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Traveling Swiss Alps
By: Zdenko Kahlina
Destination: Top of Europe
On our summer holidays several years ago, during our stay in Basel Switzerland, we spent one day visiting Switzerland’s most popular (and expensive) mountain railway excursion to the top of the Europe. The Jungfraujoch – Top of Europe is the highlight of any Swiss holiday. The highest railway station in Europe is located 3,454 metres above sea level. The visitors gain access to a high-Alpine wonderland of ice, snow and rock, which they can admire from the viewing platforms on the Aletsch Glacier or in the Ice Palace.
Our friends, who live in Basel, offered to drive us all the way to Interlaken, town deep in the Swiss Alps. We left our car on the parking lot in Grindelwald and boarded a green mountain train.
Swiss Jungfraujoch train ride
Trains trundle through lush countryside south from Interlaken before coiling spectacularly up across either Wengen or Grindlewald’s mountain pastures, breaking the treeline at Kleine Scheidegg and tunnelling clean through the Eiger to emerge at the JUNGFRAUJOCH, an icy, windswept col at 3454m, just beneath the Jungfrau summit.
It’s the site of the highest train station in Europe, and offers an unforgettable experience of the mountains. You’d be missing out if you decided against shelling out the exorbitant sums necessary to reach the place.
However, good weather is essential – if there’s a hint of cloud you’d be wasting your time heading up. Check the pictures from the summit, broadcast live on cable TV throughout the region, for an idea of the weather conditions, call the Jungfraujoch weather line (033/828 79 31) or ask your hotel or nearest tourist office for the latest forecasts. Remember, too, that it takes two and a half hours to reach the summit from Interlaken, and weather conditions can change rapidly. Coy though it sounds, even if you plan nothing more adventurous than looking out of the summit station window you should still bring sunglasses with you: the snows never melt up here, and if the sky is blue, the sun’s glare and glitter can be painful.
There are two routes to the top. Trains head southwest from Interlaken Ost along the valley floor to Lauterbrunnen, from where you pick up the mountain line which climbs through Wengen to Kleine Scheidegg; different trains head southeast from Interlaken Ost to Grindelwald, where you change for the climb, arriving at Kleine Scheidegg from the other direction. All trains terminate at Kleine Scheidegg, where you must change for the final pull to Jungfraujoch – the popular practice is to go up one way and down the other.
Currently, the adult round-trip fare to Jungfraujoch from Interlaken is a budget-crunching Fr.159 – the Jungfraubahnen Pass, and the broader Bernese Oberland Regional Pass, both pointlessly stop short at Kleine Scheidegg, requiring passholders to shell out an extra Fr.50 to reach the summit. One way to cut costs is to take advantage of the discounted Good Morning ticket (Fr.120; Eurail Fr.105; Swiss Pass Fr.94), valid if you travel up on the first train of the day (6.35am from Interlaken), and leave the summit by noon (or Nov–April: first or second train plus later departure permitted).
Walking some sections of the journey, up or down, is perfectly feasible in summer, and can also save plenty, with fares from intermediate points along the route considerably lower. The undiscounted Good Morning ticket from Grindelwald is Fr.103, from Lauterbrunnen Fr.102, from Wengen Fr.91, and from Kleine Scheidegg Fr.58. Excellent transport networks and vista-rich footpaths linking all stations mean that with judicious use of a hiking map and timetable you can see and do a great deal in a day and still get back to Interlaken, or even Bern or Zürich, by bedtime.
The summit station, inevitably, is a tourist circus of ice sculptures, huskie sleigh rides, glacier walks, a short ski run, dismal restaurants and a post office, all invariably overflowing with tour groups. Nonetheless, panoramic views from the open-air 3571m Sphinx Terrace to Germany’s Black Forest in one direction and across a gleaming wasteland to the Italian Alps in the other are heart-thumping. Yawning away below the silver-domed weather station on top is the mighty Jungfraufirn glacier, which joins up with several others (including the Aletschgletscher, largest in the Alps) at the resonantly named Konkordiaplatz ice plain 3km southeast.
Picture taking time at the top of the Europe
View of the glacier from the inside
Ice palace inside of the glacier
Swiss scenery is something special…
View of the “Kleine Scheidegg” train station.
The best way to avoid being smothered by snap-happy crowds is to travel up on the first train of the day, and on arrival follow the signs quickly straight to the Sphinx Terrace – that way, you can snatch five or ten minutes of crisp, undisturbed silence at the loftiest point of all, and be the first of the day to sweep the snow off the railings. At other times, you may have to queue for an hour or more just to get your nose into the fresh air. Once you’ve finished at the terrace, it’s easy to leave the bustling summit station behind and head out across the snows into solitude and silence, although you must stick to the marked trails (crevasses give no warning).
If you’ve had experience of snow hiking in the mountains, and you have good boots, a map, sunglasses and proper clothing, let the tourist office in Interlaken know that you want to head out on the simple one-hour trail from the Jungfraujoch around the base of the Mönch to the Mönchsjochhütte at 3629m (033/971 34 72; April–May & July–Sept; dorms Fr.26) – the isolation of the hut offers a night to remember. You should walk at half pace, or you’ll find yourself dizzy and labouring to catch your breath in the thin atmosphere. A handful of other glacier-bound huts are dotted around the area, but you need a mountain guide and all the professional gear to reach them.
Two Canadians on the top of the Europe!
Have a good and healthy season.
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Tags: Summer 2009