Journey to the Top of Europe

13th March 2014, by Dave Watts

The Jungfraujoch, at 3,454m the highest railway station in Europe

The Jungfraujoch, at 3,454m the highest railway station in Europe

Today was an early start to meet my guide Beat Kornfeind at Wengen station at 7.45am. We were headed to Jungfraujoch, at 3,454m the highest railway station in Europe.

But first we skied for an hour or so, taking advantage of the early morning lack of crowds, sunshine and well groomed pistes on the Lauberhorn. These included a new black run (with excellent snow but really deserving only red status, like most blacks in the Wengen-Grindelwald ski area) and the top part of the famous Lauberhorn World Cup downhill course.

You can get a real idea of what it must be like to compete in the Lauberhorn race by entering the starting hut, putting your electronic lift pass against a machine to trigger three beeps and an electronic timer and then hurtling down through the gates – but you only go a few hundred metres down what is in fact the longest and most grueling downhill course on the World Cup circuit. But it’s great fun.

After that it was time to catch the train for the journey to Jungfraujoch. Most of it is in a tunnel carved through the Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau mountains and built between 1896 and 1912, when it opened – an astonishing achievement with the technologies available over 100 years ago. On the way up, there are TV screens telling you about the journey , plus two short stops with viewing windows way down to the distant Wengen/Grindelwald ski area at the first one and of tumbling glaciers and crevasses at the second.

At the top is a huge complex, the highlight of which for me was the viewing platform reached by high-speed lift and giving stunning views over the surrounding mountains, including the wide and gentle Aletsch glacier. Other attractions include an Ice Palace, audiovisual presentation, images of the Jungfrau region and the building of the tunnel and several restaurants.

On the way down, the TV screens show highlights of the tunnel’s centenary celebrations in 2012, which included a cricket match starring Indian and West Indian internationals and a boxing match, both staged on the glacier.

All in all, a unique experience. And one enjoyed by thousands of tourists (many non-skiers and from Asia on group tours) each year. The railway company estimated 1500 were up there on the day I was and in the peak summer season numbers hit the limit of 5,000 imposed for safety reasons.

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