We rolled down to the Reuss River in the valley about 100m below and on to Merenschwand (393m) in canton Aargau. The Reuss showed no signs of the high water that had plagued the region only a month or so ago, when Basel was partly inundated by the highest water in many centuries. We took the excellent bike path that parallels the none too busy highway most of the way up the valley, crossing the Reuss again at Gisikon to take the main road N4 into Luzern (436m). This route is a little busier than most, but with reasonable bike lanes, even this is a breeze. In town, traffic was at midweek density as we dodged trolleybuses on the way down to the lake, passing the Grand Panorama des Armee building where ancient wars are depicted on battlefield models with murals as backdrops. The Luzern lion, with a huge symbolic thorn through its foot is carved into a natural cliff across the way next to the marvelous Glacier Garden with all sorts of glacial stone formations. We took photos at the wooden Reuss Bridge that, with its swans and flower boxes, is the definitive postcard scene of Luzern with the Pilatus mountain as a backdrop.
As always, we visited Mrs Dierauer Sr on the Musegg, above the Armory at the city wall. After a brief dip into the fruit bowl and exchange of the latest news, we headed to Kriens with its military buildings, parade grounds and rifle ranges, and on toward the Brunig Pass. After Hergiswil, along the lake, the usual windsurfers were not at work, the weather offering little breeze with the cool overcast that came in over the alps. At Alpnachstadt, we gave the world's steepest cog wheel train, the Pilatus, a quick inspection before continuing to Sarnen, where we turned off to Flueli-Ranft and the Melchtal. We took the small road past the train station that crosses over the railway and passes a beautiful Schuetzenhaus (rifle range house) before climbing a limestone wall into a small forest.
By now the overcast was solid but not threatening as we climbed the narrow paved route that joins the main road into Flueli, a short steep grunt past the large hotels in this pilgrimage town to the log cabin of ascetic Bruder Klaus. The cabin looks like a replica and contains all his belongings, nothing but a bible and a few prayer books. The faithful are not bothered by any of this and on occasion flock there in busloads.
It's still a little climb past Ranft on a road that is more a driveway to some of the upper residences than a road, mainly because it is not a through public motor road. We passed a NO VEHICLES sign and rode into the woods along the steep slopes above the cascading Melch. This paved forest road climbs gradually and finally crosses a covered wooden bridge over the Melch to the main road. We stopped at Melchtal for lunch at the Gasthaus. Fueled and refreshed we rode up to Stockalp (1075m) where the road becomes narrow with one hour timed one-way traffic and a 12% grade. The road climbs to Frut (1902m) and the Melchsee in seven kilometers which, at bicycle speeds, can take longer than an hour but because the road is wide enough for two-way traffic, if there were no buses, this presents no problem. The road climbs between steep and spectacular walls of rough overhanging granite that limit the length of its traverses.
We stopped at the general store in Frut for a snack before riding around the lake in the cool air. Having worked up a good heat on the climb, a light breeze was pleasant as we climbed the short steep bump up the dam of the upper lake. The lake still had snow banks in sheltered parts, reaching onto ice. At the end of the lake in Tannen (1976m) where the road ends, we took the steep and narrow hiking trail along granite walls that goes to Engsteln (1837m) (the narrows), from here we descended the restricted access road to the Susten highway and on down to the Haslital at Inertkirchen (625m).
Crossing the Aar river we rode up the four hairpin turns of the Kirchet Pass (709m) that climbs over the Aareschlucht, a narrow gorge where the Aar cuts through solid granite. We turned up the road to Rosenlaui at the Lammi restaurant. This road is steep and still mostly unpaved, slightly more than one lane wide, it climbs through a forest before heading into the canyon of the roaring Reichenbach, where Sherlock Holmes and Moriarty met their deaths over the falls.
Just above the falls, the local water works carries the inscription "Das Wasser ist das Beste." emphasized by a large watering trough with an ample flow of ice cold drinking water. The climb is no trifle, as it rapidly gains altitude past Hotels Schwendi and Kaltenbach, finally leveling off in the high Rosenlaui Valley, where the great Rosenlaui Glacier and the Wetterhorn come into view. Hotel Rosenlaui (1330m) was abuzz with a large youth group that occupied the upper floors, so we took a regular room a bit lower instead of the usual dormitory. After a hearty dinner with (58dl) Eichhof beer and Coup Danemark dessert, we got a good night's rest to the sound of the rushing Reichenbach.
The road widens and gains a center stripe just above Grindelwald (1034m), where the BOB railway brings passengers from Interlaken and the WAB takes them up the Kleine Scheidegg to the famed Jungfrau Bahn that tunnels inside the Eiger to the saddle at Jungfraujoch. All are steep cog railways. We didn't stop and rode down the valley, along the cascades of the icy Schwarze Luetschine that joins the Weisse Luetschine from Lauterbrunnen at Zweiluetschinen, on our way to Interlaken. The road reaches the valley at Wilderswil where the BOB (Berner Oberland Bahn) 800mm gauge cog train heads up to the Schynige Platte (2061m) for a panorama of the Jungfrau group that is too close to appreciate from Grindelwald.
From Interlaken (563m) we had the usual view, across the large meadow in the middle of town, of Eiger-Moench-Jungfrau, in a mostly clear sky. We crossed the Aar river and headed up the north shore of the Brienzer Lake to Brienz, a small town in a narrows between the cliffs of the mountain and the deep blue lake. Here the BRB steam cog railway climbs through tunnels through vertical cliffs to the top of the Rothorn (2353m). As usual, we ate lunch on the steamer dock where the Brunig railway, BRB and Lake steamers exchange passengers. Coal smoke from one of the original BRB locomotive gave a good steam railway flavor that the new oil fired steamers don't.
Back to Meiringen, Willigen and the Kirchet (709m) to Inertkirchen (625m) and south along the Aar up the Haslital where the road begins its climb gradually. Higher up, we reached the flat spots, first in Guttannen and then at Handegg (1402m), above which the road climbs, on and through granite walls, to huge concrete dams of the Haslital hydro-electric system for which giant aerial tramways provide access in winter.
Just above Handegg, the road takes a one kilometer tunnel while we took the old road notched into the cliffs high above the Aar. Above the upper dams dams, the Finsteraarhorn (4275m), whose glaciers are the source of the Unteraar and Oberaar rivers, rises to the west. Even though we were about a couple of weeks later than usual, huge ten meter walls of snow lined the east shore of the summit lake on the Grimsel (2165m), the way it usually is in early June.
