Welcome to the virgin: Jungfrau. It is the tallest peak of the Alpine Trinity and the westernmost point of a gigantic 10km limestone wall dominating the valleys of Lauterbrunnen and Grindelwald. Some say this is the region that inspired J.R.R. Tolkien to create the elven outpost – Rivendell – in the LOTR books.
Jungfrau is a true treasure chest with its highest railway station, the Sphinx observatory, the Ice Palace, the Jungfraufirn (a part of the Aletsch Glacier) and the best observation platform to use the PeakVisor app to see the most of the Bernese Alps, and to marvel over the Alps or the Vosges Mountains or even Schwarzwald.
Jungfrau Fact File
Height: 4,158 m (13,642 ft)
Prominence: 692 m (2,270 ft)
Isolation: 8.2 km (5.1 mi)
Parent Peak: Finsteraarhorn
Parent Range: the Bernese Alps
Location: Bern and Valais cantons of Switzerland
Coordinates: 46°32′12.5″N 7°57′45.5″E
First ascend: August 03, 1811 by brothers Johann and Hieronymus Meyer, and two chamois hunters Alois Volker and Joseph Bortis
Highest wind speed: 267.5 km/h
Hours of sunshine per year: 1700 (1/3 of the total daytime hours per year)
Average temperature: -7.9 Celsius
Jungfrau Name Origin
There is little discord here. Jungfrau is a virgin or a maiden. The mountain was probably named after the Augustiner nuns who grazed their cattle on the alpine meadows and right up into the highest peaks of the mountain. Their convent, dedicated to the Virgin, owned large amounts of land in the area, including pastures near Jungfrau foot. As in so many cases, the name of the pasture was later applied to the mountain itself. Another version, however, claims that the shape of the snow-covered peak, so near and yet so far, reminded people of nuns in their white robes.
The modern name occurs on a map of 1577, but later works give it other names, including Eigers Breithorn.
The top of the mountain looks like a housetop with an excessively steep roof. Some claim it reminds of the nun’s hood (thus the name). Anyway, it is one of the longest and sharpest arêtes of frozen snow to be found in the Alps. The mountain is quite steep, so you can have a feeling of looking down the one-kilometer deep precipice into the depths of Rottal, on the west of Jungfrau. The nearest valley starts at about 3km below.
Jungfrau Geology and Formation
Jungfrau is the highest and westernmost point of a gigantic 10km limestone wall dominating the valleys of Lauterbrunnen and Grindelwald (sorry, Harry Potter’s lovers, the place has nothing to do with the mean and wicked wizard Grindelwald ). Jungfrau has greatly differing landscapes formed by vertiginous precipices on the northwest and firns of the Aletsch Glacier on the southeast side. The 23km long valley of the Aletsch is uninhabited and surrounded by smaller glacier valleys (e.g. Eismeer Glacier), finally making up the biggest glaciated area in the Alps and Europe as well.
The glacier on Jungfrau itself is called the Jungfraufirn. It is the shortest of the four tributary glaciers of the big Aletsch Glacier. The Jungfraufirn starts on the southern flank of Mönch and goes to the eastern flank of Jungfrau with the Jungfraujoch station in between, returns to flank Kranzberg in the west and Trugberg in the east. Up to the Konkordiaplatz, the Jungfraufirn is merely 7km (4.3miles) long. At its highest point the Jungfraufirn is 2 km (1.2miles) wide, and farther down it is a good 1km (0.62miles) wide.
Much has changed since the first ascend to Jungfrau. There is no need now to go strenuously up along the Aletsch Glacier, being exposed to the elements. A train takes you to a nice starting point, from where the route to the summit takes only a few hours. Beware of the acclimatization issues, as the difference in altitude between the railway stations of Interlaken and Jungfraujoch is almost 3 km. The journey from Kleine Scheidegg to Jungfraujoch takes approximately 50 minutes including the stops, whereas the downhill return journey takes only 35 minutes.
