Eiger and Jungfrau Up Close, Switzerland
- Hike in the Swiss Alps under the Eiger and the Jungfrau
- See snow-covered peaks, high alpine meadows, and cascading waterfalls
- Enjoy friendly Swiss hotels, hot showers, and delicious food
- All lodging, most meals, on-trip transportation, and gratuities
|Dates||Jun 28–Jul 6, 2015|
The Alps! So famous in European history: from the Iceman of 5,300 years ago, to Hannibal's elephants, to the climbing of the Eiger's North Face in Clint Eastwood's The Eiger Sanction. The highest peak of the Alps is round-shouldered Mont Blanc at 15,780 feet, but many others are even more spectacular, with their jutting rock faces and icy glaciers. The Matterhorn is probably the most famous, with its four-faced, curved peak, but the Eiger is a close second.
We will be hiking in the Bernese Oberland, one of the most spectacular areas of the Swiss Alps. We will make use of gondola lifts and cog railways to get to our trailheads in the mornings and to reach our next hotel in the afternoons. We will stay in Swiss hotels each night, with our baggage transferred between hotels while we are hiking. We will also take the cog railway up to the legendary Jungfraujoch ("Top of Europe") and a gondola lift to the top of Mt. Schilthorn, famous for its panoramic views and the filming of a James Bond movie!
Day 1: We meet at our hotel near the train station in Interlaken West at dinnertime. Interlaken, as the name implies, lies between two lakes, Thun and Brienz, and is the entryway into the Alps of the Bernese Oberland.
Day 2: After a hearty Swiss breakfast, we make our way to Beatenburg, and take the gondola lift up the steep cliff to the Niederhorn. The panoramic view from the Niederhorn gives us a distant view of our Eiger, Mönch, and Jungfrau. From there we will take a "warm-up" hike of about three to four hours from the Niederhorn toward the Gemmenalphorn and back, eventually returning via gondola lift to Beatenburg and continuing on to our hotel in Interlaken. Our hike starts at 6,375 feet and ascends to 6,770 feet, then descends to 5,960 feet over a little more than three miles. We return by the same route for a total of 6.6 miles.
Day 3: Today, after sending our luggage on, we ride the cog railway to Schynige Platte to visit the Alpine Garden, which displays over 560 labeled species of flowers. It is one of only a few gardens in the world to hold to the criterion of a “natural environment.” We take another “warm-up” hike along a ridge that looks down on the Brienzersee on one side and across to the many snowy peaks of the Bernese Oberland on the other side. Then we take the train to our next hotel in scenic Mürren. We may want to explore this quiet town -- no vehicles allowed -- with its outstanding views of our favorite mountains. We may choose to visit a small museum or take a swim in the community pool after checking into our hotel in Mürren. During our hike, we start at 6,453 feet, then descend to 6,266 feet, and ascend to 6,818 feet before we return to our start point. Distance is four miles.
Day 4: Today, we’ll take the gondola lift to Gimmelwald, where we will hike down to the floor of the Lauterbrunnen Valley. We will return to Mürren by gondola lift and have lunch in Mürren. In the afternoon, we will take the gondola lift high up to the Schilthorn, with its panoramic view of range after range of mountains and its restaurant, Piz Gloria, where the James Bond film “On Her Majesty's Secret Service” was filmed. There, we can walk out on a ridge that affords spectacular views and see a film about the James Bond movie. Returning, we may have time to take another hike from Mürren along the ridge above Lauterbrunnen Valley, enjoying majestic views of the Eiger and Jungfrau. We end our walk at the train station at Grutschalp and return to Mürren by train. On our first hike today, we descend from 4,472 feet to the valley floor at 2,828 feet over three miles. Our second hike (time permitting) starts at 6,210 feet and gradually descends over four miles to 4,875 feet. We’ll return to our hotel by train.
Day 5: This day, we head up on the cog railway to Kleine Scheidegg. There, soaring above us, are the three: the Eiger, the Mönch, and the Jungfrau. We then take the famous Jungfrau train high up to the snow-covered Jungfraujoch, the "Top of Europe" at 11,333 feet. The train stops twice along the route to allow photo opportunities, to check the view, and to show how climbers of the North Wall of the Eiger might be rescued in an emergency. At the top, we can visit the Ice Palace (a must see!), the Scientific Station, and the Sphinx for incredible views in all directions. We will walk across the glacier to the nearest mountain hut for lunch. Some may choose to ski, take a short dog-sled ride with the polar husky dogs, or ride the zip line (all are optional and at your own expense). Also at the top are two restaurants, an area for picnicking, and a gift shop (of course). After a full day at the “Top of Europe,” we return by cog railway to our quiet hotel in Wengen. Wengen does not allow cars, but relies on walking, gondola lifts, and cog railways. It is a well-known center for skiers in winter and a pleasure to explore.
