: Weisstannen to Elm – Hiking the Via Alpina 1

Stage 2 – Sargans to Weisstannen – Hiking the Via Alpina 1

Stage 1 – Vaduz to Sargans – Hiking the Via Alpina 1


Greg Witt
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