Alps 2013, 6/11, Andermatt Revisited

What do they say about "best laid plans"? I was responsible for the days of riding around Andermatt, and considered it a slam-dunk since A) I'd been there before in 2009, and B) you can't go wrong - the town is literally surrounded by fabulous high passes. I had thrown together an "Andermatt Grand Circle" route that would take in St. Gotthard Pass, Nufenpass, Oberalppass, Furkapass, Grimselpass and a few others. Nearly every turn of the wheel for a whole day would be in Swiss pass heaven.

I did not count on the fact that since we were there a little early in the season nearly every one of those passes would be closed. Including, and perhaps most importantly, Furka, which I needed in order to actually GET TO Andermatt from the west.

The picture above shows the pass status the day we left Martigny. Every pass west of Andermatt is closed.

Faced with this I had to plan a huge loop to the north via Bern and Lucerne that would eventually head allow us to drop down via Wassen into Andermatt. This would double the distance and take place almost entirely on the motorway - which would suck. Fortunately while researching the pass options I came across something called the "Furka Car Train". Apparantly there's a train you can load your car (or bike!) onto that goes under the mountain from Oberwald to Realp. I plotted a pretty-much-straight route to the train station and we had a pleasant ride east, about half on the E62 motorway and half on 2-lane 19. We had considered a side trip up to Zermatt to see the Matterhorn but ultimately didn't think it would be worth the time for just a "yup, there's a mountain" stop.

We got to the station in Oberwald just as one was leaving, but another was due shortly so no big deal. Of course the next train turned out to be quite late, which was surprising for the Swiss.

Thankfully there were other bikes in front of us whom we could follow onto the train. None of had a clue how loading a train would work.

Waiting for the train in Oberalp

Here comes the train

Car unloading off the train

So the train pull in, and there's a flatbed-type car followed by a lot of open cattle-car carraiges. We're guessing we'll just ride the bikes onto the flatbed and ride to the end of the cattle cars. Wrong, wrong, wrong. What we had to do was ride onto the flatbed, then off the bike and walk it back INTO the red car you see in the shot above. And quickly, because there are bikes behind you wanting you to get on with it. The auto-closing door (which was the width of a GIVI-ladened adventure bike + .001") added a lot of excitement to the proceeding as well. I was having a helluva time walking the beastly Crosstourer backwards on the train, but fortunately everyone helps each other out and before I knew it some of the bikers who had gone on already were assisting me hauling it in.

Whew. Finally aboard.

Dave strikes up a conversation with some guys who can't recommend riding in Sardinia enough

Dave waiting his turn

Can't say enough how much fun those automatic doors were

The bikes moved around a lot during the ride and getting them off was only slightly less crazy then getting them on - at least you could ride the bike out.

It was a short but pretty ride from Realp down to Andermatt but we did get stuck at a construction site around the traffic circle for a while. Some of the other bikes were finding ways through that I didn't think possible, even by European standards. Sidewalks, front yards, you name it was fair game. We checked into our hotel which was walking distance from the "center" of town. Actually, I think everyplace in Andermatt is walking distance from anyplace else in town. We grabbed a delicious lunch at the Hotel Metropol and headed to one of the only actual open passes, St. Gotthard.

Now I had been hoping to take the old St. Gotthard pass up to (or down from) the summit, the one that's still paved with cobblestones, but - of course - it was closed due to snow. The new version of the pass is a fast and fun ride to the top so I wasn't too disappointed. We stopped at the top for a little while to take in the gorgeous views. While crusing the enormous parking lot I found what appeared to be a smaller road, maybe one car-width, heading into the mountains surrounded by lots of snow. Perhaps this was the old pass road? I started along the road, while Dave and Peter waited to see if I would be back in a minute.

The gas station on the south edge of Andermatt, which also appeared in Goldfinger

Scenic St. Gotthard pass

Cool Caterham 7

No shortage of snow up here

Surely that's a road, right?

Here goes nothing

I don't get too far before the road gets even narrower, or feels narrower because of the walls of snow on every side. I stop (no place to really 'pull over') to take some pictures, and another motorcycle goes by giving me a little more confidence that we're on a road. Of course he could be goofing around as well. Eventually Dave and Peter arrive in turn, and we discuss continuing to explore this little goat path. Dave is convinced (and may well be right) that this is a bicycle path and not meant for motor vehicles. I'm way too excited by the prospect of a deserted little snake of a road heading down the mountain to heed this caution though. I go on ahead.

