N4 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 Grand Panorama des Armee building where ancient wars are depicted on battlefield models with murals as backdrops. Here we visited the Luzern sculpture of a lion with a huge stave through its heart, carved into a natural cliff next to the marvelous Glacier Garden with all sorts of glacial stone formations. Although there were many tourists we had no problem taking pictures this time because they were mostly Japanese with good manners, each standing back waiting for a turn to take a picture, which is not the way this usually works here. We also took photos at the wood Reuss Bridge that, with its swans and flower boxes, is the definitive postcard scene of Luzern with the Pilatus Mountain partially shrouded in rain clouds as a backdrop.
As always, we visited Mrs Dierauer Sr on the Musegg, above the Armory at the city wall. From here we headed to Kriens with its military buildings, parade grounds where Circus Knie sets up for a week in the summer. After Hergiswil, along the lake with a light drizzle and around the cliffs to Alpnachstadt, where 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.
Here the road dried but the solid overcast promised more rain. We climbed the narrow paved route to Flueli, with a short steep section 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. It is said he used a stone for a pillow as he slept on wood planks. 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. The paved forest road climbs gradually, finally crossing the Melch on a covered bridge to join the main road up the box canyon.
We stopped in Melchtal for lunch at the Gasthaus and headed up to Stockalp (1075m) where the road becomes narrow with one hour timed one-way traffic and a 12% grade. This 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 next to steep overhanging granite walls as it rounds several hairpin turns in long traverses.
Although the general store in Frut was open, we didn't feel the need for a stop and continued around the lake in the cool air. A short steep bump took us up the dam of the upper lake. This time no snow or ice from winter remained because we were about a month later than usual. The road ends in Tannen (1976m) beyond the end of the lake. From here, a steep and narrow hiking trail, along granite walls, took us to Engsteln (the narrows) (1837m). As we approached the hotel, we passed some grazing cows that made the temperature of the falling rain apparent as they radiated heat, warming us as we passed close by. From the hotel, a restricted access road took us 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 rock. At the top we took the road to Rosenlaui across from 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. As we started this climb a heavy rain began that stayed with us for the climb and only eased as we reached Rosenlaui.
At the junction of the road from Meiringen, only an enlarged parking lot remained where a week before Hotel Zwirgi had burned to the ground. I was glad we were going up hill because the solid but unpaved road throws up grey-white slime if speed is above 15 km/h. The climb is no trifle, as it rapidly gains altitude past hotel Kaltenbach, finally leveling off in the high Rosenlaui Valley, where the great Rosenlaui Glacier was visible between clouds. Hotel Rosenlaui (1330m) was quiet giving us a chance to talk to the Kehrlis who run the place. We took the usual 5th floor dormitory room after a hearty dinner with (58dl) Eichhof beer and Coup Danemark dessert.
We got back onto the public road just above Grindelwald (1034m), where the BOB (meter gauge) railway brings passengers from Interlaken and the WAB (800mm gauge) takes them up the Kleine Scheidegg to the famed Jungfrau Bahn (meter gauge) that tunnels inside the Eiger to the saddle at Jungfraujoch. These railways use respectively Riggenbach, Abt, and Strub cog wheel drive. We cruised through town and down the valley, along the cascades of the icy Schwarze Luetschine that joins the Weisse Luetschine from Lauterbrunnen at Zweiluetschinen. The road reaches flatland 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 the Jungfrau, under a high overcast. 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 steam BRB (800mm Abt) cog railway climbs through tunnels through vertical cliffs to the top of the Rothorn (2353m). We could smell the coal smoke from one of the old BRB locomotives as we cruised by.
In Meiringen we saw Sherlock Holmes with pipe, cape and deerstalker cap sitting on the middle of town. From here it was Willigen and the Kirchet (709m) where we stopped at the Lammi restaurant for lunch. In Inertkirchen (625m) the Haslital toward the Grimsel Pass was blocked by rock fall so we had to take a small farm road up a parallel the Urbachtal and over a ridge at Understock (890m) and a dirt road to get back down to the Aar river and the main road that climbs more gradually. On the way 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, all part of the KWO (Kraftwerke Oberhhasli) 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, the Finsteraarhorn (4275m), whose glaciers are the source of the Unteraar and Oberaar rivers, rises to the west. This time there was no ice or snow around the summit lake on the Grimsel (2165m), the way it usually is in early July. We even had a clear view of the Furka Pass above the Rhone valley.
From the south edge of the pass, Gletsch (1761m) lay nearly straight below, in the Rhone valley, looking forlorn in the cool weather with almost no traffic. The Rhone Glacier made an impressive view in the otherwise grey green landscape. 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, swept clean except for some shrubs, by avalanches in winter. We descended the zigzags of the Grimsel 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 and afternoon fog cascading into Gletsch, where we had just been in clear air.
