Hiking the Männlichen Summit

View from Männlichen into the Grindelwald valley

In German, the word for hiking is wandern, and can be expanded to mean anything from migrating, journeying and wandering. And indeed, you can do quite a lot of hiking in Switzerland simply by wandering from signpost to signpost on the country’s 50,000 km of marked trails. Even the smallest mountain outposts are easily found via an intricate system of wanderwege routes (marked by yellow signs) found between lakes, valleys and towns, higher altitude bergwege mountain paths (marked by white-red-white blazes), and rugged alpine routen trails (marked by white & blue blazes) that can include steep drop-offs and sections with cables or handholds.

Since the phrase “relaxing vacation” is not in our vocabulary, Britton and I spent our last day in Berner-Oberland hiking. The guide at Balmer’s suggested taking the train from Interlaken to Wengen (with a train transfer at Lauterbrunnen). Round-trip tickets for this cost about CHF 25. From Wengen (1,274 m), we would hike the route to In Gassen and Männlichen (2,227 m), then walk along the mountain ridge to Kleine Scheidegg (2,061 m), and finally trek downhill from Kleine Scheidegg toward Wengernalp back to Wengen.  On the Jungfraubahnen Wandern map, that would be routes 46, 33 and 41.

The morning was marked with a heavy downpour and ominously thick cloud cover, and I silently fretted about what we were going to do if the rain didn’t ease. Fortunately, the skies cleared at about 10:30 am, and we set off with backpacks full of bread, cheese, salame and light clothing. Personally, I think that hiking in sneakers is often safer than using thick-soled hiking boots because you will have a better feel for the terrain. Besides, hiking boots are heavy, and that extra weight goes a long way when you are scaling a mountain. The same goes for hiking poles; they can be helpful if you’re going downhill, but for the most part, you’re better off using your hands for balance and feet to feel the ground. I had to laugh at the hikers decked out in shiny layers of North Face and poles on flat sections of trail. Newbs.

Obfuscating clouds still covered the skies when we hopped off the train at Wengen, and the top of the Männlichen summit was completely shrouded. We stood at the bottom and shrugged at the task ahead of us, mostly because we couldn’t see what was ahead of us. From Wengen, there are multiple paths to Männlichen but the road less-traveled is the steeper, slightly shorter trek going towards In Gassen. At one point, we lost the trail and found ourselves in the middle of a field surrounded by cows. “Is that the trail, or is that just matted grass from the cows?” Britton wondered aloud. As we gingerly stepped around the cowpies, we spotted a blaze on a tree on the opposite side of the field. Hmm, our guide did say that not too many people take this trail, I wonder why…

Over two hours later, we were still huffing and puffing up a never-ending series of S-turns, on a narrow, single-file trail with rain-slicked rocks and sharp drop-offs into the valley one side. One section of the trail included a cable hand-hold. It was, as our guide had mentioned, just “a little steep.” Fog was rolling in and out around us, which might have been for the best since it hampered our ability to look down. We began seeing a series of brownish-red fences planted on the face of the mountain in tiers. “Is that for catching people who fall?” said Britton. We pondered the ramifications of taking a false step off the trail. (Later, I found out that the fences are there to control snow drift and prevent avalanches in winter.)

Eventually, we stumbled to the top of Männlichen, where we were winded, sweaty, ravenous… and surrounded by dozens of tourists who simply took the gondola to the summit. “Whatever, they can’t say that they hiked a 1,000 meter ascent today!” I said lightly. Besides, we were rewarded with a breathtaking view of the other side of the mountain. Dotted with small lakes and crossed by ski trails, you could see Grindelwald at the foot of the valley and hear the serene tinkle of cowbells. No wonder the Jungfrau region is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

There is hot food available from the canteen at Männlichen, but since we’d packed lunches, we simply strolled inside to make use of their tables and bathrooms while resting in warm environs.

From Männlichen to Kleine Scheidegg, the trail is gloriously wide and flat, with lots of older people and kids hiking the path. The entire time, you have a panoramic view of the Grindelwald valley, with the Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau peaks ahead of you. It is without a doubt one of the most beautiful places on earth.

