Sustenhorn: An Unexpected Gem
A wild & remote feeling run in a less popular region of the Alps
Θ Out & Back
Climbing the Sustenhorn
Most all of the runs on this site are a result of simply knowing a beautiful area, and then linking the most runnable trails. Not this route.
This route is everything I love about doing things in the mountains because this one came with uncertainty. I had been looking at maps for the approach to a nearby climbing route when I spotted the Chelenalp Hut, a hut I know little about. From the hut, an on-and-off trail rose straight up a ridgeline to the Sustenhorn's glacier plateau. Hmmm... I knew the Sustenhorn pretty well from ski touring, but only from the north side. And the pass, the Sustenlimi, which accessed the glacier also required a short glacier traverse. Lots of unknown terrain with the potential for a Way Up run. Googling resulted in little information beyond ski touring. We'd have to go have a look.
The alarm jerked us awake at 3:30 in the parking lot of the Göscheneralpsee. By 4 we were stumbling along en route to the Chelenalp Hut along the river valley Chelenalptal. With just enough light to see without headlamps, we arrived to the hut only to merge with a large group of hikers setting out on the same trail as us. They stared at us in our running shoes, shorts, and tiny packs with a skinny rope coiled on top. As we passed, our "Guetä Morgä" went entirely ignored. Their enthusiasm was not quite the same as our own.
The trail above the hut is steep and ends where rock meets glacier. There, at just below 3000 meters, we put microspikes on and headed for the Sustenlimi on a casual low angle snowfield. The pass itself is a simple step from snow to a 5 meter rock scramble to the low col. Once on the col, the remainder of the climb is visible - low angle glacier to the dry, rocky summit of the Sustenhorn. Our microspikes were barely enough traction on the frozen glacier surface and we were happy to have softer conditions for the descent. Take note for your own traction choice!
While we had a rope, we never used it as the few crevasses were quite visible. In many places, the glacier is low enough angle that running is possible. It was proving to be the perfect Way Up. The summit views completed the package and we spent a good 45 minutes relaxing in the sun. Finally, we started a very rapid descent, charging down the glacier. About halfway down we ran back into our grumpy companions again, all of whom stared at us as if we had stepped out of a flying saucer. This time we offered "Gruezi mittenand" and once again got only scowls in return.
Just above the Chelenalp Hut, there is a high traversing trail connecting to the Bergsee Hut before a straight down drop to the parking lot. To avoid an out and back, this was the trail we'd planned to do to make a lower loop. Two hours later, when we knew we should already be at the car, wearing flip flops, and relaxing, we were still wallowing around in an endless sea of awkward talus, on what may have been the worst trail imaginable for moving quickly.
Finally, off the talus and at the Bergsee Hut, we could only muster enough energy to trot down the remaining descent. An out and back it is. And a very, very good one.
Ready for the next Way Up, try La Ruinette.
Learn more about the skills necessary to run Way Ups with ALPSinsight's Education pages for Mountain Running, Glacier Travel, and Mountain Sport Fitness.
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Start: 46.649013, 8.499575
- Have the necessary skills to travel safely on a glacier, and know the conditions for your day.
- In case of cloud cover while on the glacier, be prepared to navigate by your device of choice.
- Go early to avoid summer thunderstorms.
After a long approach to the Chelenalp Hut, the trail suddenly goes super steep.
A view of the Sustenhorn and the glacier that separates us. From the Sustenlimi, we weren't sure what we'd find.
Some steep sections on the glacier, but also some running.
Off the ice and on a rocky climb just before the summit.
View from the top looking out toward the Tierbergli Hut below.
Dropping back onto the glacier.
While it's not the smoothest trail for running, it has its moments...not to mention the unique beauty of the landscape.
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You just put one more line in my Swiss to-do list. As usual from Alpsinsight.
Thanks for the gear description and details, it will sure help when time comes to tick this one! =)
Thought I have done a winter mountaineering course in Chamonix, I don’t have much experience in alpine terrain (wouldn’t feel confortable guiding a glacier traverse) and one phrase got me wondering. You say that “While we had a rope, we never used it as the few crevasses were quite visible”.
Isn’t it that the danger lies exactly in the crevasses we don’t see, demanding the use of the rope anyway? Or is it that experience in risk assesment and judgement are enough to say when to use a rope or not?
Thanks and congrats!
Great question, and I actually caught that myself when writing, but left it. The glacier was mostly dry, so the crevasses were visible, and the line of ascent follows an edge on the glacier where you could look up and actually see the profile. All of this added up to enough info to make the decision to not use the rope. But yes, there could always be something hidden, and using a rope is always better than not using a rope – but we make our own decisions based on how we want to move. I hope this makes sense. It’s a you had to be there and see it scenario.
Thanks for calling me out though! One day it would be nice to meet.
It sure males sense! Thanks for the answer! Nice to dive a bit into alpine decision making process.
Would be an honor to try to keep up with you guys on a Way Up!