There was little traffic as we crossed the deserted summit and coasted down the long gradual descent through Tiefenbach and Galenstock on the way to Realp (1538m). There was activity at the DFB (Dampfbahn Furka Bergstrecke) engine house but we didn't stop, continuing into a light headwind to Hospental (1452m) at the junction of the Gotthard and Furka roads and found a good dinner and 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 doubletrack 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 base tunnel. From here we rolled past the crossing waterfalls at the Biasca train station and on to Bellinzona (239m) for a grocery store snack.
The sun didn't come out but the threat of rain backed off 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, stopping in San Nazzaro for lunch under the classic grape vines held up by 2.5m granite posts. We 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 to inspect the place where we swim in this beautifully clear lake when it is sunny and warm.
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.
Although a freeway and faster rail line is being built here, traffic was light as we reached 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 served a well deserved refill of our "precious bodily fluids". The weather was warmer here in the Piemonte, having left the rain behind in the mountains. 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 take a picture of the river with its black swans and huge trout in deep water in which one can easily see the bottom. We continued up to Valle Mosso and Mosso Santa Maria before taking the long descent to the valley and on to Pettinengo, crossing a few low ridges to Biella-Cossato (410m) where, as in the past, after a little search we found a nice hotel.
After cruising through downtown Torino (239m), inspecting the Mole a large Jewish temple conspicuous for its spire and shiny metal roof. We took the usual Rt N20, the Tenda highway, south to Carignano and Raconigi, the last residence of the Royal family before Italy got rid of royalty. The Palace is a museum, where storks nest atop large decorative urns. Unlike other summers, we had cool air and no significant wind as we continued to Cuneo. On the approach to town we saw the high stone arch combined highway and railway bridge over the Stura di Demonte.
After a good drink from the huge fountain in front of the train station, we headed up the valley to Borgo San Dalmazzo and turned south to Robilante. Once in town we made a visit to the chain saw store that has thousands of used chain saws staked in tiers of catacombs so densely that passage is difficult. It was here that I recalled that the Ristorante-Albergo Aquila Riale, one of my favorite stops, is closed Wednesdays, so we stayed at an uninteresting place down the road.
Pavement ends at the summit, where the surface reverts to baseball sized gravel. The view at the summit exposes a greater panorama than the altitude might suggest, in addition to stone roadhouses that served travelers before the turn of the 20th century. Huge fortifications stand empty as sentinels of history. I was reminded of how natural tunneling is to all of Italy, a mountainous country, where maps reveal endless black dotted lines (tunnels) of railways that seldom see light. In the USA we marvel at bores like the Moffat in the Rockies.
Today the ancient harsh roadbed of the Tenda pass is gradually being covered by asphalt, a few curves at a time. Historic photographs of animal teams, steam tractors, and solid tired chain driven trucks that traveled this road make today's "hardships" pale in comparison. The south side is still mostly the 19th century road, steep and with more than sixty loose surfaced hairpin turns that make tight going even for a jeep. We made our way carefully down the deeply rutted turns into the rocky gorge of the Roya river where we joined the swift curves of the Tende highway, French Rt N204 at the south portal of the tunnel.
At Vievola the railway emerges from its tunnel only to vanish into a loop tunnel followed by many bridges as it descends to Tende (816m). The road has a good slope here so it was not difficult to keep a good pace down the Soarge Gorge where we could barely make out the road to the town of Soarge as it bores trough cliffs high above, and whose tunnels have few windows to reveal the route. Soarge is a linear cluster of houses glued to cliffs so that some have more than a hundred meter freefall from their windows.
After St Dalmas, at Breil (286m), we stopped for lunch and visited a bancomat for French money this town is long and narrow and has a main street down the center that is a pedestrian mall. After lunch we turned west on Rt D2204 up the Col de Brauis (879m) under clear skies, with a good view down the Roya. The landscape is Mediterranean with sparse vegetation, olive trees and leafless broom (gorse) blooming bright yellow and giving off a sweet smell. Looking southwest from the summit, the railway is visible far below on a stone arch bridge between two long tunnels. That's all you get.
We descended to Sospel (349m), the junction of the Brauis, Braus, and Turini passes, and took pictures of the old stone arch bridge over the Bevera, reminiscent of the Ponte Vecchio in Florence with its collage of buildings. It wasn't warm enough for a dish at the ice cream store where my favorite small town philosopher had presided in the past. He greeted us in the past as though we were real regulars, and told us that the shop has been in the family for several generations. He was nowhere in sight so after putting away an ice cream, we headed north along the river and up the Turini pass.
We rode north up the valley on Rt D70 to the Turini pass (1607m), that figures prominently in the Monte Carlo Automobile Rallye. The climb starts gradually as the road heads into the ever narrower rocky canyon of the Bevera before it passes through the monastery of Notre Dame de Menour that straddles the road at a high narrows of the canyon. From here the road is fairly flat through Moulinet, after which it is mostly in the shade through a pine forest on the way to the summit.
