Another amazing weather day. This meant that we needed to hit our next thing on the list – the Top of Europe. So this is a train ride through the inside of the Eiger mountain, which terminates at the Jungfraujoch train station – the highest train station in Europe. From the station you then walk out onto the Aletsch Glacier, the biggest glacier in the Alps. So your starting to get the idea that his is going to be a really cold day. Bizarre really, that it is hot at home but you are getting dressed for snow, ice and wind.
And that is where the day gets off to a bad start. I’m trying to put my outdoor jacket on and can’t find it. I look everywhere. I must have left it some on our walk yesterday – bummer. I liked that coat as well. Fortunately, my brother-in-law came to the rescue with a spare coat that he had packed and I was able to crack on. I shudder at the thought of having to buy a coat in Switzerland, I would have had to remortgage my house I think.
It’s all very straight forward to get going. The way that the trains are set up here is like clockwork and they time each connecting train to arrive and depart exactly as needed. Since we are staying in Grindelwald, we can get on the mountain cog train straight away and before long we are winding up the mountain side. The views are incredible and slowly we creep closer to the Eiger north face, a major attraction for us.
We can see a path tracing the train tracks up the side of the mountain and we discuss how possible it would be to walk back down later today. Let’s keep that thought in the back pocket for now. The train stops at Kleine scheidegg, a station famous amongst mountaineers. We have to change to another train which will take us through the mountain. We set off and within about 2 minutes we get fabulous views of the North Face and then it all goes back. The rest of the journey is inside the rock.
So here is a little lesson on the Eiger. It’s not the biggest, but it is pretty high – just under 4,000 meters. It is really famous for its north face. 1800 meters of sheer rock and ice. A challenge to even the most adventurous climbers. Since 1935 alone, 65 people have died trying to climb it. Its German name is Nordwand (north wall) but has now been nicknamed Mordwand (murder wall).
Just before we ascend into the black, you can see why. The face is flat, wet and massive. There is no obvious path, or stopping points, no ledges or places to rest. Just flat rock as far as the eye can see.
Interestingly, as part of the tunnel that was excavated for this train, engineers made a ‘door’ in the north face so that climbers in distress could make for it in the hope to be rescued. Over time, windows have been put in the face. One of the stops inside allows us to get off for a few minutes and look out over the glacier. This is where you start to get a feel for height, cold and isolation. I pull the zip up on my coat.
The train arrives at the terminal and we are all herded out to the main building, individuals like us, proper climbers, tour groups, workers, all sorts. Before we hit the slopes – toilet time!
Our first priority was to get outside – to see the glacier, stand on it, throw snowballs and take it in. It is blinking freezing. But they have a few things going on – zip wires, snow tubing, sledging and a walk across the glacier itself. We opt for snow tubing, while Wendys sister and husband head off across the glacier.
Now I want you to picture the scene here. It’s really cold. Like, really cold. You are 4,000 meters up so the air is thin and you are getting out of breath just walking about. The sun is bleaching against the snow, so without your sunglasses on you can’t see – within a few minutes you would get snow blindness. Feeling like you want to go back inside now?
OK, so add to this a small child who has spotted the snow tubes. A large rubber ring that you sit in and slide down the mountain. Then you drag your rubber ring back up the mountain and do it all again. Now picture Marcus shouting
“again, again, again” after every turn. Each slide down the mountain drops your energy, then the pull back up zaps it again.
“again, again, again” you would think that we would have gotten used to this now. But no, we are gluttons for punishment.
This goes on for a good 45 minutes to the point where I can’t move anymore.
“again, again, again”.
“OK, one more”
As we take him away the tantrum kicks in, bottom lip comes out, tears. We thought about just leaving him out on the glacier. But decided against it 😉
Inside the main section, there is an ice cave. Tunnels carved out of the glacier itself. They move. You can’t feel them move, but the ice is always moving and they need to reshape the tunnels on a regular basis. Don’t think about that for very long – you would never venture in if you did.
In another section, you can get an elevator to the Sphinx observatory. Basically, this is a weather station. But it affords amazing views. We walk out onto the metal gantry and are immediately hit by the wind. It cuts right through you. After bearing it for as long as we could, we head back inside. Within seconds a military jet sweeps up the glacier and Top Gun style buzzes the observatory – wowzers!
Out of the other side of the observatory you can get access to another section of the glacier. More exposed and elevated. You really get a sense of how difficult it is to survive up here. You would not want to be out in this for very long. As this was a nice day in the middle of summer. The views are incredible so we try to take it in for as long as we can bear.
Back inside again and we work our way to the train. There is a Lindt chocolate factory here selling an unbelievable amount of Lindt. I mean, unbelievable. I’m not saying how much I bought.
But now it is time to go back down. We do the reverse train journey to Kleine scheidegg, get off and have a look around. We get on the train to come back down the valley into Grindelwald and just before it sets off, we decide to walk down instead. What a great choice!
The path is quite steep, and we both need to hold onto the pram at times, but the views, peace and surroundings are incredible. The girls wander off and collect flowers, Marcus and I just take it all in. Every now and again the path comes close again to the train track so there is no fear of getting lost. We walk for a good hour, maybe hour and a half.
Just when we are getting tired, we spot one of the interim train stations and jump back on the train for the return home. Perfect.
Having had loads of food up on the mountain and chocolate on the way down, we are full. And having spent so much energy on the whole experience (remember our big day yesterday!) we can only be bothered to have bread and butter for tea. But it’s great. The rest of the evening is spent looking back over todays photos – we can’t believe how beautiful it has been.