On top of the Jungfrau, the alpine views (and elevation) will take your breath away.
By Bill Harby
The two-plus-hour train ride up, up, up from Interlaken is at least half the fun of going to the Jungfraujoch visitors center, 3,454 meters above sea level. Traveling slowly on winding mountain tracks, you’re suddenly surrounded by fields of deep snow. Ascending on a sunny day, the spruce tree boughs heavy with blankets of diamond white, it’s no wonder if you feel you’re in a child’s snow globe.
The last stage from Kleine Scheidegg, where you change to another cogwheel train, (50 minutes up, 35 minutes down) goes through tunnels that were drilled through the mountain beginning 116 years ago. Three brief stops allow you to dash to viewing spots to gawk at the towering mountain range below – yes, below.
You’re at one of the most remarkable places in the Swiss Alps. Here, three mountains – the Eiger, the Mönch and the Jungfrau – form massive walls that have long beckoned climbers and now even day tourists carrying, not hiking staffs, but selfie sticks.
The name “Jungfrau” means “virgin”; the mountain is named after a former Interlaken convent. In 1811, two brothers made the first known ascent to the summit.
The railway to the Jungfraujoch (“joch” means “yoke”, and refers to the pass between the Jungfrau and Mönch), began construction in 1896; the final station at the joch opened in 1912. Today it is still the highest train station in Europe. Built mostly by Italian laborers, the rail tunnel claimed dozens of lives.
They paid with their lives; your fare is considerably cheaper, even at CHF 218.80 for a round-trip ticket for the train from Interlaken to the end of the line at “Jungfraujoch Top of Europe”, which includes admission to the visitors center. The fare is cheaper if you have a Swiss train system discount card.
You’ll want at least an hour or two up at the Jungfraujoch to explore both inside and outside, especially since, at this low-oxygen elevation, you and your dizzy head will be moving more slowly than usual. Within the visitors center there’s the Disneyesque “Alpine Sensation” with its irresistible enormous snow globe featuring singing wooden alpine workers. Along another tunnel is the “Ice Palace”, a long glacial cavern with ice sculptures of penguins and eagles. Also, surprise, there are shops selling Swiss watches, Swiss Army knives and Swiss chocolate, plus restaurants with extraordinary views serving fondue and other hearty cold-weather fare at credit-card-melting prices, though the quality and service are generally good.
But don’t get too comfortable. Make yourself wrap up and venture outside onto the viewing deck to gaze down onto the Alps, 360 degrees to Germany, France and Italy, as well as immediately below to the source of the Aletsch Glacier, the longest in the Alps at 22km. Average temperature up here is -7.9C, and down to -14 or below in winter.
Nevermind. You can do it. Step out onto a snowy plateau to throw snowballs and pose for your inevitable selfie on top of the world. In the balmy summer months, you can go skiing, sledding and slip-sliding on giant inner-tubes, and even fly across the glacier on a zipline.
Or don’t move a muscle, stay warm and cozy inside one of the restaurants with a steaming cup of tea or snifter of cognac, perhaps with a new watch on your wrist, a new knife in your pocket, souvenirs of this moment on top of the year-round winter world.