1. Outstanding Universal Value
This is part of a series of posts dedicated to the exploration of Swiss Alps Jungfrau-Aletsch-Bietschhorn, a UNESCO World Heritage site covering an entire area of 82,400 ha. The next few paragraphs will be about the site’s universal value (the reason why it is inscribed on the World Heritage list) and a brief introduction to various viewpoints, hiking trails and attractions in different regions in and around the inscribed area. If you have already read other posts related to the property, please click here to jump directly to the main content of this one.
As the UNESCO comments:
The extension of the natural World Heritage property of Jungfrau-Aletsch-Bietschhorn (first inscribed in 2001), expands the site to the east and west, bringing its surface area up to 82,400 ha., up from 53,900. The site provides an outstanding example of the formation of the High Alps, including the most glaciated part of the mountain range and the largest glacier in Eurasia. It features a wide diversity of ecosystems, including successional stages due particularly to the retreat of glaciers resulting from climate change. The site is of outstanding universal value both for its beauty and for the wealth of information it contains about the formation of mountains and glaciers, as well as ongoing climate change. It is also invaluable in terms of the ecologicaland biological processes it illustrates, notably through plant succession. Its impressive landscape has played an important role in European art, literature, mountaineering and alpine tourism.
自然世界遗产少女峰–阿雷奇冰河–毕奇霍恩峰（最早于2001年被列入）从东部扩展到西部，面积从53 900公顷扩展到82 400公顷。该遗址为阿尔卑斯高山——包括山脉最受冰河作用的部分和欧亚大陆山脉最大的冰川——的形成提供了一个杰出的实例。它以生态系统多样性为特点，包括特别受气候变化冰川融化而形成的演替阶段。该遗址因景色秀美、而且包含山脉和冰川形成以及正在发生的气候变化方面的丰富知识而具有突出的全球价值。在它尤其通过植物演替所阐释的生态和生物过程方面，该遗址的价值无法衡量。其令人难忘的景观在欧洲艺术、文化、登山和阿尔卑斯山旅游中起着重要作用。
In order to be inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage list, sites must be of outstanding universal value and meet at least one of the ten Criteria for Selection. Swiss Alps Jungfrau-Aletsch-Bietschhorn meets
Criterion (vii): to contain superlative natural phenomena or areas of exceptional natural beauty and aesthetic importance, because the impressive landscape within the property has played an important role in European art, literature, mountaineering and alpine tourism. What’s the top 1 attraction in Switzerland? The Alps. What’s the most famous part of the Alps? The Jungfrau region. The area around Jungfrau, Aletschhorn and Bietschhorn, which includes the imposing north wall of the High Alpsfeaturing Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau and on the southern side many spectacular peaks and a valleysystem containing Europe’s largest glacier, is globally recognized as one of the most spectacular mountain regions to visit;
Criterion (viii): to be outstanding examples representing major stages of earth’s history, including the record of life, significant on-going geological processes in the development of landforms, or significant geomorphic or physiographic features, because the property provides an outstanding record of the geological processes that formed the High Alps and is abundant in diverse geomorphological featuressuch as U-shaped glacial valleys, cirques, horns, valley glaciers and moraines. 20 – 40 million years ago, through uplifting and compressing, the formation of the High Alps began. Ranging from 809 m to 4,274 m high, the mountains in the property show 400-million-year-old crystalline rocks thrust over younger carbonate rocks due to the northward drift of the African tectonic plate. As the most glaciated part of the Alps, the site contains the largest and longest glacier in Europe – the Aletsch Glacier, which shows a range of classic glacial features. Furthermore, the glacier provides vital information about glacial historyand ongoing processes, in particular related to climate change.
and Criterion (ix): to be outstanding examples representing significant on-going ecological and biological processes in the evolution and development of terrestrial, fresh water, coastal and marine ecosystems and communities of plants and animals, because within the property, diverse flora and faunaare represented in a range of habitats, and plant colonization in the wake of retreating glaciers provides an outstanding example of plant succession. Covering a wide range of altitudes and exposures (such as the dry southern side and wet northern side), the property includes diverse alpine and sub-alpine habitats. On the crystalline and carbonate rocks, a variety of ecosystems have evolved without significant human intervention. Particularly worth mentioning is the upper and lower tree-line of the Aletsch forest, a superb example of plant succession. The global phenomenon of climatic change, which is reflected in the varying retreating rates of the glaciers, is particularly well-illustrated in the region, providing new substrates for plant colonization.
