Tuesday, May 4, 2021

Mannlichen to Kleine Scheidegg Panoramaweg

5 km one way, 50 meters elevation gain
Difficulty: Easy
Access: Mannlichen Cable Car to trailhead with associated fees, return on Kleine Scheidegg cog railway

The hike along an Alpine ridge from the Mannlichen Cable Car station to the Kleine Scheidegg rail station is an easy ramble that provides superb views of Jungfrau, the Monch, and the Eiger and beautiful wildflower meadows in the heart of Switzerland's Bernese Alps. This is a one-way hike on a well-built path with minimal elevation gain, making it suitable for most hikers. While this hike does not necessarily stand out in an area with many beautiful hikes, it is easily accessible to visitors staying in Wengen and Lauterbrunnen and is a relaxing way to enjoy some classic Alpine scenery.

While it's certainly feasible to do this one-way hike either from Mannlichen to Kleine Scheidegg or vice versa, starting at Mannlichen is the recommended approach. Mannlichen is at a slightly higher elevation, giving the one-way trip about a 200 meter net elevation loss when starting at Mannlichen. Additionally, the best views on the hike are of the Eiger, the Monch, and Jungfrau, which would appear directly before you rather than being behind your back if you hike towards Kleine Scheidegg. 

Both ends of the trail are only reachable by public transport. Mannlichen is reached by a cable car from Wengen; there is also a cable car ascending from Grindelwald, but that cable car was closed for repairs during my 2019 visit. Wengen itself is a car-free town that is only accessible by cog railway. Additionally, Kleine Scheidegg can only be reached by cog railway from either Wengen or Grindelwald. The easiest approach for this hike to come from Wengen: ride the cable car up to Mannlichen, hike to Kleine Scheidegg, and then take the Wengeralpbahn back down to Wengen. Riding cable cars and cog railway all the time can be expensive, so I recommend that visitors spending a few days in the Jungfrau area buy the Jungfrau Travel Pass for unlimited travel on most of the region's railways and cable cars. If you're planning a longer trip in Switzerland and intend to do much of your travel by train, you can also pick up the Swiss Half Fare Card from SBB for additional discounts to the Jungfrau Travel Pass. Check timetables before your hike to make sure that you make it to your destination before the last train or cable car of the day no matter which direction you're hiking.

I did this hike during a family trip to the Alps. We stayed in Wengen, which is at a unique location on mountain slopes high above Lauterbrunnen Valley, with views of both glacial-capped peaks above and steep cliffs with tumbling waterfalls below. Wengen was one of the most beautiful places I've stayed at: the landscape here resembles that of a fairy tale. In fact, the valley of Lauterbrunnen inspired a young JRR Tolkein to write of a fantastic valley of snowy peaks and waterfalls that was the abode of elves: Rivendell, from The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. While I mentioned that the Mannlichen to Kleine Scheidegg hike may not be the most standout spot in the Bernese Oberland, Wengen itself is one of the those standout places and must not be missed in any visit to the Swiss Alps.

The Bernese Alps from Wengen
From the cog railway station in Wengen, it was a short walk north (to the left) on Dorfstrasse through the center of the village to reach the station for the Luftseilbahn Wengen-Mannlichen, the aerial cableway connecting the village with the mountain station. We boarded the large cable cars for the minute journey up the mountain to Mannlichen. Along the way up, we had incredible views to the right side of the cable car of Wengen itself, Lauterbrunnen Valley, Jungfrau, and Breithorn.

After the short ride, we disembarked at Mannlichen station. Mannlichen is a ridge separating Lauterbrunnen Valley from Grindelwald and thus had magnificent views of both valleys. Snow fences dotted the slopes below Mannlichen on the Wengen side, meant to catch avalanches that might threaten the mountain town below in winter. The view to the west included many impressive but less famous peaks of the Bernese Oberland, including Breithorn, Tschingelhorn, Gspaltenhorn, and Bluemlisalphorn. 

Wengen and the Bernese Alps
On the Grindelwald side, we had immense views of the great wall of peaks of the Berner Alps. The north face of the Eiger connected to the cliffs of Schreckhorn and Wetterhorn. The houses and hotels of Grindelwald dotted the green pastures at the bottom of the valley. On a clear day, this would be a panorama of alpine peaks; unfortunately, at the time of my visit, clouds socked in the summits even though I could see the cliffs of the lower parts of the peaks. The view from Mannlichen is impressive but does not fully include the Monch and Jungfrau, as the pyramid of Tschuggen partially blocks those peaks. We caught a glimpse of the Eiger's north face here before it was swallowed by clouds. That was a little unfortunate, as this hike is known in particular for its constant views of the Eiger. The Eiger, or the Ogre, is the lowest of the three most famous peaks in the Jungfrau area (Eiger, Monch, and Jungfrau: the Ogre, the Monk, and the Maiden); however, the Eiger's massive and vertical north face, a 3000-meter cliff, is one of the more impressive sights in the Alps and was for decades one of the most vexing challenges in mountaineering.

The Eiger, shrouded in clouds, rises above Grindelwald
From the Mannlichen cable car station, there is the option to hike north to the peak of Mannlichen itself, which is about 1 km to the north with about 70 meters of elevation gain. We skipped this side trip due to time constraints.

Leaving the Mannlichen cable car station, we followed the trail along the ridge south towards Kleine Scheidegg. The trail passed by the station for the cable car up from Grindelwald (not in service during the time of my visit). The Grindelwald side of the mountain is a ski resort in winter, so the open meadows on that side of the mountain were punctuated by service roads and multiple ski lifts.

After a slight initial ascent, the trail began to traverse the slopes on the eastern side of Tschuggen, with a gentle downhill grade. There were constant views to the Grindelwald side, where the peak of Wetterhorn shifted in and out of the clouds constantly. To the north, we had views of the dramatic sedimentary rock ridges of Schynige Platte, which is another popular tourist spot in the Jungfrau region that is accessible by cog railway.

Schynige Platte across the valley from Mannlichen
The meadows on the east slopes of Tschuggen were coated with mountain wildflowers. The rhododendron blooms were especially widespread and notable; so while we weren't able to see much of the Eiger along this stretch of the trail due to clouds we did still have plenty to see and enjoy along the trail.

Summer wildflowers
Summer blooms on the trail to Kleine Scheidegg
As we followed the trail around to the south side of Tschuggen, passing by more ski lifts, we caught a lucky break and the clouds began to lift, revealing views of the massive peaks above us. The Monch and Jungfrau came into view, rising precipitously from the green meadows and forests around Kleine Scheidegg to stark and harsh heights of rock and ice. Glaciers flowed down the slopes of both towering peaks and Jungfrau's sides were graced with a satellite peak, Silberhorn, which was a distinct icy pyramid.

Monch and Jungfrau rise above Kleine Scheidegg
The hike ended with a gentle descent down to Kleine Scheidegg, where we enjoyed more views of the Monch and Jungfrau rising above lush green meadows. We boarded one of ther later trains of the day to descend from Kleine Scheidegg back to Wengen.

Jungfrau view from Kleine Scheidegg train station

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