Ken Roberts - - Bicycling

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selecting high mountain roads to ride

October 2009 - (revised from September 2008)

what's here

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intro

Different climbs are worth riding for different reasons. Different people at different times have different preferences + goals. So if you know which climbs fit which preferences then you can do better at choosing climbs (or a region) that fit for you.

Revision in 2009: I started exploring climbs that don't go over a pass -- and discovering that some of those deserve to be selected as more interesting or pretty. Then I discovered www.quaeldich.de -- a community exploring and assessing climbs for qualities other than steepness and size.

[ to be added ]

 

see also:

  • www.quaeldich.de for ratings of prettiness. My only problem with quaeldich.de is that it does not distinguish between prettiness in springtime or early summer with seasonal snow remaining versus prettiness in autumn with all or most of seasonal snow melted away.

 

timing: snow + selecting season to ride

For me views of snow make a big difference in how much enjoy riding in the mountains -- I really like seeing the contrast of bright white and dark rock, bright white with green trees, bright white with blue sky.

My thought is that there's three categories of mountain scenes:

(a) those with such interesting rock or water structures (pinnacles, vertical cliffs, lake, waterfall) that they are sufficiently wonderful without the enhancement of snow

(though often the presence of snow makes them even more wonderful) - (examples are the Sella and Groedner / Gardena passes in the Dolomites)

(b) those with sufficient permanent year-round snow to be wonderful even after all their seasonal snow has melted away

(though the presence of the additional seasonal snow makes them more wonderful) - (examples are the views west from Grosse Scheidegg to the Fiescherhorn + Mönch + Eiger, or on various sectionns of roads around Mont Blanc)

(c) all the other mountain places, which are much more spectacular with substantial seasonal snow than without.

Therefore (c) is much prettier in early season than late season.

Here's my assessment of how to apply this:

France:

  • southern Alps of France (Barcellonette and south): much better in April and early May than later.

  • Embrun + Briancon area: riding there by late May or early June should be better.

  • Galibier + Iseran area: riding there by late June (or perhaps early July) should be better.

  • Roselend + Saisies (Beaufortain) area: late April and May.

  • Megeve + Combloux thru Montets + Lac d'Emosson: views of snowfields on Mont Blanc are great any time of year. (but June is even more wonderful).

Switzerland:

  • Grand St Bernard: June or early July would usually be better (because the higher peaks that hold snow better are not so close or not so visible because blocked by lower peaks)

  • Col du Grand Ferret: since trail is dirt, going too early season runs risk of lots of mud -- or of the pass being covered with snow. If in doubt, use Grand St Bernard instead.

  • other southwest Switzerland around Martigny: better before late June.

  • central Switzerland around Innertkirchen + Andermatt: better before late June.

  • Grosse Scheidegg + Maennlichen: earlier is better, but early July should still be OK -- and there will be some snow visible any time.

  • southeast Switzerland (around St Moritz + Tiefencastel): much better in late April and early May than later.

Italy:

  • east side of Stilfserjoch / Stelvio: often still good in late June, early July -- and some snow will still be visible later from the east side.

  • other passes around Bormio: try to get there by late May.

  • Dolomites: spectacular rock formations any time of year. (but April+May+June are even more wonderful with white-contrast)

  • Col del Nivolet + Val Savaranche up+back (before June should be better). For crossing Col de Nivolet to connect with Val Savaranche (for like for riding around Gran Paradiso) might have to wait for July to feel confident that the trail will be mostly snow-free and not muddy.

selecting mountain roads with special characteristics

based on the discussion under "why ride high mountain roads?", here's what I'm going to focus on for selection:  

  • views of pointy peaks or interesting rock formations

  • views of year-round snow

  • lakes or waterfalls

  • interesting climb

  • fun descent

  • views of interesting human constructed features (e.g. villages)

  • animals

pointy peaks or interesting rock formations

Myself I'm not all that impressed by seeing high summits or ridges with a smooth or rounded profile. Because the hills and ridges around where I live have mostly smooth profiles, which is nice sometimes -- but why should I put in the time and effort to ride high if I'm going to see basically the same kind of shapes? So I prefer to select roads with views (and close views) of pointy peaks.

Italy:

  • Sella + Grödner / Gardena + Pordoi

  • Falzarego + Valparola (? side trip to Rifugio Cinque Torre ?)

  • Giau + Fedaia

  • Tre Croci / Misurina

  • Rolle + Vallon (also the whole loop of them with town of Agordo, but Agordo is so low that the climb from it up to Vallon is very long -- perhaps a well-planned bus ride could help?)

  • ? Dolomiti de Brenta ? I haven't tried riding around this group yet, but supposed to have dramatic rock formations.

Switzerland:

  • Grosse Scheidegg and Männlichen (Berner Oberland south from Interlaken)

  • Lac d'Emosson -- side trip above Finhaut, between Col de la Forclaz and Col des Montets (France) -- big view of the snowy Mont Blanc mountains and rock peaks.

  • Susten

  • Oberaar Panoramastrasse west from Grimselpass: dramatic rock peak over Oberaar lake.

  • Pas de Morgins (east side: view of Dents du Midi)

France:

  • Combloux + Col du Joly + posssibly around Plateau d'Assy -> (views of M.B. peaks)

  • Montets (south side) -> (M.B. group)

  • Iseran (though the pointy peaks are not so close)

  • Galibier

  • Croix de Fer (east side: view Aiguilles d'Arves)

  • Roselend (some rocky peaks + cliffs on southwest side of road)

  • ? Cayolle (some people feel this has interesting rock formations, but it didn't work so well for me).

