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Interloping in Interlaken

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If Switzerland is the original adventure travel destination as Swiss Tourism rightfully declares, then Interlaken-Jungfrau is where adventure was born. Today, it is the hub of adventure activities where you can find just about every activity on land, water and in the air from paragliding (tandem with a pilot), hiking and climbing, mountain biking or easy electric powered "e-bikes" on bike paths, rafting and boat trips, and Segway tours, and of course there's skiing and winter sports of every sort in the snow. Here is also one of the world's classic mountain adventure excursions: the Jungfraujoch train to the top of Europe.

It may be a popular tourist attraction, but this part of the Berner Oberland has some of the most impressive mountain scenery, centered around the triple peaks of the Eiger (3,970m/13,025ft), the Monch (4,099m/13,448ft) and the Jungfrau (4,158m/13,642ft). A network of rail and cable-car routes from the town of Interlaken takes visitors to trail heads and mountain peaks. An amazing feat of construction and a wild day of adventure for anyone—and I pretty much mean anyone—who has not been mountain climbing and summited a high massif is the Jungfrau train—the highest train in Europe. It's busy and it gets crowded, but we start out on the first departure of the day to get a step ahead of the tourists.

We met up with Herr Martin Gertsch, a Jungfrau trekking and mountain guide who was born in Wengen. For his 14th birthday his father took him to the summit of the Jungfrau, which is not a train ride, but requires technical mountain climbing starting out from the highest mountain hut in the dark of the early morning. Like so many guides in this region, Martin is not only skilled and confident, but is a joy to spend time with. He lived in upstate New York where he raised a family and was in the forefront of the organic food movement in the 1990's, working with leading food companies, conservation organizations, and social venture networks, until he decided to get out of the business world of North America to return to a more peaceful and less stressful life in the Alps. He lives in the incredibly beautiful village of Wengen, perched on green pastures high up in the Alps only accessible on foot or by cogwheel mountain train.

A Swiss guy somewhere along the way told us, "There is no distance in Switzerland." And, while the trains and buses get us from one side of the country to another cutting down the sense of distance, here in the Jungfrau the train to the sky also cuts down the heights of the peaks in the Alps! 100 years ago, alpine enthusiasts and business magnates interested in making one of the most iconic massifs of Switzerland available to visitors from around the world, hired mostly Italian laborers who worked for 19 years to construct this system of tracks tunneling through solid rock up steep mountain faces to a saddle just below the peaks.

The day-long circuit starts in the valley bottom of Lauterbrunnen (which looks like Yosemite Valley with waterfalls everywhere cascading over high limestone rock faces deep into the lush green valley), ascends along the via Cook to Kleine Scheidegg at the foot of Eiger, Monch and Jungfrau where many hiking trails start, eventually reaching rock faces of the high peaks and then back down another route through high valleys and alpine meadows eventually reaching the small town of Grindelwald: It's all a spectacular day of adventure! At the top of Jungfrau, which was Matt Lauer's favorite place ever on his "Where in the world is Matt Lauer" segment on the today show, there are two restaurants, the Ice Palace, the Sphinx observation  hall, and  more providing many interpretive displays, fun activities and 360 degree views of the Alps. It was raining a foggy when we started out, but the cogwheel trains took us above the cloud ceiling into a world of warm bring sunshine and glistening glaciers.
 
Struggling a bit with high altitude, we managed to make the hour long hike from the observation hall to the mountain hut higher up near the base of the Monch where ski mountaineers and climbers where also gathering for lunch. Like a good Swiss alpine trekker, Martin was able to down a hearty bowl of sausage and a stein of beer for lunch! Also, inside the observation tower some guy managed to bring his Leonberger dog up the mountain--it was probably the biggest dog I have ever seen. All part of a day of adventure in Switzerland.
Tagged in: Europe Switzerland

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