Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Maighels Adventure

Endless adventure always guaranteed in Switzerland!
I have fallen sorely behind in documenting all the fabulous Swiss adventures that have occurred the past few years.  After a while it became so overwhelming to keep up with my posts that I simply gave up.  However, I remember how helpful it was for us when researching for our trips to read other blog posts.  They would give us ideas of things to do and places to go.   If I can be of inspiration to at least one other person, then I suppose it's worth the effort to keep blogging on our adventures - even if they are a few years old.

2012 was a memorable year because our friends were getting married in Switzerland and I was fortunate enough to join in the celebration.   Before the weekend of the big event I was able to get in some fun biking adventures.  My friend, Jeff, had Monday off and wanted to go on a mountain bike excursion with me.  I was thrilled!   Jeff had not been on his mtn bike in a year and was eager to reacquaint himself with the dirt.   I left the planning up to him.   He thumbed through a guidebook and picked out a course.  We were totally winging this one.

We headed to Andermatt for our starting point.   Our course was to climb up the Oberalp Pass and then pick up a trail to the Val Maighels over the Maighels Pass and back through a valley down to Andermatt.  Sounded simple enough.  
heading out from Andermatt.
 The Oberalp Pass started off with loads of switchbacks and loads of views.  Jeff pointed out to me the valley through which we would eventually be returning.
climbing the Oberalp Pass.
 It was a warm  August day, and we passed a cyclist seeking refuge from the sun.  He was content to rest and we were content to grind up the road with our big knobby tires.   I've climbed the Bernina Pass before on a mtn bike and it was brutal.   I was hoping this pass wasn't as long.  Two hours on a road climb is not exactly the funnest thing to do.   Then again, I'm riding in Switzerland.  How awful can it be?!
strategically placed stone structure provides the perfect respite.

Looking back down at the switchbacks and the progress we've made.

We got to a bit where we could see a sort of path that appeared to parallel the road climb.  I casually suggested we try taking the trail.   That would be more fun than the road!   It looked like it was a rideable trail.   We decided to give it a go, and if it wasn't doable we could just turn back and hop on the road.  Seemed like a good plan at the time.

I left all map reading to my trusty guide.

Hmm, cow paths are not always the best bike paths.
My fabulous idea turned out to be not so brilliant.  It was a true cow path and only rideable for short sections at a time.  By the time we accepted the fact that it wasn't really rideable, we had pretty much committed ourselves to the journey.
Hike a Bike up the Oberalp.
We laughed at ourselves (to keep from crying) and pushed ahead for about 3 km.  For every meter we could ride the bike, we had to push it 4.   Funny how in the photo below it appears to be a lovely rideable trail.  Looks can be deceiving.  That was about the only stretch we probably did not push our bikes.
Deceptive cow path trail.
Jeff and I would look at each other and say, "you know there's a perfectly good smooth road just right there to our left!"   Then we would laugh all over again.   That's when we knew this was going to be one of those fun adventures we would remember forever.  This was only the first couple of hours.  We had loads more to go!
let's get off this path and back
onto the road!
Finally we reached a point where we could see a way to work our way over to the road.  We jumped over the train tracks and happily glided over the pavement the last few hundred meters to the top of the Pass.
Here was a trusty sign mapping out all the paths and how to link them all together.  We would only have time today to do:  Andermatt>Oberalppass>Maighels Hütte>Val Maighels>Maighelspass>Andermatt.   That's the joy of hiking/cycling in Switzerland - you just follow the signs and you'll get to your destination.
As we popped over the top of the Pass, we could see the singletrack trail off to the right of the road.  I couldn't get to it fast enough.  We started to fly down the trail, but quickly came to a section with some bridge work.  There was a man coming across so I stopped to allow him passage.   He informed us that riding the trail today would not be such a great idea.   There was a trail work party in progress and he also something about a cow in the middle of the trail giving birth!   Once again, Jeff got out the map to formulate Plan C.
Short lived bliss on the singletrack.
We would have to descend the Pass on the road and pick up a dirt road that would hook us back into our loop.   This meant missing out on the singletrack bit, but there wasn't much else we could do about it.   Again, how awful can it be when you're cycling surrounded by glorious mountains at every turn?!

The road descends sharply with the zig zag of switchbacks.   We saw a few gravel roads and took a wild guess at which was the correct one for us.  As long as it went up we knew we couldn't be doing too much damage.
Starting the gravel climb with the switchbacks of our descent visible behind us.
The road climbed relentlessly.   We were both in a bit of trance still trying to recover from our hours of previous hike a bike fun.   Climbing in silence, we both lost ourselves in the beauty of the surroundings.

