It’s hiking season in Switzerland, and a yodel-like yahoo! escapes from my mouth at the very thought.
Taking advantage of a gorgeous Saturday earlier this month, Justin and I set off from Zurich to tackle our first Swiss mountain of the year. We chose to hike Mount Pilatus, the impressively rugged peak jutting up into the Lucerne skyline. Summiting Mount Pilatus is one of Central Switzerland’s main tourist attractions. With their incredible engineering skills, the Swiss have ensured that everyone can enjoy the amazing panoramic vistas from Pilatus Kulm.
A SWISS GHOST STORY
It is said that Mount Pilatus was named after Pontius Pilate, and it’s quite a marvelous ghost story. If you’re up for a good read, visit this Mount Pilatus webpage to learn the fabled fate of Pontius Pilate and how his ghost became a Swiss legend.
Mount Pilatus peaks at 2132 meters (7000 ft) above sea level and rises 1697 meters (5572 ft) above Lucerne. That’s a fair amount of elevation gain, especially for a day’s worth of hiking! Both hikers and non-hikers are rewarded upon reaching Pilatus Kulm, which has two newly renovated hotels, restaurants, a tourist shop, and easily accessible lookout points to admire the surrounding Swiss landscape.
THE GOLDEN/SILVER ROUND TRIP
The most popular way to reach the top of Mount Pilatus is to embark on the Golden or Silver Round Trip. The Golden Round Trip begins with a ferry boat ride from Lucerne to Alpnachstad, while the Silver Round Trip starts with hopping on a local train (Zentralbahn) to Alpnachstad. From Alpnachstad, the Round Trip Route is the same.
In Alpnachstad, you can take a seat on the Pilatus Bahn, the steepest cogwheel train in the world that first opened in 1889, and ride all the way up to Pilatus Kulm. When you’re ready to descend, you then step onto the brand new aerial cableway, mythically named Dragon Ride, and fly down to the Fraekmuentegg station in minutes. By comparison, the Panoramic Gondola is a lazy float down to Kriens. The brief bus ride from Kriens to Lucerne signals the end of a majestic tour of mountainous glory.
Of course, you can start with the gondola from Kriens if you prefer to end your day with a boat tour over those gorgeous blue waters.
HIKING MOUNT PILATUS
For those who want extra physical challenge, hiking Mount Pilatus is a great day-hike for the average hiker. From Alpnachstad, two marked paths lead to Pilatus Kulm. The first trail via Aemsigen runs parallel to the train tracks, and the second trail via Luetoldsmatt swings wide around the southwestern base of Pilatus. The Aemsigen trail is steeper and more direct than the gentle climb of the Luetoldsmatt trail – at least, until they both meet at the base ridge of the Matthorn.
For easy hikes, the northern side of Pilatus has a number of great trials and other adventure attractions, such as a summer sled run and ropes course. Expert hikers can trek from Fraekmuentegg through the northern cliff valleys, but those technical climbs are for a select few… and I am not one of them!
THE DOMECKS TAKE A HIKE
Justin and I chose to hike from Alpnachstad to Pilatus Kulm via Luetoldsmatt. We started at Pilatus Bahn around 10:15am, walked above the village, crossed the southern base of the mountain, and passed through many Swiss farms along the way. Of course, we saw more cows and sheep than people, which made me quite happy. Have I ever mentioned how much I LOVE ALP COWS?!?! I was delighted to meet these fluffy creatures on the trail, especially when they came over to say hello and encouraged us to keep mooooooooooving on. #cowpuns
We kept up a steady pace along the farm roads, snacked next to a hidden waterfall oasis, and soaked up the sunshine. Without a cloud in the sky on this May day, it got very warm. Therefore, I can imagine that this path wouldn’t be so charming in the scorching summer heat, as this trail has little shade. [TIP – From what I’ve researched, I believe that the Aemsigen path does have more coverage, making it a contender on really hot hiking days.]
As we continued to gain elevation, we eventually traded cow patties for boulder fields. The peaks of Pilatus came into view, and paragliders drifted in and out of our horizon – which reminded me of our previous paragliding adventure. This Alpine world was truly stunning. Just pure rugged beauty.
On our last stretch of hike, delicate Alpine flowers dotting the green grass gave way to sturdy shrubs and patches of snow! We didn’t mind plodding through the snow, because we found the white slush to be a fun challenge.
And as we hiked through the snowscape, our target – Pilatus Kulm – came into view. Little did I know that the final ascent from the base ridge of the Matthorn would be extremely steep, mentally challenging, and a little bit scary! Surprisingly, the snow worked in our favor here, allowing us to hike directly up the mountain. However, when we crossed the exposed patches of grass at a 48% incline, I felt extremely uncomfortable, worried that I would slip and tumble down the mountain bowl. (Thankfully, that scenario stayed in my head and my imagination did not get the better of me.) Certainly, this section was the most difficult portion of our entire hike, and it is definitely not for the feint of heart.
Around 3:30pm, Justin and I made the final leap from the snow bank to the ledge of the observation deck on the second level. We were greeted by admiring tourists, which filled us with a mixture of pride, embarrassment, and a little annoyance. When one girl asked to take our picture, I was just mostly embarrassed. After dumping snow out of our boots and hanging our socks to dry, Justin and I took in the view as we enjoyed a couple of hard-earned beers and some victory snacks. Later on, Justin the Mountain Goat found ways to continue climbing around Pilatus Kulm.
For us, hiking Mount Pilatus was the perfect start to hiking season. We loved being in the Great Swiss Outdoors, and we had a great time accomplishing our weekend goal. However, we had no intention of hiking down Mount Pilatus. We gladly hopped on the Dragon Rider and the gondola to return as two tired but very happy hikers!
Hoi! How would you like to summit Mount Pilatus? Can you believe these mountains? Where in the world have you been when the scenery completely takes your breath away? Do you have any Swiss hikes to suggest?