The three spectator areas and the routes to get there. Below I made a description of the routes
Map data: Google Landsat / Copernicus © 2021 Maxar Technologies
After a long wait it is finally there: show day. Before you even step out of the door, in all cases check the Axalp page of the Swiss Air Force if the event will take place in the first place. The Swiss Army can cancel the event at any moment if there is a change of weather or other circumstances. If you arrive by car, coming from the A8 highway, take exit 29 towards Brienz/Axalp. From there the way to the P+R parking is well indicated with temporary signs. Usually a contingent of Swiss Army soldiers will guide you to your parking spot after which you can take the shuttle bus up. Arriving by train you can get out at Brienz Station. There you will find the shuttle bus to Axalp.
The buses drive to Axalp from 0500 until 1200 and will drive back to Brienz from 1500 until 2200 at the latest. I won’t bore you with the stories about the days that you could drive your car up the mountain right up to the point where the road stopped at Lütschentälti. Pretty convenient, considering that you only had a 1,5 hours walk left to the top. These days are long behind us. Nowadays the only way to get up during the Axalp Week is the Shuttle bus.
The Axalpstrasse is closed from 0500-2200 on Monday until Thursday. If you still think it is a good idea to go up the mountain before 0500, you might be pleasantly surprised -initially- that you can drive straight through, right until you arrive at Axalp. Be aware though that you are not allowed to park your car anywhere legally on these days (except a handful of parking spots available on the Monday). You may get a fine if you decide to park illegally. Secondly, the people taking care of the shuttle bus operation will prioritize proper running of the shuttle bus operation at all times over someone waiting in his car to be let through. In this scenario you might be down in the valley as late as 2200. Way later than the people who chose to take the bus
Walking up to the range from Brienz is not an option, by the way. The 12km from Brienz to the KP Ebenflüh covers 1650 vertical meters and will take you 5 1/2 hours! My advice is simple: take the shuttle bus to and from the show. After the event you will usually be back in the parking area within an hour after you arrive in Axalp from the mountain. And, if you refuse to spend your time in the queue, enjoy a beer with some Raclette. Brag about your photos to anyone who will listen. Enjoy the last rays of sun, and wait for the line to be gone.
Once you arrive in Axalp with the bus in the morning you have two choices to reach your destination. take the chairlift to Windegg or walk from the village directly. In the latter case you have to cover 700 vertical meters. The chairlift reduces the vertical meters you have to cover with more than half: 320 meter.
The easiest route up is taking the chairlift to Windegg. It is still a brisk climb until you reach the Tschingel hill, but still the shortest one, so most people prefer this route. Be aware that on the way up and especially on the way back there can be a long queue of people for the chairlift.
The path from Windegg to the top is well marked, and in case you don’t know anymore: simply follow your fellow climbers. There is only one way up from Windegg. Normally the climb from Windegg to the top will take 1.5 to 2 hours (excluding waiting time for the chairlift). If you climb up for the first time, be sure to take a few breaks to soak up the beautiful alpine environment you have entered.
From the chairlift you can reach the Brau and Tschingel areas at all times. The passage from Tschingel to Ebenflüh however will be closed of from 1330 onwards. Make sure you take that into account when you want to go to Ebenflüh.
The Swiss Army advises not to make the climb with children under the age of eight years. If your children did not grow up in the mountains, I would tend to agree this advice.
You should be in general good condition to make the climb and take into account that you have to walk for several hours during the day at high altitude in terrain that can be tricky. So if you are not sure footed, have a heart condition or have other health issues, I would advise against making the climb. Finally, and unfortunately, if you are in a wheelchair the shooting range is surely off limits. On this page you can find advice on proper clothing and shoes for the Axalp Airshow.
Given the loud noises of the jets, but also the steep drops on Ebenflüh and Tshingel, for the well being of your pet and yourself, I would keep pets at home.
After the show ends, and you think about getting back, be careful when descending the mountain. Expecially on the show days the paths tend to get slippery later in the day. due to the larger number of visitors. An alternative is to walk back via route 3 (see map below) through the valley. Off course this is a longer walk, but a large part is on the asphalt road from Lütschentälti to Axalp. Besides that, the first part of path that precedes the road is more accessible than the descent via Brau. And, lastly, you avoid the lengthy queue for the chairlift.
Taking the chairlfit leaves you with the shortest walking distance, but can also be very busy.
If you hate queues and if you are up for a nice walk in the Alps, you can also walk the entire route. Although this route is longer and covers 700 vertical meters, it is not necessarily more difficult than taking the chairlift, because people who take the chairlift have to climb the difficult part as well! If you go by foot it will take you 2-3 hours, but it will also give more time to enjoy the amazing surroundings.
