See the Jobst Brandt's Tour of the Alps Collection under the section for Europe of the Trento Bike Pages

Tour of the Alps 1996 - Part 4

By Jobst Brandt (, Mon, 16 Sep 1996 18:07:08 -0700. Revised: Thu, 11 Sep 1997 8:43:45 PDT
This is part 4 of a report consisting of 4 parts. See Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, the Index, or the (big!) one-file version.

17. Saturday, 20 July (Strassen - Wald; 164km, 2900m):

Clear cool weather greeted us for the morning as we headed down the valley to Lienz (673m) and up Rt N107 to the Iselsberg (1204m) a steep 13% grunt for the first section that climbs over the ridge into the Moelltal and on to the Gross Glockner pass. The Iselsberg has a beautiful broad top that gives a last view back to the Dolomites as well as a view of the Alps to the north. We stopped at the grocery store at the road junction in Winklern (958m) for a mid morning snack before dropping to the bottom of the valley at 900m. From here the road rises gradually to Heiligenblut (1301m) at the base of the climb. In Heiligenblut the grocery store at the junction of the main street and the highway was open as it is everyday, all year. Here we put away a substantial lunch before pushing off into the 12% grade that starts abruptly right in front of the store.

The climb was marvelously refreshing because we had an almost chilling breeze under clear skies. There were other tourists and car assisted riders on the road, and one of these had his wife photographing him at nearly every turn. She also took our pictures often and at the top offered to send us prints. I took her to be a bit over enthusiastic but Richard couldn't leave well enough alone and gave her his camera to take a couple of shots. As it turned out she shot up about 20 pictures of his last roll of film before we got to the top. I am curious what these show. From the 200m long Hochtor (2505m) tunnel, it's a brisk descent to the lake at the Mittletoerl (2328m) tunnel and a steep climb to Fuschertoerl (2428m). The brisk wind made me think of disk wheels because even my slender MA-2 rims made descending a bit wobbly. Meanwhile, Richard spotted a couple of hawks hovering on the updrafts while surveying the lush meadows for a rodent lunch.

From Fuschertoerl the Glockner (3798m) was glistening white as it peeked through the clouds across the gorge. From here the descent went swiftly as it always does with a 12% grade and good pavement, and the final swoop to the toll gate was no exception. On the way down we passed several motorcycles that had to rely more on their brakes and less on wind resistance than we. From the Bison park at the toll gate it was fairly warm as we rolled down to Bruck (757m) on the Salzach river and headed to Zell am See and up the Pinzgau valley to Mittersill and Wald (867m) at the foot of the old Gerlos pass. We rode up the old and steep one-lane road to Hotel Grubl just before the 500m of 18% grade, where I had stayed in the past. I thought we ought to stop, even if only to say hello. As it turned out, Mrs Kaiser greeted us and said she had expected (!) us because her son had seen us down the valley as he drove to Mittersill. Had we not stopped there I would have had big egg on my face. It was well worth the stop because the hospitality was great and the next stage was the longest.

18. Sunday, 21 July (Wald - Fuldera; 259km, 2620m):

After a full breakfast with boiled egg, cold cuts, cheese, hot rolls and jam, and fruit, we headed up the 18% wall that levels off at the next hotel. It is a good hustle and it takes all my breath. The rest of the hill is a snap except for one other steep spot that is only a short sprint around a curve before crossing the headwaters of the Salzach, the river that flows through Salzburg. As we climbed, we could see to the end of the Pinzgau valley at the town of Krimml, still lying in the shadow of the mountains, with its huge waterfall erupting from the wall above town. The top of the old Gerlos pass (1486m) is as unspectacular as the subsequent view, high over the artificial Gerlos lake reflecting the magnificent peaks to the south, is spectacular.

