Adventure in Eiger’s shadow: Eiger Express to Jungfraujoch and the Eiger Trail

by Nov 26, 2022Switzerland


The Eiger is an iconic mountain to climbers, artists, writers, musicians, and hikers. The Eiger Express, Jungfraujoch, and the Eiger Trail each provide travelers a unique way to experience the Eiger from many sides without having to be an alpinist.

The Eiger. It is arguably one of the most iconic mountains in the world. It is the storyline in countless literary works and movies, including the 1975 film, “The Eiger Sanction” starring Clint Eastwood. I have dreamed for decades of seeing it and staring up at its infamous north face, the Eiger Nordwand. When, finally, Therese and I found our way to picturesque Grindelwald village in Switzerland’s Jungfrau region, my dream was realized. And I could not tear my eyes from it. The Eiger. What an extraordinarily beautiful mountain.

The Eiger stands 13,025 feet (3,970 meters) high, an imposing limestone buttress in the Swiss Bernese Alps. Grindelwald village, which sits appropriately at the foot of this grand mountain, owes its success as a tourist attraction (for better or worse) to the climbers, artists, writers, and musicians who became mesmerized by its summit in the mid 1800s.

First climbed in 1858 via the West Flank, it was not until an attempt was made on the imposing north face in 1935 that the mountain’s name began to attain legendary status. Two young German climbers, Karl Mehringer and Max Sedlmayr, failed to return from this first attempt on the Eiger Nordwand, and were found days later, frozen, at a place now known as “Death Bivouac.” Since then, at least 64 climbers have died while attempting the north face, leading to the face to be called by another name, “Mordwand” or “Murder Wall.”

The Eiger Summit At Sunrise

Sunrise hits the Eiger summit as clouds shroud its base and walls.

Our first morning in Grindelwald, as I stood on the balcony of our room at Hotel Belvedere gazing up at the Eiger, clouds and mist swirled around its peak. While the summit was sunny, the imposing north face remained in the shadows, seeming to make its own weather. Despite its notorious reputation, even I, now feeling too old to attempt the summit by climbing rope, felt the pull of its siren call.

The closest I would get to the north face on this trip would be to hike along its base on the Eiger Trail, beginning at the Eigergletscher Station at 7,637 feet of elevation. And to get there, Therese and I would be whisked up from Grindelwald Terminal via the Eiger Express, a four-mile, 15-minute-long journey via a tri-cable gondola that soars over eye-popping Alpine meadows and directly beneath the Eiger’s north face.

Eiger Express Cable Cars At Eigergletscher

Tricable cable cars of the Eiger Express just below the Eigergletscher station and Jungfraujoch.

Before we would begin hiking though, it was obligatory to visit Jungfraujoch and the Top of Europe attraction. To get there, we jumped onto a Jungfrau Railway train which sped through a tunnel carved by enterprising Swiss engineers in the early 1900s. The tunnel passes through the heart of the Eiger and Mönch mountains to what is billed as Europe’s highest railway station.

Although the Top of Europe attractions at Jungfraujoch are a bit Disneyesque, it is absolutely worth spending a few hours enjoying it all. Jungraujoch is situated in the heart of the Jungfrau-Aletsch-Bietschhorn UNESCO World Heritage Site and the views from the platform in The Sphinx viewing building (at 11,715 feet elevation/3,571 meters) are quite simply stunning (be sure to watch our video at the end of this post to see the views from all angles). Our explorations then took us onto the glacier plateau leaving me feeling as if I had been granted entrance to a frozen kingdom to await an audience with the Ice Queen herself. Finally, we wandered through the Ice Palace along tunnels literally carved out of the glacier (yes, it is cold and slippery, but amazingly fun).  


Now that I’d been beneath and behind the Eiger though, it was time to hike beside it. We exited the Eigergletscher Station (“Eiger Glacier”) and, after passing beneath the Eiger Express gondolas, we arrived at the beginning of the trail, and a few plaques on the wall. Here, notable climbers who have summited the Eiger via its north face are recognized with photo plaques and handprints.

In a short bit we found ourselves at a landing of sorts on a promontory with a few benches and several interpretive signs showing the various historic routes and providing details about several historic ascents. It is certainly possible, with a pair of binoculars, to see climbers on the face, chasing their own bit of personal history.

Eiger Trail Below The Eiger

Standing at the sign on the Eiger Trail detailing classic climbs on the Eiger’s North Face.

From here, the trail descends steadily for approximately three miles along the base of the Eiger’s north face. At every opportunity, I craned my neck to look up on the massive Mordwand towering above. Toward the end of the route, the Eiger Trail zigzags steeply down to the Berghaus Alpiglen. Which was perfect since no excellent hiking adventure in the Alps is complete without celebrating with a requisite beer. Sitting there on a sun-bathed patio, I stared back up at the Eiger and smiled. Now, painted in warm afternoon sunlight, the mountain looked almost docile, inviting.

With our train approaching, we headed over to the Wengernalp Railway Station to begin the final leg of our trip back to Grindelwald. Being a train lover, I was extra excited since the Wengernalp line, part of the Jungfrau Railway, is the longest operating cog railway in the world.

Wengernalp Train Climbs Steeply Out Of Grindelwald

The Wengernalp train climbs steeply out of Grindelwald. This is the longest cog railway line in the world.

I stared out the windows during our 25-minute train ride back to Grindelwald, alternating between gazing at the green alpine meadows as we passed by, and back up at the Eiger, now returning to the shadows. Having walked beneath its north face, I could feel the mountain worming its way deeper into my soul. There’s no explaining it, really. Other than I understand why so many have been pulled into the Eiger’s gravity, unable to look away. I suspect should you visit Grindelwald and the Jungfraujoch one day soon, you’ll find you can’t look away either. The Eiger will hold your gaze for a lifetime.

You might also be interested in reading:

Don't Let The Sun Set On You!

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