Lauterbrunnen, Jungfraujoch to Mannlichen, Aletsch Glacier, First to Faulhorn
Photos: www.amazon.com/photos/ share/cdHhseVbcXoLr2Zv BHarcQ9EHRIw0YKIj3Xqs9 TeDbb
I was planning to just do 2 parts to the trip report, but too much still left to fit into one...
Lauterbrunnen, Wengen or Murren? On our first trip to Switzerland, we stayed in all 3 of these places and loved them all for different reasons, but we hated wasting half a day moving from place to place, so we decided we would spend all 9 nights in one place this time. We chose Lauterbrunnen for a few reasons: 1. We love staying in the valley surrounded by the sheer walls on all sides – we’ve loved staying in Yosemite and Zion, and love magical Lauterbrunnen most of all; 2. We loved the Hotel Staubbach that we stayed in last time – the balcony rooms (we like room 22) have a breathtaking view of Staubbach Falls and the rest of the valley (and they have a great free breakfast – with bacon :-) ); and 3. The convenience of getting to anywhere in the L. Valley area and beyond without the extra hop from Wengen/Murren was a factor as well – and you’ll see we went just about every direction.
Lauterbrunnen – if there’s a better setting for a small mountain town than Lauterbrunnen, I’ve not seen it – there’s a reason this valley was Tolkien’s inspiration for Middle Earth. Our hotel is at the far end of town, so we’ve made that walk through town (framed by the valley and the waterfall) dozens of times and it does not get old. Good restaurants in town include Hotel Oberland (make reservations) or surprisingly the Camping Jungfrau restaurant (also make reservations) just down the valley a few minutes.
Jungfraujoch – so we didn’t get to Jungfraujoch last time, so we were determined to experience it this time, so the first clear morning we caught an early train up from Lauterbrunnen to Wengen and on to Kleine Scheidegg for the first 8am train up – a bit risky because the Jungfrau Marathon was going on, but since we were out early it was fine. We had mixed feelings about the trip – the train ride is of course mostly inside the mountain (don’t bother getting out for the 5 min stop halfway up – wait till the top) so nothing spectacular about the train ride other than appreciating the engineering.
Once at the top, go immediately straight up the stairs to the Sphinx observation deck – we were the first ones up there :-) and that was pretty cool – of course you can see forever up there, and seeing the glacier was cool (we would see the other side tomorrow on our Aletsch Glacier day). The observation deck fills up quickly, but it didn’t seem overwhelmed with people early on. We explored the other observation areas, the ice cave (meh) and ate at the self-service restaurant with a great view. Make no mistake it was impressive, but no more that Titlis in our opinion (which was 43CHF with the Swiss Travel Pass vs. 132CHF for Jungfraujoch!) – so value-wise we wouldn’t recommend it – it’s more of a destination that it’s cool to say you’ve been there (and buy the T-shirt), but much better views-per-dollar in other places (Titlis, Schilthorn, Eggishorn or even Mannlichen on a clear day). Again, mountain opinions are subjective so take it or leave it… I also think that going in the afternoon instead (which is more risky weather-wise and more crowded) would have meant better views toward the glacier because of the angle of the sun, so consider that as a factor in the recommendation here as well.
Kleine Scheidegg to Mannlichen (the scenic route) – on our way back down, we got off in KS, which was buzzing with a carnival-like scene due to the marathon ending here – food, shops and live music made for a fun atmosphere that we enjoyed for a bit before taking the scenic route to Mannlichen – we really love the hike to Mannlichen from KS but decided to take the longer route by hiking down to Alpiglen – very nice views of the valley toward Grindelwald all the way down, eating at the Alpiglen restaurant, which was very good (rosti/pasta/Swiss options), taking the train down to Grindelwald, and walking over to the continuous cable car up to Mannlichen – one of our favorite cable cars because it’s so small that you have the car to yourself, and the spectacular ride itself takes about 30 minutes – we hear they are replacing these cars with larger faster ones which is more practical but not as much fun. Once at Mannlichen, which is one of our favorite views in all of the valley (in the morning the views up Lauterbrunnen Valley are amazing, and in the afternoon the views toward Grindelwald are equally so), we soaked up the views and caught the last cable car down to Wengen and back on down to Lauterbrunnen for the evening.
Aletsch Glacier Area (Riederalp, Moosfluh, Bettmeralp/Bettmerhorn) – this was also on our list after missing it last time, and this ended up being one of our favorite days of the trip. The value here is great because you can buy a day pass for 30CHF that covers all the cable cars in the area for the day. We took an early train (7am) from Lauterbrunnen to Interlaken to Spiez to Brig to Morel – not as bad as it sounds – a mostly scenic ride that took a little less than 2 hours. There are 2 options to get up to Riederalp (and then Moosfluh), so when we got our day passes, we saw that there was a line for the bigger cable car that went up to one side of Riederalp every 30 mins, so we took the other smaller continuous cable car instead – this meant a longer walk over to the Moosfluh cable car, but we liked this option better.
