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

Tour of the Alps 2003

By Jobst Brandt, Mon, 22 Sep 2003 14:59:57 -0700 (PST)

On Thursday, 26 June, Jeanie Barnett and I flew with Lufthansa from San Francisco to Frankfurt and then to Zurich where we arrived just after noon on Friday. I had my bicycle, a suitcase and small carry-on. Jeanie had a carry-on and a Bike Pro bicycle case. We took a train from the airport to Schwyz where Edith Dierauer picked us up for the short ride to their house in Ibach, the town where Victorinox, aka Swiss Army Knife, is at home.  Edith and Turi Dierauer have been my gracious hosts for many bike tours and the senior Dierauers before that.  After we prepared our bicycles for our departure the next day, we enjoyed a great home-cooked dinner before getting good night's rest.

1. Saturday, 28 June (Ibach - Rosenlaui; 104km, 1260m):


As we got ready to leave, I realized that the shopping bag with my bicycling clothes was still standing in my kitchen at home, so we visited two bike shops to get refitted, size 48 SPD shoes being the main problem. Back in Ibach, properly equipped, we finally got on the road at about noon under clear skies and with pleasant temperatures.  The heat wave that gripped western Europe the last few weeks had blown away. We rolled down to Brunnen on the Vierwaldstettersee (aka Lake of Lucerne) and took the Axenstrasse along the east shore toward the Gotthard Pass.

The Axenstrasse is noted for its rocky cliffs dropping steeply to the water.  The railway stays mostly in tunnels, and we ducked in and out of short tunnels as we made our way to Flüelen at the end of the lake.  It was along these cliffs that William Tell is said to have duped the Austrians who had taken him captive.  They were returning by boat to their headquarters when a fierce storm arose. Tell convinced them to take off his shackles so he could guide them to a safe landing along these cliffs.  Instead he jumped ship when they got close to the wall and vanished up trails that only the locals knew.  The Austrians went under, according to the chronicles of Friedrich von Schiller, who created William Tell as a composite figure of the Swiss nationalists.

In Altdorf, with a mural of the Alps of canton Uri as backdrop, Tell stands proudly, bigger than life, in bronze, son at his side, with crossbow (Swiss trade mark) over his shoulder.

There isn't much flatland in Uri and most of that is taken by the Reuss, the Swiss federal railway (SBB), the Gotthard Highway and a four-lane autobahn. If that weren't enough, a short distance beyond Altdorf, the huge SBB Gotthard tunneling project at Erstfeld (472m) covers much of what is left before the Reuss valley becomes a steep alpine ravine.

We started climbing above Erstfeld at the SBB hydropower plant in Amsteg, where the grade gets steeper abruptly across a stone-arch bridge over the Reuss. The highway wends its way along the granite walls while the double track SBB, in order to not exceed a 2.7% grade, uses helical tunnels to gain altitude on its way to the 16 km Gotthard Tunnel. Meanwhile the four-lane autobahn remained mostly out of sight in tunnels and avalanche sheds.

The SBB makes three passes using looping tunnels to gain elevation at Wassen (916m). The Wassen train station lies between two of these loops so that trains pass opposite from their logical direction, northbound trains traveling south and southbound trains, north. Although the SBB runs left hand traffic, these tracks are signaled in both directions so that trains can run in either direction during maintenance, making train boarding even more confusing at times. The Wassen church is famous for being seen three times from the train, from below, at grade and from above.

We stopped for some food before heading into the Meiental that lies hidden behind a granite wall through which the Meienreuss River escapes in a slot. The road starts climbing after leaving the town square and soon enters a curved tunnel connected by a stone arch bridge over the river to another tunnel. How the ancients got through here is unclear, but farther up, the old Susten pack animal route is still visible as it zigzags steeply up the headwall of the canyon. The road has a fairly continuous 8% grade with a couple of steep parts with 10%. I call the Susten the glacier highway of the Alps for its spectacular ice fields.

A thin high overcast was augmented by thin stratified fog as we reached the summit tunnel of the Susten Pass (2224m). The fog left the magnificent scenery discernable but out of reach of the camera. We could just barely make out the huge Steingletscher and Sustenhorn intermittently through the fog. Descending through bare rock tunnels, we passed the base of the glacier where we got out of the fog on our way to Innertkirchen (625m). We crossed the Haslital and Aar River to climb the short Kirchet  (709m) with its four hairpin turns that go over and around the Aareschlucht, an impressive slot in the cliffs, through which the Aar River and a railway tunnel pass.

Just beyond the pass, across from the Lammi restaurant, we turned off to Rosenlaui. This road is steep and little more than one-lane wide as it climbs through a forest to the canyon of the roaring Reichenbach where Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Moriarty met their deaths over the falls in 1891.

Hotel Zwirgi in Schattenhalb, the junction of the road from Meiringen, was elegantly rebuilt, looking much like the old one that burned to the ground two years ago. I stopped at the water works for a big drink of ice cold water where the phrase "Das Wasser ist das Beste" graces the wall above the fountain. The climb to Rosenlaui is still no trifle as it rapidly gains altitude past hotel Kaltenbach, finally leveling off in the Rosenlaui Valley.

Although it had rained a bit before we got there, we got a splendid view of the Rosenlaui Glacier as we rode along the now placid Reichenbach. At Hotel Rosenlaui we were met by Andreas Kehrli, the proprietor, who was caring for a large tour group. As has happened before, the hotel was full but there was still room in the dormitory annex where we could stay, thanks to the boss. As always, we had a hearty dinner and a great stay.

2. Sunday, 29 June (Rosenlaui - Hospental; 138km, 2932m)


We got underway early after a rich buffet breakfast and started up the easy part of the Große Scheidegg Pass under brilliant skies and balmy weather. At the end of the public road, at Schwarzwaldalp, a steep 100m-long connector got us to the Grindelwald Bus road. Access is restricted on this smoothly paved road that is only as wide as the bus that does not slow down for bicyclists. Something worth knowing.

This beautiful route climbs through meadows with grazing cows amidst wildflowers, all in the shadow of the massive Wetterhorn. We passed a new wooden farmhouse with beautifully hand-carved beams, windowsills, and flower boxes. An inscription with the year 2002 carved into its main transom will remind people after it has become nearly black with time, like its century old neighbors, when it was that the wood was fresh and yellow.

Even with fair weather, or maybe because of it, we could hear icefalls crashing down the Wetterhorn (3701m) that was still casting a long shadow our way. From Große Scheidegg (1961m), under beautifully clear skies, we saw the dark north face of the Eiger in front of the pure white Jungfrau with Grindelwald (1034m) lying below like a miniature village amidst steep green meadows.

We were back on public roads as we passed the Grindelwald train station, where the Berneroberlandbahn (BOB) meter gauge (adhesion and Riggenbach cogwheel) railway makes connections with the Wengeralpbahn (WAB) 800mm gauge (Riggenbach cogwheel) train that crosses the valley to the Kleine Scheidegg (2016m). Here the famed Jungfraubahn meter gauge (Strub cogwheel) tunnels inside the Eiger (3970m) to the station in an ice cave on the Jungfraujoch saddle (3454m) between Mönch (4099m) and Jungfrau (4158m).

Following the cascading Schwarze Luetschine that joins the Weisse Luetschine from Lauterbrunnen at Zweiluetschinen, we crossed the river on bridges engulfed in chilled air from the icy river. The road levels off at Wilderswil (584m), where the Schynige Platte Bahn (SPB), 800mm gauge train (Riggenbach cogwheel) climbs to the Schynige Platte (2061m) for a marvelous panorama of the Jungfrau group. The beautifully clear weather brought many passengers to the mountain railways.

We passed the large meadow in the middle of Interlaken (563m) that gives a postcard view up the Lauterbrunnental to the Jungfrau. We crossed the Aar River and rode along the north shore of the Brienzersee to Brienz, a small town in a narrows between the cliffs and the deep blue lake. Here the steam-powered Brienzer Rothornbahn (BRB), 800mm (Abt cogwheel) railway climbs through tunnels in rugged cliffs to the top of the Brienzer Rothorn (2353m).  In my estimation, this is the premier mountain railway of the Alps. The pungent smell of coal smoke from one of the locomotives wafted across the road as we passed.


We photographed Sherlock Holmes, in life-sized bronze, with pipe, cape, and deerstalker cap sitting in the middle of Meiringen, the home of meringue. After Willigen, a short climb up the Kirchet (709m) got us to the Lammi that we had passed the day before, for lunch. Under Eichhof and Rivella umbrellas, we and many motorcyclists enjoyed a good outdoor lunch.

