Jungfraujoch, the Mountain that Took My Breath Away … Literally!

    Jungfraujoch, the Mountain that Took My Breath Away … Literally!

    “So, what else is there to do atop the Jungfraujoch except visit the Observatory and the Ice Palace?” we ask the hotel receptionist on our way out to catch the cogwheel train to the Top of Europe. We wanted to know if there were any trails we could hike on the mountain of the everlasting snow. “There is a 45-minute walk to Monchsjoch Hut, a rest station where you can also enjoy some authentic Swiss food” she says. It sounds tempting. Since we have an early start this morning maybe we can aim for lunch at the Monchsjoch Hut, so off we go.

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    Riding the cogwheel train to the top of the Jungfraujoch is in itself is a great experience, but once you get up there you feel like in a totally different world. Ever since I first saw Switzerland, I keep thinking that God must have created this place to show the humankind what Paradise looks like. It’s difficult to imagine a more perfect scenery than the  Alps reflecting their snow-capped peaks in the turquoise waters of the lakes at the foot of the mountains, or the pristine alpine meadows dotted with wild flowers, where cows graze peacefully. Yesterday when we watched the majestic summits of Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau from atop the Harder Kulm, I thought there can’t be a much better view of this peak. But I was wrong. No matter how impressive Jungfraujoch looks from a distance, it doesn’t compare to the feeling you get when you step out unto the viewing platform of the Sphinx Observatory, at 3,500 meters altitude. Standing amidst this world of glaciers and everlasting snow makes your heart skip a beat.  

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    Aletsch Glacier

     

    So here we are, finally! At the Top of Europe. Up here you feel indeed on top of the world. As the train stops, we just take a few steps from the dark train platform and find ourselves in the middle of a glass building flooded by light. This is the Sphinx Hall and wow, it’s so bright! The reflection of the clean, white snow outside is so strong that it almost blinds our eyes. Not much to do here though. Some souvenir shops, restroom facilities and a couple of small restaurants. So we continue to the outside snow platform for our first encounter with the windy and cold reality of this place. “Brrr! Hang on to something, you’ll be blown away!”

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    Ah, but the view! The pristine snow glowing in the early morning sun, the mountain peaks… In spite of the fierce wind, the scene is actually surprisingly peaceful.

    From the snow platform you can take the elevator down to the Alpine Sensation, Ice Palace and outside to the “snow fun” area, or up to the observation deck of the Sphinx Observatory. Unfortunately, the signs here are pretty confusing, so we wander around for a while ending up in the same place before we finally figure out which is where. We finally make it up to the observation deck of the Sphinx Observatory, the highest elevation structure in Europe that was named after the rocky summit on which it is located. The 360º panorama of the Aletsch Glacier and the surrounding peaks is absolutely fantastic! 

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    Observation deck at the Sphinx Observatory

     

    If you take the elevator down from the Sphinx Hall you will descend into the heart of the rock at the Alpine Sensation. This is a 250 meters long subway-like corridor where you can explore the touristic development in the Alps and history of the Jungfrau Railway with images, light and music. There is also a film-projection room with a giant snow dome and original photographs made during construction of the Jungfrau Railway.

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    From the Alpine Sensation the corridor continues to the Ice Palace, another big area inside the mountain, where all the corridors and the halls are carved in solid ice. Here you can see various sculptures made of ice, like wildlife and other exhibits. Walkways here may be very slippery, depending on the kind of footwear you have.

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    From the Ice Palace we proceed towards the large corridor carved in the mountain. “Is this the way out?” we ask someone who seems to be working there. “If you keep walking you will eventually end up outside, at the foot of the Sphinx Rock.” So here we are, in the cold sunny spring morning that feels more like winter. At least the wind doesn’t blow so hard at the foot of the rock. We are not at the “snow fun” area where you can zip line, sled, or stay in the sun and enjoy the white panorama. “Should we try the zip line?” I’m just pretending. I would’t do it even even if they paid me. “Maybe we should just start walking towards the Monchsjoch Hut.”

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    (Photo credit: Laszlo Galffy

     

    So off we go leaving the “snow fun” area behind. The path seems pretty well groomed and not very steep. It’s going to be an easy hike, we are used to way more difficult ones. As we go along, a group of skiers with backpacks passes us. They glide with so much ease, I almost envy them.

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    Soon though there is no one around us and we can’t even see the observatory anymore. I look at my watch. It’s been 50 minutes since we started hiking and our destination is nowhere in sight. I struggle. Didn’t she say 45 minutes? I feel a little short of breath, but I don’t want to panic. The scenery is breathtakingly beautiful, so I’m going to concentrate on that. Laszlo is ahead and doesn’t seem to be so tired. Why am I so tired? I didn’t seem to have made such a big physical effort and still I feel unusually fatigued and light-headed. I’m almost gasping for air. At almost 3,500 m altitude, my body is showing clear symptoms of altitude sickness. Now I am in panic. I would like to turn back, but by now we are probably closer to the Monchsjoch Hut than to the Observatory, so we better continue. But my feet seem so heavy, as if they are made of lead. Every 4-5 steps I have to stop and rest.

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    Monchsjoch Hut

    At this speed I’m probably going to make it there at night. But about an hour and a half later we finally make it to the little restaurant at the Monchsjoch Hut. This place looks very primitive, but I’m so glad to see it!  So what was estimated to be a 45 minute hike ended up by being almost two hours. We must have made a pretty good impression on that receptionist if she estimated we’d to this hike in 45 minutes! And the food is not even that great. What a mess! The view from up here is so rewarding though…

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    If you are planning a trip to the Jungfraujoch, here are a couple of tips you should consider:

    • Come early. The best time to visit is in the morning. It is less crowded and the weather is better. Usually the clouds gather mid to early afternoon.

    • Come prepared. No matter when you visit, remember this is the place of the everlasting snow. Bring a warm jacket, shoes for walking on snow, a hat, gloves, sunglasses and especially sunscreen.

    • Wait for good weather. Jungfraujoch is all about the magnificent views. Coming up here when it’s foggy or cloudy is a waste of money and a big disappointment.

    • Bring drinking water. If you buy it at up here you’ll pay around $8 for a small bottle. Water is supposed to help minimize and even prevent altitude sickness.

    • Watch out for altitude sickness. Higher altitudes will impair your physical performance, so a hike that you usually do effortlessly my seem like a strenuous exercise at a high elevation.

    Did you know that the Jungfrau region is a training base for the olympic athletes? Whether they are training for running, triathlon, cycling, open water swimming, or other sports many of the world’s top athletes use this area as a training base for improving their physical capabilities.

     

     

     

     

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