A courageous hike to the via ferrata

The trail up to the Gantrisch is not an easy one: in its hiking booklet, Swiss Post dedicates it to the ibex seeing as there is a short stretch before the summit that is very steep and requires surefootedness.

Claudia Langenegger

This almost always happens before a hike, but it’s even worse today: I set the alarm for too late, and I don’t have a picnic either. But what’s really bad is the fact my phone barely has 20% charge. I don’t even have a powerbank for the journey seeing as airport security confiscated it from my luggage. Doing the “Gantrisch challenge” by myself without a phone?! No way!

Into the unknown

I do at least have the hiking trail on paper: it’s one of the eight trails in the current Swiss Post hiking booklet.

But: how can I take pictures on the way? How do I know exactly where I am? And what if I go the wrong way?

At least I can quickly buy a sandwich and an apple at the station. Then, when I get on the train, I feel a sense of relief: there are plug sockets in first class. I recharge my phone just a bit.

A real climbing challenge

I’m still anxious as the trail ahead of me requires courage, with some of the trail involving a via ferrata. 

When I asked my colleague in editing whether he fancied coming along, he was horrified: “Absolutely not. I could never manage that!” He couldn’t manage it? The guy who lived in the civil war zone of Sudan for over a year? 

This led me to picture a hiking trail across a narrow ridge above sheer drops, rising up towards a steep rock face that’s jutting outwards – the via ferrata!

In the Swiss Post booklet, this trail has the ibex as its mascot: this Alpine animal manages to climb up and down the steepest rockfaces with absolute ease.

Copyright: Claudia Langenegger

It couldn’t be further from reality

In my imagination I picture a hazardous survival trek on rough terrain in the wilderness, but the reality feels more like a May stroll. The glorious weather has attracted retirees and school groups, and the bus that goes from Gürbetal to Gurnigel is completely full.
Looking out my window, I can see quite possibly the most beautiful Alpine foothills in Switzerland rush by: secluded hills, charming meadows, dark green forests – the list could go on forever. At the “Wasserscheide” station (1,584m) the yellow bus drops me and almost all the other passengers off, and I find myself in the midst of a group of happy hikers. Much to my relief, the large group is soon gone, and the happy hikers head off in every direction. There’s just one couple that thinks hiking is too slow, and they run up the mountain.

Copyright: Claudia Langenegger

A panoramic trail

The trail takes me up a green hillside, I see the mountain peaks reflected beautifully in a pool, I pass a mountain inn with a lovely timber facade, and fresh mountain water ripples peacefully in a spring.

A couple of wiry hikers head off towards the northern edge of the Gantrisch , two women are talking in Italian about their plans for the future in front of me, and I lose a group of early retirees behind me.

On the Leiterpass (1905m), a group of school pupils have gathered in the shade, and the teacher loudly announces that nobody should even think about taking pictures of her class without written permission.

I happily carry on taking photos because the only thing I’m taking pictures of is the stunning panorama around me.

Copyright: Claudia Langenegger

Picture-postcard beauty

It’s just like in a travel brochure, except even more beautiful: bright blue sky, lush hills, grey cliff edges and, on the southern side of the Leiterpass, an incredible view across the mountains to the Stockhorn, the mountainsides of the Simmental. And somewhere in the mist, I can make out the Toblerone shape of the Niesen mountain .

Is this the right way?

A sign shows me where to go, and I happily carry on walking, but then I spot a path running parallel further down in the meadow. Isn’t that roughly where I should be? Isn’t that the right way? I get out my brochure and my map for a quick look, am none the wiser, try to connect to the network despite a very low battery to check where I am – only to discover there’s no reception! I mean, I’m in the wilderness, after all! How could I forget that?

There’s only one thing left for me to do: carry on. Don’t panic. Stay calm. Then, not long after, I can breathe a sigh of relief: the parallel path is disappearing into the grass. I’m very much on the right track here,

Copyright: Claudia Langenegger

but I can start feeling snow under my feet. Huge, icy, slippery and dangerous! Why on earth didn’t I bring any hiking sticks?!? Still, I love these patches of white, and the cold is actually nice because, as noon approaches, the temperature has actually managed to reach summer levels, even at this altitude of nearly 2,000 metres.

Copyright: Claudia Langenegger
Copyright: Claudia Langenegger

Climbing? A lot of fuss about nothing. 

Soon I come to a branching path, with the right-hand one leading up to the summit of the Gantrisch – including the via ferrata. In other words, the danger zone! The hike itself, though, remains harmless. The ridge remains fairly wide, and it isn’t going to jut out. It’s only when you get beneath the summit things get a bit steep. There is a steel rope embedded in the rocks that I can hang on to. You just need to be quite surefooted.

Copyright: Claudia Langenegger

The summit at last

The 2,175-metre climb is well worth it: a secluded green summit, jackdaws gliding in the wind, and a stunning view all around me. If it weren’t so misty, I’d be able to see as far as France.

After a moment of pure relaxation, a sandwich and fresh spring water, there’s just one more bit of exertion to go. After all, climbing down when it’s steep is always worse than climbing up. But as it happens, the via ferrata on the way back was not as alarmingly steep as I’d feared.

Copyright: Claudia Langenegger

Secluded little woods

I tackle the second part of my hike at an easy pace: first to the Morgetepass (1,959m), and from there it's off to Gantrischhütte, and then back to Wasserscheide. The sun is now beating down mercilessly on us, and I apply another layer of suncream. Unfortunately, there’s not enough time for a quick break by the Gantrischseeli lake, which is on my left between the fir trees, and looks so cool and refreshing. 

I’m really excited about the last section of the hike. It takes us through trees, and involves a narrow path meandering its way beautifully through a small wood. I take one last photo, after which my phone gives up and switches itself off.

After a short wait at the PostBus bus stop, the bus arrives and takes me on a winding journey back to civilization. After all the morning’s excitement, I feel so content and relaxed that I fall asleep after just three minutes on the bus. What do I dream of? An ibex, of course.

written by

Claudia Langenegger