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.

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