Time: September 13th, 2009 to September 17th, 2009 (5 days and 4 nights)
Kilometers: 260 km
Vertical meters ascended: 11’700 m
Vertical meters descended: 11’750 m
(Swisstopo map software seems to over estimate the vertical meters slightly since it’s not smoothing out anything)
I had the idea of crossing the Alps with my mountain bike sometime back in June. However things have been extremely busy this spring/summer at work and I simply did not find the time to plan this tour nor even set a certain date for it. As things finally settled down a bit at the end of August I planned a week off in September. This left me with less than two weeks time to plan and prepare for my adventure. Needless to say that I could not find anybody else who was crazy enough to join me on this trip with such short notice.
All the remaining evenings were spent with studying the maps, researching the internet and getting the last few missing pieces of gear together.
I only was riding my mountain bike about 5 times this whole summer season (besides going jogging from time to time), fighting a cold the week before the start plus a less than favorable weather forecast left me with some doubts if this thing is going to be doable for me. However I opted to go for it and maybe just throw in the towel on the way, in case things are not going well.
This is the actual route I took.
(Without any improvements done at the Grüenenbergpass and Heida suone. However suggested improvements are given in the GPS-tracks to download, see bottom of page)
Transalp 2009 (Entlebuch - Simplon) on a bigger map
Day 1: Entlebuch - Grüenenbergpass - Aeschi
Start: 8:30 h
Finish: 18:00 h
Kilometers: 72 km
Vertical meters ascended: 2200 m (plus 200 m for sun glasses)
Vertical meters descended: 2050 m
Maps: Swiss Topo 1:25’000 Print outs, Single Trail Map Nr. 29 (Entlebuch/Emmental) + Nr. 31 (Frutigland)
The vertical profile from Swiss Map 25
I started off with riding along the Kleine Emme. Right at the beginning are a few sections where I had to get off the bike to cross stairs and I was already thinking it’s not that easy as expected, but later on it’s a pleasant ride along the river and great to warm up for the day. I followed the river path up to Schüpfheim and then took the asphalt bike trail past Escholzmatt up to Wiggen. There I switched back to single trail along a little creek and past a campground before being forced back on the main road just before Marbach. Somewhere in Marbach I found a few single trails that are not marked on the map but nonetheless take you further along the creek. After I crossed the main road it kept going on some nice meadow trails; however I was forced constantly to open and close the cow fences. Those nice trails took me up to Schangnau where I crossed the Emme.
I bought the Single Trail Map Nr. 29 Entlebuch/Emmental ( www.singletrailmap.ch) and those maps give you some good possibilities for single trails. However you need to use to use the info also with some pre-caution.
I wanted to follow a recommended singletrail all the way up to the Grüenenbergpass. However I found out pretty soon that even this intermediate (red dotted) single trail is pretty much not rideable uphill. So I pushed my bike almost all the way from the Hintere Buhütte to the Mittlesti Buhütte because the trail was sooo steep. I am really interested what kind of athletes are riding that trail uphill?! Anyway…. I learned my lesson and next time I will take a closer look at the steepness of the red doted trails and leave the black ones who go uphill simply on the side.
The Mittlesti Buhütte and a curious cow checking out who is riding along this way
Then finally was a section on a more moderate road. Not feeling like pushing my bike for another 300 vertical meters uphill, I kept going on that road and did not turn on the trail towards Wimmisalp (as first planned), since that one is marked as difficult single trail (black dotted) and it was going straight uphill as well. I had to leave the road at an altitude of 1280 m and after some more pushing through the forest I finally reached the saddle at point 1452.
I was pretty excited to finally be able to ride a black dotted trail on a straight away or even slight downhill. However the section from the saddle over to the Obere Breitwang was still extremely difficult to ride and no fun for me. At the Obere Breitwang I had to make the gut-wrenching decision to drop down more than 200 vertical meters to the “regular” Grüenenbergpass road. I simply did not feel the urge to push and carry my bike almost all the way up to the pass and rather took my chances on the normal approach.
Look back to the saddle (point 1452) and single trail section that made me drop down the valley and not keep going further on the recommended single trails, because it is simply a HIKING trail and not a mountain bike trail.
I think it probably was the right decision since even that gravel road was not an easy task. At first it was some moderate riding however soon it gets steeper and steeper and gets rockier the further you go. I even ended up walking some parts on that “road”.
