Jungfrau Railway: Tunneling Through the Swiss Alps
I’ve tried my hand at climbing a couple high-altitude peaks, but I never thought one day I’d be traveling through mountains. Switzerland is a country of wonders, but none so much as the adventure afforded by the Jungfrau Railway, which actually travels through a tunnel dug in the mountains of the Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau.
The magnitude of the endeavor is fascinating on so many levels. Truly, how does one even conceive of such an idea, set it in motion, and achieve the ultimate goal of burrowing through miles of mighty mountain rock? If you’re industrialist Adolf Guyer-Zeller, you take a hike in the Alps and get divine inspiration, sketching out a plan on a sheet of paper to make the glaciated areas on the south more accessible.
The project got underway in 1896 and the first section was carved out with just picks, shovels and human power in two years time. Built and opened in sections, the tunnel took 16 years to complete and the summit station opened in 1912. 2012 marks the 100th anniversary of its completion.
After the 50-minute train ride, which included stops at Eigerwand and Eismeer to peer through windows built into the mountainsides, I was 11,332 feet above sea level at the highest railway station in Europe – nestled in the Jungfraujoch saddle.
Walking through the tunnels, it was easy to get winded and light-headed so far up, especially when I picked up the pace through the complex’s passageways.
While there are maps, it’s a bit of a labyrinth and we circled a couple areas more than once trying to find our way. There are three points where you can go outside and we didn’t identify the highest point observatory until we’d done a few laps. A bit frustrating but worth the effort once we made our way out to get more views of Jungfrau and its surrounding sister mountains, the Eiger, Mönch and others.
Jungfrau – meaning maiden in German – is one of the main summits in the Bernese Alps, and is part of a massive wall that includes the Eiger and Mönch overlooking the Bernese Oberland. A team of four climbers first reached the summit of Jungfrau in August 1811.
After it enters the mountain tunnel, the cogwheel railway stops at three stations carved in the mountains: Eigerwand (Eiger Wall) and Eismeer (Sea of Ice) for five minutes each, and then terminates at the Jungfraujoch station. At the first two stops, visitors can get an eyeful thanks to windows installed in the mountainsides. Eigerwand offers views from the middle of the Eiger North Wall.
The Jungfraujoch col, also known as a saddle, sits between the Mönch and the Jungfrau mountains in the Bernese Alps on the boundary between the cantons of Bern and Valais in Switzerland. The Jungfraujoch is the lowest point on the mountain ridge between the two mountains at 11,388 feet (3,471 meters).
Accessed by a high-speed elevator, the Sphinx Observatory – named after the Sphinx peak on which it rests just east of the Jungfraujoch col – is 11,716 feet (3,571 meters) above sea level and has a small viewing platform.
The Jungfraubahn cog train – the highest in a series of cooperating railway companies starting from Interlaken – runs through a 4.5-mile (7.3 km) railway tunnel on the final leg of the journey to Jungfraujoch. The railway station is the highest railway station in Europe at an elevation of 11,332 feet (3,454 meters).
The surrounding mountains alternate between snow-packed to bare peaks, and can highlight the moodiness of the weather. On clear days, views reportedly extend as far as the Vosges mountains in France and Germany’s Black Forest.
To celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Jungfrau Railway in 2012, the newly opened Alpine Sensation tour runs 25 meters long and includes vintage photographs of the tunnel and railway construction, fanciful decorations including a life-size snow globe and wood animal characters, panoramic imagery and caverns.
Chipped out of the glacier, an icy passageway showcases animal ice sculptures in alcoves and tunnels to explore. With vaulted corridors that are regularly re-cut, it’s 360 degrees of blue-tinged ice.
Click here for more information on exploring the Jungfrau Railway.
About The Adventure Post
Veteran journalists Wendy Geister and Marcus Woolf launched The Adventure Post to share their passion for travel and outdoor adventure. They chronicle their journeys to inspire others to explore and provide insider tips that steer people toward richer travel experiences. The Adventure Post also includes contributions from other experienced travelers, as well as detailed gear reviews and reports on trends in outdoor recreation and adventure travel.