Best Weekend Ever — Hiking in the Jungfrau

Thanks to the wonderful mechanics at Fiat, we made it to Lauterbrunnen without any more brake problems.

Lauterbrunnen

Staubbach Falls, Lauterbrunnen

CAMPING JUNGFRAU

Lauterbrunnen was a stunner and worth the effort to get there.

We stayed in the Dom Perignon of campgrounds, Camping Jungfrau, a pricey, but stunning and perfectly located spot at the foot of the Jungfrau, Eiger and Mönch peaks. Gigantic rock faces towered overhead, while a waterfall cascaded down the cliff directly in front of our camper. An icy, glacier-fed river with aquamarine water raced down the edge of the property.

Amenity wise, this place put all other campgrounds to shame. By far. A dedicated dog shower and fabulous people showers both had free, hot water. (Often campgrounds charge for barely warmish water.) Music wafted through pristine bathrooms, and the playground sported the best equipment ever — a big zip line, the fastest slide Scout had ever encountered (never mind the bloody road rash all over her legs), and lots of climby, spinney things. The lawns were green and manicured.

We enjoyed a huge pitch overlooking it all.

Our camper at Camping Jungfrau (with a view of  Staubbach falls). 

 

View from the other side. I’d have stayed here all summer if we could have afforded it.

And to think we almost booted Switzerland from our itinerary.

Even for a short visit, it’s shockingly expensive, and besides, we’re racing the clock on our Schengen visa deadline. With barely three weeks left for Italy (damn you, Münich) we have no days to spare. But I’ve always wanted to hike in the Jungfrau, and seriously, how often does one get the chance? It was important for Scout too. Trudging though Vancouver’s dark, gloomy, rain-forest trails has led her to loathe hiking, and I wanted her to experience how uplifting time on the trail can really be.

A few days were all we needed.

BUCKET LIST, CHECK! — HIKING IN THE JUNGFRAU

The day after we arrived we got up early and biked over to the station in Lauterbrunnen, where we caught the 8 am (impressively early for this family) tram up to the little Grütschal station. From there we’d intended to hike a pretty straightforward route, recommended by the gal in the campground office, over to Mürren, a small mountain village a couple hours away. But when we arrived at the trailhead we realized our route, which was actually just a road, wound primarily through trees and shade. No good. We didn’t come all this way for more gloomy trees. So instead we opted for a steeper, more difficult Alpine trail (the Mountain View Trail, if you’re interested) that would take us up to the ridge and hopefully provide some views of the Jungfrau.

It was our best decision ever.

At first the trail climbed dramatically, reminding me of the nauseating Grouse Grind hell-trail back in Vancouver. The kid and the dog raced ahead, while Mark and I pulled up the rear. After 30 minutes or so we came upon a massive meadow ridge, exactly the scene one images when contemplating a hike in the Alps.

Through the springtime wildflower explosion was over, bluebells, cranesbill, azaleas, pink wild roses, and dozens of other tiny little jewel-like flowers still blanketed the ground. The air was misty and cool and the sky slightly overcast. Perfect for hiking. The clouds frequently parted, revealing stunning views of the snow-covered peaks. For a while Scout kept ahead of us, but later fell back after deciding to stop and fill her water bottle with the giant dewdrops that clung to the leaves.

HARDLY A SOUL WAS THERE

We spent the day alone on the trail.

In about four hours we encountered seven other people — an older German fellow who whizzed paced us early with a nod and quick “Grüzi,” disappearing quickly up the trail. We never saw him again. Over the course of the day two Japanese mother-daughter pairs and one older couple passed us from the opposite direction, but we only glimpsed them for a moment. Then they too were gone.

I never expected so much solitude and was grateful to get it. Our part of the mountain was dead quiet, except for the clanging of giant cowbells that echoed periodically through the hills. At one point we looked down the mountain and could make out the road we had intended to take, now covered with dozens of ant-sized people.

These cowbells were the size of large pumpkins

Archie had the time of his life. Not only did he get to spend the day off leash, but he got to indulge in two of his favorite hobbies: eating fresh rabbit pellets and rolling in cow dung. It’s astonishing how far that little dog can run considering his legs are little more than drumsticks.

Along the way we stopped for a couple of picnics. But when we finally reached Mürren, my tired girl needed more food so we stopped by a restaurant for the cheapest thing on the menu — soup. Scout had barley, her favorite, and we had carrot. Actually I only meant to get the one for her, but I messed up the order so we ended up with two. They were good, but like anything Swiss, really expensive (about €8 for each small bowl — or $25 together). That’s the cost of a night at a campground (well, somewhere other than Switzerland of course).

