Perched on the ledge of a 100 meter high narrow cliff and built right in to the rock of the mountain, Äescher mountain hut was just one of those places we wanted to see. Only open in the summer season from May – October, it can be reached relatively easily on the 6-minute journey on the Ebenalp cable car and a short, but steep, 15-minute or so hike. The easier way also means missing out on the stunning craggy alpine scenery of the Alpstein. A more rewarding way to visit the cliff side restaurant is hiking to Äescher on the number 8 Wasserauen-Ebenalp trail, which leads you past mirror lakes, snow-capped mountains, karst caves and what we’re convinced have to be the happiest cows on the planet.
From Wasserauen, many people reach the high plateau above the village on the Ebenalp cable car. Built in 1955, the 40-person cable car whooshes passengers 723 meters up the mountainside in a mere six minutes. Ebenalp, on the high plateau, serves as a starting point for a variety of non-strenuous alpine hikes.
We were not among those that reach Ebenalp and Äescher on the cable car. Tim likes to work for his lunch and he strolled right on past the cable car station to start the trek up 723 meters on the steep trail.
The trek really starts out on a gradual uphill path running alongside various small homes, but it’s immediately picturesque with the fields a confetti of alpine wildflowers. Though Wasserauen isn’t big, you quickly leave behind the commotion of the car park and cable car station. It’s completely tranquil with only the sound of birds chirping and the jangle of cow bells.
From the trail head in Wasserauen, it takes about an hour to reach Seealpsee. This is the beautiful and isolated alpine lake with the snow capped 2500 meter peak of Mount Säntis looming above the it. Säntis’ reflection is mirrored on the lake, even on a bit of an overcast day like we had, giving it the nickname “Mirror Lake”. A pretty level trail circles Seealpsee and there’s no shortage of places to spread out a blanket and lounge for a bit.
Our dog, Emma, was immediately doggy-paddling around. It’s a popular spot for the locals, particularly on a sunny weekend, but at 1143 meters that water is never really warm enough for a swim. There are two row boats tied up, if they’re not already in use, with a sign that encourages you to take them out for a short row across the lake. Free to use, the sign gently reminds people that the boats should have a 30-minute time limit.
After circumnavigating the lake, the trail steeply climbs upwards. Here the trail narrows significantly, sometime skirting along the cliff side.
Äescher Mountain Inn is a 175-year old guest house perching precariously on the cliff. The back wall of the house is quite literally the rock of the mountain and it has only the rain water as a water source. The dorm bed style hut houses a handful of hikers and serves up lunch to the daily visitors that make the trek (or ride the cable car) up.
It was originally built as a hut to house farmers and their livestock, then evolved into a guest house for pilgrims seeking out the monks of the Wildkirchli cave church for spiritual guidance. The hermit monks may be long gone, but the hut remains extremely popular and was even named “Mountain Inn of the Year 2012”.
Äescher serves hot lunches to hungry hikers just like us on the outdoor deck, which is sheltered from the beating summer sun by the overhang 30 meters above. Refreshing drips of mountain spring water splattered down on us on occasion as we watched hang gliders launch themselves off the mountain from above us. I definitely felt like I earned my cheesy rösti and alpine white sausage after that climb up.
Be sure to pop inside for a look around. You might be as surprised as we were to find a piano inside – it was brought in by helicopter. Flipping through the guest book is like traveling in a time machine and the signatures date back to 1940. The mountain guesthouse is run by Claudia and Beny Knechtle-Wyss and their five children plus thirty-five sheep, twenty rabbits, three pigs, three donkeys and two dogs.
If you opt to hike the full loop back down to Wasserauen, like we did, you’ll definitely work off that cheesy rösti. The only glimpse I got of the cable car was as it whooshed up over us along the trail, but you can take it back down to Wasserauen if you choose.
The trail runs right smack through the middle of cow pastures, where we came within five feet of the honey-brown mooing cows. Emma, being a cattle dog but never having seen cattle up close, was so intrigued we leashed her just to be sure she didn’t get a swift kick as a warning for getting too close.
Back in Wasserauen where health, wellness, and well-being aren’t just buzz words – they’re a way of life – we took part in the customary “foot bath” to soothe a hiker’s tired soles. The foot bath is in the icy creek, which streams down from the Seealpsee and is fed by all that snow melting running off Mount Säntis. There’s clearly a system for how to use the foot bath. Just watch a few locals first.
It’s a one-way system: descend into the icy water down a few concrete steps, walk across the concrete slab while holding on to a little railing since that concrete can get slick, and then it’s back up another set of steps to the sidewalk. My theory is this makes your feet feel better simply because they are completely numb from the cold afterward.