  • island of Corse / Corsica, remarkable Calanches rock formations south from Porto on west coast.

see also: viewpoints for Mont Blanc mountains (09jun)

snow year-round

For me, snow enhances the interesting visual contrast of almost any mountain view. I've found that seeing the same pass with snow is much more dramatic for me than without. In another section I've discussed the timing strategy for riding near "temporary" seasonal snow. In this section I'll give some suggestions for riding by snow which does not depend on timing -- because it's there all year round. (though usually it's even more spectacular to ride these roads when they are enhanced by additional seasonal snow.) 

best:

  • Grosse Scheidegg (esp. west side, even bigger views if ride dirt path northwest from pass toward First) -> (view glaciers on Mönch + Eiger, Fiescherhorn)
    (also might see some of that snow from Männlichen)

  • Lac d'Emosson -- side trip above Finhaut, between Col de la Forclaz (Switzerland) and Col des Montets (France) -> (glaciers + peaks of northern Mont Blanc mountains, including Mont Blanc itself, highest summit in Europe)

  • Oberaar Panoramastrasse west from Grimselpass -> (NW to Lauteraarhorn, W to Oberaar glacier)

  • Col du Joly -- close view of Mont Blanc (road up to west side from Hauteluce or Beaufort, France)

  • Combloux -- close view of Mont Blanc ("old road" south from Sallanches to Combloux + Megeve, France)

  • Susten (west side)

  • Stilfserjoch / Stelvio (east side) -> (view Ortler + nearby peaks)

  • Bernina (esp north side) -> (Piz Bernina + Bellavista + Mortaretsch glacier, Val Roseg peaks, etc.)

  • Montets /  Chamonix -> (Aiguille Verte, Aiguilles de Chamonix, Mont Blanc)

  • Grand Ferret -> (view Mont Blanc, Grandes Jorasses, Mont Dolent) - (note: path over the pass has long dirt section, but also can get great views from paved road on southern side riding up-and-back from Courmayeur, Italy) 

  • Seigne -> (view Aiguille des Glaciers, Tre La Tete) - (note: path over the pass has long rough dirt section -- but can also get a close view of the Aiguille des Glaciers from paved road riding southwest side up-and-back from the Bourt-Saint-Maurice + Cormet de Roselend road in France -- and maybe (I don't remember clearly) some big views of Mont Blanc + Tre La Tete riding northeast side up Val Veny from Coumayeur, Italy)

  • Roselend -- road on southeast side of Cormet de Roseland has a very brief view of the snowy Aiguille des Glaciers - (side trip into Vallee des Glaciers toward Col de la Seigne gives closer view). Side trip to Col du Pre from road on northwest side has view of Mont Blanc.

Switzerland:

  • Grosse Scheidegg (esp. west side, even bigger views if ride dirt path northwest from pass toward First) -> (view glaciers on Schreckhorn, Monch + Eiger, Fiescherhorn)
    (also might see some of that snow from Männlichen)

  • Lac d'Emosson -- side trip above Finhaut, between Col de la Forclaz (Switzerland) and Col des Montets (France) -> (glaciers + peaks of northern Mont Blanc mountains, including Mont Blanc itself, highest summit in Europe)

  • Oberaar Panoramastrasse west from Grimselpass -> (NW to Lauteraarhorn, W to Oberaar glacier)

  • Susten (west side)

  • Bernina (esp north side) -> (Piz Bernina + Bellavista + Mortaretsch glacier, Val Roseg peaks, etc.)

  • Furka (west side) -> (view Rhone glacier, but the Rhonegletscher is not like it used to be)

  • Gietroz + Finhaut -> (views of Trient glacier + Dome du Gouter, but not as big as climbing higher to Lac d'Emosson)

  • Forclaz -> (Trient glacier)

  • Grand St Bernard -> (Grand Combin + Mont Velan)

  • Nufenen / Novena (west side) -> (Finsteraarhorn + Lauteraarhorn distant, Blinnenhorn + Ticinco peaks close)
    (? closer + more interesting if take side trip south on dirt-gravel road to and over Greispass from west side of Nufenen?)

  • (road has long dirt section from La Fouly) Grand Ferret -> (Mont Dolent) - (views are better from the southern side in Italy, which to reach from Switzerland requires significant hiking on a steep trail)

France:

  • Combloux -- close view of Mont Blanc ("old road" south from Sallanches to Combloux + Megeve, France)

  • Col du Joly -- close view of Mont Blanc (road up to west side from Hauteluce or Beaufort, France)

  • ? around Plateau d'Assy, above Passy + Servoz

  • Montets /  Chamonix -> (Aiguille Verte, Aiguilles de Chamonix, Mont Blanc)

  • Iseran (some) -> (N side of Averole + Ciamarella + Pointe de Charbonnel)

  • Lauteret (East side road toward Briancon, West side road toward La Grave) -> N side of Ecrins + Pelvoux mountains. (Col du Galibier has some views of year-round snow in the Ecrins + Pelvous mountains, but not as big as from the Briancon-Lauteret road further southeast)

  • Seigne -> (view Aiguille des Glaciers) - (note: path over pass has long rough dirt section -- but can also get a close view of the Aiguille des Glaciers from paved road riding southwest side up-and-back into Vallee des Glaciers from the Bourg-Saint-Maurice + Cormet de Roselend road in France -- and maybe (I don't remember clearly) some big views of Mont Blanc + Tre La Tete riding northeast side up Val Veny from Coumayeur, Italy)

  • see also: viewpoints for Mont Blanc mountains (09jun)

Italy:

  • Val Ferret from Courmayeur toward Col du Grand Ferret -> (view Mont Blanc, Grandes Jorasses, Mont Dolent) - (note: path over the pass has long dirt section, but also can get great views from paved road on southern side riding up-and-back from Courmayeur, Italy) 

  • Stilfserjoch / Stelvio (east side) -> (view Ortler + nearby peaks)

  • Grand St Bernard - (but can see more of the snowy Grand Combin from the north side in Switzerland)

  • Val Veny toward Col de la Seigne -> (view Mont Blanc, Tre La Tete). I'm remembering that the road up from Courmayeur is kinda steep kinda sustained, but I'm not sure how high and to what views it goes paved, before it changes to rough gravel + dirt.