On the way to the Grimsel Pass up the Haslital, we took a picture of the huge granite sculpture of man-with-jackhammer at the Kraftwerke Oberhhasli (KWO) power plant. The climb has three reprieves, one in Guttannen (1057m), where there is a good grocery store, and another at Handegg (1402m), where there are accommodations in case of foul weather, and finally one above the upper dam. The road climbs between granite walls up to two concrete dams, one above the other, that are reached in winter by giant aerial trams.

Above Handegg the road enters a one-kilometer tunnel where bicyclists must (and prefer to) take the old cobblestone road, notched into the granite wall high above the Aar. The detour is less steep than the one kilometer tunnel and offers great scenery. As we reached the upper Grimsel lakes, the Finsteraarhorn (4275m), tallest peak in the Bernese Alps, lay at the end of the valley to the west.  It is called "finster" (dark) because like the Eiger, it is too steep to retain snow. It stands over the Unteraar and Oberaar Glaciers, the sources of the Aar River. There was none of the usual snow or ice on the summit lake as we reached the Grimsel Pass (2165m).

From the Grimsel, the Rhone Valley made a beautiful panorama in the afternoon light, without the usual afternoon fog to wipe out the view. Nearly straight below, under a series of hairpin turns, was Gletsch (1759m), with its hotels, train station, and road junction with the Furka Pass. Above to the east, the Galenstock (3583m) and the gap of Furka Pass to the south were the backdrop for the Rhone Glacier and Hotel Belvedere. We stopped in Gletsch at the Dampfbahn Furka Bergstrecke (DFB Furka Steam Railway) train station, perused their collection of historic books, and paid membership dues before riding up the Furka Pass.

The climb is easy with only one steep section before the photogenic hairpin turn below the Belvedere (2272m). This place offers a great opportunity to pose with the bicycle in a hairpin turn with a glacier backdrop.

The Furka Pass (2431m), 266m higher than the Grimsel, lies in the gap at the head of this bare valley, swept clean except for some shrubs, by winter avalanches. The Furka gives an awesome panorama that, as I experienced once on an exceptionally clear day, can include the Matterhorn to the west. Below, the DFB west portal of its summit tunnel appeared tiny in this gigantic landscape.

We crossed the Furka summit and coasted swiftly through Tiefenbach and Galenstock on the long 8% descent to Realp (1538m) at the base of the grade. We cruised on the long straight road down the valley, next to the Furka Oberalp RR to Hospental (1452m), the junction of the Gotthard and Furka Passes. As usual, we found a good dinner and lodging at Hotel Rössli where we were welcomed as "regulars".

3. Monday, 30 June (Hospental - Borgosesia; 197km, 1264m)


We rode up the old cobblestone street of Hospental, formerly the main road in the days when highways connected towns and had no reason to bypass them. We joined the wide concrete Gotthard Highway at the Furka junction and started up the pass. Here, above tree line, only scrub brush, grass, wildflowers, and alpenrosen decorate the landscape. The alpenrose, an azalea prevalent throughout the Alps, has blossoms of pink and red

offset against dark green leaves, often surrounded by bouquets of deep blue gentians, pale blue forget-me-nots, and many varieties of daisies and dandelions.

As often, various motor rallies take place on summer weekends and today it was Lanz Bulldog day, for the one-cylinder farm tractor that plowed the big fields of Europe in years past. Beautifully restored tractors with cabs, painted with shiny auto enamel, came rolling by with the distinctive thump-thump-thump of that huge cylinder. Each had a trailer since farm tractors don't have storage space.

I posed for a photo at the Gotthard (2108m) summit sign at the lake as I had on my first tour in 1959. We photographed the serpentine curves of the old Val Tremola road from the new road before entering the long tunnel that emerges high above the Val Bedretto on a flying hairpin turn, 520m above Fontana. Below, at the Fortezza (1551m), bicycles must take the old ROUGH road paved with 10cm grey granite cubes, where the center stripe is made of orange granite. Pavement is especially bad in curves because the stones are tilted from side forces. The road levels off and returns to smooth pavement in Airolo (1165m), the south portal of the Gotthard railway and highway tunnels.

From Airolo the road, autostrada, railway and Ticino River cross each other often as they descend the Valle Levantina. Below Airolo lie two relatively flat valleys, each with a town at the lower and upper end that give their names to the Ambri-Piotta and Rodi-Fiesso valleys. At Piotta the world's steepest federal railway connects a large SBB aka FFS (Ferrovie Federali Svizzere in Ticino) hydroelectric plant with its reservoir, the Lago di Ritom. The Swiss federal railway logo looks odd on such a funicular rail car.

At the end of the Rodi-Fiesso Valley we descended from Rodi (925m) to Faido (711m), while trains, some with distinctive freight and international passenger cars, passed us in both directions on the adjacent double track Gotthard railway. It was apparent that we had seen these trains before, because the FFS uses two stacked corkscrew looping tunnels to lose altitude on the steep slope to Faido.

We passed two more circular tunnels at Anzonico before rolling into the wide and flat valley just above Bodio (322m), the south portal of a new 58km Gotthard Railway Tunnel. We rode through Biasca where, due to the heat and drought, the crossing waterfalls were not crossing and had only a trickle. From Bellinzona (239m) we took a road construction detour around Giubiasco that got us away from the Lugano and Locarno traffic and put us back on our route after Cadenazzo.

Most traffic went south over the Monte Ceneri Pass (559m) to Lugano and Milano while just beyond, at Quartino, most remaining traffic went toward Locarno on the west shore of Lago Maggiore (193m). We stayed on the east shore, stopping in San Nazzaro for lunch. We crossed the Italian border at Zenna where we were waved on as usual... but not always.

In Luino my favorite bancomat wasn't working so we had to find another to stock up on Euros. From Luino we rode along the lake in a series of tunnels and slide protection galleries and then climbed over a hill to Laveno. We took the ferry across the lake and landed in Intra, on the fancier western shore with its famous resorts. We rode up the Valle d'Ossola along the Toce River, which flows from the San Giacomo Pass, and rode along the estuary to Fondo where we crossed the river to Gravellona and climbed a short hill to Omegna (298m). Our road stayed above Lago d'Orta (290m) with steep shores on three sides. We rode along the high east shore, looking down on resorts and old villas along picturesque shores and a lovely La Basilica di San Giulio in a monastery on the island of San Giulio off the tip of a small peninsula.

At Gozzano (367m), on the south end of the lake, our road headed west along the hills climbing a short steep hill to Pogno (461m), where the four-spigot fountain on the piazza would have come in handy but it was out of order. We climbed west up a canyon in a blooming chestnut forest, typical of the southern slope of the Alps, and broke through the ridge at an unexpected tunnel (598m), from where it was all downhill to Borgosesia (359m). The Sesia was still not entirely recovered from the summer floods of 2002 but there were swans and ducks in the less-than-crystal-clear waters. We found a reasonable hotel and had a cool night’s rest here in the Piemonte.

4. Tuesday, 01 July (Borgosesia - Carignano; 161km, 1004m)


We climbed to Valle Mosso and rolled down the long descent to Pettinengo in the valley and crossed a few low ridges on the way to Biella (410m). Following the edge of the hills westward, we skirted several glacial ridges that slope to the Po Valley to reach Zubiena (492m) and descend to Ivrea (254m) and the Dora Baltea River. We gave my cycling friend Brian Tomlin a call, so he could meet us at the bridge over the Dora Baltea in the center of town. We followed him to his place where he prepared a gourmet meal for us and his wife and daughter, who appreciate his skills as an Anglo-Italian chef.

After lunch, Brian suited up and paced us on a fast ride through the hills on back roads to Torino on our way south. He dropped us off at Fiano at a Shell mini-mart to return to work as we headed south to Rt SS20, the Tenda highway. As we entered Torino, traffic was less than ideal at what seemed to be rush hour. We threaded our way through the major routes but there was no letup as we took a slower route through town that had streetcar tracks in a reserved right-of-way, a salvation of sorts. Just the same Jeanie took a spill on the tracks and bruised her hip.

When we reached Carignano, we stopped and an owner of an electrical appliance shop became concerned about Jeanie's distress. He stored our bicycles in his store and took us to the local first aid crew who seemed unduly enthusiastic to have a patient. We were glad for the ice-pack but the ride in their ambulance to Torino was not what we had in mind. Once caught in the emergency room routine it was hard to get out. However, we were reassured that nothing was broken and that the injury needed healing time. After some overnight rest in a hotel in Torino, we dodged out of a return visit the next day and headed south by taxi, picked up our bicycles and were on our way.

5. Wednesday, 02 July (Carignano - Sospel); 173km, 2096m)


Rt SS20, the Tenda highway, took us south to Carmagnola, and Raconigi, the former residence of the Savoy family before Italy abolished its monarchy. We took pictures of storks nesting in large decorative urns atop the huge red sandstone palace before heading south to Cuneo.