For following route 2 you have to exit the road and turn left at Chuëmad. After that simply follow the the red and white painted stones and you will join route 1 after about 15 minutes.
Route 3 is a longer route that leads you up through the Lütschental valley instead of over the ridge. Though route 3 is longer, it is also a bit easier to walk. Both on ascend and descend the inclination is less aggressive. All routes will first take you to Brau (Point 3). If you choose to continue you end up at Tschingel (Point 2). At Tschingel the hard part is over, and you can make your final choice to stay there or walk further towards the KP (Point 1).
Route 2 & 3 take you to the range without taking the chairlift. Route 3 is longer and takes you through the valley but is bit easier to walk.
Every year a limited amount of VIP, locals and accredited press get flown up directly from the Air Force Base in Meiringen. I have been very lucky to be on the helicopter in 2005 and I must say it was an amazing experience. The ride is very short (roughly 5 min) but you get unique views of the shooting range while flying up.
To avoid disappointment, if you think about sending the Air Force an email: successfully applying for the helicopter ride is very hard, since they get many requests and the helicopter capacity is limited every year. This results in a long waiting list and unless you are accredited press or have a professional relationship to the Swiss Army, a request will almost certainly not be granted.
So there you are! You have made it! Pat yourself on the back, change your shirt and have a cup of tea. If you are early enough you will be just in time to watch the sunrise, so there is a first opportunity to get your camera out.
Some people swear by staying at KP, some never go further then Tschingel. I personally have no preference over staying at the KP or at Tschingel. They both have their pros and cons. My advise is to try all of them and see what you like best. Be advised though that shortly before the start of any flying activity, the gates of each spectator area close and only open again when there is a sufficient gap in flying to allow spectators to make a safe passage.
Despite being at the respectable altitude of 2200m ASL, all three main spectator areas are equipped with medical assistance, portable toilets and catering from Tuesday onwards. All of this is kindly hoisted up by the Swiss air Force helicopters in the days before. At the food stand you can buy coffee, tea, soft drinks, beer and wine. For lunch you can order a Frankfurter or Raclette. Simple, but so nice when you have been up since 4AM.
Ebenflüh is the most distant spot on the Axalp range. Here you will find the official Kommandoposten (Command Post) of the shooting range. You may know Ebenflüh for the well known pictures of a Hornet diving away behind the control tower. You can see the the Control Tower from far when you climb the mountain. From the command tower the flight directors control the shooting operations.
From KP Ebenflüh you can see all three targets clearly. All three spectators areas are facing south. On sunny days this can make photography a bit challenging, but sometimes your pictures can benefit from this as well, especially if the air is moisty and the Hornets generate vapour over their wings.
If you climb to the top of the hill you have an amazing view over Lake Brienz and the pre Alps. Positioning is a bit tricky on Ebenflüh. There is not a single place where you have a clear view in all directions from where the planes come from. That is also difficult to be honest, as they are come from all sides. The most popular spots typically are those at the fence at the bottom end. In the early hours of the Mondays you can usually access the tower as well. after Monday morning the entire eastern part, including the tower will closed off. From that moment this place is VIP and Army access only.
Tschingel is the largest area of the three spectator areas. Although it is a bit further away from the targets, for photography it is just as attractive as KP Ebenflüh in my opinion. While the movements towards and from the east (direction Meiringen) will be less visible from here, you have a better and closer view on stuff coming from the west (direction Interlaken).
If you visit Axalp for just one day, try to spend the morning at the Tschingel and the afternoon at Ebenflüh (or vice versa). Just as at Ebenflüh the curvature of the hill limits views to the east side if you are on the west side and vice versa. So keep that in mind when you pick your spot.
Climbing to the top of the hill, you end up at a scaringly steep drop. If you dare to come close however, you have an amazing view of Lake Brienz and many miles beyond that. On clear days you can see the Alsace and Schwarzwald in France and Germany. Make sure to check that out during the quiet hours.
For photographers Brau is a bit of a forgotten spot. It is mostly used by people who do not want to climb any further.
Having said that I think that Brau might be a bit underestimated as you can take some great shots from there. The Hornets usually appear beautifully from the valley. Equally the Patrouille Suisse and PC-21 fly into the direction of Lake Brienz very photogenically from Brau. For the rest of that action you are generally a bit too low. But if you want to have experience a different viewpoint, you will not be totally dissappointed at Brau.
Typically one of the EC-365 SAR helicopters stays here as well. Ready to pick up unlucky visitors that have been injured during the day.
1. AXALP INFORMATION
2. GETTING TO AXALP
3. ALTERNATIVE SPOTS
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