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Hiking the Hardergrat Switzerland

The Hardergrat trail, Swiss Alps

Last summer, Janine and I posted a story about our experience on the Hardergrat (aka Brienzergrat). In German, a “grat” is a ridge, while Harder is just a name. However, in this case it is appropriate – it is indeed a hard ridge. It is also one of the best experiences I have ever had in the mountains.

The blog about our day was a huge success while the images we made were picked up by several magazines throughout the US and Europe as a Destination Feature. Since then, I have been contacted about 100 times by people who either did it because of our report, or were about to.

This summer, we once again found ourselves headed out our door at 3 a.m. to start the Hardergrat. This time we were with two great friends, Brendan Leonard of Semi-Rad fame and Hilary Oliver, of The Gription.

Why post about the Hardergrat again? This year the weather made for an interesting comparison of photos and how we document a day in such an amazing place. Last summer, Janine and I had nothing but blue sky and could see huge distances. This year we were mostly engulfed in clouds, yet our highpoints were like small islands in a sea of clouds. Brendan and Hilary never really had the experience of seeing the full length of the ridge line, one of the single most impressive parts of the trail. But, this years ever present clouds made for added drama and mystery.

Hardergrat Facts

The trail literally rises from the town of Interlaken, at the Harderkulm Station. It ascends 1700 meters to the Augstmatthorn where it finally levels off, only to go up and down for the rest of the day, until the Brienzer Rothorn.

Total Distance : 27km  |  Total Gain : 3100 meters

Hints : Be sure to make the last train down at the Brienzer Rothorn station on the other end or you’ll be descending 1700 meters. There is no water anywhere on the trail, carry enough. Do not do the trail if it is wet. The trail is, in many places, a narrow path with enormous drops on both sides, people have fallen off and been killed. Anyone attempting the trail should be very accustomed to heights and comfortable in this terrain. It is a serious trail. At least one hiking pole is recommended. Escape from the trail is possible in only a few places and include big descents to either the north or south.

For more complete information, visit our ALPSinsight running and hiking the Hardergrat page.

The Harder viewing platform, dawnJanine in 2013 at the Harderkulm, a viewing platform and restaurant 730 meters above Interlaken.

Hiking with headlamps

A 3 a.m. start insures a lot of headlamp time.

The Hardergrat trail, Swiss AlpsHardergrat at sunriseSunrise in 2013 vs 2014. This year it was just the beginning of what would become a day long magic show.

The Hardergrat trail, Swiss AlpsHiking the Hardergrat at sunriseWhat’s more impressive? Seeing the length of the ridge in clear skies, or the ridge splitting the clouds?

The Hardergrat trail, Swiss Alps Hiking the HardergratIn 2013 we always saw what lay ahead while this year, things were a bit of a mystery.

Hiking the HardergratHilary about to go under again as our endpoint, the Brienzer Rothorn lies in the distance.

Hiking the Hardergrat in thick cloudsAbout half the ridge line looks like this.

Brienzer Rothorn StationFinished! Brendan about to order breakfast, lunch and dinner.

The Breinzer Rothorn BahnOur ride down, the Brienzer Rothorn Bahn, an old steam locomotive that carries tourists up and down from the small village of Brienz.

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Comments 58

  1. Awesome posting, great photos as always! Could you run the route, or is it too sketchy/narrow in many places to really run?

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      Author

      For sure you can run a lot of it, but in some sections there is no way. Just way too steep both in the ups and downs. I have run the first half many times, it is after the Augstmatthorn that things get tricky. Have at it.

  2. Awesome! Magic! I wonder wether a “normal” person, just used to alpine hiking trails, forest roads and the odd steep “Steig” could use this route or would it be to difficult? That ridge sure looks sharp to me and one false step could prove fatal…

  3. Are there any dangerous areas before Augstmatthorn? or not at all scary? I can not get to the Brienzer Rothorn 🙁

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      From Interlaken to Augstmatthorn is much less exposed, it is after Augstmatthorn, heading eat that it gets exposed. From Interlaken this is just the section of the big gain, 1700 meters up, and long. It is super worth just doing this section, so I hope you make the effort to at least do this part.

  4. Looks beyond amazing. Do you know what the season for being able to do this hike is? We are going to switzerland in March for the first time and I am dying to do this trail but am worried it will be snowy. Thanks!!

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      Hi There, Thanks for the kind comments! March will not be possible on the Hardergrat due to snow. It’s a purely summer or fall trail as it sits too high. You’ll just have to come back!

