May 8, 2022
Niederried - Suggiture - A little more positive weather outlook today, and with time to spare, I did the same route again. My catch up with the Steinbock family happened in exactly the same place as it did the day before, but I could see and photograph them more clearly this morning as the fog was a little lighter at ridge elevation.
I decided after a break at the top of Suggiture to see the conditions for approaching Augstmatthorn and beyond to Wytlouihoren and Brienzergrat. At the first descent to the Augstmathorn path the snow conditions still covered the actual stepped path and conditions felt too dangerous to traverse the snow field on the steep grassy slope, and indeed to cross the snowfield which was partially off the ridge entirely, a large avalanche waiting to happen. With conditions like that, I decided against continuing in that direction because it was likely that the longer descent from Augstmatthorn to Brienzergrat would be even more precarious. I am looking forward to returning up here in a couple of weeks when there should be a lot less snow and more to explore again. Same time notes as yesterday, 2.15 hours up, 1.5 hrs down.
May 7, 2022
Niederried - Suggiture - The weather forecast wasn't good, but I wandered up to see how things looked at the ridge. It was easy going, with the snow fields on the ascent now mostly disappeared and cool air in the shade of the forest all the way up.
At the ridge the wind picked up a little, and it was shrouded in fog, so there wasn't much opportunity to comfortably rest in the cold air, though I did spend some time with a family of Steinbock at the ridge along the path towards Suggiture. I didn't attempt the route to Augstmatthorn, it was too foggy to really enjoy that route, but the Steinbock encounters in the fog made the trip worthwhile. 2.15 hrs up from Niederried to the ridge, then a further half hour to the peak at Suggiture. 1.5 hrs back down.
May 1, 2022
Oberried Am Brienzersee - Allgäuwhoren - It was a toss up between returning to Suggiture and Augstmatthorn on the trail I climbed last week or heading back across the slopes to see if I could get as far as Ällgäulücke this time. I decided on the latter, and with an early start in the morning fog, made the ridge at Ällgäulücke in under 3 hours from the lakeside. Like my last pass up here, I came across a number of Chamois on the ascent, tough to photograph as they are a lot more nervous of people than steinbock, but I found one curious enough to get a little closer this time.
At the ridge it was a little chilly and, reluctant to just head back down, I wanted to see if Schnierenhireli to the south or Ällgäuwhoren to the north might open up the ridge a little more. First I tried Schnierenhireli (below left) and made it almost to the top with the snow fields for the most part away from the known path. But, with mud clogging my boots, and a last stretch of snow before the peak completely obscuring the path, I decided to head back down, it was getting a bit precarious up there. As you can see from the photo below, Ällgäuwhoren (center) was completely free of snow so I headed up that one instead. From the peak I could get a good look at the approach to and climb to Tannhorn to the north and, while mostly snow free, there was enough frost and ice visible on the higher slopes to discourage further exploration. After a lunch in the clouds at the top of Ällgäuwhoren (2047m), I headed back down the way I came up. It's a pleasant route, somewhat more gradual than others this side of the ridge, and will come in useful later in the season I think. Trail conditions were still tricky. Mud at this time of year caused by a few days of heavy rain and snow melt, well, it was sticky and slippy going. A landslide had obscured the path not far above Bitschi, but conditions in general improving. 3.5 hrs to the top of Ällgäuwhoren, 2 hrs down.
APRIL 22, 2022
Niederried - Suggiture - With the weather forecast for the weekend looking a little wet and potentially snowy, I got up early, got six hours of work done then hopped on the 15:12 train for the short two minute ride to Niederried from where there is a direct route up to Hardergrat and Suggiture, my goal for the day. From the train station at Niederried it's two hours of hard uphill hiking to reach the ridge, then another 30-40 minutes or so to the peak at Suggiture. There were still a few snowfields in awkward shady places on the way up, but the exposed ridge and climb to suggiture were snow free. I made the peak at 18:00 and enjoyed the view. Augstmatthorn looked accessible from here, as most of the remaining snow at the ridge was not covering the path, but as I couldn't see any Steinbock in that direction, I chose to save the remaining daylight for the return to Niederried. On the way down, I was glad of saving the light because I had my first close up Steinbock encounter of the season at around 1450m. As usual, I sat and was patient and was rewarded with some fantastic photos to kick of my 2022 Steinbock ridge hiking season! An hour and a half later, I was down at home lakeside in Oberried enjoying the photos.