From the south edge of the pass Gletsch (1761m) lies nearly straight below in the Rhone valley, bathed in sunlight with the Rhone glacier as a grand backdrop. Above Hotel Belvedere at the glacier, the Furka Pass that is 266m higher than the Grimsel, lies in the gap at the head of this barren valley that is swept clean, except for some shrubs, by by avalanches in winter. We descended the zigzags of the Grimsel down the wall to Gletsch, crossed the RR tracks and headed up the Furka, posing for obligatory pictures in front of the Glacier. The Furka summit (2431m) gave us a view of the Grimsel and its summit lake, this time without afternoon fog cascading into Gletsch, maybe because we were earlier than in other years.
Although there had been some traffic below, we crossed the empty summit and coasted down the long gradual descent through Tiefenbach and Galenstock on the way to Realp (1538m). We took time to inspect activities at the DFB (Dampfbahn Furka Bergstrecke) engine house, where #2, the Grimselhorn, had been renumbered #9 by purists who noted that although the boiler was #2, the chassis was from #9 and that that is what counts, in spite of what sentimental value there was in having retrieved original locomotives #1 and #2 from the jungles of Vietnam where they had served for 50 years. With a favorable breeze, we rolled to Hospental (1452m) at the junction of the Gotthard and Furka roads and found lodging for the night at Hotel Roessli.
From the Gotthard summit (2108m), we took the usual pictures of the old stone paved road in the Val Tremola before entering the avalanche shed and long tunnel on the new road that exits high above the Val Bedretto with a flying hairpin, 520m above Fontana. Below, at the Fortezza, bicycles are relegated to the old road of ROUGH paving stones for a gratuitous vibra-massage. The road levels off through Airolo (1165m), the south portal of the Gotthard railway and highway tunnels.
From Airolo the road drops into the long flat Ambri-Piotta Valley from which it descends again to the similar Rodi-Fieso Valley. Here the double track Gotthard railway uses two corkscrew loop tunnels and many bridges between Rodi (940m) and Faido (711m) followed by two more loop tunnels at Biaschina to get down the hill. Below Biaschina the valley widens, gradually becoming level at Bodio, the future south portal of the new 52km Gotthard railway tunnel. From here we rolled past the crossing waterfalls at the Biasca train station and on to Bellinzona (239m) for a grocery store lunch.
The weather was hot an humid here in the flatlands, as we headed south through Giubiasco and on to Cadenazzo where most traffic heads south to Lugano over the Monte Ceneri Pass (559m). Shortly beyond, at Quartino, most remaining traffic heads off toward Locarno on the west shore of Lago Maggiore (193m) while we stayed on the east shore and crossed into Italy at Zenna with a nod from the guard without further scrutiny. At Maccagno, where I have stayed in the past, we took a right, just before the RR underpass, to the boat dock for a refreshing dip in the beautifully clear lake that is at ideal swimming temperature all summer.
We cruised on to Luino and picked up some Italian cash at a bancomat, where I solved an interesting mystery. If the ATM does not have pre-set withdrawal amounts, the number manually entered is always invalid because it is interpreted as the home currency, dollars, something the machine cannot furnish. I had this problem several times in past years and finally noticed a correlation. Now I no longer get rejection messages as long as I find an ATM with pre-set withdrawal amounts.
We climbed over a short hill to Laveno from where we took a ferry across the lake to the fancier western shore with its famous resorts, Landing in Verbania. Here the Toce River, fed by the Diveria from the Simplon Pass, flows through Domodossola in the Val d'Ossola to reach Lago Maggiore. After rounding the Toce estuary to Fondo and crossing to Gravellona, it's a small climb to Omegna (298m) where traffic again dwindled to nothing. We rode past weekend resorts and old villas along the east shore of Lago d'Orta, a lake with a forested island topped by a picturesque red sandstone castle.
Interestingly the sparsely traveled rail line through Omegna is destined for heavy freight traffic on completion of the Loetschberg base tunnel in Switzerland. This project will finally give the 20km long Simplon rail tunnel the north/south traffic for which it was built 100 years ago. Nostalgia still exists for the Simplon Orient Express from Paris to Venice via this tunnel, although the real Orient Express went on a different route through Vienna to Istanbul, gateway to the orient.
At the end of the lake at Gozzano (367m), we headed west climbing a short steep bump to Pogno (461m) whose four spigot fountain on the piazza was again running after a rebuild last year. The warm weather made cool water under the shade of a large horse chestnut tree a special pleasure. We climbed west through a blooming chestnut forest typical of the entire southern slope of the Alps. This gradual shady climb reaches a tunnel (598m) abruptly at an unexpected summit from which it descends to Borgosesia (359m).
We crossed the high stone arch bridge over the Sesia and stopped to say hello and have a beer with an old acquaintance, a restaurateur who runs a great osteria. Heading up to Valle Mosso and Mosso Santa Maria we skipped the high "bridge to nowhere", having climbed up to Pistolesa and Veglio often enough. I wasn't up for gratuitous climbing in this muggy weather so we climbed to Pettinengo and crossed a few ridges to Biella (410m) where, as in the past, after a little search we found an appropriate hotel.
We rode around the old castle, whose thousands of swifts I photographed before crossing the river to find a telephone to call Brian, who was unfortunately at work doing some catch-up. We headed south on a small road that went on a nearly straight line to Chivasso (184m) where we crossed to the south shore of the Po. We stopped for lunch before Torino at a roadside restaurant with an ample menu. After cruising through downtown Torino (239m), we took the usual Rt N20, the Tenda highway, south to Carignano, where we turned off toward Saluzzo (395m) and Verzuola. At Verzuola we turned west into the mountains toward the Pso Agnello that we hadn't ridden in a dozen years.
The high humidity was almost a fog that obscured any view of the nearby hills, and of course the snow capped Alps in the background. The Val de Veraita was still mostly flat as we approached Ponzone, a small town where we found a comfortable Albergo. We ate in a large dining room with several wide elliptically shaped arches, under one of which I and people across the room sat. I don't know whether the architect had this in mind, but being in the foci of the ellipse, as we were, enabled us to clearly hear each other's conversations. Besides this entertaining feature, the food, especially the cheese assortment, was excellent. Well fed, we got a good night's rest.
