Fall Alpine Passes

Dan’s title: Fall Alpine Passes For Falafel Are Not Awful!

October 19, 2013

Map Link

“Winter is coming.” Never has that phrase seemed more certain than here, living near the Swiss Alps. My limited experience at the trailing end of last winter led me to believe that I could ride year around here, but not very far – and definitely not south into the passes. So when the forecast called for temps in the low 20s C (upper 60s F) and sunshine, I felt the irresistible urge to take the motorcycle into the mountains and check out the snow that had fallen there over the past week. Lucky for me, Dan agreed to join me and we had a great day together.

The forecast called for clear skies and bright sun, but we woke up to low clouds. Fog, in fact. In hopes of rising above the fog – or at least leaving it behind – we headed south, directly into construction traffic.


Not a bad car to be stuck behind

About 45 minutes into the ride we found sunshine near Lucerne. Hot air balloons rose into the mountains and fresh snow covered the peaks. We had chosen a good day to leave Basel behind.

Having missed fall in Switzerland, I didn’t know what to expect as far as “fall colors” were concerned. I knew better than to expect the flaming leaves of New England, but I was hoping for more than just a bunch of brown leaves falling to the earth. I was pleasantly surprised to see that the tree-covered hills sported a smattering of color. Nothing brilliant, but enough to create a nice variety.

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Up until now we were on fairly main roads, rolling past Sursee, through Luzern and then on towards Meiringen. The last stretch to Meiringen finally got a little interesting. Traffic was marginal and for the most part I was leading a very casual ride. I was here for the sights, not the curves. Not that the curves weren’t appreciated.


Near Lungernsee

My introductory ride in Switzerland started with Grimsel Pass and then crossed Furka and Susten Passes. I’d been over each of them at least one more time, but always in the same direction. This time I thought we’d spice things up and go in the other direction. Yes, I like living on the edge.

Just past Meiringen is the small community of Innerkirchen where I shook things up and took the new-to-us turnoff for Susten Pass. Much to our surprise, very few people joined up on this leg of our journey. It was a clear, sunny Saturday; where was everyone?

The sun was out, the roads were clean and dry and the temperature never went below 10C (50F). The sky was an incredible blue that I haven’t seen since the Colorado Rockies, creating a sharp contrast to the granite cliffs. And I still couldn’t get over that the roads were just as empty as they appear in my pictures. And pictures! I couldn’t stop taking them! Every turn of the road brought a new and often better view. Thank goodness for digital cameras!


And yes, the sky really was that blue


Double tunnels


Dan waves “Hi!”


More tunnels!


Susten Pass really is my favorite pass so far


One more tunnel; I like the waterfall on this one


Glacier and glacier-fed lake


We’ve reached the snow level


Coming down the other side of Susten

By now it was almost 1:30 and other than refueling, we hadn’t stopped since we left the house three hours ago. It was time for lunch and conveniently for us, we were near the town of Andermatt. Andermatt was once a cozy and charming town with a cobblestone main street lined with half timbered houses. Unfortunately, the developers are quickly taking over, stuffing large condominiums and apartments around the existing buildings, dwarfing the original buildings. I can only hope that when they are done, the new structures will fit in with the current look of the town.

Despite the massive growth, Andermatt still maintains its selection of great hotels and restaurants. Having been to Andermatt a number of times already, we had chosen our lunch destination before we left the house:Toutoune. They have a wide selection, but they also have particularly good falafels. Upon our arrival in Andermatt we wasted no time and rode directly there and ordered before we even had the menus. I don’t care for falafels and instead enjoyed a fantastic tomato soup and a side of fries. It was even better than I expected it to be.

After lunch we headed home. Fortunately for us, “home” was on the other side of two more mountain passes. The weather was still great and now that we had contented bellies we could focus on the road ahead. I tried my best to focus, honest, but the views were better than I’d ever seen and I had the camera out of its pocket for more than half the time. We also came across at least six other vehicles. Ah, traffic in the Alps!


Heading towards Furka Pass


Looking back towards Andermatt (not visible) with Realp in view

While I have made the lack-of-traffic observation a couple of times here, I still had to be on my toes. We had just started to climb Furka Pass when I came around a corner to see that the BMW SUV I had been following was not only stopped, but had its reverse lights on. I called over our Senas to Dan that we were stopping fast and I came to rest about 10′ behind the SUV. The BMW stopped moving as well and I could now see what the problem was: a large truck was coming down the pass and we had reached a one lane wide portions of the road. We let the truck pass, as well as the traffic backed up behind it, and then we continued on our merry way.


