August 20 – Campingplatz Bachmattli to Grindelwald, Switzerland (~100 km, ~62 miles)

I woke up this morning thinking about how far behind schedule I was – about three days or so. While discussing my planned route with Melanie a couple days ago, she mentioned that there were a couple major climbs of nearly 1,000 meters each in order to get to Grindelwald. I therefore figured it would take me two full days to reach Grindelwald, which would put me even further behind schedule. So I opted to use my Eurail Pass for the second time and take a train. There was a train station only 2 kilometers away from the campground, so it wasn’t long before I was on the train bound for Grindelwald. It was a flat trip for the first 10 kilometers or so, but immediately after leaving the town of Giswil the train started up. And it wasn’t a low-angle hill either. It wasn’t a cog railway and I was really surprised that a full-size train could climb that steep of a hill.

I was a bit disappointed to be taking the train instead of riding, but it turned out that I make the right decision. The first major climb was at least 1,000 meters, and the second one into Grindelwald was only slightly lower. So it would have taken two days for sure for me to ride it. As it was, I arrived in Grindelwald at 12:30 pm and got my first full-on view of the north face of the Eiger. What an amazing mountain!
And Grindelwald is surrounded by huge mountains. They’re about 2.5 times higher than the Chugach Mountains that we see to the east of Anchorage.

I took the train to the Jungfrauhoch, which at 11,333 feet is the highest train station in Europe. And this was no ordinary train. It was a cog railway which allowed it to climb much steeper grades – I guess the steepest was about a 20-25% grade, which is about twice as steep as some of the steepest roads. The first stage wound through the forest until the train got to Kleine Scheidegg, a hotel with other tourist facilities just above treeline. From there, a transfer to another train took up and through the Eiger. That’s the amazing part of the trip. Work began in 1896 to blast a tunnel 9.3 kilometers long inside the Eiger up to an area directly beneath a rocky spire on the ridgeline. Along the way, the tunnel comes close to the north face of the Eiger, so they’ve dug several access tunnels that break through to the face of the mountain at about the 10,500 foot level. You can stand right at the edge and look out the windows at the huge, vertical north face of the peak, and look straight down several thousand feet. It’s just amazing. Further up, there’s a huge train station inside the mountain at the 11,333 foot elevation, and from there more tunnels radiate out in several directions. One tunnel leads outside the mountain and provides access to the Aletsch Glacier. Another tunnel leads to an elevator 350 feet directly beneath the visitor center. A short ride up the elevator puts you at the visitor center that’s built directly on top of the ridge. Several walkways around the perimeter are cantilevered out from the rock, and you walk on see-through steel grating to the rocks and glacier hundreds of feet below your feet, so if you look down while you walk you get the unsettling feeling that you’re walking on air. I saw more than a few people staying as close as possible to the wall of the building, with a look of sheer dread on their faces.

I thought the facilities atop Mt.Pilatus were amazing. But the stuff at Jungfrauhoch tops Pilatus. It’s simply incredible what the Swiss have built up there. In addition to the visitor center/observation deck, there are several restaurants, tunnels everywhere inside the mountain, and out on the Aletsch Glacier you can walk around on groomed and roped-off trails that winds around huge crevasses. I took a short walk on the glacier, just to be able to say that I’ve been on the Aletsch Glacier. And if you want, you can go snow-tubing on the glacier (like bobsledding, but with inner tubes), and for the more adventurous there’s a zip line that’s about 500 meters long. It starts out about 20 or so meters above the glacier and gradually reaches the surface of the glacier at the landing zone, where you just come to a sliding stop on your back on the glacier. The whole experience, with all the stuff up there, is just amazing. Everyone should see it at some time in their lives.

Anyway, Grindelwald is an amazing place and it’s too bad I don’t have more time to spend here. Tomorrow (if it’s not raining and whiteout) I’ll ride up valley and over the pass at Grosse Scheidegg, which is a climb of about 3,000 feet. Then it’s down the other side to the Aare River valley. Should be a tough, but fun day.

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