Via Alpina Part7: Hikes around Lauterbrunnen

In Part 1 of this account, we outlined the project (hiking roughly 1/3 of the Via Alpina across Switzerland with Tom, Carol, Bob, and Diane), and covered our first two days, hiking from Mels to Elm (and taking transport to Braunwald). Part 2 took us on to Klausenpass and to Altdorf, home of William Tell. In Part 3 we climbed over the Surenenpass and enjoyed rest days in Engleberg. Part 4 took us over the next pass or two to Meiringen, while Part 5 went on to Grindelwald and an excursion to a high mountain hut. Part 6 finished the linear journey. In this final post, we'll do some hikes around Lauterbrunnen and visit a cool outdoor museum.

What we did in Lauterbrunnen

We arranged to end our trip with 3 nights ins Lauterbrunnen, in order to do a few of the great hikes around there. The weather was a bit dodgy the first day, but we managed to find the views in spite of the best efforts of the clouds.
I went out after dinner on our arrival day to explore the town and check out the iconic Staubbach Falls. The Lauterbrunnen Valley is purportedly Tolkien's inspiration for Rivendell, the beautiful home of the elves with falling water all about. The valley has something like 75 waterfalls dropping into it, but the Staubbach Falls, landing pretty much in the middle of town, is the one you see on the postcards.

A trail leads up to and through the cliff to a viewpoint a short way above the bottom of the falls. Naturally, I climbed it, my explorations adding perhaps another mile and a couple hundred feet to the day's total.
Looking up the valley through the falling water.


 Lauterbrunnen Day Outing 1: Trümmelbach Falls and the Schilthorn

I have to stick in another plug here for the excellent public transit we found all over Switzerland. In so many US places, a day like this would require a car, to get between the various start points. Instead, we bought a bus ticket for a couple of bucks and were whisked off to be at Trümmelbach Falls by the time the gates open.

The falls are a beautiful example of something I had seen in other places from a distance--the ability of water to cut a deep and narrow gorge through the soft limestone that makes up these mountains. A trail--a melange of tunnels and cantilevered walkways--has been constructed through the almost cave-like gorge, and lights installed. I wouldn't want to see this on all the falls, but it was great to get the inside view!

A relatively open bit of the falls, which are more of a cascade--a series of steep rapids and falls, not a single continuous drop.

Looking down into the lighted slot.

Let's combine fear of heights with fear of white water for a fun place to stand! (And yes, I suffer from both of those).

When we had thoroughly explored the falls, we moved on up the valley to take the lift to the Schilthorn. At 9744', the restaurant and viewing platforms promised some great views of the Eiger-Münch-Jungfrau massif. For added fun, it was also "Piz Gloria" in the 1969 James Bond movie, On Her Majesty's Secret Service. In fact, without the movie and the funding the studio provided, the restaurant might not have been finished.

The scenery looked promising on the way up.

The reality when we reached the summit was less than inspiring.

Take time to admire the peaks!

We went and watched the film on the making of the structure and the movie, which was fun, and we hoped would give time for things to clear a bit.

There was some clearing to the west, toward the pass over which the Via Alpina continues--without us.

The main feature, however, remained a mere peepshow.

We did have a solution for the problem, however: we took the lift back down one stop to the Birg at about 8600'. Bingo--views!

Eiger, Münch, Jungfrau, and all the rest whose names we don't know.

This also gave us a chance to play around on the requisite thrill-walk, which wasn't open all the way but did give access to the utterly safe if disconcerting tight-rope walk.
Diane tests her fear of heights. I did, too, with no problems--that Swiss engineering again.

In order to enjoy the scenery more and get a little exercise, we took the lift back to Gimmelwald, then walked back up to and through Murren to catch the train to the Murrenbahn lift, which deposited us practically atop our hotel.

Dropping back into Lauterbrunnen

We finished with dinner in the restaurant, since this was the last night we would all five be together. We tried assorted classic Swiss dishes, in my case rösti, which looked a lot like eggs and bacon and home fries!

Heart-stopping, but really tasty. Bob had the equally heart-unhealthy raclette: slabs of cheese melted so one can dip bread and potatoes into it.

I finished the night with a stroll out after dark to see the falls lighted up. It would have been better if I'd gone farther out away from the cliffs, but it was late and I didn't want to.

Stats: only about 2.6 miles, but 1300' of climbing. That counts as a rest day for me.

Lauterbrunnen, Day 2: Männlichen to Kleine Scheidegg

The next morning we had to say the hard goodbyes, as Diane and Bob went on to hike parts of the Haute Route, while Tom and Carol and I had one last day to spend in Lauterbrunnen before going home. We parted at the train station, their train out to cross Switzerland leaving just ahead of our cog-rail train to Männlichen. This climbs the opposite side of the valley from our previous day's outing, offering a new perspective on everything, including views back toward the Faulhorn, Grindelwald, and the Grosse Scheidegg over which we had bused in the rain 5 days earlier.

We made a loop by leaving the train at Wengen and taking the lift to Männlichen, then walking back to Kleine Scheidegg.

