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Report 1021: Switzerland in Slow Motion: 100 Miles on the Alpine Pass Route

By Kaydee from Tennessee, Summer 2005

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Page 9 of 19: Day 6: Grindelwald to Lauterbrunnen

photo by Kathy Wood

A rainy day for our walk to Lauterbrunnen

This was a very, very tough day, and we were proud of what the three of us accomplished. We did the entire walk in dismal weather, even when there were several options to simplify things and take a train. We hiked about 12 miles today, with an elevation gain of 3,668 feet. The conditions were very challenging, foggy and rainy pretty much the whole day. It was an amazing contrast to yesterday. After I took a few photos from the balcony of our room, I put my camera in a waterproof bag and didn’t take it out for the rest of the day.

Our route took us down through the main part of Grindelwald for the first time, a busy town with lots of shops, hotels and restaurants. Then we cut down below the village to a mountain railway station at Grund, and finally began our trek uphill on a steep path near the railway track. A few trains went by on their way up the mountain, and people waved at us. I'm sure some of them chuckled at us walking in the rain. We saw Kris and Phil below us at one point. We also encountered a mother, father and teenage son making their way up a similar route. The mother was really having major problems, struggling more than me.

Eventually we came to a mountain inn at Alpiglen. The views from Alpiglen were supposed to be “superb” but we couldn’t see much of anything. We just knew that somewhere out there were the Eiger, the Mönch and the Jungfrau. We were glad to reach a temporary stopping place, even if there wasn’t a view. It was too early for lunch, but we decided to get out of the rain, have something hot to drink, and use the bathroom. The family we had seen on the trail was also taking a break at the inn. We found out that they’re Scottish and are on a self-guided walking trip similar to our own, though not through Sherpa. They were walking just to Wengen today, not quite as far as our route.

We continued to make our way uphill to Kleine Scheidegg on a wide paved trail. Although “kleine” means “small” and “grosse” usually means “big,” Kleine Scheidegg is actually 324 feet higher than Grosse Scheidegg. We read in our guidebook that the term “grosse” meant “great” and referred to the extent of the pass (a wide saddle), not the height at this point.

There were a couple of other walkers out, even some children, despite the dreary conditions. It was extremely foggy and the fog came and went, almost creating visual illusions. As usual, I struggled on the steep uphill climb. Kelly was desperate to use a bathroom, and eventually we let her make her way up without us. We were headed to a big mountain railway station at Kleine Scheidegg, where the trains depart for the Jungfraujoch, the highest mountain railway station in Europe.

As we got closer to Kleine Scheidegg, we saw several big hotels on the top of the mountain. It was strangely eerie: a mountain resort in the middle of nowhere. As we approached the top, we met a large group of Japanese tourists walking down the path with their guide. They carried umbrellas and were dressed in regular street clothes and shoes, and I wondered how they would ever get back up the hill. But at least they can report back that they hiked in the Swiss Alps!

Kleine Scheidegg was incredibly busy with a big railway station. In addition to the hotels and the station, there were a couple of souvenir shops, restaurants, and even an outdoor playground. Announcements were made on a loudspeaker every few minutes, and there were lots of tourists despite the weather. The tickets for the trip to the Jungfrau were very expensive (about $125 round-trip for a second-class ticket from Grindelwald to the top via Kleine Scheidegg). Today I’m sure visibility at the very top was non-existent, but the tourists were still headed up.

We saw another train station just below Kleine Scheidegg, which seemed to be the departure point for Wengen, our destination for today. We briefly, but seriously, considered taking the train because we were so wet. But Charley and I also knew that once we started taking the train on days like this, it would be too easy to do it again, and then we wouldn’t have really hiked across the Swiss Alps. We decided to continue on and save a possible bus or train ride for a day when we need it more. It was actually possible there would be days when it might snow on the mountains!