Most climbers start from the Mönchsjoch Hut. After a traverse of the Jungfraufirn, the route heads to the Ostsporn and Rottalsattel (3,885 m), from where the southern ridge leads to Jungfrau. The journey from Jungfraujoch station usually takes 4-5 hours to climb up and about 4 hours to go down. It is not the most challenging or technically difficult climb usually rated at PD+ II-, or ZS, with ice 35-40 degrees, even though it can be dangerous on the upper section above the Rottalsattel, which is really exposed but there are iron belay poles every 50 meters to provide safety up and down. Still, this is the place where most accidents usually happen.
Providing you enjoy the perfect steadiness and first-rate guides, there is no danger, unless you climb too early in the season, or soon after a heavy fall of fresh snow. The final section of the climb goes along one of the longest and sharpest arêtes of frozen snow to be found in the Alps. You can look down at the precipice of 1km into the depths of Rottal, on the west of Jungfrau.
The actual peak consists of a nearly level ridge of frozen snow falling away on either side. It looks like a housetop with an excessively steep roof. Standing on the top of the world (after all, Jungfrau is the tallest of the Alpine Trinity), you can see the sea of ice of the Aletsch Glacier, the fertile valleys of about 3km below and other Alpine peaks. If you don’t know their names, do not despair. Take the PeakVisor app in your hands, take a photo and the app would draw an info-graphic panorama for you with the names of the mountains and the basic data on them. If you are hungry for more, there is extensive data available as well. We dug into the history of the Alps, legends, convenient or just awesome climbing routes and much more to enhance your user experience.
Jungfrau Climbing Stats
The first ascend: August 03, 1811 brothers Johann and Hieronymus Meyer the sons of a rich merchant Johann Rudolf Meyer, and two chamois hunters Alois Volker and Joseph Bortis. Some people doubted that they actually did it, so in 1812, the father Meyer sent his other two sons, Rudolf and Gottlieb to conquer Jungfrau again. Despite adverse weather conditions, Gottlieb Meyer with his party managed to reach the summit on September 03, 1812. Rudolf lacked the perseverance of his younger brother and took refuge in a bivouac near the Märjelensee.
The first woman to climb Jungfrau was Mrs Stephen Winkworth (in 1863). She had to sleep overnight in the Faulberg cave prior to the ascent as there was no hut at that time. The famous woman-climber Meta Brevoort was again the second woman on the mountain, just like with Matterhorn ascend (+link to Matterhorn blog). She managed the first winter ascend January 23, 1874, together with W.A.B. Coolidge and guides Christian and Ulrich Almer. They used a sled to reach the upper Aletsch Glacier, and were accompanied by Miss Brevoort's favorite dog, Tschingel.
The first direct route from the valley of Lauterbrunnen was opened in 1865 by Geoffrey Winthrop Young, H. Brooke George with the guide Chrisitan Almer. They had to carry ladders with them in order to cross the many crevasses on the north flank.
The west side succumbed to first climbers in 1885. Fritz and Heinrich von Allmen, Ulrich Brunner, Fritz Graf, Karl Schlunegger and Johann Stäger — all from Wengen ascended the Rottal ridge (Innere Rottalgrat) and reached the summit on September 21, 1885.
The more difficult and dangerous northeast ridge connecting the summit from the Jungfraujoch was first climbed on 30 July 1911 by Albert Weber and Hans Schlunegger.
Jungfraujoch is Europe’s highest altitude railway station (3 454 meters a.s.l.), and the highlight of every visit to Switzerland. It offers a high-Alpine wonderworld of ice, snow and rock, which can be marveled at from vantage terraces, the Aletsch Glacier or in the Ice Palace. On clear days, views extend as far as the Vosges Mountains in France and Schwarzwald (Black Forest) in Germany.
The railway operates all year round; the total travel time to the summit is 2 hours 10 minutes. You can arrive via Grindelwald–Kleine Scheidegg or via Lauterbrunnen–Kleine Scheidegg, and then go by cog railway Kleine Scheidegg–Jungfraujoch. The railway track runs for nine kilometers over ground from Kleine Scheidegg, climbing close to 1400 metres in altitude, there is a seven-kilometre-long tunnel within the mountain to finish off the route.
