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Hardergrat/Brienzergrat: Not the World's most dangerous hike

Date walked: 08/10/2021

Time taken: 11 hours

Distance: 24km

Ascent: 2958m

The town of Interlaken sits in between two lakes, the Thunnersee and the Brienzersee. Along the length of the Brienzersee, there is a ridge, extending from Harder Kulm in the West, to the Brienzer Rotthorn in the East. This is known as the 'Hardergrat', although in reality this name refers only to the western end, nearest to Interlaken. The most interesting part, between the Tannhorn and the Brienzer Rotthorn is called the Brienzergrat. Over the years, the Hardergrat/Brienzergrat has become the subject of considerable hyperbole and numerous youtube videos. Influencers, bloggers and vloggers describe being out of their depth, scared, exhausted and dehydrated but otherwise thrilled by this huge, beautiful ridge. Think of the Devil's Ridge in the Mamores, but make it 25 km long, narrower in places and 1000 m higher, and you'll get some idea of the Hardergrat.

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A selection of good YouTube videos and other reports:
Maybe the Most Dangerous Hike in the World

This Ridge-Hike Was Too Intense For Me | Hiking The Hardergrat/Brienzergrat Trail, Switzerland in 4K

This is the Toughest Hike I Have Ever Done! | The Full Hardergrat / Brienzergrat Trail Switzerland

A very nice no nonsense film of the traverse in the E-W direction:

BRIENZERGRAT (Brienzer Rothorn-Harderkulm) SWITZERLAND

Most people walk the Hardergrat in July and August when the days are long there is unlikely to be any snow. Go too early and there may still be dangerous snow patches left over from the winter (a hiker died on the Augstmatthorn in June 2018 when a cornice collapsed). The big problem with the middle of summer is that the high temperatures increase the amount of water you'll need to carry. Typically you'll need 4-5 litres. Going 'late season' (September, October) is cooler but the days are shorter and there is a risk of fresh snow. The Hadergrat/Brienzergrat can be walked in either direction and it's possible to take advantage of the mountain railways at either end. Be warned, the last train down from Brienzer Rotthorn is at 17.40 (check the timetable though). This is why you need an 'Alpine start' - no later than 6.00 am from Interlaken, although I've read reports of people setting off as early as 3.00 am.

I walked the Hardergrat in early October. The weather forcast looked perfect on the day, but there had been some rain and snow in the days leading up. Judging from the webcam on the summit of the Brienzer Rotthorn, there looked to be plenty of snow, so I packed an ice axe and crampons. There was a bit of snow above around 2200 m, but the main problem was mud. I figured an ice axe might be more useful than walking poles and give me a fighting chance of stopping myself if I went over the edge.

The day did not start particularly well. I'd arranged for the hotel to leave some breakfast out for me as I would need to be away before 6 am. I couldn't find anything though, and needed to make do with a couple of apples left in a bowl in reception and some dry cereal. Either they'd forgot, misunderstood what I was asking for, or left my breakfast in a good hiding place (a similar thing happened when I climbed Dents du Midi last year).

I set off at 5.30 am and walked through Interlaken until I reached the station for the Harder Bahn furnicular railway. There is a marked trail which leads from here up through the woods to Harder Kulm. This is reasonably well signposted and easy to follow, even by headtorch. I reached Harder Kulm (1322 m) at 6.45, 1 hour and 15 minutes after starting, and still in the dark:

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After reaching Harder Kulm, the route continues through the forest on a marked trail, steadily gaining height and with few difficulties (a few annoying exposed tree roots). The sun started to rise as I approached the end of the woodland section at about 1800 m:

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The first big peak of the day is the Augstmatthorn (2136 m). This involves a steep climb up to the sub-summit of Suggiture (the pointed peak in the photo below) then a simple ridge walk to the main summit (on the left). The climb up Suggiture is not as bad as appears in the photo. It's steep and tiring but relatively unexposed and there are even a few chain protected sections.

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Looking back over the Hardergrat from Suggiture:

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The summit ridge of Augstmatthorn is quite narrow but doesn't feel exposed:

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A good video of the walk along the Augstmatthorn summit ridge can be found Here (skip to 1:15)

The descent from Augstmatthorn is fairly steep, with one section with a chain for protection. If you find this part difficult, then you shouldn't go any further. It's only going to get worse! There is an escape route a little further along, leading down from the summit of Blasenhubel to Oberried on the lake.

Looking back at the descent from Augstmatthorn:

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The remaining route can now be seen stretching away into the distance (Brienzer Rothorn is the snowy peak on the far right of the photo below). The next peak is the Gummhoren (2040 m)

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Looking back from the ascent of Gummhoren:

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The descent from Gummhoren is steep and awkward in places, especially when muddy (I slipped once but managed to hold myself). A lot of height is lost (about 150 m), all of which will need to be regained on the next peak, Schnierenhireli (2070 m). This is the pattern for the rest of the day: steep, awkward descents and long exhausting climbs, with little overall change in altitude.

I met the first other hiker on the Gummhorn. He'd started at the opposite end, so was going East to West. Interestingly, he was using crampons to avoid slipping in the mud. Over the course of the day, I hardly met a soul; a couple of young ladies a little further along and another hiker on the Tannhorn.

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Looking down from the summit of Schnierenhireli:

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The scrambly, rocky descent shown below is typical of this part of the route.

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The view down to the col at Ällgäuwlicka (1918 m), the lowest col of the route, after the Augstmatthorn:

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The next big peak is the Tannhorn (2221 m). This beautiful four-sided pyramid is undoubtedly the highlight of the whole ridge and also the most difficult and exposed section. From Ällgäuwlicka, there is a steap, exhausting climb up to the minor summit of Ällgäuwhoren (2047 m), seen below on the left:

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Looking back at Schnierenhireli from Ällgäuwhoren:

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The climb up to the Tannhorn:

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As I took the photo above, I was blissfully unaware of something that would put the whole day into jeopardy and turn me (briefly) into a raving maniac. I wonder what it is?

