Hiking Switzerland’s Hardergrat

A few years ago a pair of Swiss photographers I follow posted images on their website of a grassy, knife-edge ridge above their home in Interlaken. The ridge was called the Hardergrat and has been called by some… The Best Hike In The World. The hike itself is roughly 25km in length and for the majority of its length keeps you right on very tip of the ridge. For additional amazing photos check out Alpsinsight.com

Now, I don’t know about the best in the world designation, but last year when we started planning a trip to Europe those pictures were enough to convince me to pitch Interlaken as one of stops to my wife and other family members. Interlaken is a pretty incredible area and it didn’t take much convincing to get five days in the area added to our Itinerary.

When we finally arrived in Interlaken the weather forecast wasn’t ideal with rain predicted almost every day. We had just 4 days to get our adventures in and the Hardergrat was the one thing on my list that I really didn’t want to give up. 

In an ideal world I would have loved to do the trail described in that initial article posted by Dan and Janine Patatucci on their website. That would have meant starting in Interlaken well before dawn, climbing up to the Harder Kulm, then hiking/running the ridge for ~25km until reaching the Brienzer Rothorn where we would take a funicular down to Brienz, then catch a train back to Interlaken. However, did I mention that we were traveling with our 8 month old son, and the weather forecast was for $h!t. 

Fortunately, we also happened to be traveling with my wife’s mother and father and they offered to take our son for a few hours. And like that… We found ourselves in a position where we had a 4 or so hour window to sneak in a romp on the Hardergrat. 

At this point, the big question was… How do we do this? The only info I had was stuff I could dig up online, and it wasn’t much. Most of the posts pertaining to the Hardergrat were just reposts of that initial Patatucci trip report. Anyway, after purchasing a map and doing some poking around on Google Earth and Google Maps we came up with a plan. 

The plan consisted of getting up early, convincing my mother-in-law to drive us to the bus stop in Habkern,Lombachalp-Roteschwand, hiking a spur trail to the summit of the Augstmatthorn, then following the Hardergrat back to the Harder Kulm where we would meet my wife’s parents and our son for lunch and a little mother/son time.  

In the end, the rain held off, my wife and I had a great day hiking in the clouds, and we made it back to our son in time to feed him. This is definitely one of the more incredible day hikes we have ever done, and if you’re ever in the area you should definitely check it out! 

A few things to help you plan your own adventure…

  1. If it’s wet, or there is a chance of it being wet… be very careful. Most people wouldn’t recommend hiking this trail in wet conditions because a little slip can very easily turn into a long slide down a steep face with high consequences. 
  2. If you plan on hiking the full length of the Hardergrat plan to bring plenty of water and sunscreen. You are on a ridge, and there is no access to water for the length of the trail. Also, you are on a ridge… and exposed to the wind and sun with no place to hide. Plan accordingly so you have an amazing time.
  3. There are a ton of side trails off the Hardergrat. If you can’t commit a whole day consider doing a shortened version. Below I’ve included some shots of a topo map to help with planning alternate loops.  

Happy Outdoorsing!

 

hardergrat and interlaken topo map

Hardergrat Topo Map #1 – Click To Enlarge

interlaken and hardergrat topo map

Hardergrat Topo Map #2 – Click To Enlarge

Here you can see our route. We started on the left side of the ridge, hiked up to the Augstmatthorn summit, and then followed the ridge back to the Harder Kulm where we then took the funicular rail back to town.

Here’s the elevation profile for our hike. The benefit of starting where we did is that we eliminated some of the climbing, and after reaching the Augstmatthorn had a nice downhill return back to the Harder Kulm.

This is the start of our hike. In the background, almost directly behind my wife, you can see the bus station where the trail starts. Getting here required navigating some pretty tight roads, but everything was very well marked and not difficult at all. Also, the trail itself was well labeled, and easy to follow.

Climb… Climb… Climb…

The initial ascent was at times quite steep, but for the most part followed nicely graded switchbacks. Here you can also see the clouds moving in. Sometimes clouds can help add a little something to the landscape. But today they just obscured the amazingness.

We’re getting close now… This is the final slope before we gain the main ridge.

Finally on the main ridge! In this image we are looking west towards Brienz and the Augstmatthorn which is obscured in the clouds.

Looking out over Lake Brienz just below the Augstmatthorn during a break in the clouds.

Headed down the ridge back towards Interlaken. It would have been nice to see the entire ridge stretching out before us. Unfortunately, the clouds just wouldn’t cooperate. The clouds on the lake side (left side) just persisted and never really gave up the goods.

The section of trail from the Augstmatthorn to Brienz includes some of the more knife-like and exposed sections of trail. But, that doesn’t mean the section we hiked wasn’t awesome! For the first couple of miles you are constantly on this narrow ridge that just falls away into the clouds.

Occasionally the clouds would part enough to give us views of the valley below. However, the ridge itself and the lake to the left never came out from behind their curtain.

