JUNGFRAUJOCH RAILWAY - TOP OF EUROPE
Alps Views and Eiger Windows:
The Jungfrau, the Mönch and Eiger are three Alps peaks joined into one solid mountain ridge massif which divides the Bernese Oberland Alps from the southern range. The Eiger is perhaps the most famous of the mountains, known for its treacherous North Face for mountain climbers. This mountain is also famous for its windows looking out on the permanent snows clinging to the steep crags. The windows of the Eiger are remnants of the building of the Jungfrau Railway to the Jungfraujoch, the highest railway station in Europe. Conceived by German engineer and visionary Adolf Guyer-Zeller, the Jungfrau Bahn Railway was begun in 1894 and completed in 1912. The rack rail line for most of its entire length, except for a distance from the Klein Sheidegg station, runs inside the mountain, tunnelling mostly through the Mönch and Eiger mountains before reaching its terminus below the 'saddle' or 'joch' between the peaks with the weather station, restaurant and observation building above called 'The Sphinx' - the Jungfraujoch Rail station is inside the rock.
As the train travels through the tunnels of rock, a movie plays on screens telling the story of the ingenious railway, its construction and details about climbers on the Eiger and about the Aletsch Glacier which cloaks the mountain crags. Visitors are most curious about the windows in the Eiger mountain, made famous in the 'Eiger Sanction' film with Clint Eastwood. The train makes a stop at the windows so visitors can disembark for five minutes to peer out the side of the sheer face of a mountain. The windows are remnants of the construction tunnels. There are two sets at different elevations, the lower set allows views into the distance to the valleys below, the upper level at the Eismeer station look out onto the high crags and cliff face, usually covered in ice. The train stops at each before arriving at the Jungfraujoch station.
At the Jungfraujoch station, there are a few activities to entertain visitors. The view deck of metal overhanging the edges of the building below the Sphinx Observatory Dome look out across the glacial ice to the long mountain valleys crowded with jagged peaks. Depending on the weather, you’ll stay her for a long or short time. When the sun is out, there is perhaps few more impressive mountain views but when the very changeable weather is bad, it can be a daunting experience outside. Behind the outdoor deck are full view windows in case outdoors is not the best idea. There is a restaurant and a snack bar to while away some time along with a souvenir shop and a little history corner with a model of the first rack railway trains which climbed through the mountain. Underneath the Sphinx and the station, an elevator ride down into the perpetual cool is the Ice Palace, a cavern carved from the ice of the glacier. Tunnels of glistening ice and sculptures fill the cavity, even sometimes a stairway into an upper chamber, lit by coloured light in a translucent iridescence. Since this is glacial ice, it needs to be re-carved from time to time so it’s never exactly the same if you go back again.
Prepare for a minimum of at least three hours for a trip to the Jungfraujoch starting from Interlaken Ost station and return. A good half day is more leisurely if you have lunch. If you want to make other stops in Grindelwald or Kleine Sheidegg, you will need to allow more time particularly if the weather allows for venturing out onto the outdoor trail of the Walking Plateau for the best views back towards the Sphinx. There is not a lot of hiking otherwise and no skiing or sporting centre. The air is a bit thin at the 11,330 ft altitude although not quite as high as the Klein Matterhorn on the southern range - the elderly and breathing impaired should take note. A ticket for the Jungfraujoch Railway trip includes the connections needed from Interlaken and you can take one of two routes on the way up either via Grindelwald or through Lauterbrunnen. It is possible to take one direction up and the other on the way down - with a Swiss Pass or other Eurail Pass the Jungfraujoch offers a 25% discount.