Although it was clear on top, haze limited the view below to about a kilometer. The air cleared as we descended into France above Chateau Quieras, exposing a large valley in which the Aigue Agnella joins the Aigue Blanch to flow through the Combe de Quieras into the Guil river in a steep rocky gorge above Guillestre that lies at the foot of the Col de Vars. We joined the Route des Grande Alps (D902) and headed north up the Riviere Valley to Arvieux (1544m) below the Izoard pass. We stopped at the grocery store for a sandwich and drinks before heading up the hill toward Brunissard, where the climb up the Izoard starts in earnest.
The road levels off at a false summit from which, across the gorge about a kilometer away, the last hairpin turns and the obelisk at the summit are visible. We descended to the Coppi monument before climbing to the obelisk. As usual, traffic was sparse as we rolled over the top of the Col d'Izoard (2361m). After a brief photo stop we descended to Briancon (1321m), whose center lies below the ancient town perched high above fortified walls. We stopped for a snack and rolled out of town up Rt N91 with a slight headwind on the gradual 4% to 5% grade to the Col du Lauteret. We stopped for a cold drink at le Lauzet, where the water fountain remains hidden until you are in front of it, just below the road, next to the creek.
On the Lauteret (2058m), the Hotel du Glaciers was looking better than ever, Dominic Bonnabel having rearranged the outdoor decor with new stone deck, umbrellas and furniture. He welcomed us and told us his uncle Paul, our favorite host in times past, was there for a visit. We cleaned up and ate well, after which we talked at length with Paul about the history of Bonnabels on the summit. We learned that the new hotel, that had been begun before WWII, would resume construction soon, after a 50 year hiatus. I'm looking forward to it. Dominic seemed to have assimilated some of his uncle's charm although he may never achieve his Inspector Cluseau twinkle and style. However, he is better at running an excellent hotel.
We took the usual photos with glistening glaciers of the Massif de la Vanoise (3600m) and the Massif du Sorieller (4000m) above the valleys to the north and south. There was still enough snow at the roadside for a handful to munch on as we headed down the steep part to the hotel at the north portal and to Plan Lachat on the way to Valloire.
From Valloire (1430m) we climbed to the Telegraph (1570m) into a light headwind as the day warmed up. We rounded the corner at the summit where the usual crowd of bicyclists was enjoying refreshments at the Telegraph Cafe across from the Roman signal station and early French fortress. The Telegraph is an astonishingly huge smooth rock dome that overlooks the length of the Maurienne Valley and the Arc river 858m below.
We descended the many hairpins through the thin pine forest to St Michel (712m) and the highway that comes in two flavors, autoroute and Route National (Rt N6). The old road is currently under siege as the autoroute is being tunneled through the walls for greater truck traffic to the 12.9km Frejus tunnel to Torino. The day warmed up as we headed up the valley toward Modane against a headwind and through construction that was even greater than last year, with the entire Maurienne valley torn up with lots of dust.
Above Modane (1057m), after the tunnel sucked off most traffic, we climbed on the empty road to Avrieux, where the road levels off high above the narrows of the Arc at a huge fortress that made use of this natural defile. Tourists cross the breathtaking gorge to the fort on the Pont du Diable, a spindly suspension foot bridge that makes the chasm look especially threatening. From here the road descends back to the valley floor and rolls gently up to Termignon (1300m), where we stopped for lunch. Termignon lies just below a short climb to the higher valley at Lanslebourg (1399m), the foot of the Col du Mont Cenis (2083m) that heads south to Torino.
We didn't stop in Lanslebourg and headed north up the Col du Madeleine (1746m), a short steep bump on Rt D902, to the high valley of the Arc. The warm humid air cooled and the wind died as we reached the nearly flat upper valley at that ends at Bonneval sur Arc. This valley is a scenic paradise with steep walls, spectacular crags and remote side valleys to the east that expose huge glaciers on the Croce Rossa (3546m), Uia del Ciamarella (3676m) and Albaron (3627m). We stopped at Bonneval (1835m) for a snack before starting the climb.
The sky had just enough clouds to give us longer runs in the shade as we climbed the two traverses of the wall to the next higher valley. Two years ago, when John and I rode here, we rode in fresh snow while today we rode through wildflowers and sunshine at the same time of year. Part way into this gently sloping valley, we crossed the Lenta to the north side where we climbed to the base of its roaring waterfall at the head of this box canyon, a typical U-shaped glacial valley. In one long zigzag, similar to the lower climb, we leveled off on the cliffs above the waterfall and the Gorge de la Lenta where the road clings to ledges between a series of rough hewn rock tunnels.
Crossing the Lenta again, just above the falls, we were on the long steep nearly straight part to the last curve to the top. The clouds got a bit darker and looked like rain as we neared the summit.
We took pictures sitting on the large concrete and stone Iseran summit (2770m) sign before heading into the rain that cooled us on the descent to Val d'Isere (1840m) where the streets were in fine shape after a massive rebuild last year. Without stopping we climbed the short bump into the first of the series of tunnels down to Lac du Chevril (2000m) and its dam, where the rain turned changed to intermittent drizzle. From there a few steep runs took us through Sainte Foy Trentaise, where a road to the Petite St. Bernard cuts off just above a steep sweeping turn in town. We got a few drops on the way down but not wet enough to make any difference. We stopped in Seez (920m), at the junction of Rt D902 and Rt N90 to the Col du Petit St Bernard (2188m) and Aosta. By now it was dry enough to eat dinner on the terrace. We called the Cauchys, friends who have a place in Argentiere just above Chamonix, and found that they had just arrived to spend a week there, what luck.
A light drizzle began to fall as we passed the high valley of Les Chapieux (1552m), where two years ago John and I turned east to the Col de la Seigne (2516m), on the road marked "Vallee des Glaciers" beneath Mont Blanc. That adventure began in better looking weather than today and finished in snowfall on the pass. The idea didn't look inviting, so we continued up the Cormet de Roselend (1968m) where we could only take a drizzly picture of the summit marker.
