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.

brienzergrat map

Location: Bernese Oberland, Switzerland. From above Brienz at Brienzer Rothorn to the Interlaken end of the ridge at Harder Kulm.

Summit: Tannhorn (2221 m)

Start: Brienz-Rothorn-Bahn mountain station, Brienzer Rothorn

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: 7-9 hrs
Brienzer Rothorn - Tannhorn 2-3 hrs
Tannhorn - Allgäulücke 1.25 hrs
Allgäulücke - Augstmatthorn 2 hrs
Augstmatthorn - Suggiture 10 mins
Suggiture - Horet 1 hr
Horet - Habkern 1.5 hrs
Horet - Harder Kulm 1.5 hrs

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.

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.

the brienzergrat to hardergrat trail viewed from brienzer rothorn

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. Arriving at the Sörenberg-Schonenboden Cable Car station by train and bus, I usually start the hike at Brienzer Rothorn by 09.00 or 09.28.

the starting point: brienzer rothorn bahn

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 going is pretty straightforward and to the top of the stairs at Chruterepass from the starting point is about 20-30 minutes.

towards chruterepass

To Briefehörnli

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, that leads to Balmi, and your first good look at the ascent to Tannhorn. Briefehörnli peak is about one hour hiking from Brienzer Rothorn.

at the turn, the steps of chruterepass

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.

the chasm of doom

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.

on to briefenhornli and balmi

Approaching Tannhorn

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.

approaching tannhorn from balmi

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, 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.

the climb to tannhorn

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.

down to allgaulucke

Ällgäulücke to Schnierenhireli

The descent to Allgaulucke 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.

view from gummhoren

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.

view from gummhoren

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.

view from the peak at tannhorn, looking back towards brienz

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 Neiderried. It is a popular hike the other way, from Harder Kulm to Augstmatthorn then to Blasenhubel on down to the lake. A decent hike when the weather window is too short for the full ridge.

view from gummhoren

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.

the climb to augstmatthorn

To Suggiture

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.

augstmatthorn to 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.

descent from suggiture

The last of the ridge

At Horet, after descending from Suggiture, I usually head off the ridge via a steep trail leading to Habkern where, if you time it right, you can catch a bus to Interlaken West and from there a train back to Zürich. 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 or Harder Kulm from Horet is approximately the same distance either way. I prefer the Habkern route 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.

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.

on towards harder kulm

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.

the forest bit towards harder kulm

Harder Kulm

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 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.

arriving at harder kulm