The trip to the top of Europe as what Jungfraujoch(young-fro-yuat)'s been named took 2.5 hours and involved connecting to 3 trains. The higher we went, the views became more and more breathtaking. I thought of postcards of Switzerland I'd seen and it's pretty much resembled to what I was witnessing with my own eyes except with a substantially better sense of scale and dramatic panoramic views. The last stretch was through the 9.3-kilometer tunnel. The video showcased the story of how it all began. I was in awe in the Swiss's ingenious engineering. There were 2 view points, Eigerwand at roughly more than 2,000 meters in elevation, and Eismeer at 3,160 meters above sea level. After about half an hour in the tunnel, we arrived at Jungfraujoch reaching 3,454 meters in elevation. Even though, it's been called "Top of Europe", it's not the highest point, but only the highest point accessible by train. If you're a risk taker, a seasoned mountain climber, and an anti-oxygen, then you could probably get to one of the highest Swiss Alps, Mt. Jungfrau and congratulate yourself at 4,158 meters.
Once we reached Jungfraujoch, we went straight to the meeting point
at the snack bar. I was hoping to do some browsing of the facility while at it, but we didn't have much time. So I made a quick stop to the women's room and got myself a fleece to make sure I wouldn't die from freezing. Everyone in the group introduced themselves to each other while Herb starting distributing climbing harnesses and crampons. He also lent Doug and I walking poles. We were the only foreigners among the Swisses. Some of them were fluent in English while others not so much, so later in the hike sometime I asked for a translation on some of the thing the group was talking about. Our guide,Herb, spoke fluent English so we didn't have any problem with instructional stuff. After fiddling with our harnesses to make sure they were properly secured, we moved down to the exit of the observatory to start our descent. Last step prior to the hike was to rope everyone up, so should someone fall into a crevice others would then become his/her anchors. With a total of 9 people on our group, we definitely had enough anchors.
The first part was to walk down the mountain covered
in thick snow. I had no problem walking in the high snow except at one point my leg slipped through the crevice. Luckily it was a small one. Doug, on the other hand, had such a frustrating time because he kept sinking into the snow every few steps. Herb taught us to look at the water run down tracks indicating fragility of the snow. Since we were tied up together, communication with each other was needed. As a second in line, I shouted out to warn people behind me about any crevices I crossed over, then Doug behind me did the same. Even with relaying messages, missteps did happen. Few other people walked into the crevices, but all were fine. Almost 2 hours into the hike, we came to a flat area where we took a small break refilling our energy and making a bathroom stop out in the open(but behind some rocks for the women). I'd been worried that I might have had to hold it all day long, but no. This is how it worked, just out in the open onto the glacier. At this point, we were walking on what seemed to be rocks and gravels so
it was much easier for Doug. We continued on for another hour or so before reaching the glacier and hiked on the glacier to the base of the Swiss Alpine Club(SAC)hut. Because of the gravels covering the glacier, we didn't need to put on the crampons today. I was absolutely having a quiet fun watching the gravels and small rocks buried into the clear icy blue glacier under my feet. Once in a while, we walked across and along small streams. We stayed tied up together through the hike on loose footing area. It just didn't make much sense to try to secure a firm and stable footing while making sure you didn't trip on the rope. No idea why. But we got through that and now at the base of the cliff going up to the hut. We untied ourselves and climbed up the metal stairs for the next 20 minutes.
We finally reached the hut. Doug was very exhausted and the blister on his foot didn't help any. We rested on the platform just below the hut enjoying the views of the glacier and teasing each other. Yes, we still had enough energy to be silly. We
finally caught up with everyone else while they were relaxing and relieving their thirsts on the deck with crocs shoes on their feet. For a minute, I thought "Whaa :( they didn't tell us to bring our sandals, too." but it turned out that the shoes were complementary and we got ones for ourselves. Doug couldn't be happier to be out of those boots. At least for a moment, life didn't suck. The dinner was good and I like the fact that it gave a sense of community. People bused their own tables and helped distributing food. Up to this point, this was probably the best second meal I'd had on the trip. Okay, that was it for today. Doug got ready for bed and already changed into his long john. We got upper level beds so he stayed put in there under a warm blanket(also provided by the hut). Out the window was the glacier. I kept looking at the sky as the sun was setting and creating beautiful colors in the sky. It was finally dark and I decided that it was time to go to bed.
Got up at a quarter to
one of the stops on the way upThe last half an hour before getting to the top was through a tunnel at elevation 3000 meters. The trains stopped for 5 minutes for tourists to get out to the windows to see views.
6, had breakfast at 7 and got ready to leave before 8. Breakfast was definitely not my energizing meal for the day. I found yogurt too bland so I mixed in Ovaltine(Ovomaltine in Swiss)like the Swiss did and it helped a bit. Still, I liked it sweeter than that. Same goes with the cereal, too bland. Am I getting used to eating sugar coated cereals? It just wasn't enough, I know that much. Hot tea was a complementary. To my taste, it was too medicine-like like some Chinese herbal meds my mom had me take when I was young. People got in line to fill up their water bottles like it was everyone's favorite until the last drop was drained out of a relatively huge canister.