As we approached Cuneo, the road turned west along the north bank of the Stura di Demonte, where a beautifully restored bi-level stone arch bridge carries road and railway high above the river. As often, there were plenty of delicious tart Japanese plums on trees along the bridge approach. I ate plenty of plums for my vitamin-C RDA.

We took a right just after the bridge and stopped for a good drink from the huge fountain in front of the Cuneo train station. We rode up to Borgo San Dalmazzo, where we turned south on the Tenda Highway (SS20) to Robilante while SS21 heads west to France over the Col de Larche. Being Sunday, Eliano Giordanengo's amazing chainsaw store in Robilante was closed, so we couldn't say hello or enter the catacombs containing hundreds of new and used chainsaws. However, we stopped by Ristorante-Albergo Aquila Riale, one of my favorite stops, for a good lunch that would take us over the hill to France.

Most of the storm damage from last year, along the Vermenagna River, was repaired with hardly a mark except to the inquisitive eye. From Limone (990m), the climb to the tunnel gets steeper and makes a few large hairpin turns on the way up to entrance of the 3180m-long Tenda highway tunnel (1279m), completed in its present form in 1882. A "bicycles prohibited" icon sign stands at the tunnel portal, just beyond a small shop with refreshments and a good selection of local maps. Meanwhile, the old Tenda road, looking like a hotel driveway, takes off across the street to Limonetto. Pavement ends at the summit and we were back on the 19th century road.

Sixty or so hairpin turns descend steeply into the ravine of the Roya River. The loose and deeply rutted turns of last year had been repaired, making the descent easier. Historic photographs of mule and horse teams, steam tractors, and solid-tired chain-driven trucks that once traveled this road make today's "hardships" pale in comparison.

Below, in the rocky gorge of the Roya River, we finally left the gravel and got on the swift smooth curves of the Tende highway, French Rt N204, where it emerges from the tunnel (1279m). The railway emerges from its tunnel at Vievola (990m), only to vanish into a loop tunnel followed by many bridges as it descends to Tende (816m). The road gradient is about 8% here, so it is not difficult to keep a good pace down into the Soarge Gorge. The road to the town of Soarge heads into a tunnel whose few windows in the canyon wall reveal its route as it climbs to Soarge, a strip of houses glued to the cliffs, some with as much as a hundred meter freefall from their windows.

After the brisk ride down the Roya, past Tende and the Gorge du Soarge, we stopped in St. Dalmas for a grocery store snack before turning west up Rt D2204, just above Breil (286m), to the Col de Brauis (879m). The landscape is Mediterranean with sparse vegetation, olive trees and blooming bright yellow leafless broom (gorse) with a pleasantly sweet scent. About two-thirds the way up, a lovely fountain with a sign on it to not drink the water was good as ever and I've never suffered for it over many years although my sore throat wasn't getting any better.


The descent to Sospel (349m), the junction of the Brauis, Braus, and Turini passes is pleasantly gradual. We took a picture of the old stone arch bridge and its collage of buildings over the Bevera River, reminiscent of the Ponte Vecchio in Florence. Since it was dinner time, we found a hotel where we ate dinner and returned to the "ice cream store" and deli for desert. The proprietor, my favorite small town philosopher, told us that the place has been in the family for several generations. Over the years, he has greeted us as though we were regulars although visits are only once a year. This time I got his e-mail address.

6. Thursday, 03 July (Sospel - St Martin Vesubie; 54km, 1668m)


We headed up the valley on Rt D70 to the Turini Pass (1607m) of Monte Carlo Automobile Rallye fame. After climbing up the wall of the gorge of the Bevera, the road enters a pine and larch forest that offers shade for the bicyclist to make this a pleasant climb. I felt my sore throat changing into a coughing cold although I climbed with relative ease. After the descent with its grand views of the Gorges de Vesubie and the many twists of the Turini Pass below, Bollene-Vesubie presented the usual portrait shot before we descended to the Vesubie River (520m).

On the road up the gradual grade to St. Martin Vesubie (930m), fever caught up with me and I had a hard time reaching town, resting a couple of times even though it wasn't hot and the grade was light. The usual Hotel Le Gelas was full so we found a hotel on the main square where we ate dinner and I took a big rest. St. Martin Vesubie is a pleasant town lying at the foot of the narrows leading to Col St. Martin aka Colmain (1500m).

7. Friday, 04 July (St. Martin Vesubie - St. Martin Vesubie; 0km)

No fireworks, just rest.

8. Saturday, 05 July (St. Martin Vesubie - Barcelonnette; 140km, 3444m)


After a day’s rest I felt better but unsure of how my wheezing body would work. To my surprise I got better as I rode up the Colmain. The climb exposes a beautiful panorama of St. Martin and the Vesubie Valley as the road, notched into cliffs, passes between rough hewn tunnels. Crag Martins, grey-brown, swallow-like birds, make nests in the ceilings of some of the tunnels and dart in and out past traffic on their way to feed their young. Traffic and diesel exhaust seem not to bother them. We descended toward the Tinée, first through a large grassy ski area, and then into dry sparse vegetation in the red rocky Gorges de Valabre (503m).

Across the Tinée, in the Gorges de Valabre, roads that are tiring just to look at follow tortuous paths up through cliffs to mountain villages like Ilonse (1200m). We crossed the Tinée at St. Sauveur (510m) on Rt D30 and headed up the Col de la Couillole (1678m). Near the top, we passed the ancient village of Rubion, a typical hill town located on steep terrain as a protection against invasion. Over the Couillole we descended to Beuil (1450m) and climbed to Croix de Valberg (1829m).

We took the "back" road, Rt D29, down to Guillaumes (1200m) and rode up Rt N2202 in the Gorges de Daluis along the Var River toward the Col de la Cayolle (2327m). This area appeals to me especially because most of it lies in a national park with no ski areas and accompanying development and having only villages with simple accommodations. The Cayolle is also the first 2000m pass I rode over on my 1960 tour and has remained unchanged. The climb, and especially the summit, is set in the midst of steep alpine meadows that were covered with an exceptional display of wildflowers this time. There is nothing more than a narrow parking strip at the summit. We descended through the Gorges du Bachelard along the Torrente Bachelard to Barcelonnette (1136m) where we found a comfortable hotel.

9. Sunday, 06 July (Barcelonnette - Le Lauzet; 126km, 2940m)


As most days, we started off with a tailwind, even if it was only a light breeze, as we rode up the Ubey River to Jausiers and Condamine (1267m) at the foot of the Col de Larche and Col de Vars. Just above Condamine the mountain is riddled with tunnels from the valley floor to cliffs above, where huge fortifications are from the times of  the Maginot concept of fortresses. Many bullet holes in the  concrete and stone buildings remain as combat mementos.

We started up the Route des Grand Alpes (D902), climbing the Col de Vars (2111m) just beyond the junction with the Col de Larche (1991m), aka Colle della Maddalena from the Italian side. Interestingly, Col de Vars has kilometer posts with distance to the summit and average gradient, and has a randonneur sign-in stamp at the summit, something we didn't notice elsewhere. At the summit I was surprised to see that the ramshackle corrugated steel shed, that I first saw in 1960 and had collapsed during the winter of 2001, was again repaired after being a mere pile of corrugated sheet metal last year. Of course I bought some post cards and a soda.

On the descent to Guillestre (1000m), I could make out the gap of the Galibier Pass in the distant panorama of snowy peaks and glaciers above the Durance Valley. We took the Route des Grand Alpes (D902) over the Izoard instead of the main route (N94) up the valley to Briancon. Our road followed the rugged gorge of the Guil River and turned up the Riviere canyon where the Passo Agnello route (D947) comes in from the east. It was easy going up to Arvieux, where we stopped for some pastires before hitting the steep grade.

Our tailwind turned into a headwind as we started up the straight steep section from Arvieux past Brunnisard to the Col d'Izoard. The going got easier above Brunnisard, where the grade eases and the road goes into traverses and hairpin turns. At the false summit we saw the rest of the climb across the canyon zig-zagging to the obelisk that marks the summit. With a short descent and a bit of climbing, we arrived at the Coppi memorial where a bronze caricature of Fausto is mounted on a marble plaque. This treeless landscape looks like the moon, with vast slopes of dark grey scree at the angle of repose. The exposure makes this climb especially difficult in warm weather.

From the Izoard (2361m), the gap of the Galibier Pass was again visible in the distance. Descending the unspectacular road, we arrived in Briancon (1391m), a large town overrun with tourists and traffic, where we took Rt N91 (also D902) with its gentle slope of 2% to 4% to the Col du Lautaret (2058m). We stopped at Hotel des Amis in Le Lauzet for the day.