Moosfluh/Bettmerhorn – when you ride the continuous cable car to Moosfluh, stay in the car at the mid station (unless you’re hiking from there) and continue up to Moosfluh, which is a spectacular viewpoint. Photo tip: Instead of following the crowd to the overlook deck, walk to the right for a ways and you’ll see several overlook spots you’ll have to yourself for cool pictures. Great views all around here – of course the glacier is the draw, but there are great views the other way as well – we could clearly see the Matterhorn on this morning. There are several hikes you can do from here, but since we were only here for the day, we just walked along the ridge for a while and turned back to Moosfluh and back down to Riederalp. We then took the easy, beautiful, mostly paved trail down to the cool car-free town of Bettmeralp where we grabbed a snack at the Coop and headed over to the Bettmerhorn continuous cable car. Very cool ride up to the top with a great viewpoint and some lounge chairs if you can snag one that are a great relaxing way to soak in the amazing views. The original plan was to hike from Bettmeralp over to Fiescheralp and then take the cable car up to Eggishorn, but we just ran out of time. Would like to base in this area for a few days next time. Just an amazing day.
First / Bachalpsee / Faulhorn – several months ago we took a chance (not knowing the weather) and booked a room at Faulhorn for a night, and the weather turned out great, so this was one of the highlights of our trip. We started by taking the train from Lauterbrunnen to Grindelwald (though if we had more time we would have gone the long way via Wengen/Mannlichen) and walked through Grindelwald (cool bustling town in a great setting) to the First continuous cable car. The plan was to hike to Bachalpsee for lunch and then on up to Faulhorn. Since we had pretty heavy daypacks on (because we were spending the night), the walk to Bachalpsee (about an hour) was a bit more challenging than expected, so be aware – not a difficult hike, but if you’re expecting to stroll over to Bachalpsee in your sandals, you’ll be surprised. Again, get out early to avoid the crowds.
Bachalpsee – as always in the mountains, weather is everything, and at Bachalpsee and other lakes, the wind is everything – when it’s breezy, the Bachalpsee scene is beautiful, but when it is still, it is spectacular with the reflection of the mountains. Photo tip: if the water is still and you want the mountain reflection shot, higher is not better, go down to the water and get as close to the ground as you can to get in as much of the mountains as possible. iPhone panorama shots are great here as well. Also, I’d say be patient and stick around to enjoy the views even if it’s not still – it was breezy when we got there and after 30 minutes or so it got still for about 10 minutes which was amazing. One other tip – most people stay in the area between the 2 lakes, but even if you’re not planning to hike up to Faulhorn, walk that direction to the other end of the larger lake (and up a bit) and you’ll get another different spectacular view looking back toward the mountains. Morning views seem more likely to be still but the sun is in your face, and afternoon views are better lighting but less likely to be still – the perfect scenario is a still shot in the afternoon, so good luck.
Faulhorn – so from Bachalpsee we began the climb to Faulhorn, which was relentless and somewhat brutal with a heavy pack on – my fitness tracker said the climb from First to Faulhorn was the equivalent of 176 flights of stairs – and 70% of that was in the last couple kilometers. We took our time and arrived at Faulhorn around 3pm which was a good time, because it gave us time to get settled and rest a bit before dinner at 6pm. The 360 degree views of Faulhorn are worth the climb on a clear day and staying there is definitely the way to go. Can’t imagine having to climb back down that same afternoon. Everyone gathers for dinner at 6pm, which was great – they had a meat and vegetarian option (not included in the cost of the stay) – nice people and cool old berghotel (from 1830’s I think?). No showers or potable water, or heat, of course, but they give you a hot water bottle to put in your bed which does a surprisingly good job. Really great experience all around. Most people stayed outside to watch an incredible sunset (see the photos – I did not adjust the color at all) and then most gathered back in the dining room for coffee and dessert. Not a cheap experience, of course, but still less than Jungfraujoch for 2 people. I’d recommend taking a portable power source (the walls are pretty thin so we had a white noise app running all night on my phone) and plenty of water. We had a simple breakfast and hiked back down in the morning, stopping at Bachalpsee and First on the way back to Grindelwald. We wanted to do the zipline at First, but decided not to with all our gear with us. Maybe next time. The First Cliff Walk was pretty cool and worth doing, and it takes you right over to the restaurant which is a great place to get a bite to eat or a drink with amazing views.
Photos: www.amazon.com/photos/ share/cdHhseVbcXoLr2Zv BHarcQ9EHRIw0YKIj3Xqs9 TeDbb
Next up in part 3: Kandersteg/Oeschinensee, Gelmersee, Schilthorn/Birg/Allmendhubel, Harder Kulm, Murren/Gimmelwald, Wengen, Thun