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Funicular offers white-knuckle ride

No roller coaster, but still plenty of thrills

(Keystone)

The steepest mountain railway in Europe, which climbs a vertical cliff in the Bernese Oberland, is not for the faint-hearted. Anyone making the trip should pack a vital commodity - courage.

Constructed in 1926 to help build the Gelmer dam and the Handeck hydroelectric power station, the Kraftwerke Oberhasli's (KWO) Gelmerbahn has opened to the public for the first time in 75 years.

Thanks to an investment of SFr800,000, the funicular, located a few kilometres outside the town of Innertkirchen, now gives up to 180 people a day the chance to sample spectacular views the length and breadth of the Grimsel valley.

But anyone stepping aboard should have a head for heights.

The Gelmerbahn rises a breathtaking 450 metres up the steep mountain face in a matter of minutes.

Like hanging over a cliff

"During the steepest section we climb at a steepness of 110 per cent, which makes the Gelmerbahn the steepest funicular in Europe," said Ernst Baumberger, head of communications at KWO.

"The special thing about the Gelmerbahn is the surroundings," Baumberger said. "You sit in the car like in an amphitheatre.

"We see a lot of people who arrive at the bottom station, look up and have to decide whether they can take it. When you sit in the car you feel like you are hanging over a cliff."

During the ride to the top - if you can bear to open your eyes - you can catch cracking views of the Grimsel pass to the left, while to the right hand side you look down the Aare valley towards Lake Brienz.

Once at the top, visitors can walk around the Gelmer Lake, gaze at the glaciers or simply start psyching themselves up for the ride down.

"The response from visitors has been great," continued Baumberger. "It's been a magnet for a lot of people to the Grimsel area and the last couple of weeks, since the Gelmerbahn opened, we just haven't been able to take all the people who wanted to go up to the picturesque Gelmer Lake."

But for some the near vertical experience can prove a little too much, and on several occasions the prospect of a return journey has been a non-starter.

Fortunately for the weak-kneed, there's a path that winds all the way back down to the valley floor.

by Adam Beaumont


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