10. Monday, 07 July (Le Lauzet - Bonneval-sur-Arc); 113km, 2146m)


The Lautaret Pass, being a fairly flat ride all the way from Briancon, made it a pleasant warm-up before heading up the Galibier Pass. 

The new Hotel des Glaciers on the Lautaret summit was splendidly built after the old hotel burned three years ago. Last year I found that the new hotel was designed around the grand dining room and centerpiece of grandfather Bonnabel's unfinished project and that it exceeded the expense and class of hotels that I chose to stay in. I tried it once and that was enough. Neither of the Bonnabels were there when we dropped in to say hello, so we rode on up the Galibier in the cool morning air.

The Galibier road is a bit steeper but still mild up to the summit tunnel that has been reopened after 40 years or so, enabling tour buses to once again carry their guests over this pass.  In contrast to last year, cars were waiting at the traffic light at the one way tunnel (2555m) so I didn't try to ride through it this time.

We road over the top (2645m), where we had a panorama of the glaciers of the Massif de la Vanoise (3600m) and the Massif du Sorieller (4000m). The descent from the tunnel portal is about 6-8% to Plan Lachat, where it requires pedaling over a long flat section.

At Valloire (1430m) streets were jammed with an ATV show that took over the whole town, and we lost a bit of time by not taking the detour around town and weaving through all the stands and parked vehicles. I didn't believe a trade show could so solidly block all the streets that a bicycle couldn't get through. It was cloudy with high overcast as we climbed from Valloire (1430m), to the Telegraph (1570m) before descending to St Michel du Maurienne (712m).

As we descended the Telegraph we could see that highway construction had progressed enough that we would have it fairly easy in contrast to the detours and heavy construction traffic of last year. It was fairly calm as we rode up the old highway with most traffic on the completed motorway to Modane (1057m), where the railway heads for the Frejus tunnel (built in 1871) to Torino and the motorway heads to its 12.9Km tunnel leaving us on a fairly empty Rt N6 toward Lanslebourg (1400m).


Just above Modane we saw the aeronautical research center below in Le Bourget at the end of the valley. I had seen this research center, with its conspicuous group of four spherical air tanks, typical of supersonic research, on previous tours and wondered whether it was still active.  This time the wind tunnel went into action for about two minutes, roaring like a 747 on takeoff. I wonder what the citizens in the valley, where the sound must be deafening, have to say about this.


The road levels off next to the Barriere de l'Esseillon, a deep defile of the Arc River and natural obstacle, guarded by a huge fortress.  This pass posed a formidable obstacle to invaders in ancient times.  Tourists cross the breathtaking gorge to the fort on the Pont du Diable, a slender truss foot bridge that accentuates the depth of the chasm.


Beyond the gorge, we descended to the valley floor and rolled gradually up to Termignon (1300m). From here, it's a short climb to Lanslebourg (1399m), from where the Col du Mont Cenis (2083m) connects to Torino.

We stopped for a snack in Lanslevillard, the upper end of Lanslebourg, below the Col du Madeleine (1746m), a short but steep climb into the high valley of the Arc. On the way to Bonneval-sur-Arc, at the end of the valley, great panoramas of the Glacier des Evettes on the slopes of the Croce Rossa (3546m), Uia di Ciamarella (3676m), and l'Albaron (3638m) open to the east. We stopped in Bonneval-sur-Arc (1835m) at the big sweeping turn where the main climb to the Col de l'Iseran starts.

11. Tuesday, 08 July (Bonneval-sur-Arc - Etroubles); 150km, 2968m)


We made the two long traverses from Bonneval up to the Gorge de la Lenta, a box canyon that lies south of the pass. The road climbs up the east wall and over waterfalls and through bare rock tunnels. At the top of the headwall, where the Lenta cascades into the gorge through a slot, the road crosses the river on a stone bridge to enter a narrow high valley. From here, two long traverses to the summit of the Col de l’Iseran (2770m), where we were surrounded by a breathtaking panorama.

After a photo stop at the large concrete sign on the summit, we put on jackets and descended to Val d'Isere. Under the beautifully clear skies, many vistas that I hadn't seen in recent years were visible, reminding me of past tours. At Ste. Foy-Tarentaise (1051m) we took Rt N90, a 'shortcut' to Col du Petite St. Bernard, something I hadn't tried before. This was not the great shortcut that it appears on the map, because the road winds around, rising and falling as it passes villages while offering little scenic advantage.

We joined Rt. N90 below Rosiere (1850m) and rode on to the Col du Petite St. Bernard (2189m) with a grand view of surrounding snow capped peaks. We descended along the Dora di Vinnei to Pré St. Didier, where the road from Courmayeur joins  and continued down the Dora Baltea to Aosta (581m). We took the road to the Col du Grand St. Bernard up to Etroubles (1264m). Although there is no separate autostrada, traffic was moderate to light, probably because the road is fairly straight and has a mild grade at least up to Etroubles, where we stopped for the day.

12. Wednesday, 09 July (Etroubles - Brig-Ried; 150km, 1692m)


After breakfast we pushed off into beautiful sunny weather and rolled up the gradual climb of the Valle del Gran San Bernardo to Bosses (1500m) where the St. Bernard autostrada begins, leaving us with a nearly empty road. The road is a bit narrower, reminding me of my first ride here in 1960 when there was even less traffic.

Val d'Aosta, originally being a French-speaking region, is a mixture of French and Italian place names. Courmayeur at the entrance to the Monte Bianco Tunnel to Chamonix, for instance, is almost entirely French speaking.

As we reached the summit of the Gran San Bernardo (2469m) we rode around the summit lake to take a picture at one of the last Swiss concrete road signs of the 1950's, where I posed just as I had back then. The sign is still there because the snow plow driver cannot knock it down, it being up against the monastery building... but he tried. The base of the post is cracked to expose its reinforcing bar.

I found the kiosks had horribly bad taste but they sell what the tourists buy and that is fuzzy, toy St. Bernard dogs in all sizes from pocket to life sized. The descent seems short before joining the tunnel road, although it is the same elevation change as the south approach. The road has long avalanche sheds and fast alignment so coasting at a brisk speed is a breeze.

We reached the valley at Orsiérs (901m) and rode the slight grade to Martigny (471m), pedaling lightly. As expected, we had a tailwind up the Rhone Valley that made the altitude gain of 210m over 82km almost like flatland. In fair weather, this east-west valley usually has a brisk uphill wind all summer.

Traffic was light, because most of it was on the parallel A9 motorway. This broad valley is the great fruit basket of Switzerland, just as the Alto Adige is in Italy. Orchards and vineyards fill the valley and reach high above on sunny terraced hillsides. Most vineyards are practically paved with flat river bed rocks to conserve water.

After Sion with its twin knobs with castles we passed Raron, the south portal of the new 42 km long Lötschberg base tunnel. Tunneling machinery, like that at the Gotthard, was hard at work bringing out huge tailings from under the mountain. Visp, the gateway to Zermatt has become a huge industrial zone with chemicals, oil refineries and truck depots, something that is more evident when seen from the Lötschberg (BLS) railway, that gives a birds-eye view of the valley on its way up to the existing tunnel.

After a brief visit in Brig (681m) we started up the Simplon Pass to stop in Brig-Ried (900m) for the night. It had been a warm afternoon but up on the hill, the air was cooler and pleasant.

13. Thursday, 10 July (Brig-Ried – All’Acqua 114km, 3100m)


I rode up the new Simplon road while Jeanie took the old road that is both shorter and steeper. The roads join just above the curved Schallberg tunnel into the Gantertal, high above the Saltina, the river through Brig. About a kilometer farther, on this nearly flat section of the road, a high concrete suspension bridge crosses the Gantertal to Berisal (1520m). The old road went around the end of valley that is an avalanche chute and was impassable in winter.

From Berisal we continued in the shade of a larch forest up to tree line where long avalanche shelters cover the road most of the distance to the Simplon summit (2005m). The air on the climb was pleasantly cool and under the clear sky the Eiger and the Aletsch Glacier were visible in the haze to the north. The Simplon Pass is one of the more exciting and scenic routes in the Alps. Unlike other major passes, it has no highway tunnel beneath it, yet has remarkably little traffic.

Today was a low-traffic day as we swept down into the galleries along the granite walls of the Gondo gorge, high above the Diveria River in the Val Divedro. After a long zigzag down the wall, we reached the small villages of Gabi, Gondo, and Iselle (672m) where the 20km Simplon railway tunnel emerges from its south portal to vanish again into a tunnel that makes a loop in the mountain to lose elevation at Varzo (532m). The Varzo bypass, being built over the Diveria looked like it was almost finished last year but it seems to be stalled at the moment. The long curved bypass is entirely on a steel bridge over the Diveria.