We hadn't expected Kleine Scheidegg to be so big, so we hoped we would be able to locate Kelly. If I had known it would be this busy and spread out, I wouldn’t have let her go on ahead. I found Kelly in the ladies room of the biggest restaurant, struggling with an upset stomach. Charley got us a corner booth, and we ordered bowls of goulash soup. I had hot tea, and Charley had hot gluhwein. We also ordered a wonderful apple dessert that we saw people at another table eating. It was good to get out of our wet clothes, and we hoped we could dry off and warm up a bit before we put those wet clothes back on for the walk down the mountain.

We saw Kris and Phil at a nearby table. They planned to take the train down to Lauterbrunnen. Their itinerary for the next couple of days was a bit different than ours, since they decided to stay these next two nights in Murren. They said they preferred Murren because it was up on the mountain instead of in a darker valley. Because they've done this walk before, they feel under less pressure to push themselves excessively to do the whole walk. The Wood Family, on the other hand, was determined to press on!

The rest of the day’s walk was all downhill; it was very long (still another three plus hours), but all downhill. Downhill is definitely easier (especially for me), but it’s also very hard on your knees. We basically gave up all our altitude gain for the day. But that was the pattern for almost every day of this walk!

Our route to Wengen was on a gravel path, once again passing near the railroad track and even crossing over the tracks at a small mountain station. At least the rain seemed to have stopped, though it was still very foggy and visibility was very poor. Charley and Kelly played word games to fill the time and tested each other on state and world capitals. Then we all played an elaborate ABC game: “The brown buffalo barreled brazenly to Borneo.” This one would have described me: “The wet woman walked wearily to Wengen.” Kelly loved this game, and it did help us pass the time. Meanwhile, we used our walking poles to set a rapid rhythm that would get us down to Lauterbrunnen as quickly as possible.

We finally came to Wengen, a pedestrian-only village at 4,183 feet. We could see down the valley to where we were headed. Wengen looked very interesting, but we decided to continue on. We only stopped to use the restroom at the train station. We could have taken the train down to Lauterbrunnen from here too, but we had our momentum and we kept on going.

Lauterbrunnen is set in a narrow valley with Wengen on one mountain and Murren on the other. The valley is set between almost vertical cliffs and so there are many, many waterfalls, one of which is almost 1,000 feet high. We were to base in Lauterbrunnen for two nights. Our route then headed up to Murren (on the opposite side of the valley) and on over the next Alpine pass. Technically tomorrow was a rest day, but the following day would be long and hard, so our Sherpa notes recommend we use part of our rest day to walk up to Murren. We planned to do this. Then on our “big” walking day, we would take the funicular and train to Murren and begin our walk there.

The path down to Lauterbrunnen was steep and crossed over the railway several times. We kept on with the word games as a way to pass the time. Finally we reached a bridge and had to find our way through a parking garage and then a big train station with an underground tunnel. We walked just a little ways toward the funicular to find our hotel, the Hotel Silberhorn. We were absolutely soaking wet.

The hotel looked very nice, too nice for the three of us to be dripping on the carpet! The desk person took us to a drying room where we could leave our wet clothes. She brought out some drying racks and we stripped off the various outer layers of wet things.

We liked our room a lot, plenty of space to spread out for two nights and a balcony with a view of the valley and the mountain on the other side. Charley took the rest of our wet things off to dry, and we took turns to use a wonderfully hot shower.

The hotel had a big dining room and lots of guests. Their fixed menu included a salad bar, not something we have seen a lot in Europe. We were led to an assigned table. Al’s table was next to ours, and we asked to combine our table with his. We caught up on the events of the day.

After dinner Kelly was somehow invited to join a group of older British tourists who were playing Trivial Pursuit in the lounge. I went up to read and rest, but she played Trivial Pursuit for a long time. Charley said she was a feature attraction of the game. She played on the men’s team and knew the answers to a couple of questions that no one else knew. She was pretty excited about this experience.

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