As you can see from the map above, the inscribed area is huge, so how can we explore it? Before giving you some suggestions based on my own experience and the information on www.jungfraualetsch.ch, let’s first learn some facts about the property:
- surface of the World Heritage area: 824 km2
- Population of the World Heritage region: 40,000 inhabitants
- 23 municipalities in the cantons of Valais (15) and Bern (8) are involved
- 9 mountains within the area are over 4000 meters and Finsteraarhorn is the highest peak (4274 m)
- around 50 mountains within the area are over 3500 meters
- the glaciers cover a total area of 350 km2
- the longest and largest glacier in the Alps, Aletsch Glacier (23 km) is located at the center of this protected area
- 88% of this area is without vegetation
- the Bernese Alps (Wetterhorn – Schreckhorn – Eiger – Mönch – Jungfrau – Gletscherhorn – Breithorn – Blüemlisalp) are considered one of the most famous mountain ranges in the world
As you might have noticed, most of the inscribed area is not accessible to normal tourists as it’s made up of either high mountains or glaciers. However, there are many viewpoints on the mountains around the property, most of which are conveniently connected to bus stops or train stations by cable cars. Personally, I strongly recommend the viewpoints within and around the Aletsch Arena, which provide amazing views of the Aletsch Glacier, Aletschhorn, Bietschhorn, Jungfrau, Mönch, Fiescherhorn and so on, and within the Jungfrau region including Grosse Scheidegg, First, Schynige Platte, Männlichen, Jungfraujoch, Schilthorn and so on, from which you can see clearly the northern wall of the High Alps featuring the signature Swiss skyline of Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau. If you are a hiker, you have many more options and can get a closer look at the World Heritage site. Besides the numerous hiking trails in Jungfrau and Aletsch regions, I recommend you checking out the Lötschental Valley, Kandertal Valley (Gasterntal Valley and Lake Oeschinensee), and Rosenlauital Valley (Rosenlaui Glacier Gorge).
Exploring the regions I mentioned above will probably take you a very long time because they offer numerous viewpoints, hiking trails and attractions, and after that, I believe you will have a very good understanding of the universal value of the property such as its unparalleled beauty, exceptional record of the formation of the Alps, excellent demonstration of diverse geomorphological features and remarkable representation of on-going ecological and biological processes. If you are still not satisfied and want to have a completer experience, try visiting the municipalities of Raron, Eggerberg, Guttanen(Grimselwelt), Innertkirchen and Meiringen, where you will find more activities closely or remotely related to the World Heritage site. I read from the official website that there’s a long tour which allows you to hike around the property and discover and learn about it in 15 stages. The booklet providing relevant information regarding the routes and attractions is called «Key to the Alps», which is unfortunately only available in German. I think, even if you don’t speak German or plan to take the complete tour, the booklet should shed some light on the planning of your own expedition. Alternatively, there is a fold-out map available in English with overview and tips regarding highlights of the World Heritage site. I can send the digital version to you upon request and I’m sure it will also give you some inspiration.
- To find out the destinations and highlights recommended by jungfraualetsch.ch please click here.
- To find out the destinations and hiking tours recommended by myswissalps.ch please click here.
As I mentioned above, most of the inscribed area is not easily accessible to normal visitors and some parts of it are not clearly visible from the surrounding viewpoints. How can we gain deeper insights into this mysterious world then? Last but not least, don’t forget to visit the municipality of Naters, where the World Nature Forum Information and Visitor Center of the UNESCO World Heritage site Swiss Alps Jungfrau-Aletsch is located. In order to protect this extraordinary natural heritage and to promote sustainable development of this region, 23 municipalities within the cantons of Bern and Valaistogether with the Swiss Federation have agreed to work in collaboration. The World Nature Forum (WNF) is the base camp of this commission and its Information and Visitor Center provides us with necessary knowledge about this region and helps to raise our awareness of the importance of its protection. If it’s inconvenient for you to reach the area, you can also learn about it at home. On the official website, 19 thematic brochures (more in German) giving insights into the uniqueness, diversity and beauty of the region are available and can be downloaded as pdf. The thematic brochures are about agriculture and settlement, tourism and traffic, fauna and flora, water, culture, glacier, climate, and mountains while the regional brochures are about Oberhasli, Naters, Lötschental, “Suonen”, Raron – Niedergesteln, Grimselwelt, Kandertal, Grindelwald, Lauterbrunnen, Aletsch Region, and Bellwald.
I hope my introduction above gives you a general idea of why the Jungfrau-Aletsch-Bietschhorn region is so valuable and how to explore and learn about it. In a series of posts about the World Heritage site, I’ll focus on the hikes, viewpoints and tours I experienced and provide you with practical information, tipsas well as detailed introduction to the geological and ecological processes, geomorphological features and ecosystems which are related to the property.