The road hangs on the side of the mountain as it gradually descends to the town of Gerlos (1245m) and on to Hainzenberg (905m) where it dives to Zell am Ziller (575m) and the Zillertal Bahn with its 760mm gauge steam train. From here it's a long flat haul down the valley to Strass (523m) at the Inn river, where we turned west toward Innsbruck. This is a nice route because the freeway has drained off most traffic and the wind often blows upstream in the summer. In spite of this, we rode past a long traffic jam in Wattens that was caused by a Sunday parade of local marching bands with traditional folk costumes and banners. We rolled along nicely in such pleasant weather that we didn't notice cool air from riding near the icy river. Last year it was so hot that any breeze that came off the Inn was like a blast from a refrigerator in contrast.

We toured the center of Innsbruck (574m), saw the golden roofed porch, the MacDonalds hamburgers across the way from that and all the beautiful buildings the travel brochures extol. I find Bolzano more inviting. We left town staying on the north side of the river, crossing over at Zirl to Rt N7 and stopped in Hatming for a relaxing and leisurely lunch in the hotel's chestnut shaded yard. We got a late start and a slow run up to the Oetztal (Timmelsjoch, Pso Rombo). Here, on high bridges, the road first crosses the Ache river at the mouth of the Oetztal, and then the Inn, before a two kilometer climb before descending toward Imst. Instead of going up the main road to Imst, that lies high on the side of the valley, we took the turnoff to the river rafting set-in, where a bicycle path parallels the river on the most direct and level route toward Landeck (816m). In Landeck we headed south on Rt N187 toward the Reschen pass.

The road from Landeck is narrow and winding as it climbs along the wall of the Inn canyon, but farther up where the road widens, a sign declares it an autoroute (no bicycles). I have used this road in the past with no problem, but this time an irate driver honked and gesticulated as she drove off. Fortunately we made good time and were a kilometer or so from Pfunds, the end of the section, before the police arrived to shunt us onto a circuitous and hilly side road, the "bike route". From Pfunds (971m) 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). A short way past the Italian border we reached the summit of the Reschen pass (1508m) with its 10km ride around the Reschen lake. Only the church steeple of a village that was there before the dam was built stands in the water today. At San Valentino (1470m) around the Lago di Muta, the road climbs again for a while before the real descent.

As we approached the south end of the Lago di Muta we could see the glacier capped peaks of the Ortler (3899m), Gran Zebru (3859m), Cima Venezia (3338m), Giovaretta (3438m), and several others. Such a grand panorama in the late afternoon sun makes the heart laugh and relegate the effort of the long day to the insignificant. On our right, as we sped down the hill, the huge white hotel-castle at Burgeis glistened from the mountain like a fairy-tale castle. From here we coasted down the huge sweeping no-brakes turns that snake down to Malles (1051m) where a road cuts across Laudes (967m) and back up to Taufers at the Swiss border, and to Muestair (1248m) and Santa Maria (1375m) from where the Umbrail pass climbs to the Stelvio.

From Laudes it's a steep climb, especially at the end of a long day after which the steep piece from Santa Maria to Fuldera is a good preparation for a big dinner. By the time we reached Fuldera it was 8:30 because we had taken our time about sight seeing in Innsbruck and taken an hour and a half for lunch. As we got to Hotel Staila in Fuldera (1638m), Mrs Hohenegger gave us a warm welcome and said, "take your time; you know where the bicycle room is" and gave us the room key. This is a top quality hotel that likes bikies.

19. Monday, 22 July (Fuldera - Urigen; 212km, 3640m):

After a major buffet breakfast with everything you can imagine on the table, we paid the not inconsequential bill before rolling up the "flat" valley to the final climb of the Passo dal Fuorn [Ofenpass] (2149m) with its 13% grade. Even with a good warm-up before the steep stuff, it's stiff hustle to the top. We met the early PTT bus whose famous three tone horn echoed from the walls that evokes the image of a bugler of old on a horse drawn postal coach. From the top we looked back at the white dome of the Ortler rising high above the mountains through which we had ridden earlier. We descended through the pine forest of the Buendner National Park to Punt la Drossa (1706m), the north portal of the two 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.

