Countless waterfalls, snow topped mountain peaks, a cute village surrounded by towering cliffs. No, we didn’t photoshop Shru in a photo from the Lord of the Rings.
Shru did her expert tripadvisoring once again and came across a small mountain town called Lauterbrunnen known for awesome hikes and amazing scenery. It was only a short, 20min, and cheap, 10CHF train ride from Interlaken, and based on the map we had of the area it looked to be nestled nicely in the mountains. Its population in 2012 of 2500 is approximately the same as it was in 1900! The place feels like it’s been frozen in time. The name Lauterbrunnen translates to ‘many springs’ and when you arrive via train from Interlaken through the U shaped valley carved from the towering mountain ranges, you quickly know why. As you climb toward the village, cascading waterfalls drop from steep rocky cliffs on all sides. As we approached the train terminal, Shru and I looked at each other and grinned from ear to ear…this place is for REAL! We’d be staying in a youth hostel in the middle of this fairy tale town, so we were really curious what $30/head would buy us given the prices we ran into in Zurich and Interlaken.
We threw our backpacks, climbed out of the train and saw this. Crazy!
Our hostel, Valley Hostel was situated a short 5min walk down from the train station in the center of the small town, neatly positioned next to the river that runs through the valley with views of many of the tallest mountains in the Swiss Alps including Jungfrau and surrounded by waterfalls, including a several thousand foot one that lands just on the edge of the town. This was starting to take me back to the RIDICULOUS beauty of Southern New Zealand, where you just couldn’t believe that the place was real. It was hard wringing the camera out of Shru’s hands. I think she expected some clouds to roll in anytime and just wipe the scenery off the face of the earth.
We settled into what turned out to be one of our top three hostels (out of about 30 during our travels abroad). The Valley Hostel was absolutely immaculate and to Shru’s absolute delight the place had a NO SHOES policy. They even supplied comfortable slippers for all guests in case you didn’t have your own. Our room, which we shared with 4 other guests, was clean, big, and equipped with storage space and clothes hangers. The room also had a walk-out balcony that overlooked the river and mountains…I’m not kidding. The common areas, kitchen, and bathrooms were also clean, spacious, and comfortable….it is no surprise that our 2 night stay here ballooned to 4 nights…and probably would have been longer if we had a do-over.
We were there to hike so we didn’t waste any time. The weather was perfect and it wasn’t exactly difficult to find a trail. Mountains were all around, and we passed several signs pointing to trailheads on the short walk from the train station. We packed up a day pack and went to the front desk to see about a trail map.
Lauterbrunnen is situated at about 796m/2600ft. The top of the peaks around the valley rise to about 4158m/13600ft…and we would learn that they do that in a hurry. For instance, hiking to the nearest town only takes about an hour uphill but rises straight up about 470m/1540ft via switchbacks. We decided to take the trail to the town of Wengen which is perched above Lauterbrunnen at around 1274m/4180ft. Along the way to Wengen we met a rather odd looking gentleman with two huge knee braces, carrying tw0 large, heavy looking grocery bags in both hands. We figured he was just going up a little ways to one of the cottages on the hillside after doing his grocery shopping in Lauterbrunnen. Turns out he wasn’t. We basically shadowed the guy for about 30min wondering how in the hell he was still going at our pace. Finally, we overtook him and stopped for a little rest and a quick chat. Apparently this guy travels to Switzerland once a year from England for an annual gut buster weight loss program that he invented. His weight loss program is pretty simple..he basically just climbs from morning to evening for a solid week. He was on this fourth trip of a planned six trips up and down the mountain to Wengen in ONE day ..That works out to 1540ft x 6 (9240ft or 2800m of vertical climbing in one day!). We were ashamed that our climb would take us only 3200ft that day…and we weren’t carrying bags of rocks either. On the other hand, we also wondered why the guy just didn’t eat a little smarter the other 51weeks of the year to spare himself the torture.
Once at Wengen, a really cool mountain town with small inns and ski cabins, we set off across the top of the ridge line that looked out across the valley towards the towering peaks of the Alps, about 3000ft above the valley floor. The snow had only recently melted so there didn’t seem to be another hiker for miles. We’d learn that this whole area becomes a wide open skiing paradise in the winter, thus there are many trams and gondolas connecting the small cities, all the way up the mountain. There were times we got off the trail and wandered through vast meadows only to run into a chair lift or a small boarded up ski lodge/restaurant. Cows and sheep would appear out of nowhere and give us the evil eye, but we didn’t see any locals, which was both weird and a little spooky. Anyway, after a few hours of rambling up the trail, we rose above a ridge and caught our first up-close glimpse of the Bernese Alps with the breathtaking Jungfrau and Monch peaks right in front of us.
It was a very different sensation hiking along the ridge-line directly across from the rising walls of towering mountains and glacier fields…normally we are climbing to a summit and then looking out over the ranges…in this case we were so close to the steep walls that it felt like we could just reach out and touch them…if it wasn’t for the 4000ft foot drop to the valley floor between us. On the way back, we ventured down a really cool forest trail that ran right next to the cliff edge where you could see straight down several waterfalls. Along this cliff edge, base jumpers take a plunge every day. We got back down the mountain right at sunset, in time to see all the lights of Lauterbrunnen come on.