Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Finding new Swiss Climbs - Lago di Narèt

Another epic climb in the record books for us.
After 7 years of summer cycling trips to Switzerland, you become pretty familiar with all the big epic climbs.  In preparation of our 2015 trip, I put some effort in researching big climbs we had not yet done.  Thanks to the brilliant work of Will and his site Cycling Challenge, I was able to find an enticing climb that was new to us.  Will is friends with our friend, Chris.  Anybody that likes to ride with Chris is okay by our standards, so I knew I could trust Will's report 100%.   I asked another friend, Howard, about this climb and he said it was a real bugger.  That was all I needed to hear.  Lago di Narèt was officially on our list for climbs to do in 2015.

We based ourselves in Bignasco, a tiny little town at the bottom of Maggia Valley, the valley we'd ride up en route to the high dam lake Narèt.  You have a choice of 2 valleys of which to ride up from Bignasco; Maggia and Bavona.  The day we arrived, we rode up through Bavona in order to shake down our rental bikes.  It was a beautiful quiet area dotted with ancient stone and wood structures and absent of any electric poles or lines.  It turns out that all electric requirements are met by solar power.  I would love to explore this area a bit further in the future. 
day before riding up Via Bavona from Bignasco, beautiful wild valley.
The route for Lago di Narèt is pretty straightforward.  You head up the road running alongside the Maggia river and keep going up up up.  There were never any confusing intersections (that I recall) and it was always obvious which way to go.  Things are pleasant enough for the first 8 miles and then you hit the first area of tight steep switchbacks.  It was here I noticed evidence of goat droppings all over the road.  Sure enough, there they were on the side watching me with great curiosity.  I did see a small little herd ambling across the road, but never did see one of the huge herds that are quite common in the area.

The goats seemed interested in our activity.
I liked the switchbacks.  Nice and tight, you made a lot of progress in a short distance.

switchbacks on top of switchbacks

on our way to Mogno
About 10 miles in our ride we saw the little hamlet of Mogno off to the right.  We took a diversion there in order to see the Mountain Church designed by Mario Botta.  It's a lovely quaint area and we even found a add-on bonus 21% grade climb just past the church.
Church made from alternating layers of granite and marble with no windows.  Only source of light is from the glass roof.
After our jaunt around Mogno, we went back to the main road and resumed our climbing.  At this point it was still a manageable pleasant climb without any crazy steep gradients.  (Note: We all agreed after we completed the ride, that ignorance is best for this one. Sometimes it's best not knowing what you're in for.)
The token tunnel
Still riding along blissfully ignorant of the arduous task ahead, we made each turn with eyes wide over the fun and intrigue the climb had delivered so far.

still climbing
From Mogno, it's about another 3 miles of climbing and you approach the first dam for the gorgeous Lago di Sambuco.  Just before this spot, there was a food truck stand.  On our way back down we were hoping the stand was still open and it was.  It made for a great refueling spot.  There is a nice grassy area perfect for sprawling out to enjoy the warmth of the sun and take in the fabulous mountain view.  There's also a handy water fountain to refill your bottles (one of the wonderful treats included in your Swiss riding - water fountains are everywhere).

approaching the first dam, an impressive sight
The road, Val Sambuco as it is called from here on, skirts along the right side of the lake.  Enjoy yourself as you cruise along  effortlessly.  It's a couple of miles to get to the end of the lake.  That is when your ride is about to change.  Your effort meter is going to be pegged for the remaining 6 miles. Pegged.
Lago Sambuco

Feels good to spin along - what a view!
Fun time is over.  You're at the other end of the lake and it's time to climb.  This climb doesn't mess around either.
And this is where it starts to go UP!
It goes straight up.  Forget switchbacks, it just goes up.  You think you're going to fall over on your back, left to flap around like an upside turtle.  Not only does it take your physical strength, but mental as well.  Don't let it get to you.  Keep grinding it out.  It will let up a wee bit, but not for a while.
Steep with no end in sight

still steep. 
You can see Lago Sambuco way in the background.  That gives you an idea of just how long and steep the road is as you climb up from it.

Yea, a switchback!
Finally after 3 grueling miles of relentless steepness, you get into some switchbacks.

you can see how steep this switchback is 
The terrain changes a bit and the road opens up stretching before you to the right on a long sweep.

the road takes a dramatic sweep up to the right
We cross over the river flowing from a small lake to our left, Laghetti Lassolo.  You can see the road working its way up more hilly peaks as the scenery becomes more dramatic.

crossing over river fed from Lake Lassolo just to our left.

scenery is fabulous
The road continues on past another little lake, Superiore, as the switchbacks bring you up to the last pitch.

