Category Archives: Alpine cols 2017

Outings from Farchant

This has been a fantastic base, with great views of the Zugspitze.

On the first day I cycled via Garmisch Partenkirchen to the Walchensee, and right round it. This was all on good cycle paths, with many others. Stunning views throughout.


But to complete the circuit I had to venture off-road, climb a steep pass and then descend a long way down a spectacular gorge. Part way down the gravel track became a rough footpath, with huge drops into the river, down which I pushed and then carried the bike. There was noone else around, and the forest was superb. At one point I had to wade a side river.

The second day was a walking day. I took the cable car and then walked to the summit of the Herzogstand at 1650m. This is the mountain in the 2 photos above. It’s a great viewpoint but, even better, it is the start of one of the top 100 ridge walks in the Alps.

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Unfortunately, as I arrived at the start of the ridge, someone had fallen about 20m from the most exposed section, about a third of the way along, and I sat and watched a classic helicopter evacuation by winch cable. I hope they were ok.

It was a very fine ridge. Always walking, not quite scrambling, but the exposure was very real – as evidenced by the accident. As befits a classic ridge, it has a superb, and even higher summit at the far end. This was lunch, and then the long walk down through the subalpine forest.

And today I had a more gentle bike ride. There’s an obvious circuit from here, via Reutte, but it’s nearly 80 miles and half of it runs parallel to a main road and a railway, albeit on a cycle track – mostly gravel. Then it dawned on me that I could skip that section by taking the train to Reutte and riding the second half of the circuit. So that’s what I did. It was a lovely ride, and the highlights were the section beside the Plansee, and a visit to Oberammergau.


And tomorrow I meet Helen at Munich airport for our touring holiday. Can’t wait!

Outings from Mellau

After a short break for rain, and driving, I’ve had some good days out from a b&b base in Mellau, at the western tip of Austria. (We’ll pass over a rather depressing ride in the cold and rain!)

One day I spent a morning exploring Bregenz, waiting for the rain to stop. And the afternoon cycling along the northern shore of the Bodensee, in Germany, past Landau, on a route that Helen and I cycled in 2014.
The next day summer had returned and I drove to the Rhine delta, just in Switzerland, and cycled a medium sized pass over to St Gallen for lunch. Then a descent to the southern shore of the Bodensee, where I followed the shoreline path (along with everyone else) back via Rorschach.


And today I switched to walking. First a very steep cable car from 700 to 1400 meters, and then a hike to the top of the Kanisflue, 2069m, an impressive fang of limestone with a narrow summit ridge. There were loads of people tucking into lunch at the top.


To the north you could see out over Bavaria, and to the SW to the highest peaks of central Switzerland, distinguishable by distant glaciers.

Instead of taking the cable car back down, I walked, enjoying the beautiful alpine scenery high up, and then the dense forest. A lovely day.

Col de l’Iseran

At 2770m, this is higher than the Galibier, not as well known, but equally beautiful. Oddly, whereas the best part of the Galibier, for scenery, is at the top, on the Isersan it’s the other way round. Approaching the main climb, in the lower valley, there were fantastic views of the remaining glaciers, hanging over the cliffs. Then a climb up a magnificent high valley, with alpine pastures, cows, and a big, glacier-fed river running down the middle. The summit was a bit of an anticlimax, an arid landscape with a big car park and restricted views. Oh well! The descent was the fastest yet, and I was glad of my touring bike wheels on the rough surface.

Alpe D’Huez

Well, if you’re going for iconic climbs, what else to follow the Galibier? And it’s less than half as much climbing, so counts as an easy day. Finally, it was unfinished business, since I’d passed up the chance to climb it when Helen and I passed its foot on our Grand Tour in 2014.

It was worth the wait. Spectacular bends between the crags, and much entertainment along the way from a diverse mix of humanity on bikes. There was a unicyclist, dads pushing their kids while riding their own bikes one handed, a tandem, two out-of-shape middle aged guys on shopping bikes who were knackered before reaching the first bend, a recumbent, and of course any number of fit young men going for personal bests. My contribution was to be the only person spinning up slowly on a touring bike, grinning from ear to ear. Another great day out.

Col du Mollard and Col de la Croix de Fer

I changed onto my touring bike today, and was much happier. It’s not that the roads are steeper than in Yorkshire – it’s that the steep bits take hours, not minutes to climb. So, slow and steady it is. It’s a good job the mountain roads in the USA very rarely went over 6%, which is manageable on my road bike.

I’ve had Garmin trouble and had to hard reset it – losing all my preloaded routes. Which is my excuse for doing a complete circuit of town before eventually locating the foot of my first col. Just over an hours climbing stacked hairpins in the shade of the forest brought me out onto a high alp at about 1400m. Brown cows, bells, pasture, and stunning views. And an early cheese salad for lunch. Then on over the first col of the day (where children were feeding the animals) and down into the main gorge.

Decision time. Turn right and descend, or left for the Croix de Fer? Another 800m of ascent over 15km. Too early to turn back, so switch protesting brain off and up we go.

It was fairly easy at first, but then it steepened through the ski village in the bowl of the corrie, before starting 5km of steep hairpins up the headwall. These were spectacular, with huge drops off the side. Some drivers were so anxious to avoid the edge that they narrowed the tiny road dangerously. There are some fine walks from the col, and I think I’ll have a day off the bike and do one tomorrow.

Col de la Madeleine

A classic col, grovelled up in less than classic style! 19km to climb 1600m. I think it was moving faster than me.

I am struggling with my gearing. Just not low enough to spin up easily. Everyone else has much lower gears. I’m an idiot. Still, I have my touring bike in the car for my ride with Helen – so I’ll try that tomorrow.

I was pretty fried at the top, but the scenery was stunning, and a grand cafe brought me round.

I’m now at the Camping du Grand Cols – full of cyclists and no families with noisy kids. Horrah! Good job it’s good because I’m here for almost a week.

Le Grand Colombier

I’m not sure why I chose to start with such a steep monster. 1300m of climbing in 16km, which is pushing 10% average. But the aerial shots of the Lacets (a series of very tight hairpins perched precariously on a ridge, with cliffs on both sides) looked fantastic on the tdf. And the view from the top of them – straight down over my campsite in Culoz and on down the Lac du Borget to Aix les Bains – was stunning. The problem was coping with the 13% ramps to get then, and then being less than a quarter of the way up.

It’s a good job there was shade under the trees, because it was already 26C at 10.00 and forecast 34 this afternoon. Above the Lacets it climbs consistently over 10% for more than half of the remaining 12km. There is alpine pasture once you emerge from the trees towards the top, and then the finishing ramp, steep as ever, to the summit car park.


Towards the top I had begun to see cyclists descending, and I narrowly avoided being overtaken by a young French lad. In the effort of trying to make conversation in French, I managed somehow to delete my garmin record of the climb. Annoying!
It was a tricky descent down ramps of 19%, full braking all the way. This is the way the tdf went up it this year – poor sods! I passed one guy toiling up the steepest section, out of the saddle.
It was seriously hot back in the valley, so I contented myself with another 300m of much easier climbing, to wind the legs down, and then headed back to the campsite for an afternoon’s rest.