climb climb climb

happy happy happy
As we approached a tiny little lake, we knew the top of this bit was close.  Soon the valley would be opening up before us.
But first we stopped to enjoy the view back from where we'd come.  The sun was shining and we were starting to get revived!
We passed some cyclists that had just come from the Maighels Hütte.  They strongly urged us to make the hike up to the hütte that was just up ahead.
getting closer to the turn off for the Maighels Hütte.
The road climbed gradually and we finally saw the hütte perched up above to our left.  We left our bikes at the bottom of the trail, as it was a bit too steep and long to waste energy climbing it on a bike.  It would be quicker on foot and nobody was going to be making off with our bikes up here.  We felt like we were miles from nowhere!

quick walk up to the Maighels Hütte.
When we got to the hütte, there were a few hikers sitting outside enjoying the view and eating.  We found a nice spot in the sun and I went inside to see what treats I could find while Jeff consulted the map.  There were a few slices remaining of some torte and I eagerly bought them.   We gobbled up our treats while relishing in the warm sun and stunning views.   Mountains as far as the eye could see.  No cities, no buildings, no civilization, nothing but beautiful nature.  We didn't want to leave our comfy perches, but knew we had better get back on with it.  The trail ahead was all new to us and we had no idea how long this was going to take us.  Lollygag time was over.

The doubletrack through the Val Maighels eventually gave way to singletrack.  Beautiful singeltrack!  We were both so thrilled to finally be on a proper trail that we sort of ignored the slightly stormy skies that were lurking ahead in the direction of our travel.
When turned back to look in the direction from where we had just come, the sky was blue.  What could possibly go wrong when you have blue skies behind you?!
I was really digging the trail and I didn't care if there were storm clouds ahead.  Eventually the trail started climbing again.  We still had to get over the MaighelsPass.
Intersection just before the top of the Pass.  If we head left we could go on to the Gotthard Pass!
The last pitch of the climb was a bit steep.  We had just passed the intersection that goes off to the Gotthard Pass.  There wasn't enough time for that big daddy loop today.   We had to walk the last bit as the trail crest the top.
As we got over the top, my jaw dropped in awe of the scene before me!  It was splendid!  But my elation quickly changed to terror as a large thunder clap shook the heavens above us.  The sky turned dark and we could see impending doom not too far away.  My heart jumped into my throat.  Realizing the seriousness of the moment, we looked at each other and said, "we've got to get down as fast as possible!"  

Honestly, I was terrified.   There's nothing like the vulnerability of being out in the middle of nowhere at the top of a mountain in the middle of thunderstorm.   People die in these situations.  I did not want to die.  I hopped on my full suspension MotoLite and flew down the trail for all I was worth.
I came over a rise and this was the view before me.   Holy cow, that's gorgeous!!!   Argh, I can't spend too much time taking it in.  I snapped a picture and stashed away my camera.   I could see the storm as it was moving in and was going to do all I could do to outrun it.

the start of our descent that unfortunately I could not stop and savor for long.
The trail started to get a bit gnarly, but I didn't care.  With all my weight down and back behind the seat, I hurled myself down the trail.  The trail got gnarlier.  I still kept riding.   The adrenaline was pumping like mad through my veins.  I could have cleaned anything at this rate.

Finally I came to my senses.  If I faltered one bit and crashed on this, it was going to be ugly.  There was no easy way down this mountain, and I needed to be in one piece to do it.  I realized the technicality of the trail was getting over my ability, heck, it was over any mortal's ability.   Time to dismount.   The rain had started and the rocks and wood in the trail were like ice.

I turned around to check on Jeff.   He had come to his senses as well as I saw him get off his bike.  Shew, I breathed a sigh of relief.  If he crashed I wouldn't know what to do.   There would be none of that today.

Together we hiked our bikes down treacherous slippery steep trail.   We hiked and hiked and hiked, down down down.  It went on forever and ever and ever.   The rain fell ever so gently as the storm skirted just beyond us.  We had lost enough altitude to feel like we were out of imminent danger.   We began to laugh again.  This was turning out to be quite the adventure!

Finally we reached the bottom of the trail and were able to get back on the bikes.  Even though the stone armored path was wet, we gingerly made our way down with great relief.   The rain was now barely a mist and the black skies were behind us.   We still had a long descent down a gravel road through the valley into Andermatt.  A long long long descent.  If ever I could have used a Garmin, it would have been that day.   It sure would have been satisfying to know some stats on how much we climbed.
The end of the Maighels trail.  We survived the storm and the descent!

I cannot remember how long our little adventure took us, but I want to say 6 hours perhaps? I've never been on a ride before where I experienced both sheer delight and sheer terror, and I've never laughed so much at myself as I did on this ride!

We made it back to the car in the nick of time. As we got the bikes loaded and pulled out of Andermatt, the skies opened up with a fierce hail storm. It was so bad that Jeff finally had to pull the car off the road and wait it out. Imagine the relief we felt sitting in the safety of the car. That could have been us out there in the middle of a wicked hail storm and nowhere to hide! Of course, that never would have happened to us. Nope, our adventure was perfectly timed with just the right amount of fun and drama! My Maighels Adventure - one I'll remember fondly forever! Thanks, Gustav, for a grand adventure!

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