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The Pilatus range from Stansstad to Gfelle

Published by Stijn , 14 October 2014, 20h33.

Region: World » Switzerland » Obwalden
Date of the hike:12 October 2014
Hiking grading: T5 - Challenging High-level Alpine hike
Climbing grading: II (UIAA Grading System)
Geo-Tags: CH-NW   CH-OW   Pilatusgebiet   CH-LU   Bauen - Brisen - Bürgenstock 
Time: 10:45
Height gain: 2600 m 8528 ft.
Height loss: 2000 m 6560 ft.

Crossing the entire Pilatus range from east to west, from Stansstad to Gfellen, has been a project lingering in my mind for quite a while. I'd call it "Pilatus extreme and ultra long", except for the fact that Tobi already coined this term for a hike that's even twice as long as mine! Respect! Still, my 2600m of ascent and ca. 24 km of distance is plenty for my legs. It's certainly the biggest ascent I've done this year, and apart from the Lakeland 50, probably even my biggest ascent ever.
Taking the first train of the day, I start walking at the break of dawn in Stansstad. The first kilometer involves crossing the Alpnachersee-Vierwaldstättersee connection alongside the motorway, before starting the ascent of Lopper, the first Pilatus foothill. The path climbs up some stairs and passes over the porch of a white chapel before leading into the forest. At P. 839 the first major ascent is over, and a fairly flat kilometer follows. I'm reaching the upper end of the Hochnebel, and as the path turns from W to NW, I catch the first glimpse of the Pilatus. Encouraged by the blue skies above the Hochnebel, I decide to take in the minor summit of the Haslihorn at 961m. Vague blue paint marks the junction where a faint path climbs to the Haslihorn. (If you reach a descending zigzag, you've gone about 40m too far.) Tobi's report did not lie about the "high grass" here. The dew-covered grass showers me from head to toe, and I'm not exactly the tiniest person in the world. It's a good thing that the hay fever season is long over... The Haslihorn summit is marked by a heap of stones, not really worthy of being called a cairn. There are a few views through the trees and through the mist of Pilatus and of the Berner Oberland, but not much more than you can see from the main path below anyway. So I quickly descend again for another easy kilometer to the Renggpass.
Between the Renggpass and the Tellenfadlücke I finally start gaining some altitude again. This path offers the first few bits of T3 terrain. The craggy summit of the Chrummhorn (T4/I) is just north of the main path, and well worth a detour. There is a log book and a large wooden cross on the summit. Note that the cross cannot been seen from the main path below. However the trail climbing to the Chrummhorn is quite clear. (If you hit a descent protected by a cable on the main path, you've gone just a few steps too far.) The summit offers the first open views of the day, and what a fantastic morning it is! An incredible extended layer of Hochnebel and perfectly clear visibility to all the peaks sticking above the fog.
Just before the Tellenfadlücke, I encounter the iconic wooden ladder (a whole lot better than the situation a few years ago). I'm surprised that I have to climb down this ladder towards the saddle. I always imagined I would have to climb up the ladder on my way to the Pilatus. The Tellenfadlücke is also where I stop following the marked paths. The unmarked continuation of the ridge route from the Tellenfadlücke proper (a few metres above the signpost), is still clearly recognisable.
The next main feature on the route is Windegg, with its massive vertical wall dropping off to the north-east. The path therefore turns towards the south, following the bottom of an escarpment up. I'm already looking worryingly at the scrambling that seems to be required to get across this escarpment, when, as if by miracle, a very comfortable ledge across appears. On the other side, I suddenly reach open meadows with wide views, making the ledge into a magical passage to wonderland. There's even a magic red train choo-choo'ing its way up the mountain, while down below a blue flying cabin dives into the clouds. I was half expecting a talking rabbit to come running by, reminding me that I'm a little behind schedule... No chance of increasing my speed, though. The path over the grass slope towards Rosegg is easy but steep and tiring. For the first time I feel in my legs that I've done quite some ascent already, and I'm only barely halfway the day's quota!

After zigzagging up the steep ground between Steiglihorn and Rosegg, the Pilatus Esel summit is suddenly surprisingly close. The defences of the Esel east ridge however, previously hidden from my view, are quite daunting. How can I get up there? There are some blue markings and I had looked at Delta's topo beforehand, but I still manage to get a little lost. (Pro tip: go up to the left of the bunker entrance, not to the right...) Back on the correct route, the climb (T5/II) involves some exposed but enjoyable scrambling, passing some alien (read: military) structures. Finally, there is a very airy traverse to the right, after which steep Schrofen leads to the Esel summit platform. There should be a log book somewhere, but in my excitement I must have gone straight past it. I was looking forward to giving some tourists a heart attack by climbing from out of nowhere over the wall of their viewing platform, but unfortunately my heroic arrival goes by fairly unnoticed. There is a small boy making very wide eyes, but otherwise the tourists are not paying me much attention. Oh well. So much for my vanity.

I would complain about the excessive infrastructure on Pilatus any other day, but now I'm quite grateful that the facilities are making my backpack a lot lighter. The pasta in the restaurant is of a rather doubtful quality, but at least the portion is large. It's a good thing that the tourist path to the Tomlishorn is so easy, giving my stomach some time to digest the meal. Being the highest point of the Pilatus range, the Tomlishorn obviously can't be missing from my route. From the summit, I get the first good view of the continuation of my route towards Widderfeld, Mittaggüfli and Stäfeliflue: still a very long way to go!

