Alpstein summits

A cloudy climb to the highest point in the Alpstein region.

The day after Andy and I explored the northeast side of the Seealpsee valley, from Ebenalp to Äscher and up to Schäfler, then down to Seealpsee and Wasserauen, I woke early to climb the other side of the valley. We had stayed overnight at the Alpenrose hotel in Wasserauen, and my colleague drove in to join me at 6am as planned. Our goal was to climb to Rotsteinpass and then decide whether to turn left and climb Altmann, or turn right and summit Säntis. The sky was full of clouds, low enough to obscure all the peaks, but we held on to hope that it might clear later in the morning. Our luck held, with wonderful views of landscapes and wildlife, pastures and farmhouses, and some challenging terrain on this 1600m climb to the highest point in the Appenzell region. Read on, and check out the gallery – many photos have details better seen at full-resolution.

David on the Lisengrat ridge, with Altmann summit at rear.

We climbed quickly up through the forest out of Wasserauen, avoiding the roadwalk up to Seealpsee, initially (and coincidentally) following the route I took on my misty walk here back in November 2017. We soon emerged into the pastures on the bench above the valley, passing cows turned out for their breakfast while smoke from the chimney of the nearby farmhouse hinted at the family cooking their own.

Summer dairy farm in the pastures above Wasserauen.

Our route took us between the high and low cliffs of the southern side of the valley, with wonderful views across Seealpsee to the ridges and meadows Andy and I had hiked yesterday. Below you can see Schäfler hut high to right of center; we walked the ridge left from there, then down through the light-green pastures to the dark-green forest, where tight switchbacks brought us down that cliff face to the valley; then around the lake to the right.

View across Seealpsee toward Schäfler hut, and the ridge and slopes we descended the day before.

As we proceeded up-valley we eventually had a view to Berggasthaus Meglisalp, amongst a tiny village of dairy farmers’ summer homes and a tiny church ready for service on this Sunday morning. Beyond, note the widest snow patch leading up to a u-shaped notch in the ridge; that notch is Rotsteinpass, our next destination.

View of Metlisalp hut (and village) and up the valley to Rotsteinpass – the u-shaped snow-filled pass left of center. Its hut is visible at the ridge edge of that snow.

Here we met some friendly and curious cows. This young calf has a metal brace on its horns, which I’m told is meant to protect the horns from a calf that has been tempted to use them on rocks – or its peers.

A curious calf greets me; she is wearing a metal brace to protect her horns.

An hour later we were approaching the Rotsteinpass, and its hut. In a few places we had to cross some leftover snow – my colleague said he was here four weeks earlier and it was all snow.

The trail approaches Rotsteinpass and its hut.

We had nice views back down the valley to Meglisalp, SeealpSee, and the plains below Wasserauen.

View back down the valley to Metlisalp and Seealpsee, and the plains beyond Wasserauen.

I was excited to see a marmot and a steinbock during this ascent; the gallery includes a short video of each and a blurry photo. We stepped into the Berggasthaus Rotsteinpass at about 9:15, where the overnight guests were finishing breakfast, and ordered a tea and a cappuccino. This is my kind of rest stop!

Here we discussed our options. Altmann would be shorter in distance and elevation gain, but its route is rugged and exposed, requiring nerves of steel; we would descend the way we ascended. Säntis would be farther and a bigger climb – and had shown no signs that it would emerge from the clouds today – but we could descend via the gondola if we decided we’d walked enough. We decided to head for Säntis, which meant traversing the Lisengrat ridge.

View ahead on the trail across Lisengrat ridge from Rotsteinpass to Säntis.

My colleague tells me there are spectacular views to both sides as you traverse this ridge, and people come from all over just to walk this 75-minute traverse. Good to know – though we had few views today! The trail provided enough excitement and interest. Impressive trailwork!

The trail can be very exposed, across Lisengrat ridge from Rotsteinpass to Säntis.

After climbing up, down, over, and around the rocky outcrops of this jagged ridge, and crossing some steep snowslopes that offered the opportunity for an unexpectedly fast trip to the rocks below, we began to see the summit of Säntis as it emerged from the clouds.

Crossing the Lisengrat ridge, with the summit of Säntis barely visible in the mist ahead.

According to Wikipedia, “At 2,501.9 metres above sea level, Säntis is the highest mountain in the Alpstein massif of northeastern Switzerland. It is also the culminating point of the whole Appenzell Alps, between Lake Walen and Lake Constance. Shared by three cantons, the mountain is a highly visible landmark thanks to its exposed northerly position within the Alpstein massif. As a consequence, houses called Säntisblick (English: Säntis view) can be found in regions as far away as the Black Forest in Germany. Säntis is among the most prominent summits in the Alps and the most prominent summit in Europe with an observation deck on the top. The panorama from the summit is spectacular. Six countries can be seen if the weather allows: Switzerland, Germany, Austria, Liechtenstein, France, and Italy.”

We made a brief visit to the summit itself – full of weather and radio instruments, and tourists who had ridden up on the gondola – but preferred to settle in at Berggasthaus Altsäntis, the 150-year-old inn and restaurant with a vast view of the valleys we’d ascended (and, on a nicer day, the alpine summits beyond).

The clouds clear as we approach Altsäntis, the original hotel & restaurant.

We decided to take the gondola down, a decision that allowed us to settle in for a lunch of bratwurst, rösti, and lager, a truly fine way to top off any climb.

Be sure to check out the gallery – for videos, and more photos; many photos have details better seen at full-resolution.

Hike stats and map (below): From Wasseraun we took the trail to the left that winds up through the forest, leaving it well before Seealpsee to take another trail (not shown) between the cliffs at left toward Meglisalp, where we joined trail #11 up to Rotsteinpass. After a tea break, we followed #11 to the right across the Lisengrat ridge to the summit of Säntis; from there we took the gondola down the backside. Hiking distance: 12.1km (7.5mi); gain 1685m (5,528′), descent 78m (255′); start elevation 876m, high point 2502m; moving time 4h37, stopped time 0h38.

Map of the Seealpsee valley and its trails. from https://www.ebenalp.ch/tl_files/ebenalp/images/wanderkarte/wandergebiet_mit_gh-2.jpg
Today’s hike in green; yesterday in blue. The gondola drops west off Säntis and then we took a bus to Urnäsch and a train back to Wasserauen.

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.

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