Grindelwald and the Berner Oberland: Alpine Magic Part 5
In the last part of Alpine Magic, I hiked through Murren, Gimmelwald and Lauterbrunnen and had a blast exploring these three towns and the countryside around them. Towering waterfalls, beautiful alpine meadows and great hiking abounded! The next stop in my plans was to visit some of the beautiful Berner Oberland by taking the train to the Jungfraujoch. I had also seen views of the Lauterbrunnental Valley from Wengen prior to my trip. These images of looking down on an amazing U-shaped valley with waterfalls everywhere is what sold me on my trip to Switzerland! And I would finally be visiting. I got up earlier than the rest of my group, and decided to venture up to Wengen for sunrise. I also had plans to hike from Kleine Scheidegg to the Mannlichen, as I had seen some beautiful photos from that area prior to my trip as well. I was also looking forward to hiking above Grindelwald the next day.
Visiting Wengen for the first time
I grabbed some cereal for a quick breakfast and jumped on one of the early trains to Wengen to see the sunrise from this beautiful town. The town had a few folks wandering the streets, but for the most part, I had a lot of Wengen to myself to explore in peace. I visited Wengen many times during my trip to Switzerland, and have come to consider it my favorite little mountain town in the world! It has a nice charm to it, and the scenery is absolutely gorgeous! There are no cars, and the only way into the town is to walk or ride the train up from Lauterbrunnen. There weren’t many clouds in the sky, so I didn’t expect an amazing sunrise, but thought it would be nice to get the alpine-glow as it hit the mountains. So I explored Wengen until I came to a path leading out of town into fields of wildflowers, where I set up and shot the image below.
After sunrise, I wandered around town a little more before making my way back to the train station. I took the train up to Kleine Scheidegg with the thought of hiking to the Mannlichen. Unfortunately I got up to Kleine Scheidegg only to find that there was still too much snow on the trail to the Mannlichen. So I had to be content with walking around Kleine Scheidegg and enjoying the hazy views off towards the Grindelwald valley.
While I was up there, I noticed that there was a train that continue on up into the mountains, so I read about the Top of Europe Jungfraujoch station that’s situated on the ridge between the Monch and Jungfrau, near the upper snows of the giant Aletsch glacier. So after spending some time wandering around Kleine Scheidegg, I jumped back on the train down to Lauterbrunnen to see if my brother and his girlfriend wanted to go. They were game, and because we were using the Swiss rail pass to travel, the Top of Europe train ride was reduced in cost for us.
Junfraujoch: The Top of Europe and the Aletsch glacier
Early in the afternoon, we paid our tickets, jumped on the early afternoon train up, and began the ascent from 2,608 feet at Lauterbrunnen to 11,371 feet at the Jungfraujoch station! The views as we rode the train up to the tunnel built into the side of the Monch were amazing! We entered the tunnel into the mountain amidst beautiful alpine meadows and came out at the top amidst the largest glacier in Europe and snow everywhere! However, before getting to the top, the journey is punctuated by two stops to look out these windows built into the side of the Eiger, and again at the Eismeer, giving some amazing views! Once at the Jungfraujoch station, there are a plethora of interesting things to do. This place opened in 1912, and is almost like being in a mini-town built into a mountain! There’s a post office, a restaurant, an ice palace, an elevator to the top of the Sphinx for a dizzying view, and an opening to walk out onto the upper reaches of the snow of the mighty Aletschgletscher (Aletsch glacier) shown below!
When we first arrived, we decided to walk out onto the Aletsch glacier. While we had been treated to some amazing late spring weather everywhere we went, the top of the Aletschgletscher was something different all-together. At 11,000+ miles above sea level, bitter cold wind pounded us the moment we walked out the door. When I set up my tripod and camera to shoot the above shot, I had to hold the tripod still to keep the entire thing from flying off the ridge and down to the glacier below. However, the views of the Aletsch glacier below are stunning! The Aletsch glacier is the longest glacier in the Alps at more than 13 and a half miles long! As cold as it was, we stayed out shooting photos and marveling at the amazing views for a good 20 minutes.
When we finally had our fill, we went back into the Jungfraujoch and decided to explore the Ice Palace. The entrance to the Ice Palace is a long ice corridor that leads to various scultures as you can see below.