We stopped here to put away a cool but expensive beer and talked to a Dutchman who was bicycling in the other direction. There is no view at the forested summit, so we stopped for pictures farther down, toward the Vesubie river where, in a few kilometers, a panorama opened with the walled village of la Bollene-Vesubie perched picturesquely on a knoll in the foreground amid the dry hills of olives, gorse, and golden grass.
The road descends to the Vesubie where it joins Rt D2565 that climbs gradually to St Martin Vesubie (930m), a pleasant town before the narrows at the foot of the Col St Martin (1500m). It was about the right time and the pass was a bit far to reach before dinner, so we called it a day in the lovely old Hotel Les Tres Ponts within the walls of the old city.On a short hike around town we observed litter being swept away by water rushing down the middle of the street in a stone flume. We enjoyed a hearty dinner in the hotel before getting a good nights rest.
This descent reveals an entirely different panorama of mountains, with roads that are tiring just to look at, as they thread a tortuous path along barren rocky walls to high mountain villages. On the final descent to the Tinee river we could see the Rt D30 to Rubion on the opposite wall where it climbs to the Col de la Couillole (1678m). Our Rt D220 traversed rugged rock walls where the river seemed to be directly beneath us as we rode through tunnels connected by bridges. The road follows the Tinee in a gradual climb to St Etienne de Tinee (1144m) where the road climbs out of the canyon into grassy fields as it climbs to the Bonnet/Restefond pass (2770).
We rode between old buildings in the deserted village past Refuge de Bosieyas (1200m) and where the road rises above tree line. It's a long climb but with only about a km of steeper climbing half way to the top from here. Although it is another 16 km away the top is visible if you know where to look, however, it is so far away that even if you can find it, it seems unbelievable. With clear air and a few billowing clouds in the sky, the view was the best I've seen in all the times I've been there. Besides, it was cool... good climbing weather.20
After the descent, we turned north up the Ubaye river to Condamine with its cliffs riddled from top to bottom with tunnels that connect huge fortifications that keep their silent vigil for enemies long gone. There are two hotels in Condamine, of which only one was open, the one in which I have often stayed. We were not disappointed, having a hearty dinner and comfortable accommodations.
As we descended to Guillestre (1000m), we got a panorama of snowy peaks and glaciers to the north. Instead of taking the main route up the valley to Briancon, we followed D902 up the Guil River for lunch at Arvieux and the Izoard Pass. The grocery store has a bench and water fountain with a public restroom under the city hall across the street. A steep section from Arvieux, past Brunnisard took us to the milder grade with a few hairpin turns to a false summit from which the rest of the road is visible across a canyon up to the obelisk at the summit. Descending to the Coppi memorial where we stopped for a picture the landscape is treeless with huge areas of dark grey scree at the angle of repose. It looks like the moon and, when hot, can be a difficult climb.
From the Izoard summit (2361m), we could see the gap of the Galibier Pass in the mountains, in the distance to the north. We descended the unspectacular road to Briancon (1391m), a town overrun with tourists, to take Rt N91 with its gradual slope at 2% to 5% to the Col du Lautaret (2058m).
By the time we reached the pass, a light drizzle had begun to fall and made the scene of the burned out Hotel des Glaciers even more depressing. Inside the incomplete "new" hotel, Dominic Bonnabel had a continuous video of the hotel fire and subsequent roof ripping storm that hit the summit. Meanwhile construction cranes were at work on the new hotel. We asked if there was any place to stay and Dominic suggested the Belgian climbing hut a kilometer back down the road. With a quick phone call we were93in like Flynn.
The bunks were comfortable and the portions for dinner fit for someone who had climbed all day (we had). The climbers came in just in time for dinner and a good time was had at the self service bar. The rain got a bit stronger through the night but stopped at dawn.
Due to clouds and rain, we couldn't take 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. The summit was crowded with "century riders" who looked at us in the now familiar manner of "You do this for FUN?" These folks were signing in to get their completion badges, a string of stragglers still coming up the north side. We rode down the steep part to the hotel at the north portal where cement silos and construction equipment stood at the tunnel entrance.20
This descent isn't steep enough to reach any high speed and, at Plan Lachat, requires some pedaling to get to the descent to Valloire. Entering town is the only fast spot on this descent and it's not long enough to get rolling fast. Meanwhile the weather remained wet from Valloire (1430m) where we climbed to the Telegraph (1570m) and headed down the main descent to St Michel du Maurienne. The Telegraph is an huge smooth domed rock that overlooks the length of the Maurienne Valley of the Arc river 858m below.
Descending many hairpin turns through a thin pine forest we reached St Michel (712m) and the main route from Torino to Chambery with highway N6, autoroute N6, and double track rail line. The old road is still under siege as the autoroute is being tunneled through canyon walls for greater truck traffic to the 12.9km Frejus tunnel to Torino. Meanwhile a base railway tunnel is being started to undercut all of these efforts. We warmed up a bit as we headed up the valley toward Modane through construction that has been going on for years with lots of dust that was wet today.