Waiting for Dave and Peter to start on the "road"

Thus guy made me feel better about what we were doing

Surely this is a road. Right?

Here comes Dave

Dave gets closer

Dave is not so convinced this is a good idea

Doing a little sightseeing

Along comes Peter

Peter. Closer.

Peter's ready to continue exploring

Snow's getting pretty high

Dave still thinks this is a bad idea

I don't think I made it another kilometer before I come across the biker who went past me earler. He's in the middle of a snow/ice patch that covers the width of the road on a hairpin, spinning the rear like crazy trying (with no luck) to get some traction. After a minute or so of the bike slewing back and forth the inevitable happens and he loses whatever control he had and the bike tumbles onto it's side. He gets up, I help him right the bike, and he hops on and tries again. Determined fellow. Another minute or so and it becomes obvious to him that he can't do it so he gives up. He parks the bike and starts walking ahead, I'm guessing to see if there's any point even trying to continue.

While all this was going on in front of me, there was also drama going on behind me. Maybe it was a touch of claustrophobia, but the walls of snow on both sides of the road, close enough to touch, was doing a number of Dave's nerves and on one of the super-tiny hairpins he put a handgrip into the snow and quickly found himself on the ground. No real harm done to himself or the bike, but he would be sore and bruised for days afterwards.

I had no intention of trying to muscle the Crosstourer across icy hairpins, DTC or no. And I knew the other guys would not be interested AT ALL. We headed back to the St. Gotthard pass parking lot, Dave with a big bruise on his side and me with a big grin on my face.

An obstacle

The other biker seeing how crazy this gets

The end of the road (for us)

Coming back

The view on the return

Me coming back

Group self-portrait tricky

Gorgeous E-Type at the top of the pass

After that little adventure we continue the ride down the south ramp of St. Gotthard, stopping along the way to get some pics of the amazing view over Airolo. While we were hanging out there a couple of fighter jets blasted by - below our spot. Very cool. We did a little walking around as the views were just stupendous at that spot.

We try once again to find a piece of the cobblestone "old" pass to ride, but only make it a couple of turns before yet again finding a gate blocking our way. At Airolo we take the road to Nufenpass - I know it's closed, but maybe only a little section at the very top is closed and we can have a great ride to finish out the day. The lower section of Nufenpass is very straight, but goes through a very pretty area and we were enjoying some spirited dashes knowing traffic would be ultra-low since the road was closed ahead. It was maybe 5 or 8 kms before we came to the gate, at which point we turned around and blasted back again.

Enlisted a stranger to get a proper group photo of us

Peter falling down to Airolo. You can see a gallery on the very bottom left, the start of Nufenpass on the very bottom right, and there's an airport in the top-middle that Jim took an interest in back in 2009. Must be quite interesting to fly down there.

Long gallery way down there


It's like a "making of" special

Walking around


Dave riding down side road of St. Gotthard

"Be there".  Indeed.


Odd place for a Cialis commercial

Nufenpass 10.5km ahead

But not today

After the non-ride up Nufenpass we headed back over St. Gotthard and back to Andermatt for dinner and to find the hotel. Stopped a bit for more pictures (as always). We walked around town for a while and ended up having dinner at the Metropol where we had lunch. Why mess with success? Great food, not terribly expensive. And Erdinger Weissbeir on the menu.

The Swiss like to build these crazy hairpin extenders out in the sky


Looking back down on the road to Nufenpass

Crosstourer, sky road, Alps

iPhone pano of sky road

Coming back down St. Gotthard to Andermatt

The road to Andermatt from St. Gotthard

Dave riding into Andermatt

The devil playing the flute

The main road through Andermatt

The river Reuss runs through the middle of Andermatt

This bear is the symbol of Andermatt.

Tomorrow was supposed to be the "Grand Loop" day, flowing from pass to pass to pass. With most of the passes closed, there is no "loop" to do. More like a "hub and spoke", heading up passes to see how far we can get then head back.

I never suspected that one last on-a-whim pass would turn out to be one of the highlights of the trip, and one of my favorite passes of all time.

Stay tuned.