  • Nivolet -> (France-Italy frontier peaks) - (also view of Gran Paradiso if hike above road)

  • Fedaia -> (close view of Marmolada, actually a little too close to see lots of the snow up high)

  • Sella + Pordoi -> (distant view of Marmolada, which allows seeing all the high snow)

  • Gavia (from north side + near pass) -> (Ortler-Cevedale peaks, but not close)

  • Tonale (a little snow on north faces along east side road, and a glacier visible from lower on west side)

Austria:

  • ? Zillertaler Höhenstrasse: unfortunately the views to the north side of the high peaks were obscured by clouds the day I was there. (but the non-snow views were great).

  • ? Grossglocker highway: unfortunately the views from the north-side road were blocked by clouds the day I rode up to the Edelweißspitze. Perhaps chances to see more snow get better if I had ridden farther south, and taken side-trip west.

  • ? Ötztal glacier road: with a name like that, and being the highest paved road in Europe, it should have some views of year-round snow, but I haven't ridden it yet.

lakes or waterfalls

I love riding near water, lakes or streams or rivers. Wide rivers are rare in the mountains. Streams are pretty frequent (so they're not a strong distinguishing feature for selection). Lakes are not so frequent up in the mountains. And with mountain roads you often get to see the lake from above, which is different (and often more visually dramatic) than on flat or gentle valley terrain.

Timing: waterfalls tend to big bigger in springtime as they snow is melting. But mountain lakes in springtime and early summer sometimes look like empty bathtubs -- because the human communities

best

  • Griesalp from Kiental: steep climb on road curving back and forth around waterfalls. (in Kandertal, west Berner Oberland in central Switzerland)

  • Mont Cenis: big lake, the road runs alongside above it. (France / Italy frontier)

  • Grimsel (north side): 2 large lakes alongside the main road (one with opportunity to ride across dam) + 1 more smaller lake at the summit + 1 more if look carefully at east side of valley far north from pass + 1 more large lake (often with better blue color) with (ridable?) dam by road if take Oberaar Panoramastrasse west from pass (central Switzerland)

  • Nivolet (south side): two lakes under dramatic peaks (NW Italy)

  • Roselend (north side): big lake, and a waterfall or two -- even better view with up + back side trip to Col du Pre from road on northwest side of Cormet de Roselend (France)

  • Grosse Scheidegg: waterfall on east side / creek alongside bike rt 61 on west side / lake on the loop with Brienzersee (Switzerland)

  • Misurina (near Tre Croci): sizable lake surrounded by interesting peaks. (Side trip: tough spectacular climb up asphalt road to Rifugio Auronzo). (NE Italy)

  • Dürrensee / Lago di Llandro (south of Toblach / Dobbiaco): small-ish lake surrounded by dramatic cliffs and peaks. (In springtime + early summer the north face of Cristallo peak, with snow-white contrast to its dramatic rocks. Photo op: standing by lake (or by road) with Cristallo beyond. A little north down the road from the lake toward Toblach is a view east to the famous Drei Zinnen / Tre Cime di Lavaredo. Climb up to it from Toblach / Dobbiaco is a long gentle slog. More interesting climbing is to visit the lake as a side trip from Schluderback / Carbonin the loop northeast from Cortina over Passo Tre Croci - Lage di Misurina. (northeast Italy)

more

  • Lauterbrunnen valley has several waterfalls along the gentle section up to Stechelberg, which would be plenty pretty even without waterfalls. (Steep climbs up out of that valley have very long sections on dirt-gravel with not much additional waterfalls). (Switzerland south from Interlaken) -> (could also park your bike and take famous paid-admission walk up along + thru Trümmelbach falls.)

  • Fedaia: Road runs right alongside a large lake at the pass, perhaps the largest "pass lake" I've seen. Somehow for me the lake doesn't integrate so well with the scenery around it, and instead of being glad to see the lake I'm wishing I could see more of the Marmolata mountain + glacier above it, but I can't because the road is too close to it.

  • Susten in springtime has a waterfall that runs over the road at a small tunnel on its west side just above Steingletscher (and a lake below the road). (central Switzerland by Innertkirchen)

  • Iseran (north side, lake lower down toward Tignes): nice lake both close as ride by and it also enhances distant views from higher up, but it's just not at all close to the pass. (France)

  • Oberalp: lake just west of the pass, but somehow its position relative to the road is less dramatic than others. (central Switzerland near Andermatt)

  • Gavia: decent lake or two, but for me didn't seem linked to dramatic setting (maybe I need to go back on a different day) - (NE Italy)

  • Bernina: not that big a lake, and somehow doesn't link to the dramatic peaks nearby (southeast Switzerland)

  • Axalp: nice view north down to lake Brienz (large pretty glacial lake) especially from Chruttmettli (with food), but it takes a long climbing section without much view to get there. I would want to do it only in early season with snow still on the ridge above the lake (or if were based in Meiringen or Brienz and looking for a nearby half-day ride). (central Switzerland near Interlaken + Meiringen)

ideas I haven't tried yet

  • ? Gerlos pass east side road goes near the famous Krimml waterfalls -- haven't been there yet, but I've heard they might not be so visible from the main asphalt road. (east from Zell am Ziller in Tirol region of Austria, not far from the Zillertaler Höhenstrasse)

  • ? long lake east from Livigno connecting by tunnel to Val Mustair. I once rode by the end of the lake by Livigno, but didn't test going to or thru the tunnel.

