The Top of Europe

Written by Harold McNeill on November 7th, 2011. Posted in Travelogue

A Swiss Wonderland

Photo:  January 2, 2012. A Giant Flag illuminated on the face of the Eiger was created by Swiss artist Gerry Hofsetter.  The photo commemorates the 100-year anniversary of the Jungfrau Railway (see general story below). Photo taken by:
Michael Bulholzer/Reuters

There are many beautiful places around the world to which one could travel by land, sea or air, but ranking near the top must be Switzerland, the Swiss Alps and, in particular, the Top of Europe. Expansive alpine meadows and rolling hills fall gently into mist covered valleys as mountain streams and rivers build in strength as they flow downward from the Eiger, Monach and Jungfraujoch peaks.

The trip to the Top of Europe was a surprise gift from friends in Interlauken, the Hanggi’s, that saw us heading into this wonderland after climbing aboard the early morning OST train bound for the top of one of Europe’s largest glaciated regions.

On the full day trip we climbed  from 550 meters (1800 feet) in Interlauken, to just shy of 3650 meters (12000 feet), first on standard track then by a furnicular (cog train) capable of climbing and descending 25% grades. It is an unsual feeling to be sitting on a train climbing at an angle three times steeper than that leading up the Vancouver side of the Coquihilla Highway enroute to Kamloops in British Columbia. The gradual climb takes us through several small villages and farms that could have been original scenes for a book of Fairy Tales.  Milk cows that fill rolling green pastures, graze unconcerned as we continue our climb toward the high alpine meadowns. 

After changing to the furnicular at Kleine Scheidegg, we climbed to the base of the Eigerwand, then into a curving tunnel within the Eiger and Monach Mountains and finally toward the Jungfraujoch Pead, where we entered a glacial tunnel that stretched to our final destination.

Along the tunnel portion, we made two stops overlooking the Eigerwand (pictured above, far left) made famous in the 1976 Clint Eastwood action movie, The Eiger Sanction 1. At each stop we disembarked and walked through a short tunnel that lead to the shear cliff face of the Eigerwald at a point somewhere around the 10,000 foot level.

Earlier in our three hour outbound trip, we had met a delightful couple from Invercargil, New Zealand, Karen and Kobby Clarke (photo below). It turned out the Clarke’s were just as crazy as this Canadian couple and while the trip was amazing in it’s own right, meeting up with this fun loving couple added immensely to the travel experience (unknown to us at that time we were destined to meet our new friends in another part of the world).

After disembarking within the glacier and after being warned to walk slowly in order to allow our bodies time to assimilate to the reduced oxygen supply, we were off and running. Well, running for perhaps twenty meters at which point we all nearly collapsed. Deep inside a glacier it took us ten or fifteen minutes to regain our stability before we could complete the tunnel trip that took us onto the glacier surface.

Lynn OutfitWhile the stunning 360 degree view from top view was periodically obscured, breaks in the drifting clould allowed us to look north toward the valley over which we had just climbed and, to south, through a series of moutain peaks and passes for perhaps a hundred kilometers. Nearby, a string of climbers were slowly making their way to the peak (photo below).

Photo: Lynn (aka Heidi) McNeill, collects gear in readiness for the final ascent of the Eigerwald. In the background Knobby lends his support.

After three hours of soaking up the amazing views, taking photos and doing the usual tourist things (drinks, photos, drinks, food, then a couple of drinks) we boarded our train for the return trip. It was strange how mixture of 6% beer and oxygen deprivation at 12,000 feet, makes one exceptionally light headed.

When we emerged from the tunnel we were greeted with pristine weather conditions, so decided to leave the train at Kline Scheindegg (about 7000 feet) and hike through the rolling alpine meadows and down into valley. The scene was surreal and at any moment expected Julie Andrews to walk by leading the von Trapp family. At one point Karen and Lynn could not restrain themselves and started belting out a few lines (photo below). After about three hours of hiking, we again joined another train for the rest of the trip back to Interlauken.

If you happen to travel to Switzerland and happen to be in Interlauken, we encourage you to set aside one day and take that trip to the Jungfraujoch peak. On your return, if you are so inclinded and the weather permits, spend a few hours hiking though those amazing high moutain meadows. The memories will last a lifetime.

Harold and Lynn

1. The Eigerwand (pictured above, left side of photo). This cliff face, reported to be one of the toughest climbs in Europe, was not conquered until 1935 and then a second time, in 1966. How one could build up the nerve to climb that shear rock wall is beyond me and leads me wonder whether Clint Eastwood actually made the climb as depicted in the movie? Do you think they used a double or some kind of trick photography?

Karen, Kobby, Lynn and Harold

Intrepid Hikers

 Valley Scene

Apline Scene


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