The Top of Europe

The Top of Europe at Jungfraujoch in Switzerland isn’t the highest peak in Europe but it is the highest railway station in Europe. Conceived by Swiss industrialist, Adolph Guyer-Zeller in 1893, his idea was to blast a tunnel through the Eiger and Monch mountains and construct a cogwheel railway to the Jungfrau summit. Construction began in 1896 and, after numerous delays and a total cost of 16 million francs, the railway opened in 1912. Sadly, Mr. Guyer-Zeller did not live to see its completion.

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Bust of Adolph Guyer-Zeller at the Top of Europe

Due to the steep grade, the only way to reach Jungfraujoch is by cogwheel or rack rail, a system patented by Swiss engineer, Niklaus Riggenbach in 1863. As you can see in my photo below, the toothed rack rail runs between the tracks allowing a gear wheel on the train to mesh with it.

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Cogwheel track

The station is located at an altitude of 3571 m (11,782 ft) at Jungfraujoch, the saddle between Jungfrau and Monch.  Designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2001, Swiss Alps Jungfrau-Aletsch is noted for its Alpine beauty and as home to the longest glacier in Europe.

Trains depart from Grindelwald for Jungfraujoch every half hour for a journey which takes 1 hour and 18 minutes. With our Swiss Half Fare Card, we paid $95 for each round-trip ticket. After an early breakfast at Hotel Alpina, we stored our luggage at the hotel and boarded the train departing at 9:17 a.m. When we saw all the low-hanging clouds, we were concerned our views from the top might be obscured. Those are clouds beneath the mountains in the photos below, not snow!

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Low hanging clouds

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Twenty-three minutes after our departure from Grindelwald, we arrived in Kleine Scheidegg where we changed trains for the final ascent mostly through a tunnel inside the Eiger.

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The station at Kleine Scheidegg

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The station at Kleine Scheidegg

We stopped briefly at the Eismeer Station behind the southeast face of the Eiger to view the Grindelwald-Fiescher Glacier.

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Eismeer Station lookout

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Grindelwald-Fiescher Glacier from Eismeer Station

We arrived at the Top of Europe at 10:37 a.m., early enough to beat the rush at this time of year.  The underground station connects by tunnel to the Jungfrau Panorama, where we stopped first for the brief 360-degree multimedia experience about the Top of Europe.

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Tunnel at Jungfraujoch

After our introduction at Jungfrau Panorama, we were ready to see the real thing. The fastest elevator in Switzerland climbs 108 meters (354 ft) in just 25 seconds to arrive at the Sphinx viewpoint. The views when we reached the top were jaw-dropping.

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View of Aletsch Glacier

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Panorama of the Aletsch Glacier, the Sphinx viewing platform, and the peak of Jungfrau behind

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Sphinx viewing platform

In spite of our winter coats, hats, and gloves, it was so cold and windy on the platform we could only stay outside for a few minutes before we had to go back inside to warm up. Jim had difficulty holding up his Iowa State University banner in the wind for a photo for the #ISUFlag program, an activity that encourages ISU fans to submit photos of the school banner on their travels.

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Jim trying to show his ISU banner

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Mission accomplished

When we saw the board inside showed the current temperature was -7.7 degrees Celsius (18 degrees Fahrenheit) with a wind speed of 47 km/h (29 mph), we felt justified seeking views from indoors. The average temperature is -7.9 degrees Celsius so our visit was actually a little warmer than average.

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Temperature and wind speed at Top of Europe

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Jim, pointing to the summit of Jungfrau

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View from Top of Europe

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View from inside the viewing station

The Alpine Sensation opened in 2012 and I would guess it mostly gives tourists something to do if the weather up there is so bad the views are totally obscured. The history of the construction and tribute to the tunnel workers are worthwhile, however.

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Entrance to Alpine Sensation

We skipped the Ice Palace, restaurants, and shopping opportunities and opted instead to return to the station for the next train back to Grindelwald. Due to some confusion with the signs and directions, we missed the next train and had a longer wait than normal but we met a nice group of young people who made the same mistake and had a good visit with them.

On the return journey, one young man we met told us he was from the United States and working in Switzerland. He and I discussed photography and I asked him to send me his best photos of the day to post on my blog. My next post is devoted entirely to his photographs which are amazing so be sure to check back to see them. In the meantime, here are a couple more of my photos from the return trip.

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Return to Grindelwald from Jungfraujoch

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View from the train on the return trip to Grindelwald

When we arrived in Grindelwald, we grabbed our luggage from the hotel and hopped back on the train for Basel, our next destination in Switzerland and the departure point for our Viking River cruise on the Rhine River. Keep following along for lots more adventures.

Based on events from October 2017.

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