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Wild and without money: Hiking Kleine Scheidegg

Another day, another adventure. Yesterday we had a chill day. After running all the way down from the top of Niesen, our legs were completely jelly. We spent the whole day lazing around, waddling like penguins to the toilet and planning today. Well, Caroline did most of the planning. She has selected a hike starting from Grindelwald and finishing at Kleine Scheidegg.

We should take the train to Grindelwald but we can’t really afford it. The start of the hike to Kleine Scheidegg is 25 kilometres from our campsite. The train is super expensive because it is a huge tourist magnet. Tourists take it from Interlaken to Jungfraujoch, the train station near the top of Jungfrau (which the Swiss advertise as the top of Europe. Hint: it’s not). Don’t read it the wrong way, we’re not being snobby, we’d love to go on the train. But a round trip from Interlaken costs over €200. So yeah.

Skipping the tourist route to Kleine Scheidegg

The train to Grindelwald is cheaper, but still. We decide to try our luck at hitchhiking. It’s been going pretty well so far in Switzerland. We hop on the free bus to Interlaken centre and then another to Wilderswil, which is on the only road to Grindelwald. The bus stops just outside the train station and in that moment we are glad we are not getting the train. There are 1000 people congregating and fumbling about. Nervously awaiting departure. It’s hot and we don’t fancy being packed liked sardines.

We walk two minutes around the corner and a perfect place for a car to pull up presents itself. We are slightly apprehensive because if it takes too long to get a ride we probably won’t be able to finish the hike to Kleine Scheidegg. The day starts well. We wait no longer than five minutes before a super nice older Swiss guy stops in his flashy car and picks us up.

He’s very interested in us hitchhiking and tells us about his son travelling abroad. He isn’t a stranger to backpacking and really appreciates the way we are travelling which is comforting. Our driver is going to pick mushrooms in the mountains and knows this place like the back of his hand. He even gives us a bunch of tips for hiking in the area of Kleine Scheidegg.

Rules do not apply to locals

As we approach Grindelwald we expect him to pull up and let us out. We wait for this because it’s not allowed to drive a car past Grindelwald. The rest of the area is car free! However, our driver continues, past the “no car” signs and further up the mountain. He persuasively informs us that they are “merely guidelines” and “for the tourists”. While he’s waving at all the locals working next to road, he adds that he doesn’t really know any of them; he waves so they think they know each other and let him pass.

The car weaves up the small mountain roads higher and higher, the views over Grindelwald opening up ever more. After another five minutes he drops us off at a point he thinks is good to start our hike. He gives us directions, waves us off and then disappears in to the forest. More crazy hitchhiking stories: St. Gallen, Gerlosberg & Salzburg.

The view of Grindelwald from Kleine Scheidegg

Conquering the slopes of Kleine Scheidegg

We head off up the mountain, through the forests on our way to Kleine Scheidegg. The path is quite steep but we’re feeling good. Thanks to our friend we have shaved an hour or two off hiking up a road and now get to enjoy the good stuff. It’s still early so we’ve got loads of time and we can probably add a few extra destinations on to our day. The hike is not the most interesting because this area is so built up. It doesn’t feel remote at all even though the landscape is massive. There are trains, cable cars, ski pistes, roads and large towns all around.

The sun peeking over the top of a mountain

Still, the actual landscape is beautiful. The mountains are ridiculously huge with Jungfrau summiting at 4168 metres. We definitely won’t be getting to the top. Instead we are settling for Kleine Scheidegg at 2061 meters. We learnt our lesson in Austria.

The hiking is pretty tough going, but it goes fast. Before long we are panting up the final switchbacks to Kleine Scheidegg. It’s barely even lunch time. We have absolutely smashed it.

Read some more of our hiking adventures:

The busiest mountain in Switzerland

The infrastructure in the Swiss Alps is just incredible. The Kleine Scheidegg train station is huge. There are normal commuter trains running from Grindelwald and Lauterbrunnen. The railway which goes to the “top of Europe” starts at Kleine Scheidegg. It’s not actually the top of Europe or even the top of Switzerland for that matter. Nor even the top of Jungfrau! What they are actually referring to is the highest train station in Europe, Jungfraujoch at 3,454 metres. The train station is inside the mountain, just below the saddle between the mountains Mönch and Jungfrau. The top station is connected to an observatory tower with many viewing platforms, restaurants and even a post office. There are also some hiking trails starting at the top including a walk to the highest alpine hut in Switzerland.

