When you drive from Lucerne or Zurich to Gotthard pass on a clear day, you cannot fail to admire the huge pyramid of Bristen near Amsteg. This summit is hugely popular with the locals from canton Uri. It's even been used for wedding ceremonies!
In older books, the summit is referred to as "Bristenstock". It was first climbed in 1823 by Indergand and Lusser, although it's possible that local hunters had been to the top earlier. The summit was already quite popular in the 19th century - a 1893 guidebook points out that the guide's wage was 25 francs (which was a fortune back then).
The normal route (NE ridge) is quite easy (F), all the other routes are hardly ever chosen, due to the rather poor rock quality. This said, it is obvious that Bristen is mainly climbed for the gorgeous view. It is also quite popular as a fitness test - 2300 continuously steep metres from Bristen to the summit!
Over the past few years, Bristen has become increasingly popular with skiiers. However, this remains a very difficult climb, only to be attempted by expert alpine skiiers in the best of conditions. The last 300-400 m to the summit are unskiable and the steep zigzag path in the forest below Bristenstäfeli is no fun, either.
Other routes (overview only - I don't know them personally! Time and difficulty from Fullin's guidebook):
-) Etzlihuette - Fellelialp - Steingraetli - SE flank (5.5 hrs, AD)
-) Chlueserluecke - S-ridge (3 hrs, III+)
-) Chlueser Hut - SW flank (4-4.5 hrs, AD)
-) Meitschlingen - Bristeberg - Oberstafel - W-ridge (6-7 hrs, PD)
-) Chlueser Hut - SW ridge - W ridge (PD)
-) Etzliboden - Stockalp - E-ridge (6-7 hrs, AD)
Maderanertal has several other great summits and is therefore popular both with hikers and climbers. For example: Windgaellen, Oberalpstock, Gross Düssi. There are several huts in the valley, this site gives an overview and other useful links.
You usually start in Bristen, a village in Maderanertal, a most beautiful side valley near Amsteg.
Car: Gotthard-autoroute, exit "Amsteg". Drive to Amsteg and take the smaller road to Bristen. This road's recently been rebuilt at a substantial cost with several tunnels. Park near the post office.
Public transport: Train from Lucerne or Zurich to Erstfeld (make sure to change train in Arth-Goldau if you're in an Intercity!). There's a direct connection to the bus to Amsteg. Change to the postcar to Bristen (the timetable is quite good). Timetables are available here
When heading for Bristensee, you may save some 250 metres of ascent by using a small cableway from Bristen to Breitlaui, as Mathias Zehring correctly points out. This cableway seems to be fairly new. Call 041 883 01 28 for timetable and further info.
You may also start from Etzliboden (1281 m), but the road from Bristen is closed for tourist traffic. However, you can take a bicycle or call the "Alpentaxi" (041 883 14 80 or mobile 079 221 82 70).
Books and maps
Clubführer Urner Alpen Ost by Toni Fullin (SAC Verlag 1992). This book lists 8 routes to the summit.
The best maps are 1:25000 scale. For Bristen you'll only need sheet 1212 Amsteg.
Find out about the newest available editions here
When To Climb
Late summer or fall are the best seasons, as the chances for a clear view are best.
During summer season, this is a popular climb: If you have the possibility, avoid week-ends and catholic holidays (see Trip Report by Mathias Zehring!).
The climb is very hard in winter or spring: Due to the steep slopes there's a big risk for avalanches. If this is your type of adventure, check out avalanche and snow conditions here.
Here's a photo
to give you an idea of the steepness of the slopes.
Huts, Camping and hospitality
Camping is tolerated, but not really necessary. If you're in good shape, you can make the climb in a day.
Otherwise, stay at Bristenhüttli, a cosy little hut with a maximum of 14 places (regular: just 6 places!) and no warden at 2140 m. Bring your own food, cooking facilities and beverages available. Although the hut is always open, you must call the owner, Werner Jauch (041 883 17 65 or mobile 079 371 14 10) in advance if you intend to spend the night.
An elderly couple spends the summer at Bristenstäfeli. They'll invite any hiker they see for a cup of coffee and make them sign a huge guestbook! Another hut at Bristenstäfeli is left open as a shelter for hikers.
For the south ridge and the SE flank, you may start from Etzlihuette. As a SAC hut, it's always open.
For the west ridge and the SW flank, the private Chlueser hut (1686 m) can be useful. It is closed, keys may be obtained from the owner: Ernst Ott, 01462 56 17.
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