From Susch the road starts right out with its initial continuous grade of 13% up the narrow canyon before leveling off to about 10% in the upper Suasca valley. Near the top we witnessed some elegant construction work that used a helicopter at high elevation. It seems all helicopters in the Alps use turbine engines that have a classic but pleasant, drafty high pitch wheeze. We again saw the Ortler, this time more distant, one last time before we 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.

We turned right in Davos and rode around the Davosersee and over the Wolfgang pass (1625m), descending fairly swiftly in places as the road sweeps down through the forest to Klosters (1200m). We stopped just before noon for a large grocery store lunch and proceeded down the Praetigau along the Landquart river to Landquart (530m) on the Rhine river. We crossed the Rhine and had favorable breezes to Bad Ragaz and Sargans (483m) where we got on the bike path along the Seez Kanal from Mels to Walenstadt (427m) on the Walensee.

We rode along the lake to just before Muehlehorn where the road cuts off over the Karenzerberg (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, had its glaciers dusted with fresh snow and was gleaming in the evening light. From Glarus, we could see up the especially narrow Kloental to the west, that has a lake filling the bottom of the high valley that ends on the Pragel pass (1550m) where Richard rode alone on the first day.

The real climb of the Klausen pass starts after Linthal, where the road heads into the cliffs with a pair of one way rough hewn tunnels that were replaced this year by a long well lit tunnel. Richard took the old tunnels that were still passable and reported them as dimly lit and wet as always. Above the tunnel the road finds its bench in the steep slope as it winds up long traverses through a hardwood forest. The road breaks out into the Urner Boden at 1300m, a long 500m wide valley with near vertical walls on three sides.

The road then climbs the wall at the end of the Urner Boden (1400m) box canyon past free falling waterfalls and private dairy cableways, whose cables drape from ledges high on the canyon walls where they vanished from sight in the sky in single spans several hundred meters up. At the summit of the Klausen pass (1948m), the Toedi came back into view high above while the valley of the Schaechental opened with a top view of farm buildings 700m below in Aesch (1234m). Here, across the valley, the free falling Steubi falls reach the ground.

The road, cut into the granite wall, was in excellent condition, but just the same we took it carefully because there was not even a functional guard rail between us and a huge free-fall. After we got off the "wall" we blasted down to Hotel Urigen (1300m) where a Dutch Harley Davidson trio in full "Easy Rider" regalia had stopped. Steffan Truschner, the owner, was glad to see us and showed off his newborn daughter Joel. We took the usual room, with bath down the hall, in the beautiful annex with carved wooden beams that were colorfully decorated with painted verses. We had a great dinner followed by the dessert of the day, a Coup Romanoff (ice cream sundae with fresh sugared strawberries topped with plenty real whipped cream).

20. Tuesday, 23 July (Urigen - Affoltern; 181km, 2636m):

The start was easy after a breakfast of fresh rolls that Steffan managed to serve us just after he got out of bed. We discovered how he pulled this off when we saw the first PTT bus of the morning parked below the hotel for its return trip. The bus brings the bakery goods shortly before 8:00 and that's why there isn't any breakfast before then. As we coasted down to Unterschaechen (995m), the next PTT bus came up, blowing its three tone bugle signature in the quiet air. The road is too narrow for bus and moving car to pass but bicycles can blast by unhindered.

After a small climb out of the valley, the rest was downhill to Altdorf (458m) where we rode to the center of town to see the twice life sized bronze of Wilhelm Tell with crossbow on shoulder and hand resting on his son's shoulder, a more than macho looking image, exuberant with national pride. Richard claimed that the ability to sculpt such images has been lost today and I think he is right. We backtracked a little and rode up the Reuss valley to Erstfeld (472m), where the heavily used Gotthard railway abruptly begins its climb with a 2.7% grade at the end of the marshaling yard. We took note of a retired and famous articulated "crocodile" locomotive on display across from the train station.

