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

  • Andrew Dunn

    May 14, 2019 |

    Thank you so much for all your help thus far Harold, aka. Tractor guy! I could not have done without you!

  • Harold McNeill

    April 25, 2019 |

    I find it interesting to contemplate how a small community evolves in general isolation from the rest of the world. We have a similar situation in the northern communities in Canada to which access is limited. The inclusion of the world wide web and mass media has changed things, but these communities are still left pretty much to their own devices when it comes to personal interaction.

  • Harold McNeill

    March 19, 2019 |

    Hi Dave. Not that I am aware and I have a fairly comprehensive family tree for the McNeill side of the family. I will pull it up and scan. Cheers, Harold. Great chatting with you and I will give Ben a nudge.

  • Dave Cassels

    March 16, 2019 |

    Were you related to Guy McNeill who owned the Bruin Inn in St. Albert in the late 40’s or early 50’s? Guy was a close friend of my father-in-law who was the first President of the Royal Glenora Club. My phone number is 780 940 1175. Thank you.

  • Harold McNeill

    March 15, 2019 |

    So glad you found the story and enjoyed. Indeed, they were memorable times. I did a fair amount of searching but never managed to contact any of the Murffit kids. However, it was neat to make contact with the Colony and someone I knew from back in the day. I have enjoyed writing these stories from back in the 1940s and 50s and have made contact with a lot of friends from those early years. I will give you a call over the weekend. Cheers, Harold

  • Yvonne (Couture) Richardson

    March 7, 2019 |

    I enjoyed your story. I too, lived in Pibroch in 1951, as my parents owned the hotel there. I was a very close friend of Bonnie Murfitt at the time. I moved to Edmonton in 1952, however, and have not seen her since. I would like to be in touch with you to talk about your story. My email is listed above and my phone number is 780-475-3873.

  • Laureen Kosch/Patry

    March 5, 2019 |

    I grew up in Pibroch and would not trade those years for anything. “ Kids don’t know how to play anymore” Never was a truer statement made. During the summer we were out the door by 8am, home for lunch, and back when it got dark. For the most part our only toys were our bikes and maybe a baseball mitt. I will never forget the times when all the kids got together in “Finks field” for a game of scrub baseball. Everybody was welcome, kids from 8 to 18. I didn’t know it then but I guess I had a childhood most dream of. Drove thru town last summer. It all looked a lot smaller.

  • Harold McNeill

    January 13, 2019 |

    Well, my dear, it’s that time again. How the years fly by and the little ones grow but try as you may you will have a hard time catching up to your Daddy. Lots of love young lady and may your day be special
    Love, Dad

  • Harold McNeill

    January 5, 2019 |

    Guess what? My response went to the Spam folder. Hmm, do you suppose the system is trying to tell me something?

  • Harold McNeill

    January 5, 2019 |

    Thanks, Terrance. Your comment came through but went to the Spam folder. Have pulled it out and approved. Can you send another on this post to see if you name is now removed from Spam? I’m not sure why it does that. Cheers, Harold