APRIL 17, 2022
Oberried Am Brienzersee - Bitschi - Ällgäulücke - This trail is a little longer than the previous day's hike, but it is more gradual, and offers a little more varied terrain. It's a nice walk, about 3 hours all in from Oberried to Bitschi and Ällgäulücke with a number of excellent viewpoints and rest stops along the way. I took a 20 minute diversion to find a hut at 'Egg.' Splendid hut, also managed by the Oberried Am Brienzersee community, and well furnished with bunk beds and a nice sized kitchen and living area. The hut is in a spectacular position overlooking the lake and the ridge from a dramatic position high up at around 1400 meters. After Bitschi a number of snow fields still obscured the path to Ällgäulücke so after attempting to negotiate around them for a while I once again elected to leave that for another day and head back to Bitschi for a rest. 3 hours up (approx) and an easy 2 hours down.
APRIL 16, 2022
Oberried Am Brienzersee - Blasenhubel - The snows of the previous weekend were nowhere to be seen. The hut at Rys my first stop was a welcome break and also has a great view of Suggiture. From there, the climb gets a little tough zig zagging up a steep grass meadow all the way to the top, another 300 to 400 meters. The difficulty I have with sections like this is that there is little to stop any slip or trip on these exposed slopes. It takes a lot of concentration and effort to keep going up. Came across a herd of Steinbock in the distance once I got to the top, though I still wasn't able to make the ridge due to a 3-5 meter wall of snow and ice at the top. I edged around it a little, to see if ther was a way to get to the ridge, but it started taking me further from the known path, so I elected to stop there and enjoy the view. Three hours up to the ridge, two hours back down to Oberried Am Brienzersee.
APRIL 10, 2022
Oberried Am Brienzersee - Rys - First approach to the ridge this season and it was in deep snow from about 1500m. I stopped at 1450m at the Ryswaldli Hutte at Rys, well-maintained by the Oberried Am Brienzersee Community. From there at the edge of the forest you have a magnificent view of Augstmatthorn and Suggiture. It's about an hour and a half to make the top of the ridge from there, but after a good look at the steep snow field I would have to cross soon after the hut, I turned back. A beautiful day for a hike up there!
20 November, 2021 - Augstmatthorn
Habkern - Augstmatthorn - Niederried - With the snow for the most part melted after a few warmer days, I had to have one more climb to the peak of Augstmatthorn. It was perfect. Still a little snow on the shaded side of the ridge, but warm and clear of snow at the top with a nice group of steinbock met just the other side of Augstmatthorn. Conditions were so nice up there I walked to the edge of Wytlouihoren to see if I could make Blasenhubel and from there descend to Niederried. Unfortunately, at the edge of Wytlouihoren, I could not see the climbing path down to the ridge as it was still frozen under snow on that side, so I decided against risking that descent and instead walked back to the foot of Suggiture and from there, descending to Niederreid via a rather pleasant path on the sunny side of the ridge which I'll definitely use again perhaps later towards early spring as soon as the currently heavy snow up there begins to melt. The descent to Niederried is a lot easier and a fair bit shorter than the one from Allgaulucke down to Oberried am Brienzersee. It's not much help if you're already long past Suggiture, but it is certainly a good option for getting directly to Suggiture and Augstmatthorn and avoiding the long forest trek part of the ridge from Harder Kulm. I have hiked up the Habkern - Horet trail more times than I can count now, and while that remains my favourite route at that end of the ridge, Niederried-Suggiture will definitely be a factor early in the 2022 season due to it being on the sunny side of the ridge.
