Brienzergrat to Hardergrat trail
Brienzergrat. Also called Hardergrat, it is actually three ridges, it starts as Brienzergrat (from Brienzer Rothorn to Ällgäulücke) then becomes Riedergrat as far as Augstmatthorn and ends as Hardergrat (the remainder of the ridge all the way to Interlaken). It is rated one of the most difficult and one of the most beautiful in Switzerland.
Location: Bernese Oberland, Switzerland. From above Brienz at Brienzer Rothorn to the Interlaken end of the ridge at Harder Kulm.
Key Summits:Brienzer Rothorn (2349 m) Tannhorn (2221 m) Augstmatthorn (2101 m)
Start/Finish: Brienz-Rothorn-Bahn mountain station, Brienzer Rothorn / Harder Kulm / Hakbern / Niederried
Route: Brienz-Rothorn-Bahn mountain station (2348 m) - Chruterepass (2052 m) - Briefehörnli (2165 m) - Tannhorn (2221 m) - Ällgäuwhoren (2047 m) - Ällgäulücke (1918 m) - Blasenhubel (1965 m) - Augstmatthorn (2101 m) - Suggiture (2085 m) - Harder Kulm (1322 m) or to Habkern (1055 m) via Horet (1734 m).
Distance: 25-28 km approx.
Hiking time: 7 -10 hrs*
Brienzer Rothorn - Tannhorn 2 - 3 hrs
Tannhorn - Allgäulücke 1-2 hrs
Allgäulücke - Augstmatthorn 2 - 3 hrs
Augstmatthorn - Suggiture 15 mins
Suggiture - Harder Kulm 2.5 hrs
Suggiture - Niederried 2.5 hrs
Suggiture - Habkern 2.5 hrs
*NOTE: My times are my times. I have completed all these trails
within the times noted above and below, but many hikers take a lot longer. You can use the Schweizmobil App to map and estimate a baseline for yourself. I highly recommend that. If you use the desktop version and sign up for Schweizmobil + you can trace any hiking trail on the map and gauge elevation gain, and time each way.
Trail type: Steep, rough alpine terrain, rocky and in parts very exposed with short guide-rope secured climbing sections. Fairly firm underfoot except for Chruterepass and the descent from Suggiture, where rocks/shale tend to be a lot looser along the trail. The forested section of the ridge from Suggiture to Harder Kulm can often be muddy and hazardous due to tree roots. There is NO CAMPING allowed anywhere along the route. From Harder Kulm to Ällgäulücke the ridge and all peaks are a designated nature conservation area and protected area for Steinbock. From Ällgäulücke to Brienzer Rothorn forms the edge of the UNESCO Entlebuch Biosphere where again, NO CAMPING IS ALLOWED. Please respect these beautiful places and stick to the trails and do not camp up here!
Difficulty: Rated T3-4 with brief sections of T5 difficulty (Swiss Alpine Club rating system). Portions of the trail are Alpine Trail White-Blue-White marked (designating the most challenging mountain trails), about 1/4 of the trail is unmarked but clearly defined along the ridge. MANY sections of this trail require climbing, on some of the numerous ascents in the chain. At least four or five of the nine peaks require brief sections of climbing. They are not particularly difficult, but they are numerous, which sometimes comes as a surprise to some hikers and trail runners. Do not attempt after or in heavy rain or if storms or strong winds forecast. Please read the trail warning here.
TRAIL LOG - Brienzer Rothorn Bahn
The starting point at Brienzer Rothorn is reachable either by steam train (June - October) from Brienz or via cable car from Sörenberg-Schönenboden (June - October). I prefer the cable car, as it is a lot faster and cheaper. Swiss railways and buses make it easy to get here, but do bear in mind that getting an early start becomes more difficult if you are relying on public transport to get you there as well. I highly recommendation starting with an overnight stay at the top of the mountain at Mountain Hotel Rothorn Kulm thus avoiding the lengthy train trip (about 2.5 hrs from Zürich) before you even start hiking. I usually start the hike at Brienzer Rothorn by 09.00 or 09.28. Arriving by steam train from Brienz you can start the trail at 09:36. During July/August weekends an additional early train leaves Brienz at 07:36 allowing a hike start at 08:36.
