Grindelwald to Altdorf, Switzerland
I climbed more today than any previous day of my life: 7,500 feet vertical. It was a two pass day. First we climbed about 3,500 feet up Grosse Scheidegg Pass (Elev. 1,962 M). Then we dropped down about 4,000 feet and started up Susten Pass (elev. 2259 M). This was a day of glory and defeat for me.
There were goats right in the village of Grindelwald. In general, there was livestock (cows, sheep and goats) roaming relatively freely through most of the Alps.
Like the other passes, Grosse Scheidegg seemed to go on forever. In this case, however, we could see where we came from through most of our journey. It was very clear that we were climbing. The route up the pass took us past the famous Eiger and the vistas before us included glaciers and mountain streams,
but it was the step by step climbing that amazed me. Every time I looked back, I was surprised at just how far I had climbed. My Cannondale T-700touring bike has the lowest gearing of any bike in our group. In my ""granny" gear, I can actually travel at 3 mph or less. The others were using double chain rings and couldn't go any slower than about 7-8 mph. When you climb thousands of feet at 20%, that differential in speed is significant. It took me more than 2 hours to reach the summit of Grosse Scheidegg. By then, the others were already starting up the next pass -- Susten. I was going so slow that Tom had trouble riding sweep behind me because his bike was not geared so low. He would catch up with me then stop for a while and catchup again.
I stopped a lot to take pictures too. I took just as many film pictures as I did digital, so the effort of photography itself slowed me considerably.
It is difficult to smile when you are exhausted and drenched with perspiration at <40 degrees F. Sorry for the grim look in this self-portrait.
The wall of rock on the left is the Eiger.
The speck on the road is Tom a couple of hundred feed downhill.
The valley and Grindelwald grew harder and harder to see as I climb up the mountain.
Tom caught up with me and took this picture. Gosh I look chubby!
At the top of Grosse Scheidegg, my computers showed an elevation of 6525 feet, a temperature of 50° F, the fact that I had climbed over 3,000'in only 7.3 miles and that it was almost noon (the computer showed Eastern Standard Time), so it had taken me about 2-1/2 hours to go only 7.3 miles. Nevertheless, I told Tom that this one climb had made the whole trip worthwhile as far as I was concerned. It ranked right up there with Sunwapta in Alberta and the Tunnel of Trees in Michigan in my short list of the finest bicycling experiences I've ever had. The scenery here is absolutely spectacular. Cameras cannot convey the beauty and vastness of the terrain effectively. You need to see, hear and smell it to experience it. This was one of the high points of my life.
Then I went down the other side.
Going downhill is not all that fun most of the time in the Alps. There are switchbacks, potholes, drainage channels, cobblestones, steep cliffs and motor vehicles to make it scary. I tended to ride my brakes to the point where my hands ached from squeezing them so hard, but I did not brake so much that I would heat up my rims and cause blowouts. I tended to max out at around 35-39 mph. In Alberta, I once hit 50 mph.
Since I was dragging back at the end of the pack, I curtailed my photo taking, but couldn't resist some.
At the valley bottom, Tom and I ran into Bill & Kären at a convenience store. Kären had gotten lost and had wandered around the town of Meiringen trying to figure out Cyclevents' cue sheet. I ate some bread and chocolate at the store, but never stopped for real food -- a big mistake. In retrospect, I wish the day had ended at Meiringen and that we were climbing Sustin Pass tomorrow. We started the 28 K climb up Sustin Pass almost immediately. It was not as steep as Grosse Scheidegg in this direction, but it was considerably longer.
Looking down from part way:
We rode through some tunnels (I don't even recall how many). I absolutely hate to ride in tunnels.
At 6:00, I was still about 1,500' from the top and bonked. I told Tom that I'd had it; that I just couldn't summon any more energy to go on. I was cold and exhausted. Tom decided to go on in order to find Alan and send him back for me. I spent about an hour standing alone in a parking area at a switchback in the road. I felt good about how far I had climbed (my altimeter showed a gross vertical climb today of 7,550), but I was disappointed that I failed to make it all the way to the top.
looking back: looking toward the top:
Standing in the parking lot in wet clothes at around 50° for an hour chilled me to the bone. I was starting to worry that I would start suffering the effects of hypothermia, so when a Turkish couple with Hungarian license plates stopped to let their overheated rental Toyota cool down, I talked to them about my predicament (they spoke fluent English). They used their cellular phone to try calling the campground numbers reflected on my cue sheet and campground list, but neither number worked. We were exploring the option of loading my bicycle into their car, when Alan and Tom showed up in the Cyclevents Mercedes van. We loaded my bicycle on the roof rack and I sagged the rest of the way.
Sustin Pass was spectacular. I would have never made it up the final 1,500' as thoroughly exhausted as I was, but all the others, with the exception of Karrie, did. They too were frozen. Judith bailed out at the summit and was waiting for Alan too. At the suggestion of the people at the summit restaurant, Judith had stuffed newspaper into her tights for added warmth, but she was cold to the point of tears. Kären was at the summit waiting for Bill, who was still pedaling away just a couple hundred meters from the summit. They chose to go on. From the summit there was a very fast downhill run all the way to camp. Everybody else was already in camp.
The peaks around Sustin Pass were covered with fresh snow. I was so chilled and exhausted that I opted not even to ride downhill from the pass and I was too far gone to take any pictures -- sorry. I'll try to obtain some from the others.
The campground in Altdorf was the worst of the trip. We were on a busy street, near a rail yard, with bright lights blaring overhead and noise all night long. There is a better campground, but Tom said they refused to accommodate our group on the premise that they catered only to long term users. To make things even worse, it rained, but I had sandwiched a plastic sheet between my tent and the rain fly, so it wasn't too wet inside, though I did feel as though I had slept in a sauna.