The ‘Triple Crown’ of US long-distance hiking is made up of the Appalachian Trail, Pacific Crest Trail, and Continental Trail. The three are often compared and contrasted to each other by the hiking community. One common data point is the steepness of each trail. The Appalachian Trail has a reputation for being especially rugged, the Pacific Crest Trail is maintained at more gradual grades for travel on horseback, and the Continental Divide Trail is more of a mixed bag. But is this actually the case?
Thankfully, the folks over at FarOut (formerly Guthooks - an extremely popular navigation app for hikers) created a great blog post several years ago which compared the steepest climbs or descents among the big three US trails. Here’s a summary of the steepest section of each trail:
Pacific Crest Trail
Continental Divide Trail
Pinkham Notch to Wildcat E
(2000′ in 1.5 mi, with one 1000′ climb in 0.5 mile)
Old Snowy Mountain
(about 700′ in 0.6 mi).
The climb to Parkview Mountain in CO
(1400′ in 1.1 mi).
(ft / mi)
2000 ft / mi
1167 ft / mi
1272 ft / mi
It’s easy to see that the general reputations of each trail are indeed backed up by the data. The Appalachian Trail has much steeper sections than its western siblings. So how does the Trans-European Alpine Route compare? In keeping with FarOut’s original post, I’ve included the top five* steepest climbs of the TEAR:
1. Hohturli Pass (Westbound) - Switzerland
2408 ft in 1.12 mi
(734 m in 1.8 km)
Avg - 2153 ft/mi
Anyone who’s hiked Switzerland’s Alpine Pass Route (Via Alpina Green) won’t be surprised to find this climb topping the list. The ascent to Hohturli from Griesalp is a leg burner. After a junction at ~2050 m the trail is steepest and climbs relentlessly up to the highest point of this Swiss National Trail. The path even includes several sets of stairs on the final approach to the pass. The incredible views on the western descent are a worthy reward for your efforts.
2. Riouperoux (La Romanche River) to Chamrousse Nordic Park - France
3445 ft in 1.86 mi
(1050 m in 3.0 km)
Avg - 1848 ft/mi
This one was a surprise. It’s one of the last climbs while exiting the Alps, and although the biggest peaks are behind you, these mountains aren’t letting you out without one last Herculean ascent. The trail shoots straight up through the forested slopes of a steep canyon, so there’s no way of knowing how far you still have to climb until the path finally begins to level out at the top.
3. Cares Gorge (Majada de Culiembro to Majada de Oston) - Spain
1959 ft in 1.18 mi
(597 m in 1.9 km)
Avg - 1659 ft/mi
I’m a bit skeptical about the exact numbers here since the climb begins from a steep canyon wall where it’s hard to get accurate elevation readings. Either way, I’m confident it still belongs in the top five. After sauntering along on the beautiful and popular Cares Gorge trail, the TEAR abruptly turns and begins climbing up the steep northern wall on a narrow switchbacking trail. Within minutes, the crowds become miniature figures down below.
4. Galusa Saddle to Vran Peak (Bosnia & Herzegovina)
1962 ft in 1.18 mi
(598 m in 1.9 km)
Avg - 1662 ft/mi
Vran is the last high peak which westbound hikers will climb before leaving Bosnia & Herzegovina on the Via Dinarica. The ridge walk following the summit is a pleasure, but getting there in the first place is no small feat. The trail leading up the side of the mountain is thin when it exists at all, so you may just end up making your own path up its steep and rocky flanks. Oh, and there’s no water to be found up here either. Hope you came prepared!
5. Gemsbichljoch (Westbound) - Italy
3150 ft in 2.30 mi
(960 m in 3.7 km)
Avg - 1370 ft/mi
From Italy’s Antholz Valley, the TEAR follows the Via Alpina Red Trail and climbs more than 5000 ft in less than four miles. The last 3000 ft of gain are done in two. Thankfully, the Rieserfernerhütte / Rifugio Vedrette di Ries sits atop the pass and provides a chance to relax and have a well-earned drink.
Honourable mention - Tuttmann to Augstbordpass
7392 ft in 11.0 mi
(2253 m in 17.7 km)
The overall grading here is actually fairly steady, but it’s notable as the largest continuous climb on the entire TEAR. From the town of Tuttman (640 m / 2100 ft), in the bottom of the wide Rhône Valley, the TEAR climbs steadily to the south where it joins up with the famous Walker’s Haute Route for that trail’s final and highest ascent to Augstbordpass (2893 m / 9491 ft). From valley bottom to the pass, it all adds up to a non-stop climb of more than two vertical kilometres. And the descent on the far side is nearly as large. Talk about a leg day.
Looking at the numbers, the TEAR clearly finds company with the Appalachian Trail in terms of steep ascents. The other two don’t come close. There’s more to a trail than statistics about it’s footpath though, so head on over to the main TEAR info pages if you’d like to learn more. You could always check out the book as well. If you've got questions, feel free to join the TEAR facebook group or subreddit and ask away!
*Note: I didn't perform an automated scan of the GPX tracks like the FarOut post described. I simply looked up the stats for some of the memorable big climbs. There could easily be some other equally steep climbs on the TEAR which I've overlooked. Return to top