Jerry’s Tour of the Alps 2009 – Friday July 17th

Realp — Furkapass — Grimselpass — Grengiols — Furgge/Breithorn — Betten (144 km, 3411m, 9-26°C)

Furkapass looking at Grimselpass

At the restaurant last night they told me it would be bad weather in the next two days. I was hoping that maybe it was only in the Andermatt area, but apparently it should be a bit more general than so. The lady at Alpenhof hotel where I stayed suggested I hurried on if I wanted to get over the Furkapass before the rain would come. I still decided to have my breakfast as usual and not hurry too much. The weather did indeed look bleak in the morning, but it did not rain, yet. I left Realp (1538m) around 9 am and went somewhat fast up to Furkapass (2429m), even though one rider passed me by (but I overtook another rider).

It was all cloudy up at the Furkapass. The first long stretch out of Realp is pretty steep, but the last few kilometres are flatter. I talked a little with a man there while documenting the walkers sign there with my iPhone. I have climbed the Furkapass once before but then from the other side, so I thought it was nice to climb this side too on this classic pass.


A little lower down the clouds gave way and I could get yet another photo of the wonderful serpentines on the Furkapass and Grimselpass. One idea behind going this route was to get up to the Grimselpass (2165m) (which I have climbed 3 times now already) and finally get to see the Oberaarsee, which should be a quite nice detour from the Grimsel pass height. The weather was still very bleak, but still no rain, so I decided to climb up to the Grimselpass and see if it might be possible to get all the way to the Oberaarsee (2310m). Just before I reached the pass, the rain came. I went up to the pass and hoped to wait out the rain a little and see if maybe the weather was better on the other side of the pass. The bad weather was really coming from the other side though and I sat there for a quite a while in the souvenir boutique looking out on the gloomy weather drinking a Rivella. I discussed the weather forecast a little with the lady there, but after a while realised that even if I could get up on the Oberaarsee road I would hardly see more than the hand in front of me, and thus it would be quite pointless and cold.

When the rain was getting a little less horrible I went slowly down to Gletsch again. Most people just go quickly down in rain and on wet roads and cares about drying up later, but since I am poorly dressed for cold weather and want to stay as dry as possible as I am on a tour and not on my way to a cosy home and hot shower, I have to find the optimal speed to keep myself as warm and dry as possible (which is usually around 15-20 km/h … depending on how wet it is and for how long). If I might get wet in my shoes quickly I always try to stop and wait the rain out or go slower. This is no problem on a climb as I get warm by climbing and still do not get very fast, but on descents it is hellish as my fingers also freeze and I need to brake endlessly making the fingers ache like hell (to make an understatement).


I just decided to continue until it became warm and dry, but it continued to rain a little for a long time and first down Fiesch (1049m) I was decidedly out of the rain and on dry roads and here it was also a bit warm. I found a good café and had a big apfelstrudel and small sandwich. After a while I decided to continue more or less according to plans, which was not very clear even now that I should as the weather still looked gloomy up the mountains in nearly all directions. I was going to go up the Breithorn and the little pass called Furgge (2451m) there. Just at this mountain it was not looking so very gloomy and if it would not get worse then things should be fine, apart from the road itself which is among the most difficult in the Alps to climb and even more so on a road bike as it is to 85% not so good gravel.

I went down to Ze Brigge/Grengiols (880m) where the start for the climb is and as you may notice it is a climb of 1571m, which means it is quite long. It is close to 11% on average for 15 km – see the profile and alternative description. I also (like Renko, author of the profile) went up the steep cobblestoned stretch through Grengiols. The problem with gravel roads is that their condition might vary a bit more from time to time than asphalt roads and I am not quite as optimistic about the suitability for road bikes than Renko is on this climb. It should be noted that I was quite tired though, but still it was very hard going in the woods, where there is no resting place until you fail to stay in the saddle, that is. Just like Renko says the road is a bit less good when you get out of the woods, but it also did not improve much higher up as Renko suggests. I had to put down the feet twice in the wooded section and then walked for a while until I found a place where I could possibly get on the bike again and partly because I was getting tired. Higher up I also walked quite a bit even though it was easier to find places here to jump on the bike again, partly because the road was too bad for my taste and that I was tired. I think I climbed like 90% of the road.