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 a breathtaking gorge to the fort on the Pont du Diable, a long slender truss foot bridge that emphasizes the depth of the chasm. After the chasm, 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. Cool air made climbing easy as we reached the flat upper valley 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), Via del Ciamarella (3676m) and Albaron (3627m). We rode through a cool drizzle into Bonneval (1835m) where we stopped for the day in hopes that tomorrow would be sunny.
We crossed the to the north side of the Lenta and climbed above the clouds into a brilliantly clear blue sky as we broke out of this box canyon through cliffs and bare rock tunnels, above the high waterfall into the Gorge de la Lenta. Here we entered a wintry scene with empty chair lifts running in anticipation of skiers from Val d'Isere on the other side of the pass. In one more zigzag, similar to the lower climb, brought us to the summit. Although we were in summer clothing, our leather gloves came in handy.
At the summit we took pictures sitting on the large concrete and stone Col del l'Iseran (2770m) sign, something I first did in 1960. We found a photographer, a guy from Colorado, who had slept in his car at the summit that he had reached in the height of the snow storm late at night. Without chains, he thought the next day would be safer, and it was. We rode on to the brisk descent to Val d'Isere (1840m) where not much was happening and the streets were empty.
Without stopping in town, we climbed the short bump into the first of the series of tunnels down to Lac du Chevril (2000m) and its dam. When I did this the first time, there were no lights in the tunnel and only reflections of daylight on the wet walls guided us around the curve in the dark. 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 stopped for lunch in Seez (920m), at the junction of Rt D902 and Rt N90 to the Col du Petite St Bernard (2188m) and Aosta.
After a great lunch with a dining room full of truck drivers, we coasted down to Bourg St Maurice (840m), turning north at the edge of town to head up narrow and winding Rt D217 to the Cormet de Roselend. We climbed along the steep forested gorge of the Nueva River under overcast skies, passing the abandoned, half-finished, would-be spa at Bonneval. Nothing, except the size of the trees growing in the swimming pool, had changed in the many years I have come past this misconceived resort where the sun seldom shines in the narrow valley.
We passed the high valley of Les Chapieux (1552m), where a trail rises east to the Col de la Seigne (2516m), from a road marked "Vallee des Glaciers" beneath Mont Blanc. We continued to the Cormet de Roselend (1968m) where we ran into clouds but took a picture of the summit marker that is similar to the one on the Iseran.
On the descent to the reservoir, behind the Barrage de Roselend, we were held up by a cliff blasting to removed an impending rockfall. The force with which the boulders tumbled down the steep slopes and across the road was impressive. We rode around the reservoir 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).
Arriving at noon, we stopped at my favorite restaurant, la Pierra Menta, the first on the right and whose dining room opens at noon. This place has an open wood fired pizza oven where food is prepared in classic "demonstration kitchen" style. I ordered my usual pizza Frutta di Mare with seven kinds of sea food and watched it bake in the oven across the small dining room. The pizza, large mixed salad, and Bierre Pelforth made a good base on which to ride on from this town known world wide for its Beaufort Cheese.
Truck traffic was still absent as it has been since the Mont Blanc tunnel fire that closed the tunnel that connects to the Val d'Aosta and Ivrea, the Po valley to Torino and Milano. We stayed on the autoroute, with its wide shoulder through tunnels to the Bossons exit into Chamonix. Traffic was light and no one played policeman, telling us to get of the autoroute. I've done it for years and never had a problem, even with heavy traffic.
We didn't get a glimpse of Mont Blanc through the overcast although we saw it from afar the day before. Just the same, the lower end of Glaciers des Bossons, that reaches almost into town, was dusted in fresh snow. Although cloudy, it was dry as we rode through Chamonix (1037m). I got the impression that poor weather had been here for a while because few tourists filled the usually crowded streets. We headed up the valley to Argentiere (1257m) after which the road makes four hairpin turns as it climbs to the flats in Montroc where we stopped at Francois Cauchy's chalet to take a picture of us on the bench in front his place from which we could barely see the Glacier d'Argentiere and Mer du Glace on Mont Blanc.
From here it's a short nearly flat piece to Col des Montets (1461m) from which we descended the Val Orsene to to the Swiss border at Le Chatelard (1094m). Here we turned off to Finhaut (1289m) across a high bridge over the L'Eau Noire River, instead of making the gratuitous climb up the Col de la Forclaz (1527m), that climbs another 300m before descending to Martigny in the Rhone valley. Just above the RR under-crossing at Finhaut, we took the small road that parallels the railway. The road/trail descends into a veritable Grand Canyon, the gorge of the Trient that is better visible from the train. We reached Le Tretien village (1021m), no more than a few houses glued to the cliff above and below the road, notched into the wall. The road becomes paved and public here.
