Ten days ago winter arrived in the Swiss Alps with massive snowfall. Subsequent temperature increase and intensive rainfall led to major floods, avalanches and destruction of infrastructure such as villages and roads. Such events sometimes also affect old buildings and ruins. How did the Mauerzahn (tall stone pinnacle) at Grünenfels castle ruin, which I have earlier written about, stand the test?
Local people in Brigels (canton Graubünden) could not remember such masses of snow so early. Snow fell continuously from Friday 7th to Sunday 9th October and as it stopped half a metre had come down at moderate elevations, with nearly a metre higher up in the mountains. By late Sunday and Monday thaw appeared and combined with rainfall in the central and western Swiss Alps, the resulting floods may have caused more destruction than the 100 year floods in 2005.
Graubünden avoided the worst consequences of the floods since rainfall was moderate here, and as the sun came out on Sunday, a strange winter wonderland emerged: All snow, but trees green with leaves hardly starting to get their golden autumn colours.
With so much greenery and knowing that the medieval Grünenfels castle ruin, in Waltensburg close to Brigels, is situated in dense wood, literally below trees, I feared that snow collecting on the masonry and the trees could lead to collapse of the 8 m tall and extremely fragile pinnacle. I had seen dozens of trees in the environs already breaking due to the snow loads. Could a tree also fall over the ruin and cause damage?
A visit at the ruin on late Sunday afternoon, when thaw had already caused much snow to melt, showed that my concern had been groundless. The masonry pinnacle had not received as much snow as expected and the surrounding trees had stood the test and are probably yet too small to be able to topple the pinnacle when breaking.
A brief investigation also showed that there had been minimal change as to weathering and loss of stones since my last visit a little more than 9 months ago. It is astonishing that so little happens with a so fragile structure, looking like it can collapse any moment!
As far as I know, the forest at the ruin was cleared some 50 years ago. With trees now becoming so large that in the next 10 years or so they will be substantially taller than the pinnacle, extreme snowfall including the collapse of trees may start to pose a more significant risk to the pinnacle than at the moment. So a good idea would be to clear a bit of the forest.
See my previous post about Grünenfels with historic imagery here
About the snowfall and the avalanches: