Cole Porter acclaimed it in the musical “Kiss Me Kate”—“Gazing down on the Jungfrau in our secret chalet for two.” Riding on the spectacular Swiss Jungfraubahn cogwheel train up to the Jungfraujoch station, the top of Europe, does indeed allow one to gaze in this manner. In doing so, one can participate in the Swiss centenary celebration of the historic Jungfrau Railway.
This construction was attempted several times in the late 19th century. As befell schemes for the Panama and Suez Canal, along with other mammoth building projects, financial problems were the Jungfrau’s undoing. Overcoming natural barriers against such a railroad through the Swiss Alps was dismissed by many as impossible. But Adolf Guyer-Zeller made the dream come true. It took 16 years of effort, stretching from July 27, 1896, to August 1, 1912 (which happens to be Swiss National Day), for the railroad completion.
Luxury train service started right away in 1912 and, towards the end of World War II, was restored in 1944. The Eiger Ambassador Express is the name given to this form of nostalgic luxury train.
The spectacular ride on Jungfrau takes passengers through many tunnels, comprising about 80% of the journey. Starting from a mountain known as Kleine Scheidegg, it continues through the Eiger and Mönch mountains to the Jungfraujoch station. The latter’s operational date was just in time for the new railroad.
On this railway, starting from the town of Interlocken, the journey takes about 2.5 hours. The cogwheel train travels about 5.5 miles (9 kilometers) and its tracks rise about .87 miles or 4600 feet (1400 meters). The trip’s end at Jungfraujoch station winds up about 2.1 miles or 11000 feet above sea level (3454 meters), leaving travelers at the European continent’s highest railroad station.
During the trip, when the train is outside its many tunnels, travelers can gaze upon the Eiger North Face (9800 feet or 3000 meters above sea level) and the lengthy Sea of Ice glacier. Aboard the train, two observation windows provide spectacular views of the Alps. At one intermediate station, part of the above Eiger North Wall, passengers can see the Grindelwald Valley, the abovementioned Kleine Scheidegg mountain, and also Interlaken and its nearby Lake Thun.
The Eismeer station is only is about 10% below Jungfraujoch in elevation. Its surrounding terrain is called Sea of Ice, being part of the abovementioned glacier. Here, there are excellent views of another glacier, the Jungfrau- Aletsch, which is the longest continuous Alps glacier, stretching 14 miles. This combination has been designated part of UNESCO’s World Heritage. On clear days, views go beyond Switzerland’s borders, to the Vosges Mountains of France and Germany’s Black Forest. One apt description for this terrain is “A landscape of eternal snow, ice, and rock.”
Other sites to see along the train’s path include the Sphinx observation building, the Ice Palace, the Ice Gateway and snow plateau, and also five restaurants.
Activities to Celebrate
In summer, the Jungfrau region provides a number of walking and hiking paths. These mountain paths are about 310 miles (500 km) in total length. Spectacular views of the Eiger, Monch, and Jungfrau mountains are part of the hiking experience.
In winter, the three regions, Grindelwald-First, Kleine Scheidegg-Mannlichen, and Murren-Schlithorn include ski runs totaling about 132 miles (213 km). Their level of difficulty covers the entire gamut, from fast to leisurely, and lengths from four to seven miles (six to 12 km). More than 40% of all ski runs are equipped with machines for making snow.
In the Jungfrau Region, other snow activities are available. Hiking to explore the mountains is provided on over 60 miles (100 km) of winter footpaths. Also, there are a very large number of toboggan runs, totaling about 30 miles or 50 km. For example, the Eiger run, located at the foot of the Eiger North Face, provides an altitude range of about .4 miles or 700m.
Festivities to Celebrate
In 2012, there will be no end of winter snow-related festivities. In the Jungfrau Region, the International Snow Festival features a snow sculpture contest. From January 12 to 16, teams of artists from all over the world will compete in snow sculpting. At night, all their creations will be lit up.
On January 21, over 80 hot air balloons from 18 countries will compete over Château d’Oex in an International Ballooning Festival. Their variety of shapes will provide a colorful spectacle in this weekend air show.
In the Graubunden Region, from January 27 to February 5, free-skiers and snowboarders will compete in the Stimorol EngadinSnow at Corvatsch. Judges will evaluate these entrants based on criteria such a safety, route choice, etc.
During the railroad’s centenary celebration, many hotels will be making special offers. For example, early in 2012, the Interlaken Hotel is expected to offer a Jungfraujoch Package.
During 2012, Switzerland will be celebrating the 100th anniversary of a great engineering feat, the Jungfrau Railway completion. This should make the country an even more attractive place to visit and explore.
Photos courtesy of Switzerland Tourism