I do think it should be possible to climb the whole road on a road bike, but it is not everyone that could do it, for sure! It is like three times harder than the classic Mortirolo climb considering the surface and even if it had been the smoothest asphalt road in the world it would still be much harder than the Mortirolo climb (just to compare with a famously steep climb). I take it again: this climb is hard! Renko thinks it is better than the Rionda, but since I have done both now, I must say I prefer the Rionda climb. The Rionda climb is better at making things slightly harder as you climb so that you are totally exhausted when reaching the top, while here you are likely to get totally exhausted before you reach the top (well, I did anyway). The Rionda climb is fun for road bicyclists in that they can go as far as they like and be able to do a really good climb wherever they stop (above Morcles), but on the Breithorn it is more of a either/or – either you will give up pretty soon or (unlikely) fight to the end.

I had a little shower of rain in the forest, but then there was luckily no more rain and I had no excuse not to get to the top. At the top the road is good (apart from water at one place). The descent on the other side is just about possible like Renko writes with a road bike, but it is certainly not for the faint of heart. The road does not look very dangerous, but as there are many tricky places you seldom can go quicker than around 5 km/h down and the section down to the gravel road in the valley is quite long. The ensuing gravel road down to Heiligkreuz (1458m) is also long and at first seems to be only getting better and better, but then actually gets worse and stays that way down to the asphalt at Heiligkreuz. It is cyclable but not pleasant, nor quick (about the same quality as the Breithorn road on the last part, just less steep).


I took the little gravel road outside the long tunnel going up the Binntal and this looked like a nice alternative for cyclists with great views of the gorge here (there were also some strange art exhibition along the road that I did not find very interesting). However, they have not cared to keep the road good enough to really be suitable for road bicyclists – there are plenty of fields with loose sand and here and there deep “natural” water drainage across the road. I managed to cycle it all, but it actually felt almost more dangerous than the worst parts down the Breithorn.

Just as I reached the other end of the tunnel it started to rain (lucky me). I did not meet anyone at all along the both sides of the Breithorn (from 1300m on the way up (where a jeep went off another road in the woods) down to the first farm in the valley on the other side. A couple in a car asked me about the road to this farm at the houses at Ze Binne (1400m). I explained that they could get there with their car but that the road was not so very good and that they would have to stop at several electric fences along the road.

While waiting for the rain to stop in the windy, small and cold tunnel, a two guys in a van stopped and asked if I needed a lift! Great! They were going down to near Visp, so I asked them to put me off down at Mörel where I hoped to stay for the night. I had a look at the two hotels in Mörel, but thought they looked pretty awful and were also a bit expensive, but I noticed a sign about a hotel which should be cheaper up the road that I was planning to get up the next day to Bettmeralp. I actually found the place but did not realise what kind of hotel it was as it looked like a big house for regular residents, so I thought I had not found it and continued up the road after some thinking. It was still raining and it was getting dark.

Furgge/Breithorn toward Saflischpass

I decided to simply continue until I found another place that seemed fine. It turned into a somewhat long climb up the rainy mountain slope from Mörel (757m). I then came to a crossroad and had no wish to try and get the map out, so decided that it looked like I would come to a village faster by taking right to Betten (1203m) instead of going to Goppisberg (1339m). I asked a lady in the village for a place to stay for the night and she pointed out the hotel by the Gondola station. I went their determined to stay the night there no matter the cost.

The lady at the hotel seemed like she wondered what the cat had brought in when I made my entrance there. She seemed like the most unfriendly and hopeless lady you could get across at a hotel in the Alps. But she gave me a room and I decided to keep up my cheerful attitude and finally she turned around and became very nice and friendly and spoke of her son who had apparently won the mountainbike race that starts by going up the Furgge/Breithorn and then continues up a difficult road to Bettmeralp. I got some good soup and then had a big plate with fries and beer. As usual in small villages in these parts (incl. Graubünden) of the Swiss Alps, you almost always find a group of the locals gathered around a big table discussing and drinking beer and often playing cards. I said goodnight to them when I was finished. It was a good place to stay at and I guess one of the better priced in the area actually.

Ze Binne