Pilatus (or Mt. Pilatus) is the trade mark of Lucerne. Millions of tourist have seen it, almost as many have climbed it by rail. Thus this mountain does not necessarily deserve a page in Summit Post. The steepest cogwheel railway of the world (48%), operating since 1889 heads to the summit from south and a cable car from north. Restaurants and a hotel crown the top.
I still like this mountain and climb it whenever the weather is not
safe for a longer journey or when I feel that I need some exercise. Thanks to the public transportation I am usually back in Lucerne for lunch without straining my knees. If you ever visit Lucerne as a tourist, I recommend that you spend a day for climbing this beautiful mountain.
You do not need much preparation. All you need on a sunny summer day is a pair of gym boots and a bottle of tea on the Alpnach route. But keep in mind that you will have to overcome an altitude of 1650m (5400. ft). It takes about 3-4 hours, the fastest jogger did it in 1.5 hours.
Advice for the tourist:
Take an early morning train from Lucerne to Alpnach Stad (operates every hour), walk up the easy and safe route to the top. Then you have a choice:
1. Take the cogwheel railroad back to Alpnach Stad, ride the steam boat back to Lucerne (hourly).
2. Take the cable car directly to Lucerne (every 15 minutes).
Hiking To The Top
There are dozens of trails to climb this mountain. Here is a choice of five:
1. Alpnach route. Train from Lucerne to Alpnach-Stad (15 minutes). The trail starts at the station of the cogwheel railroad (440m asl). Excellent trail from here to top. No dangerous passages. The first half leads mainly through a forest, that protects you from hot summer sunshine. At 1250 m you reach pastures that allow a fine view on the Alps and the Lake of Lucerne that looks like a fjord with its many arms. You will hardly see any people but a lot of cows. No restaurant and no railroad station. Once you decide to climb, you must either reach the top or walk back down. Start slowly. At 1600 m you will see rocks on your right (east) that are popular for rock climbing. The rail stops here once every morning to unload the rock climbers and gathers them again sometimes in the afternoon.
2. From north: Hergiswil - Brunni - Alp Gschwänd - Nauen. Easy, sometimes steep. 3 hours form Brunni (825 m). More interesting is the direct ascent from Fräkmünt via Band. It is non-officially closed due to extremely rare rock fall, but I recommend this easy climb highly. If you do it with a beginner, take a short rope with you. Easy to find, blue markings. Nobody can forbid a climb in Switzerland. Rockfall is possible anywhere and anytime, so it is your responsibility alone!
3. From north-west: Eigental - Lauelen - Klimsen. 3.5 hours from Eigental (980 m)
4. From west: Lütoldsmatt (1190 m) - Bruchboden - Widderfeld (2075, easy and interesting climb, II). 4-5 hours. Traverse
with wonderful scenery.
5. From east: Hergiswil - Tällenlücke. 3 - 5 hours depending on where you start (See Route East-Ridge).
Red Tape + Map
Parking fees at the foot of Pilatus
Map Nr. 5008 Vierwaldstättersee 1:50'0000
Map Nr. 2510 Luzern und Umgebung 1:25'000
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When To Climb
May to November
Alpnach route (normal): no dangers at all
East ridge: dangerous if icy or wet (axe needed)
Pontius Pilatus was the Roman governor at Judaea 2000 years ago and condemned Jesus to death. Emperor Tiberius called him back to Rome, put him to prison, where Pilatus committed suicide. His dead body was thrown into the Tiber river, but that ignited a heavy thunderstorm. So his body was fished out of the water and was exported to the river Rhone in France. But that caused similar thunderstorms, his body was then thrown into the lake of Geneva. Again: thunderstorms! Nobody wanted to have this corpse and was therefore transferred into a region where nobody lived. An that was high up in a mountain in Helvetia near Lucerne, called Frakmont (broken mountain) where his body was dumped into a small lake.
But as you might expect, the monster raged furiously on that mountain and flooded the whole region, until a Spanish scholar from Salamanca climbed the dismal mountain. He met the Pilatus' spirit and could make a deal with him. Pilatus would keep quiet, if he could live as a Roman governor once every year on Good Friday and if nobody would ever pester him.
All farmers had to swear by God that they would never visit the lake. But in the year 1387 (no saga, but true!) six priests tried to reach the lake, but were seized and put to jail. A law was then made that would forbid to visit the lake forever. Notwithstanding, in 1564 two men finally made it to the lake, did not meet the spirit, were disappointed and finally threw stones into the lake and caused a thunderstorm. Of course, they ended in jail.
The priest of Lucerne, Johannes Müller, condemned the law as superstitious and made an official trip to the lake in 1585 accompanied by many officials. He called the spirit in vain, then threw also stones into the water, but the blue sky stayed for weeks and no floods occurred in that year. The parliament of the city of Lucerne abolished the law in 1594. Frakmunt is now Mt. Pilatus today.
Actually, the name Pilatus has nothing to do with the bible. Its name derives from the latin pila (=pillar).