You can of course walk up to the ridge from various places. I have walked up here a number of times:
Sörenberg-Schönenboden to Brienzer Rothorn - approx 2.5 - 3 hrs - 4.9km +978m elevation gain
Brünigpass to Brienzer Rothorn - approx 3.5 - 4.5 hrs - 13km +1600m elevation gain
Planalp - Brienzer Rothorn - approx. 1.5 hrs - 4.19 km +717m elevation gain
Habkern - Horetalp (Hardergrat) - approx 1.5 - 2 hrs - 4.65 km +700m elevation gain
Interlaken - Harder Kulm - 3.2 km - approx 1.5 - 2 hrs +744m elevation gain
Lombachalp Restaurant Jagerstübli - Augstmatthorn (peak) - approx 1.5 - 2 hrs +554m elevation gain
Niederried - Hardergrat (ridge) - 4.75 km - approx 2 hrs + 1315m elevation gain
Oberried Am Brienzersee - Blasenhubel - 4.98 km - approx 2.5 - 3.5 hrs +1387m elevation gain
Oberried Am Brienzersee - Ällgäulücke - 5.59 km - approx 3 - 3.5 hrs +1342m elevation gain
Brienzer Rothorn to Chruterepass
Straight from the cable car, wander down towards the steam train station and there one path leads up to the peak at Schongütsch and the other leads around the side of that peak to the Brienzergrat ridge. It's a nice easy start to the hike, already offering some breathtaking views and a good taste of the dramatic path you'll be taking all the way along the ridge. The Rothorn Steinbock herd tend to hang out on these slopes, so keep an eye out for them! The going is pretty straightforward and to the top of the stairs at Chruterepass from the starting point is about 20-30 minutes.
The first major descent is a stone-cut stairway at Chruterepass. It’s not difficult, but it is steep. At the base of the stairs early in the season the trail is often covered in snow and later in the season is made up of loose shale on a steep slope, so some caution is needed there. From the base of the stairs, the trail winds around and back up eventually to a gate where the path splits, one way heading downwards towards Planalp and eventually Brienz, and up (right) to the ridge on the way to Briefehörnli. Choose the ridge. The path to Briefehörnli is a nice gradual ascent, narrow and exposed in parts. From the peak of Briefehörnli is your first good look at the ascent to Tannhorn from Balmi. Briefehörnli peak is about one hour hiking from Brienzer Rothorn.
Past the chasm of doom
About halfway between Chruterepass and Tannhorn is this spot which I call the chasm of doom. After a period of walking along the ridge line, the path descends rapidly to a very short, perhaps three metre long rock step that bridges the gap at a turn in the trail. The rock is narrow with significant vertical drops either side which wouldn’t be a huge problem except for the fact that to get to it, the trail drops in large stone steps which don’t offer much choice other than to edge your way down on all fours until you reach the step. Once across, a short steep climb gets you back to relatively easy walking sections. It’s a good one to get past and head on up the ridge to Briefehörnli.
Balmi to Tannhorn
The ridge section from Balmi to Tannhorn is spectacular. I love the drama of this section as it leads you along a thinning ridge towards the first major climb of the hike. Part of the ascent to Balmi is on the western flank of the ridge and shaded from the sun therefore it can be icy or muddy depending on the season and it is the first section requiring a bit of climbing.
The path meanders along that same ridge for some time and gives you a fair amount of time to consider the next step, getting to the summit of Tannhorn.
