Just before you hit the major peaks of the Southern Alps, is a verdant and striking area known as the Jungfrau region. Located in the Bernese Oberland Alps, it is a veritable hiker’s paradise.
One hot Saturday in July, I was lucky enough to discover for myself this renowned classic among Swiss high Alpine hikes.
Etched forever in my memory are the trio of jagged snow-capped peaks that I’d only ever dreamed of seeing in my life:
The Schreckhorn at 13,380 feet.
The Eiger at 13,026 feet.
The Mönch at 13,475 feet.
Famed for its panoramic views of the UNESCO World Heritage Swiss Alps and overlooking the postcard picturesque village of Grindelwald, it had never occurred to me to traverse this stupefying landscape of rock — snow and ice on everything but the carving skis in the comforting depths of winter. However, here I was at the height of the Swiss summer contemplating a full day trek that involved a pretty vintage-looking cog railway, a rock cliff walk and magnificent views of shimmering turquoise-colored glacial lakes.
I felt on top of the world, and soon I would be.
Fail To Prepare, Prepare To Fail
Not unlike any other visit to the Alps, this hike required preparation. Despite the high temperatures at ground level that only required a light t-shirt and shorts, the changeable climate and altitude of the Alps would require the same effort and preparation as if it were a snowbound trip.
From thick woolen hiking socks to a 30 SPF sunscreen, I was glad I had the foresight to also pack a fleecy sweatshirt and stuff in some insulated gloves. I recalled the all too many chilling documentaries I’d seen and decided to also pack a First Aid kit — just in case.
Off We Go
With butterflies in my stomach as my friends and I boarded the 40-seat cogwheel railway at Wilderswill Station, I couldn’t help but notice how the station looked like a piece of America — a Western saloon from a Hollywood set — bang in the middle of Toblerone country.
My fellow passengers were excitedly chatting away while I admired the grandfatherly-like slow and sturdy ascent to Schynige Platte at 6,463 feet. Some people appeared furrowed in maps, while others fortified themselves with a second breakfast. And yet others quietly contemplated what great glacial Alpine world lie up through the meadows in the clouds above.
Each meander of the train revealed a new scene. Bright blue sky kissing the sapphire lakes below, or lush forest embracing wooden Swiss traditional huts. Then a sudden clamber of people aiming expensive SLRs, tablets, and iPhones out of windows at a yet un-identified snow-covered peak. I was in awe and delighted by it all.
Take It To The Fulhorn
Struck with the refreshing alpine air, I felt a sudden rush of adrenalin. We had a mission. An ascent of 2,329 feet to get to Fulhorn by lunchtime and 5,249 feet back down to pretty Grindelwald where we had promised ourselves a well-earned reward of Valais cheese fondue and a cold glass or two of Gewurtztraminer.
So a hopeful, sturdy and enthusiastic pace ensued — over the scree. Peppered with stops to capture the untouched beauty of the surroundings by a camera, my city-weary eyes drank in the dramatic landscape in the background. Every blink was a greedy gulp.
The climb became harder, narrower, steeper and most of us were out of breath, but the reward was worth it. Making the long traverse across the northern edge of Indri Sagissa, I could hear a faint and fairytale-like magical trinkle. It was a herd of Swiss brown lustrous dairy cows grazing the meadows hundreds of meters below on the rim of Sägitalseelein — a magnificent glacial lake, also known as “the first pearl of views.” It was impossible to un-root myself from the dream-like scene. I secretly hoped there’d be more of these that I could log in my memory forever, to draw on during times of stress.
Continuing the hike over a stony plateau of treacherous rocks was worth it.
Over the Winteregg Ridge, Fulhorn, our destination, all green, and rocky came into sight, looming lop-sided with what appeared to be a castle on top. My instinct was to race over the stony ridge but this was my all-time favorite scene in the hike. Either side presented magnificent and diverse views. To the left were the sparkling turquoise blue waters of lakes Saagitalseelein and Brienz shimmering down the valley. And to the right, the dramatic high alpine glacier worlds of Wetterhorn, Schreckhorn, Eiger and Mönch. In the sky were adrenalin-hungry paragliders that we looked on with pure jealousy. They feasted their eyes on the scene and we feasted resting on the summit at Berghotel Fulhorn Grindelwald.
On the descent down the valley, the beauty of the biodiverse landscape was a sensual delight. Sweet meadows seemed to sing music on long-stemmed wildflowers colored purple, blue, white and yellow dancing in the light wind. Cows grazed lazily on luscious grass eyeing foreign visitors with a gentle curiosity.
Bachalpsee was yet another iconic picture. In winter it is frozen over, so it was a pleasure to touch the cool fresh water and allow our accompanying four-legged friends to refresh themselves.
Red Parachute — The End
After a descent through winding paths of more than 5,000 feet, and with Grindelwald station in sight, one very weary hiker was ready to collapse.
But that evening she’d close her eyes dreaming of paragliding over the dramatic landscape of the Swiss Bernese Alps in a vermillion-colored parachute.
Author’s Favorite Travel Gear
Camelback Women’s Charm Hydration Pack: Hydration is essential for any hike let alone a long one. I love this hydration pack because it means I don’t have to carry a water bottle and I can quench my thirst hands-free! This model is particularly great for women as it provides a better fit than the tradition Camelbak.
12-in-1 Headwear: This headwear is extremely versatile and perfect for protecting your head and face from the elements — especially while hiking in Switzerland.
Foxelli Trekking Poles: These all-terrain trekking poles are great for making long and treacherous hikes more manageable. They can be used in all 4 seasons, and are lightweight and collapsible making them easy to pack and carry!