The elusive hash brown

Deconstructed bowl of hash brown

When we were originally researching Switzerland we learnt that hash browns were invented here and ever since being in Switzerland we have been craving them. It turns out that it’s not something the Swiss really celebrate and we’ve not been able to find any, anywhere. Until now!

There is a man with a huge metal bowl like a BBQ with a big fire under it making the freshest hash browns you ever saw. It’s way expensive of course so we share a bowl, but it is so delicious. So worth the long sad wait for it.

Nerding out

After the contentment from finding hash browns settles down we decide to go for a walk around the plateau of Kleine Scheidegg and enjoy the sun. Also I need to take some train nerd photos.

The tiny trains relative to the huge mountains make for really nice photos, in my opinion of course. I spend a good hour scouting out some compositions and then waiting for the train to leave the station. I am hoping to catch one of the older vintage trains but I think they are reserved for special occasions.

The one above is one of my favourites. This is the train that goes to the top station which is just below the saddle, in between the two large peaks above the track. It has just departed from Kleine Scheidegg.

Jungfrau train with huge snowy peak towering over
Another train returning to Kleine Scheidegg

Ambitious plans on Kleine Scheidegg

After enjoying the sun for a while we decide to get a move on. We’ve got ambitious plans. We will walk all the way from Kleine Scheidegg to Wengen, which is sort of opposite of Mürren in the Lauterbrunnen valley. It is about seven kilometres away and lies on a lower flat patch of the mountain, 500 metres above the valley floor.

A view of Mürren with the Jungfrau train passing in the foreground

A short while along the trail we find this lovely small lake with an incredible view. There are a few people here enjoying the views and a hilarious dog who is frolicking in the water. It loses its toy in the lake, so its owner has to wade into the lake to find it. Very entertaining.

A small lake on the walk from Kleine Scheidegg to Wengen with tall mountains in background

To Wengen via Wengeralp

Just around the corner from the lake the Lauterbrunnen valley begins to present itself, in all of its glory. Again, you can see Mürren perched on the side of the valley high above the floor, just behind the train. We wish we had time to go explore over there; it looks so idyllic. We would need a lot more time and/or money to make that happen though!

The path begins to twist around the mountain, the railway following us with many passing trains. The views are incredible and the landscape gargantuan. We can only image how relaxing riding the train to Kleine Scheidegg must be. They move at a very slow speed, carefully navigating the hostile slopes. Who could complain about having to endure the incredible views for longer?

To the left of us is a deep canyon; many hiking paths split off and descend. Some go all the way to the valley floor where you can visit the Trümmelbach waterfalls. The largest subterranean waterfalls in all of Europe. Accessible via tunnels, lifts and galleries it sounds like an incredible experience. Not scary at all like the tunnel on Dachstein. Only 10 euros at the time of writing too, pretty cheap for Switzerland!

A yellow green train on the railway from Wengen to Kleine Scheidegg

Wengen: A car free paradise

A few hours later and we arrive in Wengen. Wengen is completely car free with no accessible road. It can only be visited by train or cable car (or foot!). Cars are to be parked in a multi-storey car park in the valley near to Lauterbrunnen. The sun is beginning to dip down behind the mountains; rays of light burst through the cracks and illuminate the valley walls. Warm afternoon light smothers the traditional chalet style houses of Wengen. We grab some snacks from the supermarket and sit in a park on the edge of a cliff and enjoy the views over the valley.

We have one last item on our itinerary before we have to figure out a way of getting back to our campsite. That is to hike back down to the valley floor, and visit Staubbach waterfalls, which rain down over Lauterbrunnen.

The trail starts right in town where road runs past some hotels including the Hotel Alpenrose and lots of other smaller houses and chalets. Not before long the road turns into a dirt trail which zig-zags all the way down to the valley floor. The trail is quite steep but the views are wonderful. We hurry along because the day is coming to an end.

The trail is around 3.5 kilometres with a 500 metre descent. It takes us around an hour and a half with a few breaks. Hiking it not a quick activity when you are in a landscape such as this. Just like when we hiked through the Karwendel Alps, in Austria. Part 1, 2 & 3.

Lauterbrunnen and the valley of 72 waterfalls

As we reach the valley floor we begin to realise how tired we are. We’ve done a lot of hiking today. Consulting the health app on our iPhones, we have apparently walked already 22 kilometres and we’re not finished.

