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Bike – Over the Furka Pass

    Furka Pass

    Photo: View from layby just to the west of the Furka Pass itself. The Grimsel Pass is snaking up the far mountainside.

    I had been planning to go over the Furka Pass on a tour in June, but that was put on hold due to rain. So I decided to come back late in the summer to do it. My original plan had been to go over it and carry on down Valais and through to Lausanne, but an invite from a Swiss friend to spend the weekend MTBing around Fiesch gave a good opportunity (though a full suspension MTB was somewhat overkill and inefficient for such a route).

    It was worth the wait for such a perfect day; flawless clear views and blue skies. It had snowed the previous Sunday and patches of it were down to the level of the pass. That combined with the browning mountainsides gave a very strong autumn feel.

    The views going over the pass are really varied. As you cross over various valleys and peaks come in and out of view. The landscape was more impressive than I expected, especially the views to the high peaks on the west side of the pass.

    Key Information

    Route: Andermatt – Furkapass (2429m) – Oberwald – Fiesch.

    Length: 67km, +1400m, -1800m.

    Date: 2021-September-24.


    Practical Information

    Season: Late Spring to Autumn. The biggest factor is the Furka is closed until mid-late May (or even into June if it was a cold winter/spring). The current status and historic opening dates can be found at aplen-paesse.ch.

    Arrival/Departure: Train to Andermatt / Train from Fiesch.

    Supplies: There are a few hotels/snack stands/farm shops on the pass road for refreshments, and there are a series of villages with shops and restaurants on both sides of the pass.

    Alternate routes/shortcuts: A train runs directly from Andermatt to Fiesch. You can simply take the train from Andermatt or Realp under the Furka Pass to Oberwald (or have it as a back up option to roll back down to incase you can’t make it over).

    Exposure/Hazards: The pass is high and the road will be in the sun most of the day – protect your skin and keep hydrated.

    Traffic wasn’t too bad being a Friday in September. There were some motorbike and sports car tourers out, but generally not too heavy and there were lots of other cyclists about too. Going by the number plates most of the traffic was domestic Swiss tourism.


    Notes along the route

    I followed mountain bike Route 410 from Andermatt station to Realp to avoid the road for as long as possible. This was scenic, easy going, and a nice warm up.

    Starting off in Andermatt looking towards the pass.
    Riding up Ursern valley towards Realp.

    Joining the pass road at Realp it is a fairly steady 900m of climb over 12km. The switchbacks at the start felt steeper to me, but looking at the height profile of the route it seems that was just in my head.

    A few switchbacks after leaving Realp there is a Goldfinger themed layby with a James Bond Street sign and a Sean Connery memorial that plays the Goldfinger theme at you (no really). Watching the scene from the film again afterwards I can see it does the common trick of a seemingly continuous scene which is actually jumping back and forth all over the place in the real world. I actually found the pass and the views to be much more impressive than the film shows them to be (maybe modern filming techniques would do a better job there), but they did have a view of the Rhone glacier from the road then.

    James bond lookout point not long after starting the climb out of Realp.

    The climb keeps going and going, but you have open and changing views the whole way up so it is easy to stay distracted.

    No venomous snakes, just unimpressed cows.
    After the switchbacks are over with a clear view to the pass at last.

    The top of the Furka Pass itself felt a bit of a let down compared to the rest of the climb. It feels a bit sad and much better views can be had along the route – especially at the layby a few hundred meters to the west which has fantastic views.

    At the pass.
    Snow from the previous weekend.
    Grand Tour sign at the little layby just west of the pass proper.

    From the pass it is an easy non-stop downhill ride to Oberwald.

    Shortly after dropping down from the pass is the viral friendly Hotel Belvedere. It was nice to see it in person, but it wasn’t anything exciting. The views off to the highest peaks of Bern and Valais were impressive and not something you see in any of the photos.

    By the Hotel is a car park with a snack stand and the Glacier Grotto providing entrance to see the Rhone glacier and walk a little way into it (for 9 CHF). I have seen enough glaciers this year to not see the point in paying (especially when they block off access to the view of the glacier).

    Descending the pass with views of high peaks in Valais opening up on the left too.
    Stopping at the hotel Belvedere.

    Carrying down towards Gletsch I was by pure chance on time to see the Furka Steam Railway train passing the road on the old route from Oberwald to Realp (the part of the route which gave the Glacier Express the glacier part of the name, but was dropped in the 1980s, not that the glacier is visible anymore anyway). Coming over the pass on the steam train or at least post bus would be one of the top suggestions for my expanded Glacier Express route.

    Historic Post Buses and the historic steam train.

    From Oberwald I followed the Rhone Route bike path to avoid the road. Given the (relatively) gentle landscape of the Obergoms valley I had thought that it would be an easy cruise along the river to Fiesch. There was more up and down than I expected, including possibly the steepest section of path on any Swiss Mobility (certainly the steepest that I have come across). It was a beautiful and quiet ride at least.

    Gentler landscapes in the Obergoms.
    Obergoms

    I could have crossed the suspension bridge at Mühlebach and glided down the last bit of the road into Fiesch, but instead I decided to press on to the stunningly beautiful little village of Ernen (just because I hadn’t seen it in a while) and climb back up to Fiesch from the valley floor.

    Ernen.
    Ernen.

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