At times the trail drops off precipitously. This is definitely a trail you will want to be careful on, especially in wet conditions.

I bet the views from here are amazing!

This was an interesting section of tight, steep switchbacks, above a steep drop-off. It created a sort of edge of the world effect, and definitely encouraged you to take a little extra care when placing your feet.

Here my wife navigates a steep downhill section flanked by a herd of ibex. On our way up we were hoping we’d get the chance to see one. In the end we ended up having to fight them for space on the narrow ridge.

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More views of the valley to our north…

Eventually as the trail descends you end up passing below treeline. Here we are approaching that point, and you can see a little further down the ridge.

Once below treeline you’re still in steep terrain. You definitely feel more secure because of the reduced exposure, but you still need to be careful. A wrong step will send you on quite the ride.

Eventually we reached our final destination… the Harder Kulm. In this image you can see the observation deck that looks out over Interlaken.

Once you reach the Harder Kulm there are trails which will drop you back down into town, or you can take the funicular.

8 thoughts on “Hiking Switzerland’s Hardergrat

  1. Lauren

    Hi there! Loved reading about your experience on the Hardergrat! I am visiting Interlaken this summer and would love to do the same route as you did. I am wondering, how many hours did this route take you and what level of difficulty/danger would you say it was? I would really appreciate any advice!

    -Lauren

  2. igmaino Post author

    Lauren,

    Here is the GPS data from our hike… https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/1229735618

    This should give you a pretty good idea of how long it will take, how long the hike is, elevation, etc… T

    As far as difficulty or danger… I’d say it’s pretty low. There is definitely a lot of exposure, and a slip could quickly turn into a long slide or worse. That said, the trail surface is very well trodden and in good shape. I never once worried about our safety. Though you might not want to get caught out in the rain on this stretch of trail. You are very exposed on the ridge with nowhere to hide from the wind or elements. Also, you might think twice about going just after some rain… Wet grass and muddy conditions could make certain sections a little more hair raising.

    If you need anything else let me know.

  3. Dawan

    Thanks for the info and great post! From Brienz rothorn we did some km with our 1 old daughter on the back of my husband last summer…to scary for me with our daughter. So hopefully this summer we will be able to do it without her. I think the route u did is a good start. I cant wait!!

  4. PJ

    Hi, thanks for your post! very informative. I had a couple of questions. I’m visiting Interlaken at the end of June and am in a similar boat where I would LOVE to do at least part of this hike (and perhaps come back some day for the whole thing, but limited on the current trip by other members of the party who are unable to do the whole hike) but had a couple of questions.

    1. If you take the funnicular up Harder Klum and start at the peak, approximately how far do you have to hike from the station at the top before you get to the start of the ridge that is above the treeline? Is it quick, less than a mile or so? We were thinking of walking a few miles from Harder Klum then turning back

    2. You said you never felt unsafe despite the narrow ridge, correct? Would you say hiking poles are necessary?

    3. I know you guys were driven to your starting point, but do you know if there is a way to get to one of the side trails via public transport? Thanks!

  5. igmaino Post author

    PJ… If you start at the Harder Klum you’ll be in the trees for a little while. I believe you’ll start to get some views after about .75 miles, but you’ll still be below the tree line. You don’t really start to get those big expansive views and exposure until 2.5-3 miles in if starting from the Harder Klum.

    As for poles… I don’t think they’re necessary at all and actually I don’t think they’d increase your margin of safety. In the places where there is a lot of exposure there was typically a cable or something else to assist you and keep you secure. If you had poles they might just be in the way. If you have poles they might be nice for those of your party that aren’t as light on their feet. They can provide some additional propulsive power on the ups, and reduce some of the strain on the downs. They might be a good way to help squeeze a little more distance out of those party members that are less able to tackle the entire distance. Just make sure they practice with them ahead of time. If they haven’t used them before they can just be frustrating and may have the opposite effect you were hoping for.

    Yes… the location we were driven to is actually a bus stop. The reason we didn’t take the bus was because we wanted to start earlier than the first bus of the day. I’ve included a link to the map of the station in question. The trail begins right from the parking lot and is well signed.

    If you need anything else or have other questions please let me know.

    Map Link: https://www.google.com/maps/place/Habkern,Lombachalp-Roteschwand/@46.744355,7.9059297,754m/data=!3m2!1e3!4b1!4m13!1m7!3m6!1s0x1453996a31921a05:0x9c111af14c02be00!2sInterlaken,+Switzerland!3b1!8m2!3d46.6863481!4d7.8632049!3m4!1s0x478fbcf505b8af59:0xa729f2567146ea6e!8m2!3d46.744355!4d7.907553

  6. PJ

    Thank you so so much for your detailed response! This was really helpful! I fly out tomorrow (and am stopping in some other countries before getting to Switzerland at the end of the month, but this was very helpful. Thank you!

  7. igmaino Post author

    Anytime… Enjoy! My wife, son and I are also headed back to Switzerland for the first part of July! Such an awesome place!

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