The trail conjoins with the river and we head towards the quaint village of Lauterbrunnen where the Staubbach waterfalls appear even more impressive, swallowing up the whole village. The scene is like something you would imagine from a movie like Lord of the Rings. People often compare them; the truth of the matter though is that these landscapes inspire the movies.

As we approach Lauterbrunnen we begin to feel engulfed by the valley. The huge walls of rock surround us in every direction. Barely a sound can be heard. Most of the tourists have retreated back to their accommodation for the day. Silence washes over the valley except for the tumbling falls. The valley is often referred to as the valley of 72 waterfalls – We can already see at least five from where we stand and the valley stretches on long into the distance.

Staubbach waterfall with church in foreground

Waterfall adventures

Staubbach waterfall over Lauterbrunnen

Advancing on the waterfall, a small hill emerges. We’re not exhilarated at the prospect of hiking upwards after all of today, but we’ve made it this far, we can’t turn back. Like tortoises we slowly climb up the criss-crossing path, clinging on to the railings with our last ounces of energy. One last surprise presents itself at the basin of the waterfall: a tunnel emerges. The tunnel takes the visitor through to the inside of the mountain where a metal staircase, dripping with waterfall run-off, leads you to a section of path, carved from the rock behind the waterfall.

If you are into waterfalls, you might like our account of hiking around the largest in Austria.

The floor is slippery with water running everywhere and there are a few ladders to climb, caution should be employed here. The path slopes slightly upwards where it finished directly behind the heaviest part of the waterfall. We watch the sunset from a balcony carved from the mountain through a waterfall. Incredible.

Sunset from behind Staubbach waterfalls
The tunnel to Staubbach waterfall

Thank you, old dudes

After waking up from what seems like a dream, we realise how wet we are and decide to navigate back to dry land. According to Google maps it’s a 15 kilometre walk back to our campsite which is way too far in the dark, plus we are absolutely knackered. We decide to walk to the train station, trying to get a ride along the way and if we don’t manage, we will just take the train back. We’ve had an epic day, no need to worry about a few coins.

Luckily for us the Swiss are a hitchhiker’s best friend. The second car that drives past us picks us up without hesitation. As it is usually the case with hitchhiking, preconceptions crumble. So far the demographic of older men seemed to have completely ignored us, leading to us already giving up hope when we saw one approaching. Today, both of our rides were older men. Both of whom appeared to be middle-upper class and wealthy. Both were incredibly friendly, helpful and inquisitive. Another great day of hitchhiking.

Our driver drops us off at Interlaken train station, taking a detour to get there and further offering to take us directly to our campsite. We insist to drop us off at the train station where we can grab the local free bus and without inconveniencing him any more than necessary!

FACTS FACTS FACTS

How to get there

Same deal as before. Train and car are your best bet. Also hitchhiking – so far we have found Switzerland to be pretty great when it comes to getting a ride. I don’t think we’ve waited longer than an hour for a ride here. We even got driven halfway across the country on a private tour.

There is an airport in Bern, a 45 minute drive or train ride away. A bit further away is Zurich airport, a 2 hour drive or train journey.

Things to do around Kleine Scheidegg

  • Jungfraujoch – Ride a train to the highest train station in Europe. Super expensive so if you can’t afford it, hike up. Check the weather first though.
  • Visit the beautiful car free alpine villages of Wengen and Mürren, only accessible by train/cable car.
  • Trümmelbachfälle – Subterranean glacial waterfall system!
  • Skiing in the winter
  • Staubbach Waterfall – A huge waterfall towering over Lauterbrunnen which you can get behind in a rock cave!
  • Walk across the Nepal Bridge in Mürren if you are feeling adventurous!
  • Abbachfall – another huge waterfall near Grindlewald

Accommodation

We really loved our campsite, but it is a bit far from the action of Kleine Scheidegg. There are a few more campsites near Lauterbrunnen but they were already closed for the season when we arrived.

If you want to stay in accommodation, check out the Booking.com widget below for some of the latest deals in Wengen. You can also check for Kleine Scheidegg, Grindelwald & Mürren, all are close by and offer great hiking opportunities!

Booking.com

Pro Tip

If you’re on a budget, hike instead of riding the trains, even if you enjoy the trains. Seeing them climb around the landscape is more fun anyway!

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