  5. I would really like to do this hike. My concern is that most blogs mention the exposed sections and risks. Could someone please tell me how long are those exposed sections and how many exposed sections are there? Thanks

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      Judy,
      There are two standout exposed sections, one is a grass downclimb, but with hummocks. If they’re dry it’s not so bad, but if wet, scary…. It’s about a 50 meter down climb. The other is about a 100 meter section of ridge that is just wildly steep on both sides, crazy for grass. You can almost crawl down it if need be. The ridge itself is about 50cm wide and has some natural steps, but the exposure makes it feel even more narrow.

  6. Hi Pati,

    How about the first week of June? Is that a safe time to do the hike? Also, Is Trift bridge far from Hardergrat? We would like to do both within a two day period.

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      Early June is a big maybe, depends on how much snow is left… The Trift Bridge Trail is about a 50 minute drive from Interlaken, but again, depends on conditions in early June…

  7. Thank you for the quick response. Do you lead hikes on the Hardergrat trail? Or do you know of anyone one, or a local outfitter company that leads hike? I am visiting for two days in the first week of June with two other friends however, they are afraid of heights and have no desire to hike the Hardergrat (even though I’ve tried to explain to them it’s a once in a lifetime experience). I do not want to hike alone. I live in the States and going to Norway, Germany, Switzerland and Italy. Any information is greatly appreciated. Thank you! Giselle_Romero@yahoo.com

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      Author

      We don’t offer guided tours, sorry. For this you would need to probably hire a mountain guide. You can contact the local Guide’s Office in Grindelwald, or try Grindelwald Sports.

  8. This trail looks amazing and I really want to do it, however Im not so fit to do it all. Is it possible to just do part of it (say 3-4 hours return trip) and if so, which part would you recommend to someone who rarely hikes and is going with a dog?
    Thanks.

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      Author

      You can get on the ridge from the north side if you can get up to Lombachalp, then just do the section from Augstmatthorn east for as long as you like – that’s the key section. But, so too the Tannenhorn a little further along. Have fun.

  9. Is either direction preferable?..can you shorten day by taking lift to harder kulm station?..if could only do partial day, would you start on Interlaken side or brien side?? will be there in early July and would love to do but not sure about 3am start…thanks, don

  10. I am having trouble finding any information about this hike. Is there a book or hiking guide I can purchase.? How do I find out about the trains to get back to Interlaken?

    Thank you, Donnalee

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      1. Thank you so much for your answer. I am still at a loss at to how to find out how to do it. Are there signs? How do we know where to go? What trails do we follow? I am worried we will get up there and get lost and have a tragic experience on our one and only family vacation to Switzerland. Or, get turned around and miss the last train back to Interlaken. We are staying in Wilderswil. We have hiked the 2000+ miles of the Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine in the US and had a guide book the whole length of the way. My son and daughter really want to hike this. I will check out the train schedule. Thank you again.

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          Author

          You really can’t get lost, it’s a ridge for almost the entire length. Only in Interlaken is it a bit complicated, just follow signs first for the Harderkulm, then the Augstamatthorn. The only section where there are other trails to confuse you are from Interlaken to Harderkulm, but even there just follow the signs. After the Harderkulm Restaurant you are on the ridge and can only go along it – it’ll be obvious that the trails splitting off of it only go down. Study that map! http://map.geo.admin.ch/?X=190000.00&Y=660000.00&zoom=1&lang=en&topic=ech&bgLayer=ch.swisstopo.pixelkarte-farbe

          1. Thank you for your reply. I hate to bother you, but I have one last question.
            When we get to Brienz Rothorn, will the train take us down to Brienz, or back to Interlaken, and can we purchase the tickets ahead of time? Sorry, that was two questions.
            I did purchase a map.
            Donnalee

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            Author

            The train from the Brienzer Rothorn will take you only as far as Brienz, from there you’ll walk across the street and take a normal train to Interlaken, about 20 minutes. You can buy tickets at each station, just be aware of what time the last train goes down from the Brienzer Rothorn – it’s all online.

  11. Would it be advantageous starting this hike in brienz. Using the lift to gain initial altitude and hiking west to harder kulm…? The eastern section seems more dramatic in case you couldn’t complete in one day and might be more downhill hiking toward harder kulm rather than the initial climb needed by starting at harder kulm and I believe that lift closes later in the day??? Thanks. Will be there in July and this hike at top of our list

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      Author

      Starting on the Brienzer Rothorn could be good, it’s the middle part that is most scenic – and easier to get to from the north. You can always get off in the middle and escape to Lombachalp, then take a bus to Interlaken.