Once we had explored the ice palace for a while, we ascended via the double lift to the Sphinx observation decks. This was just as cool as being outside on the top of the glacier. When you step out onto the decks, you can look down below you through the metal mesh flooring to the rocks, ice and snow hundreds of feet below you. The views from here were outstanding! As the last train back down from the Jungfraujoch was only 20 minutes away, we unfortunately had little time up here. Had the trains been running later, I would have loved to shoot a sunset or night sky from high above the Aletsch glacier. Unfortunately, like many other attractions, late May had shortened hours for the off-season. I shot some photos like the one below and we headed back to down the train station.
That evening was spent wandering around Wengen prior to sunset, then watching the sunset from the balcony of the Valley Hostel in Lauterbrunnen while eating a nice dinner of cheese, bread and some amazing chocolate from the dairy! We went to bed early, with dreams of hiking above the famous town of Grindelwald the next morning!
Day 8: Friday, May 29th, 2009 – Hiking Above Grindelwald
We awoke early the next morning and dropped our luggage off at the storage lockers at the Lauterbrunnen train station before getting on the train to Grindelwald. We needed to do this, because we were switching from the Valley Hostel to Hotel Oberland Lauterbrunnen for our last night in Lauterbrunnen. Once we got the luggage dropped off, we hopped on the train from Lauterbrunnen to Grindelwald. Today’s plans were to hike up to the Bachalpsee from First after taking the cable car up from Grindelwald. Grindelwald is another beautiful Swiss mountain town. It’s history spans back for many centuries, with first mention back in the 1100’s. It’s history as a tourist destination began in the 19th century and it has become one of Switzerland’s crown jewels of mountain towns! Some of the most famous Alps surround the Grindelwald valley. The famous trio of the Monch, Eiger and Jungfrau are to the southwest, whereas the Finsteraarhorn, Wetterhorn, Schreckhorn and Gross Fiescherhorn also stand high above Grindelwald.
We walked to the First cable car station from Grindelwald, getting on the impressive cable car that took us high above Grindelwald to the First summit. At the top, we watched a paraglider getting ready to descend to the valley below. We marveled at the beautiful views of the massive Grindelwald valley. The panorama below should give you an idea of the vast expanse from one side of Grindelwald’s valley to the south where the north face of the Eiger dominates.
The hike to the Bachalpsee (or Bachsee) was beautiful. I’ve always had a thing for alpine lakes, as I frequently hike to many high mountain lakes in Colorado on my yearly trips out there. So I was excited to see one of Grindelwald’s famous hiking locations at the Bachalpsee. My photography goal with this hike was to get a good reflection of the jagged peaks in the lake. This hike didn’t disappoint, as the views across the valley were phenomenal, with famous peaks such as the Eiger, Wetterhorn and Schreckhorn standing tall all around us! These peaks across the valley contrasted with the beautiful alpine meadows we were walking through. In addition you could see a lot of glaciers hanging off the various peaks. After an hour or so, we arrived at the Bachalpsee. There’s technically two lakes here. A natural dam divides a smaller pond just below the Bachalpsee proper. Unfortunately the main lake was almost fully covered in snow and ice still, but the lower pond had quite a bit of open water. There was little wind that morning allowing me to shoot a good reflection on the lake surface.
We spent an hour or so wandering around the lake, and walking a ways above it to admire the views. Once we had our fill of the views (not that it’s really possible to get your fill of views like these) we decided to head back towards First. On the way back, the clouds picked up and gave me a chance to shoot the moody scene below.
We finished our hike back to First, and jumped on the gondola (pictured above) back to Grindelwald. By the time we made it back to Grindelwald, it was almost lunch time and we were starving! We hadn’t eaten out in a few days, and really felt like sitting down to enjoy a meal, so we went in search of a restaurant. Many weren’t open yet, as we had gotten back into town a little before lunch hours (plus, it was the off-season so places weren’t open as early as they would have been in the summer months) After walking down the streets of Grindelwald a bit, we found a place called Sport Pub that was open. We split a delicious pizza while watching a random football (soccer) game on the TV.
Once we finished up our meal, we did a little shopping in Grindelwald, as most of the stores had opened at this point. It was a beautiful town I’d love to go back and visit again. Once we had bought a few shirts to take back home with us, we jumped on the train back to Lauterbrunnen, grabbing our stuff at the storage lockers, and heading to the Hotel Oberland Lauterbrunnen for our final night up in the Berner Oberland.
The next part of my adventure deals with the last 24 hours in the Berner Oberland, where I spend an amazing evening walking the streets of Wengen and hike the Mannlichen the next morning. Check back tomorrow for that post!