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Across the Alpstein from Hoher Kasten to Wildhaus

Published by Stijn , 22 August 2013, 23h04.

Region: World » Switzerland » St.Gallen
Date of the hike:18 August 2013
Hiking grading: T3 - Difficult Mountain hike
Geo-Tags: Alpstein   CH-AI   CH-SG 
Time: 6:15

I must admit I hadn't heard of the Alpstein Massif before coming to Switzerland. Looking at the Swiss Alps as a foreigner, you automatically focus on the higher summits and the mountaineering history of Matterhorn, Eiger and the likes. But for more regular hiking, the higher mountains are often limited in options. You certainly don't have the flexibility to link together a personal selection of summits and ridges, in a permutation of choice, all in a day's hike, like you would do in the Lake District.
The Alpstein however still allows for a lot of flexibility, with many good walking paths, scrambling routes and climbs, but with mountains of which are unmistakably of Swiss size in comparison to those of the Lake District. An additional bonus is that the mountain range has the perfect size to allow for a complete traverse in one day. That's exactly what I did last Sunday, starting at Hoher Kasten and walking along the south-eastern edge of the Alpstein Massif all the way to Wildhaus.
Saturday originally looked like the day with the better weather forecast. I rejected any plans to go into the mountains however, as I had had a tiring week, and still a lot of work to do furnishing my new apartment. That didn't quite go to plan either. Saturday was quite a disaster. An IKEA wardrobe that I was attempting to assemble ended up as a total-loss destruction, and I had some dental trouble to top it up. But as the weather forecast for Sunday improved, I decided that a good hike would be the only way to save the weekend. Too late to find any walking partners, I set off for my first solo hike in Switzerland. Taking the first train from Zürich HB, I witnessed a sunrise from the train window while passing Wil, Uzwil, Flawil (what does "-wil" mean anyway?). After another train, bus and cable car (all amazingly prompt 'Swiss' connections), I started walking on top of Hoher Kaster at 8am.
With its cable car, restaurant and transmission tower, Hoher Kasten might sound as bad as Säntis, but luckily here the man-made structures are still tolerable. The botanical alpine garden is even charming. Säntis on the other hand remains to be an eye sore to me. It must be one of the most badly mutilated mountains in the whole world. I've already made a sport out of finding photo compositions which are looking towards Säntis, but have the summit with its transmission tower just about hidden from view behind another peak, a cairn, or other random objects. With most mountains that's exactly what you try to avoid when taking pictures, but with Säntis unfortunately not...
This time however, I'm walking on the other side of the Alpstein Massif, along its most south-easterly ridge, which rises directly and spectacularly out of the Rhine Delta. And there is plenty to marvel at, without having to get annoyed at the sight of Säntis. Views into four coutries: Switzerland obviously, Germany across the Bodensee, Liechtenstein in its entirety, and Austria at the other side of the Rhine. The morning sun puts perfect light on the Alpstein Massif, which you can almost fit into a single photo from Hoher Kasten. There is a lot here to marvel at, from the interesting geology (many information panels are provided between Hoher Kasten and Stauberen) to the views down to the Sämtisersee and the Fählensee, which have no rivers flowing from them, but instead run out underground through limestone caves.

The path from Kasten to the Saxerlücke usually drops down to the right (north-west) of the ridge, but regularly reaches the ridge itself for a while as well. Each time, the view down into the Rhine Delta amazes. Such as flat valley with such steep mountains on both sides.
The little 'needle' sticking out next to the much taller Heierli Nadel got my attention. It looked to provide some nice scrambling so I got my hands out and easily climbed to the top - a nice little diversion, though to be honest the view is not that different from what you get from the path. Another highlight of the walk is the hut at Stauberen, in a stunning location with the impressive Stauberenkanzel in the background (with a random yellow post box halfway up its vertical face, by the way!).

At the Saxerlucke the ridge path ends. The continuation of the ridge over the Kreuzberge is climbers' territory only. For walkers, there is a path going up through a valley past Roslenalp to the Mutschensattel, but I elected to climb the next hill along, named either Saxerfirst or Roslenfirst. The path is unmarked and a little overgrown, but generally easy to follow. The initial section is quite steep and could get quite slippery in the wet, especially in descent, but ascending in the dry is no problem at all. Then the path flattens out and is easy, with the exception of one rocky wall which I scrambled up, but probably you can find a way around it if you try (though especially in descent it might not be obvious to see how). There is a large cairn a little before the summit, and a smaller cairn on the summit itself. After as short grassy descent, I reached the main path over the Chreialpfirst. This entire section was a lot calmer than the initial stretch from Hoher Kaster to the Saxerlücke. I came across a grand total of just four other hikers between the Saxerlücke and the Zwinglihütte.

It is only half past twelve when I get to the Zwinglihütte, so I consider climbing Jöchli and Moor as well, but instead I stick with the original plan - not every hike needs to be as epic as possible. The descent down to Wildhaus is relatively long and not that interesting, except for the views of the remarkable pyramid shape of the Girenspitz. According to other reports here, there is a route that goes directly up the slope to the right of the pyramid's wall, which is 'only' T6/II... Looks extremely steep and airy!

I arrived in Wildhaus at 2.15pm. Across the whole Alpstein massif in just over six hours, very satisfying. A quick beer and then back to Zürich, where I arrived back at 5pm. Nice to have been on a hike and still have a little of the afternoon left when getting back. Starting early is certainly worthwhile. Also because the morning had the best of the blue skies, but later clouds started to build up.

So mission accomplished, this hike definitely saved the weekend.

Hike partners: Stijn

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