Balancing on the Hardergrat Trail: a hike on the edge of Switzerland

23 June, 2020 | Reccy Guide

The Hardergrat Trail offers much to those who are brave enough to attempt it: stunning views of the Jungfrau region, a true test of spirit and body, and an unforgettable adventure. The Hardergrat trail is located above Interlaken in Central Switzerland and runs along a narrow ridge that rises between the town of Interlaken and its neighbor, Brienz. Many have attempted this hike and succeeded—will you be next?

Hardergrat Trail, Interlaken’s most dangerous hike, is a uniquely rewarding journey for all those who make it from point to point. Those who have hiked the entire trail suggest making the trip from west to east, Interlaken to Brienz. At a staggering 24-kilometer length, you will be thankful to find a train station waiting at the end to carry you down to Brienz—if you arrive at the station before the last train departs, that is. If you don’t make it on time, there is a steep 1700-meter descent awaiting anyone who wishes to leave the ridge and return to town by nightfall.

Because most hikers prefer to take the train at the end of the day, you should plan to rise as early as 2 a.m. in order to make it all the way to the Harder Kulm train station in Interlaken. Normally you could rely on a train to take you all the way up to the top of the ridge, but it will be hours before the first train departs. Your journey starts here, with an 800-meter climb to the official starting point of the hike. 

Scenery from the Hardergrat Hike out of Interlaken

This treacherous and exciting venture will reward your effort tenfold. On one side, you’ll see the crystalline and turquoise waters of Lake Brienz, which derives its bright hues from the glacial melt that feeds into it from the nearby peaks. You may even make out the shapes of boats as sailors skip along the water; it might be hard to distinguish what you see, because at certain points along the hike, the Lake itself will be 1,500 meters below you.

The trail of the hike consists of a compact, meter-wide path through the grass that covers the summit line. The ridge, and thus the hike, slowly envelops Lake Brienz. In the opposite direction, you can expect to see the town of Interlaken sprawling and disappearing behind you. You’ll be gratified when the sun begins to break over the Jungfrau cluster of mountains in the morning and bathes the valley below in sunlight. In the distance, the Bernese Alps tower, their snow-capped summits shining under the sun’s bright rays. 

View of Lake Brienz while hiking the Hardergrat trail

Although the path itself is stable, there are sections of the hike that are completely exposed, with sheer, unprotected drops on either side. Use extreme caution while traversing these parts of the pass. Trekking poles are recommended, and the hike should never be attempted when the path is wet or icy.

When you have conquered all 24-kilometers and made it to the Brienz Rothorn station with time to spare, you can sit back and allow the train to carry you gently down the mountain and into the waiting village of Brienz. This small Swiss village is one of the oldest in the area, with its first known settlers arriving in the 5th century. To this day, there are over 100 preserved historical buildings from various parts of the country, which are located within the Ballenberg open-air museum. 

Hardergrat trail hike

Those who wish to simply appreciate the village as it stands today will enjoy a walk along the outskirts of the village, which is cozy directly up to the Lake’s waterfront. Traditional Swiss chalets dot the town, and much of the architecture boasts finely hand-carved designs typical of the area. For hikers who are still seeking thrills after completing the Hardergrat Trail, Switzerland also offers a nearby via ferrata, meaning stone path in Italian, which runs from Mürren to Gimmelwald. A much easier, shorter hike called the Eiger Trail is suitable for a morning picnic or late-afternoon climb with less experienced hikers. Beyond that, Interlaken is a springboard for outdoor enthusiasts to explore the diverse and action-filled Jungfrau region. Paragliding, waterfall rappelling, white water rafting, and boating excursions are available throughout the seasons. Wherever you travel around Interlaken, you can be sure that a divine view always awaits you at the top of the nearest mountain.

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