We descended carefully in the foggy rain to the reservoir behind the Barrage de Roselend before descending into the Defile d'Entreroches, a gorge about 1000m below the dam that necks down to a slot through which the Doron River enters Beaufort(743m). We were well soaked and cooled as we arrived before noon, so we stopped at my favorite restaurant, la Pierra Menta, the first on the right and whose dining room opens at noon. This gave us time to warm ourselves in front of the glow of the open wood fired pizza oven. Conveniently not much of a dining crowd had gathered so we commandeered the space in front the oven. I ordered my usual pizza Frutta di Mare with seven kinds of sea food and watched it bake in oven right next to our table. We felt a lot better about life after pizza, large mixed salad, and Biere Pelforth. Meanwhile the rain stopped and we rolled out of town on drying roads at St Pierre to head up the Col de La Saisies (1633m).
We rolled through La Saisies, a typical garish ski town that is practically dead in summer, and descended to Flumet (917m) before climbing to Megeve (1113m) where we took N212, the higher road, through St Gervais (807m) down to La Fayet (589m). Here we got on the "flying" autoroute that rises on huge columns, above the valley on its way to Chamonix (1037m). It now has a "no bicycles" sign but the approved route was not evident nor is it reasonably equivalent to the old road that now serves as the one way downhill part of autoroute traffic. Besides, the tunnel disaster closed this heavy truck route to the south so we had little traffic on the climb where we met other bicyclists before turning off into Chamonix.
We caught Glimpses of Mont Blanc between clouds and of course saw the lower end of Glaciers des Bossons that reach almost into town. Although cloudy, it was dry as we rode through out downtown Chamonix (1037m) looking for a suitable bring-along for dinner. Here, in spite of poor weather, pedestrian density was enough to make bicycling difficult. Not finding anything, or at least not what I had hoped for, we headed up the valley to Argentiere (1257m).
There they were, in the grocery store in Argentiere, a pile of large black juicy cherries. We loaded up almost two kilos, tied them to my saddlebag and headed up the set of four hairpin turns to Francois and Natassia Cauchy's place where we were met in front of the house on a meadow that faces the Glacier d'Argentiere and Mer du Glace on Mont Blanc with the valley below. We were joined for dinner by two couples from nearby to enjoy fine wines and Natassia's haute cuisine. Afterwards, we all sat around plinking cherry pits till late as it rained outside.
We passed the wildlife park and crossed the high bridge with a view of the Rhone valley before descending through the 1km straight tunnel to Martigny (467m) at the corner of the Val du Rhone where it meets with the Val d'Entremont, and the Val du Trient. We headed up the Rhone on Rt N9 toward Brig, 82km away, under a cloudy sky but clear air and a favorable wind, rolling easily up the valley. This broad part of the valley is the great fruit basket of Switzerland just as the Alto Adige is for Italy. The valley is covered with orchards and vineyards, some of which reach high above the valley on sunny terraced hillsides on the north side.
We rolled through Sion and on to Sierre (533m) stopping in Susten (630m) where, in an innoccuous piece of road construction, a flat stone tilted up and cut through my rear tire. After mounting my spare and chucking the destroyed tire, we stopped for lunch before heading on to Brig. Getting a soda and small snack in Brig (648m), we headed up the old Simplon route through town and rode past the sign that directs bicycles to Ried just before the high bridge on the "new" highway. I was thinking about some officious police patrol giving us some static about this, and sure enough as we reached the other end of the high bridge where the upper road from Ried comes in, a police car passed and flagged us over.
The policeman walked toward us with that knowing stride and began telling us that the old road was much safer and, implying as directly as he could, that we should ride there. Noticing that he wasn't invoking any law or ordinance, I explained that I saw no reason to climb that old steep 13% grade when this road was safer and wider, and practically without traffic. It was obvious that he had no legal ground on which to give us a hard time, so I suggested he just pretend he hadn't seen us and let us go on our way in peace and quiet, which he did.
This time, as last year, the wind seemed to be in our favor no matter which way we turned. After the Schallberg tunnel that turns the corner into the Gantertal, high above the Salina River that flows into Brig, we had a direct tailwind. We rode up the valley to the high concrete suspension bridge into Berisal (1520m). After Berisal we were mostly in the forest until we reached tree line and the long avalanche shelters that cover most of the road to just before the Simplon summit (2005m). I bought a postcard of the huge granite eagle to send to bikie friends to whom I always send a card from here.
The view from the summit to the north was a bit cloudy, obscuring the peaks of the central Alps and the 23km long Aletsch glacier. We rolled down the freshly paved highway at less speed than the windy descent of last year and with greater stability as we zipped through the Gallerie along the granite walls of the Gondo gorge, high above the Diveria. The road makes a big zigzag down the wall into Gabi (1228m) and Gondo where the valley levels off a bit. Here at Iselle, the south portal of the Simplon tunnel, the railway emerges the for a moment before vanishing into granite walls.
At Varzo (532m) the road diversion that has been there for several years was still not repaired, except that it had been smoothed to a semi permanent curve that I could pass with speed. Varzo was once a sprint challenge to me and riding pals in days gone by, because it is a straight uphill piece that finishes on a bridge over the Torrente Cairasca at the city limit before descending through town. I was able to crest it in top gear but it wasn't fast. The railway enters a double track 360 degree loop tunnel just above the bridge, emerging again below the town. The highway enters an autostrada tunnel about a kilometer before Crevoladossola (337m) where bicycles take the old road over the narrows of the Diveria into town. From here we took the cutoff to Masera (297m) and headed up the Val Vigezzo toward Locarno.
This once little traveled dirt road, is now a major route at times, although we seemed to have hit off peak traffic. We climbed the gorge of the Torrente Melezza Occidentale to the broad saddle at Druogno (836m) from which a long gradual descent along the Melezza Orientale took us into the Centovalli toward Switzerland. We stopped in Camedo (CH) at the border at an Albergo where I had stopped on other trips.
We made our way through town, staying on the left side of the valley as most motor traffic headed across to Quartino and to the autostrada. Our road took the more direct but less traveled route to Bellinzona where we crossed the Ticino to Arbedo and headed up the Val Mesolcina. The valley is flat for most of the way to Soazza, where the road climbs smartly up to Mesocco, the old terminus of the RhB railway from Bellinzona, a rail line that was once planned to cross the mountains into the Rhine valley to join the rest of the RhB network.
We stopped in Mesocco (790m) at Ristorante Beer where the same host has presided for as many years as I can remember. He is memorable for his ability to recite a complex menu from memory and to keep in his head what every guest ordered. Finally the bill is settled on a ticket that he writes from memory and the cash goes into a drawer next to the cash register. The restaurant also has excellent lodging although this is not evident from the facade that merely says Ristorante.