Okay, roped up and back on the trail again on the mountains. Again, what's up with the rope! Anyway, we followed the directions. About an hour, we got to the base of the mountain and back onto the glacier. The initial part was gravelly enough that we didn't need the crampons, but as we got farther in it became slippery. Now with the crampons on, I had much better traction. It took awhile
for me to learn how to walk on ice with crampons. Since we were given the type that covered only one third of our foot, I couldn't land my toes first or heels first cause my crampons sat in the mid section of my feet. It was awkward. Doug's, on the hand, sat on his heels. The crampons were adjustable according to the width of your feet. Once I became comfortable with it, I could walk pretty well except on very steep parts. The glacier was very bumpy that after an hour, my feet got really tired and my toe was rubbing against the boot. As I was walking, my ankles were landing on ice twisting in an unnatural way. At one point, I really thought that I could break my ankles and have serious accident. I contemplated asking the group to stop and luckily we came to a breaking point. I adjusted my crampons and found that it'd become loose, so maybe because of that it was causing so much agony. Doug's blister didn't get any better, but he was trying to deal with it. More walking on bumpy hard surface, it didn't get any better. Spectacular water holes
here and there gave me occasional lifts in my spirit but it was getting harder to bear.
Last stretch finally arrived and was the most nerve wrecking moment I'd had on the glacier. We were trying to get off of the glacier for the turn that was coming up. Crevices were everywhere and they were huge. We walked up and down to look for a safe and easy spot to cross. At one point, Herb was trying to climb up big wall of ice so he used his axe to make steps. I was following behind clearing ice off of the steps he'd just made since I was second in line. I was nervous but went with it anyway. Later, Herb decided not to pursue this path because of the unstable condition of the ice. We moved on, looked for another doable path to cross then he found this very narrow and somewhat steep ice bridge. Below the bridge was a long long way down to the bottom of the glacier. My heart was not beating right for a few minutes as I was gathering myself and knew that Herb was already on the other side of the bridge.
We were still connected with the rope. I was so afraid of falling into that deep crevice, but there I went and got to the other side. Prior to this one, we had a few other challenging crossing spots, but this was the worst for me.
Doug's blister'd become more and more unbearable that he finally asked to have a stop. The blister on the back of his feet didn't look good at all, not to mention another big ballooning blister on his heel. Heidy helped him apply her Compeed(silicone pad)on his blister. That relieved the pain a bit, and we marched on. I'm also not a fan of this part, climbing up on steep gravel mountain. I started to hate my boots more now. They were so chunky and weighing me down. I was not told about this part of the trip. No one mentioned about climbing up a cliff. I was not informed here. But it was too late. I had to get up and up and out of here. Once up there, I was greeted by goats and sheep hanging out there. What a nice spot. They were friendly and just being goats and sheep(peeing and
pooping while standing close to us). They let us pat them as we pleased. The hike continued with a more even path on the mountain. I looked back and saw where we came from, people the size of an ant down at the base, and another group getting onto the glacier. Herb took a short cut down the valley because Doug wasn't going to make it much longer. We walked through this long tunnel and came out to this gorgeous valley. It literally took my tiredness away. It was a nice balance given what we'd been through earlier. What a nice change.
Doug thought that we were going to finish our hike in the evening when it turned out that it was going to be much sooner than that. We were gleeful. However, to end our trip we still had to get ourselves to the ski resort to catch a cable car down and that seemed like forever. I couldn't imagine how painful it must be for Doug because I was also having a really bad time with my boots. I desperately wanted to take them off and walk bare feet but I probably wouldn't last long on that
gravel trail. Doug said he missed his tennis shoes. Ohhh... what a brilliant idea. I, too, wished I had had ones with me. I suggested that Doug ask for a ride from the local who was riding his motorcycle up and down the hill. He didn't seem to take it at first but later on agreed to the idea. It didn't happen because that local never rode pass us again. So we kept journeying on in a blazing sun in our hefty boots to a meeting point that we had no idea where it was and how far we had to go. Everyone else was way ahead of us and not even in our sight anymore. We started to get nervous and feel lost. A sight of cable lines reenergized us for a moment before we realized that it was not operating. Were we on the right path? Did they turn off to a different road at some point? It was still a long way down and if we were to follow the trail down to town, my guess was it would take at least a day. So we kept walking, dragging out feet following the trail until we finally
The Swiss Confederation was founded in 1291 as a defensive alliance among three cantons. In succeeding years, other localities joined the original three. The Swiss Confederation secured its independence from the Holy Roman Empire in 1499. Switzerland...more info