Clockwise: flowers sprinkled on the mountain; an unsupervised, roving band of goats waits to cross the train tracks in Kleine Scheidegg; Switzerland’s highest peaks keep their snow caps even in August

Kleine Scheidegg is the pass between the Grindelwald and Lauterbrunnen valleys, and you can take the train from here to Jungfraujoch (3,454 m), popularly known as the “Top of Europe” since it is the highest elevation that is still easily accessible to visitors not equipped with serious climbing equipment. The catch is that the round-trip train ride to Jungfraujoch will cost about CHF 58 from Kleine Scheidegg, or CHF 159 from Interlaken. And actually, at 4,158 m, the Jungfrau is not the highest peak in Switzerland. That honor belongs Monte Rossa at 4,634 m, which lies between the Swiss and Italian borders.

After the intense morning, the trek from Kleine Scheidegg downhill to the other side of the mountain was a relaxing denouement. The path here is fairly wide and mostly gravel, and is used as a ski trail as part of the Alpine Ski World Cup. In the summer, you can also mountain bike down, though this might be less appealing if you value your health. As we left Wengernalp (1,873 m), we paused to look across to the mountain we had climbed earlier that day. The Männlichen gondola station was an almost imperceptible dot. Had the skies been clear that morning, we probably would have had second thoughts about hiking up.

Immediately before Allmend, there was a farmhouse with a chalkboard sign outside, proclaiming “We sell cheese.” Never one to pass up potentially tasty detours, I flagged down the farmer and his wife, who gave us samples of their mutschli, a semi-hard cow’s milk cheese aged for 5 weeks. It was smooth, firm and nutty, made with the milk of the farm’s 26 cows who were wandering about outside. We ended up buying a quarter wheel for CHF 7.

Once back in Wengen, we sat down gratefully on a train seat for the hour-long ride back to Interlaken Ost. At that point, Interlaken seemed about as flat and low-lying as the Great Plains.

Total suggested hiking time, excluding rest stops: 6 hours, 35 minutes.

52 thoughts on “Hiking the Männlichen Summit

  1. Absolutely gorgeous! I especially liked the picture where it is “zoomed out” and you have written in red exactly where you were. This makes me want to strap on my hiking boots and hit the trails!

    With Love and Gratitude,

    The Intentional Sage

  2. I was in Lucerne in 2000. it was just going to be for a night, but we were throughly charmed and stayed for a week. Cafe hugs is right on lake lucerne. ahhhh. wish i was there. Loved your post and your photographs.

  3. Very cool. Thanks for sharing. The pictures are beautiful. I would love to get out there someday and do some hiking…err….wandering! 🙂

    I must say though, I love my hiking poles and have been grateful to have them, both going up hills and down. Also, the trail runners are great to have, depending on my pack weight as well as terrain. Sometimes a tougher thicker-soled boot is in order.

    Just saying…

  4. I’ve never been there but the pictures look terrific. Thanks for sharing. Sounds like this was a great trip. Not sure if I could handle seeing snow in August. Canada gets it’s fair share and this would probably be the straw that breaks the camel’s back.

    1. Boots vs trail runners are a personal choice, however, this decision is based on a few things. Mainly the terrain in which you will be hiking as well as the amount of weight you carry in your pack. Generally speaking, for a well maintained trail, trail runners will be just fine. However, if the trail is a bit rough from say jagged rocks/scree or roots (or even mud) boots are a better decision. (The steepness of the trail is not as much of an issue as is the condition of the trail.) Also, for light packs (< 20-25 lbs) trail runners are ok. With a heavy pack you will want some ankle support, especially if the trail is a bit rough as well. And the obvious, it is whatever is more comfortable to you. Some people are fine doing just about everything in trail runners, while others need support. There is no right or wrong way to do it, but rather what is best for you. And yes, a good pair of boots will provide you with more warmth than a trail runner, but a good sock is also in order for the most warmth.

  5. You’re definitely right that you experienced the most out of your hike and getting to the summit than people who just hopped in a vehicle and ended up being spit out at the destination. The pictures are gorgeous and I’m sure the whole experience was so surreal especially with all of the clouds and not knowing where you were going sometimes.

  6. Enjoyed your post. Thanks for the vivid descriptions and your beautiful pictures! Makes me wish I could take a trip like this.

  7. Thank you to everyone who lent their eyeballs, mouseclicks and words over the last couple days–who knew the excitement that could come from being Freshly Pressed? Feel free to stop by in the future, I promise that like a bad family vacation, I only get funnier with age.

  8. Wonderful post. Really enjoyed reading about your adventures in Switzerland. Always wanted to go there and experience the beautiful scenery.
    I’ve been to Austria before, and your post has re-ignited my desire to return to the amazing Alps.
    Thanks for the great writing and beautiful photos. Keep up the good work.

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