We ate well and headed up the main street of fine granite cobbles, climbing out of town at a 13% grade. Above, the grade lets up and climbs in conventional hairpin turns to Pian San Giacomo where the autostrada cuts across in front of another good Albergo. From here the road meanders across the plateau to the wall that rises to San Bernardino (1607m), a charming little town in an old glacial depression with a lake and beautiful vistas. The autostrada dives into a tunnel from here to the Rhine valley to the north, making the connection that the RhB railway had once planned. We headed up the lush green slopes toward the San Bernardino Pass (2603m) and its trout lake surrounded by wildflowers.
The old monastery looked as forlorn as ever on this grey day. Few people stop here except hikers and occasional overnight guests. We didn't stop but rode down the series of hairpin turns into the gorge of the Hinterrhein, a branch of the Rhine that originates on the slopes of the Rheinwaldshorn (3406m) in the Adula group. At the bottom of the grade, where the autostrada comes out of the tunnel, we crossed the river to Hinterrhein (1624m) and took the frontage road to Splugen (1457m) where we got a soup to warm us up before heading south up the Splugen Pass, still under cool grey skies with a threat of rain.
Above a stack of hairpin turns, the old Swiss Customs house, a couple of kilometers below the summit, stood forlorn on an outcropping around which the road makes a sweeping turn. The border guards have a sweeping view of the road up to the summit and far down the valley. Neither this or the covered border station at the Splugen summit (2117m) showed any signs of action. We rolled through the manned but apparently closed Italian toll house in Monte Spluga (1908m), a small village at the upper end of the large ENEL hydroelectric lake. We rode around the lake hoping to stay dry as drops intermittently fell on the wet road. After the dam with its granite facade decorated with its date of construction in giant green granite Roman numerals, this unique road is mostly in avalanche protection tunnels, some of which are hairpin turn tunnels, stacked one above the other in the granite wall of the canyon.
I was disappointed to see that a new road had been cut, that doubles back into the canyon to allow large busses and trucks to traverse this pass that had been spared the heavy loads that clog most of the other routes. We took the traditional route to Campodolcino at the bottom of the mountainous part and on to Chiavenna (333m). Chiavenna has been bypassed by an autoroute in a way that is not visible from our road so that from our perspective, nothing has changed in all the years I have been riding here. John was careful not to enrage the border guards at Castasegna (690m) this time by waiting for the definitive nonchalant nod, before crossing the border back into (CH) from (I). It's a short climb from here to Promontogno/Sottoponte/Bondo/Bregalia, four towns that seem to share almost the same space. We pulled in at the antique Hotel Bregalia that, all but electric lighting, is 19th century inside and out. We parked our bicycles inside the main entrance and got our room and enjoyed a rich dinner.
We rode south up the Val Bernina to the railway crossing at the Montebello curve (1950m) of the RhB railway but decided that without sun on the glacier and no train in sight down the valley, we would pass up the photo just this once and continued into the upper part of the Val Bernina. After the Diavolezza and Lagalp funiculars, the road climbs the last bump up to the bench above the Lago Negra that flows to the Inn and the Black Sea, and the Lago Bianca that flows into the Adriatic Sea.
The Hospizio and train station seem to be popular places with an ever present crowd. We sprinted by the parking lot in order to make it up the last bump without shifting down. After the usual summit pictures, we headed down one of the longest fast descents in the Alps, swiftly passing the turn-off to Livigno as we took the sweeping nearly circular turns. The road finally levels off at San Carlo and ambles down the Val Poschiavo where the RhB usurps the narrow road from cars in San Antonio and La Prese.
We cruised around the Lago Poschiavo to Miralago and dived down the fast section to Brusio (781m) where we stopped at Hotel Bettoni to get a late lunch and dessert to help us up the climb to Aprica. Mrs Beti served us a great lunch on the terrace while a train full of tourists, wheels squealing, came up the 7% grade circular viaduct. From here it's a short swift descent to the border at Campocologno and on to Tirano (430m) in the Valtellina. A short way down the valley from Madonna di Tirano, we turned left to Stazzona and up through the woods to intersect Rt N39 to Aprica (1176m). From here the road descends at a comfortable grade to Edolo (690m) after which it passes the foot of the Mortirolo (1896m) at Monno (868m), a road that cuts over from Tovo (526m), above Tirano, a shortcut but without scenery and 20% grades. We rode on to Temu (1144m), just below Ponte di Legno (1258m), stopping at the Locanda Veduta dell' Adamello. Although the food was great, I didn't sleep too well on the modern hard mattresses until I found a comforter to fold under my bottom sheet.
The road follows the Frigidolfo up a nearly flat, lush green valley before making one large s-bend, where the climb to the base of the mountain begins, just below Pezzo. Pezzo is a typically picturesque hill town glued to the side of the mountain in what appears to be high risk avalanche territory, but the lay of the land apparently protects it from the white death. We climbed through the mostly larch forest to break out into the Val delle Massi at Appolonia (1585m). Here the Frigidolfo meanders across the flat valley floor with no hint of its rushing style farther down.
We stopped at the gazebo with two flavors of rusty, bubbly mineral water, that give strength to those who dare climb this hill, before heading up the Gavia. It starts as a smooth wide two lane road with center stripe and a collage of warning signs that might make the wary traveler wonder what's going on. Land slides, falling rock, dangerous narrow road, and a chain requirement from September to July, are not the usual fare for mountain roads. After a short climb, past the first hairpin, reality strikes as the road goes from highway to driveway width and the 16% sign of poster fame sets the tone.
I was impressed with the aesthetics of ANAS, the highway department. They seem to have grasped the beauty of the Gavia and stopped the march of man against nature, right there where it meets the mountain. The road has lost nothing through paving. It is exactly the same narrow one lane Gavia that it always was. I have never seen a road so thoughtfully restored without a gratuitous widening job, but here it is. I hope it never changes. We continued through the thinning larch forest, up the east side of the canyon, finally rising above tree line. Here only thick bushy grass and wildflowers cover slopes where going off the road assures a long tumble to the Frigidolfo, far below.
John was waiting for me as I arrived at the tunnel, three kilometers from the top. We made the pilgrimage around the cliff, outside the tunnel, where the old road is notched into the wall, water dripping from stalactites of the overhang onto the narrows. After a few photos, we got back on the road at the upper end of the tunnel to ride the last steep section to the summit (2621m) and the Rifugio Bonetta. Inspecting the large poster on the wall, we realized that, even though I was wearing the same GAN jersey, the scene could not be recreated as Rik Lyman photographed it 25 years ago.
