Jungfraujoch and Eiger Ultra Trail

Jungfraujoch and Eiger Ultra Trail

Dispatch and Photos by Robert Brodey

I had been asleep only a few hours when I heard the first runners rise from their beds on the floor above us at Lehmann’s Herberge in Grindelwald. Before sunrise, these brave souls would be turning on their headlamps and cuing up at the start line to run the 50 and 101 kilometre Eiger Ultra Trail race. I’ve run a few ultras before, and I’ve seen the profile of this race. The runners would have to dig deep, battle thousands of metres of ascents and descents along winding trails, and face unknown and ever changing weather conditions.

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Our guide Martin Gertsch and Eiger Ultra Trail runners

Despite the desire to walk and run these hills, our team opted to take a long winding trip up through the Eiger mountain. How did we do that, you ask? By riding the Jungfrau railway, which burrows 9 kilometres up through the Eiger and Mönch mountains to the the Jungfraujoch station (3,454m), the highest railway station in Europe. No wonder this audacious project took sixteen years to complete (1896 to 1912). We walked through a series of tunnels in the mountain, passing chocolate stores, cafes, and kiosks selling watches until we arrived at the Sphinx Observatory (3571m).

Jungfrau railway
Riding Jungfrau railway

When the Jungfrau station was built, in fact, scientists arrived in droves to conduct research at altitude. Hence, the Sphinx was later built with labs, beds, and a kitchen to make the stay a tad more welcoming.

For me, stepping outside beneath the dome of the observatory was a highlight, standing at the continental divide, the wind howling over the ridge, buffeting me this way and that. Someone dared to strip down to a t-shirt to do a selfie, while another visitor’s sunglasses were blown from his head. Our guide Martin estimated the wind gusts were between 80-100 kilometres an hour.

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View toward the Jungfraujoch complex

By the time, we got back to Grindelwald, a super talented athlete named Urs Jenzer had already crossed the finish line of the Eiger Ultra Trail, covering 101 kilometres in 11hrs 44min. That night the sky opened up, and a fierce wind blew rain horizontal, as lightning flashed ominously. I turned off my lights at 12:30am to get some sleep, but I could still hear cheering coming from the nearby cafes, as more weary runners arrived from the darkness, their headlamps lighting the last steps of their epic journey through the Alps. 

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