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The Hardergrat Interlaken Switzerland

Hiking the Hardergrat. Interlaken, Swiss Alps

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Last week an article came out at National Geographic, The World’s 20 Best Hikes, as chosen by some leading figures in the Outdoor Industry. With our photo as the lead, I checked in for a look. The trails, unlike so many “Best Of” lists, were a welcome mix of classics and lesser known, off the beaten path destinations.

A trail, or any trip, is as much what you make of it as it is anything else. The style in which you do something might make or break any experience in life. A “classic” tour can be a terrible experience if done in poor form, so too an unknown tour a masterpiece. Yesterday, we painted a masterpiece.

Rising directly above our home in Interlaken, Switzerland is a ridge that stretches for some 20 kilometers. From our office chairs, we see directly along its spine to the endpoint far in the distance. Even from 1500 meters below, there is little doubt that the ridge itself is a knife edge. If you are any kind of mountain runner or hiker, the ridge is one of the first features in the area that you look at and say, “I want to do that”. Turns out it is indeed a local classic, yet it has probably never made any “Best Of list. The Hardergrat is one of the finest days we have ever enjoyed in the mountains, it certainly makes our Best Of list.

In an incredibly rare occurrence, we had no pro DSLR along, only a small Sony RX100 point & shoot. This was no work trip, just purely personal. As a result, we could enjoy superlight packs with only water, rain jacket, and a little food.

Janine still needing a headlamp for the vista point. Above Interlaken, the Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau are still awaiting the sun’s arrival. We kept moving.

At 3:50 a.m., Janine climbed onto the back of my town bike and together we rolled through silent, dark streets. We locked the bike where it starts, right in Interlaken, and started climbing. An hour later we arrived to a viewing platform, too early for sunrise, we could only look at the monster peaks of our area in the pre-dawn darkness. Our goal was to make tree line for sunrise so we only ate a snack and kept moving through the lower forested slopes, anxious for the sun’s first rays.

Half walking, half running, as we would do throughout the day – we reached wide open sky just as the first rays of sunlight hit the ridge, further defining its incredible length and sharp profile. We took a break on the first summit, the Augstmatthorn, a peak we look right up to from our house and which we commonly gaze at as we eat breakfast. Only today things were reversed, it was from the summit that we looked down on our village and tried to spot our house. As we sat marveling at where we came from, we looked to where we had yet to go – far, far, far in the distance, and with a ridge line pointing the way – we could see the Brienzer Rothorn, our end point.

Panorama of the Hardergrat where it really feels like it starts, at treeline. > Click for larger version.

For the next several hours we went only up or down, rarely flat, and at times we descended or climbed nearly vertical dirt – but always on a trail of sorts, and always, without departure, on the ridge line. Only as we neared the Brienzer Rothorn did the trail finally deviate into a steep couloir which exited at the final section of trail – right to the Brienzer Rothorn Bahn. There, a hundred plus year old steam train which would carry us 1600m meters down to the lake and home, but only after we’d had a well deserved ice cream.

Sun's up and we're above tree line - perfect timing!

Sun’s up and we’re above tree line – perfect timing!

Arriving at our first summit, the Augstmatthorn

Find the runner – the end point is the tallest peak to the right before it drops away.

Dan standing in awe of just how much remains, at the 1/3 done point…

Bliss

For our next obstacle, we have the Tannhorn

Janine closing things out at the end – next stop the ice cream cart.

If you found this article while searching for the Hardergrat Trail, or things to do around Interlaken, be warned that this trail requires extreme fitness and comfort in very steep, and exposed terrain. Do not do this trail if there is risk of thunderstorms or in wet conditions.

To see our GPS track, visit Hardergrat at Strava.

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

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A huge thanks to our friends at Osmo Nutrition for helping with hydration advice. The tour was entirely without water sources and we wanted to carry a maximum of 2 liters for the day to keep our packs light. The Osmo team taught us about their Preload product as a means to pre-hydrate with essential electrolytes and keep the water in the body to prevent cramping & dehydration. It worked.

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Comments 19

  1. Your photography is inspiring. I’ve a feeling this report will go viral. This hike/run should definitely be in a Top 10 list, you really did it justice with how well you captured the feeling of the day, and with an RX100 no less. Goes to show that it’s the photographer not the camera that makes the photo.

  2. Spectacular! Views to die for and a challenge to aim for. My bucket list has just increased by one. I can only assume July would be the best month?

    1. Post
      Author

      Thanks, best time to do it depends on the year, July through October – just as long as it is dry and no thunderstorms are forecast, also zero snow left clinging to the ridge, that would make it exciting.

  3. Great pictures, seeing your photo’s I want to do the track to,
    I am biking this summer from Holland to Interlaken and back, i would aprreciate if you could send the route in a gpx file to my email, so i can upload it to my etrex.

  4. Incredible pictures of the Hardergrat! I will be hiking it this summer if possible and wanted to know if you recommend a book or website that would have detailed information about the trail and hike.
    Thanks for any help!

  5. Wow! Those are incredible pictures! I’m having some difficulty finding any information (where the trail starts, ends, train to take back with times, etc) anywhere other than printing off a topo and drawing the route by hand. Do you know of a good source to find route information on this? I’m looking to travel to interlaken when the weather is good as this is definitely a bucket list item for me! Thank you!

  6. Hi! I’m wondering if you would still recommend this hike to someone who would love to hike up to the start of this ridge for the view, but might likely turn around if the height gets too intimidating? It looks absolutely gorgeous.

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      Author

      You can easily turn around and go back down if you feel like not continuing. But another option is to start from the backside, to the north, above Habkern at a place called Lombachalp – and from there you can easily get up to the best part (Augstamatthorn) and go as long as you like before turning back.

  7. Hi, anyone knows a running group that goes to Hardergrat so I can join them? my pace in flat areas is 9- 9:30 minutes mile but I imagined that I will run that trail at 10:30 to 11 since I don’t have experience running on rocky trails. my email is doraflores1@hotmail.com. I am arriving to Geneva on June 18th 2016.
    I am willing to pay to a running tour if I need to : ) which I think can be the best

  8. Thanks for the advice guys! I have one trail that i really want to do now,

    i’ll be in Jungfrau on July 6th or something and staying for about 2 weeks,

    if anyone wants to go trail running/climbing, there are my contact details.

    Greats

    Joaquin

  9. Hey guys! What awesome photos, this is truly incredible. Do you by any chance remember what the name of that 1/3 done point was?
    Cheers

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      Author
  10. Thanks for the great write-up and photos of this run. We are coming to Interlaken for holidays in late August, so this is definitely on the list of must-dos for me.

    Do you know if it is possible to climb to Harder Kulm from the SW rather than Interlaken, as i could run from our site to this point easier than going to Interlaken ?

    Many thanks
    Stu

    1. Post
      Author

      There is a very direct way up to the Harderkulm from Unterseen, and there is even one on the backside that no one does and is quite good and one I often do. That one starts just about 1.5km further north than the Unterseen trail. You’ll see them on the map.

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