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The Alpstein: Trail Running in a Vertical World

The Alpstein: Trail Running in a Vertical World

Aug 12, 2014

Years ago, I saw a photo of a high alp mountain hotel. It looked like it had welcomed guests to its corner of the Alps for a century or more. Weather beaten pine boards showed the consequences of facing mountain storms over many years. In reality, the look wasn’t all that unusual for the Swiss Alps, whose nooks and crannies hold many beautiful weathered works of long gone craftsmen.

This building was unique in one way, however. It was literally anchored to the side of a cliff. When you see it in a photo for the first time, it’s hard to take your eye off the image.

The building is the Berggasthaus Aescher-Wildkirchli, and it’s located in the Alpstein, a small, tightly packed range of peaks in Switzerland’s Appenzell canton, barely more than a day hike from Germany, Austria and Liechtenstein. Finally, this summer, I got a chance to see the Aescher in person.

Runners arriving at Berggasthaus Äscher-Wildkirchli
Approaching the Berggasthaus Aescher-Wildkirchli, a dozen years or more after first seeing a photo of the Alpstein mountain lodge.

The Berggasthaus Aescher is not the least bit out of place in the Alpstein. The range has a way of banging you over the head with one surprise after another. One moment you’re climbing a ladder up a chimney… the next, you’re running along a high alp pasture. A few minutes later, your attention is absorbed by the layers of ridges woven into the horizon… then you’re transfixed by the arête one valley over, whose fins, like the Aescher, are a bold statement against the forces of gravity.

I came here with friends Dan and Janine Patitucci, outdoor photographers and athletes who have crafted what seems to me to be a nearly ideal life, living, playing and working in the mountains. This trip was a great example: part work, photographing for outdoor gear manufacturers… and plenty of play along the way.

Trail running in the Alpstein, Switzerland

The Alpstein is challenging trail running. There’s no cruising through bucolic pastures for kilometer after kilometer, here. Nature always seems to ask for effort from those determined to see special places. The Alpstein is another piece of evidence that the rewards are more than worth the effort.

I‘ve written more about the Alpstein, but I’ll save that for another time. Besides, there’s a better way to explain it. I’ll step to aside and let Dan and Janine’s images speak for themselves.

And yea, to answer your question,  it was absolutely just as cool as it looks.

Trail running in the Alpstein, Switzerland
Trail running in the Alpstein, Switzerland
Trail running in the Alpstein, Switzerland
Doug Mayer
Doug Mayer is the founder of Run the Alps and lives in Chamonix, France with his labradoodle, Izzy. He is the author of The Race that Changed Running: The Inside Story of UTMB and writes for Outside Online and Ultrasignup News. His upcoming book is a graphic novel about Italy’s 330km long Tor des Géants trail race.