Solo Climbing Mount Pilatus

February 2022

I would not classify myself as someone who lives dangerously, but I could contemplate two situations that involved me solo climbing mountains without any equipment or anyone nearby, one in New Zealand and one in Switzerland. Now I did not manage to finish the climb in New Zealand because it was snowing and had reached up to my knees length, but I felt accomplished by the amount of distance that I had covered already.

Queenstown, New Zealand

Switzerland, on the other hand, I had managed to finish the climb in October 2021 despite all circumstances against me, and this is one heck of a story to share about how I was able to survive the night up at Mount Pilatus.

Part 1: The Accidental Path

I had finished up in Lucerne in the afternoon, intending to travel south-east to Mount Titlis via Engelberg train station by the evening and heading back to Zurich at night. I do not exactly recall what had happened, but I had to take a bus to Allmend/Messe train station to continue my journey to Mount Titlis. However, my bus was late and I had missed the hourly train to Engelberg to take the last cable car up the mountain [I should have paid careful attention to this], which meant that I had to quickly change my plans if I wanted to accomplish my goal of reaching the top of a mountain by today. And within 10 minutes, I found myself heading south-west to Mount Pilatus via Hergiswil Matt train station before the sun was quickly setting. Upon arriving at the final station, I was so excited to start my strenuous climb up the mountain; it did not even cross my mind at all that I was solo climbing a mountain without any equipment or food or water.

Original Route (in Blue) and New Route (in Brown)

Part 2: The Journey Toward

The walk towards the start of the path up the mountain was quite uneventful. But it had featured a picturesque scenery with clear skies and cows ringing their cowbells, in addition to countless German signs with directions that I had no clue what was being said.

But with my limited German and clear sense of direction (well, I mean, you have to keep walking up), I eventually reached a restaurant called Zur Alpgschwänd Bergwirtschaft. There, I had a bathroom break and a drink before continuing on my journey up. Now if you’ve been paying attention to the map, you would have realised that I totally walked in a different direction. But to be fair, there were quite a few cars up the road so it had to lead me to somewhere nice. But there were no clear roads any longer, and so I had to find my own path up Mount Pilatus.

The further I walked up the mountain, the more rough the terrain became from soft green grass to unsteady brown rocks with steep inclines which was very difficult to walk on. Keep in mind that I had witnessed no one on the way up the mountain and my phone had 10% battery left. So I took as much photos as I could when I reached stable ground, soon realising that I could only fit in one more photo before I had to turn off my phone to conserve the battery in case of emergencies.

I took my final photo as the sun was setting. Upon reaching the cable cars compound, I realised that I had already missed the last cable car down by a few hours (and I should have known given the situation with Mount Titlis!). At this moment, I conceded that I would be sleeping on the mountain tonight. However, I noticed that there was a church when I was climbing up that I could sleep inside instead, but it would be extremely dangerous to climb down during the dark so I had to make a quick decision.

Should I walk to the other side of the mountain and see if there’s anything available, or should I find a comfortable place to sleep inside so I don’t freeze to death?

Part 3: Triumph

If worst comes to worst, I could find shelter within the cable cars compound and slightly freeze to death. So I decided to continue venturing up, and on the other side of the mountain, I noticed a large building that looked like a luxury hotel. It was indeed a luxury hotel, Hotel Pilatus Kulm, and people would stay here overnight to watch the sunrise in the morning.

I arrived at the hotel and explained my situation of how I was solo climbing Mount Pilatus and had not realised that I was not able to make my descent down in time. I was very lucky that night. The manager told me that the rooms were fully booked by customers, which meant that there was an employee cable car going down later that night and I was able to join them then. In the meantime, I enjoyed a lovely four-course meal, wearing dirty casual clothes in contrast to everyone else that had dressed up for the occasion.

This story could have turned out completely differently, but ‘what an adventure it was!’ would have been the outcome either way. I used to be someone that planned out all my itinerary because I wanted to feel in control of my time, but the more I travelled, the more I realised that the unexpected paths you take are the ones that you tend to remember the most. Nowadays, I tend to choose a few places in mind, and leave the rest of the planning on the way.

What an adventure it was!

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