The Jungfrau Railway stops twice on the way up the tunnel. Once at the Eigerwand (2685m / 8,809 ft.), and then at the Eismeer (3010m / 9,875 ft.). Visitors can disembark to get a glimpse through picture windows unto a landscape of eternal ice and snow.
Once on top, a 250m long tunnel called "Alpine Sensation" connects the "Sphinx Hall" with the "Ice Palace", a cave filled with wildlife sculptures carved of ice. The tunnel is a new attraction and opened in 2012 for the centenary celebration. Alternating exhibitions are taking place and guests are transported on a moving walkway along a 90m long mural depicting the development of tourism in the Alps. The 360 degree cinema in the Sphinx Hall informs of the high-Alpine world surrounding the Top of Europe.
The construction of the Jungfrau Railway was nothing but easy. This pioneering project of the late 19th century was accompanied by setbacks and dramas, yet its visionaries fought their way first through Eiger and Mönch, then on to Jungfraujoch. In the 19th century Switzerland experienced rampant mountain railway fever, and the Jungfrau Railway became a culminating point of that.
It was brought in operation in 1912 and has been working nonstop ever since.
The Jungfrau railway started with bitter engineering rivalry. As early as 1869, the restless hotelier and transport politician from Interlaken, Friedrich Seiler, planned a pneumatic railway from Lauterbrunnen all the way to Rottal at the foot of Jungfrau. 20 years later, three simultaneously launched projects that saw Lauterbrunnental as a starting point aroused great controversy. The ideas were
- to have a staggered five-section railway and build a rock hotel (Maurice Köchlin),
- to place four independent cable cars in tunnels (Alexander Trautweiler),
- to convey carriages of 20 metres in length with compressed air in two straight tunnel sections directly to the peak (Eduard Locher).
None of those ideas gained enough popularity and financial aid.
The man who succeeded was a 54-year-old entrepreneur Adolf Guyer-Zeller, who was hiking above Mürren with his daughter. His ingenious idea was to start the railway not in Lauterbrunnen but at Kulm Station on the Wengernalp Railway on Kleine Scheidegg, 2,064 metres above sea level.
Guyer-Zeller submitted a licence application for an electrically operated cog railway, which initially had an aerial route and ran through a tunnel at the Eiger glacier. The railway was to stop at three stations there, each having its own unique charm from its particular view.
Guyer-Zeller proved to be a visionary railway businessman, as well as a clever entrepreneur and marketer. Every station was meant to be a tourist destination of its own and allowed the railway to be opened in stages. While the section in front was being built, tourists were already enjoying fantastic views on the section behind it. For the last stretch from the end of the railway to the peak of Jungfrau, a mere 100-metre-long lift was planned. On December 21, 1894, Guyer-Zeller received the construction licence and voluntarily pledged to help finance an observatory on Mönch or Jungfrau.
The railway was built with manual labour! Shovel, pick and muscle power were the only work equipment. What's more, the steam railway on Kleine Scheidegg did not operate in winter. To ensure provision in winter, a colony of huskies was kept on the Eiger glacier for transport between Wengen and the railway construction site.
Jungfrau Railway Parts and Stations
The first part of the railways was put in operation in September 1898. Guyer-Zeller was no mean guy, he knew how to entertain and promote: he invited 450 wealthy guests to a grand opening ceremony with a festival set especially for the occasion. He needed investors and his hospitality worked out: in 18 months he managed to sell 4,000 shares for the railroad.
The first tunnel station, Rotstock went into operation after less than one year of construction, “it offered a beautiful view to the North over the Lauberhorn far over the many lakes of the midland and the Jura mountain chain" said a 1903 travel brochure. You can still get that experience today if you go on a 260-metre fixed-rope route near the North wall.
Guyer-Zeller died in April 1899, it was a big setback to the construction. The Eigerwand station opened only in summer 1903. From the middle of the notorious Eiger North Wall (aka Mordwand) you can stare at the chasm lying at your feet.