  • ? two lakes between Bormio and Livigno -- Haven't visited them, though I've heard it's interesting to traverse them with dirt path over a pass, instead of just up+back from Bormio. (north Italy, not far from Stelvio)

lakes or waterfalls on loop routes

  • Lac du Serre-Ponçon on loop with Vars (or Parpaillon) (France Alps)

  • Brienzersee on loop with Grosse Scheidegg (central Switzerland by Interlaken)

lowland water

  • lakes: There are several large lakes with steep slopes coming up out of the water in Italy and nearby Switzerland: e.g. lake Garda, Como, Lugano, Maggiore -- which surely have some interesting climbs with lake views. But I don't know most of them yet (check www.quaeldich.de for ideas). Two I do know are: (a) Madonna di Ghisallo south from Bellagio (lake Como), but in the direction we were climbing much of our riding faced away from the water (so we had better lake views on other roads nearby which were not "climbs"; (b) Telegrafo on east side of lake Garda is a very steep challenge, but because of trees, you only get brief glimpses of the lake at some of the switchbacks.

  • seaside road climbs:  A whole other topic.

gorge or canyon

I have not been so much into this myself -- I've tended to prefer wide open spaces.

  • descent southeast from Col Sampeyres in northwest Italy was a narrow road cut into the dramatic cliffs on side of gorge. Very exciting descent for me. I keep saying "descent" because I've heard there's substantial risk of falling rocks in that gorge, so I think the game is to pick a favorable day and get thru it fast to reduce the time of exposure to rock-fall. The fastest way I know to take it is downhill.

  • ? Gorges du Verdon in southeast France: riding around the rim (especially south side) is supposed to have great views down into the largest canyon in Europe. (Sharon and I have hiked down inside that canyon, but have not yet had the chance to ride the roads around the rim)

  • ? Gorges de la Nesque is supposed to be interesting (near Mont Ventoux) (southeast France)

  • ? west side of Vercors plateau near Grenoble + Lyon France: supposed to have several interesting gorges with roads in them. (I've seen some of them driving a car, but that has not inspired me to try to ride them, though some riders recommend them highly)

interesting climb up

What I like on a long climb are: variety of curves, some variety of steepness (but not much of steepness too high, or I'll burn out my muscles), pretty villages, nice views across the valley already low down, rock formations or pretty creeks close alongside the road, variety of views.

For me one of the big problems of riding in the high mountains is long climbs that get boring, so what I do not like are mostly long straight sections of constant steepness, and long sections with lots of dense trees on both sides (so I don't see a view).

Also I prefer to avoid climbing up roads where if I ride on the right side of the road, most of the time I'm riding on the up-slope side of the road (away from the side which has the better view outward and downward) -- especially on roads with significant motor vehicle traffic in the uphill direction. Because when such a road makes a sharp curve toward the right, cars overtaking me have limited visibility around that curve, so they might not see me riding until they're close to me. Since I'm climbing I'm slower so I'm spending more time in that limited visibility situation, and the speed difference between the motor vehicle and me is larger.

Here's some roads with climbs I found interesting:

Switzerland:

  • Grosse Scheidegg (west side from Interlaken thru Grindelwald on bike rt 61)

  • Susten (west side): curves, rock formations, short tunnels, variety of steepness.

  • Villars-sur-Ollon from Bex thru Gryon (near Martigny)

  • Champex (north side from Martigny, and southeast side from Orsieres is also nice)

Italy:

  • Misurina / Tre Croci (both sides)

  • Mortirolo (north side from Mazzo di Valtellina): notorious for being very steep, but I also found it to have nice views down low, interesting variety, and interesting human structures along the way.

  • Pordoi

  • Gardena / Grödner (esp. east side, though southwest side is also interesting)

  • Giau (east side, though kinda steep)

  • Stelvio / Stilfserjoch west side from Bormio: not as spectacular or famous as the east side, but much more variety.

France:

  • Iseran (both sides)

  • Sallanches thru Servoz on side roads to les Houches (near Chamonix)

Austria + Germany

  • Obersalzberg from Berchtesgaden: variations in steepness and curves. (not as steep or sustained as some older English-language reports claimed)

fun descent

What I usually like for going down are: interesting curves, variety of slopes, little rollers, variety of curves, short tunnels

I usually do not like roads which are too steep, or too gentle, or too much straight.

I think there's wide variety of "tastes" among bicyclists for descents. I think lots of more skillful riders prefer steeper descents than I do. And some people like steep straight roads, so they can attain higher speeds. Those riders need to find a different list from mine.

And perhaps my own "tastes" in descents vary with the mood and the day.

Here's some descents that struck me as interesting at the time:  

  • Stelvio / Stilfserjoch (west side toward Bormio) (NE Italy)

  • Pordoi (east side to Arabba) (NE Italy)

  • Grödner / Gardena (east side to Corvara) (NE Italy)

  • Bonette / Restefond (north side to Jausiers) (France Alps)

  • Lauteret (west side toward La Grave + Bourg d'Oisans) (France Alps)

  • south end of Zillertaler Höhenstrasse (Tirol, Austria)

  • west down north side of Rossfeld ring road: big views, sweeping curves (by Berchesgaden, Germany + Salzburg Austria)

human structures

I usually like seeing interesting human constructions in all kinds of terrain: villages, cities, buildings. There's usually less of it in the mountains, and there's varieties of opinions among bicyclists about which kinds are positive or negative. Myself I like seeing colorful villages and buildings and railways; do not like big power transmission towers, and I'm more tolerant of ski lifts than many riders.

  • Grosse Scheidegg (west side): villages + Grindelwald (Switzerland)

  • Saanenmöser (if use the bike routes, not the major roads) (Switzerland)

  • Montets (south side from Sallanches): villages + Chamonix (France) 

  • Iseran (especially lower on the south side in the Haute Maurienne valley from Bessans thru Bonneval-sur-Arc).

lack of human structures

Some people sometimes (but not me most times) prefer to ride where there's little or no sign of human presence (other than the nicely paved road or well-trodden gravel path).

  • Fluela (SE Switzerland)

  • west side of Nufenen / Novena (south Switzerland)

  • Bonette (France)

animals

especially domestic animals, but (non-violent) wild animals are interesting also.

