Steepest Climbs of the AT, PCT, CDT, and the TEAR


hiker climbs towards the camera on a mountain path
There's no shortage of big mountain climbs on the TEAR

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:


Appalachian Trail

Pacific Crest Trail

Continental Divide Trail

Steepest Climb

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).

Average Grade

(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


So, so many stairs

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.



Legs are shot, but spirits are high. Gamchi glacier and surrounding peaks, viewed from the far side of the pass.


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


The trail is in good condition, but it's steeper than it looks.

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.



There's no easy way up the side of a canyon like this.



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


Day hikers enjoying the flat Cares Gorge Trail

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.



Extremely tight switchbacks weave up through a narrow chute in the cliff walls.



4. Galusa Saddle to Vran Peak (Bosnia & Herzegovina)


1962 ft in 1.18 mi

(598 m in 1.9 km)

Avg - 1662 ft/mi


The route up to Vran peak is just a straight shot up from bottom right to top left (the thin sunlit area).

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!



Looking back across rocky ridges to barely-visible Vran Peak.


5. Gemsbichljoch (Westbound) - Italy


3150 ft in 2.30 mi

(960 m in 3.7 km)

Avg - 1370 ft/mi


Trail infrastructure in the Alps is impressive

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.



The valley floor is nearly a vertical mile below.



Honourable mention - Tuttmann to Augstbordpass


7392 ft in 11.0 mi

(2253 m in 17.7 km)

672 ft/mi



Descending from Augstbordpass into the Matter Valley. The Matterhorn awaits at the far end.

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.




Conclusions


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