Stechelberg

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View northwards down the Weisse Lütschine river valley towards Lauterbrunnen from Stechelberg
Stechelberg viewed from the Schilthornbahn

Stechelberg is a small village in the glacier carved Lauterbrunnen valley of the Bernese Oberland in Switzerland, sitting at the base of the Jungfrau mountain. The village is connected by the Luftseilbahn Stechelberg-Mürren-Schilthorn (LSMS), an aerial tramway, to the car-free skiing and hiking villages of Gimmelwald, Mürren and the Schilthorn, and over on the other side of the valley above the cliffs sits the car free village and resort of Wengen. The village is surrounded by steep mountains, cliffs, and waterfalls, and is separated from the canton Wallis to the south by a line of jagged peaks and glaciers. It is on the northern entrance to a UNESCO World Heritage site, the Jungfrau-Aletsch Protected Area, with the longest glacier in the Alps, as well as high jagged peaks, cliffs and crags, alpine forest and meadows, and plentiful waterfalls and flowers.The Alpenhof, formerly a naturfreundehaus (nature friends house) sits here in Stechelberg near the entrance to the park and is still running as a Bed & Breakfast, open all year round. There are 72 waterfalls in the immediate region and they are especially impressive after a heavy rain, and the highest waterfall in Switzerland, Staubbach Falls,(300m)(1000 ft) is located in the valley.

Herding and grazing dairy animals is important to the area, and so is tourism. They have created plentiful hiking opportunities and scenic walks in all directions for visitors, with very steep trails for the fit, to flat valley floor strolls at the bases of many of the highest waterfalls in Switzerland, or else downhill walks accessed by cable cars. There is a large amount of infrastructure in the area, and many small cabins and chalets in out of the way places, yet the area has striven to keep a natural feel while maintaining the modern conveniences and comforts. The area still has some small traditional festivals, and also traditional puppet shows, such as the style from in The Sound of Music, can be popular with both young and old. The Swiss Jungfrau Triathlon also takes place here and runs by the village.

Located at the head of the Lauterbrunnen valley at the south end, the area had iron ore near Trachsellauenen and the ruins of an ore smelting plant still exist. Part of the area near Trachsellauenen was deforested for mining and grazing, and so has been declared a protected natural area (Naturschutzgebiet) to keep it in its present condition.

In spring/summer/fall the valley floor meadows and pastures, as well as the mountainside alpine pastures and clearings in the forest, are loaded with colorful floral displays including some rare and endangered flowers, as well as peacefully grazing cows, sheep, and unique half black/half white shaggy long-horned goats. Many of the farmhouses sell assorted home made goods, including their prized individual special cheeses and meats. In winter many of the waterfalls freeze up, and in spring they gradually crumble apart loudly thundering the entire valley. As well throughout the year one hears the thundering of glaciers as chunks break off.

In summer, and sometimes in winter, base jumpers spring off the thousand foot cliff edges, leaping down and flying through the air only to pull the cords on their parachutes at the last second. Bungee jumping was popular as well from the high cliffs, yet an accident by an American tour company has stopped this later practice for now. The base jumpers, however, continue to defy death on the sheer cliff sides in this glacier sculpted valley. In both winter and summer, paragliders run and launch off Mürren's (1650M) meadows above and sail around in the air around the waterfalls and the sheer rock cliff face, down to Stechelberg's grassy farm fields.

Stechelberg is accessed by Lauterbrunnen from the terminal train station, or a small road up the valley, and the only other way, in all other directions, excepting by helicopter, is to hike there over sheer steep terrain. The extremely high and steep cliffs around the village are prone to avalanches (Lawinen în German) and on February 6, 2003, two avalanches fell onto the village. The inhabitants have precautionary measures however, such as shelters along the road up the valley for people to take cover under, so the damage was limited to some broken windowpanes. The school was closed for some days, and the villagers were forced to live on stockpiled supplies, because they could not leave the houses.

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Coordinates: 46°33′N 7°54′E / 46.550°N 7.900°E / 46.550; 7.900

View of Lauterbrunnen valley from Stechelberg
One of the numerous waterfalls in the Lauterbrunnen valley