Laghetti Superiore
Making it through the last of the big switchbacks above Lago Superiore before reaching Lago di Narèt. You can barely make out the 2 cyclists in the right side of the picture - gives you an idea of the scale of grandeur!

There it is, you see the dam up ahead.  The road dips and skirts by Lake Scuro before climbing again for one last switchback up to the dam.  As we flew down that little downhill, I used every bit of momentum to carry me up to the last of the 6,000+ feet we'd just ascended.

There's the dam!  Lago di Narèt is just on the other side!

The last switchback, you're at the top!
What a well deserved reward it was to reach the top.  The beautiful blue lake surrounded by dramatic mountain peaks as far as the eye can see.  It's worth taking your time once up here and riding around to take it all in.

23 miles later we're at the top of the dam!
We were slightly dismayed that there wasn't a food stand anywhere to be found.  We rode across the dam and went 4 wheeling around the lake.  Surely there would be something!  No.  No restaurant or hütte for us.  Just stunning scenery and the great sense of satisfaction that we made it on 2 wheels. That was good enough for us.  We continued on and rode across the other side of the dam.

Road around the lake leads to another small lake and hiking trails.

Riding across other side of the dam
Once we had our fill of eye candy, it was time to start the descent.  The descent is, of course, great fun because you get to take in all the scenery without any effort.  Needless to say, we had lots of stops along the way so we could "oooh" and "aahhh"!

Starting the descent

We had made a day of the ride, so by now we were a bit hungry.  Remembering the food truck at Fontanalba, we were thrilled to see it was still open as we came past the dam at Lake Sambuco.  We each gobbled down a panini and an ice cream treat - Pralinato - Mmmm, my favorite!  The sun felt so good that we couldn't resist having a nice rest.  It was the perfect spot for it.
Great spot for taking a break
I highly recommend making the effort to do this climb if you're ever in Switzerland.  It's a challenge for sure, but well worth it. This definitely fits the bill for a Hillseeker.   Thanks again to Will for his fantastic website - otherwise we may have missed this fine gem!

What a view!

Monday, January 5, 2015

Klausen Epic Times Two

Klausen Pass
Of all my trips to Switzerland, I had yet to climb Klausen Pass.  In 2009 I did my epic Hütte hike which ended over the Clariden at the top of Klausen.  We drove down the Glarus side and I remember how stunningly beautiful it was.  Ever since then I've always wanted to ride it on my bike. Today was the day, and we would be joined by our silly friend, Howard, photographer extraordinaire

Riding from the house we climbed towards Schindellegi.   Our journey followed on to Biberbrugg and Sattel.  It was a lovely day and we had no real concerns for bad weather.
On our way towards Biberbrugg, so far it's a beautiful day!

As we rolled along through the streets of Schwyz, I smelled the unmistakable scent of chocolate.  I know the smell all too well, as I worked for a number years in a Swiss chocolate factory.  With my radar on high alert, I scanned the surroundings.  We weren't just near a chocolate shop.  I knew this was a factory.  Suddenly I noticed the sign on the side of the building we were passing - Felchlin.  Immediately I knew this was it.  Felchlin was one of our chocolate suppliers from my days at the Swiss Chocolate Factory.  It was a sweet connection for me, and we stopped to take pictures.  

Nostalgic time over, we continued on our journey.  The town of Brunnen was just ahead.  This is a lovely little port town on Lake Lucerne.  We stopped to enjoy the view and watch the boat deposit its passengers and take on a new load.
Continued on from Sattel to Brunnen.
The road skirts the lake and took us to Flüelen.  Although it's a busy road, there is a nice bike path the entire way.  Today it was not that busy and I didn't notice the cars at all, but rather took in the stunning views to my right of the lake and mountains.

Lovely ride along Lake Lucerne from Brunnen to  Flüelen
Sometimes the road would divert onto side routes that led to interesting car free paths and tunnels.
There was one in particular that was my favorite as you can see in the photo below.
Cool pathways off the main road with picturesque views!
Riding through car tunnels is not my favorite thing to do, but these all had nice bike paths and made for a much less terrifying experience.
Tunnels have ample bike path
Finally we arrived in the town of Altdorf of William Tell fame.  In typical Swiss fashion, we had to stop at a local cafe for lunch.  I find this exercise quite odd, especially in the middle of a big mountain pass ride, but it's what my Swiss friends do so I follow their lead.  While Howard downed a huge plate of spaghetti, I oped for a simple little salad.  There is no way I can climb for 2 hours with a tummy full of meat sauce!
Arriving in the town of Altdorf - looking for William Tell.
With lunchtime over, it's finally time for the real ride of the day.  After 30 miles, we've reached the start of the meat of the route - Klausen Pass.
Making the long climb up Klausen Pass
Don't quote me on this, but the climb is roughly 18 miles and 4,500' - that's based on my Strava stats. Without getting hung up on specifics, you get the picture.  Like every climb in Switzerland, it is long
and you go up up up and more up.  One thing is for sure, you will get nice views to reward you for your efforts along the way.
beautiful climb

