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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Comments

  • Herb Craig

    December 14, 2021 |

    As always awesome job Harold. It seems whatever you do in life the end result is always the same professional, accurate, inclusive and entertaining. You have always been a class act and a great fellow policeman to work with. We had some awesome times together my friend. I will always hold you close as a true friend. Keep up the good work. Hope to see you this summer.
    Warm regards
    Herb Craig

  • Harold McNeill

    November 26, 2021 |

    Hi Dorthy, So glad you found those stories and, yes, they hold many fond memories. Thanks to social media and the blog, I’ve been able to get in touch with many friends from back in the day. Cheers, Harold

  • Harold McNeill

    November 26, 2021 |

    Well, well. Pleased to see your name pop up. I’m in regular contact via FB with many ‘kids’ from back in our HS days (Guy, Dawna, Shirley and others). Also, a lot of Cold Lake friends through FB. Cheers, Harold

  • Harold McNeill

    November 26, 2021 |

    Oh, that is many years back and glad you found the story. I don’t have any recall of others in my class other than the Murphy sisters on whose farm my Dad and Mom worked.

  • Harold McNeill

    November 26, 2021 |

    Pleased to hear from you Howie and trust all is going well. As with you, I have a couple of sad stories of times in my police career when I crossed paths with Ross Barrington Elworthy. Just haven’t had the time to write those stories.

  • Howie Siegel

    November 25, 2021 |

    My only fight at Pagliacci’s was a late Sunday night in 1980 (?) He ripped the towel machine off the bathroom wall which brought me running. He came after me, I grabbed a chair and cracked him on the head which split his skull and dropped him. I worried about the police finding him on the floor. I had just arrived from Lasqueti Island and wasn’t convinced the police were my friends. I dragged him out to Broad and Fort and left him on the sidewalk, called the cops. They picked him up and he never saw freedom again (as far as I know). I found out it was Ross Elworthy.

  • Herbert Plain

    November 24, 2021 |

    Just read you article on Pibroch excellent. My Dad was Searle Grain company agent we move there in 1942/3 live in town by the hall for 5 years than moved one mile east to the farm on the corner where the Pibroch road meets Hwy 44. Brother Don still lives there. I went to school with you and Louise.

  • Herbert Plain

    November 24, 2021 |

    Just read your life account of Pibroch excellent.
    My family mowed to Pibroch in 1942 Dad was grain buyer for Searle Grain Company lived in town for 5 years than mowed one mile East to the farm on the corner of the road from Pibroch and Hwy 44. Bro Don still lives there.I went to school with both you and Louise.

  • DOROTHY MARSHALL

    November 15, 2021 |

    These stories brought back some sweet memories for me. a wonderful trip down memory lane . the photos were great. It has made me miss those days.

  • DOROTHY MARSHALL

    November 15, 2021 |

    Enjoyed your story Harold Dorothy Hartman