Back to Augstmatthorn - November, 2021
Habkern - Augstmatthorn - Based on my experience in the winter of 2020, going into early spring 2021, when I spent a little too much time in dangerous conditions climbing the ridge, I wanted to be sure not to have to deal with heavy snow and ice on the ascent side from Habkern (in the shade for the most of the day during winter). On the 11th of November, there had been a day or two of snow, but after checking local webcams, I could still clearly see paths at the higher elevations, and there was no snow yet at the lowest elevations (around 800 metres) so I went for it. Glorious day up there, with crisp perfect snow and an excellent test of my ice/snow spikes which worked a treat. Key for me was my winter rule (again, based on difficult conditions experienced last year) that if I could see or make out where the path was (where I should be) I could continue. If the path's location was obscured by deep snow, it was time to turn around. On this day, the path was clear to see even in the deep snow, as it was well trodden before me.
October 24, 2021
Brienzer Rothorn to Habkern - October 24th was the last day the cable car and train service to the starting point at Brienzer Rothorn were open. I went for it again, and found conditions (weather and underfoot) absolutely perfect for my twelfth and last full ridge hike of the season. On the climb to Tannhorn, for the first time I sat and enjoyed it a short way from the climbing section, rather than pushing myself to get it over with. I have become more accustomed to its dangers - and my limits - and this ascent was one of the most enjoyable of the lot.
I’ve managed to get everything I could out of this trail this season and still it calls me. This path is part of me now, and I cannot spend enough time here. The snows returned in earnest this week, and though I can still return to the Augstmatthorn end of the ridge through parts of the winter, I’m already researching some lower level hikes to keep me fit enough to come back as soon as spring allows.
October 17, 2021
Brienzer Rothorn to Habkern - By October 17th, Chruterepass was now firmly iced over, and quite treacherous. Many climbing sections on the western flank of the ridge were still frozen, and others on the eastern and southern flanks were turning to mud. The last climb to Augstmatthorn from the Blasenhubel side was solid with ice, the most difficult I’ve encountered there. It was tough going, but again, preparation got me through. I had plenty of layers to change depending on the temperature and food and water supplies to spare.
October 10, 2021
Brienzer Rothorn to Habkern - October 10th, after another week of snow, I went for it again, as the ridge had cleared of most of the snow after a few days of sunshine. Both this and the previous hike were a little light in the Steinbock department, but nonetheless satisfying and spectacular hikes. There was a little snow and ice underfoot at Chruterepass, but otherwise perfect cool autumn hiking days. I started at the usual time and made excellent time to Augstmatthorn, the cooler weather and perhaps experience now affording a faster pace. Caught the 15.36 bus from Habkern.
October 2, 2021
Habkern to Brienzer Rothorn - After the first snow blanketed the ridge in late September 2021, I felt the days were numbered for safely completing the ridge again, but in October, I completed four more full hikes of the ridge, bringing my total to twelve times along this incredible ridge in one season.
On October 2nd I had not planned to do the full ridge due to a high wind forecast for later in the day. I was heading up to Augstmatthorn from Habkern when I met a young New Zealander at the top of the ridge. He was planning to complete the hike in the opposite direction from Interlaken to Brienzer Rothorn. I walked with him and told him about why I wasn’t planning on it due to the wind forecast, but by the time we got to Augstmatthorn, that forecast had changed, conditions were perfect, so I decided to accompany him heading north along the ridge.
It was very hard going at my fastest pace, which was needed because the last transport from Brienzer Rothorn was leaving at 17.15. That direction is exactly double the vertical elevation change of my usual approach. For the second time this season I heard “that was the hardest thing I’ve ever done” at the end of the hike. He did appreciate that I got him there on time, and I appreciated the opportunity to explore the ridge from a different direction. Descending Tannhorn’s exposed backbone (as opposed to climbing it) was breathtaking, and not quite as difficult as I’d imagined it would be.
