Lauterbrunnen was a location that prompted mixed feelings in us. It had been built up by people we know, people we follow and random internet strangers. A place unrivalled, the must-see place in Switzerland. So many people love Lauterbrunnen.
In some ways you can see why. The stark, sheer cliffs that edge the valley are spectacular in their height. They shadow the valley in the morning and late afternoon providing a distinctive backdrop for instagrammable photos and videos. The mountains beyond offer tantalising glimpses of glacier clad peaks. The vibrant green of the valley meadows contrasts with the grey and white of the mountains.
But the campsite failed to wow us. Given the price we had paid we expected luxury but got tightly packed pitches. Touches of luxury in the facilities block were pleasant, but the pitches were on top of each other and gave no scope for moving around to catch the sun. We felt ever so guilty as our bulk shaded the people next to us and equally annoyed when other vans squished into our views.
And the sheer volume of people, wandering the streets with phone in hand, or driving along while taking videos. It made the village more frustrating than Interlaken but we did pick up some additional information about why it was so busy. The area is generally busy anyway, but it was also a Chinese holiday, it’s popular with Indians because a famous Bollywood director uses the area for filming and there had been some recent heavy Korean publicity encouraging it as a destination.
It was the sort of place that needed time and distance before it was judged. And our judgement? It is most definitely worth visiting, but even though we would go back to the area we wouldn’t stay there again. We would rather stay somewhere out of the valley and use public transport for access. Busy places just aren’t our thing, but they are other people’s thing and that’s fine.
We turned up at Camping Jungfrau relatively early in the morning. They offer early entrance to the campsite if pitches are available. Of course it comes at a price, everything comes at a price here, so a 15 CHF extra charge lets you on a pitch as soon as they have time to process you. It made sense to us, a two night stay with the early check in fee bought us two full days of sightseeing rather than the one and a bit (less than a half) we would have had with a normal check in. In all it cost us 115.80 CHF for our two night stay (we opted to go without electric hook up to keep the costs down).
We were settled in by 10:30 and opted for a leisurely sight see of the valley for day one. We got the bikes out and cycled all the way down the valley on the bike path. The further we got, the fewer people were tempted to step out into our path for the perfect insta photo, until finally we felt as though we were in the mountains. Along the way we stopped, along with others, to gawk at the sight of the base jumpers falling from the cliffs, accompanied by the odd sound of their freefall descents and the sudden snap of parachutes opening. It’s a popular pastime in this area although they have considered banning it. The few deaths each year are very unnerving for the ground dwelling tourist observer.
The route along the valley is accompanied by multiple thin and insubstantial looking waterfalls that make their way from the top oft he cliffs hundreds of meters above. Some as free falling ribbons of water and some as trickles clinging to the rock.
The summer had been so dry that it was no surprise they looked so insignificant. In the spring, fed with meltwater, I imagine that descriptions such as thunderous and tumultuous might be used to good effect but the only waterfall that deserved such epithets on our visit was (were?) the Trümmelbach Falls. A series of spectacular cascades in a deeply cut narrow gorge. It’s been heavily commercialised but is worth visiting. There are a lot of steps but many of the cascades are also accessible by lifts.
Walking the Eiger Trail
Our plans for the next day were to take the mountain train up to the top of the valley and walk the Eiger trail. The sheer vertical north face of the Eiger is a place of mountaineering myth, the pinnacle of unachievable mountaineering goals and a place of death and peril. Of course these days it has been climbed multiple times by many different routes and the dangers are substantially mediated by modern equipment, but new dangers have started to arise as rising temperatures mean that ice is no longer present through the summer to stabilise the loose rocks of the face.
Our walk was not in any way meant to be difficult or dangerous, but the news had been full of the discovery of the body of a British hiker who had disappeared while hiking the Eiger trail. A reminder that tragic accidents can happen and the mountains should never be underestimated.
We took the cog railway up from Lauterbrunnen to the mountain station of Kleine Scheidegg where we started our walk. The first section took us uphill towards the Eigergletscher station (we could have got that train up if we’d been that way inclined) with views of the famous mountain trio – the Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau (the Ogre, Monk and Maiden). We passed by a small lake where there were some interesting benches sat in the water so you could refresh tired feet. It was a shame we didn’t have tired feet yet, and the morning was actually pretty chilly so we werent tempted to dip our feet.
When we reached the station the ascent was over, the rest of the trail would be downhill. The path descends in front of the famous north face, just below the scree that litters the bottom of the slopes. On the way we passed signs for a via ferrata we didn’t realise existed. If we ever come back we would definitely do this. It doesn’t climb the Eiger but the adjacent peak, the Rotstock.
We took our time to drink in the views of the Eiger above us. Helicopters were buzzing around in front of the face, making daring flights for close up views of the mountains features. One helicopter dropped off a group of base jumpers who then flew down from the top of the mountain and into the valley below us like small human missiles. They were wearing flying squirrel suits and made incredible zipping sounds as they sped past. It must be a very intense feeling, having experienced a sky dive I can see how it would become addictive.
In the mountain side you can make out dark rectangular windows. These are windows of one of the mountain railway stations of the Jungfraubahn. I’m not sure whether you can still alight and look out from the windows across the valleys and meadows, but it must be an interesting experience to be inside this huge slab of a mountain.
From the Eiger face we then walked further down into the Grindlewald valley, criss crossing the path of the Jungfraubahn. Stations on this line were our fall back option if we decided our knees had had enough descent.
In total we had walked downhill over 1400m which is pretty knackering on the body even if it doesn’t take huge amounts of cardio fitness. We were very pleased to get to Grindlewald where we could stop for a well earned drink. The train station at Grindlewald was obviously very new and looked like an airport terminal with lots of shiny shops selling Swiss tourist items and the busiest Co-op I had ever seen. We passed through swiftly, too tired to enjoy it. We just wanted to get on the train back to Lauterbrunnen (we had to change at the point where the valleys meet, and as usual it was well organised by Swiss public transport staff) and hobble back to the campsite on our seized up legs.
The following morning we left the Lauterbrunnen valley. There were plenty of other things we could have done in the area, and we may well do them at some point, but for now it was time to move on to somewhere a little more peaceful.