We are enjoying the climb a bit too much to notice the stormy clouds
As we approached the last 5 kilometers, it was evident we were in for potential rain, but we remained hopeful that we would beat any approaching storms.  Literally, with 2K to go, the skies opened up and it began to rain.  All beats were off and we each put forth our best efforts to make it to the top for some shelter.
We thought we were going to make it to the top before the rain.
With the rain coming down hard, it was difficult to even see if there was shelter to be found.  Finally through the storm, I could see a building towering to my left.  Whatever it was, I was going to it.  I just had to get there.  I pedaled as fast as my weary legs would allow.

I could see Howard just ahead taking cover under a tent of sorts.  It was welcome relief for our soggy souls and the 3 of us huddled under it as we tried to catch our breath.  The temperature had dropped considerably and we needed to find a warm shelter quickly.
We were wrong.
Making one last run for it, we left the bikes and ran up the stairs to the dry warm protection of the Hotel. With nothing left to do, we resolved ourselves to wait out the storm and warmed our shivering bodies with hot tea and hot chocolate (and other hot drinks)!   We waited and waited, but the rain would not let up and we realized we had gotten ourselves in quite a pickle.  What to do?  Time was marching on and we were a long way from everywhere.

Hanging out for a while in the Hotel trying to warm up and dry out!
 Our route was supposed to continue on over the pass and over the other side to Glarus where we would take the train home.  However, we learned that there had been a road slid and the pass was closed.  We would NOT be going down that way by bike or by bus.  Our only choice was to go back down Klausen the way we came up.  Argh, I wasn't thrilled about descending for 18 miles on wet roads in the rain.  I couldn't stop shivering from the bone chilling cold and the ride would only make it worse.

Desperate times call for desperate measures.  I began giving out orders, "Howard, ask the waitress for any placemats or newspapers.  Becky, let's find some plastic baggies.  We've got to bundle up if we're going to survive this descent."  The waitress came with a stack of newspapers and I spied a bread basket with plastic bags.  The waitress gave me a puzzled look when I asked for the baggies, but soon she figured out what it was for.
The rain just wouldn't let up
 Roger and I had learned this trick in Italy when faced with a similar circumstance.  We used the paper placemats to keep us warm by placing it under our wet jersey.  Newspapers would serve the same purpose.  The plastic baggies were placed over our sock feet to help warm them up in our wet shoes.  We put newspapers everywhere - jerseys, shorts, & sleeves.
We had no choice but to go back down the way we came up.
 We looked rather odd, but didn't really care.  Our safety was of more importance than our looks, and we had a long, wet, cold, dangerous descent before us.   We rallied ourselves and made a break for it.
retrieving our bikes from a strategically placed tent
 I was terrified.  The road was like a river and you couldn't see.  Trying to keep from shaking too much from the cold, I sang out loud to try and keep me from tensing up too much.  In situations like this, it doesn't help to freak out.  You've got to do what you've got to do.
This was going to be "fun", descending in torrential rain and cold.
We had barely traveled 2K down the road when literally we crossed a line in the road going from wet to perfectly dry!  It had never rained a drop from this point on!  We had been sitting up there waiting while all along it was fine just down the road!   Well, we got a Big laugh out of it, not to mention we were absolutely thrilled that we had a dry descent and an ever increasing temperature.  I think we each laughed the whole rest of the way down Klausen.
What?!!!  2 kilometers later and the road is dry as a bone!?!
 By now we've been over 60 miles and were quickly losing the light of day.  There was no way we could cycle back home.  We had to catch a train, but as we rolled into Altdorf, we had just missed the train.  Pedaling fast as we could, we made it to the next town, Flüelen, to catch a train from there.  Just in the nick of time we were able to hop the train to Biberbrugg.   We got off there because we knew we could literally ride our bikes down hill all the way home faster than if we stayed on the train all the way home.   It was rather fitting to end the ride on our bikes.   As we coasted down the hill, the sunset painted a glorious picture.  
Finally arriving back home just in time for sunset.
 It was an epic day indeed!  89 miles, 8,600' climbing, and 7 hours of riding, plus a fun hour of waiting out the storm.  I love to ride my bike, but I enjoy it all the more when it is epic!
High Five!  An epic Klausen adventure for sure!!!
While I thoroughly enjoyed my crazy adventure with Becky and Howard, I still wanted to be able to do a 'proper' Klausen pass.  Technically, I had not been to the very top, and with the rain, I didn't get to see everything around me on the climb.  It was pretty in the clouds and rain, so I could only imagine how much better it would be if I could actually see it!   I told Roger we had to give it another go when he arrived the next week.  We would do Klausen the correct way, up and over the pass and then take the train back from Glarus.  He agreed.
We got an early start this time and the weather was perfect.
 Roger and I started out early that morning so we could be to the climb before any afternoon storms that might sneak up.  The day started out beautiful, but in the Swiss mountains you never know what's going to happen.
Making our way along Lake Lucerne