Our climb started in Amsteg where the road abruptly begins climbing after the huge SBB (federal railway) power plant, whose size is being tripled by new turbines and penstocks, entirely underground in the granite walls behind the old plant. From here the road offers a canyon of rock walls, penetrated by railway tunnels and bridges with the roaring Reuss below. Nearly all traffic uses the parallel motorway so we had a nearly private road to Wassen (916m) at the junction with the Susten road. Here the train station has large warnings that trains travel opposite to their logical destinations because the town is in the middle of several reversing loops from which passengers see its church spire four times. Rt N20, the Susten pass, heads into the rock wall to the north right from the center of town.

I call the Susten pass the glacier highway of Switzerland for its many great ice flows and snowy peaks. This climb can also be a little defeating, because farther up nearly the entire continuous grade up the long curved valley becomes visible. In spite of its good alignment, it is neither steep enough nor smooth enough to make a high speed descent. For some who expect to go fast, descending the south slope is disappointing bicycling, that is, if its scenic beauty is ignored. Midway up the valley the long paved detour around the rock slide that blocked the road for four years had, in true Swiss environmental style, been de-paved, planted with natural grasses, and had boulders placed at regular intervals to dissuade MTB riders from descending the grade that was still kept in reserve in the event of future road closures. An even steeper trace of the old Roman road can be seen zig zagging its way up over the old summit.

Passing through the Susten summit tunnel (2224m) brought a panorama of the Sustenhorn (3503m) and its huge Steingletcher that spreads ice to the valley far below the road. The ride down the Gadmental is exciting and beautiful, with broad curved tunnels opening vistas to ice fields and waterfalls that go over some of the short tunnels. The peaks of the Berner Oberland became visible as we broke out into the Haslital and dropped to Inertkirchen (625m). We sprinted up the four legs of the Kirchet (700m) to the Gasthaus Lammi that was closed on Tuesdays to my disappointment, so we coasted down to the Hotel Tourist in Willigen (600m) where we took an outdoor table in the shade of a horse chestnut tree to escape the hot sun.

As we sat there, Richard mused that we had a great ride and that I had shown him more than he expected, but... we had not experienced an Alpine rain storm. Facing west, I sat across from Richard as we quaffed our steins of beer and noticed a dark wall of clouds over the Brienzersee, about 10 kilometers away. As the clouds got closer, I moved the menus and condiment trays from the four tables on the deck indoors. Soon the warm still air had an unrest to it that didn't seem to have any specific direction, but I moved our bicycles to the lee side of the building just the same. Then it hit, tablecloths, table umbrellas, and chairs went flying as the twister-like wind hit and the heavens thundered. We scrambled to move the umbrellas and tablecloths inside, stack chairs, and drop the folding tops of the concrete based tables, as heavy low angled rain tore leaves from the trees.

Mission accomplished, we sat just inside the open doorway and watched the weather do its thing as we enjoyed our lunch, no one making much of an event that is common in the summer. After we finished a delicious dessert and watched the rain move off toward the Susten pass, the lady in charge told us the dessert was on the house for our efforts. We put on our jackets and rode off through Meiringen (595m) in a faint drizzle (for which Sherlock was properly dressed) that dried up as we started the grunt up the 13% part of the Brunig pass (1008m).

The weather was great with scattered clouds, no wind and mild temperatures as we rolled down to Lungern (752m), around the lake and then down to Giswil (485m) on the Sarner lake. It tried to rain on us just as we got under the elevated freeway before Hergiswil but it soon quit. In Horw on the military parade and football field, Zirkus Knie, the premier circus of Switzerland, had its tents set up for the week. We rode on through Luzern and "home" under pleasant skies.

Summing up...

Richard had one Michelin-wire flat with two repeats before we found the wire, two broken spokes, and one seat post failure. I had no mechanical problems after the snake bite on the warm-up ride. That was OK for 3150km, 54378m, and 18 days on the road.
This is part 4 of a report consisting of 4 parts. See Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, the Index, or the (big!) one-file version.