Come warmer weather, the alpine meadows — full of wildflowers and scrumptious wild berries — that greet trekkers at the beginning of the climb from the picturesque Swiss village of Mürren to the 9,744-foot Schilthorn summit might lull would-be hikers into thinking the ascent is going to be a piece of apple strudel … but it isn’t.
It’s a misleading introduction to the mountain, because the path (as I discovered) to the summit’s Piz Gloria revolving restaurant, featured in the James Bond film On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, will kick the backside of anyone who isn’t in shape, or suffers from an occasional bout of acrophobia. Dig heights and vertical drops? This climb-with-a-million-dollar-view is for you.
The Schilthorn stands out, “because it outpunches its weight,” explains Greg Witt, founder of the adventure outfit Alpenwild. And while it’s not the tallest summit in the region, the Schilthorn “offers astounding views that other peaks of the same height can’t match” — like the Eiger, Mönch and Jungf.
Ramblers will run across nary a tourist on the mountain trails — likely just a few intrepid hikers and Swiss hamlet dwellers.
But why slog up the precipitous mountainside if you can ride a comfy cable car from Mürren (or even farther below) instead? “Traveling by cable car divorces you from reality,” says Kev Reynolds, author of numerous books on hiking through the Alps. “It’s like watching the world pass by through a screen. On a hike, you’re living it.” The cable car, which costs CHF 82.60 (about $83), saw its return car recently break down (another reason to walk), stranding 400 sightseers at the summit for hours. At least they were stuck on high with the world’s No. 1 tourist toilet (Piz Gloria won the International Toilet Tourism Award).
After moving past the lovely meadows, where Witt once had a “five-berry day” — including wild blackberries, blueberries, cranberries, raspberries and strawberries — hikers are in for some steep gravel and scree, plus a thinning atmosphere, which makes it harder to breathe. Still, walking beats crowding into a cable car with the tourist hordes, if you can manage it. Schilthorn ramblers will run across nary a tourist on the mountain trails — likely just a few intrepid hikers and Swiss hamlet dwellers.
The “standard” climbing route leads through the narrow Kanonenrohr (Cannon Barrel) gorge, which is part of the famed INFERNO downhill ski race, as well as the grueling INFERNO triathlon course. Reynolds recommends another route, which starts at the Rotstock Hut southwest of Mürren, sending hikers up Schilthorn’s West Ridge. “The ridge is steep and narrow [and exposed] in places,” he advises, “but the route is safeguarded by a series of metal rungs, ladders and cables in the ‘worst’ (or best!) places,” with panoramas reaching from Germany’s Black Forest to France’s Mont Blanc.
If all of this huffing and puffing seems a tad daunting, pooped-out walkers can hop on or off a cable car at the Birg gondola station (midway between Mürren and Schilthorn) and tackle only a section of the mountain. For those hikers who persevere, “the summit comes as a shock to the system,” Reynolds says — and I agree. After climbing with an Italian friend, both of us grubby and covered in sweat, then trudging up that last exposed stretch of narrow ridge and breaking upon the Piz Gloria, it was a little startling to stumble across women in high heels and men in business suits.
For those in fancy dress, the stunning views seem almost unearned — but to be fair, after more than four hours on the trail, and sapped of energy, I was happy to take the cable car back down. Schilthorn is an amazing spot, no matter how you see it, but try to experience some of the mountain on foot.
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