After a refresher at the bar, we rode past the summit lake in a light rain, heading down the Val di Gavia that begins descending steeply after Rifugio Breni (2543m). The north side the Gavia is less steep and gives a striking panorama across the valley up the Val di Forni to expose the Cevedale (3769m) and Gran Zebru (3851m), both glacier covered giants that were only partly visible through the rain. This side of the Gavia was paved a few years earlier and is also preserved in its original width and alignment descending, through what have become ski slopes, to Santa Caterina (1780m) on the Torrente Frodolfo in the Valfurva. In Santa Caterina the road again becomes two lanes wide as it descends some fast sections to Valfurva, the town, and a steep section into Bormio (1225m). We stoked up on a good lunch and warmth before heading up the Val di Braulio to the Stelvio.
Although overcast, visibility was good, as we headed into the barren canyon of scree, where the road ducks in and out of avalanche tunnels along steeper sections before Spondalunga, the headwall of the Braulio where the road makes ten traverses to climb to the Bocca di Braulio, a curved valley above which the Umbrail gap (2502m) and the Stelvio Summit 440m higher come into view. I stopped at the hotel at the Umbrail junction and got a soda before heading up the last three kilometers to the top.
A light rain began falling as we rounded the last couple of turns where we passed bicyclist who was riding a veritable commuter bicycle with casual panniers on a rear rack. He came from Germany and planned to stay for the night in one of the hotels on the summit. After posing for a joint picture at the top, we ended our joint venture with John heading toward Switzerland down the Umbrail Pass as I went east down the Val di Trafoi with its 48 hairpin turns, road glued to the wall. John had three days to reach ZH for his flight home, having already spent five weeks in Europe.
At Trafoi I finally escaped the rain that had been getting heavier until then. Although I had a slow leak that I had pumped at the summit and in Trafoi, I kept going until the road was dry and I reached Rt N40 at Spondigna (887m). I pulled out an offending piece of glass, changed tubes and headed 44km down the Val Venosta to Parcines (641m), a few kilometers above Merano. I found a comfortable Pensione Garni with a great restaurant nearby for a rest day.
Now in Bolzano, he was on his way back home over the Brenner going the same direction as I, but at a different pace, so we wished each other well as we headed up the Isarco valley. I had talked to John about our tour twelve years ago, on which we rode up the road to Tiers. I mentioned that I probably couldn't make it up that hill anymore, remembering how steep it was, so I had planned to ride up the Eggental that starts through a slot in the cliffs at 16% on its way to the Pso Costalunga. As I rode up the Brenner HWY along the Isarco, I surprised myself by riding past Rt N241 my intended turn into the Val d'Ega, being subconsciously drawn to Blumau and the road to Tiers. In Blumau, just before the bridge, the sign no longer says Tiers but rather Breien, a small village at the base of the wall, the town that gives the creek its name (or visa versa), the Breienbach.
The road was unchanged but without traffic, rising in short bumps up the narrow Val di Tires. Then, at the old defunct furniture factory and sawmill in Breien, the sign announces 24% the feature that makes this road no longer the preferred route. Here the road becomes steep and remains that way nearly steadily for the next kilometer. Taking it slowly, slower than needed at first, I made my way up the grade that went well until the last 50 meters were I began to doubt, although I could see the top of the hill where it suddenly levels off. With extra effort and concentration, I made it to the top, being grateful for the cool weather. Looking back, the road descends so steeply over the verge that is out of sight. Tiers has remained unchanged for many years with its grand view of the Rosengarten, a massive ridge of vertical crags and spires of Dolomite rock in grey, orange and black, that rise majestically above the lush forests and grassy uplands. Sunsets especially bring out the grandeur that give it its name.
The road takes up its climb through St Cyprian with 18% grades before reverting to gentle slopes on the way to the Pso Nigra (1688m), directly beneath the walls of the Rosengarten [Catinaccio](3002m). The road drops a bit as it traverses the base of the mountain on its way to the junction with the Pso Costalunga (1745m). After the summit, the road meanders around for a while before descending into the Val di Fassa where the Torrente Avisio rushes through Pozza di Fassa (1380m). In Canazei (1460m), a short way up the valley, the road splits south to the Pso Fedaia that climbs to the base of the Marmolada (3344m), the Pso Pordoi (2239m) straight ahead, and the Pso Sella (2244m) that diverges from the Pordoi just a bit up the road. I headed up the Sella and stopped at the Rifugio Mt Pallidi directly beneath the vertical walls of the Piz Lasties (2875m) and Sasso Pordoi (2952m) for a soda before heading up the main climb to the Pso Sella.
On a sunny day, these walls are decorated with rock climbers, visible as many color spots. Although there weren't any compelling photo opportunities, the weather was pleasant and dry under a high overcast. I had been here in rain, snow and sunshine, so I didn't feel I was missing anything except for for my photography. A short descent brought me to the junction (1789m) with Rt. N243 that heads up to the Pso Gardena (2121m) where, typical of the whole Sella region, the slopes are steep meadowland that become ski slopes in winter.
From the Gardena the road descends with large sweeping curves to Corvara (1574m), the home of the Alpini mountain troops, and modern ski town with hotels and disco's, and ski lifts that start downtown. I headed south up the Pso Campolongo (1815m), aptly named for the green meadows through which it climbs below the east wall of the Sella Group before entering a forest at the summit. The road is unusual in that it traverses unstable ground that is slowly sliding toward Corvara in bulging waves. This makes some former uphill sections of the road go downhill, some parts having slid farther than others. A few hairpins beyond the summit I was back on Rt N48 that crosses the Pso Pordoi from Canazei, the fourth of the passes that surround the Sella Group.
Heading east through Arabba (1605m) in the Val Livinallongo del Col di Lana, the road follows the steep contours of the north slope revealing a grand panorama of Mt Civetta (3220m) to the south, framed by the canyon walls above Caprile and Lago d`Alleghe. Pieve (1465m) lies half way along this long traverse and appears to hang to the steep wall, with picturesque fortress like architecture and well kept flower boxes against a backdrop of Dolomites. The ascent to Pso Falzarego starts at a road junction above Andraz (392m) where Rt N203 heads south to Caprile and on to Belluno. The Falzarego climbs pleasantly through sparse woods, finally rising into the rocky debris at the foot of the Sasso di Stria (2477m), a typical vertical Dolomite formation. Similarly Cima de Bois and Torri di Falzarego lie just north of the Falzarego (2105m) summit, forming the gap through which the Pso Valparola (2194m) heads north toward Bruneck.
