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WENGEN THRILLS - Katie Bamber, Wengen
Wednesday February 22, 2017 - Email this article to a friend

Climbing the north face of the Eiger, skiing the Lauberhorn downhill, riding the famous Jungfrau railway. Wengen is the place for adventure-seekers, and that includes PlanetSKI.

The Eiger, the Lauberhorn, the drama, the skiing history. What more?

The Swiss resort in the Jungfrau region offers so much besides skiing. 

The Eiger-Mönch-Jungfrau massif is the crown overlooking the area in the Bernese Alps.

I was pumped at being able to see and ski around the Eiger, with its infamous north face having the mountaineering brand named after it.

So here is a warning that this page is riddled with pictures of the Eiger's north face, from every angle and in every light!

But maybe this is fair. It wasn't just my obsession.

Every guide and local I met in the area repeatedly pointed the peak out and clearly found it as awesome and worthy of constant acknowledgement.

North faceNorth face and neon light

















The Eiger is not the highest peak in the region to climb or rated the most difficult.

The Wetterhorn across the way is technically more challenging but it is the Eiger's positioning, the strong winds and wet air coming in from Germany, and its exposure that make it notoriously difficult and dangerous, and among the biggest mountain challenges for extreme climbers.

The west face was the first to be conquered in 1858. 

The north side followed in 1938 by an Austrian-German expedition.

Today it takes the professional climber, on average, two-and-a-half days to reach the summit.

Ueli SteckUeli Steck climbing the north face














The record has been set by Ueli Steck with 2 hours 22 minutes, climbing solo.

He freeclimbs, spider-like - no time for ropes. 

He even runs on parts of the ascent, notably the last stretch of his record breaking climb, which he set for the second time in 2015 after being knocked off top spot.

From his first climb in 2008:

It is a fascination among climbers and the challenge of conquering it is manifested in the accidents that happen during the attempts.

Frankly, the Eiger North Face is famous because of the number of fatalities among climbers.

The shadowed north face on a sunny dayThe shadowed north face on a bright day













In 1936, during a five-day climb, Toni Kurz and his three fellow mountaineers all lost their lives.

After two nights sleeping in bivouacs on the rock and ice face, and with one of the party injured, the team decided to retreat.

On the fourth day the group were abseiling down vertical cliffs to the railway gallery opening but 150m away, observed by a linesman, three tumbled to their deaths.

Kurz left by himself spends hours struggling with his rope and makes it into the next day, when rescue guides come.

By tying two ropes together to lower himself to the guides, Kurz gets 5m from the rescuers when he encounters a problem with the rope lowering himself down and ends up freezing to death mere metres from safety.

A German film was made about the tragedy:

EigerGuess what?  From the slopes this time
















Th North Face of the Eiger: Wall of Death - Documentary:

The train, packed with interested looking tourists, left us in the 100-year-old stone tunnel surrounded by relics and equipment used way back for climbing the mountain.

Snow and wind poured in through the window and, suddenly, stepping out onto a protected cut-out snowy ledge and being clipped on, the noise and howling wind died down.

And there was the panoramic view of the Jungfrau region and the cantons of Bern and Valais.

The view from half way up the north face of the EigerThe view from half way up the north face of the Eiger
















Beat Hofer, our mountain guide from Grindelwald, has climbed the face twice.

"When you're up there it all disappears. You can weirdly hear cow bells and trains but nothing else. It is so freeing - that's the appeal for me. No one can hear you and you are alone."

Abseiling the north faceBeat Hofer supporting me down a (very) short abseil
















Eiger climbClimbing the Eiger - Grindelwald down in the valley





















Abseiling the EigerAbseiling the Eiger
















There are nine main routes to follow on the north face.

The most popular and perhaps easiest route of them all is the The West Flank & West Ridge.

The most direct route was first taken by a Japanese climber in 1969. 

It took four-and-a-half weeks to climb.

It heads more or less directly upwards and straight through the "Rote Fluh", the 'difficult crack'; the steepest, most challenging part of the face.

See more of the routes here.

The Stollenloch station gives you the chance to experience the Eiger independently.

The company Eiger Vision took us on the Stollenloch excursion.

It is certainly an amazing and unique experience for non pro climbers and because of this is only available for group bookings.

There is a flat rate of 3,000 CHF - around £2,422 - for the morning and it promotes itself as an activity for business or large groups.

Visit the Eiger Vision website for more information.

at the top of the Männlichen cable carThe Eiger from the top of the Männlichen cable car

















The Jungfrau region is famous for many other extreme sports.