Upper part of the Grüenenbergpass road
Finally topped out on the Grüenenbergpass at 1555 m and when sitting down I realized that I forgot my sun glasses somewhere further down the road at the last break. Great! I didn’t really want to leave my glasses behind on the first day and dropped down again to look for my shades. However I could not find it, even though I went back for more than 200 vertical meters. So this was just another effort for training purposes. :-)
(I bought some new glasses on the second day in Kandersteg)
Back on top of the pass was a long descent in store. Too bad that for the most part you have to stay on gravel and asphalt road and just once or twice you can veer off to a hiking trail. Finally at the Säge (1140 m) you are getting on a nice single trail that takes you across the Traubach towards Bolsiten. A bit more ups and downs on the asphalt road over to Schwendi and there you drop down a steep trail to the Lombach. Here I took the wrong single trail down the gorge, but it was a fun section and I did not mind my mistake too much. However the trail spit me out too far down and I had to make up the lost verticals on a gravel road up to point 1071.
From here on I could rest my tired legs a bit on the descent down the gravel road.
Look back towards Grüenenbergpass with Habkern in the foreground. The sun peaked out from time to time but for large parts of the day low hanging clouds covered the hills and peaks around me.
A challenging single trail starts around 900 m. Be prepared for a rough, but fun ride down to Unterseen (Interlaken).
Let the fun begin
Yeah… lost concentration for a second on those steps and had to pay for it. Nothing happened, but still got shaken up a bit and could not even properly focus on this picture.
Paragliders having fun at the Harderkulm above Interlaken
From Unterseen I made my way over to Aeschi and stayed for the most part on the main roads. There would be a few options with short single trails/gravel roads, but nothing on a direct route. You would have to climb and drop back down again multiple times and at this point of the day I was pretty tired already and preferred the most direct route.
Look back towards Interlaken during the climb up to Aeschi with the lake Thun in the foreground
Even on the asphalt road I had to work hard to reach Aeschi at 862 m. I finally reached the simple, but clean and comfortable Gästehaus Seeblick ( www.sternen-aeschi.ch) around 18:00 h.
With a good dinner at the restaurant Sternen, a nice but pretty hard first day came to an end.
Day 2: Aeschi – Suldtal – Kiental – Kandersteg
Start: 9:00 h
Finish: 16:00 h
Kilometers: 39 km
Vertical meters ascended: 2000 m
Vertical meters descended: 1700 m
Maps: Single Trail Map Nr. 31 (Frutigland)
The vertical profile from Swiss Map 25
After a great and fulfilling breakfast buffet I was ready to go around 9 o’clock. Lots of grey, low hanging clouds did not look too promising.
Here is a look up the Frutigen valley
The first few kilometers you are riding on some nice meadow and forest single trails like this one…
… past some curious lamas…
…towards the Suldtal.
All the hill tops were covered in thick clouds and as soon as I entered the Suldtal the rain started. After zipping on all my rain gear I kept riding along the Suld creek. I was feeling pretty good and the rain did not bother me too much. The trail along the creek is a nice mellow ride in a beautiful setting. Sure, it would be a lot better with sunshine, but it still was an enjoyable ride. After crossing the creek and carrying my bike up some cow meadow I was already on my way out of the Suldtal towards the small village of Steiweid. From there follows a quick climb up the road to the point 1115.
Look back towards Aeschi from point 1115 (near Steiweid)
Here I had to make the decision to either go towards the Wätterlatte as first planned or just ride directly towards Kiental along the mountain slope. The rain had stopped in the meantime, but I did not really feel like riding into a thick dark cloud. This “saved” me a hard 700 m climb, but the views on a nice day would have been very impressive from the summit.
I followed some nice single trails into the Kiental. They are interrupted a few times by gravel road sections, but all in all a pretty good alternative to the Wätterlatte. Above Kiental you meet the asphalt road and unfortunately have to fly down that road since there are no other single trail options.
The town of Kiental
A quick lunch break in Kiental was followed up by a strenuous climb up the asphalt road to the top of the gondola station.
View over to Kiental on the climb up
Cow bells proudly displayed on the farmer houses
…. and in action
From the gondola station I had to push my bike for about 100 m up the steep meadow...
...but then a great flowing single trail section over to Chüeweid follows. Does not get much better than this kind of trail.
The only thing I have to complain about are the cow fences during the first two days. Sometimes it really can be a pain in the butt. You are enjoying that great single trail and then boom…. You have to stop every few hundred meters. Especially painful if you are riding alone and have to open and close all by yourself. Anyway…. I might get used to it some day. (Colorado had been a bit different)
Look from Chüeweid over to Aeschi
From Chüeweid you are going along the mountain slope further up the Kandertal looking down to Frutigen. A relatively easy up and down on asphalt road. Later on you get on the single trail that follows the Lötschberg train tracks (Lötschberger Bahnwanderweg). It did not turn out to be that great of a single trail as I expected at first glance from the singletrailmap. There are quite a few sections, where you have to get off the bike (steps, roots), but all in all a decent trail.
The Hotel zur Post (www.hotel-zur-post.ch) where I stayed. A pretty good value for the money.