September 26, 2021
Brienzer Rothorn to Habkern - Overnight at Rothorn and this was spectacular again. September 26 2021, I scheduled my eighth full hike of the ridge for an early Sunday start, after another night at Berghaus Rothorn Kulm. The weather forecast didn’t look great, but I had a good enough window to get past Tannhorn before the rain that was forecast to arrive there around lunchtime. I started before sunrise, and came across my first Steinbock of the day in the dark. They were everywhere along the way, a spectacular day for Steinbock, the most I’d ever seen in a single day, all close up at every point along the trail. But I almost turned back after just an hour or so into the trek.
As I got to Briefehörnli, the wind picked up rapidly, and powered a bank of wet fog over the ridge. It blocked out the rising sun and changed conditions from calm, warm sunrise at my back to high winds with driving rain and zero visibility within seconds. I had no choice but to edge myself off the exposed ridge and hunker down in the lee of a rocky outcrop and hope it would pass. After about ten minutes, I could see the lake below me again and the winds dropped significantly. I had weighed my options, and had at least two good choices for leaving the ridge if conditions didn’t improve. I was, in fact, exercising option one (back to Chruterepass and down to Planalp/Brienz) when I found the narrow path blocked by a large Steinbock who apparently did not want to give way. We had a stand off in the fog for a while, which is when the wind dropped and the sun reappeared so I elected to turn around continue on before the weather changed again.
It worked out well. I did get caught in some rain a little before the final climb to Augstmatthorn, but trail conditions remained manageable and the wind gusts didn’t return until I was long off the ridge. It was an extraordinary weekend up there, with such dramatically changing weather. Ideally, not to be witnessed while actually on the ridge in future. That, I’ll leave to the Steinbock, who don’t seem to mind the weather at all. I am just a visitor.
September 11, 2021
Brienzer Rothorn to Habkern - After a second overnight stay at Brienzer Rothorn, a bit of a wet hike to start with, but it cleared up quickly. This was the most difficult trek along the ridge for me because just as I approached Tannhorn, below, I started to feel dizzy and nauseous. In the last few hikes, I'd made sure to balance my water intake and my food intake quite well because usually, if I felt anything less than 100%, it was likely because I hadn't eaten enough or drank enough water. I stopped before attempting the tricky climb to Tannhorn's peak and loaded up on some carbohydryates and added electrolyte powder to the rest of my water supply. That got me to the top but still I wasn't feeling too good, and had started to wobble a bit as I walked, a particularly dangerous thing to do up here. I realized then, as I kept veering to the left on a path less than a metre wide with over 1000 metres of steep drop either side, that it wasn't my food or water intake, it was that damned vertigo again. In the last 20 years or so, I have had intermittent episodes of what is more precisely known as benign paroxysmal positional vertigo. They don't last long and are generally nothing more than annoying, but to have an attack of it up here with no margin for error was incredibly dangerous as not only was my balance off, I was not able to walk in a straight line. This could become really serious.
I kept going, as I didn't really have a choice at that point, I'd passed the exit points and felt that I was better on familiar ground than on untried exits from the ridge, so I headed for Augstmatthorn. I slowed my pace, took regular rests and walked as carefully as possible. Once I'd reached the top of Augstmatthorn, it settled down a bit, and allowed me to easily make the descent from the foot of Suggiture to the village of Habkern where I caught the bus to Interlaken and home. Exiting the bus at Interlaken, it hit me again, and I was all over the place as if drunk (haven't had a drink in 19 years, fyi), and if that level of disorientation had happened up on the ridge, I would have had to call REGA (Swiss Mountain Rescue), there was no way I could have made it otherwise. By the end of that day the episode was over, I saw a doctor the following day and all was good, but it reminded me that you can't really prepare for everything that might happen on a long hike. There's really nothing I can do to prepare for that anyway, but I can make sure to keep my food and water supplies well stocked so that if I have to take my time, I have everything I need for the long haul.
