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 down 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. Our third day in Interlauken 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 (photo above).  (note: Interlauken appears to be spelt both with and without a “u”)

On that full day trip, we climbed from 550 meters (1800 feet) in Interlauken, to just shy of 4158 meters (13,500 feet), first by standard rail, then by cog train, (photos below) 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, British Columbia. During the first part of the trip, there is a gradual climb takes us through several small villages and farms that could have been original scenes for a book of Fairy Tales.  Milk cows filled rolling green pastures, grazing unconcernedly as we continue our climb toward the high alpine meadows. 

After changing to the cog train 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 short tunnels that lead to the sheer cliff face of the Eigerwald. At that point were somewhere around the 10,000-foot level.

Early in our three-hour outbound trip, we had met a delightful couple from Invercargill, New Zealand, Karen and Kobby Clarke (again, photos below). It turned out the Clarke’s were just as crazy as this Canadian couple and while the trip was amazing in its 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 have an unplanned meeting with our new friends in a completely different part of the world.

After disembarking within the glacier (perhaps 11,000 feet) 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 clouds allowed us to look north toward the valley over which we had just climbed and, to the south, through a series of mountain peaks and passes for perhaps a hundred kilometers. Nearby, a string of climbers was 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 a 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 Scheidegge (about 7000 feet) and hike through the rolling alpine meadows and down into the valley. The scene was surreal and, at any moment, expected Julie Andrews strolling 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 three hours of hiking, we again joined another train for the last leg of the trip 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 inclined and the weather permits, spend a few hours hiking through those amazing high mountain meadows. The memories will last a lifetime.

Harold and Lynn

1. The Eigerwand (pictured above, left the 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 sheer rock wall is beyond me and leads me to 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

Looking out from one of the tunnels near the 8000 foot level.

Hundreds of ice carvings inside the glacier (some by our fiiend in Interlauken)


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  • Harold McNeill

    April 14, 2020 |

    Hi Rick,
    Great to hear from you and trust all is going well. Our family members are all doing well but it must be pretty tough for a lot of people. I had once heard you were going to do some writing but never heard anything further. I would be most interested, but do you think the OB News have archives back to that time. Any link or information you could provide would be greatly appreciated. Did you keep copies? Regards, Harold

  • Rick Gonder

    April 14, 2020 |

    Hi Harold
    About 22 years ago I spent several weeks going through the OBPD archives. I wrote several stories that were published in the OB News. Feel free to use if they are of value to what you are doing.
    Keep this up, I’m enjoying it and it brings back memories.

  • Harold McNeill

    April 12, 2020 |

    Hi Susan,

    Glad you had a chance to read. I decided to update these stories by proofreading as there were several grammatical errors in many. Hopefully, many of those glaring errors have been removed.

    Many of the stories carry a considerable amount of social comment regarding the way the criminal justice system is selectively applied. Next up involves a young woman from near Cold Lake, Alberta, who was abducted by an older male from Edmonton. Her story is the story of hundreds of young men and woman who have found themselves alone and without help when being prayed upon unscrupulous predators.

    Cheers, Harold

  • Susan

    April 8, 2020 |

    Great read, Harold!…and really not surprising, sad as that may sound.
    Keep the stories coming, it is fascinating to hear them.
    Love from us out here in the “sticks”, and stay safe from this unknown predator called Covid.

  • Harold McNeill

    February 17, 2020 |

    Update:  Times Colonist, February 16, 2020, articles by Louise Dickson, She got her gun back, then she killed herself,” and,  Mounties decision to return gun to PTSD victim haunts her brother. 

    Summary: I don’t know how many read the above articles, but they contained the tragic details about young woman, Krista Carle’, who took her own life after suffering for years with PTSD. While tragedies such as this play out across Canada every week, the reason this story resonates so profoundly is that the final, tragic, conclusion took place here in Victoria. Continued in the article.

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    February 15, 2020 |

    Testing the comments section after changes made. Updated: February 10, 2020

    Further to the update below (February 1, 2020), I note that since the government announced a “No-Fault” insurance plan for BC, Robert Mulligan is taking a slightly different tack, suggesting that no-fault will only increase the problems by taking away the right of an injured party to sue.

    I’ve copied just one sentence from Mulligan’s longer discussion, “And I think people don’t like the idea that somebody who’s, for example, was drunk and ran into you and you become a quadriplegic is going to be treated exactly the same way you would in terms of getting benefits (go to minute 00:15:26 to see his full comment)

    Statements like this appear to be simple fear-mongering. As was the case in the past, people who commit criminal offences, as well as other forms of negligence while driving, may well lose their insurance coverage and in all likelihood would be sued by ICBC to recover costs of the claim. (Link here to Mulligan’s full conversation on CFAX radio)

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