Day 6: Today, we walk to the gondola lift and head up to Männerlichen, where we hike steeply uphill to the Gipfel for spectacular views and then enjoy an easy hike to Kleine Scheidegg -- commonly called the Grandmother Walk. After lunch, we take the train to Eigergletscher and hike down on a glacial moraine to Wengenalp. Then, we take the cog railway to our hotel in the small village of Wengen, high on the plateau. Our hike today starts at 7,248 feet, where we’ll hike up a steep path to 7,691 feet in one half mile. We then gradually descend to 6,792 feet in three and a half miles. We will take a train to the second section of our hike, starting at 7,574 feet and descending to 6,043 feet over two and a half miles.
Day 7: We take the cog railway to Eigergletscher and hike the famous Eiger Trail. This trail is situated just at the base of the North Wall and is used by all climbers of the Eiger North Wall. We will see their departure point as we head down to Alpiglen, where we will have lunch. After lunch, you can take the train to Grindelwald, where we’ll be staying the next two nights, or you can hike down to the valley floor and arrive at our hotel on foot. The hike today starts at 7,375 feet and, after a few short inclines, descends to 5,200 feet over five miles. An optional extended hike descends further to 3,200 feet and extends the hike another four and a half miles. The extended hike ends at our hotel in Grindelwald.
Day 8: Just out the door of our cozy hotel, we ride the gondola lift to First, with its magnificent view of the famous Eiger North Wall. We stroll through flowering meadows to Balchalpsee, a lovely alpine lake -- a hike of approximately four hours, depending on which route we choose and how long we relax over our picnic lunch. Many trails lead back to Grindelwald and if anyone is tired, there’s always the lift! Serious hikers, however, will hike on to Grosse Scheidegg and ride the bus back to our hotel. Tonight we’ll celebrate our unique alpine experiences at a scrumptious farewell dinner. The hike today starts at 7,106 feet and gradually ascends to 7,350 feet and we loop back to our starting point, covering approximately five and a half miles. An optional extended hike continues from the starting point and descends to 6,500 feet, where we’ll catch the bus back to our hotel. Total distance for both hikes is approximately nine miles.
Day 9: After our normal hearty breakfast, we cast a last look at the glorious mountains where we have walked and lived for the last eight days, and say good-bye to our new friends as we begin our return journey back to the hustle and bustle of our normal lives.
Please keep in mind that this itinerary may be altered for any reason, such as weather, trails closed for repair, or the safety of the group.
Many airlines fly to Zurich International Airport. The trip actually begins in Interlaken and ends in Grindelwald, both easily accessible by train at the lower level in the airport terminal. The leader will send detailed instructions to trip participants.
The cost of air travel to and from Switzerland is not included in the trip price. Train transportation from your entry airport (Zurich or Geneva) to Interlaken and from Grindelwald is included.
Accommodations and Food
From our welcome dinner in Interlaken West to our final breakfast in Grindelwald, all breakfasts, one lunch, and all dinners are included -- breakfast and dinners are at our hotels. One group lunch will be provided at a restaurant on the trip. On other days, you may purchase lunch materials for picnic lunches at local grocery stores. Excluded are alcoholic beverages, extra snacks, and any meals not taken with the group.
We will be staying at simple, but very comfortable, Swiss lodges and hotels every night. We will sleep in two-person rooms with hot showers, warm duvets on the beds, and friendly Swiss service. Participants travelling alone will be assigned a same-sex roommate. Both breakfast and dinner are included at each hotel. Since we will be walking in the mountains every day, you can purchase: bread, cheese, fruit, Swiss chocolate, etc. from local grocery stores for a picnic lunch. It is advisable to bring one or two good water bottles that can be filled up at the hotels. The drinking water in Switzerland is excellent. If you request water in a restaurant, you will likely be served a bottle of seltzer water, not always popular with Americans; many times, bottled water in restaurants is very expensive, and those many plastic bottles are an environmental disaster. The Swiss, however, do recycle everything.
