When thinking of Switzerland, an image of the snow-capped mountains are always the first thing to pop in a traveler’s mind. The majestic mountains of the Alps are littered throughout this tiny country, and is often the number one exploration choice for all those who visit.
Although my time in my now favorite European country was brief, I too made the excursion out to explore one of the breathtaking mountains in greater detail. Jungfrau was its name, located near the tiny village of Lauterbrunnen, and the 100 year old railway was the means of my ascent. As I would quickly come to find out, exploring the top of a mountain is not only breath taking, both figuratively and literally, but completely exhausting.
Cross-Over at Kleine Scheidegg
The first part of the ascent up the mountain along the railway is a surprisingly slow process. But the positive for this slow climb is the beautiful views that appear as every foot goes by and elevation becomes higher. After a while, snow begins appearing on the ground and we arrived at the mountain cross-over station of Kleine Scheidegg.
As far as this small station goes, it is everything you would imagine it would be. A few buildings, a transfer station, and not much else going on. You can only imagine the hundreds and hundreds of hikers that used this point along the mountain to begin their climb up the surrounding mountains many decades ago (and even the modern hikers of today).
While sticking around to explore Kleine Scheidegg is tempting, the goal of the day was the top of the mountain, and our connection was waiting for us.
What is on the Mountain Top?
As the train car rolls up the mountain, we were surprised to find out that most of the upper climb actually occurs inside the mountain. A quick stop at a look-out literally carved out of the side of the mountain, and we rolled into the terminal station – The Top of Europe – the highest railway station on the continent at 11,782 feet and visibility over 10 miles in every direction!
Surprisingly for the highest railway station in Europe, there is actually a lot going on at the top of the mountain. Between a well developed overlook with restaurants, viewing platforms, and activities for tourists, it is pretty easy to get lost in all of the madness. But with all of the items aimed at the masses, two gems stand out – the ice museum housed inside the cut glacier and the restaurant on the side of the mountain top. A quick glimpse at the carvings in the museum, and we realized that the change in altitude made us starving. But where to eat when you are at the top of the mountain?
When posed with the option of eating at the over priced restaurant in the tourist center or hiking 45-minutes up the side of a mountain to an equally expensive restaurant, but with better views, the choice became relatively simple. But for us out-of-shape travelers, reaching this restaurant a short distance away became quite a challenge even though we were increasing in elevation a few inches per step. The altitude change truly has some remarkable effects on the body, and those who decided to have a mid-day beer before the hike felt the pain the hardest.
As the restaurant presented itself, we were greeted with some of the most spectacular views of all, and the resulting sausage and potato feast ended up being the most delicious meal of the week, regardless of how much it cost. Finally, we rested and took in the stunning views of the glorious panorama that cannot be captured in any photograph. But with all good things, this day had to come to an end, and our bodies were telling us it was time.
Returning to the Village
After countless hours exploring the mountain top, your body will tell you it is time to return back to civilization as you are overwhelmed with complete exhaustion. A quick hop on the rail back down to the village will certainly show all visitors the toll that hiking at altitude has on the body. With every passing foot, the decrease in vertical height is felt by the body, and all those who are making the long trek down the mountain are more than certain to fall asleep. The day ends almost as quickly as it began and hopefully you booked one of the many luxury chalets in the region for a relaxing place to return to, you’ll need it!
Until the next time Switzerland, you are my favorite.