Friday, August 21, 2015

Jungfrau Valley, Switzerland - A "Must Do" For Trail Runners

(The Jungfrau Mountains)
There are mountains we know, there are mountains we seek, and then there are the mountains that inspire us right to the core of our being. When you find the great ones, you know it instantly. No picture, no poem, no blog story can possibly capture the majesty and beauty absorbed in their presence. You don't just miss them when you leave, you yearn for them, deeply, and only another visit can suffice. When fellow runners ask, all you can say is "you just have to go", and give that closed-eye, long slow shaking of the head.
(Looking down the Jungfrau Valley)
That was how I heard about the Jungfrau Valley of Switzerland, home of the Eiger, Monsch, Jungfrau and a dozen other monstrous peaks that make up the Bernese Alps. Every time a fellow runner would come back from a race like the Jungfrau Marathon, the Eiger Trail Ultra E101 (100k), Sierre-Zinal 31k, or the insane Inferno Triathlon, I would get the same jaw-gaping silent nod. In addition, my world traveling in-laws received similar feedback from their fellow globetrotters...why go to Zermatt when you could go to Jungfrau? So it didn't take much convincing to make Jungfrau the second part of our family trip to Europe this summer. No race in mind this time, just here to check it out. But I can say this already - I will be back next year for sure, ready to race.



We came to Wengen, Switzerland from nearby Lake Como, Italy, via a half dozen impeccably timed and insanely clean trains. The town of Wengen is up the hill from the Valley, meaning we would be away from any cars or motorized vehicles and well into the cow-studded hillsides under the Jungfrau. We arrived on Swiss National Day (Aug 1), and were greeted with fireworks and alphorn melodies. So much fun! But the trails were beckoning...

(Alpenhorn!)
(Nature is everywhere...this guy pattern-matched my watch band at lunch)
My first run was a make-it-up-as-you-go expedition following the well-marked signs of the Jungfrau Marathon. Paved paths led to dirt, which in turn became single track right under the gigantic glaciers of the Jungfrau that seemed to climb forever. This course is no joke! The weather was ideal, if not a little hot, so I wasn't surprised to see a group of hikers, bikers, or tourists every 5-10 minutes. It's so great to see so many happy faces enjoying nature!

(Ain't no camera setting big enough...)
(A couple takes a rest under the Jungfrau)
(Hard to beat that view!)
The next day, I headed down the Eiger Trail per the suggestion of a trail runner I had met the day before (my first of six "aren't you Scott Dunlap" moments that reminded me how close knit our global community is). Wow...just, wow. The trail cuts right under the mile high vertical of the Eiger, and you could watch the clouds descend right down on top of you. Um, wait...I better get rolling then! I didn't quite make it back before the heavy rain hit, but enjoyed dodging cows in the downpour.

(A stormy day under the Eiger)
(A mountain memorial for a Swiss great)
(The clouds give chase...)
(Ummm...maybe I'll wait to fill that water bottle)
There were a couple of hikes easy enough for family, and the kids enjoyed the hills full of flowers, cows, and chalets with sand boxes and swings. The Swiss drink more wine per capita than any other country, but nearly all of it is grown within Switzerland and not exported (greedy bastards!). Lots of delicious white wine varietals, sorted on the menus by their elevation. We even had some at the Jungfraujoch (Top of Europe), a cafe at 13,000'!

(Cow guard!)
(Big chunks of cheese under heat lamps...ohh, yes)
(Big sis leads the way through the wildflowers)
(Always carry an umbrella! Quinn doesn't mind a little rain)
We took a day trip out to Grindvald and First (a mountain), where I could see the first part of the Eiger Trail E101. Holy cow that is a tough course! You know you're in for a beast of a race when it climbs 4,000' in the first five miles, and that's only the fourth biggest climb. By day three, I was starting to settle into the rhythm of running around here. There's no need to pack food or lots of water, since there is a chalet with a full restaurant every couple of miles. In fact, if you are tired, there is likely a train or gondola within a mile of you. I began packing lighter and lighter, just a pocketful of euros for midday beers and the light jacket. The day could decide how far, how long, and what direction.

(Post long run beers with my girl, easily the best part of the day)
(It's AMAZING!)
(Talk about bad ass - this trail runner was climbing the Eiger the next day!)
When the temps crossed 100 degrees, I headed down to the Valley to run along the ice cold river. Farmers were more than happy to help refill my water bottles, and I got plenty of cheers from the locals. This really is a welcoming community. One mountain biker was gearing up for the Inferno Triathlon, and was talking about it's four stage madness - a 3.1k swim through the frigid water, a 97km bike with 7k feet of climbing, then a 30km mountain bike stage right up the steep hill to Wengen we were on (another 5k feet of vert), then a half marathon straight up to the top of the Schilthorn. Yup, just added that race to the bucket list!

(More amazing single track along the falls)
(the ice cold river was nice air conditioning)
(My three favorite recovery accelerators...weissbier, a loaded PAX2, and the glory of the mountains)
The week went by way too quickly, and the whole family agreed it would have been easy to spend another week in these epic mountains. If you are coming, make it at least seven nights for sure, even if you have to cash in that 401(k). (note - a kids hot dog dinner runs around $12, and that's when the exchange rate is good)

As gorgeous as my photos are, they really don't capture how amazing it is. Take it from me - you just have to go! You'll thank me later. ;-)