Hiking in the Swiss Alps Part One: The Eiger Trail
It doesn’t get much better than hiking in the Swiss Alps!! The month before we left for Switzerland, we spent most of our time visiting with our family and friends in Cincinnati. I enjoyed our family time and I tried staying in shape by doing a lot of yoga but I did ZERO cardiovascular activities like hiking or running. Needless to say, I am out of shape and hiking in the Swiss Alps is no joke. Day one in Switzerland didn’t go as expected but then again we’re traveling around the globe for the adventures and this was definitely an adventure.
When we arrived in Switzerland we were still traveling with our family (six of us). Our destination was Wengen, a mountain town only accessible by train or gondola, where we spent four nights. No cars are allowed in this town/village. Initially I knew I was in trouble when I began huffing and puffing for air as I walked up the steep incline to our Airbnb from the train station. I could already feel the high altitude and the thin air as I breathed deeper.
The following day we began our one hour train ride to the trailhead and our first hike. The trail winds up the north face of the Eiger and ends at the Eigergletscher Restaurant (elevation 7,618 ft).
I was immediately intrigued. We were the only people to get off at this deserted stop, Alpiglen. There was not another human being in sight. The only life was the grazing cows eating grass on the mountainside. The bells around their necks were chiming with every movement. This was a sound that I had NEVER heard while hiking in the United States.
I was a bit confused by the desolation of this train stop (confusion is normal for me these days). I was under the impression that this was one of the best hikes in the area. Where was everyone?
As we started up the hike, my uncertainty lifted when I soon realized there were people on the trail going the opposite direction. Everyone but us decided to take the train to the summit and walk down the mountain versus ascend up the 3.6 miles to the summit.
My unfit self who had spent the last 15 days in Germany and Scotland eating fish and chips, soft pretzels with butter, plates of meat and drinking liters of beer was a bit apprehensive about this climb. But I soldiered on, like I normally do. I started to realize how great of an opportunity this was and my apprehension started to lift.
The hike itself was beautiful. There was a nice view of the snowcapped Eiger Mountain in clear sight….at least for now. We crossed five streams and waterfalls and had great views of the town of Grindelwald in the valley below.
I surprised myself by making it up to the restaurant without being too sore or tired. I felt pretty good. At the restaurant, we met Karl’s parents for lunch and we would’ve enjoyed a great view if a storm hadn’t rolled in while we were eating.
After eating lunch at the Eigergletscher, Karl’s parents took the train back down to Wengen. I contemplated taking this train but since I was still feeling pretty good and in lieu of our financial situation (living off of our savings), I decided to continue the walk back down.
This was a very BIG mistake.
Initially, the walk down started out without issues. The clouds became thicker and then rain and fog started to develop. Quickly, we could no longer see the Eiger nor could we see the trail below us.
We all wanted to get down as soon as possible. The map we had wasn’t great and the visibility was starting to deteriorate. We thought we were going in the right direction but by accident, we climbed another 1,200 feet to the top of Lauberhorn (elevation 8,110 ft). This was probably an incredible viewpoint but we couldn’t see 10 feet in front of us. The fog was very dense and we couldn’t see a thing.
At the summit of the Lauberhorn, the trail ended. It was a dead end and the only way to go was back down. We had just walked an extra hour uphill. On the way down we were still unsure of where to go as the rain came down harder and harder. At this moment we were really unsure of where we were and still unable to see anything around us.
Out of nowhere there was a white utility truck. Then appeared a local utility worker who was able to point us in the right direction. He was the only person we had seen in the last two hours. He said “it’s too dangerous to keep going the way you’re heading” and pointed us in a different way. Moments later we finally found a sign. This was the sweetest sign I had seen all day!! We were still 30 minutes from the closest train station but real civilization was close.
I was officially exhausted, wet, cold, and irritable. I needed to get off the mountain ASAP.
We had two options. 1) Head back uphill towards the large train station we initially walked by hours ago, or 2) keep heading downhill towards the very small train station and hope we could hop on the train.
I needed off the mountain so we headed towards the downhill station.
Twenty five minutes later we were at the station. Yippee or Shit?!?! Maybe this wasn’t the best idea. There was no one at this station. There wasn’t a sole waiting and the ticket window was closed. Now I was starting to panic. I started thinking that maybe we would never make it down this mountain.
As we waited for a train to appear, magically a Russian couple appeared out of the dense fog. Things were starting to look up for us. Now, we weren’t the only ones cold, wet and stranded. We quickly walked toward them to find out what they were doing and if they were planning on catching the train. Sure enough they were already attempting to get cell phone service to buy a train ticket online.
The four of us headed into the deserted train station to charge his cell phone. We asked the couple if they were able to buy train tickets online as we were nervous the train would not stop. That’s when they pointed at the sign in German and English that read “Buy your train tickets on the train.” In our hast and frustration we neglected to read the English portion of the sign. I could finally relax.
The train came moments later. It stopped for us and we proceeded to buy our tickets for the trip down ($12 Swiss Francs for the both of us). We were on our way off the mountain, finally. What a crazy day.
Looking back on it, our first hike in Switzerland was stunning. It was worth getting lost and having a few days of sore muscles. It wasn’t easy but I know it’s the things that are difficult in life that make life worth living. This was only day one and our hut hike was still to come. Stay tuned for Hiking in the Swiss Alps Part Two: A Hut Hike. Our second hike would be even more spectacular.