  • Grosse Scheidegg (west side and upper east side): cows, sheep, goats, pigs (Switzerland)

  • Albula (south side) (and lots of other passes in Switzerland)

  • Saanenmöser (if use the bike routes, not the major roads) (Switzerland)

  • Gental + Engstlenalp (central Switzerland by Innerkirchen)

  • Pas de Morgins (west side if use secondary roads to west of main road) (west Switzerland)

  • Villars-sur-Ollon from Bex thru Gryon (west Switzerland near Martigny)

  • Roselend (France Alps)

  • Iseran (lower down on both sides) (France Alps)

  • Seigne (up + back southwest side on paved road as far as Ville des Glaciers, and optionally continue on dirt to Refuge Mottet) (France)

  • Zillertaler Höhenstrasse (Tirol, Austria)

challenge - (added to other good features)

To me the main "challenge" of climbing is steepness. Climbs that are long are mostly just a matter of patience -- just keep slogging along and resist the temptation to "conquer" the hill.

Since there are several places to look up climbs by the steepness and length numbers, here I'm going to focus on climbs that have something else interesting to offer.

The famous high pass roads in France and Switzerland and Italy are mostlly well-engineered for tourist and commercial traffic -- so they tend not to be real steep overall -- and tend to have fairly "even" grades -- not many short steeper sections. So far my finding is that the main place for interesting roads that are steep is Austria.

Here's some roads with substantial sections at least 10% steepness grade, and also some other aspect that make them worthwhile:

  • Zillertaler Höhenstrasse from Aschau [ Austria ] -- substantial section around 12% grade, great "balcony" views both down to valley and across to higher peaks)

  • Grossglockner highway [ Austria ] -- north side has lots over 10% grade. My views were blocked by clouds, but should have good views of snowy peaks if don't wait till too late in the season, and if keep climbing further south and higher west.

  • ? Ötztal glacier road from Sölden ? [ Austria ] -- I haven't done it but it's supposed to have lots around 12% or more, and it should have some sort of views of snowy peaks + glaciers.

  • ? Timmelsjoch south side from Italy ? [ Italy + Austria ] -- I haven't done it, but it's supposed to be very sustained over 10% -- but I'm not sure how good the views are, especially on the south side (which is the long side that's steep).

  • Grosse Scheidegg [ Switzerland ] -- west side high up has long section around 10%, with great views of snowy + rocky peaks + glaciers -- east side is steep lower down, with some great views middle and higher. (very close to Männlichen climb).

  • ? Männlichen ? [ Switzerland ] -- great views of rocky + snowy peaks. I'm not sure how steep it is, but I've seen indications of substantial sections over 10%. (very close to Grosse Scheidegg west side climb).

  • Gietroz + Finhaut + Lac d'Emosson + Lac de Vieux Emosson from le Chatelard [ Switzerland by France border ] first climb up to Gietroz contains substantial sections over 12%, then shorter section up thru village of Finhaut is steep, then long climb up to lower Lac d'Emosson is supposed to be around 9-10%, then a short down, west across dam, gentle a ways, then very steep and narrow with two tunnels up to upper lake with its dam. Big views of snowy peaks and glaciers of Mont Blanc group, variety of climbing + terrain. Can be done as side-trip from crossing between Chamonix, France and Martigny, Switzerland over Col des Montets and Col de la Forclaz -- or in connection with loop from Martigny up thru Salvan + le Tretien to Finhaut and returning over Col de la Forclaz.

  • Rifugio Auronzo from lake Misurina [ northeast Italy ] -- asphalt road with sections around 12% up to Auronzo mountain hut at the foot of the famous Tre Cime di Laveredo / Drei Zinnen peaks -- with optional gentle continuation east on dirt-gravel to further views and a second mountain hut, then north to best views of the amazing rock spires, with optional hiking further north toward a third mountain hut. Lake Misurina can be reached on a loop from north+west from Cortina d'Ampezzo (or on a longer loop south from Toblach / Dobbiaco together with the Kreuzberg pass)

  • Passo Giau west side [ northeast Italy ] - sustained around 10% grade, with a very dramatic rock peak at the pass. (nearby Fedaia east side also is one of the steeper long climbs in the Dolomites)

  • Mont Ventoux, south side from Bedoin [ southeast France ] - sections at 10% or more, pleasant farmland at bottom, barren landscape with giant views at top.

  • Colle dell'Agnello [ Italy + France ] - east side from Italy has a long section over 10% grade, and it's one of the highest passes in Europe, but perhaps less motor traffic than some other passes. Steep side tends to face south and not toward high-altitude peaks -- so if want to see snow, better to get there earlier in the season - (though I'd guess it might be one of the later south-tending high passes to be opened in springtime). I got there later in the year, saw almost no snow, but some animals. A few buildings, but sorta desolate. It's the highest pass in Europe with a paved road with a sustained steep section at least 10% grade.

famous climbs

Here's some thoughts about some famous climbs:

My problems with this one are (a) there are some dramatic high peaks in the region, but you can't see them from the top of the climb; (b) the road is so well-designed that it's mostly a long slog with little variety -- just one switchback after another; (c) It's supposed to be an incredible challenge, but the road is so carefully engineered that it's mostly not very steep.

What's good about it: (a) Dramatic contrast between the approach and start of the climb; (b) looking across at the steep north wall above Bourg d'Oisans; (c) If you've never seen a road with switchbacks before, it's got lots of them; (d) It's one of the highest roads where the snow gets plowed off all year long; (e) If you want to see other riders while you climb, it's a good bet here.

Key: Get a list of the several other more interesting + pretty climbs in range of Bourg d'Oisans (like try the map on the quaeldich.de page for Alpe d'Huez)

Delivers something special: (a) riding all the way to the top of peak that stands apart, with a big 360-degree view; (b) climb thru at least three different ecological zones: pretty farmland at the base, forest in the middle, barren rock on top. Starting from Bedoin on the south side there are some sustained steep sections, so it's got some of the "challenge" aspect. Lots of variety of other great riding nearby: farmland, villages, at least one gorge, other smaller interesting passes to north.

