In my case cycling alpine passes looks a lot like buying pants (buying any other clothing items comes easily to me; getting a new pair of pants costs me a lot of effort). The following steps can be distinguished:
- Internet research that arouses my enthusiasm (everything looks tempting in online shops!)
- Blood, sweat and tears. What looked great on the internet, turns out to be completely unsuitable for my legs.
- Doubts: maybe I’ll come back, when my legs are in better shape or when I have lost two kilograms? I don’t give up only because I don’t want to go through it once again from the start.
- Just a little bit more, you can do it.
- Success – I did it!
- Triumphal return home.
I was lucky to spend my Swiss holidays in Obergesteln – a place where there is absolutely nothing going on, but less than 20 kilometers from there you will find three famous mountain passes: Nufenen (2480 m.a.s.l.), Furka (2429 m.a.s.l.) and Grimsel (2164 m.a.s.l.). There was no other option than to check, if I can cycle in the mountains and go on a ride on the famous roads that are open only about 3 months a year.
I decide to fight the first battle against Furka Pass, famous in the cycling world as the fourth highest tarmac road in Switzerland. Over a distance of less than 20 kilometers there are 1177 meters to climb – as many as I usually do over 100 kilometers! Although the morning among the rocky hills is quite chilly, I sweat like in a Finnish sauna in my light jacket. On my way I am passing by the Rhone Glacier. Its cold blue colour was visible right from the street just some decades ago and it was one of the greatest attractions in the area, but in the last years a big part of it has melted and the glacier has become more grey than blue. Anyway, it’s worth to visit the grotto under the glacier (considering how fast it melts, you never know, how long we’ll be able to enjoy this place).
About every fifteen minutes it comes to my mind that I am too weak for this kind of fun. I try to force myself to continue: „go at least 100 meters more, then you can turn back”. And step by step, I find myself on top. Yes, we can!
I put an extra layer on me for the way back – you can really freeze when you cycle 15 km down. My fingers get numb because I press the brakes almost constantly – I am freaking out a little bit, because it’s the first time in my life that I take such corners and I don’t even dare to imagine how one can cycle down this way when it’s rainy and slippery.
Nufenenpass is a few meters higher than Furka, while the road leading there is a few kilometers shorter. The whole time gradient holds at 8–10 %, you are pedalling strenuously all the time, although sometimes you get the impression, that the road is getting kind of flat. Then you take a look at your Garmin and it proves to you that it was just an illusion and you are constantly going up.
During the first kilometers a 60+ gentleman joins me. I try to start a conversation, but the only language he speaks is French. I dig deep into my brain and I find some phrases I heard somewhere, sometime. I tell him that the road is dificil and that I am de Pologne, and we have no grandes montagnes. The gentleman tells me that I ride bien bien and after a while he says goodbye and speeds up, leaving me far behind. The power of experience, maybe by 60 I will get faster too?
The road to Nufenen Pass is completely different than the harshbut full of tourists Furka – all around you there are green meadows, where you can hear the marmots whistling, it’s idyllic and quiet. The whole picture is spoiled somewhat by poles and high-voltage lines, but despite this you can really enjoy the alpine nature.
The smallest one, but still not an easy one. My first attempt, with bags, in the rain, from Innertkirchen (which means a longer climb) ends with a lift (you could read about it here). I was about to give up during my ride from Oberwald too – dramatic clouds in the sky and strong wind heralded a coming storm, but luckily I managed to get to the top and ride back down and still stay dry.
There is something sinister about Grimsel Pass – on top there is a lake called < horror movie soundtrack playing> Totensee, which means “the lake of the dead” and in the morning it’s often bathed in mysterious fog – an atmospheric place, indeed!
Who is this fun for?
It is not a cozy Sunday ride for people who just want to relax on the bike without sweating too much. It is more for people, who are happy only when they get properly tired (endorphin rush guaranteed, after a morning ride like this people ask you all day what are you on and where to buy it). But it isn’t a challenge just for heroes – if a lady of the lowlands like me managed it (with many breaks and at a turtle’s pace, but still!), every relatively fit person on a more or less decent bike can do it. And if somebody doesn’t like to get tired so much, he or her can always rent an e-bike and enjoy the scenery!