Hardergrat: The Best Hike in the World?

© Pat­i­tuc­ci Photo

1. I have what I con­sid­er to be a fair­ly tuned bull­shit meter. When a mag­a­zine or web­site promis­es the “Best ______ Ever,” I imme­di­ate­ly scoff. “Yeah, till next month,” I think. Because of this, I have a hard time telling some­one I have found the “best day hike ever.” I’ve done lots of what lots of peo­ple con­sid­er the best in the U.S.—Half Dome, Longs Peak, the Grand Canyon Rim-to-Rim, Angels Land­ing in Zion, and more.

My friend Dan lives in Inter­lak­en, Switzer­land, and kept send­ing me pho­tos of this ridge above town, the Hard­er­grat, or Brien­z­er­grat (“grat” = ridge). It looked beau­ti­ful, sure, but how could it be that amaz­ing? Dan says lots of things are amaz­ing. This was in his back­yard. What was he, the luck­i­est guy on earth, that he acci­den­tal­ly moved into a town with the most beau­ti­ful walk­ing ridge in Switzer­land? In August, I found out.

At 3 a.m., we ped­aled antique town bikes across the dark and qui­et Inter­lak­en, park­ing them next to the Hard­er Kulm sta­tion, where a 10-minute funic­u­lar train climbs straight up 2,500 feet to the restau­rant and obser­va­tion deck at the west end of the Hard­er­grat, over­look­ing the town of Inter­lak­en and Thunersee and Brien­z­ersee, the two glac­i­er-melt turquoise lakes that book­end Interlaken.

Unfor­tu­nate­ly, the first Hard­er Kulm train does not depart until 8:10 a.m. We clicked our head­lamps on and began walk­ing straight up in the dark.

© Pat­i­tuc­ci Photo

2. The ridge prop­er is 12 miles long, with plen­ty of ups and downs. After the first grind up to the Hard­er Kulm, we gained the ridge and began the tra­verse, 2675 feet up and 6 miles over to the sum­mit of the Augst­matthorn, a steep-sided grassy cone 5,000 feet above the waters of Brien­z­ersee. Once you’re on top of the Augst­matthorn, you’ve cov­ered half the dis­tance and half the ele­va­tion gain for the day.

© Pat­i­tuc­ci Photo

3. From the dry 7,011-foot sum­mit of the Augst­matthorn in August and Sep­tem­ber, the view south takes in the snowy giants of the Bernese Alps, includ­ing the Schreck­horn (13,379 feet), and the Eiger (13,020 feet), Monch (13,474 feet), and Jungfrau (13,642 feet) .

© Pat­i­tuc­ci Photo

4. Even past the halfway mark, the ridge looks impos­si­bly long. The goal, the Brienz Rothorn train sta­tion at the far right end of the ridge vis­i­ble in this pho­to, seems far away for hours of the hike. If you don’t make it to the sta­tion by the time the last train heads down the moun­tain at 6:30 p.m., you’ve got a knee-pound­ing 5,500-foot descent to look for­ward to at the end of your long day.

© Pat­i­tuc­ci Photo

5. On the Hard­er­grat, you are forced to sus­pend your belief about what you think grass can do, and at what angles soil can actu­al­ly stand. The Hard­er­grat is typ­i­cal­ly grad­ed Swiss Alpine Club T5, a num­ber usu­al­ly reserved for moun­taineer­ing ter­rain where an ice axe is manda­to­ry. The trail is often one foot wide on a two-foot-wide ridge top, and a slip off either side in many spots means a fall of thou­sands of feet. I wished sev­er­al times for an ice axe and cram­pons, and we nev­er once stepped on ice or snow.

© Pat­i­tuc­ci Photo

6. The entire hike, from the base of the Hard­er Kulm train on the west end, to the Brienz Rothorn sta­tion on the east end, is 27 miles, with 10,200 feet of ele­va­tion gain—5,200 feet of that ele­va­tion gain in ups and downs after the halfway point, the sum­mit of the Augst­matthorn. It is a pun­ish­ing, but beau­ti­ful day, along a sculpt­ed moun­tain spine tow­er­ing over two lakes, and par­al­lel­ing the snowy Alps just six miles south as the crow flies. The best part might be the soli­tude: the heady ter­rain and com­mit­ting nature keep the crowds away.

—By Bren­dan Leonard


About the Photography:

Pat­i­tuc­ci Pho­to is the unique com­bi­na­tion of Dan and Janine Patitucci’s vision for a cre­ative life as pho­tog­ra­phers and moun­tain sport ath­letes. As ded­i­cat­ed ath­letes and trav­el­ers, both immerse them­selves in sub­jects they are most pas­sion­ate about. Based in the Swiss Alps, their work has appeared in Rock & Ice, Climb­ing, Sports Illus­trat­ed, Men’s Jour­nal, Sier­ra, Back­pack­er, Trail Run­ner and oth­er magazines.

See more spec­tac­u­lar images by Dan and Janine Patitucci: