In pursuit of thrills: a trip from „Death Valley“ to James Bond’s mountain
Lauterbrunnen Valley, located in the canton of Bern in Switzerland, is famous throughout the world. This fame is not only due to its stunning scenery of steep cliffs, waterfalls and a panoramic view of three spectacular peaks – the Eiger (3,970 metres), Mönch (4,099 metres) and Jungfrau (4,158 metres).
Over the last few years, the valley has also become a magnet for thrill-seekers looking to take part in one of the most dangerous sports of all – BASE jumping. Every day, BASE jumpers fling themselves from the steep rock faces into the narrow valley below. Some even dive into the abyss several times in one day. Due to the frequent fatalities, insiders have given the area the ghoulish nickname of „Death Valley“. The valley has a further claim to fame: several decades ago, it served as the backdrop for a James Bond film. All in all, a must-see location, thought our author. So she climbed into her camper van and set off for Switzerland to explore this extraordinary area.
Arrival in Lauterbrunnen
We arrive in the valley in radiant sunshine late in the afternoon. Our small camper van winds its way through the narrow streets of Lauterbrunnen village to the campsite “Camping Jungfrau” that will serve as our base for exploring the surrounding mountains. We pick a spot right next to a babbling brook and have a great view of several waterfalls cascading down the steep cliffs around the village. Despite our excitement, the water gurgling all around lulled us into a refreshing slumber, and we awake early the next morning ready to start a day of adventure.
But the torrents of water steadfastly plummeting from the steep cliffs into Lauterbrunnen valley have competition – from BASE jumpers and paragliders. The stories about „Death Valley“ are true: all day long you can see people with parachutes floating down into the valley. They are not breaking any laws. In Lauterbrunnen Valley, their pastime is completely legal. It’s an ideal region for these excitement seekers: it has steep cliff faces up to 800 metres high and flat meadows to land on, and it also offers good transport links by train and cable car. However, locals say there are few farmers who haven’t already found at least one dead jumper on their land. That’s the more sombre side of the region’s popularity.
But we’re not here to leap into the valley. We want to experience the outstanding mountain panorama of the three glacial peaks, Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau. Before we can do this, we need to get to the top of the Schilthorn, 2,970 metres high and the tallest mountain in the Bernese Oberland. To James Bond fans, this mountain will be more familiar as Piz Gloria, a name that people now use interchangeably with Schilthorn.
From the valley floor to the top of the Schilthorn
We start our journey with a short walk to the cable car that will take us from the valley station in Lauterbrunnen to the mountain station in Grütschalp. We travel in the same cabin as a group of Japanese tourists. This is no real surprise as the area is one of the top destinations for visitors. Not wishing to participate in mass tourism, we decide to walk the four kilometres from Grütschalp to Mürren instead of taking the quaint little train. The Japanese group and all the others in our cable car cabin decide to travel by train. We are now completely alone.
Once we’ve had our fill of the fantastic view of the North Face of the Eiger and the two majestic peaks next to it, we cross the rails and continue our journey. It’s now a gentle uphill walk along the path, with the impressive mountain panorama to the left of us. We reach Mürren about an hour later, a truly picturesque mountain village with old timber houses, where we board a cable car for Birg. On arriving in Birg, we switch to another cable car that travels right up to the Piz Gloria at the summit of the Schilthorn.
How the Schilthorn became the Piz Gloria
The name Piz Gloria comes from the James Bond movie „On Her Majesty’s Secret Service“ (1969), which was filmed on the Schilthorn. In the movie, however, the action takes place on a mountain called „Piz Gloria“, where the villain called Blofeld has built a research institute on the summit. At the time, the movie was slammed by many critics. One of the reasons was probably because it was the first in the franchise to star someone other than Sean Connery in the lead role. George Lazenby, an Australian, played „007“, but was unable to emerge from his predecessor’s giant shadow. It was his first and only appearance in the role. Today, however, many people see the movie in a less critical light.
But whatever you think of the movie itself, the backdrop is breathtaking. After many years of searching for the ideal setting for Blofeld’s hideout, the movie production team finally found the partly constructed restaurant on the Schilthorn. The original builders had run out of money and were unable to complete the restaurant. The Bond producers decided to finance its completion themselves so that the movie could be filmed there. This is why the history of the revolving restaurant is closely linked to this famous movie franchise.
Since June 2013, guests at the Piz Gloria can visit a „Bond World 007“ exhibition. Visitors can take a virtual helicopter flight across Lauterbrunnen Valley and the surrounding mountains or relive the breakneck bobsleigh ride from the movie. There are loads of diverting exhibits and you learn a lot about the making of the movie.
The Trümmelbach Falls
After an expensive snack in the revolving restaurant, we travel four stations down in the cable car to the valley terminus in Stechelberg. Just as we get out of the cabin, some jumpers land directly in front of us. We’re back in „Death Valley“! Taking the bus, we travel for a couple of stops in the direction of Lauterbrunnen village and get off at the Trümmelbach Falls. Locals had recommended this place to us the day before. And this natural spectacle certainly lived up to its billing. The visit to the ten glacial waterfalls on the inside of the mountain was a wonderful way to end our day in Lauterbrunnen Valley.
A tunnel lift takes visitors into the mountain. From there, you need to climb poorly-lit flights of stairs on your own. The Trümmelbach carries all the meltwater of the Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau glaciers combined – up to 20,000 litres of water per second. It’s an amazing sight! Tired, but thrilled by what we had seen during the day, we walk back to our campsite in Lauterbrunnen village.