The rock faces that tower over both sides of Interlaken in the valley - 'the valley of 73 waterfalls' - are a Mecca for BASE jumping in Europe.

European famous BASE jumping cliff faces Lauterbrunnen Valley
















There are around six deaths a year from BASE jumping here.

A few years back there was an extreme sports short film-making festival held in Interlaken.

The Nissan Outdoor Games is about Base jump, wingsuit, speed fly, kayak, boulder, paragliding and mountain bike in Interlaken in the Summer.

See more about it here, and how the area has always been home to those seeking thrills:


Something else locals are proud of is the Lauberhorn World Cup downhill run and the annual races that have been going on since 1930.

The world's longest downhill ski race is over 4.5km, taking around 2'30" to complete - times of 1'50" are normal for such courses.

There is a hair-raising section near the top called the 'Hundschopf' - the dog's neck - which, after the first leg of the race and set of gates, picking up speed, racers career into a funnelled-down blind turn to launch off a lip to the Minsch-Kante section.

The top speeds on the Lauberhorn WC run are 160km/hour (100mph) in the Haneggschuss section.

Watch the Swiss hero, Didier Cuche, on the Lauberhorn course:

The videos and the professionals make the Hundschopf jump over the rock nose (0:30) seem much less terrifying than it is on the piste and at slow speeds.

DHO racers on the LauberhornDHO racers on the Lauberhorn
















The area has some momentous British racing history as the Kandahar Ski Club was founded in 1924 in Mürren just across the valley, easily accessible by rail for skiing.

Shortly after Kandahar was established, the DHO - Down Hill Only - was started in Wengen just one year later with a friendly competition.

It got involved in the promotion of serious ski race training for young skiers in the 50s.

Britain's slalom racing star Dave Ryding is also involved in the DHO.

See here for more on Mürren.

Down Hill OnlyDown Hill Only
















Race day DHODHO race day

















The Jungfrau region is a Swiss haven for outdoor pursuits.

The area actually receives more visitors in summer months for what is perhaps its crowning feature, the Jungfraubahn.

The Kleine Schediegg station on the Jungfrau railwayThe Kleine Schediegg station on the Jungfrau railway
















Railway tracksSki tracks
















See here for more on the momentous building of the railway.

Unusually for a ski resort, around 70% of tourists on the Jungfraubahn travelling to the Jungfrau mountain peak come from Asia. 

A Japanese aristocrat apparently came here on a European tour or pilgrimage and so many follow his steps on trips around Europe.

















At the top is the Sphinx Observatory and complex.

From the Jungfraubahn, which travels through the Eiger and around the Aletsch Glacier to reach the plateau on the Jungfrau, a big array of winter activities are available.

Skiing on the glacier - the longest in Europe - is an option, though with just 150m to cover it's more of a novelty and if you are a skier do it down in the resort's big linked area rather than spend the 45 CHF up there for rental and skiing.

There are 40km of winter footpaths to follow and on a clear day it is stunning.

The glacier views from the viewing platform are spectacular at that elevation, or so I hear.

It wasn't my day with bad visibility.

The Sphinx ObservatoryThe Sphinx Observatory from below on a clearer day
















The research station opened in 1931 and is fitted with a dome for astronomical studies.

Today the centre is used for climate and environmental research, as well as meteorology and glaciology.

There is the Monchsjochhutte walk - a 1-hour easy hike - from the joch, the famous Bollywood restaurant in the complex, the ice tunnels underneath the glacier, as well as chocolate and watch shops, naturally.

Tunnels under the Aletsch GlacierTunnels under the Aletsch Glacier, which can move up to 10cm a year
















The area also has a zip wire, the First Flyer,  the White Elements Snow Park, and of course, the skiing.

There is also the great addition that kids ski free on Saturdays.


The UNESCO World Heritage landscape has mountains, lakes, glaciers, meadows and waterfalls.

The Jungfrau Travel pass costs from 180CHF (£142) per adult for a 3-day 2nd class pass.

The pass for 5-6 days includes a boat trip on Lake Thun and Lake Brienz. Jungfrau Travel passholders also benefit from a 50% discount to visit the Jungfraujoch.

For more information visit the Jungfrau website here.

To get to and from the airport by rail to the Jungfrau area, a Swiss rail ticket is needed - priced from 146 CHF/ £118.

Stocklis, Eiger & snowOne last Eiger shot
















Check out what else I did during a trip to Wengen: a night in a piste basher.

See here for the main PlanetSKI news page with all the latest stories from the world of snowsports.

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