One of the main reasons for visiting the village of Grindelwald was to ascend to Jungfraujoch to see the peaks of Jungfrau and Mönch and alpine glaciers. Jungfraujoch (literally “Jungfrau pass”) is a glacial saddle between the two peaks.
Jungfrau, at 4,158 m / 13,642 ft, is among the tallest peaks in Switzerland, and one of the most accessible. Way back at the end of the 19th century, Adolf Guyer-Zeller conceived the idea of a railway tunnel to the Jungfraujoch in order to make the alpine glacier area more accessible. It took 16 years to excavate the tunnel through the rock. The summit station, still used today, was completed in 1912.
On our first evening, when we got back to the hotel after visiting Grindelwald First, Sven was still there and seemed genuinely interested in our experience. Which meant it was natural to ask for his recommendations for the trip up to Jungfraujoch the next morning. We knew that the general weather forecast was for rain and cloud. It wouldn’t make much sense to travel all the way to the station at 3,466 m / 11,371 ft if the experience were just a grand view of the inside of a cloud; especially since the tickets are, as one might say, “stupid expensive.” We discussed the nuances of microclimates, the investment versus the risk, and checking the various mountain webcams. He told us about the Good Morning ticket, which is a bit less “stupid expensive.” It would require us to take one of the two first trains out of Grindelwald (7:17 and 7:47 am), and return from an intermediate station no later than 1:13 pm.
As far as we could tell, the details of the weather forecast were for the rain clouds to arrive in earnest around mid-day. So we resolved to get up early, check the sky, check the webcams on the mountain, and decide.
At 6 am the alarm went off, which is happily not a usual sound on vacation. It was still pitch black outside, but a few stars were visible — a good sign. The mountain webcams were useless because, well, it was dark outside. We decided to take the risk, hoping that the sky would stay at least mixed just long enough for us to enjoy the view from the top.
As we were waiting to board the train, the sun was rising behind the mountains. The few clouds turned a glorious orange. It was still only partly cloudy.
The train ride from Grindelwald to Jungfraujoch is a steep one; the train tracks include a line of gear teeth for traction.
We wound at first through farms, fields and forests, and then alpine praire, rock and snow.
The last part of the journey, about 15 minutes, is in the heart of the mountain. Italian workers had carved out this tunnel by hand over 100 years ago.
Once we arrived at the top station, we still needed to go up an elevator to the highest open view point, what they call the Sphinx, perhaps because of the shape of the building and its tower.
While the cloud cover had increased, it was still lying just atop the highest peaks. We could see far in all directions.
To the north lay the Aletsch glacier, Europe’s longest. Patches of sunlight moved across the rough surface of the glacier.
To the north and south were the great peaks of Jungfrau and Mönch, just starting to scratch the cloud ceiling.
To the south, far far below and very dark under the clouds, alpine valleys spread as far as we could see.
We ventured outside to the open viewing terrace. It was about -3 degrees C / 26 deg F, and there was a stiff wind to multiply the cold. There were plenty of people out enjoying the view, the cold, and lots of selfies. But we didn’t need to stay out there very long. There were big clean windows all around the enclosed heated observation levels.
In order to catch the early train, we hadn’t had time to have anything to eat or drink. Once we had enjoyed the big views for a while, we found a café where we could have a coffee and pastry. As we sat eating, we could see the clouds lowering and the snow blowing.
With our stomach’s calmed, we thought we should go back up to the top viewing point just to see. We found sublime views of white/gray cloud, cold and wind. And a lot of other visitors whose expensive trip to the top had led to a view of nothing.
As we wandered through the other “attractions” of Jungfraujoch, we kept meeting new trainloads of tourists. We could only feel their pain. We were thankful that our early start had aligned with last clear weather; just chance, we know, but good chance this time.The developers of Jungfraujoch have filled it with attractions and diversions, perhaps as antidotes for bad weather, and certainly revenue generators. If you have always wanted to visit the highest Lindt chocolate shop in the world, this is the place for you. And these diversions as well:
- Alpine Sensation: a walk though a tunnel decorated with snowy exhibits and a pictorial history of the excavation of the tunnel
- Ice Palace: ice tunnels in an arm of the Aletsch glacier, decorated with ice sculptures. Mountain guides in the 1930s carved these tunnels. (After our experiences at the Ice Hotel in Jukkasjärvi, Sweden last year, these sculptures were pretty tame!)
- Hole in One by Omega: Three tries to get a hole-in-one in the snow. About US$10 for three tries to win a Swiss watch. Too bad this wasn’t available on our cold windy day.
- There are corporate endorsements everywhere: Tissot, Omega, Lindt, Victorinox (Swiss Army)….
As I’m writing the first draft of this post at the end of the day, I’m sitting in the lobby lounge of our hotel. The rocky mountains, some cloud-shrouded, keep me company.