Mount Niesen is in the Swiss Alps, about forty miles south of the Swiss capital of Bern. At 2,362 m above sea level, Niesen is particularly notable for its near perfect pyramidal shape.
A funicular runs up the mountain with a narrow staircase running alongside. Niesen has the world record for the longest staircase with a massive 11,674 steps up the mountainside—enough steps to climb the Burj Khalifa skyscraper in Dubai four times, and enough to climb the Statue of Liberty 33 times. The 3.4km staircase varies in gradient but gets up to a gnarly 65% gradient on occasions.
The stairs are used for railway maintenance and not open to the public but, once a year, up to 500 participants get to tackle the world’s longest staircase climb – the Niesen Treppen Lauf. The event is held in June each year but has had to be cancelled several times in the past due to snow on the staircase. Luckily for me, the 2019 event went ahead as the weather proved favourable.
Lining up at the start of the race was thrilling and terrifying at the same time. The start was located at the valley station in Mülenen at 692 metres above sea level. The lower 2.1km long staircase had a vertical climb of 976 metres to the middle station named ‘Schwandegg’. The station is located at 1,669 metres above sea level. To make things a little more difficult, the lower section had to be completed in one hour; if not, the runner is removed from the race. It was hard work getting to this point but the refreshments were very welcome in the form of drinks, Swiss chocolate and fruit bars. I got to this point with a whole four minutes to spare (!) so carried on with my ascent of the mountain.
The second section was a further 700 metres or so and 1.3 km in length. There was another check point at the end of the Hegeren tunnel where runners were again removed from the race – I made it past this point too!
My elation at seeing the top of the mountain was palpable. Once at the top station, the route left the stairs and zig-zagged its way up the final part of the mountain to the summit platform at 2,362 metres above sea level. I almost managed a sprint!
I have noticed there is a common theme in most of the race reports from Cheddar Running Club members…Shane. I had a conversation with Shane on the Tuesday prior to the event and he told me the event would be a mental challenge as much as a physical challenge. He was right on that point. The climb was certainly physically demanding but the mental havoc caused when I looked up the mountain mid-race and saw the task ahead nearly broke me. It took about 1,000 more stairs to reinstate my rhythm and strike out to the end of the race.
I am delighted to have completed the event in a time of 1:46:23. Same again next year? Not a chance, once was enough!