From hear a long high valley slopes gently toward Cortina, so the road doesn't begin descending much until just before Pocol where Rt N638 heads south to the Pso Giau. On this stretch of road, a wonderful panorama of the Cinque Torri, Monte Averau, Nuvolao, la Gusela and many more, lies to the south. There, in the greying afternoon, a hole in the clouds opened to allow a slanting shaft of golden light illuminate only the Cinque Torri as a Wagnerian opera scene. I could hear the orchestra and chorus and tried to capture the moment as well as I could on a couple of pictures. These five giant Dolomite columns, as so many, seem almost to have been designed in harmony by great sculptors.
At Pocol (1539m), I turned south on Rt N638, descending a little before climbing some steep pitches where pictorial road signs warn cars to not follow trucks closely lest they stall and roll back. I was thankful to be on the "new" road, steep as it is, because the old one, that was steeper and rocky to the point of being impassable for uphill bicycling, was still visible. I reached the Giau (2232m) about 8:30 o'clock, took a few pictures of the Marmolada, the only glacial peak of the Dolomites, to the south and Cortina to the north before continuing a half kilometer down the road to the Rifugio Piezza (2175m), directly beneath la Gusela (2593m). The lady of the house greeted me warmly, recognizing me from last year, and assured me that the kitchen was ready to serve. Once again I was the only guest, so I asked her to make me a hearty dinner that fit best for both the kitchen and me, something that seemed to work because she prepared a wonderful dinner in no time.
At the "railway crossing" north of the station that now serves buses, Rt N48 begins its climb to the Pso Tre Croci (1814m) that gives a last panorama of the beautiful valley backed by Le Tofane (3248m), Pso Giau and its mountains to the southwest, the Gruppo Cristallo (2918m) directly above and the Sorapiss (3205m) to the south with Monte Pelmo (3168m) and many other peaks vanishing in the distant haze. From here it is a short descent to Pian Maccetto (1650m) and then back up to Lago di Misurina (1748m) that serves as a reflecting pool for the Tre Cime di Lavaredo (2999m) a famous formation, typical of the region and sought out by rock climbers. A few rumbles of thunder and a short hail shower passed as I rode past several large hotels to the Col San Angelo (1756m) also known as the Pso Misurina climbs over a little bump to descend into the Val di Landro along the Rienz river.
The road gradually descends to Dobiacco (Toblach) (1241m) that sits on an east-west saddle of the Pustertal at the source of the Drau and Rienz. Here I got on Rt N49 and headed east along the Drau toward Lienz (673m) in Austria. Instead of the strong tailwind that I have often found here, a favorable breeze helped me roll down the slight grade to the border at Winnebach (1113m), a crossing that was all but dead, as are most in the EU. Basically a sign like a state border in the USA. The railway, although now electrified, still doesn't seem to carry much freight or major through traffic.
I rode past Lienz on the main drag and down the valley to the turnoff to the Iselsberg pass that crosses the divide between the Drau and Moell valleys. This hill can be a stinker on a hot day, but today, with a light overcast and light breeze, I climbed easily up the steeper pitches of this nearly straight hill. That is, it is fairly straight between the four hairpins and lightens up as it approaches Iselsberg (1204m) on the summit. The descent is a bit shorter, landing in Winklern (958m) on a hill above the Moell whose valley lies higher than the Drau. From here it's only a few kilometers first down to the river and then up the nearly flat valley to Moertschach (980m), where I stayed in the same hotel as last year, not to overlook good lodgings.
The Gross Glockner (3798m) peak was not visible although the road to the summit was. From here I still had a view of the Dolomites to the south but this also vanished as I approached the Hochtor Summit (2505m). By now it had begun to drizzle. There was no light at the other end of the 200m long summit tunnel because the fog at the north portal was so thick that I had to ride slowly with 20m visibility. After riding the brakes to the lake and through the Mitteltoerl (2328m) tunnel, the air cleared a bit to expose the steep climb to Fuschertoerl (2428m) that again vanished into the fog.
At Fuschertoerl the usual Glockner panorama was reduced by the fog to a barely visible guard rail. The 12% descent became mostly a wet brake test as I headed down to the north toll gate at the wildlife park at Ferleiten, where to my surprise, the bottom part was dry enough to get up some speed. I am fortunate that my metabolism keeps me warm if I don't wait and cool down before hurrying downhill at a good clip.
I stowed my rain jacket and rolled down to Bruck (757m) passing through villages with roadside displays of wood carvings and rustic furniture, Austrian art for the tourist. I crossed the Salzach River and cut across on the Flugplatzstrasse to Zell am See where Porsche Design had formerly been. In its place a large new design office without a name, had been built in the past year. I headed up the Pinzgau Valley through Mittersill where I saw one of the small 760mm gauge Pinzgau trains heading down to Zell. In Mittersill most traffic heads north or south as I continued west to Wald (867m) at the foot of the old Gerlos Pass.
I took the steep narrow old road to hotel Grubl, a great place to stay, to say hello to the Kaisers who run the place. I got a mid afternoon apfelstrudel for strength for the climb up the 500m of 17% just above. The rest of the hill was a piece of cake (or strudel).
The top of the old Gerlos Pass (1486m) was as uninspiring as always, but dry, as I descended past the huge earthen dam and down through Gerlos (1245m) the fancy ski town to Zell am Ziller (575m). As I headed north toward the Inn Valley, I caught the wheel of hard a training bikie for a brisk ride down most of the gently sloping (53m in 21km (0.25% grade average) valley to Strass (523m) where I found good food and comfortable lodging.
The road is fairly flat until Haiming, the approach to the Oetztal, at the upper end of which the Timmelsjoch (2474m), (Pso Rombo) that crosses the mountains to St Leonhard and Merano in South Tirol. The gas station at the junction has a snack bar at which I tanked up before crossing the high bridge over the Ache River from the Oetztal, and then over the Inn, to attack the two kilometer climb past the narrows on the way to Imst.
