Day 14 - 28 Sep
A glorious - if cool - morning greeted us, which was perfect for our plan to go high and hike. The aim was to hike in the morning, back to the apartment for lunch, then see what the afternoon brought us, weather-wise, before we decided what to do. Very radical for us, not to have a fixed plan!
After breakfast, we made the ten minute trek to the cable car, paid our half-fare for the ride up to Mannlichen and set off. We had the cable car to ourselves, so could wander about at will, watching the unfolding scenery and taking loads of pictures. As with our cable car ride in Pontresina, we were delighted with the views. Ahead of us, we could see our “local’ mountains - the Eiger, Monch and Jungfrau - as they appeared over the Mannlichen ridge; behind and below us, Wengen and the Lauterbrunnen valley opened up; and across the valley, we could make out the village of Murren and the premier mountain peak on the western side, Schilthorn. Of course, there were also several other near-4000m peaks filling the horizon to East and South, while to the West we could see the lower ridges that blocked our view of the relative lowlands and lakes around Interlaken. Fabulous!
The cable car lifted us up almost 1000m to Mannlichen (2227m), where we were to start our hike.We chose this particular path for a number of reasons - it was close to our village; walking South from Mannlichen, we would have the “Big Three” mountains in view the whole time; and it was downhill! It turned out that this was the most popular direction so, unlike at Pontresina, we did not encounter very much in the way of opposite-direction hikers. The path skirts around the Eastern side of the ridge, formed by the Tschugeb and Lauberhorn peaks, that overlook Wengen. As advertised, the walk provided constant views of the Eiger then, as we progressed along the walk, Monch and Jungfrau quickly came into view. In the brilliant morning sunlight, the mountains looked absolutely stunning and it was hard not to take pictures every couple of minutes. We also had great views towards Grindelwald, a village with an excellent reputation for points of interest and activities, but we won’t have time to visit it on this trip.
Although the morning began quite chilly, it very soon warmed up and was a quite delightful morning for our hike, while the scattered high cirrus cloud promised a mostly sunny day - as forecast. There was a bit of haze around that dulled our photos somewhat, but really! At the end of September, what more could we ask for? The trail is very well-maintained and quite wide, so it made for a very comfortable walk that allowed us to soak in the views rather than watch our feet the whole time. As we went along, the sun was rising in front of us behind the Eiger, providing some spectacular views that only improved the closer we got. We did have an occasional glimpse of the dark side of living in these mountains, as we passed a couple of areas of recent avalanche activity and signs warning of rock falls, but fortunately for us the mountain was well-behaved today! It’s pretty hard for words to describe how much we enjoyed this morning’s hike; hopefully our pictures can convey something of the beautiful weather, glorious views and easy walking. A totally satisfying experience.
After a couple of hours, at least a third of which included just sitting and enjoying the view, we arrived at our destination, Kleine Scheidegg. This is a very busy little village, being one of the main routes into Grindelwald and a great hiking/skiing centre in its own right. Perhaps most important at the moment, for us, it is also the starting point for the Jungfraubahn, the rail line to Jungfrauhoch which, at 3454m is the highest station in Europe. With the engineering marvel of the Jungfrau tunnel, that bores through the Eiger and Monch to reach Jungfrauhoch, and it’s proximity to Jungfrau, this is definitely something we want to do but, at SFR128 each - even with the STP! - we were baulking at the cost. We decided to consider our options over lunch and headed back down to Wengen.
While tucking into our gourmet salad roll lunch, we weighed up the many choices of activities in this beautiful region and our limited time, and decided - reluctantly - that we would get better bang for our buck by admiring Jungfrau from afar and making Schilthorn, on the opposite side of the valley, our altitude target. This will be tomorrow’s objective. For this afternoon, we bore in mind the lesson from Pontresina and decided against another extended hike, Instead, we opted to visit Murren, also across the valley and where we were originally going to stay, and see where the afternoon led us.
