Friday, January 13, 2012

Matt Lauer has NOTHING on us!!

Yes – Just like Matt Lauer we are off to the Sphinx Observatory atop the Jungfraujoch via a train ride THROUGH the Eiger to the highest train station in Europe  (11,300 feet!).  Also a UNESCO site.

Knees are knocking and we're not even up there yet.

Today’s journey only involves two trains up and two trains back – no cable cars.  The first stretch takes us from Wengen to Kleine Scheidegg, which is also used as a starting point for those rugged individuals who dare to climb the North Face of the Eiger (in the summer, of course). 

North Face of the Eiger centered over the hotel.

It is also a central lift area and “McHenry’s Beach” area (you have to know the Deer Valley ski area for this one!) of the Jungfrau!  Although on the way up it was a little early for ‘sunning’.

Everyone is out skiing.  This place will be very busy on our way back in the afternoon,

The Jungfraubahn was our train to “The Top of Europe”!  Amazing to think that this railroad was built 100 years ago.  Construction was begun in 1896 utilizing the manual labor of around 100 Italian laborers utilizing shovels, picks and muscle power for the first section.  Construction continued up the interior of the mountain until completion at the Jungfraujoch in August, 1912.  The cost was 16 million Swiss francs, which was twice as much as originally estimated.  But, they are quite proud of this achievement and are planning great events to celebrate the 100 Anniversary of the railroad later this year.

On the way up, there are two train stops where one can get off the train and look through observation windows at the sheer cliffs of the Eiger.  Impossible to believe that men actually climb this thing!  And, to help us understand the sheer magnitude of an assent (or the failure of one), we have been reading “The White Spider” by Heinrich Harrer, who was in the party of the first successful assent to the top of the Eiger on the North Wall (in 1938)!  Well worth a read.

Fortunately, we did not have to scale the Wall – but, were delivered safely by the Jungfraubahn.  Our first stop was the Glacier Plateau.  While the sky was beautifully clear, without a cloud in sight, the wind was blowing at a steady 20 miles/hour with greater gusts and the temperature (without wind relativity) was about 20 degrees.  COLD!!! 

Hard to keep the lens still it is blowing to hard.
Not sure how this paraglider is keeping his kit on the ground.

From here the views are stunning – looking into neighboring countries and down the Aletsch Glacier, Europe’s longest at nearly 11 miles!!

Our sense of distance was really warped from this height.

On up to the TOP of the Sphinx observatory.  It is impossible to capture the magnitude of the height and breadth of what one sees here – even utilizing my crack photographer!!  It is HIGH!!

This one is for brother Ken.  Yes, I really did stand on this see through grating thingy to get a downward shot of this cliff that falls thousands of feet.  Knees were a little week though!

This observatory and research center is one of the world’s foremost environmental research stations.  While the earlier focus was on high-altitude medicine and astronomy, today’s is on meteorology, glaciology and atmospheric measurements.  MeteoSwiss has operated a weather station on the Jungfraujoch since 1922.  Its unique position on a ridge at the main climatic divide of the Alps is reflected in the extreme weather data.  The measurements allow MeteoSwiss to track atmospheric pollution and climate change in the Alpine region – think ozone measurements and global warming research!!

We just wanted our pictures taken up here – Gary in front of the Monch (13,475’) and Elizabeth in front of the Jungfrau (13,642’).

The Monch

The Jungfrau

There were some of those daredevils here just as there were over at the Schilthorn – those willing to jump off the top and catch some of those wind gusts –

Amazing to see him control this in the high winds!

Up this high, you could even see the start of the famed Lauberhorn downhill (which we will see in a couple of days) –

The red fencing is the Top of the Lauberhorn downhill race run.

We also got a good look at the Schilthorn – our destination yesterday.

No 007 in sight.

On the way back down, a stop at Kleine Scheidegg for our afternoon snack was in order.  A little busier this time of day.   Bars were set up in the funniest places!!  And the hot chocolate with Bailey’s and lots of whip cream was just what E needed!!

Alpine Teepee Bar - Santa Fe or Klein Scheidegg??

Ahhh, a warm refreshment.

What an incredible couple of days!  The weather was so wonderful and allowed us ‘to see forever’ on our ‘top of the world’ adventures.  After all these activities, we decided a bit of a down day was probably smart since the races were about to begin and would require lots of walking, lots of excitement and possibly long days.   So – Thursday we took the train to Grindelwald.  A bit of poor planning on our part, as we seemed to have taken the morning ‘rush hour train’ to the slopes!!  AND, all the ski teams were now in town and completing all their training runs – so they were also a new ‘mix’ on the trains.  All in a days entertainment -

I think the crowds have gotten to the guy sitting down.

But, on the other end was a cute little town much like Park City – except that the train came into the center of town. 

Welcome to Grindelwald.

We wandered, shopped, ate lunch, shopped some more, had our afternoon snack looking back up at the Jungfraujoch (from yesterdays journey) and E finally sampled Gluwein;-)  This is a hot spiced red wine and will now be the afternoon drink of choice!

Everywhere you look, beautiful scenery.

The chocolate cake and the espresso weren't bad either.

One must pay attention to the train schedule as timing is everything.   Opening ‘ceremonies’ (not exactly what was expected!)  were at 5:15 back in Wengen and we had two trains to catch to get there.   So, it was time to retrace our steps.  As mentioned, we could have missed the evening events – especially as Ted did not make the bib draw – but a close up of Axel made the evening better;-) 

Bib draw for the next days Super Combined Race.

Axel Lund of E's favorites.

A really nice dinner followed the ceremonies – perhaps one of the best since in Europe.  The Beausite Park Hotel was the provider – highly recommend, just be sure to take your credit card with the HIGH limit!  Besides the wonderful meal, we ran into Ted and had a nice little chat;-) 

Tomorrow the races begin – and we are VERY excited.  Will give you a full report as each event unfolds.

Hope all is well back in the states – E & G

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