Key: If you're not sure you're strong enough to handle the steeps from Bedoin, start from the southeast by Sault.

More famous east side delivers on snow-covered mountains (but not so much pointy peaks) and on remarkable engineering of a road up an intimidating steep slope -- which you get to look up to while riding. Indeed so well-engineered that much is a long uniform slog, just one switchback after another, and never really very steep (so its challenge is more in the size and high altitude). For more variety, try the west side, which has variations on steepness, some sections with and without switchbacks, a section with tunnels. Or the loop to the north with Passo Umbrail + Val Mustair + Glurns. Or both.

Key: If you don't like lots of motorcycles whizzing by, try to avoid sunny weekend days. If you want to spend multiple days nearby, Bormio has more interesting climbing options, even though its climb to Stelvio is less famous.

Aspects of long slog. Climbing it from the east side over Aspin at least breaks it up. Don't wait till late summer or autumn when most of the snow is gone.

Delivers on the high-mountain experience. North side has some nice variety in the road. Too bad its view of the dramatic Ecrins peaks is partly blocked by its own ridge. I found the descent south + west to Bourg d'Oisans rather fun + pretty.

Key: The obvious approach to the north side by climbing up to Col Telegraphe is too much a boring slog: think about creative ways to avoid that.

Delivers on the high-mountain experience with snowy peaks in view (as it should since it's the highest paved road over a true pass in France) -- though the glaciers in view are not as big as they used to be, so it doesn't hurt to get there in early summer while there's additional seasonal snow around to enhance the white-contrast. The north side has several ski lifts in view -- so if you're offended by that, try to spend less time on the north side, and more time on the south side (with authentic old villages).

Key: The "full" climb up the north side starting from Bourg St Maurice (coming from Cormet de Roselend) or from Seez (coming from Col du Petit St Bernard) gets lots of motor traffic (including trucks) because it's the main road up to two of the most popular mountain resorts in France -- and most if it is not that rewarding for views (though it's good to know where to look up to see the glaciers on the east face of Dome de la Sache and Mon Pourri). Especially consider avoiding Saturday, since that's the day lots of the resort apartment rentals change. But really . . .

My advice is to just avoid climbing up most of the north side road at all -- two ways: (a) take a bus up at least to the north end of the obvious big lake (or to Val d'Isere town) and start climbing from there; (b) go over the pass from south to north, so you take the main north side road in the downhill direction (and also spend less time staring at the ski lifts).

my favorite climbs - with multiple strong features

Here's my favorites which combine multiple positive features:

Switzerland

  • Grosse Scheidegg, especially the west side if climb bike route 61 (instead of the main road) from Zweilütschinen or Wilderswil / Interlaken, and going partway down the east side (perhaps down to Rosenlaui or maybe a little lower) adds more. Optional side-trip traverse on dirt-gravel path north+northwest from G.S. pass toward First adds bigger views of snow. And I'm glad to do it in a loop (I slightly prefer counter-clockwise) with the northside of the lake Brienz. Optional side-trip for "animals": climb on asphalt from Grindelwald Grund to Männlichen with great views. (Switzerland)

  • Grimsel north side if include side trip west on Oberaar Panoramastrasse and a little ways down south side for view east toward Furkapass. (Higher percentage of interest + scenery with less slogging if start climbing from higher than Innertkirchen, like around Handeck, perhaps with aid of post-bus). (Switzerland)

  • Susten west side, and going a little ways over the top to the upper east side adds more. (Higher percentage of interest + scenery with less slogging if start climbing from higher than Innertkirchen, or even higher than Gadmen, perhaps with aid of post-bus). (Switzerland)

  • ? Männlichen ? -- if done as part of a loop (with much on dirt-gravel and a hiking section) on a bike with at least front-suspension (Switzerland) . . .

loop clockwise from Zweilütschinen (or Wilderswil / Interlaken) > bike route 61 to Grindelwald Grund > (optional side trip for "animals": climb asphalt to Grosse Scheidegg with great views, and perhaps ? optional expert descent on dirt trail ?) > climb asphalt road to Männlichen > walking / jogging off bike on Panoramaweg trail from Männlichen north to Kleine Scheidegg > descend on dirt-gravel to Wengen > train down to Lauterbrunnen (or optionally very steep descent on dirt-gravel with tight corners) > moderate descent to Zweilütschinen (or Interlaken) at least some on main road, could do much of it on dirt-gravel. Optional side-loop clockwise from Lauterbrunnen: ride south then take lift up to Gimmelwald (or the "animal" option: pedal up thru Stechelberg with substantial hiking on rough path to Gimmelwald -- dual-suspension bike recommended) > climb on asphalt to Mürren > traverse much on dirt/gravel to Winteregg > descend much on dirt/gravel to Lauterbrunnen.

Note that the first three climbs above are all close to the village of Innertkirchen (and Männlichen is not so far away).

Also near Innertkirchen is the pretty climb on asphalt thru Gental to Engstlenalp (or higher on dirt-gravel) - (Higher percentage of interest + scenery with less slogging if start climbing from higher than Innertkirchen, like around the toll station, perhaps with aid of post-bus). Also nearby some like the climb to Axalp + Chruttmettli.

So Innertkirchen could make a good "base" (? also has mountain bike trails which I've never explored ?), or other possible bases could be Meiringen or Interlaken.

Italy

  • Stelvio / Stilfserjoch, if combine both sides -- or make a clockwise loop with Passo Umbrail and Val Mustair and Glurns.  (For more interest + scenery with less slogging, consider starting east side higher from around Trafoi, start west side from bottom of mid-level switchbacks, or perhaps just below the tunnels.)  (Northeast)

  • Sella + Pordoi + Gardena / Grödner in various combinations with other passes. (A couple of times I've substituted Valparola + Falzarego for Campolongo.) (Northeast)

France

  • Cormet de Roselend, mostly the northwest side if combined with out-and-back trips to Col du Pre, and also over to and partway down the southeast side, and possibly from there climb up into Val des Glaciers.