The climb to Tannhorn
Tannhorn. It’s the tallest peak along the route and to get up there requires a rocky climb up a short T5-rated outcrop of rock. A portion of that climb does have a wire rope which is less helpful for holding onto, more for indicating the safe place to climb. It isn’t that difficult to climb, but it is very steep. The rest of the climb to the peak of Tannhorn along its long backbone is the most exposed and narrow section of the trail. It is steep, narrow, precarious and a little unnerving. It’s just you and the ridge and as long as you approach it with caution, and with respect for the dangers it can present, it’s breathtaking. Take your time, pay attention to every footstep and hand hold, this is not a place to take photos or look around, there's plenty of views when you are safely at the top. Pay particular attention as you transition from the two climbing sections to a standing position on the narrow ridge, for me this is the most difficult part of the ascent. I check my backpack position (making sure it is secure and tight), and get up slowly, and rarely look beyond my footsteps the entire way up this one.
Tannhorn to Ällgäulücke
After Tannhorn the ridge and trail descend dramatically, then rise and descend again over Ällgäuwhören to Ällgäulücke, which appears to be a popular spot to reach from Oberried am Brienzersee on the lake and Kemmeriboden on the other side of the ridge. I usually find a lot of hikers picnicking here. Some of these descents are steep, tough, and can be muddy. Watch your step. Once again, there are portions of these descents that require hands and feet on the rocks to negotiate some of the steeper, larger rocky sections. One step at a time.
Ällgäulücke to Schnierenhireli
The descent to Ällgäulücke is steep and requires some caution if it is muddy, then the climb back up to Schnierenhireli is another tough one, which is followed then by Gummhoren, where a rest is recommended before heading on the last stretch to Blasenhubel and Augstmatthorn. Each of these last three ascents (Schnierenhireli, Gummhoren and Augstmatthorn) have a fair amount of climbing sections, so the hiking poles likely need to be put away in favour of your hands to get up these tricky climbs.
Schnierenhireli to Gummhoren
This is a tough section. On the one hand, it's easy going for the most part, but you've already spent some hours on the trail, and you still have a few decent ascents left to make. I tend to take it easy here, and make time to replenish with snacks/water before tackling the final ascent to Augstmatthorn.
The trail to Augstmatthorn
Peak of Schnierenhireli above. It's about 2 hours all in from Ällgäulücke to Augstmatthorn and it's comparatively easy, but the next climb, being the last major climb of the hike, is a tough one. Note: I regularly get confused on this last section, and likely have labeled all the peaks incorrectly. Fact is, between Ällgäulücke and Augstmatthorn there are four named peaks, and a couple that are just numbers on the map, and it adds up by this point, taking a toll on your energy and on your knees with all the steep descents after the climbs.
Gummhoren to Blasenhubel
Showing the last section of the climb to Gummhoren above. Blasenhubel offers another exit from the ridge, steeply down on the lakeside to Oberried am Brienzersee. It is a popular hike from Harder Kulm to Augstmatthorn then to Blasenhubel on down to the lake or vice versa. A decent hike when the weather window is too short for the full ridge and an excellent choice for an exit if inclement weather is closing in.
The last climb - to Augstmatthorn
Augstmatthorn. A T5-rated climb faces you a little more than halfway up. It is secured with chains, but it is hard work. That final climb is somewhat of a double-edged sword. It is hard, it is long and daunting as you look up to it, but it is the last big climb of the trail, so I often find myself with fresh energy, inspired to reach the last peak.
Just beyond the summit of Augstmatthorn is the equally dramatic summit of Suggiture after which a steep descent drops you back to the relatively easy segment of the trail across alpine meadows and through the forest to Horet and on towards Harder Kulm. On a clear day, the peaks of Augstmatthorn and Suggiture deliver stunning views of the entire ridge trail, from the starting point at Brienzer Rothorn all the way to the forested section of the ridge as it dips towards Harder Kulm and Interlaken. Both Augstmatthorn and Suggiture can be quite busy on warm days in hiking season, but there's plenty of spots to rest and enjoy the peaks before you head down from Suggiture.
