A Day of Alpine Passes – by John Dring

This story originally appeared in the Humber Rider newsletter. Story and images courtesy of John Dring. (Thanks John…)

Village of Urnerboden
Village of Urnerboden

We had spent most of the previous day in Liechtenstein and then entered Switzerland heading East then South. The roads to start were good but not dramatic, the scenery however was spectacular. We picked up route 17 on the southern edge of Walensee and headed south. As the route headed further into the mountains it began to get a bit more interesting. Around about Linthal the road climbed quite steeply into the hanging valley (a geographical term) of Urnerboden. The road then leveled out and ran fairly straight up the valley.

It was getting late in the afternoon as we came to the tiny village of Urnerboden. The place looked very pretty and there was a small hotel so we decided to stay for the night. One of the things we had found in Switzerland was that hotels can be quite expensive especially in tourist areas. However small hotels in out of the way places were quite reasonable. And this was one of them.

The view from our room was spectacular, dinner was fabulous, and after dinner we took a stroll through the valley. And a beautiful evening it was, only the birds singing and the noise of the stream running down the valley, the smell of the wildflowers and the pine trees, very romantic.

In the morning after a really good breakfast we headed out and it wasn’t long before we hit the extreme windy bits. The first was Klausenpass a tight set of hairpins that wound up to the top of the pass (1948 metres) then a long loopy drop into the valley.

Klausenpass above Urnerboden
Klausenpass above Urnerboden

We picked up route 2 and headed south for about 25 km and turned right (east) on route 11. The road started off steeply then leveled out. After about 18 km the really tight and steep switchbacks began as the road climbed up to the top of Sustenpass (2244 m). The road is very tight with quite a few short tunnels and on many sections, no guardrail. If you come off the road here it’s a long way down. Traffic was extremely light only a few other vehicles on the road. We dropped down the valley and joined Route 6 and headed south again.

Sustenpass
Sustenpass

The traffic on Route 6 was a bit heavier than what we had seen so far but still not a major problem. After a fairly straight run the road goes over the Grimsalpass (2165 m) and drops into the village of Gletsch. There is a hotel right on the edge of the road so if you need a hot beverage take a break here. Riding over these passes can be a little cool, in many places there is still snow by the side of the road even in July. Beware, however, the place is a bit pricy. If you’re familiar with the movie Goldfinger you’ll recognize the hotel, so it’s a bit of a tourist trap.

Enroute to Grimsal Pass
Enroute to Grimsal Pass

At the bottom of the valley turn right and head east on Route 19 up the Furkapass (2431 m). Another steep climb and lots of switchbacks, the grade in some areas is 11%. This tends to slow down trucks and busses but they are relatively easy to pass and are usually quite accommodating. Soon you will hook up with Route 2 again.

Furkapass
Furkapass

At this point you’ve traveled about 200 Km, climbed 4 major passes and done over 1,000 turns. Not bad for a morning’s work. If you’ve packed a lunch there are many places to pull off on the side of the road and enjoy the view or you can stop in at any of the small villages. Most have a restaurant or café for a bite to eat.

At Route 2 you can head south towards Italy and you’ll end up going over St. Gotthard pass. There are two routes, a long sinuous road that winds over the mountain or through the mountain via a tunnel. I’d suggest over rather than through.

The alternative (which is what we did) is to head east over Oberalppass (2044 m). After the pass the road meanders through an alpine valley. After about 80 km of this you’ll come to route 13. Actually there are 2 route 13’s. One is a super slab (N13) and the other is a winding road that passes through many small villages. We took the small road and stopped in the pretty village of Zilis. Another small comfortable and clean Swiss hotel relatively inexpensive but with great food (and wine). The next day – St. Bernina Pass and Italy.