Transalp - cycling across the Alps

Sometime in spring a group at work decided to cycle across the Alps and asked if I wanted to go. It sounded like a good adventure and I could only see three problems.
1. I didn't have time,
2. I had never been mountain biking,
3. I didn't own a mountain bike.

Luckily all three problems were solved. Firstly my family decided to go on holiday to England and the group agreed to move the tour to the week that they were away. Secondly we live in the mountains so I could learn to mountain bike and my brother bought a race bike and sold me his mountain bike.

The group sank from five people to three as planning and training got under way but then we were joined by Sandra and Erika taking us back up to five. Unfortunately we never had a chance to all train together due to various commitments and as a result no one really new how good the others in the group were. Neither Erika or I had tried anything really extreme before leaving which was to be a problem later.

Our boss agreed to sponsor new tricots and shorts for us all which gave us a nice team look and made it much easier to ask people I passed how far behind the main group I was when we were going up. Thanks Georg!

Thomas put many hours of work into researching our route. Sandra and Manfred found tricots to fit us all. Thank you all of you. Without your work we would never have got started.

For navigation we used the 1:50000 Kompass maps: 33, 41, 42, 52, 53, 73 and 102. And so we were all more or less ready when we met at the foot of the Fellhornbahn on the Wednesday morning.

All my text with the German version and some other pictures are at Thomas'' page here.

Day 1

From the bottom of the Fellhornbahn cable car we cycled up to the Schrofenpass. The Schrofenpass is quite steep but the combination of experienced mountaineers and good weather ensured that we got over the pass with no great problem apart from lots of pushing and carrying. In wet weather, with bad footware or without a little mountaineering experience this pass would be better avoided.

tl_files/hogarth/Photos/dscf0008.jpgOn the Austrian side we changed between carrying, pushing and riding every five meters. Erika and I both fell off at one point.

In Warth we had a snack at the village spring before carrying on to Lech. From there over the Flexenpass. The long tunnel on the way up is not actually a tunnel but rather an avalanche shield open on one side. You can also bypass it using a gravel track. On the way down the tunnel is very dark in places which isn't helped when you are wearing sunglasses. Manfred managed to overtake one car although he barely missed the one coming the other way.

After lunch at Rauz we crossed the Arlberg Pass. Road works meant a long traffic jam which we enjoyed overtaking. Thomas reached a speed of 80km/h but failed to take a left turn which resulted in a high speed crash. Amazingly neither Thomas or his bike broke anything. From St. Anton we cycled up the Schoenverwalltal to the Konstanzer Huette. After three passes I was feeling the distance and height in all my muscles. It is a beautiful valley but I wasn't up to appreciating it.

Day 2

After a good nights sleep for some of us we carried on up Schoenverwalltal. I made a mistake reading the map the result of which was we ended up carrying out a river crossing through freezing mountain water. The climb from the Schoenverwall Hütte to the Neue Heilbronner Hütte was strenuous but once again the views were fantastic. From the top it was almost all downhill to Galtür partly over dirt tracks and partly tarmac.

tl_files/hogarth/Photos/dscf0031.jpgIn Galtür we had lunch and then followed the main road to Ischgl. The climb out of Ischgl into the Fimba valley was extremely steep and in the baking sun absolutely no fun at all. Once again this is a spectacular glacial valley but the 1000metre height difference from Ischgl to the Heidelberger Hütte is a lot at the end of the day.

We reached the hut just as the threatening thunder clouds broke and enjoyed the storm from inside. The Heidelberger Hütte is huge but friendly and very warm. The food is also good with plenty of choice.

The weather was once again beautiful and we were thankful for every cloud.

Day 3

After a good breakfast in the Heidelberger Hütte we set off up to the Fimba pass. An hour of pushing interspersed with a little riding saw us at the highest point of our whole tour. From there four of us switched our brains off and cycled all the way down. Erika was sensible and walked but the rest of us rode everything that was possible and a lot that wasn't. It is an amazing descent. Down to the Alp Chöglia big stones and loads of gravel. Very steep and an amazing experience. I have spent all day on an andrenalin high after this pass. Although we rode down, two other mountain bikers who had left the hut before us walked all the way down. To Vna, where we had lunch, is a cart track and then a super curvy tarmac road to the valley bottom. Fantastic!

tl_files/hogarth/Photos/dscf0047.jpgFrom the valley floor we followed the Val d'Uina up to the gallery, a path cut into the cliffs 100s of meters above the valley floor. Luckily the ascent was mostly through trees so we had a little shadow.

Once we had passed through the gallery we continued up to the Schlingpass and then down to the Sesvenna Hütte. From the pass we once again rode everything, stones, fords, the lot. We all, except Manfred, pushed quite a bit today. It was only 36kms and 1400 metres but we were all feeling the effects of 3 days cycling. In the hut we have a five person room with en suite shower - pure luxury!

Day 4

From the hut was a fantastic descent into the valley. Very steep, very rocky and big stone steps. Erika crashed once but otherwise we all had fun. Brilliant. Then ever downwards to Mals where we put on new brake shoes and Sandra changed her tyre which she had shredded on the Fimba Pass. Good service and ok prices at a friendly bike shop on the exit to Schluderns.

tl_files/hogarth/Photos/dscf0054.jpgAfter the bike shop we visited the Ice cafe "Christian" where we had some of the best Ice cream I have had in ages - and all home made. We managed to spend about two hours in Mals but it was very relaxing.