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 the usual hotel was full, so we rode up to Agarn where we found an empty hotel just waiting for us.
The road levels off after the Schallberg tunnel that turns the corner into the Gantertal, high above the Salina River that flows through Brig. A high concrete suspension bridge a kilometer up the valley crosses to Berisal (1520m) after which the road is mostly forested until tree line and the long avalanche shelters that cover most of the road up to 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 fogged over, obscuring the peaks of the central Alps and the 23km long Aletsch glacier. We rolled down the 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 last winter an avalanche took out half the village. The gap was clearly visible from the road above. Farther down, at Iselle, we passed the south portal of the Simplon tunnel where the railway emerges for a moment before vanishing again into granite walls.
At Varzo (532m) the road diversion that has been there for several years was still not repaired, except that it had become rougher through the winter storm that destroyed much in the valley. After a short climb, at Varzo a flat bridge crosses the Torrente Cairasca at the city limit before descending through town. The railway enters a double track 360 degree loop tunnel just above the bridge, emerging Continuing down the Val Diverda again below the town. Continuing down the Val Diverda the highway enters an autostrada tunnel about a kilometer before Crevoladossola (337m) where bicycles must (want to) take the old road over the narrows of the Diveria into town. We took a picture at the graceful stone arch bridge before the junction and then took the cutoff to Masera (297m) where we stopped for lunch.
Masera (306m) lies at the foot of the climb up the Val Vigezzo to the Centovalli and Locarno. This once little traveled dirt road, is now a major route, but with the weather as it was, there was little 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 Camedo at the Swiss border.
We heard the drafty high whistle of the Centovalli train as it pulled into the station just across the way. This scenic railway, a joint operation of the FART [Ferrovie Autlinee Regionali Ticinesi] and SSIF [Societa Subalpina di Imprese Ferroviarie], is a famous scenic route between Locarno and Domodossola. The Centovalli has many beautiful hill towns in steep chestnut forests, above the granite canyon of the Melezza. Not much of this was visible today as we arrived in Locarno with a light drizzle.
Locarno has become such a large city that the railway now dives into a tunnel at the edge of town and ends in the lower deck of the SBB train station instead of parking along the waterfront park by the lake steamers, as it did in bygone days.
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, crossing the Ticino into Bellinzona and on to to Arbedo (232m) where 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. Disappointment, it was Wednesday (rest day) and we had to take second choice, up the road.
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) and headed south up the Splugen Pass, 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 outcropping, around which the road makes a sweeping turn. Border guards have a sweeping view of the road up to the summit and the valley. Neither this or the covered border station at the Splugen summit (2117m) looked like they wanted anything from us... but at the last minute the Italian told us to come inside while he checked our passports. I can't imagine what went on during the ten minutes before we got our papers back and took off without comment.
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 grey granite facade decorated with its date of construction in giant green granite Roman numerals MDIVXXXV, this unique road is mostly in avalanche protection tunnels, some of which are hairpin turns, stacked one above the other in the granite wall.
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.
At Castasegna (690m) we crossed back into Switzerland, this time with the usual nod as we approached the gate. It's a short climb from here to Promontogno/Sottoponte/Bondo/Bregalia, four towns that seem to share almost the same space. This road is as lovely as ever because most traffic uses the autoroute that tunnels under this section. We stopped briefly at the antique Hotel Bregalia, where all but electric lighting, is 19th century inside and out.
From here the weather looked as though it would brighten up, tomorrow if not this afternoon. Under a cool overcast, good for climbing but not so good for photography, we climbed to Casaccia (1458m), where the Septimer Pass. A Roman road heads north, our road made a steep bump up to the bowl-like box canyon just below the Maloja Pass, visible almost straight above.
The road climbs a stack of variably steep traverses because they areon constantly moving soil. Soon we were at the summit hotel and vista point, crossing the (one sided) Maloja summit (1817m) to roll along the Silser and Silvaplana Lakes and on to St Moritz past the Morizzaner Lake (1724m). From here it is a short run past the old grand hotels to Samedan where I was amazed to find the Hotel Weisses Kreuz unchanged from 40 years ago, all except for the hayloft that is now a garage.
We got a good dinner and a good nights sleep looking forward to a sunny tomorrow.
Up the Val Bernina to the railway crossing at the Bellavista curve (1950m) of the RhB railway where I took a picture of a descending train under partly cloudy skies. In the upper 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.
After a summit photo, I descended one of the longest fast descents in the Alps, swiftly passing the turn-off to Livigno as I took the sweeping nearly circular turn. 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.
I cruised around Lago Poschiavo to Miralago and descended a fast section to Brusio (781m) where I stopped at Hotel Bettoni to say hello to the Bettonis who just happened to come from their vegetable garden as I was about to leave. I have stayed here many times and stopped for lunch at others. As I started down the hill, I heard squealing wheels as a train came up the 7% grade circular viaduct. I missed a good photo opportunity but then I already have pictures even from the train.
