October Alpine Outing

October 13, 2018

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Our autumn has been spectacular this year, which (sort of) make up for our too-hot and too-dry summer. I am making up for this lost “me time” by taking some weekend rides. Last weekend I went to visit an Abbey, and this weekend I would recreate a ride that Dan and I did almost exactly five years ago, through some of the closer alpine passes.

I got a relatively early start, as I knew that the route I wanted to take would entail most of the day. The forecasted high of 10C in Andermatt (my planned lunch stop) meant that I packed along my heated jacket and my warmer gloves. I headed out of town in cool temps and some low clouds, happy to be on the road.

As I exited out of the tunnel that crosses under the Jura Mountains and spits me out on the other side, all visibility came to an end. Thick fog, typical for this region, blanketed the valley, lifting only slightly as I reached the valley floor. I didn’t take any photos because 1) I didn’t want to get fog droplets on my lens and 2) there is nothing to see anyway. I did stop to put on my heated jacket though. This damp air was chilly and I figured that since I brought the jacket, I might as well use it. I pulled over at a rest stop and replaced my sweater with the wire-lined jacket and shrugged my Klim jacket over that. I made sure the plug it into the cable that dangles out from under my seat. To my disappointment, the jacket did not work. I suspect that a fuse has blown, or perhaps a wire came loose somewhere, but the end result was that I was now colder than I was with my sweater. Well, I’d get over it and will check out the connections some other time. I had mountains to climb!

Eventually I rode out of the fog and was happy to see that the mountains were clear

Getting closer

At the town of Meiringen I took a short break for breakfast and to decide which way I wanted to ride today’s route. I chose to go with Sustenpass first, as it is my favorite and it would also take up me to Andermatt a little faster than the other way. And I was looking forward to lunch!

Shooting into the sun

A feeble attempt to reduce the shadows has made everything else over-saturated

Sustenpass runs east/west, and the west side is a very long, gradual ascent, with very few switchbacks and lots of great views. This is probably why it is my favorite pass. And also why I tend to take a lot of pictures along the way.

The fall colors were nice, too

Looking back down the valley

Another thing I like about Sustenpass is the tunnels. The are not long, sunless tubes that take you through the mountain, but short transits through jutting rocky outcroppings. Often I can still see where the original road wound around the outside of the rocks, before the engineers dedicated the time and money to blast their way through them.

The stopping point of a previous ride, that we took too early in the season

I had pulled over to take a photo of the valley behind me and had just gotten off the bike when a small white car pulled in haphazardly next to me, and then made a half-ass effort to back up and get further off the road. A young Japanese couple got out and excitedly looked at the view. He had his camera in hand and she immediately started posing in front of the scene. I hurried a little more than I wanted in taking my own photos, and as I got back on the bike I noticed that she had reached into their car for her fancy hat. Always the fashion-conscious tourist, I see.

The first cut into the rock was too big to keep the “tunnel” aspect

The waterfall tunnel

Steingletscher (Stein Glacier), hiding in the shadows

While Sustenpass is my favorite, I find the top of the pass to be fairly uninteresting. I kept on riding, enjoying the wide views that the eastern side of the pass offered.

More tunnels!

Looking back at Sustenpass

Plenty of other riders out today

Cow stau (“stau” is usually used to refer to a traffic jam)

At the bottom of Sustenpass is the town of Wassen, and the beginning of Göschenenpass

The intricate infrastructure of Göschenenpass

My real goal of the day was to have lunch at Toutoune, a restaurant in Andermatt that Dan and I have been to many times. We are always happy with the food and the service, and today I was looking forward to a hot tomato soup and a bowl of tasty french fries. I was not disappointed. After lunch I considered walking around the town but I just didn’t find it interesting. Recent rampant growth has really overwhelmed this tiny mountain village, and I fear that it has lost a lot of its charm in the process. But I digress….

Leaving Andermatt and heading for…. Furka!

The weather was perfect. The temperatures had risen enough so that I wasn’t missing my heated jacket and my mid-weight gloves were just right. The sun was a little too bright, making for some harsh shadows, but I was not about to complain about it!

The road was all mine!

Well, except for this bus…

And this car… But in general, the roads were fairly empty

Looking back at the long approach to Furkapass

Looking down at the western drop down Furka, and the steep climb up Grimsel

Stopped for a beauty shot

Coming down Furka

Nearing the bottom of Furka

At the bottom of the valley is the settlement of Gletsch. I’m not really sure what happens there, but it usually appears quiet and practically abandoned. Today I stopped to look around a little bit. Upon closer inspection, it still appears quiet and practically abandoned. Gletsch is only inhabited during the summer months, closing down when the passes themselves close for the winter. I suppose that this temporary status adds a lot to its neglected appearance.

Of course, the “modern” history of the area goes back to the mid-1800s, when the small inn that was here was replaced by the Glacier du Rhone hotel. In the days before people were zipping through the passes in their cars, Gletsch was an important carriage stop to those who were traveling from Brig to Göschenen, to reach the main rail line there. The fact that it was built in such close proximity to the Rhone glacier added to its appeal.

In reading the history of the hotel on their website, I learned that the coming of the rail line threatened the health of the hotel, as the owners had relied upon the needs both as a coach stop and also as a layover point on a twelve-hour journey. In order to combat this loss, he gave land to the rail road company in exchange that “the trains (at Gletsch) be kept in the sun for one hour at lunchtime in order to persuade the passengers to take a meal. The evening trains must end in Gletsch to increase the number of overnight stays.” And as most things, the more I read about it after a ride, the more I want to go back and explore more thoroughly with my newfound knowledge.

Anglican Church of Gletsch (1907)

Leaving Gletsch behind, I rode up to the top of Grimselpass and pulled over to see what was going on.

Not so many bikes today

The Totensee at the top of the pass (with sculpture, not a person, near the island)

I watched this guy trying to get his parasail in the air for about five minutes. It looks cold

The north side of Grimselpass

The Grimsel Hospiz sits above the Grimselsee

Stuck behind some slow cars on the descent

Back below the tree line!


As I took the motorway along the shore of one of Switzerland’s beautiful lakes and impulsively decided that I should try the road that is actually at the edge of the lake. I took the next exit to the town of Iseltwald and found a nice spot on the shore to enjoy a little break.

It felt nice to take a random break on my ride. This is something that I generally don’t do, as I’m more keen on riding then stopping. But today I wasn’t in a hurry to get home, so I took a little detour.

Lakeside road and homes

Apparently I was wrong about my location, as I assumed that this road would spit me out in Spiez. Instead I found myself in Bönigen, just east of Interlaken. I had been following Brienzersee, when I thought I was next to Thunersee. Ah, silly me. I popped back onto the motorway and made my way home.

Jungfrau Theme Park


And heading north towards home

Getting closer – that’s the Jura mountain range in front of me

I live on the other side of those hills

The view of the Alps that I couldn’t see this morning

Not the last tunnel, but one of the longest ones!

I have come to the conclusion that I’d rather ride these roads slow than fast. I am more interested in seeing what is around me than seeing how far over I can lean. That’s not to say that I’ll be getting a Goldwing any time soon! Just that I’m ok with waving the faster riders by, while I have one hand on the camera and one eye on the mountains.