The Road Ahead : October November 2007
STORY & PHOTOS CHRISTINA PFEIFFER Magnificent peaks tower like white citadels against the blue sky, while the long frosty tongue of the Aletsch Glacier reaches out into a never ending white valley. The view from the Jungfraujoch resor t, which is perched 3454 m above sea level on the southern ridge of the Jungfrau Mountain, takes my breath away. Located in the Jungfrau-Aletsch-Bietsch, the Jungfraujoch is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Before 1912, you would have had to have been a skilled mountaineer to reach this height but thanks to Swiss innovation and engineering, ordinar y travellers are able to experience the extraordinar y white beauty of these incredible mountains by rail. The Jungfraujoch journey requires three separate trains -- the Berner Oberland Railway, the cogwheel Wengernalp Railway and the Jungfrau Railway. The Berner Oberland Railway star ts from Interlaken, a charming town with picture-postcard views that lies on a flat valley floor between the lakes of Brienzersee and Thunersee. At Lauterbrunnen, we board the cogwheel Wengernalp Railway bound for Kleine Scheidegg. This train winds past splashing water falls and towering trees. Herds of brown and white cows wearing leather collars and jangling brass bells graze delightfully on the sunny alpine slopes. For centuries, Swiss herdsmen have driven their cattle up into these mountains, where they graze and produce milk for the world's finest cheese. We stop at Wengen -- a popular spot for skiing and hiking -- to let off the hikers who are armed to the teeth with professional hiking gear, backpacks and walking sticks. As the train leaves Wengen and slowly ascends along the narrow- gauge, rack-and-pinion track, the snow-capped Eiger looms ahead, while the green valley slowly recedes into a miniature Alpine painting behind us. Once again, we change trains at Kleine Scheidegg for our final leg, a 50-minute ascent on the red-and-yellow Jungfrau Railway. Built by Swiss railway pioneer Adolf Guyer-Zeller, this rack-and-pinion track climbs at a steep gradient of up to 25 percent. Guyer-Zeller spent 16 years (from 1896 to 1912) building this railway under extreme conditions, where temperatures averaged minus 8°C and avalanches, lightning, storms and 250 km/h winds were the norm. The train ascends through open terrain and then plunges into the shadowy darkness of a long tunnel hewn out of the Alpine rock. At the first viewing station of Eiger wand, the floor-to-ceiling obser vation window provides a romantic view of Swiss chalets that are distant dots in the Grindelwald Valley. However, it is the view from Eismeer Station that provides our first glimpse of the glacier, a sea of white, undulating mounds of snow and ice. The air begins to take on a thin frostiness and there are signs warning about the effects of the altitude. Around us, people are pulling on warm jackets and caps. Two and a half hours after boarding the first train at Interlaken, we arrive at the Jungfraujoch's white, winter fair yland. By this time, we are feeling slightly dizzy from the altitude and are thankful that we pre-booked a window table with sweeping views of snow and ice at the Cr ystal Restaurant. After lunch, our first stop is the Ice Palace, a 1000 sq m RACQ CAN HELP RACQ Travel can arrange holidays to Switzerland, including passes for use on the Swiss rail network. Members can also book Eurail Select passes (for rail travel in Switzerland and several adjoining countries). Contact one of our consultants on 1300 888 449. CATCH A TRAIN The best way to reach Interlaken is by train. Ascent from Interlaken and descent from Kleine Scheidegg can be via Grindelwald or Lauterbrunnen. Train schedules and other information can be found at www.jungfrau.ch and at www. jungfraubahn.ch. OCT/NOV 07 35 ice museum situated in a cold and slipper y tunnel, 20 m under the glacier. There is a constantly evolving ice sculpture exhibition of eagles, bears, penguins and Eskimos. As the glacier moves about half a metre each year, the Ice Palace's roof has to be regularly altered. Special equipment is used to offset the body heat produced by the 500,000 visitors each year, ensuring the temperature of the ice walls never rise beyond -2°C. The warmth generated by the visitors is recycled to heat the restaurants above. At the other end of the Ice Palace we step out onto a plateau, where we walk among the clouds and peaks, thrilled to experience the rugged beauty of nature. Higher up on the mountain, there is a 360-degree panoramic view from the glass-and-steel Sphinx Obser vation Hall and Terrace. At 3471 m, the Sphinx is the highest vantage point in Europe and the terrace has the best view of the 22 km Aletsch Glacier. Virgin snow blankets the mountain in ever y direction and far below husky dogs and people look like ants against the vast snowy canvas. We walk through a long tunnel out onto the Aletsch Glacier, where there is a hive of activity. Queues of people wait their turn to slide downhill on round snow disks, skiers whiz past and a couple of beginners fall off their snowboards. Small groups of hikers disappear into the distance, trekking through remote landscape to reach Monchsjoch, a hut on the Alpine trail. Before leaving, we stand at the large glass windows near the souvenir shop, with a warm cup of hot chocolate and a bar of Swiss chocolate, soaking in the amazing scener y. "...our first stop is the Ice Palace, a 1000 sq m ice museum situated in a cold and slippery tunnel, 20 m under the glacier." MAIN PHOTO: Jungfrau Railway. INSET: The Sphinx sees all. ABOVE: Picturesque Interlaken.
December January 2008
August September 2007