  12. Thank you so much for your reply. Sorry Im still a bit lost where should I start and how to leave in the middle of it coz I definitely won’t be able to do the whole trail. Please advise for someone who rarely hikes and is going with a dog so better be the easiest part but with good scenery.
    I’ll be taking funicular up to Harder Kulm. Does the trail start from the summit restaurant? How long does it take to get to the Augstmatthorn section and is it difficult for a normal person with a dog?
    Alternatively, would it be less difficult to start from Brienzer Rothorn or Lombachalp? If so, how do I get up to that (sorry I’m from Hong Kong and I have no idea about the geography in Switzerland)? And where can I get off the ridge after say 2-3 hrs hiking and go back to Interlaken? Thank you so much for sharing the information. I rarely go hiking and I’m going alone, so I want to make sure I’m going on the easiest part of the trail and come down safe. 🙂

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      Author

      I’d say best to start in Lombachalp and hike the hour up to the peak, it’s much easier and safer. You can take a bus to Lombachalp from Interlaken, check in at the station in town.

      1. Thx alot for your reply. Ok I will start from Lombachalp. Do I go towards Augstmatthorn direction and how long approximately will it take? And where do I get off the ridge and how can I go back to Interlaken? Is there any website I can check the weather up on the hardergrat to decide whether its worth going. Thx so much for your help.

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          Author

          Just watch the Swiss Meteo weather, there is no Hardergrat weather forecast. From Lombachalp it is very obvious where to go – up. It’s about an hour from Lombachalp to the ridge, then it’s up to you how much more you want to do.

          1. Thanks alot. For someone who doesn’t have much experience in hiking, can you please tell me what is the max. wind speed that I can go hiking on Hardergrat safely? 🙂 Can you pls tell me where has some exit point on the ridge after 2-3 hours hiking that I can take a bus back down? Really appreciate your kind help.

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          3. i will be arriving Switzerland. Do you know if the weather will be ok to go up Hardergrat? No more snow? thx alot.

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            Author

            For the Hardergrat questions…. there is no topo, or website – in fact we are probably the only ones who have provided anything, on this site. It is a bit of an adventure. Don’t go when thunderstorms are forecast – and DO NOT go when it could be wet up there. Other than that, you follow an obvious ridgeline and you are on your own. Escape is possible to the north and south in a couple of places. Study the map! http://map.geo.admin.ch/?X=190000.00&Y=660000.00&zoom=1&lang=en&topic=ech&bgLayer=ch.swisstopo.pixelkarte-farbe

  13. Thanks for your report, it really wet my mouth enough to decide I wanted to do it on my own :-).
    I’ve done the whole thing on June 5th, starting in Interlaken at 9AM, arriving at the Brienzer Rothorn at 8PM, then running down to Brienz within 2 hours to get the train back to Interlaken. Wowza, that was a loong day :-), but fantastic. Unfortunately I had to leave out the Tannhorn/Balmi part since the weather was appearing to get unstable, so I went from Ällgäulücke down to Bitschi, but then re-ascended from Läger towards Wannepass since the dark clouds suddenly disappeared again :-).
    Here are some pictures from my trip: .
    Thanks again! I have good memories in my head now :-).

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  14. I made a video of my trip to Switzerland including hiking Hardergrat. The hike had many sketchy areas compared to hikes I have done before but I am glad I did it, some of the best views you will ever see. Thanks for the article! Not sure I would have ever done it if I never came across it.

  15. What are the conditions like on the hardargrat in April and early May? Is it possible to do it in that time frame or is their too much snow and ice?

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      Author

      It’s highly unlikely to be able to do the Hardergrat in early May. It would likely have to too much snow on it on the north side, which you often need to be just slightly on. I’m sure it can be done, but safely, or for fun – less so. Sorry! Also, just FYI, we have a new site up for mountain sport ideas in the Alps, I hope you’ll have a look, it’s ALPSinsight.com

  16. Hi i’m looking to do this incredible hike with some friends. Can it be done in 1 day? Is 16 miles (27 Km) realistic? Does starting at 3 am give enough time to rest and take in the views? Thanks!

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      Author

      It can be done in a day, it is normal, but of course it all depends on the individual. Starting at 3 for sure buys you insurance to get it done, and you’ll hopefully see a great sunrise.

  17. I’m wanting to do part of the Hardergrat end of sept. how is the weather usually around that time of year? Also my fiance has a slight fear of heights but has done rock climbing so we are thinking he can handle it but we dont want to do the whole thing or the more sketchy areas near Brienzer rothhorn (which from my research seems to be where it gets more difficult?) . my question is if we are staying in Interlaken and start from there, is there an exit before it gets too rocky ? if so how far from the start at interlaken and is there signs showing you where the exit is?