  • Col des Montets, south side from Sallanches thru Servoz + Vaudagne + Chamonix - (even better if include the north side thru Vallorcine to Finhaut + Lac d'Emosson).

Austria

  • Zillertaler Höhenstrasse. ? Perhaps better if combine with Gerlos pass, but I haven't done that yet ?

favorite mountain loops - with multiple strong features

I love to ride loop routes that go over an interesting mountain pass and around thru an interesting valley, or over multiple high mountain passes. Here's some of my favorites:

  • Sella + Pordoi + Gardena / Grödner ("Sella Ronda") -- in various combinations with other passes, such as Valparola + Falzarego, or Giau + Fedaia, or just Campolongo. (NE Italy)

  • Stelvio / Stilserjoch + Umbrail as clockwise loop with side trip to lower on west side (at least down to bottom of mid-level steep switchbacks, or perhaps down to below the tunnels - (farthest down is with start/finish in Bormio). (NE Italy)

  • Grimsel + Oberaar Panoramastrasse + Furka + Susten as counter-clockwise loop. (does have some uninteresting sections, but overall the variety of glacier views and lakes, the tunnel descent from Andermatt to Göschenen, the sustained high-mountain atmosphere carries it for me. (Switzerland)

? Grimsel + Nufenen + Gotthard + Susten loop in early summer ? -- I've done all the parts, but I think the whole loop is too long for me to ride in a single day. And I'd want to include side trips to the Oberaar Panoramastrasse and perhaps south from the Nufenenpass to Griespass and into the Ticino mountains (now sounding definitely like two days). Also I'd probably try climbing the new road up the south side of Gotthard / San Gottardo instead of again the old Roman cobble road.

  • Grand St Bernard + Grand Ferret in clockwise loop with Orsieres (Switzerland) and Aosta + Courmayeur (Italy) - (but that includes long sections on dirt)

  • Grosse Scheidegg loop (bike rt 61, which has some dirt sections which I've easily handled on my road bike) with the lake Breinzersee (north side). I tend to prefer clockwise direction starting in Meiringen

Optional side trip: climb paved road up to Maennlichen and descend the same way. - (or conceivably, hike from Maennlichen to Kleine Scheidegg and descend to Wengen or even to Lauterbrunnen -- but that's lots more on dirt, some very steep -- not sure I'd want to try it on a road bike). (Switzerland)

  • Martigny to Col des Montets: go up via Salvan + Gorges du Trient to Finhaut (sustained section climbing very steep dirt), (optional highly-recommended side trip up to Lac d'Emosson and its dam, and perhaps (very interesting) above to the upper lake + dam), traverse from Finhaut to Gietroz then down very steep to  Chatelard (Gietroz + steep downhill can be avoided), out-and-back from Chatelard thru Vallorcine to Col des Montets, and return from Chatelard to Martigny by going over Col de la Forclaz. (mostly Switzerland, optionally some in France)

other famous loops:

"les Marmottes" (France) = Croix de Fer > ? Mollard > Telegraphe > Galibier > Lauteret: a great challenge, and I really enjoy certain sections of it (e.g. the descent west from Lauteret, the upper north side of Galibier) but it doesn't make my list of favorites as a total loop, because of some uninteresting sections (e.g. north side of Telegraphe) that go on for much too long -- and somehow the lakes and other view features just don't quite come together enough for me like on the Grimsel-Furka-Susten loop. So I feel like I want to just "skim" the best from this area of France with up-and-back rides, rather than riding it as a complete loop.

Mortirolo - Gavia (northeast Italy) = Ponte di Legno > Passo Gavia > Bormio > Mazzo > Passo Mortirolo > Ponte di Legno. Two famous "hard climbs" of the Giro d'Italia - (anyway Mortirolo from Mazzo road actually has some really steep sections -- and interesting variety). I'd want to do it in early summer, so I could get some white-snow-contrast on the long climb up the south side of Gavia (whose views didn't impress me in autumn).

bases with multiple interesting + pretty climbs

  • Innertkirchen, central Switerland. (or Meiringen). (Perhaps instead Andermatt if want to have more long loops (with no dirt) available and you like climbing over Gotthard pass.) (Perhaps instead one of the Berner Oberland resort towns south of Interlaken if you want more loops with long dirt sections)

  • Martigny, west Switzerland: wide variety of interesting road-bike climbing options of different sizes (plus flat riding)

  • Dolomites around Canazei + Corvara + Cortina: not sure which of those or other towns to pick as a base.

  • Bormio, north Italy

  • Aosta, northwest Italy:  If looking to try long "adventure" loops with substantial dirt-gravel and/or hiking sections. Three loops I've done (two of which I'd repeat on my road bike, the other only on a mountain bike): Col du Grand Ferret + Col du Grand St Bernard; around Gran Paradiso; Col de la Seine and Col du Petit St Bernard.

  • ? Adige river valley around Bozen / Bolzano + Tramin / Termeno : overall great area for road-bike riding (and other outdoor activities) around a spectacular large valley. I've found two or three pretty climbs at lower altitude, and I've heard there's more or them. And it's in driving range of the main Dolomites high-altitude climbs and in range of Lake Garda and Stelvio.

  • ? Bourg d'Oisans, France Alps: I've heard there's lots more to it, but haven't had the chance to check it out further. Unfortunately after being underwhelmed by the obvious Alpe d'Huez climb, I lost interest in exploring the other possibilities. I'd prefer early summer when there's still some seasonal snow, because while there are some high snow peaks not far away, they're often blocked from view from the roads.

biases of info sources

cyclotourists

Riders who do multi-day tours tend to be focused on achieving a grand multi-day goal. While they want to have interesting single days, they tend to want each day to contribute toward the grand goal which looks impressive when drawn on a large-scale map.

