We thought a nice sightseeing trip up a Swiss mountain to visit a pretty lake would be calm, sedate, even a little boring. After all, we’d already climbed Mont Blanc. But this is the Gelmerbahn Funicular. And it’s flipping terrifying!
Finding the Gelmerbahn Funicular
I found it really difficult to find the Gelmerbahn Funicular on Google maps. Handegg didn’t come up on my search either. To avoid confusion, it’s on Route 6, south of Innerkirchen & Guttannen and north of the Grimsel Pass (more on that later!) It’s right on a tiny, tiny village called Handegg- I believe there is a hotel here but not much else.
You’ll arrive at a small car park halfway down the Handegg gorge. It’s beautiful, peaceful and in no way prepares you for what is to come. It was here that we stopped and struggled to get internet to log in so we could find out Baby Bird’s GCSE results. (For non-UK readers, these are the exams that enable you to get into college.) Having homeschooled her for a year, we were all a little nervous! But it turns out, homeschooling works- or at least it did for us. She got awesome results and is now safely in college. Anyway, back to the terror…
Tickets for the Gelmerbahn Funicular
Tickets can be purchased online (http://www.grimselwelt.ch/en/transport-lift/gelmer) or on the day- but each trip is time allocated and can only take 24 people at once. We did this in August school holidays and just turned up- but we did arrive at 9am and managed to get in before 2 massive coachloads of people arrived. It might be worth booking! In 2017 a return trip cost CHF 32 per adult and CHF 16 child (6-16). I assume children under this are free but they would still need a seat.
You have to report for your trip on the Funicular 15 minutes before the time on your ticket. If you are late, your seats will be sold- this happened to several people whilst we were waiting and they were VERY strict about this. Tickets are non-exchangable and non-refundable. It’s Switzerland- they expect you to be on time.
Riding the Gelmerbahn Funicular
Once the car arrives and the latest group of startled tourists have disembarked, it’s your turn to get in. There is a little bar which is locked over your laps- but the car has no sides. As long as it’s not raining, I’d suggest sitting in the front-middle if possible. This way your view isn’t obscured by the roof. If you are one of those crazy people who love roller coasters, try & sit in the front.
And with a lurch, you’re off, going backwards up the mountain. I still can’t decide which was worse- going backwards and having no idea what was coming, or going forwards where you could see the drops! Baby Bird was pretty terrified either way. Mr WB went very quiet and honestly, there were moments where I was a little uncertain too- and I don’t mind heights!
It’s not a rollercoaster- there are no sudden loops or drops, but you do tilt backwards and you can feel the steepness of the gradient. The car moves at a pretty steady pace- there are a few jolts and lurches along the way and it slows down a lot for the really steep bits. The journey one way takes about 10 minutes and the steepest gradient is 106%!! Until the end of 2017 it was the steepest funicular railway in Europe (the new Stoos funicular is steeper) It’s about 1000m track length and takes you nearly 1,500m up a mountain. There are no passing places, so it’s just one car which goes up and down and it only operates from around end of May to end of October, but do please check the website to ensure this.
Gelmersee Lake- at the top of the Gelmerbahn Funicular
Once up, you’ll discover Gelmersee lake. The whole reason for the funicular was to transport workers up to this area so they could build the lake, which is actually a reservoir and part of a hydroelectric power station! Who would have believed that whole thing would be man-made??!!
Gelmersee lake is beautiful and well worth bringing a picnic up to enjoy. There is no shop or cafe up here- you’re literally up a mountain, so we were grateful we’d remembered warm jumpers and a bottle of water. Many people chose to either walk back down the mountain- the station at the bottom has maps to help guide you down- or to walk around the lake. We chose to do neither as we only had 30 minutes at the top, so we sat quietly and for most of the time we were the only people around. It was absolutely magical and one of my favourite places in the entire holiday.
The trip down had a lot less people in the car- probably because it was still morning and most people hadn’t finished their hikes yet. This allowed us to sit in the second row and film the descent. As I said before, it was still pretty crazy but the view of the mountains as we descended was incredible!
Video of us riding the Gelmerbahn Funicular:
Little did we know that just after this video, we would have one of the scariest parts of our trip- hurtling down a mountain in our motorhome without any brakes…..