The Hardergrat, the most beautiful hike in the world?
An (unintended) shorter version of the Hardergrat
If you google the Hardergrat, you’ll find phrases like “ the most dangerous hike in the world”, “top 10 most beautiful hikes in the world” , “ World’s best hike” etc etc. So this hike was definitely a no brainer to do whilst in Switzerland.
The Hardergrat is a full day hard slog, with just you and the race for the last train at Brienz at the other. Unfortunately, despite best intentions the weather got the best of me, and I did an unintentional shortened version
Starting from Interlaken you have 2 options: Start from Interlaken itself (this requires a 03:00 start, and 1300m ascent through the forest in the dark OR take the funicular to Harder Kulm. I was still in the pub at midnight so took the funicular option.
TIP 1: DO NOT even attempt to do this hungover
The funicular from Interlaken Harderbahn to Harder Kulm takes approximately 10 mins and costs around £12 (or 16 CHF) Swiss Pass Holders get a 50% discount off the fare. The first funicular of the day is usually at 09:00, however on Sundays they have the first at 08:10, thinking I would be only person who had the excellent idea of taking the first one I made my way to Harderbahn with a good 20 minutes to spare – seems quite a few people had the same idea, also it turns out that Harder Kulm is a very popular brunch spot too.
Timetable for ticket prices for the funicular can be found here
The views at the top of Harder Kulm that morning are simply stunning, with the sun poking out from behind Jungfrau, Monch, and Eiger greeting the day. I had no time to waste on these views however, this is a 12 hour hike and so off I went to find the trail.
The Hardergrat, is not for the faint of heart, the weak of legs, those who don’t have a head for heights, and most definitely smokers. For those reading this that don’t know me – I’m a smoker, my levels of fitness are at times pretty questionable, I’m clumsy, and scared of heights – not that I’ve let that stop me before. During the assent through the forest from Harder Kulm towards Suggiture I could feel every cigarette I’d ever smoked and instantly regretted every single gym session I’d ever missed. What have I got myself into? Continuing to ascend I was OVERTAKEN but various hikers, trailrunners (!…NUTTERS) and generally more fitter people than I. If it was possible to be lapped on this I’m pretty certain that would’ve happened.
The first section is lovely but punishing, through lush green forest – with sweeping views of the jewel like Brienzersee to my right and the valleys of Habkern far below to my left, the path soon reveals a sheer drop on one side and with plenty of tree roots to trip over I took my time, not wanting to stumble over a tree root off into the abyss.
You must have patience in this section. The forest presses in around you and feels like it will never end, the ridge will not be visible for the first couple of hours. If the weather is due to be warm relish the shade in this section this is all you will be seeing until the descent many many hours from now. Keep going – trust me, the Hardergrat will reward you soon enough.
TIP 2: Pace you water intake (but also bring enough – especially if its warm)
No surprises, at about 2.5 hours in and having drunk a full litre of water already I needed to pee….FFS.
Fortunately I was passing the rear of a nearby farm (before the ridge) and found a wee (ha!) clump of trees that would do.
NOTE: You are spending your day on top of a very narrow ridge, there is quite literally nowhere to go, I was fortunate to spot this before I hit the ridge.
Finally, the ridge came into view – YES! This was going to be amazing.
The path itself narrows to around 0.6m (and occasionally widens out to a very generous 1m) and drops on both sides. As I mentioned previously I’m terrified of heights , a fact completely forgotten by the views of the glistening jewels of Brienzersee and Thunersee, below.
As mentioned the Hardergrat ridge path is just over half a metre wide, once you get comfortable with this, you realise there is also two-way traffic. It was a Sunday morning after all. Now, most folk are polite and very aware that the slightest amount of impatience could result in going over the side. Some however, are not patient at all. In this case, a French teenager was on the receiving end of a loud, long string of expletives from me as she pushed past.
The first “peak” as such is Suggiture, onwards to Augstmatthorn, the second highest “peak” on this trail. At this point you are pushing towards 2000m here, if you are not used to altitude (me!) and you are smoker (me again) this is pretty brutal, but worth it – In hindsight also a little stupid.
Up and up and up you go, trailrunners are still running past you at a lesuirely jog.
The section between Suggiture and Augstmatthorn is the busiest (both ways), there is a route down just before Augstmatthorn. Have your wits about you, be polite, and assertive especially if heights are not your thing. It’s worth noting here that in this section there is some light ‘scrambling’ to mix things up a little bit.
Finally after almost 4 hours I’m stood at the top of Augstmatthorn. I’m well above the clouds and literally at the same height as the birds. A good place for a wee rest stop I think. Stopping for lunch I could catch my breath and take in the spectacular surroundings. It’s at this point of the hike that it becomes totally worth every minute of sweating, swearing, and struggling.
TIP 3: Make trail friends
Much of the conversation (well the English speakers anyway) turns to the weather. To the east – you can see a massive weather front on the way.
Decisions, decisions. Fuck it, I’m pushing on. Off I go, down the other side of Augstmatthorn 30 mins later, which appears to just drop off completely. Upon closer inspection the descent here is steep as hell. Without walking poles, and being for once in my life practical, I’m not game. I make the decision to turn back and take the route down I saw earlier. As I started back the heavens opened.
TIP 4: Check the weather….Seriously
Now a bit of rain has never bothered me (I used to live in Scotland). Add a lot of rain to dirt trails and then some descent – it is a muddy, slippery HELL. It took me almost two hours to go back to the path off the trail. Once there it is a descent from around 2100m to approx. 750m. The paths down had become small rivers, with nothing to grab onto spent the next few hours falling on my ass. The rain eventually subsided, and humidity rose through the roof.
TIP 5: Bring walking poles
Finally I had arrived at Restaurant Lombachalp, a cafe/bar/carpark/convenient toilet stop in the middle of nowhere. I quickly discovered there was no transport for miles. I started walking again to Habkern another 90 mins up the road.
Now because it is Switzerland you could technically hitchhike. Given I was covered in mud the locals weren’t too keen to pick me up. So I continued walking – through cow fields (incident free i should add – read about my previous swiss cow experience here), mostly downhill
Once you get to Habkern you can catch the 106 bus back to Interlaken (journey time around 30 mins). It seemed every man, woman and child wanted to get the same bus as it pulled into the stop. Despite the bus already full there was practically a stampede to get on. Fortunately the door stopped right in front of me, so just magicked myself on.
So it seems, I completed a shorter version of the Hardergrat. Next time I’m going back I’ll be better equipped (walking poles) and finish the whole thing. This really is the most incredible hike, albeit physically demanding totally worth every single second. There really is a clue about this hike in the name HARDergrat ha!