Alpstein Traverse: Neuenalpspitz (1817m), Stooss (2112m), Säntis (2502m)

After several smaller hikes I was in the mood to "go big". Endurance monster Arne is the perfect partner for this kind of thing. I had seen some inspiring videos of the Reitergrat and wanted to check out the area. The Alpstein is nominally close to Zürich but still offers a logistical challenge - public transportation connections there are not great. Thus I had only ever been to a few of its peaks and a full traverse seemed like an obvious next step. Many of the peaks in the chain are steep and unforgiving and require proper reconnaissance and gear, making it infeasible to tick all of them off in a single go. But we could at least do an end to end reconnaissance trip.


We took the car to Wattwil and continued from there via bus to Starkenbach. We fully expected to run out of daylight on this trip and this setup allowed us to get there with one of the earliest buses in the morning while still being able to return to the car via public transportation late at night (when most of the minor connections would stop running). This worked out exactly as planned ;-)

View from the Schlafstein, the first minor summit.
Always the Churfirsten...
Being offered liquor on the summit. A rare experience ;-P You can see the Säntis tower in the far distance - that's only halfway for us!

The first part of the trip had us gain altitude in the wild gorge of the Neuenalp creek. It was freezing cold in the shade of the early morning, but the day was already shaping up to be beautiful - blue skies. We didn't meet anyone but were accompanied by the sound of chainsaws echoing off the cliffs. The echoes made it very difficult to pinpoint where exactly the sound was coming from and we puzzled for a while until we actually caught up to the lumbermen at Rotenstein.

At one point we passed a military style canteen that was labeled with a friendly "help yourself" sticker. We ignored it because we were in a good flow and didn't want to stop. A few minutes later we gained the Neuenalpspitz summit. Two people in a decidedly good mood were enjoying the views and welcomed us heartily. It was only ten in the morning but they were already drinking from tiny liquor bottles. Turned out they had stocked the canteen with just such bottles. They invited us to join them but when we pointed out where we were headed they instead offered us some for the road. And shot us half admiring, half disbelieving glances for our planned itinerary.

Arne coming up the last few meters to the Stooss summit.
We scrambled up that steep grass section on the right!
Stooss summit.

We descended a steep trail towards the northern side of the ridge. Unfortunately the next string of summits was prohibitively steep to climb without proper preparation. So we traversed under their steep faces and regained the ridge only at the Lauchwis. The trail traverses just under the Stooss summit and this time I couldn't help myself but had to go for the small detour. It turned out that the Stooss summit is an incredibly steep and exposed scramble. Absolutely unforgiving T6 style terrain.

Always a good sign when your "hiking" trail comes equipped with climbing bolts.
Arne. Clouds moving in.
Gulping down some liquid at the Tierwis restaurant. At this point it was windy and chilly.

We allowed ourselves only a small rest before pressing on towards the restaurant Tierwis. At this point we had both mostly run out of water and were hoping to refill our bottles there. They didn't have any potable water either, so we ordered a liter of beer/coke/shorle each and downed it in one gulp. At this point it had gotten cold and windy and it was twenty past three in the afternoon. Measured by horizontal distance we were barely halfway through with our planned route. But luckily most of the elevation gain was now in the past. The innkeeper shook his head when he learned of our plans.

Trail towards the Säntis summit.

Säntis is a major tourist destination with an enormous restaurant, observation deck and installation on the top. Thus for the scramble towards that summit we found ourselves suddenly surrounded by people. We quickly ticked it off and continued down towards the "Blauschnee" ("blue snow") glacier. Or rather, the sad remains thereof. You can only catch glimpses of snow under mountains of rubble.

The way to the summit leads *through* the mountain.
Säntis summit.
They may have overdone the summit marker?

With ~25km and 2500m elevation gain in our legs we were becoming less and less enthusiastic about taking on more detours. Especially if we wouldn't be rewarded with a summit anyways. Thus we decided to head directly towards the planned endpoint of the trip. Dusk was beginning to fall. This didn't worry us - we only had easy terrain ahead of us and between the two of us we brought three head torches and two cell phones. Then we caught up to a lone hiker who was stumbling down the trail. His footing was extremely unsure and it looked like he could barely keep himself upright. We talked to him and offered our help. He declined, saying he was just extremely exhausted and that his friend had run ahead to ask the hut for an emergency shelter for the night. We continued past him, anxiously discussing what we could or should have done.

Scrambling back down. Steep, but well protected.
Still a long way to go.
Getting dark by the time we reached the Seealpsee.

About halfway down to the hut a guy came up towards us, clearly moving as fast as he could. We correctly reasoned that this must be the friend who went for help. He told us that the hut didn't have any available slots and that they'd have to make it all the way down the mountain on their own. It was very nearly dark at this point, so Arne and I again offered our help. This time we convinced him to take an emergency blanket and two of our head torches. It turned out this was a very good decision: Arne and I would make it back to the parking lot by around 8 pm. The other two texted us later and told us Arne's head torches were a lifesaver for them - it took them until midnight to get back down, a full five hours in pitch black darkness. They returned our gear a few days later via mail.

Cool art installation at a hydro power station: the water shoots out of the nozzle and slowly chips away at the concrete slab.
A welcome drink dispenser just before the parking lot.
Full circle: drink the liquor we received at the beginning of the trip at the very end of it.

Strava stats:

  • Moving Time: 9:47:25
  • Elapsed Time: 12:33:15
  • Distance: 29.41km
  • Elevation: 2481m up, 2481m down

A fantastic day out. Extremely satisfying that I can still pull this off with no adverse effects other than being a bit tired the next day. That's a promising baseline to build upon ;-P I'll definitely be back to tick off the missing peaks in this chain - it looks like there are quite a few nice climbing opportunities.


