Photo: Cows relaxing in the Alpstein.
Along a ridge in the Alpstein from the lookout at Säntis to the famous Berggasthaus Aescher. Done as a day trip from St Gallen.
Route: Säntis – Altenalp – Aescher/Wildkirchli – Ebenalp.
Length: 9km, +450m, – 1330m.
For more hikes in Switzerland see my list of hikes.
Season: Late Spring to Autumn.
Arrival/Departure: Bus to ‘Schwägalp, Säntis-Schwebebahn’ for the cable car to Säntis / Train from Wasserauen.
Supplies: There are restaurants at the start and end, with Altenalp roughly in the middle also providing refreshments.
Alternate routes/shortcuts: Descending straight down to Seealpsee saves the climb up to Ebenalp, but is a bit longer with more descent (10km, +50m, -1640m).
Exposure/Hazards: The initial descent from the Säntis cable car station is down a steep rockface with ladders for protection, I wouldn’t say this was dangerous but it will scare the life out of some people.
The start and end points around the cable car stations were quite crowded. However going along the ridge itself was mostly quiet with only a few or no people around.
Doing this either in either direction would work, going up would clearly involve a fair few more meters of height gain. I am not sure why I chose this way around (maybe I wanted to check the conditions at the top first? Maybe I was hoping for clearer views in the morning? Or having seen how busy Säntis got on a Sunday in mid-November I might have wanted to avoid it later in the day in August?).
Notes along the route
The ride up to the base station at Säntis is beautiful in itself. First the train through the gentle rural landscape to and then Postbus through gentle hilly farmland to increasingly mountainous landscapes.
On this day the cows were being moved, which meant stopping every few minutes to watch a group in traditional dress bringing their cows past the bus. This is among the most traditional/conservative regions in switzerland.
The ride up to Säntis is mostly in the more relaxed Appenzell Ausserrhoden, but the majority of the hike is in Appenzell Innerrhoden – famously the canton which only gave women the local vote in 1991, and only because they were forced to by the rest of Switzerland. The 30 second video of a crowd of men in western Europe raising their hands to deny women the vote in 1990 never gets less painful to watch..
Säntis is a very popular peak and for good reason. It is ‘only’ 2500m, but it is much more prominent than any of the nearby peaks so you get fantastic views in every direction. The cable car is unsurprisingly very popular and runs frequently. The top has the usual viewing area, shop, restaurants, and the option of hikes going off in various directions. My go to for somewhere to eat/drink is the Alter Säntis which is a slightly quieter spot and has a more traditional building (as opposed to the giant modern complex by the cable car).
For a warm day in August the views were amazingly clear.
The start can be easy to miss (look for the signs by a door close to the cable car).
You go through a tunnel inside the cable car building which suddenly puts you outside at the top of a fairly steep bit of rock. This requires going down some metal steps sticking out of the rock It isn’t dangerous or horribly exposed, and there are various rails and cables to hold on to, but I can imagine it might scare a few people who don’t like heights (in the worst case you can just take another route down like via Meglisalp, or simply take the cable car itself).
Coming off the rock ladder there is a year round snow field. It is a bit steep, but there are ropes to help and there is no risk of falling off a cliff or any injury at all really. Worst case you will just slip over and feel silly.
After the ice field there is a bit of up and down going along the ridge. Otherwise it is easy going and you can just enjoy the views. The view is limited to the valley, but the rock formations of the Alpstein region are fascinating enough by themselves, plus other points of interest like Seealpsee comes in and out of view.
We called into the famous Berggasthaus Aescher for a drink. Seemingly it is rather too famous as we were lucky to get a table. Passing by again in May 2017 it was also rammed.
From Aescher there is a surprisingly steep little climb up to Ebenalp through some caves. Not a problem for anyone who has come via this or another hike, but it seemed to take a few people by surprise who had clearly hoped/thought that it was closer to the cable car.
Ebenalp is seemingly one of the most popular spots for paragliding in the country, it is the only place I have seen an air-traffic controller for take off. Finally we took the cable car from Ebenalp down to Wasseraun for the train back down to St Gallen.