48 Hours in Switzerland for One Photograph

There’s little doubt in our minds on this blog that Switzerland is the most gorgeous country in the world. The snow capped peaks, alpine meadows, wooden huts, valleys,  hills, and waterfalls never cease to disappoint. Having shot the landscapes of Switzerland in the spring, winter, and fall, the lack of a winter-scape from the mother of alpine nations was a gaping hole in our photography portfolios. We have wanted to visit Switzerland in the snow for many years now, but it never came together because winter always ends up being the busiest time of year for us. Simply put its hard to find days other than weekends to go out and shoot. When my cousin told me that he was approved to go on one last landscape photography trip before his second kid arrives (congrats to him), there was little doubt in our minds where we were going. I’m lying, there was plenty of doubt on where and whether we would go on this trip at all. But there was one thing that was for sure: it was now or never for one last “bro” trip to Switzerland.

The Jungfrau Region of Switzerland is my family’s favorite place in the entire world. I don’t think any other landscape has delivered us with as many stunning images or memories. Each time we go back, it seems like the area just became even more magical. It’s pretty much a landscape that looks good at any time of day, which is not necessarily the case for all types of landscapes.

The Lauterbrunnen Valley in the Summer

Unfortunately for us, it just so happens that Switzerland is experiencing one of its warmest winters on record this season. Temperatures during the month of December were well above average and had left little snow on the ground for us to play around with in the new year. This meant our trip had to coincide with some fresh snowfall so that we could capture our most beloved landscape in the most ideal conditions (covered in snow). While debating our options, we noticed last Tuesday that the Lauterbrunnen Valley in Switzerland was about to get a decent amount of snow that Friday. The rest is history. Before we knew it we had our camera batteries charged, SD cards emptied, bags packed, and snow boots on. We were ready to capture that one image that had evaded our portfolios.

The Story Behind the Image

Now fast forward to a cold and rainy Saturday morning. My phone alarm goes off at 4 am, trying to nudge me awake from the catacombs of my jet lagged mind. I hit the snooze button and tricked my mind into thinking that I’m getting ready within my dream. My mind wasn’t fooled for long because just a few minutes later I heard my cousin’s phone alarm go off. I cursed my “brilliant” idea of keeping the heating turned off the previous night and somehow managed to drag myself through the morning routines (checking camera batteries, backing up SD cards, and charging my phone).

We zombie walked ourselves to the car and drove the 15 minutes from our Airbnb in Interlaken to the Lauterbrunnen Valley parking lot in pitch darkness. Along the way, all we could do was wonder whether the snow was actually blanketing the valley or not. We were squinting our eyes trying to get a clear glimpse of the mountains and trees in the distance. The suspense was absolutely killing us.

Arriving at the Lauterbrunnen Valley parking lot, we found that the lot was delightedly piled in snow, but also unfortunately full of cars. This parking lot (the one closest to the train station) was absolutely full. Our heart started to beat a million times faster at this point. Did we make a mistake by not taking the train directly from Interlaken? Would we have to drive all the way back empty handed?  There were many doubts in our mind at that point, but one thing was for certain: we would miss the first train up to Wengen (from where we would hike to our special vantage point).

We helplessly watched as we were guided by people in orange vests further and further down the valley. Before we knew it, we were almost at the end of the Lauterbrunnen Valley (an area known as Stechelberg), where we finally found a parking spot. We hurriedly handed a man 10 CHF for a day parking pass, and raced to catch the already full bus taking us to the train station.  I somehow crammed myself into the bus with my inflated photography bag alongside dozens of other passengers with their skis and snow boots in tow. I must have very nearly poked the eyes out of at least 10 other passengers with my tripod sticking out of my bag. We were the last ones on this bus. There was still hope.

Lo and behold the bus ride itself took 15 minutes and just as we pulled into the train station, the first train left Lauterbrunnen for Wengen. Sunrise was at 8 am and it was already 6:45 am here, with the next train leaving at 7:20am. We were running out of time. Even if we made it to Wengen in time for sunrise, we would barely have enough time to hike down to our location for that morning. Worse yet, we had no idea how slippery the trail down to the vantage point would be.

The 30 minutes or so we spent waiting for that train to leave Lauterbrunnen station were some of the most painful minutes during my life as a photographer. As the light slowly brightened outside, we could clearly begin to see the snow topped roofs and frozen tree branches. Our situation really began to sink in at this point. We had flown over 12 hours and driven over 3 hours (all in a jet lagged state of mind) to this location only to be denied by the mere fact that we didn’t arrive a couple of minutes earlier. Our spirits could not have been lower at this point in the trip, especially because we had not seen any significant snow during our drive through Switzerland on the previous day. We were desperate for this photograph to save our trip.

An abrupt screeching sound indicated that the train car was beginning to move, slowly winding its way up the mountain. As I nervously cleared away the foggy train windows, the view unfolded before our eyes. Here lay the Lauterbrunnen Valley shrouded in the cool morning mist and absolutely blanketed in a glistening coat of snow. The train car climbed the mountain faster and more wintry scenes began to unfold before our eyes. Pretty much everything was a photographic composition, waiting to be captured.

20 minutes later, my cousin and I were sprinting off the train, excusing ourselves for bumping into people as we made our way from the train station. We raced down the steep slopes of the valley packed with snow, slipping on our crampons, and marveling at the winter wonderland that lay before us. We scrambled down the slopes, slipping and sliding down the steep ice filled slopes in a rush to get to our beloved photography spot.

Even as we arrived and started to get our tripods set up, light was already beginning to hit certain parts of the valley. I grabbed my camera and threw my backpack and gimbal on a nearby slope, where it landed and began to dangerously slide down the hill. Not caring, I set up my tripod, quickly secured my Sony A7R3 on it, and hit the remote shutter immediately thereafter.

I don’t think I’ve ever been relieved as much as when I first saw this image clearly appear on my camera’s LCD display. I’m not an emotional guy, but this was perhaps the closest I came to crying. I may have even shed a tear or two (unbeknownst to my cousin). All the anticipation and “hard work” was worth it for that one moment.

The Lautebrunnen Valley in the Winter

We spent a good 3 hours at the view point that morning, freezing ourselves, and just marveling at the rolling fog and mountains peaking through. We eventually had to pull ourselves away from the scene at 10:30 because neither of us could feel our toes anymore. The excitement and adrenaline were finally beginning to wear off. Mission accomplished!

Takeaway

If there is one thing that photography has taught me over the years, it is to always be persistent. The thin balance between success and failure is never more apparent to me. So as long you keep putting yourself in the position to succeed, you will eventually come away with a win. Anyway, sorry for the rather long storyline with the drama, but I don’t know of a better to express how much travel and the art of photography means to me at times.

Now that I think of it I have no clue why I was so full of doubt at the start of this trip, I can’t think of a better way to spend 48 hours.

If you are interested in seeing more of my work, check out my photography website or consider following me on Instagram. Message me for details on prints for this image. A full trip report and cost breakdown are coming up shortly.

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