About a kilometer above Crevola d'Ossola (337m), that lies at the end of the narrow part of the canyon above the Valle d'Ossola, the highway enters an autos-only tunnel where bicycles must (and prefer to) take the old road into town. Shortly beyond the tunnel entrance we stopped at the graceful and ancient stone arch bridge to take a picture with Jeanie sitting on the top of the arch. We turned east at Crevola d'Ossola to the Val Antigorio passing Crodo (the home of Crodo Acqua Minerale) and on to Baceno (655m) for lunch at the confluence of the Toce and Devero rivers.

It being Thursday, the great waterfall, the Cascata del Toce, would be flowing, but from what was coming downstream, it looked as though the heat wave and drought reduced the falls to a minimum. Ente Nazionale Energia Elettrica (ENEL) the electric power authority takes all the water except Sundays and Thursday afternoons. From Baceno we followed the Toce up the Val Formazza where big trucks carried huge blocks of granite down to the stone works in Domodossola. This region has many granite quarries that supply these huge blocks to be made into beams, posts, slabs, curbs, table tops, roofing stone and decorative sculptures.

As we approached the top of the valley we could see the falls visible through the trees as the road began its climb in the granite wall of the gorge. Much of the road beneath the falls is in tunnels and avalanche sheds that end just before the Albergo Cascata del Toce di Riale (1675m) that stands at the edge of the waterfall.

This year the Giro d'Italia on Friday, 30 May, had a stage finish here, with Gilberto Simoni winning the stage in his 39t-21t gear, as he says. However, for touring, this is a beautiful route that above the falls enters a high Valle di Morasco with the village of Riale (1728m). From Riale we took the road San Giacomo Pass, that crosses the border into Switzerland. The road is unpaved from the days of yore, when it was probably first built by ENEL to the dam at the end of the lake. The road traverses the south side of the valley up to the dam. Although the road has not been graded recently, minimal car traffic keeps it ridable. Navigating the rough surface was better than last year with little need for dismounting. The solitude and striking landscape make this one of the great roads in the Alps.

The road levels off in the Val Toggia (2000m) and then climbs above the dam of Lago Toggia (2191m). With the heat wave that preceded our tour, there was no snow or ice on the lake as there was in other years. Today the lake was emerald blue and surrounded by green meadows and wildflowers. The road rises gradually past the lake to the San Giacomo Pass (2313m), where a small stone house at the end of the road marks the Swiss border. From here, only hiking trails continue. Over the years I have found one route that works best, the one marked for the Gries Pass (2479m) and from it, one that descends steeply to the Nufenen Pass road in the Val Bedretto.

The technique I use for descending steep hiking trails is to walk next to the bicycle applying the front brake while not restraining the bicycle by pulling back (up) on the bars. Pulling on the bars lifts the front wheel and puts the entire braking burden on the legs of the hiker. When I saw that Jeanie was having difficulty descending the trail, we traded bicycles and I discovered that what was easy with my bicycle, even with one hand on the bars, was difficult with Jeanie's dual pivot brakes, with their higher mechanical advantage. Although we weren't fast, the descent was, because it was so steep.

Near the bottom of the trail a mine seeking mountain crystals cut across the path so that we had to take a steep cutoff. However, the miners had installed a good temporary bridge across the Ticino River so we didn't get wet shoes walking through ice water. We stopped at a hotel a few kilometers down the valley at All’Acqua (1614m).

14. Friday, 11 July (All’Acqua - Bregaglia 190km, 3000m)


The morning was a breeze as we coasted down the Bedretto valley to Airolo and took a picture of the flying hairpin turn on the Gotthard from Fontana. From Airolo we retraced our earlier route to Castione (242m), and turned east before Bellinzona, up the Val Mesolcina to the San Bernardino Pass. The valley is fairly flat until Soazza, where the road begins to climb smartly to Mesocco (790m).

As we passed Ristorante Beer in Mesocco, where the same host presided for as many years as I can remember, there was a faded "Chiuso" sign in the door. This was sad because I so much wanted to once more experience the owner's ability to recite complex menus from memory and to keep in his head what every guest ordered without notes. The last two years, when he was still in business, I arrived on Wednesday, his "rest day".

We stopped at the grocery store just up the road and confirmed the suspicion that Hotel Restaurant Beer was closed for good. After a snack we started up the granite paving stones of Mesocco's 13% main street into a light breeze. The grade eased a bit at the end of the cobbles as the road climbed hairpin turns to Pian San Giacomo (1170m). From here the road meanders across a small valley before climbing over a ridge to San Bernardino (1607m), a charming little town in a glacial depression with a lake. The motorway takes a tunnel from here into the Hinterrhein Valley, leaving us to ride in peace over the pass.

After lunch, we rode up the most scenic part of this climb through glacial formations, amidst running water and green meadows of wildflowers, bog cotton, and alpenrosen. Remnants of the ancient Roman road, with large edge stones, still remained in a few places where it had not been obliterated by the new road.

We rode around the summit lake and past the San Bernardino monastery at the top (2603m). There were no dogs with rum kegs hanging from their collars like those in the gift shop, and I'm not sure there ever were any.

We descended into the Rheinwald Valley where it was pleasantly still in contrast to the usual gunnery practice on the artillery range above the village of Hinterrhein. We crossed the Hinterrhein River at the motorway tunnel portal, passed the town of Hinterrhein (1624m), and took the frontage road down to Splugen (1457m) into a light headwind. After stopping for some food at the market we turned south up the Splugen Pass.

We climbed along the stream through lush green meadows of the upper valley that were rich with the usual wildflowers and orange dandelions that seem to thrive at higher elevations. We saw only Wagtails along the creek where in past years I had seen Dippers, odd birds that walk under water. A Swiss Customs house lies above a stack of hairpin turns, a couple of kilometers below the summit, standing forlornly on an outcropping in the eye of a hairpin turn. Border guards have a sweeping view of the road from the valley up to the Splugen summit (2117m). Farther down at the Italian station, they gave our 'documenti' a thorough investigation, asked no questions and then let us continue.

Monte Spluga (1908m), a small village with granite houses with granite roofs at the upper end of a large ENEL lake, looked a little less depressing in sunshine than usual. The granite face of the dam carries a giant relief of "MDIVXXXV", its construction date. From here the road is unusual in that much of it is covered in avalanche protection tunnels.  In some places hairpin turns are stacked one above the other in cliffs. Although most of its one-lane sections have been widened, tour busses still avoid it for its tight curves. An alternate, but longer route with more generous curves, branches off in Isolato.

We descended the Val San Giacomo along the Liro river as the valley widened and became less steep on the way to Chiavenna (333m) in the Val Bregaglia. We turned up the valley toward the Maloja Pass and St. Moritz, crossing into Switzerland at Castasegna (696m) and rode up to the lovely old fashioned Post Hotel Bregaglia (820m) in Bondo, where we stopped for the night.

15. Saturday, 12 July (Bregaglia - Temú 143km, 2810m)


I was glad to see that although the road was widened, the leaning rock above Sottoponte was not destroyed and is now a narrows, probably because the new bypass tunnel was completed before getting a chance to blast this beautiful artifact.

We rode up the Val Bregaglia along the Mera to Casaccia (1458m), where the Septimer Pass (2310m), a Roman road, heads north, an interesting climbing adventure that I once took over to Bivio (1769m) on the Julier Pass (2284m). From Casaccia the road climbs steeply into a bowl and ascends the south wall to the Maloja Pass. The steep ramp was modified recently so that it has a pair of hairpin turns at the upper end -- a sort of Band-aid for an excessively steep section.

The Maloja Pass (1815m) is one sided with no descent to the east. The road follows the Silsersee that lies on the summit and then along the slightly lower Silvaplanasee. Beyond the St. Moritzersee, the road descends through a narrows into the Val Bernina where we joined the Bernina road at Champagna (1714m). We rode south through Pontresina (1805m) where we made a lunch stop at a grocery store.

Up the Val Bernina, at the Bellavista curve railway crossing (1950m) of the RhB Railway, we stopped for a picture, but as last year, no train came by to be photographed in front of the glacier. Instead we took pictures of bicycle racers rounding the curve. The upper Val Bernina is fairly flat but after the Diavolezza and Lagalp funiculars, the road climbs the last bump to the Bernina summit (2323m). Two lakes lie on opposite sides of the divide, where the waters of deep blue Lago Negro flow via the Inn and Danube rivers to the Black Sea, while those of milky white Lago Bianco flow via the Cavaliasco and Adda rivers to the Po and the Adriatic Sea.

