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Hike up to Mt. Titlis

Written by Nitin Pradhan Feb 20, 2020
It was a rather impromptu decision to hike up Mt. Titlis, something that wouldn’t have entered my imagination until few years back. It helped that few weeks ago we (our younger one and I) hiked some part of the way up (again, unplanned), and my untrained mountaineering brain assumed that the previous hike was half way through (it was one-quarters at best). And, that the hike becomes progressively steeper, the closer one gets to the summit.

Thankfully, we realized summit hike shouldn’t be attempted (at least, for first timers) without proper guidance, and were lucky to join Berg Trophy (Titlis summit hike) event coming up in few weeks. Realizing there was no time to train, I tried to get some friends make a commitment that one cannot back off so easily. The trick worked, and two self-proclaimed expert hikers stood up in Engelberg valley to start the hike at 8.30am, still not realizing that we were the last one to go and most hikers were already half way up (event started 6am). A late start and a hiking plan focused around having breakfast and lunch enroute is a heady mix, as we were to experience very soon.

Engelberg to Trübsee:
Once we were done with collecting hiking cards, complimentary fruits, Titlis hiking bottle, and customary pics, we started off on the trail by the side of the river. Engelberg valley is perhaps one of the most idyllic setting to start the hike but soon enough the trail converged into the woods and was steep enough to shake off excess clothing and morning laziness on a chilly morning.





It takes few hikes to learn the importance of the right hiking gear (including clothes…), as every small item that one doesn’t need is a liability growing exponentially in proportion to the distance away from the base and physical exhaustion. Within 30 minutes, we felt rather good as the valley of Gerschnialp opened up at 4300 feet with green vistas, Engelberg in the backdrop, alpine farmer houses, and the ski school for beginners that still has enough snow in early and late winters for attempting initial descents and working on technique. We discussed coming back here during the coming Christmas break and having a ski holiday with the kids. And, with gentle slopes behind us, the first real taste of alpine hiking hit us hard as the cable cars raced ahead, and the last mile to Trübsee (while visible from a distance) went through never-ending steep curves, that we thought will take just 15 minutes. As if that’s not enough, we had some more humbling enroute, during a rather juvenile banter with folks whose first climb up the Titlis was 55 years ago. Finally, we reached Trübsee around 11am and for us the most exciting part was the breakfast – Swiss muesli, bouillon, bread and hot tea, with pristine views of Trübsee in the backdrop (the alpine lake that freezes in winters).

Trübsee to Stand:
The day was catching up fast as we started off on the next leg and had to keep moving despite few encounters with Alpine cows on the way. It was perhaps the rather warm summers this year, that the cows were having their mid-day meal at such a high altitude. Some cows didn’t like the idea of someone encroaching their personal space and chased us away from the only ‘marked’ trail to go up, and it took us an hour to get back to the trail at much higher altitude while making our way thru muddy slush and bushes. However, the fortunate moments didn’t last long as we had another herd of cows standing in the middle of a very narrow steep trail leading up to the Swiss flag at Laubersgrat (next pit stop close to Stand). As one of us was having a mild cramp – we decided to trust the Swiss cows (you may call it risking one’s life) than taking another detour across the mountains. Thankfully, we could sneak in behind them and avoided the vertical fall through the rocks on the other side. Talk about Swiss promises, you can almost always trust it (cows, included) as we saw few folks waving from the next stop, and waiting for us at lunch much beyond the scheduled time. We (kind of) reciprocated by not showing our disappointment on having a watery soup and a banana for lunch. It was likely the feeling of gratitude as we were too tired, or a rather full breakfast at Trübsee raised our expectation from lunch. As a mark of protest though, one of us decided to take the cable car back to the Engelberg from Stand, though I suspect it was the lure of having a hearty meal at the Indian snack joint there.

Stand to Titlis:
Considering I had to hike alone for the last two stretches (and with only 2 hrs. left); I gently inquired from the folks about the time it will take to reach the summit; they ‘calmly’ assured that it’s (just) another 1.5 hours, and I started walking in full speed. In hindsight, it was a rather naïve attempt to catch up with the rest, as continuous fast climb in a high-altitude thin air makes one stop to catch up on breath in any case. And, I certainly didn’t plan to be on all fours in a rather rocky terrain, as in many sections that was the only way to move ahead. After one such rocky section, I could see Mt. Titlis straight up and sat down for a while next to a guy waiting on me with a broad smile. He probably realized that I didn’t notice the 50-60 meters vertical climb down on the ropes and skittles, and that was the only way to go past the dead end…! By now, I learnt to fake the excitement (as there was no going back in late afternoon hour) and put up a brave face while amusing myself through this bit as well. Looking back, it was probably easier than the straight hike up in the previous one mile and it did leave me with a certain feeling of appreciation for the folks who provide tremendous support system for hikers to have such an amazing experience. And, folks at Mt. Titlis certainly do a very good job of it.

