July 6, 2013: When you go to bed really early, you tend to wake up really early too. At first light, we were wide awake and ready to go. But our hotel didn’t start serving their complimentary breakfast for another hour or two and we didn’t feel like waiting. What to do in the meantime? Go for an early morning drive and come back for breakfast, of course!
We decided to do a big loop heading south from Andermatt across St. Gotthard Pass (Passo del San Gottardo), west over Nufenen Pass, retracing a short distance we covered yesterday to reach Grimsel Pass headed north and then east along Susten Pass, finishing back at the hotel after completing the upper section of St. Gotthard Pass. In total, four passes before breakfast.
St. Gotthard is a high mountain pass connecting the German and Italian speaking parts of Switzerland. Traffic was light this early in the morning and we were quickly over the pass and into the Canton of Ticino. For some reason, this pass just didn’t seem to live up to our expectations, although there was some pretty impressive road engineering. Apparently, we’d completed missed the older, twisty road over the pass as it wasn’t marked.
Somewhat miffed, we went on an unexpected tour of the town of Airolo as we tried to locate the road that would take us up the Ticino River valley to our second pass of the day. Nufenen Pass. We finally got ourselves on the correct route, a pleasant drive through green hills and tiny villages with snow-capped peaks overhead.
As we started to climb the now familiar hairpin turns to the summit, we came across a small herd of Alpine Ibex, a type of wild goat native to the high mountains. The largest male in the group had an enormous set of curved horns and cut a very imposing silhouette. But with nowhere to stop safely, we didn’t manage to get any photos. (You can see what they look like here.)
We stopped for a quick photo op at the summit and a couple of panorama shots but it was too windy and cold to stay for too long. Back into the heated cabrio (although we still had the roof open) for the drive down the other side to the towns of Ulrichen and Gletch, and the turnoff to pass number three.
We’d seen a partial glimpse of Grimsel Pass yesterday on our way to the Furka Pass, but it had been shrouded in mist. Not so this morning. With the sun shining, we made our way back and forth up the side of the mountain to the summit, where we found several icy grey glacier lakes. Down the other side, we followed the Aare river valley, past a number of hydroelectric dams, to the town of Innertkirchen.
Here we turned right and were on our way to our final pass before breakfast, the Susten Pass. This one turned out to be my favourite of the four this morning. It was the busiest road thus far, but mostly motorcycles and even some pedallers. And for good reason. A beautiful valley, scenic alpine vistas, rough tunnels through the mountains and an incredible waterfall that you literally drive under. Even so, the traffic was still light and we made good time. This is one I definitely wouldn’t mind coming back to do again on two wheels.
Descending to the town of Wassen we encountered a huge traffic jam leading to a 16.4 km long tunnel that cuts right through the mountain from Göschenen to Airolo, underneath the St. Gotthard Pass. This tunnel allows the highway to stay open all year long. We decided to follow a couple of sports cars that seemed to know where they were going and happily ended up on the old St. Gotthard Road. A much more interesting, windy, narrow route featuring lots of snow shelters and tunnels that brought us back to Andermatt.
None of the distances were particularly long, and we arrived back at the hotel and sat down to a fabulous breakfast by 9:30, leaving at least one more pass to look forward to after check-out.