Alpen Brevet – Passes Grimsel, Furka, and Susten

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Today I saw more waterfalls, glaciers, hairpins, and tunnels than I have ever seen in a single day. As Martin and I cycled the Silver course of the Alpen Brevet cyclosportive in the high Swiss Alps.

Three truly unbelievable climbs under dark, threatening skies.

First we started with the north side of the Grimsel pass.

Alpen Brevet - start Grimsel Pass - Dam Grimsel Hairpins Grimsel Pass

A long challenging road with high snow covered peaks on both sides. Nearing the top the road hairpins by three dams and 2 large glacier lakes. Beautiful.

Grimsel Pass - below the dam

The descent of Grimsel is pretty amazing. Huge hairpins down the side of the mountain into a picturesque valley. In the distance is the Rhone glacier and the Furka Pass (which appeared in the James Bond film “Goldfinger).”

Grimsel Pass

After descending Grimsel, we joined the route for the Furka pass. In the elevation profile below, we joined about half way up.

furkaW25 Furka Pass View of Grimsel hairpins from Furka

Furka Pass

The descent of Furka all the way to Andermatt was one of the most hair-raising experiences of my life. Fast and scenic. I’ll have to climb this side someday. No photos, as I was trying not to fall too far behind Martin. After a traffic-filled descent on to Wassen, it was time for the last challenge of the day. The Susten Pass.

Susten Pass Susten Pass

I found the first half of this climb a long, straight slog – I was getting tired. But the second half is far more interesting as the road hairpins up high. How tired was I? I forgot to take a photo of the altitude sign at the top! The shame. :(

For details of climbing the west side of Sustenpass– and a Col sign photo — see here

Susten Pass

I have no idea if the descent of Susten is interesting. The first several kilometres were in a pea-soup fog. It was easier to see in the numerous unlit tunnels than in the open air. A little scary at times.

And finally, with 25 kilometres to the finish. The skies opened and it started pouring. Luckily it was warm enough, and I was pleased to have finished all the climbing – so I enjoyed the soaking as much as I could.

Martin was waiting for me after the Furka descent, and I somehow rode right by him. He waited 25 minutes and spent the rest of the race assuming i had crashed. Meanwhile, I was waiting at the finish – certain that I hadn’t passed him. So I briefly feared he had flown off a cliff in the fog. Needless to say, we were pleased to see each other when he crossed the line.

This event is superb. And there are longer versions with even more climbing. If it’s sunny next August, we “might” try the Gold next year.

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Happiest while cycling uphill. More enthusiastic than talented, my 2014 Challenge is to cycle 50 great rides, slowly.

31 Comments

  1. bravo les gars !

    looks like quite an “epic ride” .
    riding under these skies, specially in the mountains, and losing sight of someone’s “coéquipier” sounds frightening, though…

  2. Well done to both of you. And your reaction to the rain reminds me of our Grand Colombier/Biche day … refreshing, isn’t it?
    Must have been scary and nerve wracking the way you lost each other and then fearing the worst. Glad to hear it was just a minor moment of distraction that caused all this without any bad consequences.
    These cols look very nice indeed.
    Eric

  3. Very well done, Will! Congratulations for the great ride in epic conditions! As funny as it might sound, I have been doing a two day cycling trip in the same region, Friday and Saturday. I have indeed been doing a “farewell” circuit with a friend from Canada, who’s leaving Geneva next week. We’ve been doing Nufenen, Gotthard (through the paved Tremola – fantastic!), Sella, Oberalp, Furka and Grimsel (in that order), before riding down to Brig and taking the train back to Geneva. On Saturday morning, we’ve seen many cyclists cycling down the Furka (Realp side), while we were climbing it. We have probably crossed each other… Looking forward to hopefully cycling together with you in September (I won’t be in Geneva the three last weeks of August). Cheers,
    Nicholas

  4. Hi Nicholas,

    Yes, we must have passed each other! I was the guy descending Furka and looking terrified :)

    Your loop sounds fantastic. I have done Nufenen before and it is difficult but awesome.

  5. Thankks for this report Will. And thanks for the photos as well !
    Much more modest, but I think you might appreciate if you’ve not done it yet :the tour du Mont d’Or in the Jura. You start from Vallorbe for example, then go to Metabief via le Col de Jougne (very easy), then to Longeville where you turn left to go on the top of the Mont d’Or (1’450 m). Short but terrific climb (well paved). I think 6 kms, the last km made me think of more than 15% but I don’t know. Scenic view at the top. Go down to Mouthe (the coldest place in France) and back to Vallorbe via the Col de Landoz Neuve and Col d’Orzeires (both very easy). A nice ride, my odometer didn’t work so I can’t say how many kms. Probably 60. All the best !

  6. Will,

    Well done to you and Martin and well done on the article. It captures the experience nicely.

    I too did the Silver this year. It allowed me to add the final mountain (the Furka) to my Alpenbrevet collection of all seven as I had not done the Silver before. Prior to this year I did the Gold once and the Platinum twice. I remember thinking after finishing last year’s ride that next year (this year) I would take it “easy” and do the silver. Very enjoyable.

    It was a very good day until, as you said, the descent down the Susten. The first 8 km were in the clouds and I couldn’t see 40 metres ahead of me. The middle was fine and fast. But 12 km from Meiringen the skies opened up and the rain was stinging my eyes (behind my glasses which were fogged up) and causing the bike to hydoplane a bit. I had to slow my speed as my number one goal was to arrive back in Meiringen in one piece. It meant missing my objective of 7 hours by . . . 44 seconds! . . . but the time is far down on the list of priorites. Having fun, enjoying the challenge and, most of all, being able to go back home and see my family are much more important.