First we walked the out-and-back mile of the "Royal Walk" to a fantastic viewpoint, with the Lauterbrunnen Valley slashed into the hills below the Jungfrau.

I shot this for the patterns, but it is worth noting that we had just read about these avalanche control measures, and that a system of tree-planting (with the trees supported by wooden structures until they are large enough to stand on their own, by which time the supports have rotted out) is actually a great deal cheaper and at least as effective.

This was a metal net, but I was intrigued by the plaid effect.

There was a fantastic playground at Männlichen, including this vast cow. You climb up the backside (see stairs) and children can slide down the throat and out the mouth. Seems like it would be more realistic to do it the other way around?

The walk continuing on to Kleine Scheidegg was fantastic, with straight-on views of the North Face of the Eiger much of the way. 

At the end of our hike we picked up the train again, and took it back down to Lauterbrunnen. From Kleine Scheidegg you can also take the Jungfraujoch, the train that goes up to a reportedly stunning restaurant and viewpoint on the saddle between Münch and Jungfrau. At upwards of two hundred dollars for the ride, we passed. My companions had been, and I wasn't going alone, even if I could have gotten a ticket without a reservation.
The train enters the mountain where the rock starts, and pretty much stays inside, which is of course the only way they can run a train to those altitudes.
Stats: 4.4 miles, 275' up, 850' down. An easy day but not quite a rest day--and not a bad finish to our European hiking. 

The Trip Home

We departed the next morning for Zurich to be in position for flights home the following day. But the trip is short enough that we had time for one good stop. We chose the extensive outdoor museum at Ballenburg. The museum consists of "villages" (clusters of historical buildings moved in from other places) representing Swiss life in different times and regions. I've included a few photos just to give an idea of what it's like. I don't really remember dates for the buildings and so on, so you can make your own guesses.

Wealthy merchant's home, 18th Century?

Farm wagon

A display about the somewhat artificial creation of "traditional" folk costumes had some gorgeous outfits.

They even had some beautiful heirloom-breed chickens.

I didn't track our mileage at Ballenburg, since being in and out of buildings messes with the GPS, but we probably walked upwards of 3 miles. We had two or three hours to spend there, but you could spend days.

The entire trip (in my case, Scotland, England, the Tour de Mt. Blanc and the Via Alpina) took its toll on us, and on our gear. In the end, a fair number of socks, at least one holey t-shirt, and Tom's boots went into the trash. On the other hand, the plastic bag I bought at the Tesco just outside Edinburgh on my very first day in Europe carried my groceries for the entire 7 weeks! I did have to patch one small tear, but I ended up hauling it home, wrapping my boots in it. Next time, however, I will remember to bring my own reusable grocery bag.

Since recycling this sort of plastic is really hard, I'm working on seeing how long I can keep reusing it.

Well, that's a wrap! I was in Europe from June 13 to August 5, and in that time I walked around 295 miles and climbed upwards of 69,000'. That's like climbing Mt. Rainier 4 1/2 times--from sea level. I didn't come home skinny, because we were eating way too high on the food chain, but thanks to the walking, I didn't roll home from all those great meals and fantastic cheese!

I am glad to have done this trip, but did come up with a few take-aways.
1. Two months is a very long time for me to be constantly on the go. In future, I will probably limit trips to 5-6 weeks, or else plan on getting a place where I can den up for at least a week in the middle--someplace I can do my own cooking.

2. While it's great fun to stay in nice hotels and have a good shower each night after hiking, I actually prefer wilderness backpacking. That's not about a love of sleeping on the ground--it's about being in the wilderness. If I did the trip again, I'd still hotel it, though I might plan a few camping nights where that would really improve the scenic values. What it really means is that I'll be doing more US style backpacking in the next few years, and probably minimize international travel, in order to spend more time deep in the wilderness while I'm able.

3. Fine food and wine is kind of lost on me. I hate spending that much for a meal, and I doubly hate having to wait until late to eat.

4. I liked haggis, so I didn't disgrace my Scots ancestors!

5. I want to go back to Scotland. Switzerland and France I feel like I'm done with.

6. I hate long flights!

7. Next time I'll pack as though I'm carrying my stuff all the time, even if I'm not. 

A happy sight, as it showed I was almost home.

©Rebecca M. Douglass, 2022
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  1. You've mentioned so many places I've been to or seen, but nearly all on there & back trips by public transport or coach. Alas, it only brings back memories of feelings and place names, not the actual locations or events! I hope it will continue to have many happy memories for you.
    When you need to give the bag its last home, send it back to me. It should fit in a small envelope :) The shop will recycle it, and possibly give me a replacement for you.

    1. Oh, and the rosti is the shredded potato pancake underneath that egg. Egg and bacon etc are entirely optional. You can also make it with a mix of root veg. Yummy.

    2. I'm pretty fuzzy about the places I visited 30+ years ago, so I get that. As for the bag... I love it!

  2. Wonderful pictures! Glad I could be there when you bought the bag, and to be able to walk part of this adventure with you. Also glad I was not along for the France or Switzerland portions. My knee would not have held up well. Anyway, thanks for the pics and your descriptions. I have enjoyed being brought along.


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