From Mals we more or less followed the river all the way down to Först. There is an official route all the way down the valley but this being Italy some signs were missing and some pointed in the wrong direction. The result was that we climbed a few meters that weren't totally necessary but at least we saw a few more apple trees! 

Now we are sat in a beer garden at the Först Brewery having found a hotel there and washing all our clothes.

Day 5

Last night everyone slept fantastically. Straight through from midnight to seven. After a too large breakfast we set off to the Gampenjoch. Starting at 290m in Niederlana we pushed, cycled and cursed our way up a path to Bad Gfrill where we eventually saw the error of our ways and cycled the last 4.5kms up the main road. When we reached the top we had something to eat and rang the sweat out of our clothing.

From the Pass we rode up and down through Unsere Liebe Frau im Walde und Castelfondo. Then down to Male and on to Dimaro. Almost the whole day was spent pushing up paths or cycling on tarmac. None of it was really fun but tomorrow should be better as then we are once again going "off road"

Day 6

Having spent the night in a Pizzeria we were expecting a good breakfast but were disappointed. Black coffee and two pieces of cake.

tl_files/hogarth/Photos/dscf0062.jpgAfter shopping it was directly up hill straight out of the town and then ever onwards until we reached the Pso. Campo Carlo Magno shortly before Madonna di Campiglio. We stopped for a second breakfast in the forest which was much better than the first. Almost the entire climb was through trees which made for a much more pleasant climb than would otherwise have been the case. In Madonna di Campiglio we combined some smart map reading with a bit of cross country through the park before finding the road into the Vallesinella. At a waterfall (Rif. Cascata di Mezza) we stopped for some lunch and then posed with our bikes under the waterfall. After that Thomas took a tumble off the track to land upside down in a tree below with his bike on top of him. Good fun for the watching ramblers and once again he wasn't hurt. Still climbing we passed the Lago di Val d'Agola where two old guys building a bridge pointed out the path to "Riva". We are obviously Alpencrossers with our full rucsacs!

Eventually we reached the pass Pso. Bregn de l'Ors and were rewarded with a fantastic view of mountains and glaciers. From the top of the pass there were paths in all directions but using the compass we found the correct one. After the pass P. so del Gotro a very steep grass slope taxed all our downhilling abilities and Erika did a forwards somersault over the handlebars. After getting a little lost we found the correct path which was an extreme downhill. Parts would have been difficult to walk on but we cycled anyway. After the path was a long stretch of gravel track and then an even longer curving tarmac road to the valley.
 
Once we were in the valley we set off heading for Storo but unfortunately darkness stopped us at Braguzzo

A long but very satisfying day with some superb cycling.

Day 7

To make up the distance from yesterday we were up early and after repairing a few punctures on our way by 07.30

tl_files/hogarth/Photos/dscf0071.jpgThe stretch we had planned for yesterday turned out to be all downhill with a height loss of 400 meters so half an hour and 20 kms later we were in Storo. After buying some food for later we set off to climb the 1400 m to Pso. Tremalzo. Manfred took 2 hours! I took 3hrs20 and the rest were in between. You just keep on climbing up and up. I can not even begin to see the fun in it. Near the top is a restaurant and on the grass outside I found the rest drying the sweat off their clothes. After a short pause (for me) we continued on up to the tunnel at the top of the pass. From there the way down is a very eroded old pass road of gravel and stone. A brilliant descent if you have the guts and technique to cycle it. Lots of others were descending with more or less skill. At one point I was sliding on both wheels and felt like I was on some fiendish fair ride rather than a cycle. I was scared stiff twice but the rest was fantastic. Looking back it is a little hard to believe we really cycled down it.

Erika managed the top section but afterwards had really had enough. We stopped for a snack at the Rif. P. so Noto and then continued on along old tracks from WW1 and mountain paths. Erika wasn't being helped by knowing that she was holding the others back on dream downhills so eventually Thomas, Manfred and Sandra went on to Pregasina while I and Erika took our time. At Pregasina we found the others waiting as agreed and set off down the old road to Riva. This is closed to traffic, very windy and still has tarmac on it making for a fantastic cycle downhill. Manfred missed the turn and ended up cycling the 1km through the road tunnel and then back again before catching us up.

In Riva we took a "team" photo and then cycled straight to the beach for a spot of swimming which was the reason for coming here after all! After finding a hotel we went and ate Pizza.

Summary

The tour was just as much fun as I had hoped. I learnt a lot about mountain biking and proved that a novice can cross the Alps on a ten year old bike providing he has a good teacher (thank you Manfred) and doesn't try to kill himself on the uphill stretches.  
tl_files/hogarth/Photos/dscf0078.jpgThe group should definitely train together before leaving and include terrain typical of the most difficult stretches on the route. Neither Erika or I expected anything as difficult as the Fimba Pass or the Tremalzo. Luckily I seemed to be quite good at learning by doing and am now a confirmed "downhill over big rocks" addict!
 
Meeting other "Transalpers" on the way I have serious doubts if all those who set out are equipped for the Alps. Undoubtedly they are all good mountain bikers but I wonder how many can read a map properly? How many know how to use a compass to find their way in a mist and how many are equipped to deal with a serious injury at 2000m? The Fimba Pass for example is mountaineering, even with a bike and perhaps a little more thought about mountaineering should be a prerequisite for an Alpencross.
 
It was a long and strenuous way to go swimming but worth every minute and every meter.

Neill Hogarth | neill@hogarth.de | www.hogarth.de