After an equally long descent, I turned off to the Bahnhof and river rafting set-in from which a bicycle path parallels the river on the way to Landeck, thus avoiding the climb to Imst and Imsterberg. Rafting activity was low, although some rafters were getting ready. I stopped at Zams, just before Landeck (816m), for a grocery store lunch before riding through Landeck, taking Rt N1 toward the Arlberg Pass. I turned off at Pians (859m), heading up the Silveretta.
The Silveretta, Rt N188 up the Paznauntal, was in great shape and, because it had been a cold summer, was without traffic. The valley is just flat enough that the road runs fairly straight as it climbs. I had first seen this beautiful area before its ski areas were "discovered". At that time this was a small dirt road instead of the swift highway it is today. Traditional architecture and low key commercialism make this region visually more pleasant than many ski areas that operate only in winter.
I stopped in Ischgl (1377m) for some food before heading up to Galtuer (1583m), that made news last winter with avalanche destruction, much of which had been completely rebuilt. From here the road heads up a narrow valley before hitting the final climb to the Bielerhoehe (2021m). Only the last two kilometers have some 16% pitches just below the huge earthen dam that retains the east side of the summit hydroelectric lake. The west side has an equally large and impressive arched concrete dam from which huge penstocks head down the valley toward the Vermunt intake lake (1747m) and down to Partenen (1027m). As often, the Silverettahorn (3248m) and Piz Buin (3312m) played peekaboo in the clouds.
After Vermunt, the road descends into a "hole" of unexpected steepness, winding down the cliffs in a series of spectacular hairpins to Partenen, after which the slope of the Montafon Valley decreases gradually all the way to Bludenz (535m) 46km away. Even though it exists at the mercy of the power plants, the Ill river usually runs briskly, growing gradually with tributaries from other narrow ravines off to either side. In Bludenz I rejoined the Arlberg rail and highway routes that follow the Alfen river in the Klostertal. I stopped in Nenzing (509m) in the Rhine valley before Feldkirch (455m), at the Hotel Stern where I had stopped last year.
I took the bike trail up the east side of the valley from Mollis to Glarus (475m) where I got back on the main route N17, more or less the only road in this tiny canton that exists primarily in the narrow Linth valley. I met little traffic to Linthal (662m) at the end of the Valley and caught a few sprinkles but not enough to put on rain gear. In spite of the sprinkles, visibility was good up the mountain as I began to climb from Linthal.
The Glarner Alps were in their usual magnificence, peaks vanishing high in the clouds, a feature that makes them appear even higher than reality. The highest peak, the Toedi (3614m), framed by the walls of the valley in this canton with almost no flatland, was clearly visible as I reached Urnerboden (1300m), a high valley above the cliffs that rise above Linthal. Urnerboden is a long 500m wide valley with near vertical walls on three sides. At Spitelrueti (1400m), at the upper end of the valley, the main climb to the top heads into the cliffs.
Climbing was comfortable in the cool air with a slight breeze as I rose above the valley on long traverses that turned when they hit the wall. Farther up, several short zigzags turn up the gap to the Klausen Pass (1948m) where the crowd was into warm drinks, not having the warming benefit of pedaling up the hill. I rolled over the top to cool off on the descent past the summit hotel and down to the overhang that gives a spectacular view of the Toedi above the roofs of Aesch (1234m), 700m vertically below in the Schaechental. To the left, a hiking trail winds its way up the nearly vertical headwall of the Schaechental while from the Huefifirn glacier, a good 2000m above, the Schaechen drops the last 600m in the freefall Steubifall, as it crashes to the valley floor in a cloud of mist (Steubi).
This piece of road, cut into the granite wall and having no functional guard rail to prevent a huge free-fall, easily commands extra caution. After the "wall" it's a few tunnels and sharp curves, "straight" ahead to Hotel Urigen (1300m) where, at the outdoor tables, the afternoon patisserie crowd was getting ready to leave. I was welcomed by the owners, Steffan Truschner, his wife Karin, and three year old daughter Joel as I took the usual room, with bath down the hall, in the beautiful annex with carved wooden beams, colorfully decorated with painted verses and sayings. After a shower and change into "formal" wear I had a good dinner and wrote some postcards.
From here, the rock walls of the narrow canyon are penetrated by tunnels and bridges span the roaring Reuss for railway, motorway and highway. Because most traffic uses the motorway, the old highway is a nearly empty route to Wassen (916m), the junction with the Susten road where I was headed. Wassen is known for lying on and between two loops of the Gotthard railway so that the church is seen in three passes from trains. The station platforms are marked with exaggerated signs indicating that the northbound track heads south and visa versa. Besides, Swiss railways run left hand traffic, making it more confusing to foreigners. In Wassen, Rt N20 the Susten road, starts climbing into a bare rock tunnel across from the granite block city hall.
It was a brilliant blue sky day with with white puffy clouds, as I headed up the glacier highway of Switzerland, climbing much of the way in one long gradual curve along the Meiental. I stopped for a drink at the ice cold stream above Faernigen (1455m) and then at the corner waterfall kiosk, where I put away a couple of colas for the ride up to the pair of hairpins and on to the top.
Emerging from the 200m long Susten summit tunnel (2224m) exposes a stunning panorama of glaciers and peaks, foremost amongst them the Sustenhorn (3503m) and its huge Steingletscher, that spreads ice to the valley far below. The ride down the Gadmental is excitingly beautiful, with rough hewn curved tunnels opening vistas to the ice fields. One short tunnel carries a waterfall that would otherwise fall on the road if it hadn't been artificially channeled over the tunnel. A large parking lot at the Hotel (1865m) below Steingletscher was full of cars as usual. I often wonder whether the majority of them hike up to the ice fields or just sit on the sun deck or in the lounge behind large windows to enjoy the scene.
The last piece down to the Haslital is fairly steep and starts with curved tunnels above Wyler, just above Inertkirchen (625m). After that, I sprinted up the four legs of the Kirchet (709m) to the Gasthaus Lammi where I savored a hearty meal that I had visualized on the descent. From here it's a gentle roll into Meiringen (595m) and to the base of the Brunig Pass (1008m) that starts with a 13% part in the shade of the trees. At the top I took a last look back at the glacier covered peaks before descending to the Lungernsee (752m) and then from Kaiserstuhl to Giswil (485m) on the Sarnersee. Traffic through Luzern was as dense as usual but not as bad as rush hour.