Before I write about our trip to the Trümmelbach waterfalls located in the Lauterbrunnen valley, a few words about the Lauterbrunnen valley would be in order.
Unlike a river valley which is V-shaped, Lauterbrunnen valley, which was carved out by a glacier millions of years back, is U-shaped. The two sides of the valley are therefore almost vertical and very steep. Exit from this glacial valley is through a narrow gorge. The valley is deep (the deepest in the alpine chain), it is flat, it is wide and it is – well, simply magnificent.
Some of Switzerland’s tallest peaks, reaching up to 14,000 feet, rise dramatically from this area. The three majestic, jagged peaks of the Jungfrau, Mönch and Eiger provide a spectacular backdrop to this magical, deep, lush green glacial valley.
We arrived in Lauterbrunnen from Männlichen, via Wingen. We had lunch in a small café outside the Lauterbrunnen train station and from there we took the short bus ride to the Trümmelbach falls, located midway between Lauterbrunnen village and Stechelberg. A better option, if you have the time, is to walk along this magnificent valley floor between the village and the Trümmelbach waterfalls. This one hour flat walk is magical and I had done this during a previous trip many years back.
The Trümmelbach is no ordinary mass of water plummeting off a cliff or cascading over rocks along a slope in the mountain. Unlike other waterfalls lining this valley, you can’t see the Trümmelbach from the outside. It is underground – rather hidden inside the mountain and you have to enter it through a narrow crack amidst the tall rock face in the valley wall.
It is the largest subterranean waterfall system in Europe – to be precise, a series of ten glacial waterfalls deep inside a mountain, at ten different levels. It drains the melt waters from the mighty glaciers of the Eiger, the Mönch and the Jungfrau mountains (a drainage area of 24 sqkm), with up to 20,000 liters of milky, blue-green glacial water storming furiously every second, amidst solid rock masses.
Access to this rare group of waterfalls is itself fascinating – rather intriguing because reaching a hidden, underground flow of water deep inside a mountain is not easy. But we found that as with all other barriers and technological challenges, the Swiss had come out with a great solution to this too.
Visitors have easy access this underground spectacle of nature through a tunnel lift followed by flights of steps, a series of dimly illuminated passages, caves, tunnels, viewing platforms and balconies – all cut into solid rock. I understand, it took the Swiss, famed for their mountain engineering and tunneling skills, 24 years to complete the tunnel lift (a subterranean funicular to be more accurate), the paths, passages, steps and platforms.
The tunnel lift, run by an operator, took us along the steepest incline of the mountain to a platform located half way up, deep inside the mountain. Emerging from the platform, we had to climb the rest of our way up to different levels, through narrow walk ways, caves, passages, tunnels, and flights of steps – twisting and turning around the cascades churning deep inside the bowels of the mountain. The floor was wet and slippery and there was a hand railing provided along steep stretches.
The upward climb through the winding, partially illuminated subterranean path was a bit strenuous. Given that the floor is a slippery at places, you will be well advised to go with good hiking shoes that have good grip.
Climbing over several levels to different vantage points and viewing platforms cut into the rock, we saw a thundering spectacle of cascades, gushing and roaring violently from the rocks. We saw violent columns and torrents of glacial water, twisting, turning and churning before falling into misty plunge pools and disappearing into the darkness, deep below. The most spectacular view was at the cork-screw falls in which gushing water twirled along a magnificent spiral sculpted into solid rock by the violent force of the water.
The thundering sound of waters inside the mountain was deafening and that was a big part of the experience. It was quite chilly inside and we also got partially wet from the spray in different places. So it is a good idea to wear a waterproof jacket.
Taking photographs inside was a challenge. It was dim. With my camera on low shutter speed and wide aperture, I had to keep my hands steady while standing on slippery wet floor and trying to protect my camera from the spray at the same time. The outcome was far from satisfactory.
Over thousands of years, glacial waters from high above had pounded, bored, tunneled, churned, cut, carved, chiseled and polished it way through solid rock, creating spectacular formations of rock faces, spirals, crevices and caves in solid rock and a rare series of channels, torrents and waterfalls, deep inside the mountain.
With snow melt coming down from three massive glaciers with phenomenal force, the water thundered and foamed in raging torrents deep inside the mountain. It was an amazing spectacle of sight and sound – the power of water over time and at scale. It was amazing to see how Mother Nature, the Master Sculptor had created and was still at work on this magnificent and unusual work in water, stone and sound.
The way in and the way out are different. As mentioned earlier, you take the tunnel lift midway up. From there you climb the rest of the way till the top. And then you exit somewhere from the top and come all the way down, along the side the mountain. It is toward the end of the descent, you find the lowest two cascades located outside the mountain, plunge into the Trümmelbach River.
The way down, out of the crevice in the mountain was beautiful, with views of the Lauterbrunnen valley floor at a distance and of vast green meadows dotted with farm houses and chalets.