Wednesday, September 27, 2006 - Schilthorn to Mürren Alpen hike, Switzerland

I awoke around 6:00 a.m. to find the Alps emerging from the clouds. Tom and I jumped up and snapped some photos just in time, before the mountains disappeared again. We went back to bed, hopeful that the sky would continue to clear.

Early a.m. Alps

The clouds came and went, came and went during the early morning, and at 8:00 I banged on Brian's door for him to come look off our balcony, afraid he might miss the mountains altogether. The three majestic peaks which dominate the sky from Mürren are the Eiger (3970 meters), Mönch (4107 meters), and Jungfrau (4158 meters). I'd wanted to see the Eiger since I first saw Clint Eastwood's movie "The Eiger Sanction," and now I've seen it from the comfort of my balcony. Too cool! All the mountain climbing in the movie was real, and Clint did his own stunts. Remember him rock climbing in blue jeans? Such was the state of climbing gear in 1975, I guess.

Almost as soon as Brian got to our room, the Alps were obscured again, but with the clouds rising from the valley below, Tom and Brian were convinced they would either go away, or perhaps we could get above them. We made plans to take the cable car to the peak of the mountain we were staying on, the Schilthorn, and then hike back down. I thought this hike might be a little steep and strenuous, but if the guys were up for it, then I was too.

Hotel Jungfrau, Mürren

We went downstairs and had a big breakfast of salami sandwiches, boiled eggs, and fruit (Wow, this place has actual fruit), then we bundled up and headed for the cable-car station.

Ibex mountain goat

From Mürren we could see straight down to the valley floor 800 meters below. Mürren truly is perched on the edge of a cliff. We picked up some snacks at the grocery store, Brian bought a walking stick, then we boarded the Schilthornbahn to Birg and on to the Schilthorn summit (CHF 41 each, one way).

Mürren from the Schilthornbahn

As soon as the cable car left Mürren, we entered a cloud bank, then just before Birg (2677 meters), the lift broke through the clouds. The passengers gasped collectively as we were greeted with the breathtaking view. In a daze, we transferred cable cars and continued upward to the 2970-meter Schilthorn peak.

The Eiger, Mönch, and Jungfrau from the top of the Schilthorn

Birg above the clouds

At the top of the Schilthorn sits Piz Gloria, a revolving restaurant featured in the 1968 James Bond film "On Her Majesty’s Secret Service" as villain Blofeld's hideout. Naturally, the "Touristorama" on the lower level of the Piz Gloria sells James Bond souvenirs.

"Bond, James Bond"

Interesting Bond trivia, yes, but we were there for the scenic vistas. The panorama terrace of the restaurant affords a stunning 360-degree view of over 200 mountain peaks. With the clouds below us, it looked like a view from an airplane, an airplane flying horrifyingly low over the Alps.

At the top of the Alps

Jana and Tom

As others headed back to the cable car, we aimed ourselves down the mountain. From our rudimentary hiking map, we chose the shortest marked route down to Mürren, trail 14, "Schilthorn-Engetal-Kanonenrohr-Blumental-Mürren (approximately three hours)." It said three hours, but we thought five might be more realistic.

Thanks for the warning!

All three of us are reasonably experienced hikers, though not necessarily recently, but this hike kicked our butts. We could see the beginning of the hike was freakishly steep, but we thought if we just get past this first part, the rest will be easy. After all, it's all downhill from here! Just below the metal stairs bolted onto the mountain that lead down from the restaurant terrace, we reached a fork in the trail and crossed a narrow ridge with a hair-raising drop-off to either side. As Brian pointed out, we were on the marked trail, but I ignorantly suggested we go back to the fork and head down the other trail, because we could see that the trails meet back up down below, and surely, I said, the other trail can't be any more frightening than the one we were on. Ha!

Looking back at Blofeld's hideout

Tom and Brian agreed to my uninformed plan, and we crossed back over the terrifying ridge and started down the other path. Almost immediately the steep, narrow trail turned into a shifting surface of loose shale covered with snow, with a steep drop-off to one side. Once we'd started down, there was no way we could have climbed back up. Tom and I slid down dozens of meters on our butts, being as careful as we could not to let the slide get out of control. Brian, with the aid of his walking stick, was able to stay mostly on his feet, but the one time he did have to sit, he lost one of his water bottles, which went bouncing down the side of the mountain never to be seen again.

Picking our way carefully down the trail

We spaced ourselves out on the hellish part of the trail so that if one of us slipped, we wouldn't knock off anyone else, and I reached the bottom of the dangerous section first. I turned around to watch Tom and Brian, but it was just too scary and I had to turn away. I didn't want to see them go over the edge. Brian told me later he was thinking how horrible it would be to have to tell our dad and brother Mark if he'd come back from Europe without me!

Whew! Made it!

After that first section, we were out of danger. The trail was wide and there was no fear of death, but the path was steep all the way down. At Birg we could have bailed from the hike and taken the cable car down, but we continued walking. It was totally worth the effort for the unbelievable views.

Two hours into the hike we stopped and ate a snack lunch near Schilthornhütte, 2432 meters. Just before this, we'd descended into the clouds. It was in the mid to high 40s Fahrenheit, which was pretty nice to hike in, but we got chilled quickly as we ate, so we only stopped for a few minutes. Forty minutes later, at around 2150 meters, we began to emerge from the clouds, and we took another break.

Below the clouds

When we reached Allmendhubel (1907 meters), we decided to take the funicular the last 300 vertical meters back down to Mürren. It was CHF 7.40 for the one-way fare. Totally worth it. We'd hiked seven kilometers, 1063 meters vertically, in a little less than four hours. That's plenty. We got back to our rooms about 4:00 p.m.

Allmendhubel-Mürren funicular

At 6:30 p.m. we went out looking for dinner. We walked all over this tiny town on our sore legs. Nothing looked great and nothing was cheap, so we just defaulted back to our hotel's restaurant. Once we were seated, we learned to our dismay that the choices were different tonight. They only had fondue, a fish set menu, or a beef set menu. The restaurant smelled like feet due to all the stinky cheese, so fondue was out of the question. We all got the beef dinner, which was comparable to a Swanson TV dinner. This middling meal cost freaking CHF 145 (about $40 each). I love Mürren's location, but they've gotta do something about the food.

Under our balcony

Continue to Day 11

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