August 29, 2021
Brienzer Rothorn to Habkern - Neither rain nor fog nor common sense... it was a bit on the rainy side for late August, but, well, I was here, might as well get the job done. In inclement weather the Steinbock tend to be close by the trail, but I take a lot less photos when the views are impacted by fog, cloud and rain. Despite the good amount of Steinbock I found, this was somewhat of a lonely hike. With views impacted by constant light rain, I barely saw another soul all the way to Augstmatthorn. By the time I got to Gummhoren, the last checkpoint before making the tough climb to Augstmatthorn the rain was a lot heavier making the steeper parts of that climb a bit on the treacherous side. At the peak of Augstmatthorn, I found a few hardy hikers who had arrived from Harder Kulm through the mud. One of them was asking about the trail from Augstmatthorn back to Blasenhubel, and from there down to Oberried Am Brienzersee. Having just arrived from that direction, I recommended that as a solo traveler, today wasn't the safest conditions for that hike, particularly as I was at the time unsure of how steep the Oberried Am Brienzersee descent was. It was primarly the descent from Augstmatthorn that concerned me, tough in dry weather but potentially deadly in rain. She agreed with me and elected to exit the trail my way, via Horet Lager and on down to Habkern, thus avoiding the long muddy trek back to harder Kulm. It made for a very pleasant hike with the sun eventually making an appearance. My time to Augstmatthorn was pretty quick, around six hours or slightly less, but I took my time down to Habkern, catching a later bus and enjoying the pace and the sunshine.
August 21, 2021
Brienzer Rothorn to Habkern - This was a spectacular pass, with Steinbock all over the place. It also marked the first time I’d stayed overnight at Brienzer Rothorn. Staying overnight at Brienzer Rothorn’s Berghaus Rothorn Kulm I thought might be an excellent way to get some sunset/sunrise shots, and start the hike with the the rising sun at my back, hours earlier than I had previously. I had high expectations, but the reality of it I am still digesting, it was an incredible experience.
The hotel offers group bunk accommodations as well as comfortable single/double rooms. I got myself a single room with a view over the ridge and Brienzersee. It was a little cloudy on arrival, but the clouds opened up to reveal a spectacular sunset. I wandered in the general direction of the Brienzergrat trail with the idea of shooting sunset over the ridge from the peak of Schongütsch, just a few minutes walk from the hotel overlooking the entire ridge. I was pleasantly distracted by Steinbock sightings all over the slopes. I must have taken hundreds of shots of them enjoying the last rays of sunshine, heading to where I assumed they would be spending the night. I also captured some dramatic sunset shots over the ridge, what I came here for. That’s sort of the thing with Steinbock. When they show up, it really makes for a wonderful experience. They are always around here somewhere, and some days I am lucky enough to find them close by. This was truly one of those days. I feel like I am getting to know them a little now. I’d only come across them grazing before, and seeing them in their element, springing up slopes and down rocky ledges was mesmerizing.
Messing about with Steinbock and shooting sunset until well past 9 pm, I missed out on the dinner I was looking forward to as the restaurant stops serving most nights at 9 pm. Instead, I was able to help myself to ample supplies from the breakfast room and turn in. Up at 05.30, after a good breakfast, I headed up to Brienzer Rothorn to shoot the sunrise. As hoped for, it was a glorious morning with views across hundreds of peaks toward the rising sun. I decided to head off towards the trail at 06.45, hoping that I might find the Steinbock where I’d seen them last night. I wasn’t disappointed, the herd was right where I left them, and they were a lot more active in the morning. They headed in turn for the ridge, and leapt over and down to a rocky outcrop where they played and gathered together before wandering off for the day. I sat with them for quite a while, enjoying their morning antics before heading for the trail myself.