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      Author

      Typically the fall is the best time of year for weather, but of course it is impossible to say. If you start in Interlaken, you can exit the ridge in several places prior to the steepest sections. A key exit is at the Augstmatthorn, descending north to Lombachalp, then taking a bus back to Interlaken. After the Augstmatthorn there is another descending south to the lake, huge descent (~1400 meters) before the narrowest and steepest sections. After this exit you are pretty well committed as the exits are amongst the steep sections and/or it is very long to get back. I encourage you to really study the map of the ridge! https://map.geo.admin.ch/

  18. Thanks for the awesome blog post! I have decided to start the hike from Lombachalp – Augstmatthorn – Brienzer Rothorn. I see that you mentioned it was a 1 hour climb from Lombachalp to Augstmatthorn. How long approximately is the hike (assuming I won’t be running) from Augstmatthorn to the Brienzer Rothorn? Thank you!

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      Hi Isabella, It’s so difficult to say the time from Augstmatthorn to Brienzer Rothorn without knowing you. I’d guess it to be around 4 hours at a normal hiking pace. It’s about 13km, but with lots of up and down and the narrow sections that require caution. Have a great time, be careful, take trekking poles, and don’t go if it is wet or could get wet! // Dan

  19. My husband and I are doing this hike at the end of August. We are super excited!! It looks amazing and I so appreciate all of the comments and helpful advice. We really can’t wait. We plan to do the entire hike so I was wondering if you could give me an idea of total time. We are experienced hikers so we hike at a pretty good pace. But with time to stop for photos and just to enjoy the view, we want to make sure we arrive in time to take the train down to Brienz. Can anybody recommend an appropriate starting time for the hike? Would 8:00 am give us enough time to do the hike, stop for photos, probably take a quick lunch break and then arrive with adequate time to ride down to Brienz? Or should we plan to start earlier than 8:00?

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      Hi Brenda,
      We often do the trail quickly, running sections of it, and then kind of power hiking it. At this rate, at our speed, it takes about 6.5-7 hours. But a lot of friends do it at a normal hiking pace and it takes up to 10 hours. It is hard to say what normal speed is for people, and how long of breaks you take, plus it is slow going in the steep sections. And, you don’t want to miss that train down. Be sure to check what time last train is. Just FYI, we start at 3:30 in the morning to get sunrise on the ridge, and it is cooler for the big up – remember, there is no water on the ridge.
      Have fun!
      Dan

      1. Thank you so much Dan!!! We hadn’t even thought about being on the ridge at sunrise but now we are planning to start much earlier because that just seems like something we need to see!! Thanks again. Your comments and advice are greatly appreciated.

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          Author

          I did the Hardergrat two days ago and am posting a story with info on our @alpsinsight Instagram feed. So, all very current. I hope it helps. Have a great time up there. The flowers have been superb.

  20. We would like to hike the Hardergrat in July. However, we were hoping to stay in Lauterbrunnen. Is there a way to get to the start of the Hardergrat from Lauterbrunnen really early in the morning (before sunrise)?

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  21. hello, i want to go hardergrat on the end of april, what i need? the trail is open or closed on this time?

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      Author

      It’s highly unlikely to be able to do the whole Hardergrat until some time in June. It all depends on how much snow we have and how warm the spring is. Many facts about the ridge are on our site.

  22. Hi! I noticed on the map that you can start the trail either at the base of the Harderkulm station or near Unterseen. Which would you recommend? I plan on hiking it in late June and want to leave early to catch the sunrise. Is one easier to find/navigate in the dark?

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      Author

      They are really the same. The Unterseen is a bit more direct, but overall it doesn’t matter.

  23. Hello,
    I’m planning to go on 15th August.
    Can you please guide me with the exact plan I should follow? I’m on tight budget so can’t afford any hotel. I’m looking for hut-hut hike. From Interlaken how should I start and in Brienz, where should I go to spend a night? I’m planning to go back to my home next day so I need your guidance regarding exact plan I should make to make it successful.
    Please do reply 🙂

    Thank you.

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      Author

      Hi Jackie,
      Mid October…? Maybe. At that time of year it just depends on how much, if any, snow has fallen and how warm it has been to melt it off the top. The whole trail in in Mid October is iffy, but getting up to the Augstmatthorn is likely as long as there isn’t too much snow. Best to check in prior to for a condition report.
      Dan

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