Ever wonder what it’s like to go to an outdoor adventure capital? Queenstown may be the most well known in New Zealand, but in Switzerland, Interlaken is the adventure capital, situated in the Bernese Alps. It’s just one short train ride from Bern and you arrive in a land between 2 lakes (inter-lakes, ya know?). From water sports to mountaineering, Interlaken has so much to offer. One draw-back is how tourist-y it gets. Because of its accessibility, so many people visit it from all over the world and the city probably has more tourists than residents.
Nonetheless, Interlaken is a beautiful place to visit. I have friends who went boating on the lakes and paragliding from nearby cliffs. Seriously, there’s a sport or activity for every person! Most people opted to take a train up to Jungfrau, also known as the “Top of Europe”. Having been on snow and glaciers before, I did not feel quite as compelled to go to Jungfrau. So instead, I decided to hike to Schilthorn. And crazy enough, 9 other people decided to come with me.
Little did they know they’d be gaining 4,330 vertical feet over 5 miles of trails starting at the town of Mürren. Honestly, I was so proud of all of them for mustering through. The scenery was well worth it and we generally had the trail to ourselves. No giant groups of tourists, just some local sheep, the green rolling hills, and a few other hikers we passed. And of course, the beautiful snow-capped mountains behind us!
Going at a comfortable, steady pace is important for long hike endurance. We had a clear divide between the faster and slower hikers, but I’m grateful that we could have breaks for everyone to catch up and enjoy the views. Makes the uphill less painful. Although part way up, my new-found friends realized that there was a gondola to get to the peak. They felt a bit gypped that people could easily go up and they had to hike. Well I knew this but I wanted to hike cause hiking has hits own rewards and it’s cheaper. The gondola would have been much faster, but my friends were already committed to finish this hike despite their revelation. This is what makes a good hiker – the determination.
When we reached 9770 ft (an elevation that could easily get people altitude sick), we rejoice to stand at the peak. Technically, you can’t tell what the peak is, since the Piz Gloria of the 007 Bond movie series is situated at the top. There isn’t quite the grandeur of a 360º view like other summits. This is the toll for having the gondola access – though at least even your grandma can come experience these amazing views. However, it was also frustrating that groups would walk down a bit from Piz Gloria towards the trail to take pictures, as if they had climbed their way up. Really? We took a few hours to get our butts up this mountain and watching our step so we would not fall off any cliff edges.
In the end, my friends were too tired to hike down, so we bought those pricey tickets to take the gondola to town. It was much too quick but still quite the fun ride, seeing the little red-roof houses fly beneath us. And as if I did not hike enough that day, I met up with a friend to see the sunset on the top of Harder Kulm, a shorter 2 mile uphill and 2300 ft of gain.
For another day of adventure, I took my friends on an un-guided via ferrata trip. This is a perfect step up from a hike and for those who have yet to gain climbing experience. We rented gear from a local sports store, including helmets, harnesses, and y-set lanyard for protection. Most via ferrata routes are fairly straight forward to follow, but some could be trickier. So, although it is possible to attempt via ferrata without any climbing or scrambling experience, I would suggest having at least one person in the group with basic knowledge of climbing and rock navigation. It’s just nice to have someone who is more confident not the path with a group of newer adventurers. Ours was split about half, so we staggered the more experienced with the less, so everyone would feel safe enough.
The nice thing about via ferrata is that you can always be clipped up to the iron cables for safety, using the y-sets. You always keep one carabiner on as you move the second carabiner between sections. Although for those with acrophobia, it may still seem daunting when there’s just thousands of feet of air between you and the ground.
On the Mürren to Gimmelwald (not to be confused with Grindelwald) via ferrata, there are many different obstacles to encounter, making it even more fun! For example, we had multiple bridge crossings, including ones with only a single thin cable to step on. We also had sections of overhang and ladders to down climb. Speaking of which, this is one of the few downhill via ferrata tracks in the world, so it’s seemingly less work to start with. The views are also incredible, looking down at the valley and up above to the majestic mountains. Every so often, we’d see a paraglider fly past our way. We simply had so much fun on our own. To end the via ferrata, we took a local path to walk back to Mürren while wandering through fields and flower gardens. A solid weekend at Interlaken!