The trail was blissfully empty in the morning light, and I took my time, savouring every moment as the sun warmed up and rose behind me. I made Tannhorn in just over two hours and rested there as a few other early bird hikers caught up. At the other end of the trail, after a long but leisurely hike, I had time to rest at the foot of the ridge and cool my feet in a mountain stream before heading for the bus to Interlaken. I had hoped this would be a good experience and it was exceptional, the ultimate hiking day. With the setting and rising sun, this place truly becomes magnificent, the mountains shining in all their majesty, while the wildlife revel in their spectacular surroundings. This is why I come here. This is why I do what I do. And with luck, I’ll be doing it again soon.
August 13, 2021
Brienzer Rothorn to Habkern - Almost every time I start this thing the big benchmark or milestone for me is the magnificent Tannhorn. It's the highest peak along the ridge after you leave Rothorn, and it's also the most exposed, thinnest part of the ridge as you climb to its peak. Each time I approach it with caution and absolute concentration. I have to, every footstep is critical on this ascent and I rarely stop to take pictures as it is simply too dangerous to mess about with cameras. The last few passes, I have paused and really took in my surroundings and it really is breathtaking what you can put your mind to as you do this. What I have pushed myself to do on this ridge should easily transfer itself to help me push through everyday life issues, but sometimes it is hard to remember what I managed to do on the trail, and keep going through mundane work issues and bill paying drama. All that disappears as I climb Tannhorn, and at the top, there is nothing on my mind but what I have done, where I am and where I am going next (Augstmatthorn). Here I find myself, forget the bullshit that holds me back in life, and do what I love.
July 21, 2021
Brienzer Rothorn to Habkern - A glorious summer day for my third pass, and this time I took two friends with me, an experienced Swiss hiker and his nephew. With the usual starting place and time, we took our time on this pass. It was perfect conditions all the way, the nicest I'd encountered up here. Convincing my hiking partners of the need to keep moving was crucial on this pass. It is hard going up here, and the last climb to Augstmatthorn is very hard work, particulary for first timers after a long day's hike. At the top of Augstmatthorn I had been watching the clock and really had to hustle them off the peak and down the steep trail to catch the last bus from Habkern at 19.36. The signposted 2.5 hrs from the foot of Suggiture to Habkern took less than two hours. It had to so we could make that last bus!
July 11, 2021
Brienzer Rothorn to Habkern - My second complete pass along the ridge, and the weather outlook was even worse than the first. It was foggy and wet, and the few Steinbock I came across were hiding in the fog. The photo below, taken at the place I call the Chasm of Doom, was the only glimpse of Brienzersee I had the whole day. One advantage of the wet and foggy conditions is there were no distractions and nowhere really to stop and rest for a long period of time. After starting at the same time and place (Brienzer Rothorn 09.28) I made to Augstmatthorn by around 15.00 this time, and was able to catch the 17.36 bus at Habkern.
July 5, 2021
Brienzer Rothorn to Habkern - Since I started hiking this ridge in July 2021, I have accumulated over 25 gigabytes of images — not including the hundreds of gigabytes of RAW source files — I have worn through one pair of trail running shoes and completely changed my preparation and approach to hiking. It's not the only place I hiked in the 2021 season, I made it all the way up to Säntis twice and also to Altmann in Alpstein, but this place, this ridge and every step that gets me there is where I find myself drawn every time. I thought I'd write a bit more about each experience, which might help explain why I keep coming back here.
A week ago I headed for Brienzer Rothorn from the peak at Augstmatthorn and only made it as far as Ällgäulücke. This time, I set off from Brienzer Rothorn Cable Car Station at 09.28. It was a bit damp and muddy underfoot, but just at the steps to Chruterepass, only 20 minutes into the trail, the Steinbock below sat guarding the entrance to the pass, a wonderful start to the hike. The steps down, just past the Steinbock were icy, and the bottom of the pass still covered in snow as it is in the shade most of the day year-round. This first complete pass was an eye opener for me and quite difficult going in wet and muddy conditions, but the rain forecast for later in the day kept me moving, I wanted to be off the ridge if it really started coming down. I made Augstmatthorn around 15.30 and was able to catch the bus to Interlaken at Habkern at 18.36.
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 12 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.