The south side of the Bernina Pass is one of the longer descents in the Alps as it makes its way into the Val Poschiavo. A kilometer or so below the summit, we passed the junction (2045m) to the Forcola di Livigno Pass (2315m) to Livigno where a tunnel connects to the Ofen Pass and the Eira (2210m) and Foscagno (2291m) passes go to Bormio. After riding around Lago di Poschiavo we made the fast descent to Brusio where we stopped at Hotel Bottoni for a visit and a large ice cream sundae. Well fueled we passed the famous Brusio Loop of the RhB railway and crossed into Italy to Madonna di Tirano.

A short way down the valley from Madonna di Tirano we crossed the valley to Stazzona and took the road up through the woods to intersect the Aprica Pass road (Rt N39). From Aprica (1176m) on the summit, we descended the long gentle grade to Edolo (690m), passing the foot of the Mortirolo Pass (1896m) at Monno (868m) and stopping in Temú.

At Temú (1144m), just below Ponte di Legno, we found lodging just up the street from the Locanda Veduta dell'Adamello that was booked full but had room for us for a delicious dinner. Silvano Macculotti, the proprietor, explained that his old hotel across the street was wrapped up in family disagreement, his family having operated the hotel for more than three generations.

16. Sunday, 13 July (Temú - Kortsch; 110km, 2964m)


We rode through Ponte di Legno (1258m) where Torrente Frigidolfo rages through the middle of town. We stayed on the north side of the river to reach the nearly flat, lush green valley below Pezzo (1565m), a typically picturesque hill town glued to the side of the mountain in what appears to be high-risk avalanche territory. The shape of the slopes above apparently protect it from white death. We climbed through the larch forest to break out into Sant’Apollonia (1585m) where the Frigidolfo meanders across the flat valley with no hint of its cascades below, or waterfalls above.

We stopped at the gazebo that currently offers only one flavor of rusty bubbly mineral water for those who seek its benefits masked by its foul flavor. This water is thought to give strength to bicyclists who dare climb the Gavia or at least to those who dare to drink. After getting past the warning signs of landslides, rockfall, dangerous narrow road, and a requirement to have tire chains on board from September to July, we were on our way. Past the second hairpin, reality strikes as the road goes from highway to driveway width, and the 16% sign of poster fame sets the tone. The road is only that steep in a few places, but the signs are a warning for vehicles that cannot restart on such a grade after meeting a descending vehicle. The bicyclist can always walk. We stopped at the cliff, the scene of the poster picture of years ago that hangs on the wall in the Rifugio Bonetta on the summit. In many attempts we have not been able to match that photo.

We stopped in at the Rifugio to say hello to Signor Bonetta. As last year, there was "mail" taped to the glass on the poster with a greeting from a fellow bikie. There were about 100 riders outside finishing a cyclospotif hillclimb that had come up from Santa Caterina on the north side. We thanked Signor Bonetta for his hospitality and rolled off across the broad summit.

As we crossed the summit, the Ortler (3905m) and Gran Zebru (3851m) with their glacial caps and perpetual glistening snow rose to the east as we descended onto the Valle Valfurva. The Val di Gavia got steeper as we passed Rifugio Breni (2543m) on the way down to the main road in Santa Caterina (1734m). Valfurva Valley is a steep dash from the town of Valfurva (1339m) to Bormio (1197m). We rode up Via Roma, a pedestrian mall and main street of Bormio, and stopped at the large Pizzeria across from Braulio liqueur HQ.

Well fed and rested, we rode up the rocky Val Braulio, where the road clings to the south side below slopes of scree, ducking into the mountain in long avalanche tunnels before reaching the headwall at Spondalunga. Here the road makes ten traverses to climb to the Bocca di Braulio, a curved valley that leads to the Umbrail gap (2502m) and the Stelvio summit (2757m). From the Umbrail, the last 3km with a steady 10% climb went well.

As usual, many motorcyclists and bicyclists were gathered at the summit as Jeanie took my picture crossing the top. We went to the edge of the precipice to the east where we took pictures of what is hard to capture with a camera. From here we had a clear view of the road, glued to the wall, as it starts down the 48 hairpin turns to the Val di Trafoi. In spite of climbing the Gavia before lunch, I cut almost a half hour off my time up the hill this afternoon.

As we rolled out of Prato, we ran into our first major headwind but it only lasted across the Val Venosta to Spondigna, where we crossed the abandoned FS railway line... wait! The tracks were cleared of brush and some work had been done on the wires next to the track. After more than five years of dormancy, the federal railway (FS) changed its mind and is refurbishing the whole line from Merano to Málles with new track.

We coasted down to Kortsch, just above Spondigna, found comfortable Hotel Sonne and relaxed. I needed a rest day and this was a good location, still up at higher elevations and out in the country.

17. Monday, 14 July (Kortsch - Kortsch; 0km, 0m)



18. Tuesday, 15 July (Kortsch - Alba; 125km, 1732m)


Although yesterday afternoon was warm, today was the usual pleasantly cool weather we have had all along. Merano (302m) was 34km down the Val Venosta and another flat 30km run to Bolzano (262m), a charming south Tyrolean city on the edge of the Dolomites. We stayed on the north side of the Val Venosta and found that the old highway, in the presence of the Autostrada, was almost empty as we rode down the valley.

We headed north past the Bolzano train station toward Cordano in the Isarco (Eisack) Valley.  I couldn't find the road (Rt N241) other than a large new tunnel that went into the wall just north of where the Ega rushes out of a narrow defile in the cliffs. We were told that this was the only way now and that bicycles were allowed, something that was obvious once we were in the tunnel. The tunnel took us around the 16% defile for which the Costalunga road was noted. The 1.2km curved tunnel was airy with broad shoulders and good lighting, and above all, a moderate grade. As we emerged from the upper end to join the old road, we saw how shockingly steep the closed section in the defile below was. I think the tunnel is an improvement for everyone. Besides, this convenience, the most scenic part of the canyon remained unchanged.

We rode on through Welschnofen (1182m) and into the forest just above Hotel Diana, with its giant mural of Diana the huntress with bow and arrow.  The road flattens as it approaches the summit meadows and turquoise Lago di Carezza, the reflecting pool for the Latemar (2842m) with its myriad dolomite spires. Unfortunately the drought and heat wave had reduced the surface of the lake to less than half its usual area and no reflection was seen beneath its steep banks.

Across the meadows, the Rosengarten (2981m) was left in natural stone color under the light overcast that robbed it of its sunset colors that give it its name. We passed the junction to the Nigerjoch Pass, whose lower end is the 24% grade road to Tiers. Then came a short climb with a few turns to the Costalunga summit (1745m) and a long gradual descent to Vigo di Fassa and up the valley to Canazei and Alba (1460m) in the Val di Fassa.

19. Wednesday, 16 July (Alba - Longarone; 130km, 3000m)


Up the valley, a few kilometers from Canazei, we began the climb up the Fedaia Pass. Here the road goes up the north wall, climbing through tunnels and avalanche sheds to come out above the concrete arch dam of the Lago di Fedaia (2054m). We took the old road around the south side of the lake and crossed over the little bump, the official Fedaia Pass (2510m) at the far end of the lake. When I first visited the Fedaia, it went only as far as the dam. The road we came up is relatively new with its 8% grade but the "old" road descends steeply to the east through a series of hairpin turns followed by a long 13% straight section into Malga Ciapela (1384m). A little breeze from ahead prevented me from achieving the usual 100km/h coasting.

From Malga Ciapela we went down into the Serra di Sottoguda canyon instead of taking the high auto road. This is the beautiful old road, closed to cars, that winds through the deep and narrow gorge next to the Torrente Pettorina to Sottoguda. From Caprile (1014m), in the shadows of Monte Civetta (3220m), we headed north, climbing to Racuva (1311m) to follow the canyon to Cernadoi (1495m) to join the road to the Falzarego Pass.

The Falzarego (2105m) lies in a beautiful meadow at the base of Pizo Lagazuoi (2770m), a striking dolomite peak below which the Valparola Pass (2192m) heads west into the Val di San Cassiano. The Falzarego descends gradually to Pocol (1480m) above Cortina, at the junction with Passo Giau. After a hearty lunch at the restaurant at the road junction, we headed off toward the Giau, first descending and then climbing the odd alignment of this ancient road.

Our trip being in almost perpetual clear skies, the scenery was magnificent as we reached the summit of the Giau (2236m) with a view across the Valle d' Ampezzo to the Passo Tre Croci and to the Marmolada to the southwest. Having just eaten lunch we didn't stop at the Rifugio Piezza (2175m), a half kilometer below the summit, a great place to eat and stay for the night.