Day 3: Kandersteg – Gemmipass – Oberems
Start: 9:00 h
Finish: 17:45 h
Kilometers: 46 km
Vertical meters ascended: 2500 m
Vertical meters descended: 2450 m
Maps: Single Trail Map Nr. 31 (Frutigland), Nr. 34 (Brig/Visp) + Swiss Topo 1:25’000 Print outs
The vertical profile from Swiss Map 25
During the night it snowed down to about 2300 m.
At the end of the Kander valley you just see some steep rock walls all around you. The trail goes in front of the Gällihorn (on the right) just straight up the slope, more or less under the gondola. It definitely gets your heart pumping. I was trying hard; but after a short first section of riding I had to give in and had to walk the most part up to an altitude of about 1850 m. The path was simply too steep.
Soon the sun came out and cheered me up during this hard uphill.
Looking down to Kandersteg about half way up the steep section.
Finally the slope eased up and I could get back on my bike.
From here on the trail was rideable all the way to the Gemmipass (except one or two short sections).
Later on you get on a nice high plateau
Crossing the “border” into the Valais
Looking back onto the plateau
Riding past the hotel Schwarenbach
Shortly after you reach the Daubenlake
Up there were quite a few tourist that came up with the Gondola from Leukerbad, but everybody had to bundle up due to the stiff wind blowing in your face.
Looking back one more time to the Daubenlake
Looking over to the Wildstrubel
Look from the Gemmipass into the Valais.
Unfortunately the 4000ers were covered by the clouds, but it was still a satisfying feeling to be looking into the Valais after coming all the way from the canton Luzern by bike.
The Gemmi is quite a wall of rocks, and somewhere in between is a windy trail down to Leukerbad.
That’s probably a relatively new sign, since I did not read anywhere about a bike ban on this route beforehand. Anyway… I kind of overlooked this sign and figured when I do not scare any hikers it’s probably alright. From what I heard this is usually an extremely busy hiking trail, but luckily for me I met less than 20 people on this trail (on September 15th, 2009).
Right on top are a few high steps where I got off the bike. Later on a section you can ride again before you enter the “real” rockwall.
Here you enter the section that is cut into the rock walls.
Lots of steps
and tight turns with an option to sail for a few hundred meters in case you miss the turn (information for wife and mother: I was not riding this section).
Then again some sections are rideable without a problem
You just need to know when to slow down
A nice rideable section that’s cut into the wall
And later on it’s easing up and you can let it run down to the town of Leukerbad.
Looking back up at the Gemmi wall
Looking back at the town of Leukerbad
After Leukerbad started some of the best single trail section I was on during this whole Transalp trip: The trail down to Inden and Varen. It’s all down hill from an altitude of 1400 to the valley floor of about 600.
You can just fly down on some perfect single trails through the meadows and forests.
Taking a break from the speed rush and taking a picture of all the gear for the Transalp 2009 with the Rhone valley in the background.
Then it keeps going on to some more fun single trail through grass and bushes.
Here a hunter scared the crap out of me. He just was laying next to the trail, and I noticed him at the last second. It seemed that almost all men in the Valais go hunting when the season starts in early September. They were all over the place and it felt sometimes a bit eerie when you heard a shot from time to time and you are riding through the forest. However I hope that they can distinguish between a deer and a mountain biker with a yellow helmet.
The path over the Gemmipass has been used extensively in the old days by travelers. In the 18th century even Johan Wolfgang Goethe came through here. Back then there was no easy way yet past the rock wall in the picture above, and they installed some ladders, the Varner-Ladders.
I preferred with my bike the easier way around. It felt good however to be at the same place where Goethe climbed this wall.
Look into the Rhone valley towards Leuk and the Turtmann valley in the background.
Picture taken just above Varen. Looking down valley towards the vineyards.
After Varen you head over to Leuk and then follow some single trails and gravel roads along the Rhone up to Turtmann. After Turtmann was a pretty long climb on the asphalt road up to Ahorne (between Unterems and Oberems) in store.
Looking across Unterems towards the Bietschhorn
Looking one more time back across the Rhone valley towards the way I came from the Dala valley
I arrived at the Restaurant/Pension Schaeferstube in Ahorne, Oberems (www.schaeferstube.ch) at 17:45 h.
There are only two other options in this area. One is the Pension Rhoneblick in Unterems, and the other the Hotel-Restaurant Emshorn in Oberems. The Emshorn looked quite nice from the outside.
The rooms are nothing special at the Schaeferstube, but the venison dinner the owner cooked for me was excellent and hit the spot.
Link to later stages: Transalp 2009, Day 4 and Day 5
Download GPS data:
www.gps-tracks.com/gps-transalp-wallis-ta-entlebuch-simplon-E01064.html (registration required)
www.gpsies.com/map.do?fileId=fbmmjvfoiyrtzake (no registration required)