The Top of Europe – Winter Sports Under The Jungfrau By Rosalind Milani Gallieni

Even after 20 years visiting this breathtaking region of the Swiss Alps, there is still the same content of apprehension and wonderment from an excursion to the Jungfraujoch, which towers above you at 3454mt above sea level. To top it all, this year also celebrates 100 years since the Jungfrau railway was completed – an engineering feat that took 16 years to complete, and which today takes passengers to the highest station in Europe.

Following the rails of the Jungfraubahn, which take you to this highest point, you come to the final railway station at the end of the line which quite literally takes your breath away, both for the altitude (as the air is extremely thin up here), and for the outrageous position, which opens out to the full-on panorama of the snow decked Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau.

The long train-run through the rock tunnel is broken up in two viewpoint panoramic windows looking out onto the world. Carved out of the rock wall, back in 1890’s, these tireless tunnellers, who were led by the vision of the fearless engineer and entrepreneur Adolf Guyer-Zeller, have today given us all a live wonderland pleasure ride, both in summer and winter.

At the Top of Europe, standing on the Jungfraujoch, we are amazed by the world of snow and ice which stretches below with views spanning over 20 kilometres along the Aletsch Glacier – on a clear day, you can spot the Vosges in France and the Black Forest in Germany. A glacier trek with an expert guide takes us along this eternal sea of ice; each one of us tied to one another by sturdy ropes, and happy husky dogs bounce about us in anticipation of the long runs ahead.

Making such close contact under-foot with this awe-inspiring glacier is a truly unique experience. Considering the mere brute power and depth of this beautifully dangerous landscape puts each one of us into perspective with our surroundings, and it is no surprise that key temperature and weather research is carried out at this exceptional UNESCO World Heritage Site to study our sustainable future: a most important natural reference in our in ever-changing world.

After a stretch on skies, a short run on a ski-do then takes us up to the door of an incredibly small, bright yellow twin-seater Piper Supercup and after a struggle to sit in the smallest of cockpits with ski boots and all, we take off from a white snow runway and climb up towards the Eiger’s North Face. The plane is exactly as wide as the single seats we are tucked into, and the body of the plane is a treated canvas. We watch in further amazement as the pilot keeps climbing for height and points out places on the rock on the North Face where bodies were never recovered. “Weather conditions often don’t allow us to get close enough to help, and we have to abandon the rescue operations,” he says slowly…considering…

One last swoop and he points the nose of the plane towards the opposite side of the valley, steering us to Mürren, which nestles under the PitzGloria, a location synonymous to many with the famous Bond movie, “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.” To reach there, we suddenly fly across an immense drop, with searing rock faces dropping away under us, straight down into the village of Lauterbrunnen below.

To mark the centenary of the Top of Europe, a celebration concert will take place on March 31st, with an international star-studded line up, counting singers Bryan Adams, Kim Wilde and Polo Hofer in concert at the SnowpenAir on the Kleine Scheidegg – an open air concert which reverberates effectively at 2000mt, directly at the foot of the biggest world icon, the Eiger, with its intimidating North face looking down at the valley below. Tread lightly!