The descent reminded me of how I rode up this steep grade years ago, thinking nothing of it. It wasn't paved then. We descended to Selva di Cadore (1336m) and headed east to Passo Staulanza (1773m) along the Torrente Fiorentina all the while heading straight for Monte Pelmo (3168m). The Staulanza is an easy pass and comes as a surprise because there is no apparent gap past Monte Pelmo.

Typical of the Dolomites, this route is a scenic wonder. We rode to Longarone (472m), notorious for the dam disaster at 22:42 on 09 October 1963 when the town was destroyed by a landslide from Monte Toc (1921m) that forced a huge wave over a dam in a narrow slot in the mountain across from the town, to claim 1909 lives. Our hotel, as most in that area, had many before and after pictures on its walls.

20. Thursday, 17 July (Longarone - Cárnia: 143km, 2048m)


We started out under blue skies that gradually turned cloudy later in the day. We crossed the valley and rode through tunnels up the granite wall  to the gap of death for Longarone. Below the dam, carved into the vertical wall, we saw the notch of the old road and its tunnels from windows in the tunnel of our road. The the hollow arch of the dam was still intact, with only a bit of the rim cracked off on the far side. It is less than 50m across but at least three times that high, narrowing to almost a point at its bottom.

We emerged just above the dam after the last tunnel and saw that there was still a tiny bit of the lake between the dam and the mountain that into the water. A memorial chapel by Corbusier stands vigil over this disaster. (before) (after)

Above the dam the road climbs over the mountain that slid into the lake and descends to Erto (750m), a small town on the far side of a small pass above the former reservoir. As the map shows, Erto was just spared of the flood.

We crossed the Passo di San Osvaldo (827m) to a region that doesn't see much traffic or tourists. The river beds are striking with their brilliant white dolomite stone and azure green water with such clarity that the edge of the water is hardly discernable as its color vanishes to the white of the shore. We descended to Barcis (409m) along one of these rivers, the Torrente Cimoliana that flows into the Lago di Barcis, a brilliant emerald in this rough landscape.

The lake drains past a dam into a narrow gorge that is scheduled to be flooded by a new dam being completed now. I had last ridden through this fascinating tunnel-like road years ago and hoped to see it once more. The entrance was blocked by a heavy chain-link fence and warning signs from ENEL. We capitulated, not knowing whether there were rock slides in the gorge or whether the road was even more securely blocked at the lower end, which it was. We took the four kilometer long tunnel that was built years ago to be above water. In the meanwhile the dam project was suspended for a long time and its equipment was rusting the last time I rode through here. The tunnel was well lighted, was slightly downhill and had almost no traffic. We climbed over a small ridge, the edge of the future lake, to Maniago (283m) and looked at the downstream side of the dam.  We continued to Pinzano (104m) and headed north up the Val d'Arzino, a little traveled route to Tolmezzo (323m).

This route has a few tunnels along the river before climbing up a series of hairpin turns that would probably offer a striking view of the river gorge and surrounding mountains if it weren't raining. This was the only heavy rain of the ride other than a light shower before Rosenlaui, as we climbed the Sella Chianzutan (954m). After a bit of solid rain and thunder the shower blew away just after we crossed the summit.

With little traffic, and therefore, tourism along this scenic route, we found no lodging and continued into more traveled territory. We got on the main route just below Tolmezzo and rode to Cárnia Piani (281m), where autostrada, railway and two highways cross, to find an autostrada hotel and rest stop. We got a comfortable room, good bicycle parking and a nice restaurant. By the time we were ready for dinner, the rain returned, making a good showing with a resounding thunderstorm with light show and heavy metal.

21. Friday, 18 July (Cárnia - Stara Fuzina: 140km, 3356m)


The sky was clearing in the morning as clouds drifted off to the east to wash the streets in Venezia as we rode up the valley toward Chiusaforte (391m) along the Fiume Fella, a huge broad wash of white rock, its water well hidden between boulders. The Fella and similar rivers here obviously run full during big storms, an event that must be terrifying when it occurs. An abandoned single track railway right-of-way, parallel to our road, was recognizable by its beautiful masonry bridges and elegantly arched tunnels that still bore the soot of steam trains from years gone by.

I imagined the grand Simplon Orient Expresses, in royal blue with gold trim, carrying nobility to Venice in elegant varnish, with Pullman, salon and dining cars. Meanwhile, returning to reality, the new double track route entered a tunnel across the river, vanishing underground for the next ten kilometers only to enter another tunnel and another, on its way to Villach and Innsbruck, Vienna or Munich. The new route went into service in 1996, leaving the old classic forgotten and overgrown.

We turned east at Chiusaforte, up the Sella Nevea (1190m), a scenic low-traffic road to Slovenia. Climbing through a dense forest around hairpin turns that offered a view of the surrounding spectacular mountains once in a while, we arrived at the summit to realize that what looked like piles of snow was really centimeter-sized hailstones that fell during that rumble last night. After a pleasant descent we joined the main road after the beautiful lake at Cave del Predil (900) and turned south for a short climb to the Predil Pass (1150m) and the Slovenian border.

The descent was steeper than I had remembered it from years ago, but the scenery was as great as ever with a clear view down the Koritnica river to Bovec (pronounced Bovetch). Bovec (769m) was looking elegant and offered a good choice of restaurants of which we took one with outdoor tables. I admired the Hotel Kanin across the street (now three star rating), where I stayed as the country was emerging from communism. The receptionist had told us to take our bicycles to our room in the mostly empty hotel.

Between Bovec and Kobarid, down the Soda River, we took pictures of Slap Boca, a great waterfall that issues from the dry rocky west wall of the canyon. We stopped in Kobarid at a wonderful gelateria with a delicious selection of Italian style gelato that fit well with the sunny weather. The scooper had such enthusiasm and showmanship that we took a second giant cup, with whipped cream and raspberry syrup, on which he insisted. The scoops flew from one hand held high, into the ice cream sundae cup with precision, something we could taste over unimaginative service.

In Tolmin (200m) we turned east up the Baca River to Podbrdo (525m) at the south portal of the 7,25km long railway tunnel to Bohinjska Bistrica. When we arrived in Podbrdo, where the map clearly showed a tunnel train-loading symbol, we discovered anew (something I had found many years ago) that the tunnel trains do not stop here but load in Tolmin. As we stood dejected in front of the train station that was just closing, a young lady arrived with her father to take the local train to Tolmin.

After we told her of our predicament, she happened to talk to a railway clerk from whom she learned that he was going to stop the tunnel train to travel north. We thanked her profusely for her discovery just as her train arrived. A half hour later, the tunnel train arrived and slowed to a stop. We loaded our bicycles into the baggage car and rode under the mountain. I recall riding over the top with John Woodfill a few years ago. That climb was neither short nor easy.

We stopped at the excellent tourist information office in Bohinjska Bistrica that told us where we could find a room on the Bohinjska Lake. This was typical of Slovenia that bends over backward to be hospitable. We stayed in Stara Fuzina in comfortable accommodations on the shores of this beautiful lake.

22. Saturday, 19 July (Stara Fuzina - Gailtal): 161km, 2696m)


After breakfast we rode around the lake to the bridge where many people stood looking into the water last evening and found that they were looking at a large school of trout that were waiting for a handout. The abundance of fish in streams and lakes makes clear that reigning in the fishermen leaves a lot for others to see.

We rode down the Sava Bohinjka to Bled (504m) with its beautiful Blejsko lake where Marshall Tito's elegant but modest vacation residence is still in fine shape although fenced off and unused. Below Bled we got on the main road to Jesenice (574m) that runs parallel to the motorway and has light traffic. After Jesenice, where the motorway turns north to Austria, traffic was even lighter as we stopped in Gozd to take a better picture than the one from years ago. The only problem was that the city limit sign, in the picture below, had been placed elsewhere. This route is surrounded by the eastward extension of the Dolomites, known as the Karavanka typified by the view of Gozd.

We followed the Sava Dolinka river up the valley to the Italian border at Ratece (845m), an innocuous saddle (pass) on the way to Tarvisio (751m) and Pontebba (561m).  We headed north up Passo di Promollo (1530), a steep and twisty road up rugged Val Aupa, that levels off at the Nassfeldersee in the midst of green meadows at Nassfeld, aptly named for its wet greenery. The Austrian side has ski areas, so the road is wide with large sweeping turns as it descends steeply into the Ober Gailtal at Jenig and west to Kötschach (708m), where we stopped for the day.

23. Sunday, 20 July (Kötschach - Zell am See; 112km, 2340m)


We had gotten used to the marvelous weather by now and took the clear skies and balmy temperatures for granted as we rode over the Gailbergsattel (982) to Oberdrauburg (621) on the Drau river. Following the river toward Lienz, we turned north at Dölsach (799m) at the foot of the Iselsberg Pass (1204m), that connects from the Drau River in the Pustertal to Winklern (958m) in the Mölltal. From here it's a gradual climb along the Möll up the narrow and scenic valley toward the Großglockner, the highest peak in that Hohe Tauern range, that gives its name to the toll road, "Großglockner Hochalpenstraße".