While I have been to Mt. Titlis several times (via cable cars), this was the first time I saw the Titlis Glacier as most of the soft snow had already melted with warm European summers this year, and there was no fresh snow fall for last several weeks. I could also walk on the Glacier, albeit had to wade thru patches of slushy snow and frozen water streams in patches. But, I was finally relaxed on seeing the excited tourists who were enjoying the snow sports. I was tempted to pull a fast one on myself as I noticed a signboard to go up the Titlis on Ice flyers or continue the hike thru the Glacier. Not sure why, but I decided to drag myself thru the snow and few tortuous curves in wet socks (and frozen feet) while walking alongside a snow cat that was ploughing and smoothening out the snow slopes for the next day. And, just to keep myself amused I kept on clicking pics of the sign boards at odd angles.

Gross vs. Klein Titlis:
It was almost 4.30pm as I reached the Mt. Titlis and saw a sign board suggesting Gross Titlis – The Summit (‘Gross’ means ‘Big’ in English) was another 200 meters ahead. Most tourists go up to Klein Titlis (‘Klein’ means ‘Small’ in English), and with a full day of experience in reading the hiking signboards – I learnt that 200 meters is not the walking distance but the altitude difference to The Summit. I consulted a group hiking down from the summit and they casually mentioned about an hour more to reach the summit. And, my best decision in the entire day was to check on the time to climb down. Another casual answer; “may be, 30 minutes depending on your speed”.

While sitting down for a drink I wondered, whether to attempt going up the summit at that hour and usually, most parts of my body are in good sync but such moments are rare when it was a clear NO from my brain (and rest of the body as well). But, a crazy streak inside me suggested giving it a try as I may not get a chance to hike up the Titlis again, and it helped that there wasn’t enough snow on the way to the summit. I am still not sure whether it was the excitement of going up The Summit, or the scare that I can probably be stranded up in the mountain for the whole night if I missed the last cable car down, but I went almost non stop and reached the summit in 45 minutes. I was clearly instructed by the Bergtrophy team that I met on their way down (they already wrapped up for the day) – not to spend a lot of time at the summit, and make sure that I am back at Klein Titlis much before 6pm. While I certainly enjoyed most of the day (except the rocky climb on all four), the last stretch was most noteworthy. The views were certainly much more beautiful from what I had seen at Mt. Titlis before – may be few hundred meters makes a lot of difference, or the weather was particularly nice. Importantly, most folks that I met on their way back were very encouraging with specific inputs on how much time it will take to reach the summit, how not to climb down on the way back, and how to avoid the stretches which were dangerous with vertical drop on the other side. However, my most heartening moment was when I crossed a rather old gentleman (probably around 70 years, or more) just 20 meters away from the summit. He was climbing down as I went up, and it finally sunk in that such hikes are as much about pushing the physical limits as it is about what goes inside our brain. With a zero-battery charge in my iPhone (it went dead 15 mins before reaching the summit), I could truly enjoy my time at the summit; without bothering about clicking pictures, just looking around, and interestingly during such intense moments, a good part of one’s life flashes thru in a minute.

While climbing down, my years of running probably helped to rely on relatively stronger knees and being sure footed as I sped thru the rocky terrain to catch the last cable car down. Soon I crossed the old gentlemen and realized that one must carry a watch (and not just rely on mobile phones) while hiking on a new terrain / mountain. I wanted to climb down with him though he seemed far more experienced than me in hiking up such summits. Moreover, he likely didn’t need any help, but life is bit boring without any drama in your head, and I thought it’s better that one of us reaches the Klein Titlis in good time to inform the Berg Trophy team. Thankfully, the team was still around and busy wrapping up for the day as I informed them about the gentlemen while negotiating for ‘Completion’ Stamp on my hiking card (although much beyond scheduled completion time). They also surprised me with a small gift and original pasta pack of Titlis Hüetli made of high quality, natural and fresh raw materials like fresh Swiss eggs, pure mountain spring water etc. As I took the last cable car down (with Chinese and Indian tourists on a group tour), the old gentlemen and I shared few moments together in the cable car (and that’s perhaps a topic for another day).


At Engelberg base station, I was happy to meet my hiking buddy who was probably worried that I am going to miss the last cable car, and he couldn’t call me either with my dead cell phone battery. We shared some funny moments from the day while feasting on (much needed) warm Indian tea and snacks, and still had the gumption to plan our next hike. May be, Mt. Jungfrau this time…!
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