The world’s longest staircase is located on the face of Mt. Niesen in Switzerland, nicknamed the ‘Swiss Pyramid’ for its triangular shape. The 3.4 km staircase goes up the side of the mountain with 11,674 steps, ranging from an altitude of 700 m at the bottom (from the side of the Kander river in Mülenen) to 2363 m at the top (the terminus near the summit of the mountain). Its average gradient is a monumental 55%, with a maximum of 65%.
For safety reasons, the staircase is normally closed to the general public. But one day a year, in June, it is opened up for the world’s longest single-staircase race – the ‘Niesen Treppenlauf’, otherwise known as the ‘Niesenlauf’. During the course of this race, up to 500 participants get to climb the monster staircase at record-breaking speeds. The record for the event is 1 hour and 2 minutes for men, and 1 hour and 9 minutes for women – which is really quite remarkable, considering that reaching the top is the equivalent of climbing the Empire State Building more than 7 times.
The Herculean race obviously isn’t meant for the faint-hearted, so its popularity is rather surprising. In fact, people need to register almost a year in advance in order to secure a place in the competition. And sometimes even that doesn’t guarantee participation – last year’s race, for instance, was cancelled due to heavy snow.
Fortunately, you don’t need to huff and puff your way through the race to experience the spectacular trail. Instead, you could opt for a ride on the Niesen train that runs parallel to the staircase, up the mountain’s steep flanks. The 28-minute ride, which opened in 2010, offers a breathtaking view of lush Alpine woods, occasional pastures, and herds of cows, with snowy alps glinting in the horizon. It also passes through several tunnels and across a few elevated sections.
There’s also a hiking trail for public use, with several switchbacks along the way to compensate for the steepness of the Swiss Pyramid. Want to give it a try?