This time the road along the lake was very busy, so we were happy to take the side routes.

On our way to Altdorf

Without any delay, we made it to the start of Klausen.
 There were plenty of clouds, but they were high clouds and we could enjoy the views.
The 'bottom' half of the climb working our way up the valley.
 With the sun out and no storm clouds, it was a totally different experience for me the 2nd time around.

It is a long climb, so  you have plenty of time to enjoy the scenery.

Finally getting higher up

Funny, these goats were on their same perch as they were a week ago.  I have a feeling they watch many a cyclist go by.

 The road gets narrower for the upper half, but we weren't racing against any storms this time.  I was having a ball!
switchbacks behind us, we've made a lot of progress.
 I was very relieved when we passed by the hotel in the dry.  We wouldn't be stopping here this time.
 We still had a ways to go before the top of the Pass.
 It was very satisfying to make it to the top without any threat of rain.  I recognized the store from my last visit here in 2009.  Our hike literally ended at the same store where today we grabbed some candy bars.  We thought we just had an hour descent and then we'd be done.  Little did we know, we were going to make it another epic Klausen ride.
Beautiful descent
 Coming down the Glarus side of Klausen is one of my favorite descents.  It is stunning.  That is a phrase that can be overused in Switzerland, as it seems every pass is stunning.  Nonetheless, this one is and I find it difficult to ride without stopping every 2 feet to take a picture.

 On of the reasons I stop so much on this descent is because of the cows in the road!  It is very common for the cows to cruise down the road here.  I find this amusing!
excuse me, on your left.

down down down the valley 
 The descent seemed to go on forever and ever.  I began to wonder if it would ever end.

 Eventually we got to the valley floor.   We seemed to be on a roll and did not want to lose our momentum.  We rolled through Glarus and on to the next town.  After a while we realized we either needed to find a train station or commit to making this another epic day.  If we kept at it, we could ride all the way back home.  It would be 100 miles, but we could do it.  There would be no more climbing (except for the steep climb from town up to the house).

We stopped at a bakery to fuel up and discuss. "Well, what should we do?" Roger asked me.  I said, "let's go for it.  I game if you are!"  With a new surge of energy and excitement, I went back into the bakery for a 2nd round of treats.  We're going to need the calories!  Let's go!
We didn't really know where we were going other than following signs for Zürich.  We knew if we could see the lake, all we had to do was follow it and eventually we'd run into our town.   The only thing we didn't know was just how far this was going to be.  Sometimes ignorance is bliss.

We boogied on with a giddiness like 2 school kids on a secret mission.  Ha, who knew when we started out this morning we'd be doing a century.  Then there was the sound of thunder in the distance.  We looked behind us and saw a huge black sky of doom.  Oooooo, this epic ride just got more epic.  What's a ride when you're not running from a storm!?!  There always has to be a measure of doom involved to make it epic!

With heads down, we were on a new mission.  We were time trialing against the storm.  Drops started hitting me lightly.  Uh oh, please don't let it dump on us, I thought.  We rode harder and harder.  The flat terrain seemed to push us along effortlessly, but the miles went on and on and on.  Surely we were making some kind of progress.  I tried not to think about it and just pedaled, ignoring the claps of thunder.

Finally we made it to our town.  Taking our chances, we popped into the grocery to grab some food.  As we rode slowly up the terribly steep climb to the house, it started to rain.  Just barely making it inside, we were jubilant at our victory.  We stood on the balcony watching the black sky close in on us, but we didn't care because we were in the safety of the house and we were done with our ride!
selfie taken during a break on the long descent to Glarus

It was a ride of "8s" - 8 hours and 8,800' climbing in 101 miles.  Two epic Klausen rides that I will always remember!