JUNGFRAUJOCH, Switzerland-I blame my Swiss Alps obsession on Clint Eastwood.
In the 1970s my parents took me to see The Eiger Sanction, an action flick in which Eastwood battles the bad guys while busting some impressive mountaineering moves in the Swiss Alps. The mountain scenes thrilled me, particularly those shot on the Eiger's North Face, a 1,828-metre wall of vertical rock and ice that's widely considered the most technically difficult climb in Europe. As the movie credits rolled, I announced to my parents that I would visit the Eiger someday. (I also said I'd marry Clint Eastwood, but that's another story.)
It took 30 years but now, finally, I am standing at the Eiger's North Face. In fact, I am standing in the Eiger's North Face, at a huge observation window that's cut right into the wall. This is the Eigerwand train station, one of two stops made by cogwheel trains that clickety-clacks up a seven-kilometre-long tunnel drilled right through the Eiger and Mnch mountains.
The tunnel is the final leg of a two-hour train journey that brings visitors from the alpine village of Grindelwald, on the valley floor, to the Jungfraujoch, which, at 3,454 metres, is Europe's highest train station. It's also, a bit surprisingly, an underground station. I step off my train and follow signs along a labyrinth of corridors to the main Berghaus complex and its outside terraces.
When I emerge into the crisp mountain air I'm confronted with vistas that are far beyond my expectations. The Jungfraujoch station sits on a rocky pinnacle in a snowy saddle that stretches between the majestic Mnch and Jungfrau mountains. Sloping away from this high-altitude outpost is the 23-kilometre-long Aletsch Glacier. All around are snowy slopes, jagged peaks and exposed rock that glimmers jet black in the intense alpine sun.
Lest you think I'm enjoying this wide-eyed wonder in solitude, consider that 500,000 people reportedly visit the Jungfraujoch each year. Visitors who come to Europe's highest-altitude train station can mail a postcard at Europe's highest-altitude post office, check the forecast from Europe's highest permanently manned weather station, and drop a chunk of cash at Europe's highest-altitude watch shop.
In fact, you'd be forgiven for thinking the Jungfraujoch is Europe's highest-altitude tourist trap. Because by the time I pass the souvenir shop selling the requisite cowbells and T-shirts, a cafeteria with overpriced hot chocolate, the Bollywood restaurant (high-altitude curry, anyone?), and numerous pay-as-you-go activities including (in the summer) a lame ski run and dogsled rides, my tourist-trap-o-meter is red-lining.
But then I go for a bit of a hike on the Aletsch Glacier. A few minutes in, this dramatic and drop-dead-gorgeous snowscape and the touristy trappings are forgiven.
Back in the main complex, I ride an elevator 110 metres up to the Sphinx Observatory, home to an environmental-research station. I can't help thinking that this silvery domed building, with its steel terrace and killer views of the Mnch summit, would be an excellent location for an action movie.
Someone should tell Eastwood.
For more information on the Jungfrau train, visit jungfraubahn.ch.
Ann Britton Campbell is a member of the Meridian Writers' Group.