Engadine Hike to Cavaglia: Glacial Mysteries

Cavaglia Glacier Gardens

It’s easy to see the massive glacial carving from the thick and heavy glaciers that once covered the southern Engadine. The wide u-shaped valleys, scraping of huge boulders, and the tall mounds of moraine left behind testify of the glaciers’ power. Although receded over time, the glaciers are still there continuing to dramatically sculpt the valley.

What’s Going on?

In the Val Poschiavo, just beyond the nose of the Palü Glacier, there’s are churning streams pouring from the ice interrupted by periodic plummeting waterfalls. What’s going on under all that rushing glacial run-off?  This is what you can set out to discover on a favorite hike with Alpenwild’s Best of the Engadine & St Moritz tour.

Palu Glacier
My friend at Palü Glacier. Photo by Elain Witt.

Hiking the Glacial Valley

Belvedere Hotel and Restaurant

An historic ride on the Rhaetian Railway to Ospizio Bernina begins a lovely day of hiking alongside Lago Bianco and through the forests of the Val Poschiavo. A well-maintained trail leads you to the hilltop of Alp Grüm. The peak still covered by the Palü Glacier delights with views of dramatic waterfalls tumbling down the mountainside. Lunch at The Belvedere (see right) provides a chance to enjoy local specialties (definitely try their homemade pastries) and drink in the views as you marvel at the hairpin turn of the Rhaetian Railway in the valley below. After lunch, the final descent is on a trail of wildflowers and forest berries concluding in the tiny village of Cavaglia.

Cavaglia Village window. The town is so neat and clean – inviting to all visitors.

Surprising End of Your Hike

If you’re exhausted from the hike, you can simply wait at the rail station for the next train back to Pontresina. But if you want an exciting conclusion to your day, keep on the path adjacent to the station and head straight to the Gletscher Garten, a natural wonder. There’s a bit of a climb to enter the glacier park, but it’s worth every step. It was over a hundred years ago when a geologist felt there was interesting glacial evidence in the bottom of the valley in Cavaglia that needed to be uncovered. But it seems that no one got around to doing any significant research until the 1990s.

Discovery in Cavaglia

In 1994, careful excavation in Cavaglia led to the discovery of the first glacial pot—a surprisingly deep hollow in a rock carved out by fast-moving glacial run-off and large boulders trapped in cracks. Curiosity and local interest led to searching for more. Once started, nearly every year another deep pot, along with the boulder that carved it, was discovered and excavated. There are over 20 pots that have been meticulously dug out over a 16-year period.

Glacial pots
Glacial pots in the Cavaglia Glacial Garden are carved by years of erosion. The rocks look like Swiss cheese.

Mysterious Process

Cavaglia Glacier Garden
Greg climbs up and down the ladders at the Cavaglia Glacier Garden – it is such an immersive experience!

The process of how these smooth deep pots were created is fascinating. And it may still be going on today under the gushing waterfalls of the Palü Glacier. It is believed that large chunks of rock, broken off by glacial erosion, get stuck in cracks and start swirling and tumbling, knocking off small pieces that slowly etch out these dramatically deep and smooth pots. Designers of the Gletscher Garten have provided an explanatory walkway through this glacial experience. They also installed a ladder to the bottom of one of the deeper pots so hikers can climb down 20 feet, touch the sides, and feel the boulder at the bottom to understand the enormous erosion that took place. The Gletscher Garten concludes with a walk into a cavern that provides additional evidence that glacial run-off is still eroding mysterious pattern in rock.


Elain Witt

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