2. The North Face of Eiger
The Eiger is a 3,970-meter mountain of the Bernese Alps, overlooking Grindelwald and Lauterbrunnen in the Bernese Oberland. It is the easternmost peak of a ridge crest that extends across the Mönch to the Jungfrau at 4,158 m, constituting one of the most emblematic sights of the Swiss Alps.
The most notable feature of the Eiger is its 1,800-meter-high north face of rock and ice, named Eiger-Nordwand, Eigerwand or just Nordwand, which is one of the biggest north faces in the Alps. The first ascent of the Eiger was made by Swiss guides Christian Almer and Peter Bohren and Irishman Charles Barrington, who climbed the west flank on August 11, 1858. The north face, considered amongst the most challenging and dangerous ascents, was first climbed in 1938 by an Austrian-German expedition. The Eiger has been highly publicized for the many tragedies during climbing expeditions. Since 1935, more than 60 climbers have died attempting the north face, earning it the German nickname “Mordwand”, literally “murder(ous) wall”.
The most well-known of the tragedies is the so-called “1936 Eiger North Face Climbing Disaster”, which began on July 18, 1936 and resulted in the death of five climbers. It was adapted into the 2008 survival drama film “North Face”, starring Benno Fürmann, Florian Lukas and Johanna Wokalek. To be honest, the movie and the horrifying photo “The hanging body of Toni Kurz on the north face of the Eiger being retrieved by a rescuer, 1936” changed my perception of the Alps. It turns out they are not always the white angels we see as tourists. Sometimes they can also be cold, merciless and ruthless.
3. Why take the Eiger Trail?
- The world-famous Eiger North Face is a groundbreaking site for alpine heroics and dramas and the ultimate test of the best climbers in the world. For ordinary people, who have no or little mountain climbing experience, the mysticism of the North Face can be best experienced on the Eiger Trail hike.
- The trail runs directly below the North Face of Eiger, from which we can see the magnificent mountain from a completely different angle. I’ve seen the mountain from various viewpoints already, but still, I wouldn’t have recognised it if I didn’t know it was the Eiger.
- Various world-famous climbing routes to the notorious Eiger summit are easy to spot.
- The view on the way is fabulous. For example, from the start, you can see clearly the Jungfrau and Mönch, Mürren and the Schilthorn, Lauberhorn, Kleine Scheidegg and the Lauterbrunnen Valley. Once you pass the highest point of the trail you will keep walking towards the Wetterhorn and Grindelwald.
- It’s a unique experience to see how wide scree slopes give way to lush pastures with alpine flowers.
- On the last section of the trail, you will see many waterfalls, wild streams and curiously-shaped gorges and will certainly be amazed by the power of water.
4. Practical tips
- The hike starts from the Eigergletscher Station and ends at the Alpiglen Station. In order to reach Eigergletscher, you have to take the Jungfrau Bahn departing from Kleine Scheidegg and going towards the Jungfraujoch. From Alpiglen, you can take a train to go to Grindelwald or back to Kleine Scheidegg.
- For information about the train timetable please click here.
- For information about the train tickets please click here.
- Of course you can also hike from Alpiglen to Eigergletscher, but for me at least, hiking up 800 meters is much more tiring than hiking down 800 meters.
- The trail is 6.03 km long and open from late June to October. If you hike from Eigergletscher to Alpiglen, the ascent is 80 meters and the descent is 783 meters. Normally, the hike takes 2 hours 50 mins, but if you wanna have a small picnic on the way and do some photo shooting, add some extra time accordingly. I’m a rather slow hiker and yet I finished the hike within 3 hours.
- This is a mountain route (white-red-white) and is categorised by the Jungfrau.ch as easy. I’m not a highly-experienced hiker but I have to say the hike was much easier than I expected. Except the last section, part of which was rather rocky and sometimes a bit steep, the trail was very well-paved and well-signposted. Follow the white-red-white sign at all times.
- Sun screen and water are a must while sunglasses are recommended because if you hike in the morning, you’ll mostly hike in the shadow of the Eiger. I did the hike in August starting at 13:00 and considering I was in the sun most of the time, I felt very comfortable in a t-shirt and shorts.
- Hiking boots and walking sticks are strongly recommended considering there’s quite some descent and some parts are rather steep and slippery (but not really dangerous).
- There’s a restaurant and WC at the Eigergletscher Station, and a restaurant and WC close to the Alpiglen Station. There’s a water fountain next to the Alpiglen Station.
- Please note: till 2021, the route has been changed due to construction work for the V-Cableway. Please note the markings on site and this map with the changed route. The hiking time is extended by about 20 minutes.