Located 3,454 meters above sea level (or 11,332 feet, for those of us not used to the metric system), Jungfraujoch is a long ways up. Located in the Swiss Alps, it is known as the “top of Europe” even though its elevation is far from the highest in Europe. It is, however, the highest train station in Europe, straddled between two of the 4,000+ meter peaks in the Swiss Alps, Jungfrau and Mönch. Jungfraujoch is a popular tourist attraction known for its panoramic views on clear days, its ice palace, and its snow park, which provides fun in the snow, even in the middle of August.
Our trip to the top
During our short stay in Switzerland, the weather did not want to cooperate. It was not horrible by any means, but cloudy enough that Jungfraujoch (and across the valley, Schlithorn) was hidden behind the clouds most of the time. However, one morning we woke up early, checked the webcams (isn’t technology great?), and saw that the skies were clear. We got ready as quickly as possible and headed for the train station to get on the next train to the top from down in the Lauterbrunnen valley where we were staying, in the process completely changing out entire plan for the day. We arrived at the top before lunchtime, stunning views in every direction. After exploring, we went into the restaurant to sit down and have lunch and it wasn’t long after that the clouds rolled in and the views disappeared. We felt bad for all of the people who were arriving just after the views had completely disappeared. After lunch, we went out to the snow park to do some snow tubing and while the views looking down were long gone, the peaks of the nearby mountains were still visible. At least for a few minutes, until the clouds really rolled in and we found ourselves in a dense fog with snow falling down on us. In August. We headed back down the mountain to do the hiking we had planned on doing in the morning, but we didn’t realize until it was too late that our change of plans meant the cable car we were going to take down to the bottom of the valley would no longer be running by the time we arrived there, resulting in another crazy adventure before the day was over.
Switzerland has a great public transportation system, highlighted be a great train system. The trains are clean, consistently on time, and make it easy to get to even small towns. This train is on its way down from Jungfraujoch and captures the essence of Switzerland perfectly: the colorful train, the glacier covered mountains, the cows grazing, and hikers enjoying the great outdoors.
This day was one of the relatively few days that the weather failed us while traveling. We had awoken early in the morning and taken the funicular from Lauterbrunnen to Grutschalp, then hiked to Mürren, with plans of taking the cable car up to Schilthorn. Unfortunately, Schilthorn was hidden behind the clouds with the exception of a very brief time when the sun came out, just enough to get our hopes up before the clouds rolled back in. Instead, we continued our hike to Gimmelwald, then down to Stechelberg, a beautiful hike through the Swiss countryside that was for the most part pleasant but at times dampened by the intermittent rain. We arrived in Stechelberg and found the bus stop to take the bus through the valley back to Lauterbrunnen, then made the not so wise decision to walk through the valley, as it did look quite nice and it seemed as though the rain had stopped. Wrong. Fifteen minutes or so later the skies opened up and we were caught in a torrential downpour with no place to take shelter and no choice to continue our walk to Lauterbrunnen soaking wet. The one positive was that the heavy rain caused tons of waterfalls to instantaneously appear on the cliffs on either side of the Lauterbrunnen Valley. I managed to quickly snap this photo of this waterfall without getting my camera too wet.
If you explore rural Switzerland, you’re bound to hear the sound of ringing cowbells. The cows in Switzerland seem to live a good life, at least from what we saw, with plenty of space to roam in the Swiss countryside and each with their own cowbell. If you hike, you are likely to see cows along the trail, just enjoying some grass, as the cows seem to get plenty of freedom. This cow was along a trail near the town of Grindelwald, busy having lunch, and paying no attention to us as we walked by.
This photo was taken while on a hike in the Jungfrau region of Switzerland, from Männlichen to Wengen. A hike that was never meant to happen. We had taken the train to Jungfrau, the “Top of Europe” during the morning, hiked from Kleine Scheidegg to Männlichen, and planned to take the cable car down to Wengen. However, when we arrived in Männlichen at a little after 5 p.m. we realized that the cable car had already stopped for the day and the only way to get down to Wengen was to hike. We found the trail, a narrow, steep trail that wound back and forth between the avalanche barriers and began our hike down with rain clouds in the distance. While the hike was not part of our plans and the weather did not look ideal for starting a long, difficult hike, the views were absolutely stunning. Fortunately, it did not rain, as this was not a trail to be on in wet conditions. We hiked down and down until we emerged from the barriers and were rewarded by a slightly less steep trail which disappeared into the forest before finally emerging into town.