Vilan (2375m)

For this hike Afroz and I recruited another one of our colleagues: Razvan would join for the first time. We got lucky and the first day of October was a beautifully sunny day. More than that, it was a temperature inversion day, where it was warmer high up than low down. This meant that we'd rise out of the fog and have a rolling layer of clouds below us. Great atmosphere (figuratively and literally ;-P).

Nice garden, building and statue!
Secluded steep path leaving the village.
Afroz looking serious.

Going by my usual algorithm of "any hike I haven't done yet is great" we chose the Prättigau in Grisons this time around. We started in the tiny village of Seewis and headed up to Vilan via its long East ridge. Nice trail, not very exposed but still offering great views. Along the way there were some doubts whether the route might be too long and whether some/all of us would turn around. Strategic deployment of gummi bears patched over these temporary lapses of motivation and judgement and all three of us reached the summit together.

Others taking advantage of the weather: glider plane being dragged up.
Afroz and Razvan coming up.
A paraglider.

My original plan would have us go back down towards the North and circle the entire mountain to arrive back at the car. Given the current time and energy levels this seemed a bit too ambitious. So we decided to go towards the cable car at Älpli. This was a fine alternative if it wasn't for two minor snags: first, one is meant to reserve the cable car in advance to get a spot. It's a tiny and slow one. Second, it gets us down to an entirely wrong village, far away from our starting point and car.

Afroz' favorite mountain range, the Churfirsten, peaking just above the clouds.
Coming down the steep grassy slopes on the Northern side.

The eventual solution was for Afroz and Razvan to have a coffee on the terrasse of the cablecar top station, waiting for the next available slot, while I hiked down to get the car. I literally ran down the mountain and managed to reach the base about the same time as the other two got a ride - about 1100m of descent in an hour. When I volunteered for this little extra mileage I only eyeballed the map and glimpsed over the fact that the trail went down too far, adding a 500m climb back up to the car. The mountain has an odd shape where one needs to navigate a huge ravine and cliff by descending all the way to its base and then climb back up the other side. It's a beautiful trail, but at this point I was out of water and soon out of daylight. And I was still moving as fast as a I could in order to not make the others wait for too long. I arrived back at the village by dusk and was greeted by Alphorns playing.

Great day out. Several personal records broken in the group in terms of elevation gain in a day or fastest descent time ;-P

Looking back at our descent route.
Rega flying someone off the mountain. Lots of action in the sky today...
This was after I left the others on the terrasse of the cafe. The trail went right through this group of male (!) cattle. Made me a tad uneasy. I have crossed many meadows with cows on them on my hikes, only once have they ever been aggressive. But just two weeks later Sandra would tell me a story of how one of her friends got trampled by cows so badly that when they finally found her she had to be airlifted to the hospital...
Natural picture frame.
Quite spectacular trail, cut into the side of the mountain.
Sun going down. Better hurry!
The red part is what we did together, the blue is my bonus sprint.


Mattjischhorn (2460m)

After hiking to Selun, I tagged along on my second hike with Sören, and by the time I wrote this blog, I had tagged along on a few more! Sören chose the trail, again by placing his fingers on the map where he hadn’t been yet. This time, we also got Łukasz to join!

Lake Zurich heading south

The choice was Mattjischhorn, near Arosa. We drove to Chur with a stop in Heidiland. With the naivety of me never having been there, I assumed it to be a Swiss village with beautiful alpine landscape - turns out it is a glorified highway rest station, albeit with good food.

The road up from Chur twists and turns around the hills, giving a clear view of the valley including the impressive Langwieser Viadukt. Łukasz gave us hints of unease, clearly unsettled by the exposed nature of the road. The drive ended with a private access road, from the village of Langwies.

We started our hike in Strassberg, passing the mostly empty summer houses in the small village. The ascent began after passing the ski restaurant.

Looking back at Strassberg
Wooden flower beds that I love. I recommended my parents get one of these for their garden back home.

We quickly made our way up the first summit, with Sören leading the way as always. Happy faces!

Łukasz and I climbed down with a bit of scramble.

The next part of the route we planned was to descend from this summit and follow a ridge towards Mattjischhorn. The narrow ridge was challenging for me but Sören kept spirits high leading the way and, of course, with a song. This picture of us on the ridge puts the song in perspective.

“are you ready to stumble,
are you ready to fall”


How well suited for a ridge hike! We finally made it to Mattjishorn. A short break for lunch sandwiches and sausages, followed by a stretch on the grass. I remarked that it was such a nice place to sleep, to which Sören made us realize how we were lying in cow shit.

Summit - Mattjischhorn

We walked down and further along the ridge. It got narrower and at one point we held on to a rope, one at a time, to get across.

We reached a hut at the saddle which was also when we decided to turn around back towards Strassberg. Sören would have loved to push for a few more summits but it was already a longer than usual hike for me and Łukasz.

Łukasz on the marsh planks

We walked across what seemed to be an expansive marshland. I found the terrain to be beautiful with small grass mounds dotting the hill and tiny streams flowing down towards the ravine in the valley below. The marshland was easy to cross, thanks to a long pathway of solid planks.

Fondeierbach pastures and cattle alongside

I love such rivulets and I was glad to follow this all the way down to Strassberg.

We took the road back to Chur. This time I got in the front to see the winding roads! Sören had injured his shoulder and he was in quite some pain by the time we reached Chur. The pizzas helped, but unfortunately we forgot to take any pictures!