All train, gondola lift, and cog railway travel that we take during the trip as part of our itinerary is included in the trip cost. The Swiss train packages that we use may also reduce the cost of your travel before and after the trip. Every once in a while, changes may occur in the schedule, either in advance or during the trip. Please be aware that we will make every attempt to stay within this schedule. However, if weather, equipment, or any other condition causes a change in itinerary, please be flexible and respect the decision of the leaders. The safety of the group is our number one concern.
This trip will include daily walks of varying lengths, which will proceed at a moderate pace. On some days, participants will have an option of hiking more challenging hikes. Our walks will involve approximately three to six hours on the trail and elevation gains and losses that range from 500 to 2,500 feet. Optional hikes will have additional elevation changes. The trails are generally in good condition, but some will have a few steep grades up or down, with mixtures of soil, rocks, and roots making them uneven. The pace will generally be moderate, with ample time to enjoy the scenery. Anyone in good physical condition who enjoys hiking in the mountains can make the trip, but pre-conditioning on similar terrain can help you determine if you are comfortable with the length and type of hiking. Alternatives to some of the hiking are available since the Swiss have many gondola lifts and trains in the area. These can sometimes be used to shorten walks, or to take alternate routes.
Equipment and Clothing
Lightweight hiking boots with good ankle support are the preferred footwear, since some trails are rocky, “rooty,” and occasionally steep. Hiking poles may be very useful for the rougher patches. The weather may be variable, from warm, short-sleeve temperatures (particularly in the valleys), to quite chilly, fleece-and-jacket (mittens and bonnets) temperatures, such as on the Jungfraujoch or the Schilthorn. Layers of clothes are the best approach to this uncertainty. Good quality rain gear can serve as an excellent outer layer when it rains or is windy.
We will carry day packs with extra clothes, water, and lunch, along with cameras and minor first aid. You should provide your own personal first-aid kit for minor needs, which includes such items as bandages, moleskin, insect repellent, sunscreen, etc. The leader will also carry a more complete first-aid kit for emergency use.
The Internet has many great sites describing these Swiss Alps, history, and culture, including:
Many guides for exploring Switzerland can also provide useful information on history, wildlife, geology, and the Swiss people:
- Lindenmayer, Clem, Lonely Planet Walking in Switzerland. 2001.
- Steinberg, Jonathan, Why Switzerland? 1996.
- McPhee, John, a Place De La Concorde Suisse. 1994.
Some books on the Eiger include:
- Harrer, Heinrich, The White Spider. 1998. (The story of his participation in the first successful accent of the North Face of the Eiger)
- Anker, Daniel. Eiger: The Vertical Arena. 2000. (Pricy, but beautiful pictures)
- Krakauer, Jon. Eiger Dreams: Ventures Among Men and Mountains. 1997.
- Trevanian. The Eiger Sanction: a Novel.
Waterpower is the chief natural resource of Switzerland. The principal source of water is runoff from the considerable annual precipitation that falls on the Alps. An important complement is melt water from the country's hundreds of glaciers. The Swiss have long harnessed the energy of falling water for productive uses. Long ago, torrents turned waterwheels that powered pre-industrial mills and machinery. Today, the flow is captured by hundreds of hydroelectric power facilities, which provide about 60 percent of the country's domestic electricity. This makes Switzerland, relatively, one of the largest producers of renewable energy.
On the other side of the energy equation, nuclear power provides the remaining 40 percent of electrical requirements. A referendum that tried to phase out or extend an existing moratorium on nuclear power recently failed to pass. Although the reasons for the failure are complex, it is clear that one reason is that the Swiss are afraid that climate change will decrease the amount of snow in the Alps, and thus decrease the amount of energy they can get from hydropower.
The impact of climate change in Switzerland is already visible. The retreat of the glaciers in the Alps is very clear to see. The Jungfrau's large glaciers used to reach well into the high meadows. They now end high up on the sides of the Jungfrau. One thing to admire about Switzerland is the fact that for thousands of years the people have lived with their rugged environment without destroying it! The construction of cable cars or gondola lifts instead of roads, with switchbacks causing destruction of the environment and soil erosion, enhances the environment and is one of the joys of traveling in the country. The Swiss have also been known to construct tunnels instead of destroying their waterfalls and streams. As we hike through these magnificent Alps, we will view Switzerland's balancing act between "progress" and "conservation" at close quarters.