Through the Glarner Alps on the Via Alpina – Stage 3 – Elm to Linthal via the Richetlipass

Have you ever decided against doing a hike based on the numbers? Maybe it was too long—15 or 20 miles.  And you were looking for a more leisurely 5-mile day hike. Or maybe the deal breaker was 4000 feet of vertical ascent, and you were unsure of your ability to pull it off and still be able to walk the next day.  Such was the case the first time I considered doing stage three of the Via Alpina, from Elm to Linthal via the Richetlipass.

The guidebook boasts a 15.2-mile stage with 4888 feet of ascent and a 6000-foot descent. Beyond the numbers, the hike description was intimidating. It used phrases like “quite a tough day’s walking”…”demanding”…and “…the descent is very steep on a narrow twisting path that can be slippery when wet.” Don’t try to cheer me up. And considering I would be hiking solo, I wasn’t about to get in over my head or risk injury alone in a remote Alpine region.

Starting Out

I thought it was a poor strategy to put such a daunting stage so early in the trek. And those numbers would be more doable after putting 8 to 10 stages on my boots and on calves that had already been chiseled and toughened with ten or twenty thousand feet of pounding descent.

So, when I returned to hike this stage I wanted to be prepared and make it a positive experience. One that I would look back on with enjoyment and fond memories—not regret. To soften the ascent, and make the hike more appealing to guests on our guided tours, I take a shortcut. I started the day with a short Postbus ride from Elm to the Obererbs ski hut, which saves about 2hr 30min of hiking and 720m/2362 feet of vertical ascent.

Obererbs Ski Hut, a high start for the Richetlipass crossing

Two Passes

Crossing the Richetlipass actually involves crossing two passes. The first is an unnamed “false pass” at 2160m just north of the Erbser Stock. As you arrive at that pass and round the bend, your heart will surely sink a few inches when you realize you’ll need to drop and regain 230m as you cross the Wichlenmatt basin in front of you before conquering the 2260m Richetlipass, now in full view to the west. But, don’t let it get you down—The Wichlenmatt basin is beautiful, and I regard it as the highlight of the day’s hike.

Take your time as you stroll through the Wichlenmatt basin. You’ll probably be joined by cows and have great photo ops of the Glarus Thrust. The Glarus Thrust is one of the defining geologic features of the Swiss Tectonic Arena Sardona, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. As you gaze across the basin look for the “magic line”. It’s a horizontal line below the ridge which shows where 100 million years ago the African plate collided with the European plate and deposited older rock on top of much younger rock.

Can you see the “Magic Line” below the ridge?

The Final Descent

From the Richetlipass, it’s a very steep descent into the Hinter Vorsteg. The trail stays steep. And in some spots rubbly for 874m/2870 feet down to Unterstafel where you arrive at the first farm buildings. The remaining descent into Linthal can be on the road or on trail shortcuts. By the time you reach Linthal you will have descended 6000 feet. That’s a demanding day for any hiker. 

Greg Witt
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