Hardergrat, Extended Director's Cut

Last time I've done the endless ridge of the Hardergrat I saw a possible extension, adding a few more summits and completing a valley to valley traverse. Ronny, a veteran of many a Rigi Marsch, agreed it looked like a fun thing to do. So he drove up from Stuttgart late on Friday and we left for a long day on Saturday.

Brienzer lake.
Lunger lake and Sarner lake.

It started as a picture perfect morning with not a cloud in the sky. During the course of the day moisture was rising up from the valleys and we got some clouds. While this was maybe a bit detrimental to the views the shade was very welcome. We parked the car at Brünig and quickly gained our first summit, taking only one hour for a posted time of two. Maintaining a quick pace was a necessity as we had about 15 more summits on our itinerary. All that on the famously steep and unforgiving ridge of the Hardergrat.

Blooming meadows.
Ronny's foot demonstrating that even grassy slopes can be very steep.

We reached the Brienzer Rothorn shortly after noon. This is what most people would consider the start of the hike, taking the cogwheel train to reach it. We on the other hand had already covered 1950 meters of elevation gain and 14 kilometers of distance. A good day's work all by itself and barely halfway there.

The steam engine servicing the Brienzer Rothorn.
Getting steeper.

Long stretches of the ridge were completely deserted. Occasionally we'd meet a few people setting up their tents. Many people break the trail down into several shorter sections. The steep nature of the terrain makes it so that the most convenient and often only spot to pitch a tent are the summits.

Summits-on-a-string all the way to the horizon.

We spotted a huge crowd on the very last summit before the ridge slowly peters out into friendlier and less serious terrain. Coming closer it turned out to be a group of about 30 people speaking French. Dressed completely inappropriately for the mountains they were posing for pictures on the exposed ridge. They blocked our path, clumsily slipping and sliding down the steep trail from the summit. When we could finally run past them their leader flagged us down. Apparently he didn't know where they were and how they'd get to where they wanted to be. When I invited him to take a picture of my paper map and showed him our location on the GPS he inquired where he could buy a map like that. This seemed almost criminally incompetent to me.

Brienzer lake.
Depth perception is often lost in pictures - this is steep!
Comparing features on the opposite shore of the lake to our position. Trying to judge how much is left.

Ronny and I slogged through the final 10 km which turned into a bit of a drag. At this point you're saturated with the views and are thinking about a nice hot bath and food. We reached Harder Kulm at around 8pm. We even took the funicular down. We needed to make haste back home as Ronny had to return to Stuttgart early in the morning to coach a class of Aikido. He usually does 300 somersaults (!) for warm-up. We agreed that he was allowed to skip them this time ;-)

The group of dilettantes.
No longer directly on the ridge, but still beautiful.

The train ride back along the lake took satisfyingly long. After all, if it took us all day to walk this far, the train better work a bit for it too. There was no more public transportation back to where we left the car, so we called a taxi. These are very expensive in Switzerland but luckily we could share it with two Austrian trail runners who we met on the mountain and again at the train station. The taxi driver was very impressed with where we came from and told us a bunch of stories how she had to rescue people that didn't make it from various places on the mountain.

Harder Kulm above Interlaken.
Mission accomplished.

In the end we covered about 15 summits in 3400m elevation gain over 35km distance and 13 hours. Very satisfying day. I'm glad Ronny is such an endurance monster! You can always rely on him to complete such a mission with a smile on his face. Chapeau!

How's this for a quick walk outside?


Chöpfenberg (1896m) East Ridge

Paweł and I both had family commitments in the afternoon. This left half a day for a "quicky" in the mountains. Paweł suggested the east ridge of the Chöpfenberg. A T5 scramble (note to self: remember that "hikes" with Paweł typically involve hands as much as they do feet) in the Schwändi valley. An area I know quite well because it's home to the Brüggler - one of the most convenient multi pitch climbing areas close to Zürich. In fact, the ridge is a direct continuation of the Brüggler itself.