Descent from Suggiture
The path down the backbone of Suggiture is steep and a little precarious due to loose rocks and weather worn stairs. Take it easy. After a long day, these descents really start to take a toll. There are another two exits or entrances to the ridge just after the descent from Suggiture, one, leading lakeside down to Niederried, the other heading back across the western slopes of Suggiture and Augstmatthorn and on to Lombachalp and the welcoming destination of Restaurant Jagerstübli.
The last of the ridge
Between Suggiture and Horet is one of my favourite sections of the ridge. There are often Steinbock and Chamois among the trees on both sides of the trail and there are some amazing views all the way to Schonbuel before you enter the forest en route to Harder Kulm.
After descending from Suggiture, I usually head down from the ridge via steep trails leading to Habkern on the west side where, if you time it right, you can catch an hourly bus to Interlaken West. Alternatively I take the trail to Niederried on the Eastern (lake) side, where you can catch hourly trains either to Brienz or Interlaken. Purists may suggest that leaving the ridge at that point is not essentially completing the whole ridge and I suppose they are right, but to reach Habkern, Niederried or Harder Kulm from Suggiture is approximately the same distance and time, primary difference being that both Habkern and Niederried are steep descents, Harder Kulm still requires a descent by Funicilar or walking down once you get there. I prefer the Habkern and Niederried routes primarily because in good weather, Harder Kulm’s restaurant and viewpoint can be very busy, and I’ve taken that route enough times to know there can even be a queue to take the funicular train down to Interlaken. I have found this route frustrating a number of times and generally choose to avoid it and take the much less travelled route via Schwendi to Habkern or more recently, I have been leaving the ridge at the foot of Suggiture via the path down to Niederried, which is a very pleasant descent. On that route are two fresh water sources at Mountain huts right along the path. The first is about 20 minutes from the ridge, and a welcome place to replenish supplies! The walk to Niederried from the base of Suggiture takes about 1.5 to 2 hours, from Suggiture to Habkern also about 2 hours.
Into the forest
Heading into the forested section of the ridge, you'll start to see a lot more tree roots crossing the path. It's a bit hazardous and requires focus. It's not a difficult section by any means, but after a long hike, I am usually fairly tired by this point, so it does require a bit more concentration to watch those footholds. It also gets very muddy all through the season here, the shade of the forest keeps it cool and tree roots hold a fair amount of the rain.
End of the trail. Unless of course you choose to keep walking all the way down to Interlaken West or East. It'll add about an hour and a half to your hike, and another 750 metres or so of downhill, but it's a nice walk, still in the shade for the most part.
I've completed this trail in both directions, from Habkern/Augstmatthorn to Brienzer Rothorn and from Brienzer Rothorn to Habkern or Harder Kulm. It is much easier north to south (Brienzer Rothorn to Habkern/Harder Kulm) mostly due to double the vertical elevation you have to climb heading from Harder Kulm to Rothorn. You also have to rush the last two hours to make sure you catch the last cable car or train (17.15 and 17.40 most days). In over 20 complete hikes of this ridge, I have encountered perfect sunny conditions, mud, wind, fog, rain, and trekked over ice and snow, though if I can see snow already on both sides of the ridge, I do not attempt it. The ridge is difficult enough without the additional hazard of snow underfoot. My snow/ice encounters have been at either end of the ridge on the west side of the ridge, either at the foot of Chruterepass or en route to Harder Kulm/Habkern. If I can see green grass from webcams at both ends of the trail, and the wind/rain forecast is good, I'll have a go. Muddy conditions were the most hazardous, as that stuff tends to clog up your shoes and affect their grip on the trail, so you have to be extra careful on the muddy/wet days. High winds were the only weather conditions to date that have made me consider turning back, or exiting the ridge. With such a narrow exposed hike for over seven hours, watch the forecast wind conditions carefully.
I continue to log all my hiking along and around this ridge on my trail diary page. Dates and times are included, so it is a good place to research the trail conditions in general by time of year. I also include some of my favourite images taken along the trail, which are also featured in my book. Please consider buying my book, it is a great celebration of the ridge and contains a ton of great images. I have also added a print shop to buy some of my favourite images taken while hiking the Brienzergrat to Hardergrat Trail. Check it out, I will add new ones as the season continues!
