The Eiger’s north face was looking particularly sinister today as I peeked out at it from the window of the Jungfrau Wengernalp, the world’s longest cogwheel railway, as it climbed closer, the peak invisible, surrounded by cloud cover. Climbing the Eiger by train was in my view infinitely more healthy than attempting it on foot, after all, there is a pretty lengthy list of climbers who tried and never made it back alive.
It is an extraordinary achievement. A tunnel taking over 16 years to build, over 5 miles long, and carrying 5,000 people a day up the inside of one of the deadliest mountains in the world. And did I mention this was no modern project? Construction began in 1896 and finished in 1912, pretty impressive stats for a train 102 years old.
It’s a journey of discovery from start to finish, from the glorious scenic foothills of the Jungfrau and Eiger, (where it is said Tolkien unsurprisingly drew his inspiration for the land of Rivendell in Middle Earth) then up through the centre of the Eiger, stopping twice for a brief walkabout to take in the views from observation windows built into the mountainside and then on to journey’s end at The Top of Europe, right at the peak some 3,500 metres above sea level.
This was where the fun really started for me. Avoiding the more touristic Disney-esque experiences – the Lindt chocolate shop and the Alpine Sensation section – I dove straight into the 360 Degree Panorama, a beautifully shot giant size alpine film show, the Ice Palace, a trek through real glacier ice and then on out to the Sphinx terrace where you are outside up and personal with the vast natural landscape of the Aletsch Glacier.
Once you’ve got your breath back, and I have to admit, I got a little dizzy too, you can wander out on to the ice for a walk and a bit of fun in the snow park. I found this experience almost unreal. Here I was on top of the Jungfrau and having fun in the snow in midsummer. Floating over crevasses on a steel cable, gliding on sleds or skiing and snowboarding along the slopes. I could even pull on some spikes and take a trek across the wilderness to a mountain lodge, but beware you’ll need to be wearing some winter warm clothes, a modest summer outfit just won’t cut it way up here.
Back inside, and after a welcome hot drink in the cafe I had time to wander around the Alpine exhibition to learn about how this stunning project came to fruition before catching the train back down. And here was another surprise; a free chocolate from the ticket inspector, now that’s what I call service with a smile.
For any visitor to Switzerland, climbing the Eiger by train is a must do experience. An opportunity to savour some majestic mountain scenery and take a peek at how Mother Nature can be so spectacularly beautiful on one hand and quite deadly on the other. This is a glimpse at our own mortality, a realisation of just how fragile we are in the face of these mighty mountains.
All images (c) Jungfrau Tourism.
Tell me more about climbing the Eiger by train
Jungfraujoch – Top of Europe railway tickets start from 60 CHF return (approx. £39). You can also get a VIP three day pass across the Jungfrau network taking in Harder Kulm, Schynige Platte and Jungfraujoch which also includes riding up the Eiger and entrance to The Top of Europe for CHF 235 http://shop.jungfrau.ch/en/tickets/bergbahn/vip-pass
Snow Fun Park and Activities
The Snow Park offers tubing, sledging and a zipwire, as well as skiing and boarding at the top of Jungfraujoch. Prices start from 45 CHF for adults and 25 CHF for children under 15. Open from the middle of May to the end of September.
Where can I stay in the Jungfrau Region
The rooms at Hotel Regina in Wengen offer a fantastic view over the mountains of the Jungfrau area, the Lauterbrunnen valley and the Wengen village. Prices start from 1200 CHF (£785) for a double room for seven nights on a B&B basis. http://www.hotelregina.ch/eng/
The Hotel Schynige Platte offers a great location for a night spent at altitude with magnificent views of the Wiger, Monch and Jungfrau. Prices start at 230 CHF (£150) per room per night on a half board basis www.hotelschynigeplatte.ch
The Hostel Backpackers Villa in Interlaken has won several awards worldwide and can offer spectacular views of Jungfrau mountain. Prices start at 34.50 CHF (£22.50) per person per night on a B&B basis. http://www.villa.ch/
The Interlaken Youth Hostel opened recently and is modern and spacious, prices start from 37.30 CHF (£24.40) per person per night on a B&B basis. http://www.youthhostel.ch/