Getting to Murren from Wengen is a fascinating journey. First, we took the Wengernalpbahn (WAB) train back down to Lauterbrunnen, once again getting great views of Staubach Falls. We then walked across the road to the cable car, which very quickly lifted us almost 700m up the precipitous slope to Grutschalp, enjoying spectacular views back across the valley to the “Big Three” mountains we had been so close to in the morning. Exiting the cable car, our little one car electric train was waiting to take us to Murren - the cable car and train work together (as the BLM) to provide a seamless service between Lauterbrunnen and Murren. The train portion is the definition of a scenic railway. As it travels a little over 4 kms, through alpine woodland and farms, and clinging to the edge of the escarpment hundreds of metres above the Lauterbrunnen Valley, passengers are treated to truly spectacular views across the valley to the Eiger, Monch and Jungfrau - assuming the sky is clear, as it was for us today. There is also a walking track parallel to the train line, which is nearly level, rising only 150m along its length to Murren, but we declined that opportunity!
Arriving in Murren, we were treated to the epitome of the Swiss mountain village. Timber houses, burnt almost black from decades of exposure to the sun, festooned in gloriously overflowing window boxes, are everywhere. Like Wengen, Murren is notionally car-free, although numerous small electric vehicles scurry about, attending to the needs of a vibrant tourist destination. This made for a wonderfully relaxed atmosphere as we strolled around, soaking up the ambiance and views, and lazily making way for the little work vehicles that generally acceded to the vagaries of the wandering tourists. There was a bit of a point to our visit to Murren. We made our way to the cable car station that services Schilthorn, a 15 minute walk through this lovely village, to discover what was on offer and at what cost. As the afternoon was getting away from us, we reconfirmed our decision to not go up to Schilthorn today, and so tucked away our newly-acquired knowledge for later consideration.
We then had to decide what we WERE going to do for the rest of this beautiful day - decisions, decisions! All this random activity is tiring! We finally resolved to stroll down to the historic and reputedly captivating little village that we had read about here: http://www.gimmelwald.com. Gimmelwald is right at the head of the Lauterbrunnen Valley, just 2.5kms from, and 300m below, Murren. This seemed like an easy, relaxed way to spend an hour or two, so off we went. We quite quickly left the streets of Murren behind and were soon leaving the metres above us! The views were naturally brilliant, but we also had the time to observe a little of the local life - such as the farmer cutting the grass in the mountain meadows at an impossible angle for his motor slasher; cows everywhere with their bells clanging continuously; and the avalanche barriers that protect farms and villages from the perennial threat. Overhead, the Murren-Gimmelwald cable car passed at regular intervals, promising an easy ride back up the mountain if our fickle fancy led us that way!
Downhill it may have been, but it was a beautifully warm, late summer’s day, so we took a couple of opportunities to rest our pins and delight in our surroundings. It took a bit over an hour to hike down and naturally we figured we deserved a refreshing break, once we arrived. The Pension Gimmelwald provided the perfect refreshment and location - three scoops of ice cream in a coffee cup on a terrace overlooking the valley! Just awesome!
Being after 4pm, we reluctantly decided it was time to return to Wengen, rather than explore more of this lovely village. We availed ourselves of the cable car to return to the top of the escarpment, then retraced our journey on the BLM and WAB. On the BLM train, we were able to sit up front with the driver - with us on the cliff-edge side - which gave us yet another perspective of this lovely train ride. Of note, our entire afternoon journeying came at no additional cost - it was all covered by the wonderful STP! All the way back, of course, we enjoyed repeat doses of the views of the outward journey, but this time in the shifting light of early evening - a reminder to head out and take sunset pictures of Jungfrau.
We made good on this plan right after dinner and were treated to a gorgeous display. The haze and high cirrus of the morning, that had largely dissipated during the day, returned on cue to provide a great curtain to capture the sun’s fading rays. We won’t try to describe the evolution of the sunset, other than to repeat that it was gorgeous. Hopefully, the pictures we have posted will provide their requisite 1000 words! It was very, very satisfying.
Our final task for the evening was to decide on what we were going to do on the morrow. Reluctantly, we confirmed our decision not to go to Jungfrauhoch. Instead, we will visit the rather amazing Trummelbach Falls, then head up to Schilthorn. We also decided to console ourselves with lunch on the revolving restaurant at the top of the mountain made famous by James Bond. What? You don’t know about that? Neither did we! Well, more about it tomorrow!
TTFN - RandA