There is a nice ridge path from the Tomlishorn over P. 2054 to Gemsmättli. Here, I leave the marked path to explore an alternative route onto Widderfeld that has caught my attention: the Stollenloch. From the main path, I keep directly to the base of the Widderfeld east face, walking over some stunning rock arches (T4). The final descent to the entrance of the Stollenloch is a little tricky due to the very dusty ground. The Stollenloch is a staircase through a tunnel in the rock, built ages ago be the Swiss army, I'm guessing more out of boredom than out of real necessity. Popping out of the tunnel at the upper end, the route makes a 270° left turn, ascending the Widderfeld south face over steep Schrofen (T4). There is a short scramble (secured by a cable) up an escarpment to reach the grassy Widderfeld summit plateau, where a cairn marks the spot for people wanting to do the route in the opposite direction. There is a summit log book on the Widderfeld summit itself, while the cross (or rather the metal outline of a cross) stands a little further and three metres lower at P. 2073.
Time is running by quickly, so I try to keep a good pace on the long stretch between Widderfeld and the Mittaggüpfli. I pass Rot Dossen on the marked path, leaving Tobi's T6 ascent for another time. It would be near my limit anyway, and certainly not a good idea to do it while low on time and energy. Frustratingly, the Mittaggüpfli summit is higher and further away than it seems at first. The summit log book must be one of the best sheltered in the Alps: it has an entire bunker to protect it from the elements! I would not have discovered it, if it weren't for three other hikers on the summit.

The path from the Mittaggüpfli past the Tripolihütte to Stäfeliflue is quite interesting. Several sections are protected by cables (T3+), as well as a long wooden staircase on the descent of the Mittaggüfli. The Stäfeliflue is another summit that always seems closer that it really is, but luckily it's the final ascent of the day. I can look back towards Pilatus with a lot of satisfaction about the distance that I've covered.

The final peak of the day is the Blaue Tosse. Coming down from the Stäfeliflue, you start wondering why they put a summit cross on such a molehill. Looking back at Blaue Tosse from the descent through the Riseteflue, explains everything. The vertical north face is very impressive.

At my final destination of Gfelle, I have just the time to down a Rivella in the local restaurant and to freshen up in the toilets, before catching the last Postauto of the day to Entlebuch. I'm the only passenger in the bus (admittedly only a minibus); this route must be heavily subsidised. 

Why do this hike in one go, when it can so easily be split in two making use of the hotel/transport on Pilatus, or done at a relaxed pace with a bivouac (like TomClancy or jaschwilli)? It all depends on your hiking philosophy, really. If you're just in it for the enjoyment, then this route is probably a little too much. In particular the section beyond Widderfeld I would have enjoyed a lot more if if I didn't already have so much distance and ascent in my legs. But hiking for me is also about testing my capabilities and pushing my personal limits, and doing so in an environment that is less controlled but so much more beautiful and exciting than a gym. That's why I challenges like this are so appealing to me.

In spite of the perfect weather, my total time of 10:45 was a little slower than I had hoped for. On the other hand, my body coped very well and I'm positively surprised how quickly I have recovered since. But what will remain with me the most, is the experience of the most stunning sea of clouds that I've ever seen!

(Though the route starts in canton Nidwalden and ends in canton Luzern, I picked Obwalden as the region for this hike, because 90% of the route follows the Obwalden border perfectly. Hence, during 90% of the hike, at least my left foot was in Obwalden, a claim that neither of the other two cantons can make...)

Hike partners: Stijn


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Comments (4)

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Tobi says: Gratulation...
Sent 15 October 2014, 17h35
...zur gelungenen Pilatusüberschreitung!
Auch ohne meine gesuchte Erweiterung mit Schimbrig und Co. eine gewaltige Leistung!

War an diesem Tag auf dem Regenflüeli unterwegs, evtl. hast du mich sogar von oben gesehen...

Wünsche weiterhin tolle Bergerlebnisse,

Gruss Tobi

Stijn says: RE:Gratulation...
Sent 17 October 2014, 21h50
Vielen Dank Tobi, deine Tourbeschreibung war sicher eine wichtige Inspiration für meine Tour!

tenor says: Gefeliciteerd!
Sent 17 October 2014, 20h40
ook van mijn kant gefeliciteerd! Wat een geweldige tocht. Moest even lachen om de vanity bij de Ezel. Heb de Oostwand van de Ezel nu een aantal keeren gedaan, maar werd helaas nooit meer op die manier van touristen ontvangen als bij de eerste keer. (En toch hoop ik elke keer stiekem erop, dat ze daar boven bijna flauw fallen......)
Volgende keer mag je dat Gipfelwandbuch niet missen. Heel mooie en rustige plek voor de gekte op de top.

Stijn says: RE:Gefeliciteerd!
Sent 17 October 2014, 21h54
Dankjewel tenor! Ik wist niet dat er hier op Hikr nog andere Nederlandstaligen waren. Woon je dan in Zwitserland?

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