What’s with all of the traffic?

Switzerland is the setting of quite a few movies and it is fun to recognize places as “scenes from Hollywood” as we ride by. Dan recognized Furka Pass as being the setting for Bond’s Goldfinger movie and when we got home, he found the link below that shows a few of the Swiss locations where the famous spy had been.


“Goldfinger” was filmed on this road


The south-facing slope dividing line


Dan enjoying the day

We were near the top of the pass and the snow along the side of the road had started to build up, showing the sheer walls that a snowplow leaves behind. Shallow rivers of meltwater crossed the road frequently, but I didn’t expect the pile of snow that covered my lane as I came around one particular corner. I warned Dan of the hazard and made my own way through the existing tire tracks that had pushed the snow aside. Good thing I was focused on the road at that point and not the scenery!


Furka Pass

We stopped at the side of the road (not often possible due to no shoulders and rare pullouts) and poor Dan had to listen to me go on and on about the views and how clear it was and how the mountains just went on forever. Sort of like me and my enthusiasm. Fortunately he agreed that it was a spectacular day and let me babble.


A better view of the valley between Furka and Grimsel Passes, taken from the side of the road. Yes, there is quite the elevation change between the two passes.


“Just take the picture already!”


Me in front of the green screen


Ok, time to finish up Furka and get on to Grimsel!


Grimsel lay naked before us, not a car in sight! Ok, maybe one or two…


Even the parking lot at the top of Grimsel was almost empty

It was all downhill from here. We saw more bikes heading up the pass than we’d seen all day, and it was already 3pm. I’m not sure where they’d been all day, but I was glad that we were on the home stretch at this late hour.


The lowering sun casting shadows


Dan’s still with me!

We chose to go home via Bern instead of retracing our steps through Luzern, which made for a much more pleasant ride. While Luzern is a beautiful city, the motorway that passes through it does not share that beauty. That, coupled with the fact that the Luzern/Zurich area is the most densely populated area of the country, made us want to avoid the congestion that we’d find on a beautiful Saturday afternoon. Instead, we swung the bikes further west, skirting Brienzersee and then Thunsee, before heading north towards Bern. The lakes, despite a slight haze, looked fantastic in the late afternoon light.


Brienzersee


Thunsee

Traffic had picked up considerably near the lakes and for once I looked forward to getting back to the motorways where we could at least have a chance to get around the slow moving vehicles. The clouds were thickening as we neared Basel and I was happy to see the landmarks of home.

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9 comments

  1. Phil Ryburn says:

    Wow. You MUST take me to these places! YOU MUST!!! I DEMAND IT!!! As soon as I win the lottery, as God is my witness, you will not be able to get rid of me…

    Please just do me one favor: get a GoPro. Please?! Posting vids would be so damn cool. πŸ™‚

  2. Serge says:

    Wow! A very nice and detailed report – it was a pleasure to read it.

    By the way, how do you make the photos while riding the motorcycle? The images look great – but you didn’t take the right hand off the throttle every time, do you? πŸ™‚

    • DantesDame says:

      Not the right hand, but the left hand πŸ™‚ I have a small Canon Powershot on a retractable chain. I keep the camera in the pouch of my tank bag and pull it out (with my left hand) any time I want to take some pictures. The chain gives me the confidence that if something sudden comes up, I won’t panic and try to put the camera away – I simply drop it.

      The choice of gloves make a big difference in ease of turning the camera off/on each time, and it took a lot of practice to get to the level you see here. If the road width allows it, I do prefer to pull over and take pictures with my Panasonic Lumix GF1. (Un)fortunately, the narrow roads of Switzerland don’t allow for much stopping, so I rely heavily on the Cannon “in flight” shots.

      • Serge says:

        Thanks!!!
        you are probably right, it takes a LOT of practice to make such good photos on the fly…

        I was thinking to test a GoPro camera with a remote shutter release button (fixed on the left handlebar to be easily accessed by left hand).
        This way, I could just look at something interesting (provided that the camera is in standby mode and is fixed on the helmet) and press the shutter release to make a photo.
        Open questions though:
        – will the camera stay in standby long enough to survive a day trip?
        – will the wide-angle lens provide some good images at all?

        I’m getting a used GoPro next year, and will update here if something interesting comes out of it πŸ™‚

        Serge

  3. helen says:

    I think these are the most beautiful pictures i have seen. You are a good photographer. Thank you. Also, like your writing. Want to be there.

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