Scientists say you can read climatic history in glaciers. If this is true, there is nothing easier to learn it on the highest mountain glacier you can reach by train. You only have to sit and wait until the train, leaving from the magnificent Grindelwald village, arrives to Jungfraujoch ( 3454 mt high ), in Bernese Oberland.
Next year, JungfrauBahnen, the most incredible European railway, celebrates its 100 years anniversary. Started in 1898, the engineering structure was inaugurated in 1911. The visionary entrepreneur Adolf Guyer-Zeller commissioned it but unfortuntely he died before completing it.
In Kleine Scheidegg ( 2100 mt above sea level ) there is a change of train. Here landscape changes as well: trees are replaced by Jungrfrau group, which is almost above the high altitude railway station.
This is the point of departure for the main ski lifts of Grindelwald, which has 100km itineraries for skiers, people tobogganing and winter excursions lovers. With a chair-lift you can reach the departure point of the longest track to race, from Lauberhon down to Lauterbrunnen parallel valley.
From the valley bottom, the most sportive ones can keep on skiing in Wengen and Murren neighboring localities, on the 200 km tracks of the Jungfrau area. But be careful, do not miss the last cable car to get back to Grindelwald! Departing from Kleine Scheidegg on 1st August 1912, the train transported first passengers along the 9km narrow stone tunnel in the mountain. Halfway, turists can see the vertical abyss through a train glass window in the Eiger Mountain northern wall where you could also see audacious mountain climbers. From there, it takes an hour to get to the terminus.
The highest European railway station was declared as world heritage site by UNESCO. It was dug by using dynamite in the basis of the eternal glacier by Italian workers. By deep digging, a magnificent museum of natural glacier sculptures was created, (strongly recommended to visit!). By taking the elevator from the subterranean station up to the astronomic observatory terrace, you can see that the 20km snow area on the opposite side could not survive for long.
You can see incredible landscapes from the 4150mt high top of the Jungfrau that was supposed to be the tunnel terminus, but then it was downsized because of funding lack. Rocky mountains peaks appearing every year at the both sides of the glacier (east and west), show how glacier is progressively melting. Over the last 150 years, there has been the most tragic glacier melting of the last millennium. According to the forecasts of University of Bern climatologists, three quarters of Swiss glaciers are going to disappear in the next decades. A rise in temperature of 4 degrees could be enough to drastically reduce snowfall in Bernese Oberland.
There would be natural snow only on Kleine Scheidegg and on 300mt Shilltorn over Murren, an eco-village where only local electric vehicles are allowed. In the “Jungfrau climatic guide”, recently published by the University of Bern and Grindelwald municipality, people are recommended to go by train to get to there instead of using car. It is a little book created to raise awareness on climatic change, so that tourists can see damages in mountain areas and understand that this could also damage tourism. Rising costs for artificial snow and glacial landscapes disappearance could endanger sustainability and mountains’ touristic attraction.
There is also an Iphone guide app, which can be requested at the tourism office in Grindelwald. During the skiing holydays, you can discover the natural paths suggested in the app. By a GPS map we reach panoramic sites offering a fantastic view of the superior and inferior glaciers of Grindelwald. An interactive audio guide shows us the effects of global warming on surrounding geology and wild nature. The most surprising experience is the visit to Stieregg, a popular shelter on the edge of a cliff, which has been hanging in the balance since 2005 because of a landslide.
Experts say the landslide was caused by the melting of the glacier below, which was supporting the land until then. It is the start of a series of avalanches, landslides and overflows which take place more and more frequently in mountains worldwide. In order to examine inferior glacier changes over the centuries, the Bernese researcher Heinz Zumbuhl used Caspar Wolf 18th century paintings to see how big glaciers, which made Grindelwald famous worldwide “village of glaciers”, were in the past. Aware of dangers for environment and touristic industry, local communities started innovative initiatives to raise turists awareness and to help mitigate climate change impacts. In addition to the highest solar panels plant in Europe on the Jungrfraujoch and the power station built by far-sight local entrepreneurs in 1896, a power station processing the valley wood was created.
The most important one is the Hauser family, owner of the Hotel Belvedere, which won the Gold Award last year, an important prize given by the international consortium of travel agencies and tour operators Travellife to award envronment-friendly structures. Even if it is a 5 stars hotel, the Hotel Belvedere provides bed linen every day, only on request of their customers. This way they can reduce the number of washing up, causing energy overconsumption and high CO2 emissions. The Hauser family is one of those who started tourism in Grindelwald, where, in the early 1900s, the main source of income was ice blocks exportation and local cheese that can be tasted today in guided visits. Some of them rent bedrooms next to animal stables. A full immersion in the mountain cultural tradition, highly rooted in the history as the glaciers’ one.