So they tend to overlook interesting or pretty climbs that do not go "over" something, which require you to go back down the same way. And they tend to overlook interesting + pretty "balcony" traverses which do "go" somewhere but by a longer and hillier route (instead of the shorter flatter way along the floor of the valley). And they tend to miss even short easy pretty side trips -- because they are side trips.

This is not because they're not strong enough to do the "extra" work, or lack the will to do "extra" work. I think usually because they simply do not learn about about the existence of these other climbs, because time required to explore for possible other climbs more interesting + pretty risks just being "wasted", yielding neither more pretty riding nor progress to the grand touring goal.

But there are lots of interesting + pretty climbs which are not also convenient to go to some long-distance goal.

Boring sections: Experienced cyclotourists tend to be accustomed to and accepting of long boring sections -- because it's difficult to design a tour route which has a worthy "large map" start-to-finish goal which does not have long boring sections. And the fact that a rider has decided to make bicycling the main activity of almost every day for a week or more is not a sign of someone looking for interesting variety on their travel or leisure -- especially where traveling thru regions that have several different interesting outdoor activities (as mountain often do).

So as long as there's a view at the top, cyclotourists are less likely to notice that most of the road they climbed up to it was mostly just a long slog with little interesting variation in riding or view. And if there were an interesting variety of views along the climb, noticing them and stopping to photograph would get in the way of steady progress toward the destination for the day (before the bad weather hits?)

racers + famous race events

Race events which are famous internationally tend to look for climbs which:

  • look good on TV + video, including aerial shots (though you might not get much view like that while actually pedaling up the climb).

  • have substantial sections of road wide enough for racers to pass each other.

  • go "over" something so they can be used in an intermediate section of race.

  • have a descent on the other side which is not obviously dangerous.

  • available to live on-site audience: not too far away from substantial cities or popular summer resorts with access by roads which are not too narrow and slow.

  • have favorable political and organizational support. Even better if the local organizational support for a specific climb has been tested before.

But there are lots of interesting or pretty climbs which don't have much of those things, so you miss out on opportunities -- (and sometimes you do a boring climb just because it was what fit into the middle of a multi-climb stage).

One problem I've seen is that there is a famous race climb which draws cycling visitors to an area -- but actually there are more interesting climbs which draw bicycling visitors -- but actually there are more interesting climbs nearby, but you don't try them because those weren't the ones that got used in the big race. So you feel you have to leave and travel somewhere else, when actually you could have made a base there for several days -- or if you were unimpressed by the famous climb, you might feel that it wasn't worth making the visit (or any future visit).

Absolute steepness is not critical, since top pro and amateur racers are able to climb up almost any paved road that vaguely fits the criteria above. If their bike lacks low enough gearing to make it straightforward to climb some road, that is a choice not to spend the time and money to set up a bike with sufficiently low gearing.

Racers themselves tend to be more focused on other riders around them than on the road itself or pretty views around it. "Interesting" aspects of the design of a road are relevant only in so far as they change competive tactics and strategy. They will tend to be happy choosing roads from famous events partly because they're likely to be chosen by other racers, so they're more likely to see other racers on those climbs, which allows for informal competition, or at least thinking about competition -- or talking about competition.

voting

There are websites which allow people to assign a numerical rating to each climb. I normally ignore these voter ratings when selecting what to ride. Because there's lots of problems with them:

  • You don't know what aspect was valued by each voter: difficulty? size? famous-ness? prettiness? their personal satisfaction in making it to the top?

  • You don't know know what range of experience each voter had. Have they only ever done two or three serious climbs in Europe? Do they know several climbs in one region, but nothing in other regions of Europe? (On an English-language website, it is reasonable to guess that many voters do not have a wide range of experience of climbs and regions in Europe).

  • You don't know what time of year most voters climbed it. Lots of climbs in the mountains are much prettier in the springtime than in autumn, while others hold their beauty better thru the whole riding season.

  • You don't know how any voters did the climb more than once. It's hard to separate the personal feeling of "first success" (on a famous climb) or "first discovery" (of an obscure climb) from the intrinsic qualities of the climb itself. Gets easier to perceive the intrinsic qualities on the second visit, or third.

Of course this gets tricky because one of the main reasons we try to ride up any climb at all is for the personal feeling of success. And one of the main reasons we try to visit other climbs is for the feeling of "discovery".

  • You don't know if each voter even did the climb -- or if they're voting just to congratulate themselves on knowing the name and famous reputation of a climb.

Two basic problems are that:

(1) There are several different kinds of voters -- and it's worth knowing the ratings and preferences of each different kind to draw different kinds of conclusions -- but it's not so helpful if their differences are congealed into an average.

(2) There are several different important qualities of a climb, and it's not very helpful to lump them all together into a single number. (Especially if each voter is using different proportional weights on the different qualities when deciding on what number to give).

www.quaeldich.de

Some great things about www.quaeldich.de: (a) It presents findings of a few (presumably) well-qualified riders with a wide range of experience; (b) It distinguishes ratings of two key qualities of a climb: prettiness and difficulty; (c) lots of specific detail in prose about each climb; (d) The difficulty rating is not calculated by some convoluted formula.

I think it could be even greater if they: (a) Also include as a separate result the statistica of ratings of all members who wanted to vote on a climb (perhaps self-qualified by range of experience and number of times they'd done that climb); (b) Distinguished more different qualities to be rated: Especially distinguishing the prettiness with and without seasonal snow.

more . . .

see also

 

concept words: roberts Europe European visit trip vacation holiday American visitor report reports

bicycling: bicycle bicycling bike bikes bicycles bicyclist cycle cyclist cycling touring riding rider riders

routes: route routes ride rides tour tours map maps

places: place river valley state country region regions area areas city town village

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