Two years later, in 1905, the Eismeer (Sea of Ice) station was opened at the height of 3,160 metres. Back then it was a final station and had a restaurant and provided accommodation for fatigued tourists. It made a previously hidden glittering world of ice and snow accessible to the growing number of tourists. A short flight of stairs brought one to the Grindelwald-Fiescher Glacier, which was driven by fissures. This is, according to the promoters, "created as a racecourse for skiers, dog-sled runners, mainly for all kinds of snow sports". Touring skiers actually start here for the legendary Eismeer ski runs down to Grindelwald.
The construction of the railway could have stopped there, as the project was severely lacking money. The rock provided more resistance than expected, the workers went on strike six times, 30 of them died (usually due to blasting accidents). However, the Swiss would not be the Swiss if they just stopped. To boost the spirits, the management even tried to offer a bottle of red wine per worker per day. Finally, on the 21st February 1912, the Jungfraujoch was reached. Five months later, and 16 years after the start of construction, the first decorated train laden with tourists travelled up the 9.3km route. At that point the high point of all high-altitude mountain trips, Jungfraujoch, was born.
What to Do on Jungfrau
For starters, send a postcard to your friends from the Europe’s highest-altitude post office with its own area code (3801).
If your feet are both left, then Snow Fun Park is for you. It operates from early May to mid-October, you can turn pirouettes on an inflated tyre with Snowtubing, go sledging with the Balancer, fly on the Flying Fox rope slide. Or if you are ready to have a shake-up in the summer season and have a breath of winter coming, then ski or snowboard is your choice. The equipment can be hired on the spot. Even in the hottest months, the temperatures on Jungfrau do not rise over the zero degree Celsius.
Jungfrau Sphinx Observatory
The astronomical observatory located on Jungfrau is called Sphinx, but it is not as menacing as its ancient Greek counterpart is. A monster will not strangle you if you fail to puzzle out a riddle of the Beast. The modern Sphinx can be conquered in 25 seconds. A lift takes you 111 meters up. Just beware that your stomach will follow you a bit later, with a giant leap, so you might consider it unwise to eat anything heavy before the rise.
The Sphinx observatory was opened in 1937 and up to 1946 was the highest in the world (the massive increase in high-altitude observatories numbers occurred in the 1990s and 2000s). It is located on a rocky summit at 3,571m (11,716ft), has an optical telescope without any fancy additions (like infrared, gamma ray, cosmic rays) and works fair and square, just like the best Swiss watch.
The open viewing deck is accessible to the public, it offers views of the Alpine Trinity within many kilometres.
The Shpinx got into the movies as well: The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014, inspired by Stephen Zweig’s stories) and Krrish 3 (2013, a Bollywood sci-fi), even a video game Steep featured the observatory in its trailer.
If you are more an ogling type of a tourist, then visit the Ice Palace exhibiting the ice work as a fascinating piece of art. In the 1930s, the mountain guides created the aisles and halls in the middle of the Jungfraufirn. Currently the Ice Palace is used as an exhibition hall, you can see an eagle, an ibex, a bear and many other natural wonders, as though they had just been frozen. It is open all year round and accessible during railway operating times.
Monday to Friday: 8.00 - 12.00 and 13.30 - 17.30
Saturday: 9.00 - 12.00
Eismeer (Sea of Ice)
Another great viewing platform is the Eismeer station (3,160m a.s.l.). A five-minute stopover is definitely not enough to marvel at the bluish, furrowed ice blocks under a blanket of eternal snow, and the panorama of four thousand metre peaks. So, you might want to linger here for longer, even more so that you can come and leave the station any time (365 days per year) during the railway operating times.
Aletsch Glacier Hike
You don't need to be an extreme athlete to cross the ice of the largest glacier in Europe. The local guides offer a two-day tour is accessible to less experienced mountain climbers. Well, you have to be fit, confident and have a head for heights. On the first day, you set out at 10:30 am on the Jungfraujoch and walk along the Jungfraufirn for four hours to the Konkordia hut, where you sleep in the dorm. Next day is a six-hour march over the Aletsch glacier and the Märjelensee to the Fiescheralp. It does not sound much of a walking, but on completing this challenge you feel as if you were a professional mountaineer.
The assisted hike is offered starting from the end of June to the early October, every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday.
You can also test the waters with a glacier trekking tour to the Konkordia hut, or go to the Konkordia Climbing Garden, which is an ideal place for beginner-climbers.