Fortified, we ascended down a trail another forty minutes or so to the little town of Gimmelwald. Well known on the backpacker circuit, it’s picturesque little Alpine town of about 300 people. Then after a quick look around, we bought tram tickets back to the valley. While we waited, Scout frolicked at a sweet little playground by the station. It was perched on a hilltop and had a stunning view of the peaks.

By this time we were done like dinner and grateful for the terrifying tram ride back down. The thing sailed sickeningly high off the valley floor. I just kept my eyes on the peaks and hoped for the best. Mark, who’s afraid of heights, hid in the back of the car looking wan. Scout pressed herself right up against the window. Archie, visibly encrusted with dried cow dung, sat on my lap and polluted the entire tram with his vile stench.

When we finally stumbled home, we all cleaned up (Archie needed two shampoos in the fancy dog shower), wolfed down some snacks and then legged it to bed.

KLEINE SCHEIDEGG

We’d planned to leave the next morning, but before we could pack up, Scout befriended a bunch of kids in the adjoining campsite. Then the group, three lovely families from Geneva, generously invited Scout to join them to ride the historic train up to Kleine Scheidegg. She was beside herself. We barely knew them of course, but they seemed like great parents and all the kids had spent the morning playing in our camper, so we felt comfortable saying yes.

View from the historic railway to Kleine Scheidegg (by Scout)

 

Scout and the gang. (One of the other kids took this photo with Scout’s camera.)

Scout didn’t realize that another long hike was involved, but the parents told me she didn’t complain a bit and was really helpful. At lunch, the families blew her mind by letting her order whatever she wanted on the menu, something I rarely do. The kid’s a big foodie, and if I don’t restrict her to certain sections of the menu she’ll spend $50 on multiple courses and something fabulously inappropriate for lunch, like a whole plank-grilled wild salmon or something.

They returned to the campground late, tired and happy. Scout had a blast, while Mark and I enjoyed an unexpected day to ourselves.

I will remember this weekend forever.

Next stop: Italy.

{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Amy July 19, 2011 at 6:49 pm

Gorgeous pictures! That camp spot looks amazing!

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2 Renee July 19, 2011 at 9:05 pm

I loved, loved, loved that spot. It was painful to wind up our awning and pull out, let me tell you. I could have stayed for months, just hiking and exploring the Alps.

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3 Brother Bill July 20, 2011 at 8:06 am

Fantastic pics! Glad y’all are having a great time. Enjoy!

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4 Renee July 20, 2011 at 10:51 am

Cheers, Bill!

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5 Bridgette Booth July 20, 2011 at 5:05 pm

I thought Heidi was going to appear in those pictures! Did I read it correctly that Mark is afraid of heights yet made this hike? Wow. Did he get to appreciate the scenery? I experience vertigo from time to time so am sympathetic to how difficult it can be in certain situations. And, $25 for bowls of soup, eh? I only tiptoed into Switzerland but I do remember the prices now.

As I said before, staring at your pics -today of those cows and cowbells – just makes me want to crawl right through the screen to join you.

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6 Renee July 28, 2011 at 4:17 pm

Yes, we could only tiptoe into Switzerland as well, but it was a memorable visit nonetheless. Mark was OK on the hike but he sure suffers in certain situations. He almost collapsed when we climbed to the top of Il Duomo in Florence, and much of the climb turned out to be outside on a narrow little walkway. Poor thing…

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7 elaine July 20, 2011 at 7:26 pm

Oh Renee this excursion sounds perfect! i can’t believe that campground – now that’s my kind of camping! i seriously can’t stop laughing at the visual of you guys in the tram – especially the part about archie sitting on your lap full of crusty cow poo. hahahahaha. best story ever. i miss you guys!

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8 Renee July 28, 2011 at 4:18 pm

Thanks, Elaine. We miss you too!

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9 George M. July 30, 2011 at 12:32 pm

Hey! What a great experience you are having. I remember hiking the Jungfrau many years ago and it’s stuck with me ever since. What a thrill to be hiking along a remote alpine trail, alone with the mountains. Good for you guys for making the time to go.

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10 Renee July 30, 2011 at 12:46 pm

Thanks. I’m glad we made time for it, because it’s certainly one of the highlights so far. We’ll definitely go back one day.

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