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, I 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.
At Temu (1144m), just below Ponte di Legno, I stopped at the Locanda Veduta dell'Adamello for lunch although it was a bit late. Silvano Macculotti had a wonderful lunch ready in no time and I left well fed riding through Ponte di Legno (1258m) and on to Appolonia. 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. I 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 with no hint of its rushing style farther down or the water falls above.
I 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 that today was really closed due to a land slide. After getting around the barrier, following motorcycle tracks the road 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.
Recently ANAS (the highway department) had planned to widen and pave the entire route, but someone found a better solution, stopping the march of man against nature, right there where it meets the mountain. The road has lost nothing through paving. It's exactly the same narrow one lane Gavia that it always was.
Farther up, I came upon the land slide, passable for motor cycles, and there were several. A bit higher I met the second crossing of the Slide where it was only passable with a dirt bike, while at the third encounter, it was no longer passable except for talented trials riders. I hiked down through the gap and carefully climbed the other wall to continue up the empty road, Here only thick bushy grass and wildflowers cover slopes so steep that going off the road assures a long tumble to the Frigidolfo, far below.
I stopped at the cliff where I had been photographed years ago for the poster picture of which a print hangs on the wall at the summit hotel, the Rifugio Bonetta. I stopped and got a soda, talked to a couple of Germans who were as familiar with the Alps as I. Just then the inn keeper came out of the kitchen and said Jobst, you have mail, giving me a folded note that was taped to a bar post. Jan Johnson, the wife of my frame builder and good riding companion had been there a few days before on her own ride.
The descent is definitely easier with pavement than on the old graveled surface. It gives more time to appreciate the view of the Ortler (3905m) and Gran Zebru (3851m) with their glacial caps and perpetual glistening snow. Heading down the Val di Gavia, that begins descending steeply after Rifugio Breni (2543m) I soon was down to Santa Caterina (1734m) and then on to Valfurva (1339m) and Bormio (1197m) where I stopped at my favorite, the Albergo St Ignazio in a courtyard just off the main street, now a pedestrian mall. Unfortunately the Braulio HQ was being remodeled so I couldn't get a sample of this local liqueur specialty.
There were many motorcyclists at the summit and a clear view down the Val di Trafoi with its 48 hairpin turns, road glued to the wall. At Trafoi I noted that the brand new copper roof on the hotel Thoeni, had turned black in two years of weathering. The hotel is run by Olympic gold medalist Gustav Thoeni and his brother Antonio.
From the bottom of the hill at Prato (911m) its a short straight run to Spondigna (885m) and headed 50km down the Val Venosta to Merano (302m). From here its a flat 30km run to Bolzano (262m). Heading north out of this charming city on the edge of the dolomites, I turned past the train station and up the Isarco [Eisack] valley to Cardano where I turned east into the Eggental Rt N241 toward the Costalunga pass.
The Eggenbach flows from a wall of rock behind Cardano that seems to defy penetration, such that the road is cut into the vertical dark red stone above the river, diving tunnels through where the river has cut a crooked gorge. The road climbs with a 16% grade, receiving little sunshine even at high noon. The gorge gradually opens to grassy valleys and forested uplands as I gained altitude. Higher up, glimpses of the Dolomites come into view approaching Welschenofen (1182m). Just above Hotel Diana, with a mural of Diana the huntress with bow and arrow, the road flattens as it reaches the high summit meadows.
Here the beautiful Lago di Carezza with its deep blue-green waters, clear enough to see the bottom, reflects myriad spires of the Latemar (2842m) on its glassy surface. It was late afternoon which didn't leave enough lighting to record the scene on film. Crossing the meadows near the Rosengarten (2981m), that was about to go into its sunset colors, and past the grand Hotel Carezza just below the junction of the Nigerjoch Pass (part of which is the 24% road to Tiers).20
The top of the Costalunga (1745m) was only a couple of hairpins up, before the long gradual descent into the Val di Fassa at Vigo di Fassa (1400m) and on to Pozza di Fassa (1380m), on Rt N48 along the Torrente Avisio. I found a comfortable hotel after using the white courtesy telephone in the center of the village. These towns have a map with all the hotels and rifugios with a call button, so one needn't drive around to find a vacancy. The dinner did the trick to give me enthusiasm of the beautifully rich Dolomites and their striking formations.
As I rode I noticed curious that was bumper to bumper traffic of tourists. It occurred to me that breakfast in hotels is generally served at the same time unless an earlier one is requested as had. These folks had just finished breakfast in the valley and headed for a scenic tour of the passes at about the same time. After about a half hour they had all passed and the road was again clear.
What started as a cloudless day gradually changed to beautiful white billowing thunderheads. On warm summer days these walls are decorated with rock climbers, visible as many colorful spots. I didn't find any compelling photo opportunities with the throngs of tourists at the Sella (2114m). Having been here in rain, snow and sunshine, I didn't feel I was missing anything by not stopping.