    Perhaps we will cross paths for Alpenbrevet 2010.

    Cheers!

    John

  7. Whaou, these Switzerland landscapes really do look amazing. So to sum up in a few years you did : la Marmotte, le Marathon des Dololomites, l’Alpen Brevet so next year you should think about doing the Ventoux Master Series or Thonon-Trieste….

    Le Grimsel et le Sustenpass sont vraiment superbes !!

    ++

  8. Will, well done. I have recently moved to Switzerland (Zurich) from Australia. I am planning to ride a number of Cols and Passes in 2010, so you exploits will be invaluable! Radar

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  11. Hey Will, nice work on this ride and the website. I have only just come across it and it’s great…loads of good info.

    I would like to do this ride in the summer but won’t be in Switzerland for the actual sportive so I was wondering what the sitution is for picking up refreshments en route. Are there places to buy sandwiches / drinks and are there places to top up water bottles?

    Cheers

    Andy

  12. Hi Andy,

    While there are long stretches with no refreshment possibilities, with some planning, there are certainly some places to stop.

    From Memory – following the same direction as above. Once you start climbing Grimselpass there is nothing much on the way up. But there are at least a couple of restaurants at the top.

    At the point where Grimsel joins Furka there is a hotel / restaurant I think.

    Climbing Furka, nearing the top at the Rhone Glacier (source of the Rhone river) is a wonderful snack bar and next to a cool old hotel (that was in the second James Bond).

    Descending Furka, there’s plenty of places to stock up around Andermatt.

    The road gets busy here until the start of Susten. There maybe a little place to stop at the turn off onto Susten.

    Climbing Susten there might be a fountain in one of the villages – not sure – but the higher parts are bare.

    The one thing I can’t remember is whether there is a restaurant at the top of Susten – but I am 90% sure .

    Hope that helps. It’s a wonderful loop by bike. As good as anything in France.

  13. Thanks Will, thats great info. As long as there are a few places along the route to use as pitsops then I know I that I don’t need to carry too much myself.

    I’m staying in Grindlewald for a week with the parents so this looks like one of the best loops in the area. Out of interest what sort of time did you cover the distance in? Iv’e done some of the classic French climbs but I’m a fairly average climber myself, not too fast but good stamina!

    Andy

  14. Andy, I forget but probably 7 or 8 hours. Beware, the first and third climbs are quite huge – Furka is not too bad because the route joins it half way up.

    Staying in Grindelwald: The best road climb is the amazing route to Grosse Scheidegg. Consider also descending to Meiringen and climbing the other side. Both are amazing. I have details of each side somewhere here.

    Also from Grindelwald are 10 signed mountain bike climbs. I’d highly recommend renting a mountain bike as the non paved but often good surface paths up high are remarkable.

  15. Simon Murrell on

    Hi Andy, Will,

    I’ve done the Alpen Brevet twice, and I can confirm:
    At the top of Grimsel, San Gottard, Nufenen and probably Susten there are indeed restaurants / places to get a snack.
    There is a small spring on the way up the Susten from the East side (boy did I need it last year: that’s why I can remember it so clearly) but between Wassen and the top of the pass you won’t find much else so better stock up before you start climbing….especially if it is the last leg of the day and you are feeling a bit woozy.
    If you do the San Gottard from the south there is absolutely nothing between Airolo and the top of the San Gottard, so same as above, stock up well before you start the climb. Idem if you are doing S Gottard from the north starting at Andermatt.
    If you do the Nufenen there is also not much on the way up, so again, stock up at Ulrichen I think it’s called.
    Also highly recommended nearby: http://www.cycling-challenge.com/murren-and-above/
    The views of the Eiger, Monch etc. are just mind blowing. You can also do some amazing walks on the same route.
    Finally, to reward yourself after your exertions, try the Mexican restaurant located in the Hotel Blume in Interlaken. My wife is Mexican and we agree it is the best Mexican we’ve found in Switzerland, which maybe is not saying much, but it certainly hit the spot after the last Alpen Brevet.

    This is biking paradise, enjoy!

  16. Hi Will/Simon

    Thanks very much for the info, all good stuff. I will be taking my mountain bike too so will defo check out some of the routes above Grindelwald. It does indeed look like a biking paradise!

    One last question, are there any particularl dodgy tunnels on the Brevet route? I had a nasty incident descending the Galibier last year when I couldn’t get my sun glasses of quick enough! Still, I lived to tell the tale!

    Andy

  17. Hi Andy

    There are several tunnels descending Susten Pass, but generally they aren’t too bad (and I hate tunnels) and they are descending so easy to get through.

    There are maybe three climbing Grimsel fairly early on. At least one I have gone around using an old path: Keep your eyes open, if this appeals to you.

    Good luck

  18. Hi Andy,

    One last point on this one: the road from Wassen to Andermatt (i.e. connecting Susten and S Gottardo / Furka) is pretty hellish in summer. There are tunnels, hairpins, and other nastiness all of which you share with the holiday traffic. Thats why this tour is better done anti-clockwise so you can get out of the mess in the minimum time possible. Sort your sunglasses out before you leave Andermatt, and get some lights for your bike just to make sure the cars can see you properly.
    Other than that its the best biking you’ll find anywhere.
    Enjoy!
    Simon

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  21. Vince Fontaine on

    Hi Guys,
    I plan to do the silver route second half of June.
    Starting from Meiringen (or Innertkirchen), is this easy (and safe) to find a parking place for my car for the day ?
    Thanks for all the other tips given above
    Cheers
    Vince

  22. Vince, just short of town there should be organised parking in a farm field. Well marked and I believe security for the cars. I wouldn’t leave a fortune in your car, but Switzerland is usually quite safe.

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