This is a guest post by my 15 year-old daughter. She’s written about an exciting train journey to the highest railway station in Europe, the Jungfraujoch, advertised in Switzerland as the Top of Europe. The trip was a one-day excursion during our holiday in the Bernese Oberland in August this year. We were staying in the lovely Swiss Alpine village of Wengen. At 1,274m above sea level, the village is car-free and accessible only by cog railway from the Lauterbrunnen valley below. From Wengen you get a spectacular view of three 4,000m mountains: the Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau, standing in a row.
Short language diversion: if you’re wondering what the -joch bit means on the end of Jungfrau, in English it’s a “col” or ridge between two peaks. Jungfraujoch is actually a glacier “saddle” on the Aletsch glacier, between the peaks of the Mönch and the Jungfrau. I found an official Swiss website explaining the origins of many Swiss mountain names. Apparently the name Jungfrau (virgin) may have come from a convent dedicated to the Virgin Mary, which used to own large areas of pasture in the area. The name Eiger has been traced back to the 13th century and may have come from Latin “acer” (sharp) or Swiss German “Ger” (javelin). Mönch could have referred to local monks who owned pasture there, or it may derive from the old word “münch” (gelding) – grazing animals mentioned on a map dating from 1606.
Anyway, to get to Jungfraujoch from Lauterbrunnen or Wengen you take the cog railway to Kleine Scheidegg and change there onto the Jungfrau line, which has been running since 1912. My husband and I did this trip back in the year 2000 and were keen for our daughter to have the same breathtaking experience. As you can see from the diagram, the railway runs close behind the North Face of the Eiger and then loops up inside the Eiger and the Mönch.
The tunnel is 7 km long and there are gradients of up to 25%. It takes about 35 minutes to do the journey from Kleine Scheidegg to Jungfraujoch and the fare for this amazing trip is over CHF 100 per adult.
Here’s my daughter’s account of the visit.
Date: Wednesday 28th August 2019
Temperature in Wengen: 27 degrees
Temperature at Jungfraujoch: 7 degrees, according to the weather forecast. But it felt warmer in the sun.
It’s advertised all over the region. I’d seen it on trains, on posters, in supermarkets: Jungfraujoch, the ‘Top of Europe’. I later found out it was only the top of Europe by rail, not the actual highest point in Europe. Still, the station at Jungfraujoch stands at 3,454 metres above sea level, it’s an incredible height, and building the track in 1912 was a true feat of railway engineering.
On a sunny August morning, my Dad and I caught the train from Wengen, where we were staying, to Kleine Scheidegg, a station higher up in the mountains. We changed trains there onto the Jungfrau line.
The train entered the tunnel into the Eiger mountain and it stopped for five minutes at Eismeer station so we could get out and look through a window in the sheer rock of the north face of the Eiger. It gave us marvellous views of the Aletschgletscher (glacier) – a great introduction to the icy snowy world we were about to explore. We also got a feel of the cold air to come! The journey continued through miles of steep tunnels, before arriving at the underground Jungfraujoch station. Feeling excited, we caught the lift to the Sphinx observation area, which also houses a research station. The views were spectacular. Being so high up gave us an otherworldly feeling – from the 3572m viewing platform you could see for hundreds of miles, to the Vosges in France, and the Black Forest in Germany.
The landscape up there was incredible. I hadn’t expected so much snow, and later on I took the opportunity to play around in it! After taking in the view, Dad and I planned to walk for 45 minutes to the Mönchsjochhütte, a nearby mountain hut embedded in the mountains, and have lunch there before returning to the main building to see some of the exhibitions. The walk was quite strenuous and seemed longer than we’d expected, as thick snow and an uphill gradient aren’t an easy combination. On this photo the hut is coming into view and I’m nearly there!
We felt a great sense of accomplishment once we’d reached the cosy hut, which was surprisingly quiet. We savoured some delicious soup there before swooshing back through the snow once more.
This is the view looking east from the Hütte towards the Schreckhorn mountain.
And this is the view west from the Hütte, looking back towards Jungfraujoch.
The way down was a lot more fun than the way up, especially for doing snow gymnastics and pretending to ski 🙂
I couldn’t get used to the fact that we really were still on planet Earth – especially as I was looking at miles of snow and ice, and some of the most treacherous mountains in the Alps. Before re-entering the building, I asked Dad if I could have a go on a zip wire we had seen earlier. It had to be a pretty high one to justify the cost of CHF 20 for adults and CHF 15 for kids. It started on some high rocks and stretched down 200m to the snow. I heard loud shrieks coming from people zooming down at top speed. As I climbed the steps to the starting point, I realised that it was a lot higher than I’d estimated from the bottom. Although initially scary, it was very thrilling and lots of fun. Be warned: you get dragged through the snow at the end!
We went back into the building, which was quite a maze. There were numerous floors and corridors, and construction work was going on. Here’s one of the corridors:
I was keen to see the Ice Palace, and we reached it by first going through the Alpine Exhibition, a lovely showcase for Switzerland including snow globes and artwork. We really enjoyed the Ice Palace too – spectacular, and very cleverly crafted. There was a multitude of different ice carvings: animals, such as eagles, polar bears, and penguins, and lots more.
After that, we returned to the observation platform. We didn’t stop at the chocolate and watch stores on the way there, as they were packed with tourist groups. This time we emerged onto the viewing platform on the other side of the building. Again, we were greeted with stunning views – and many loud tourist groups too! For the last part of our trip, we returned to where it all started: the Sphinx platform. Tired after all our exploring, we took in the precious scenery one last time.
I was still completely awe-struck. Finally, we made our way back to the station and our adventure was over.
It was a privilege to be part of the Swiss skyline for a day. I’d love to do it the hard way – by climbing a mountain myself.