A beautiful day to climb a big peak.

I’ve had my eyes on Mount Pilatus for months, since a local friend suggested it as a place for hiking and (in winter) sledging.  Andy had hiked there in the fall – walking down from the summit.  Today, Andy and I decided to visit and climb up from the base.  The funicular railway is closed (due to coronavirus restrictions) so we planned a round-trip from the Alpnachstad train station to the kulm (summit) and return.  It was a beautiful day and, though a bit hot and humid for hiking, it still granted us spectactular views. Read on and check out the full gallery.

Andy descends through the alpine meadows with views of the Alps beyond.

Although it is early May, we were surprised how hot it can be while hiking under the late-morning sun through the meadows and farms of the lowlands.  Fortunately, we were soon switch-backing our way up through the forest, under its shady canopy but with a cool breeze blowing in from the east, and occasional views across lake Alpnachsee. 2020-05-09-83395.jpg

It was steep climbing, and we moved slowly.  We quickly ran through two liters of water and were counting on an upcoming stream for a refill. Unfortunately, after scrambling along a non-existent trail to the streambed, we found it to be dry as a bone.  (One of the few times I have found SwissTopo maps to be inaccurate.)  We considered our options.  We decided to climb another half km to what the map showed to be a meadow, take in some final views, and head back.

We were surprised and pleased to find that this meadow, a cowpasture, had a spring-fed water tank running free and cold.  (Such tanks, shaped like a bathtub, are common in high-elevation summer pastures.)  The water emerged from an underground pipe, perhaps the reason the nearby spring-fed stream was dry.  We likely could have drunk the water directly – it was spring-fed, after all, and no cows were yet resident in this field; we saw other hikers drink the water directly.  But we pumped it through our filter, just in case. 2020-05-09-83400.jpg

The fresh water and a rest break gave us new energy and we decided to head higher.  Soon we passed Anmielden, a tiny cluster of buildings around a stop on the funicular railway – all closed due to the coronavirus situation. At this point we could now see the peaks of Pilatus – it has several – its ridgetop structures (hotels, restaurants, antennae, observation decks, gondola and rail stations). 2020-05-09-83430.jpg

The views from the trail in this section were spectacular, across Alpnachsee and Lake Lucerne (Vierwaldstättersee) to the Alps beyond, with the city of Luzern peeking out at the left edge of the lake. 2020-05-09-83427.jpg

We climbed higher, following the funicular tracks into the rocky bowl amidst the peaks, before our time and energy ran out.  With 600m+ still to climb, and a long walk back, we decided to call it a day.  We sat a while in an alpine meadow, enjoying the view, pondering the ancient stone walls, and enjoying the spring wildflowers. 2020-05-09-83438.jpg

After a four-plus hour ascent, our descent was much faster – perhaps an hour and a quarter – and we arrived just one minute before the hourly train pulled into Alpnachstad station.  We resolved to go back and finish the hike someday.  It’s a big climb, with elevation gain 1,683m (about 5,550′) over less than 10km… but it’s worth it.  Check out the full gallery for more photos.

As always, we travel very carefully on public transportation – traveling at off-peak times; paying extra for first-class, where there are few (or no) passengers sharing an entire railcar; disinfecting hands before and after riding; keeping our distance from other travelers on the platform.

Hike stats:

  • Distance: 12.0 km
  • Duration: 5h45m
  • Elevation gain: 1087m
    • low point 435m
    • high point 1500m
    • (summit 2118m)



Author: dfkotz

David Kotz is an outdoor enthusiast, traveller, husband, and father of three. He is also a Professor of Computer Science at Dartmouth College.

5 thoughts on “Pilatus”

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