It was a great morning and hiking the ridge was over way too soon. We were back in Zürich in time for lunch. I spent the afternoon swimming in the lake with Leonie. Good times all around.

Self serve beer from an animal trough. Switzerland is awesome!
The approach is shared with the descent route from Brüggler.
The scrambling starts.
Never hard, but always exposed. Mistakes anywhere along the ridge would have dire consequences.
A bit of bushwhacking.
The famous climbing butt-shot.
Tiny version of the Thank God Ledge?
Chöpfenberg summit cross visible in the distance.
Ants colonized the ridge everywhere.
The Bockmattli towers Andrey and I climbed two weeks ago. We saw the Rega helicopter fly another rescue mission into the face from our vantage point.
Looking back over the ridge.
This may look idyllic but it was the most annoying part of the entire hike. Descending steep meadows with slippery muddy steps.


Kayaking at the "Parc des eaux vives" in Huningue, France

Sandra and Björn invited us to a day of kayaking in the waterpark in Huningue in the Alsace, just across the border in France. This was for our wedding in 2016 but we only managed to find a date now. Andrey and Arne joined us and we split into two groups so that Sandra and Björn could be the experienced guides for the rest of us noobs, most of whom had never been in a kayak before. This also meant that we could always have a group on shore to take care of Leonie. Luckily the surrounding area of the park is super nice and kids friendly with adventurous playgrounds. While Leonie did have a lot of fun on those she was also mesmerized by the action on the water and watched the boats with fascination. Doubly so if she recognized one of us in a boat.


Each crew had two hours in the water so we'd start with a bit of an introductory course to learn the basics on the dammed up calm lake section before the actual run. Followed by a wild ride through the whitewater and then some more practice going upstream through the rapids before a final run down. It was a super hot day so the water was really nice and refreshing. Of course this also meant that it was quite crowded with many parties on the water.

Leonie being her usual fearless self. If we had let her she'd have jumped right into the water too.
How's this for a playground attraction?! I approve!
Leonie watching the action on the water.
Paddling back the return channel to go for another round.

My understanding is that a good strategy for surviving the waves is to hit them straight on while maintaining speed and momentum. Basically my default strategy when the going gets rough: "Flucht nach vorne" (literally "flight forwards"). This got me through the first run alright, but it also meant that I was a bit of a rowdy, playing bumper cars with the other boats. No harm intended ;-) Climbing the learning curve was satisfying. Already on the second run I felt much more in control and managed to hit the eddy after each rapid to meet up again with the others.

Why don't they have boat elevators? Sad. Losers.
Sandra waiting for me to bounce out of the entrance waves.
This is a bit of an embarrassing picture: I'm in the lower yellow kayak. A few minutes later we were looking for Andrey's paddle which is drifting right past me in this picture. I didn't notice it...

Unfortunately I screwed up one exercise where Sandra instructed me to hit a rock by drifting into it sideways. She told me the right thing to do was to "embrace the obstacle as your friend" and lean in to it. She demonstrated this by giving the rock an exaggerated embrace. On an intellectual level this makes perfect sense because this way you keep the underside of your boat up and into the current. The alternative is to have the wave roll over you and tip you over. And of course this is exactly what happened to me. It's a bit annoying that my lizard brain took over so quickly and easily after just having been told the right thing to do. But it feels counter intuitive to lean into the thing you are about to crash into rather than away from it. Anyway, I got this right on my second attempt. Lizard brain override successfully engaged.

I like how in-sync we are...
...in these two pictures.

I somehow managed to squeeze and bruise my thumb when I went swimming at that rock though. This sucks as I was meant to go climbing today and am now sitting at home with a swollen, hurting and barely mobile thumb. Apparently old men are not allowed to go kayaking and climbing in a single weekend ;-/
We still had a total blast. It's an exhilarating rush to speed through the waves. Anita loved it, Leonie got a thorough workout (she basically collapsed once we got back home) - I'm pretty sure our little family will be back. Thanks to Sandra and Björn for patiently coaching us and enabling this experience! Now please take me on the Vorderrhein ;-P

Oh yeah!
All smiles.