A short descent brought me to the junction (1789m) with Rt. N243 that goes over Pso Gardena (2121m) where, typical of the whole Sella region, the slopes are steep meadowland that become ski slopes in winter all overshadowed by the magnificent Sella Group with fortress like near vertical walls.
The road descends from the Gardena in 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 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 side of this deep ravine, 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 almost hangs from the steep wall, with picturesque fortress like architecture and well kept flower boxes against a backdrop of Dolomites, an often seen picture of this region.
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 here 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 clear late afternoon sky, stood five giant Dolomite columns, as so many, seem almost to have been designed in harmony by great sculptors.
I turned south on Rt N638 at Pocol (1539m) to the Pso Giau, 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 20:30, took some 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). Unfortunately some group had taken the whole dormitory so I went another 300m down the road to the next hotel where I found a god dinner and comfortable room. These accommodations can be paid in plastic these days.
At the "railway crossing" north of the station that now serves buses, Rt N48 begins its climb to Pso Tre Croci (1814m) that gives a last look at the beautiful valley backed by Le Tofane (3248m), Pso Giau and its mountains across the valley 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 distance.
From here it is a short descent to Pian Maccetto (1650m) and 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 divide of the Pustertal the source of the Drau and Rienz rivers. I took Rt N49 east along the Drau toward Lienz (673m) in Austria. The sky gradually reverted to a high overcast as I rolled 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 with a steeper bump at the end to Heiligenblut (1301m) where I found a small hotel just below town above the falls of the Moell.
The Gross Glockner (3798m) peak was not visible although the road to the summit was. The Dolomites to the south had vanished in the clouds as I approached the Hochtor Summit (2505m) in the rain. I ducked into the summit tunnel but there was only dim light visible the other end of the 200m long summit tunnel. After the lake at Mitteltoerl (2328m) with its tunnel, a short steep descent took me to a likewise steep climb to Fuschertoerl (2428m). There was no view as I descended into the Fuschertal to Fusch on the 12% cool and swift descent to the north toll gate and wildlife park at Ferleiten.
Rolling down to Bruck (757m) on the Salzach I passed 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 was in a new and larger building. I dropped in for a short visit with my old working companion from the 1960's Ferdinand A. Porsche who hadn't changed much over time. We talked of old times, after which I headed up the Pinzgau Valley through Mittersill where I saw one of the narrow gauge Pinzgau (760mm, 30inch) trains heading toward 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, dry but overcast, as I descended past the huge earthen dam and down through Gerlos (1245m) the fancy ski town to Zell am Ziller (575m). I headed north toward the Inn Valley, now in warmer air in the gently sloping (53m in 21km (0.25% grade average) valley to Strass (523m) where I found good food and comfortable lodging in nearby Rotholz.
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 to St Leonhard and Merano in South Tyrol. Many gas stations have mini-markets so I stopped for a snack at the junction and tanked up before crossing the high bridge over the Ache River from the Oetztal, and then over the Inn, to climb the two kilometers past the narrows of the Inn River on the way to Imst.
After an equally long descent, I turned off to Bahnhof Imst and river rafting set-in to take the bicycle path runs between the freeway and the Inn River to Landeck, thus avoiding the climb to Imst and Imsterberg. There were no rafters today, I guess for lack of sunshine. I stopped at Zams, just before Landeck (816m), for lunch before riding through Landeck, taking narrow Rt N315 to climbs into the Paznauntal along a cliff above the Inn. Farther up, where the road widens to two full lanes with a paved shoulder, a sign declares it an autoroute (no bicycles).
I made good time and got no hassle in the end of "no bicycles" section that ends a kilometer or so from Pfunds (971m) where the road climbs out of the Inn valley, clinging to the rocky canyon walls as it winds through tunnels and ledges and finally through the Finstermuetz fortress to break out onto high meadows at Nauders (1365m). The summit of the Reschen pass (1508m) was a short way past the Italian border. Today only the church steeple of a village that was there before the dam was built stands in the water. A 10km ride around the Reschen Lake to the descent to San Valentino (1470m) where the road climbs again after the Lago di Muta, before the real descent.
From Lago di Muta I could see the glacier capped peaks of the Ortler (3899m), Gran Zebru (3859m), Cima Venezia (3338m), Giovaretta (3438m), and several others. Such a panorama under clearing skies makes the heart laugh and relegates effort of climbing to insignificance. As I sped down the hill, the huge white hotel-castle at Burgeis shone from the mountain like a fairy-tale. From here it's all downhill, around huge sweeping no-brakes turns that snake down to Malles (1051m) where a road cuts across to Laudes (967m) and back up to Tubre (1240m) at the Swiss border. A climb in the Mustairtal took me to Muestair (1248m) and Santa Maria (1375m) where the Umbrail Pass heads south to the Stelvio.
