The Jungfrau: Climb the star of the Bernese Alps

23 June, 2020 | Reccy Guide

The majestic Jungfrau is the crowning jewel in the famous 10-kilometer trio of Bernese peaks, which dominate Switzerland’s climbing scene. 

Towering above its legendary neighbors the Eiger and Monch, the Jungfrau caps a staggering 4,158m, making it the third highest peak in the Bernese Alps.

The raw natural beauty of the Jungfrau has been inspiring adventurers and artists for centuries.

It is fabled that a 19-year-old JR Tolkien was inspired to write Lord of the Rings after hiking its summit, and based Middle Earth on the dramatic surrounding landscape. The surrounding area has also served as the backdrop for numerous Hollywood blockbusters, including Star Wars, James Bond, and Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. 

Mountain, air, and water, the region offers ample opportunity for adventurers to push themselves to their limits. The sheer variety of activities on offer in the Jungfrau region has secured it the reputation as Switzerland’s number one destination for adrenaline-junkies, with kayaking, sledding, abseiling, and paragliding all available within a relatively short distance of each other. 

But it is the area’s climbing that stands out as the starring attraction. 

Enjoying the view of the Trio

The climb to Jungfrau’s dizzying summit has long been prized as one of Europe’s ultimate adventures. It was first completed in 1811, by Swiss brothers Johann Rudolf and Hieronymus Meyer. The feat was considered so extraordinary that many questioned the legitimacy of their claims. 

Nowadays, those with a solid understanding of climbing and good level of fitness will conquer the giant without too much resistance. The ascent offers a fantastic glacial climb, leading to an exposed finish and spectacular views, and is rated PD (not too difficult). 

The best place to begin your journey is in the charming mountain village of Grindelwald. Conveniently located close to all three major peaks in the area, the village is a favorite of tourists looking for an adrenaline fueled holiday. The surrounding area offers a huge amount of scenic diversity, with glacial lakes lacing their way through lush green valleys, and staggering rock faces rising behind the gingerbread house chalets. 

Climbers will find numerous tour operators in the village, which include big international operators like Explore-Share, and smaller, local options like the Grindelwaldsports Mountaineering School. Prices vary, but you can expect to pay anything from $600 – $1,000 per person.

From Grindelwald, most climbers opt to hike to the comfortable Mönchsjochhütte, for an overnight stop. This is a great option if you’re keen to get an early start on the main ascent, with the added bonus of waking to a dazzling sunrise over the surrounding valleys. 

The Jungfrau

If you don’t want to include an overnight stay in your Jungfrau adventure, then it is also possible to take the train to Kleine Scheidegg or Jungfraujoch.

Jungfraujoch station is not only the highest train station in Europe, but also provides access to numerous attractions, including the Ice Palace, Sphinx observation deck, and Gletscher Adventure Trail. 

The majority of your ascent will be over snow and ice, and as such is only suitable for climbers with experience handling this kind of terrain. 

Not long into your journey you will cross the great Aletsch Glacier. For many, the experience of being so close to a UNESCO World Heritage protected site is a trip highlight. 

Continuing on, you will traverse a section of very steep snow and ice, before reaching the Rottalsattel. This is perhaps the most difficult part of the climb, and will require a healthy dose of nerve to complete. The ascent can reach up to 50 degrees, and is a real physical challenge for all fitness levels. 

Once you have completed this particularly grueling section, the final push to the summit is comparatively plain sailing. You will traverse another patch of snow and ice to the airy rock ridge, before reaching the summit. 

After a well earned break spent soaking up the panoramic views of the surrounding region, you will begin your descent. All in all, the round trip will take around 7 hours. 

This route is considered the normal path to the summit of Jungfrau, and as a result can get crowded in the clear summer months. Luckily, it is forgiving of the weather, and is suitable to climb year round, if you pay careful attention to the forecast.

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