It is neither a bike, not a scooter! It is a wild mix of the two. The Trottibike has a footprint of a scooter, and everything else is like a bicycle – big wheels, wide handlebars and strong brakes. Visitors roll along the asphalt roads on the original two-wheeler from Bort to Grindelwald, past flower gardens, mountain pastures and vegetable gardens.
It is to prove that anyone can fly. All you need is a gondola ticket from Grindelwald to First and a little bit of courage. It gets pretty fast on the First Flyer zip line. Approximately 80 km/h is possible, when the sons and daughters of Icarus whiz down the steel cable from First to Schreckfeld. Yet, fear not: you can always feel safe.
It is open Monday to Friday 8.00 to 17.30 with a lunch break 12.00 to 13.30. On Saturday, you can fly from 9.00 to 12.00. The First Flyer is closed on Sunday.
Useful Tips About the Tickets
- The trip up to the Top of Europe - the Jungfraujoch - is not included in any Swiss Travel Pass! If you use up a Swiss Travel Pass day, the trip to Wengen and/or Grindelwald is included, but from there you will need to purchase a connecting ticket, either from Grindelwald or Wengen via Kleine Scheidegg to Jungfraujoch and back. This is a round-trip ticket with which you can get to know both villages.
- For non-pass holders the "Good Morning" or "Good Afternoon" ticket could be an option between May 1 and October 31. This means you profit from a lower ticket price if you visit Jungfrau either in the morning or in the afternoon. Please, do pay attention to the fine print on their website. Both tickets are only valid on certain trains!
- Other Options: Should you spend your holiday only in the Jungfrau Region, do check out the Regional Bernese Oberland Pass - valid between May and October - (Swiss Travel Pass holders receive a discount) or one of the Jungfrau Passes.
- Admission to the Sphinx (viewing platform), the Ice Palace and "Alpine Sensation" are included in all tickets.
- All tickets can be purchased at any train station in Switzerland on the day you visit the Jungfraujoch. You can purchase tickets online in advance, but I don't recommend doing that. Keep an eye on the weather forecast and only go to the Top of Europe when the weather is good or you could get disappointed. Tickets are not exactly cheap, and when the peaks are shrouded in clouds, are rained or snowed upon, you wouldn't see much, so have an alternative plan ready. By the way, the PeakVisor app works even in bad weather! It is eerie to see the outlines of the mountains on a foggy dimly grey screen when the weather defies good vision.
- Quite often during fall and winter months, lower areas are thick with wafts of mist. But above the fog line, the weather could be brilliant. You wouldn't see the valleys below, but it looks like the mountains grow straight out of a sea of mist. Quite an enchanting experience.
The Mönchsjochhütte (The Mönchsjoch Hut)
The Mönchsjochhütte (3,650m a.s.l.) is the highest altitude serviced hut in Switzerland. It is just a 45-minute walk from Jungfraujoch. It operates mid-May to mid-October round and serves a starting point for the tours to the surrounding 4000-meter peaks (Jungfrau, Mönch, and Eiger). The hut is fully sustainable, but it takes a lot of effort to procure even the most humble needs: you wash with the meltwater from a huge tank, the food is delivered by the hut keeper’s snowmobile and the waste is taken away by a helicopter.
Routes Near Jungfrau
The nearby available routes are definitely those on Eiger and Mönch, as well as a route through Schynige Platte in the Bernese Oberland offers one of the best panoramic viewpoints on Eiger. The place can boast of the highest ratio of epic views per the amount of time spent on the route.
The same applies to Grösse Scheidegg and Faulhorn area. The trail from Schwarzwaldalp to Faulhorn peak is a demanding challenge, taking you up 1,200m, you will pass many waterfalls and meadows with slow cows chewing melancholy on the green grass. The route features panoramic views of the UNESCO enlisted mountain Jungfrau (4,158m above sea level) as well as its picturesque neighbours Mönch and Eiger. You can admire the Grindelwald area from the First Cliff Walk by Tissot, it is an approximately 40-metre long one-rope suspension bridge with climbing stairs and a 45-metre long observation platform.