We stopped for a grocery store lunch at Heiligenblut (1301m) at the end of an easy cruise up the valley with a bit of climbing here and there. The grocery store on the corner is open every day all day so that tourists can get what they need.  The Großglockner Peak rising behind the tall slender church steeple of Heiligenblut made a fitting backdrop to our fueling for the big climb ahead.

The real climb starts in front of the grocery store with a 12% grade that lets up a couple of times before the saddle at Kasereck (1913m), after which the road descends to the junction of the road to the vista point at the base of the Großglockner Peak and the road to the summit.

The Dolomites to the south were no longer visible as we reached the summit (2505m) at Hochtor in breezy pleasant temperatures. After taking pictures, we rode through the 311m summit tunnel to descend toward Mitteltörl, stopping at a geological display of  rocks typical of this range.

After passing the lake we rode through the curved Mitteltörl (2328m) tunnel, (the middle summit), and down a short 12% grade that took us to a 12% climb to Fuschertörl (2428m, the north summit). With a clear sky, the whole Glockner group made a striking panorama. We descended the 12% run to Fusch in the Fuschertal and continued to the north toll gate and wildlife park at Ferleiten.

We rolled down to Bruck (757m) on the Salzach River, passing through villages with roadside displays of wood carvings and rustic furniture, Austrian art for the tourist. Across the Salzach we headed into Zell am See and found a nice hotel on the lake.

24. Monday, 21 July (Zell am See - Fügen; 108km, 2240m)


We headed west up the Pinzgau Valley past Mittersill where there was a big traffic jam of cars heading north to Kitzbühel or south through the Felber-Tauern Tunnel to Lienz and the Dolomites. After Mittersill the road was fairly empty. A Pinzgau narrow gauge (760mm, 30inch) train passed us and blew its pennywhistle, greeting us from tracks that parallel the road much of the way.

We continued west to Wald (867m) at the foot of the old Gerlos Pass where we stopped at the grocery store for some power to get us up this grade that has some 17% sections. The old Gerlos road formerly cut across above the church next to the grocery store.  Bicyclists can still do this by using the pedestrian path that heads uphill in front of the church. As has been my custom, we stopped at Gasthaus Grubl, a great place to stay, and say hello to Mrs. Kaiser who runs the place. The hotel lies in a crook in the road, where a small creek runs over a decorative water wheel that once drove a generator. The door was open but there was no one home because Mrs. Kaiser had gone across the road to her vegetable garden. When she returned, we talked a bit and wished her well as we headed up the climb up the 500m of 17% that starts here.

Clouds were gathering as we got near the top of the old Gerlos Pass (1486m), though the road was mostly dry over the summit where it joins the new road. We seemed to be ahead of the rain because the road was dry as we descended past the huge earthen dam to Gerlos (1245m). From here, the road stays high while the Gerlos River rushes down into the Gerlostal, through a narrow defile. From Hainzenberg (1000m), the road finally takes a series of hairpin turns to descend to Zell am Ziller (575m) in the Zillertal.

As last year, the sky was closing in with thunderclouds but it didn't rain as we road down the valley. Just before we reached Fügen at about 3:30 the storm got serious. Branches started blowing off trees, magazines and newspapers from stores were flying around the main street, and tables and benches tumbled into the street. Jeanie was convinced this wasn't getting any better so we took a room at Hotel Sonne, and surprise, were just in time to see Lance Armstrong make a great showing. After that we got a good dinner and rested up for a sunny day tomorrow.

25. Tuesday, 22 July (Zell am See - Fügen im Zillertal; 206km, 2056m)


After a solid breakfast we headed west toward Innsbruck (574m) along the south side of the Inn and crossed to the north bank at Hall. From Hall to Innsbruck, the old streetcar line on the south side of the highway has become an excellent bicycle path that took us into town. We took the road around the west side of town along the Inn and dropped in on the old city center to catch the local color. The balcony with the golden roof was in fine trim as were the golden arches a few houses down the narrow street.

We stayed on the south side of the Inn toward Vols, on the less traveled route toward Landeck. Across the river, the railroad, on the way to Garmisch-Partenkirchen and Munich, traverses several unnels and avalanche sheds before tunneling through Martinswand, a huge curved granite wall. More striking is the Zirlerberg road with a 16% grade up to the roundhouse restaurant and from there with up to 22% to the top. Bicycles are prohibited from downhill use of this road that has six escape roads for runaway motor vehicles.

Our road remained fairly flat until Haiming, the mouth of the Ötztal, from whose upper end the Timmelsjoch (Passo Rombo; 2474m) crosses to St Leonhard and Merano in South Tyrol. With mini-markets at most gas stations along this route, we were well supplied with food and drink. We crossed the high bridge over Ache River from the Ötztal and crossed to the north side of the Inn, to climb two kilometers over the narrows of the valley.

After the climb and a two kilometer descent, we turned off to Bahnhof Imst and the river rafting set-in to take the bicycle path to Landeck. The path lies between the autobahn and the river, avoiding the climb to Imst and Imsterberg that the local highway makes. We saw no rafters but there were highway maintenance crews removing tree blow-down from the thunderstorm that was felt over a large area of the Alps.

At Landeck (816m) we took the Arlberg highway (Rt N1), and turned off at Pians into the Paznauntal and the Silvretta Hochalpenstraße toll road (Rt A188), the Bielerhöhe Pass to Bludenz in the Montafontal.

We had a light tailwind up this gradual climb along the Trisanna River to Galtür. As often, at Galtür, our tailwind turned into a headwind as the road began to get steeper up the desolate valley. The last kilometer to the dam of the summit lake of 12% got us to the Bielerhöhe Pass (2021m). The Silvretta lake straddles the summit and is contained by an earthen dam on the east and a concrete dam on the west. With the beautifully clear weather we saw the glacier-covered Eckhorn (3117m), Wiesbadenerhöhe (2490m), Piz Silvretta (3248m), and Piz Buin (3312m), set off against deep blue water. We met an English rowing team that was preparing with high altitude training for the eight-man crew world championship. They seemed all to be over two meters tall.

I had forgotten how easy this descent down 32 hairpin turns could be in fair weather because this road has no tight turns, all of them being gentle sweepers. After reaching the bottom of the steep part, in Partenen (1051m) on the Ill River in the Montafontal, we rolled down to Schruns (690m), where we found good lodging.

26. Wednesday, 23 July (Schruns - Schwyz; 158km, 2010m)


After a good buffet breakfast we rode down the Montafontal to Bludenz and Feldkirch (455m) and headed south in the Rhine Valley to Vaduz, the capital of Liechtenstein. We crossed the Rhine on an old covered bridge to the west levee bike path that we took to Sargans (482m), Switzerland. We rode down to Walenstadt (427m) on the Walensee and took the bicycle path along the lake, stopping for lunch at a lakeside restaurant near Mülehorn. The bicycle path followed the steep shore close to the water with views of the seven Churfirsten of canton St. Gallen, whose peaks Selun (2204m), Frümsel (2267m), Brisi (2279m), Zuestoll (2235m), Schibenstoll (2236m), Hinterrugg (2306m), and Chäserrugg (2262m), rise steeply from the opposite shore of the lake. After two long bicycle tunnels we were in the Linthtal of canton Glarus.

We rode to Mollis (450m) and Netstal on the main road to Glarus (472m), where we turned off to the Klöntal and the Pragel Pass. The Klöntal is narrow, with steep rocky cliffs on both sides and a beautiful alpine lake, almost the width of the valley. Typical of canton Glarus, the mountains rise above the lake and vanish in the mist, as our small road climbs past the lake to the Pragel Pass (1550m). The ride out of the Linthtal is a moderate climb but the main climb begins after the Klönsee.

The summit is a lovely saddle of pasture land surrounded by steep cliffs. The descent to Muotathal (624m) in the Bisistal of canton Schwyz, in contrast, seems to descend much farther than we climbed, mainly because it has long 18% sections. From the summit to Bisistal, the road is closed to motor traffic on weekends and on weekdays, but there is almost no traffic anyway. From Muotathal it's nearly flat along the Muota to Ibach, our starting point.

Many of the places mentioned in this report can be seen at:

That was 3346km and 56766m climbing

If you have any of my ride reports after 1960 and before 1990, or know where I can find them, in software or hard copy, please let me know. I lost these reports when switching from a terminal and server to a PC and failed to retrieve them before they were unrecoverable.