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I was making very good progress. It was approaching 1 pm and I was about 3/4 of the way to the end. I started to think I could catch the second-to-last train down from Breinzer Rotthorn. The weather was great, everything was great. But then it all went wrong...

I'd like to describe what happened next from the perspective of the climber descending from the summit of the Tannhorn. He would have seen me climbing up towards him, making slow but steady progress. Then, when I was perhaps 50 m away, he would have seen me abruptly turn around and start walking back down the slope in a hurry, even running in places. He would have heard me turning the air brown with various expletives and seen me wildly swiping away at the air and rocks with my ice axe. No doubt he was starting to worry that I was a dangerous lunatic or escaped prisoner. He would see me occasionally stop and look over the edge, then keep going. He would have watched me continue my descent of the Tannhorn, back over the subsummit where the photo above was taken, on and on, getting increasingly irate as I went. Eventually he would have lost sight of me as I disappeared over the summit of Ällgäuwhoren. And then, he would have seen me coming back the other way towards him. This time though, I would appear to be happy. As we approached each other, he would have heard me say "I'm not a psychopath" before going on to explain that I'd left my jacket, which contained (1) my house keys, (2) my hotel key, (3) my iPod, (4) my train ticket :roll:

The other climber was amused at my story and we exchanged notes about the route and wished each other good day. In total, going back to retrieve my jacket had cost me about 45 minutes. Not so bad but the needless extra ascent and descent took its toll :(

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I passed two small memorial crosses near the summit of the Tannhorn. Interesting, as this (West) side of the mountain is relatively benign. On the summit I met a group of three climbers who were wearing harnesses with via ferrata gear and had a rope. They had climbed up the other side of the Tannhorn (i.e. where I was going) and explained there was a short section of via ferrata further down the ridge.

As first, the descent from the Tannhorn is not so bad, but gets narrower and narrower and more exposed the further down you go. This is the part of the Hardergrat that earns it the 'most dangerous hike in the world' label. Youtube videos are usually filmed using fisheye lenses to maximise the sensation of vertigo. Sure, they exaggerate the exposure, but this is still a narrow and scary section that requires concentration and a steady nerve :crazy:

A good Youtube video with a less pronounced fisheye effect (going in the opposite direction) can be found here

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Soon, the ridge narrows to roughly 1 foot wide, with considerable exposure on both sides. A fall to the North would almost certainly be fatal. The slope on the south side is extremely steep in places and could also result in a fatal fall. I walked slowly and with great care. The ground was still a little muddy, which further complicated things.

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:crazy:

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The final section of the descent leads a few metres below the crest of the ridge and is protected by a cable (this is the via ferrata the climbers on the summit were geared up for).

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After the descent from the Tannhorn, the worst is over. The exposure continues, but only on one side (the North) and there are no more big descents/re-ascents.

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Nearing the end of the walk, the peak of Lättgässli looked intimidating:

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The route leads to the left (North) side of Lättgässli and up through the obvious snow gully in the centre of the photo below. It's much easier than it looks. A set of concrete steps have been built and there's also a section of cable protection. Technically easy but very tiring at this late stage of the day.

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Looking back from the top of Lättgässli:

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The penultimate peak is Schongütch (2319 m). It's possible to walk right over the crest of the ridge but I chose the easier traverse, missing the summit.

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Finally I arrived at the train station. I was utterly shattered but I still had one thing left to do: I needed to climb to the summit of the Brienzer Rotthorn itself.

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This is a ridiculously easy stroll along a wide track, leading to an extensive summit plaftorm with benches, orientation tables and a huge trig point. In itself, the Brienzer Rotthorn is nothing special, perhaps the most uninteresting part of the route after leaving the forest before the Augstmatthorn. But because it has the status of a p1000 and a canton high point (Lucerne), this is the one peakbaggers go for.

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Looking back over the ridge, the Augstmatthorn can be seen at the far end. What you can see here is only about 60% of the route!

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View towards the Grindelwald peaks, including the Schreckhorn (4078 m):

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View looking East, with Titlis in the background:

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Finally, I got the last steam train down to Brienz. Some of the passengers had only just come up. Literally, they'd taken the train up, wandered around for 5 minutes then went straight back down!

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Does the Hardergrat live up to its hype? Absolutely, although I think the 'World's most dangerous hike' label is a bit of an overstatement. If you can handle the Aonach Eagach ridge, you can handle the Hardergrat. The main considerations are setting off early, bringing enough food and water and making sure you're very fit and well rested before starting. Othwerwise, go for it!

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Location: Geneva
Occupation: Physicist working at CERN
Activity: Stravaiging
Mountain: Breithorn
Member: Österreich Alpenverein (Austrian alpine club), BMC

Munros: 83
Corbetts: 5
Grahams: 5
Donalds: 17
Wainwrights: 214
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Statistics

2021

Trips: 4
Distance: 24 km
Ascent: 6097m

2020

Trips: 4
Distance: 27 km
Ascent: 2200m
Wainwrights 1

2019

Trips: 9
Distance: 127 km
Ascent: 1000m
Munros: 6
Hewitts: 14
Wainwrights 18

2018

Trips: 10
Distance: 80.3 km
Munros: 17
Grahams: 1
Hewitts: 15
Wainwrights 35

2017

Trips: 3
Distance: 52 km
Ascent: 1207m
Munros: 6
Hewitts: 11
Wainwrights 14


Joined: Apr 09, 2017
Last visited: Jan 23, 2022
Total posts: 308 | Search posts