From Laudes it's a steep climb, especially noticeable at the end of a long day, followed by another steep piece from Santa Maria to Fuldera, a good preparation for dinner. By the time I reached Fuldera it was late, and as I got to Hotel Staila in Fuldera (1638m), Mrs Hohenegger gave me a warm welcome and forgot that I haven't been there in a couple of years. Unfortunately the hotel was full so she found a room for me in a private residence nearby but I ate well in this top quality hotel that likes bikies.
I met a couple of Vincent motorcycle riders from Switzerland, and we talked mountain roads till late. During the night I saw lightning flashes while bats flew past my window in the glare of a nearby street light.
I met the early PTT bus whose famous three tone horn echoed from the walls, evoking the image of a bugler of old on a horse drawn postal coach. I looked back at glistening Ortler once more at the top of the Ofen Pass (2155m) before descending through a pine forests of the Buendner National Park to Punt la Drossa (1706m), the north portal of the three kilometer uphill tunnel to Livigno, and the foot of our climb over the gorge Val dal Spoell where the road climbs to Ova Spin (1900m) before descending to Zernez (1473m). From Zernez it's a short ride down the Inn valley to Susch (1426m) at the base of the Fluela pass.
The road starts with its initial continuous grade of 13% up the narrow Val Susasco before leveling off to about 10% above. The Ortler, this time more distant, showed itself one last time before I crossed into the final valley with hairpin turns rising to the Fluela pass (2389m). The summit lakes were ice free and even the avalanches had melted to one small heap on the far side. The descent to Davos (1560m) is undistinguished except the first few kilometers from the top. From Davos I rode around the Davosersee and over the Wolfgang pass (1625m) descending to Klosters (1200m), the entrance to the Vereina RhB railway tunnel that carries mainly skier's cars in winter. Because this traffic has made the town unfriendly in winter, a five kilometer tunnel is being built around the town.
On the stretch to Sargans, I rode through Bad Ragaz, an old but Ritzy spa that seems to have stayed in the early 20th century, and on to Sargans (483m) where a good but not easily found bike route follows the Seez canal to the Walensee (419m). Along the south shore of the Walensee, just before Muehlehorn, a road cuts off over the Kerenzerberg (743m), a small pass over the corner of the mountain to Mollis (448m) in canton Glarus.
From Mollis a small road and a bicycle path head up the valley to Glarus (475m), after which traffic on Rt N17, to the end of the Linth valley in Linthal (662m), is light. The Glarner Alps were especially beautiful because the highest peak the Toedi (3614m), framed by the walls of the valley in a canton with almost no flatland, its glaciers dusted with fresh snow, glowed in the evening light. From Glarus, I could see up the especially narrow Kloental to the west, that has a lake filling the bottom of the high valley, from which the Pragel pass (1550m) crosses to Muotathal in Canton Schwyz.
From Linthal the road climbs the east wall to Urnerboden (1300m), a high valley above the cliffs. 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 in the light of the setting sun. The climb rises above the valley on long traverses that turn when they reached the wall on one end or the waterfall of the Faetschbach on the other. Farther up, several short zigzags turn up the gap to the Klausen Pass (1948m). I rolled over the top in the setting sun with cool air on the descent past the summit hotel and to the cliff above the Schaechental that gives a spectacular view of the Toedi as well as the roofs of Aesch (1234m), 700m almost vertically below. A hiking trail winds its way up the nearly vertical headwall of the Schaechental while from the Huefifirn glacier, a good 2000m above, the Aesch 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 rock wall, has no functional guard rail to prevent a huge free-fall, demanding extra caution as the beautiful panorama unfolds. After the "wall" it's a few tunnels and sharp curves, "straight" ahead to Hotel Urigen (1300m) where it was getting dark at 21:00. I was welcomed by the owners, Steffan Truschner, his wife Karin, and three year old daughter Joel. Karin told me that she had made a www search on their name and was surprised to find it... in one of my ride reports. 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.
In Altdorf (458m) I headed up the Reuss Valley toward Erstfeld (472m) where the SBB (federal railway) begins its climb at 2.7% grade toward the 16km Gotthard tunnel and where the 52km base tunnel to Bodio is being bored. One of the famous old "crocodile" Gotthard freight engines is on display across from the Erstfeld station. A little farther up, at Amsteg, the road abruptly begins climbing as it crosses a steep stone bridge and cuts into the wall after the huge SBB hydroelectric plant.
From here, the rock walls of the narrow Reuss canyon are require tunnels and bridges for railway, motorway and highway. Because most traffic uses the motorway, the old highway is nearly empty to Wassen (916m), where the Susten Pass heads north. Wassen is known for lying between and above three 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.
A brilliant blue sky with white puffy clouds made a beautiful final run, as I headed up the glacier highway of Switzerland, 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 again at the corner waterfall kiosk, where I put away a couple of colas for the climb to the pair of hairpins before the top.
Emerging from the 200m long Susten Pass 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.