Exploring Jungfraujoch ‘the Top of Europe’

We had budgeted for at least one mountain train journey and chose the trip up on Europe’s highest rack railway to Jungfraujoch. Images in Switzerland often speak louder than words – and this posting is full of them!

This mountain resort at 4158 meters towers over the Aletsch glacier (the largest in the Alps) and sits amongst the peaks of the Eiger (3970m) and Monch (4099m) mountains.

If you ignore the nearby Finsteraarhorn (4274m) which clearly the Swiss and Jungfraujoch Tourist boards do, then it could arguably be called the ‘top of Europe’.

An early start from the campsite

The morning was blessed with high blue skies and the snowy peaks were clearly visible from our starting point, the bus stop outside the camp. On the first bus of the day, leaving at 7.30, we were in time for the 8.05 Oberland electric train up to the ski town of Lauterbrunnen.

There we changed trains to reach Kleine Scheidegg from where we boarded the bright red Jungfraubahn, to climb by rack railway the 1393 meters over just 9.3 kilometres.

The train snaking its way up through the mountainside

The entire journey would take little under 3 hours – the first part was up through high mountain pastures to Eigergletscher from where the train entered the tunnel taking us across the face of the Eiger and Monch and up to the Jungfrau.

There were viewing points at Eigerwand and Eismeer stations at which we left the train and peered out of picture windows blasted out of the tunnelled rock and revealing the pristine white and wide pathway of the glacier as it made its timeless voyage down the mountainside.

The train at the foot of the mountain

The ‘rack and pin’ train

Viewing point from Eismeer

Viewing point from Eigerwand station

Views across to the Vosges and Black Forest mountains

At 3,454m we reached our destination, Jungfraujoch. The dark and cold station inside the mountain dripped with moisture and we walked quickly to find daylight at the impressive and futuristic research centre which also serves as a resort.

Another marvel of engineering, ‘Switzerland’s fastest lift’ whisked us up to the landmark observatory in just 27 seconds. From there we enjoyed spectacular views of the Aletsch Glacier and the ice-white peaks of the surrounding mountains.

Looking across we could make out the French Vosges and even the Black Forest.

The blindingly bright light exposed everything and everyone in such crystal clarity that people and places seemed somehow to be superimposed.

The Aletsch Glacier

The walk up to Monchjoch Hutte

Perfect snow drifts

Down on the glacier we hiked for an energetic hour up the steep and snowy way to reach the Monchjoch Hutte, filled with families and adventurers tucking into steamy bowls of bacon and cheesy soup.

We had a picnic prepared so enjoyed it on the viewing platform looking back down the slope to the observatory and admiring the snow which looked like whipped Italian ice-cream.

A snow plane lands on the glacier

The top of Europe!

Walking across the glacier to the Monchjoch Hutte

The train down the mountain

As the afternoon got hotter and busier with more people, and curiously a lot of dogs, arriving at the summit we headed back down the rack railway and diverted via Grindelwald for our journey home.

The views at this altitude of just 1,000 meters were of classic Alpine villages, and pasture lands of lush green grass. We knew that until very recently the weather had been consistently wet and it was no surprise to see so many people out enjoying the unexpected sunshine of a Sunday afternoon.

Views across the Bernese Oberland

Grindelwald alpine houses

Trails bristled with walkers, some strolling others pounding along with Nordic poles. Station platforms were full of excited day trippers (like us!) and hillside restaurants and café terraces were full of diners and drinkers.It was a thoroughly enjoyable descent through very pretty scenery back to an equally bustling Interlaken.

Once delivered back to camp by the bus, we toasted a remarkable day with a glass of cool white wine whilst wearing our sunglasses to keep hotly bright eyes in the shade.

A Sunday afternoon rail ramble