Crossing the Grimsel Pass

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30/09/2023

We woke up in the carpark at Betten Talstation. Finally we had made a decision on our destination. The choice had been between crossing the Furka Pass or the Grimsel Pass. The Furka Pass would take us towards Andermatt and then Lucerne. Amongst other things it would allow us to see the source of the Rhone – the river we had been following for so long. The Grimsel pass would take us towards the Bernese Oberland and the much recommended Lauterbrunnen. Both directions would be taking us to far busier tourist destinations that we really wanted to see. But we didnt have enough time to take in both.

In the end we decided on the Grimsel Pass. Lauterbrunnen had been recommended by so many people that we didn’t feel we could possibly miss it. Plus it would mean that we had condensed this trip into the south west portion of Switzerland and we could come back another time knowing that we could dive straight into the eastern side of the country.

Driving the Grimsel Pass

Crossing mountain passes is always one of our favourite driving experiences. But during this trip Bertie’s temperature gauge has frequently been nudging the top of the dial. The hot weather and multitude of steep alpine valley roads had not been great for keeping Bertie cool. Our plan for tackling the Grimsel Pass was an early start. We would set off in the cool of the morning and have breakfast at the top of the pass.

The road up the valley was nice and easy, no longer a dual carriageway but not a narrow mountain road either. The sat nav was not playing ball with taking us up the Grimsel Pass. I don’t know what restriction it thought existed but it meant that when we reached Obergoms we nearly missed our turning onto the Grimsel Pass road. We spotted it, obscured by scaffolding, as we drove past and had to find a spot to turn around.

The Grimsel Pass rose up in front of us, a series of wide switchbacks across the face of the mountains with cloud obscuring the top. In some ways the pass was a bit of a disappointment. We had been expecting something a little challenging especially given the sat nav’s reluctance to bring us up here. But the road was broad with a relatively gentle gradient and the switchback corners were wide with a helpful camber. In no time at all we were up at the top of the pass at 2164m. I’m not sure if it quite makes the highest point we had driven to on this trip, but it’s up there.

Looking up at the Grimsel Pass switchbacks

We found ourselves a level parking space to park up to make our breakfast – a little treat of french toast and bacon – and watch the traffic. Along with the cars there were other motorhomes, sports cars and plenty of motorbikes. One or two push bikes made it up to the top, fair play to them.

Parked up for Breakfast

After breakfast we walked around the Totensee (the Lake of the Dead). The cloud started to break up and we got increasingly good views of the mountains and the striking colour of the yellow/green lichen that coated the rocks. Halfway round we found the aire where we could have parked up for the night. Tucked away from the road and next to the lake it looked quite tempting but we were having to be parsimonious with our time now.

Totensee

Stopping off at the Aare Gorge

The drive down the other side of the pass was equally easy. The challenge on the way down is keeping the brakes from overheating but Paul did well. We decided to stop at the Aare gorge on the way down. We had a bit of time to kill before we could get into the ACSI campsite we had identified in Interlaken.

Views on the descent from Grimsel Pass

We passed the Eastern entrance to the Aare gorge but the small area of parking was completely full. A little further up the road was a parking spot on the left with a sign for a path to the gorge so we squeezed ourselves in next to a motorhome and caravan and walked down to the entrance.

The Aare gorge follows the youthful and exuberant high mountain end of the Aare river. We had already stayed next to the wider, more sedate, downstream river when we first entered Switzerland ┬áIt’s got turquoise glacial meltwaters flowing swiftly through it’s narrow channel, a winding path that provides numerous view points of the water smoothed gorge walls, high vegetation clad cliffs and pebbled beaches. Man-made boardwalks allow you to follow the route of the river and tunnels take you to windows over key vantage points.

The Aare gorge was our first taste of the massive popularity of the Bernese Oberland region. Whereas Valais was already starting to wind down prior to the winter season, here we were surrounded by tourists of all nationalities. The Aare gorge can be walked in either direction and the boardwalks were clogged with people taking selfies and large groups waiting for other large groups to pass. We can’t complain as we are part of that tourist throng, but it was a shock to the system. We were both relieved to get out the other end of the gorge (where there is a large carpark) and walk back to Bertie in relative peace.

Camping Alpenblick, Interlaken

Interlaken is a town that ‘does what it says on the tin’ sitting between the two large lakes of Thunersee and Brienzersee. It’s a tourist hub for the Bernese Oberland, with lots of public transport links to other hot spots.

On the western outskirts of Interlaken, close to the shores of Lake Thun, is Camping Alpenblick. It’s an ACSI campsite so was a reasonable price (23 CHF a night plus tourist tax). It was very easy to navigate from the main road and fortunately we didn’t have to negotiate the town or the lakeside roads.

We arrived before reception opened for the afternoon and got parked up behind a couple of other vans waiting to be checked in. By the time reception opened there was a queue of nine vehicles waiting for a spot on the site. I wondered whether we should have booked but actually there were plenty of spaces. We found our allocated pitch between other motorhomes and some oddly shaped pitches for tents. A bit of shuffling around the slightly tight pitches got us settled up and we immediately got the chairs and tables out to enjoy some more hot weather and meetsome of the neighbours. The motorhome spots were taken up with the usual European nationalities, but the tent pitches were occupied by an Indian couple and a Korean couple both of whom had rented a car and bought a tent and minimal camping gear to explore Switzerland on a budget. They must have been very relieved that the weather had been so dry and warm.

More on our time in Interlaken in our next blog post.

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