Equipment and supplies
I have tested a number of combinations of equipment, clothing and supplies on this trail. The Hardergrat/Brienzergrat trail is really an excellent field test for just about anything because it is a full day requiring strenuous activity with a fair degree of difficult and varied terrain. First, water. I carry about 1.5 litres of water most days unless it is winter, when I can replenish supply from the ample snow up here. I also carry a coffee flask, but that's a personal preference as I do like a coffee when I reach the first peak :). I recommend at least two litres of water, three if you can carry the weight, I have mentioned on this page and in my trail diary the few places you can replenish near the ridge, but it does save some uphill work if you carry enough for a full day. I also carry electrolyte powder or tablets to add to the water if needed. Food, I tend to travel a bit light in that department. A few protein or power bars and some nuts and raisins and various local snack items tends to do the trick for me. In early and late season I carry some tangerine oranges which are a welcome addition to the mix.
Clothing I have again tried a few approaches but have found that nothing beats the comfort, light weight and breathability of Merino layering t-shirts. Long or short sleeved. My absolute go-to for this hike is the Mons Royale Icon Air-Con Merino t-shirt, amazingly hard wearing, and really takes the weekly punishment of this trail. Extremely comfortable and always on for this hike, lightweight enough for hot summer days, too. You can also find some cheaper but equally comfortable and durable merino wear at Decathlon. Good stuff. Merino takes the sweat and lets it evaporate right through without the smell of more engineered material. I also carry a Mammut lightweight long sleeved t-shirt designed for summer, but working well in intermediate weather, too. Fast drying, no smell (treated material), very durable. Always in the bag. Socks, again with the merino, Rohner and Decathlon have some great options for merino socks for all seasons.
Since starting hiking this trail, I have been very aware of how my grip on the trail in varied conditions from ice to mud to rocky and dry affects my performance and confidence, and in fact my enjoyment of the trail. You have to get the footwear right. I have done it in winter boots off season, and also worn heavy duty traction spikes up here due to snow and ice, but for the most part, I hike up here in shoes designed for trail running. I am a fairly fast hiker, but not a runner. The key for me is the grip, and light weight and flexibility of these shoes. Every step up here is crucial, and lightweight trailrunning shoes give me the most solid grip and great feel for the trail. My first season up here I used Salomon Alphacross shoes, and the grip and overall feel was outstanding. Unfortunately I wore these out after a full season. Not the soles, but the uppers, where there isn't much in the way of material to protect the front of the shoe from scuffing and eventually tearing on rocks. This year I am using Salomon Supercross trail running shoes which most importantly have exactly the same ultra-grippy tread pattern as the Alphacross, but they also have more to protect the uppers from damage. So far, one month into the season on these and I am really happy with them. I also add a pair of Salomon Trail Gaiters which help prevent small stones and debris getting in the shoes on a long trek.
Shorts or pants. I would say that is a subjective preference, but depending on the season I tend to prefer the shorts. I have a couple of pairs of Vaude Hiking Shorts that are outstanding for comfort and durability. I have worn these every hike up here except in winter or very rainy conditions, and the punishment they have taken so far without damage is amazing.
My backpack is actually a photographer's backpack, which doesn't leave a huge amount of room for supplies, but it is enough to carry my Leica CL or my Nikon D750, both of which have moderate zoom lenses. The backpack has outer pockets for water and coffee and room for enough snacks for the day and a spare top layer. I tend to prefer carrying the lighter Leica, but sometimes I feel the need to have the full frame DSLR on hand. I manage well with the Lowepro Flipside Trek which I have now carried on almost all my hikes up here. My rain protection gear or warmer clothing tends to have to be attached to the outside of this backpack, but its a small price to pay for the small size and durability of this backpack. Most days I carry a cheap lightweight waterproof and wind resistant outer layer from Decathlon that folds up nicely to attach outside the bag. Only had to use it two or three times so far, but more than adequate for my needs.