Climbing the Grosse Scheidegg
I first heard about the Grosse Scheidegg when I saw this photo on instagram, posted by Grand Tours Project:
My first thought was “Wow. That looks spectacular, where is it?” So when I clicked on the location and realised that this climb was located only a few kilometers from where we would be staying in Switzerland on our Nice to Milan cycling tour, my mind was made up that I’d give it a crack.
Have you ever been fixated on doing one specific climb? On my first tour to France, it was Alpe du Huez. On my first tour to Italy it was the Stelvio. For my first tour of Switzerland it would be the Grosse Scheidegg.
There are more well known climbs in Switzerland than the Grosse Scheidegg. The Gotthard, Grimsel and Furka Pass are all mythical mountains that lure cyclists. However there was something about that instagram photo that really struck a chord with me. I’m quite keen on photography and I really wanted to recreate that image. In reality I probably needed a drone to recreate that photo... which I don’t have...and as I can’t even fly a toy helicopter from Target I’ll probably never buy... but the seed was planted.
A little about the Grosse Scheidegg
The Grosse Scheidegg (1962 metres) is a mountain pass in central Switzerland linking Grindelwald and Meiringen. Located in the Berner Oberland, the climb is dominated by some of the highest mountains in Europe including the Jungfrau, as well as the renowned Eiger north face.
The most alluring thing about this climb (other than the epic scenery) is that the top part is completely closed to cars on both sides making it a cycling paradise.
The only downside is that it’s steep. Really steep. Take a look at the profile & see for yourself.
From Grindlewald the climb is 10km long, an average of 9% (this is the side we rode).
From Meiringen the climb is 16.4km long, an average of 7.7%
The only way is up
By the time we reached Switzerland in July this year, Phil and I had cycled 1000kms and climbed almost 16,000m over two weeks on our journey from Nice. You could argue that our legs were either warmed up or cooked when we reached Wengen, our little mountain village close to Interlaken. We were staying in the area for six nights, so in theory we had some time to rest the legs before we hit the Grosse Schiedegg.
[Our home for the week]
We’d had almost perfect weather on our trip so far, so you can understand that I was a little devastated when I looked at the forecast to see rain and chilly temperatures all week. I’d really hoped for the crystal blue skies that make the Alps look so dramatic.
On our first “rest day” the sun was out so we decided to roll down to Interlaken and ride up the Beatenberg. Turns out the Beatenberg is not a rest day kinda ride, averaging a 7.4% over 8.5 km. It was a great ride, so i’m not complaining. But my legs were. Actually I was complaining because Phil told me it was an easy ride, but we won’t dwell on that haha.
So resting the legs for the Grosse Scheidegg did not start well. I decided to take a day off the next day and go for a walk instead as the weather was pretty miserable, but Phil and another mate Andrew decided to cycle the Kleine Scheindegg which turns out is ridiculously steep and turns to dirt towards the top. I was cheering I’d taken the walk option.
[Much better idea taking a walk!]
On day 3 Phil and Andrew were feeling pretty knackered after having had two tough days on the bike. However when we woke up the sun was shining, clouds had disappeared and the forecast looked a bit dodgy for the rest of the week, so I convinced the boys (not without some grumbling) that today would be Grosse Scheidegg day! I was feeling rested and I really wanted to tackle it in the sunshine so I could get some good photos (priorities haha). Plus I’m the kind of person who likes to get tough rides over and done with so I don’t fret about them for days, so when I woke up that morning I was “Let’s do this!”
Sun’s out fun’s out
We climbed 17km from Lauterbrunnen up to Grindlewald where the climb starts so we were nicely warmed up when we reached the base. The climb started from the centre of the village but it didn’t become car free until a couple of kilometres out of town where we turned on to what looked a bit like a wide footpath. At this point the road kicked up, we dropped down into our lowest gear and started grinding away.
This is one climb I would have loved have done on a road bike rather than our tourers. However the extra weight was probably levelled out by more gears on the tourers. At least we were pannier free. I’d also taken off the pannier rack, but decided to keep my handlebar bag on so I didn’t have to carry all my food and jacket in my pocket. I’d become so accustomed to having it there over the trip that it didn’t bother me.
As I mentioned above, the road is car-free, however the road is used by the odd post bus ferrying hikers and tourists up and down. I’d read about this and I was imagining a little mini-bus, but they turned out to be the size of a big school-bus. Two buses passed us on the climb - the first was on a stretch of road so narrow that I had to get off my bike and squeeze up next to the electric fence. The bus passed right by my nose and the driver gave me a grim look as he edged his way past me, almost tutting like it would be totally my fault if he squished me. You can hear the toot of the bus horn as they go around blind corners, and it started to really unnerve me as I made my way further up the climb. It got so steep I really didn’t want to have to get off again.
The fear of being passed by a bus and the pain in our legs was lessened by the spectacular scenery. We started in sunshine but it got gradually cloudier and the Eiger looked impressively daunting as it loomed over us.
We soon lost Andrew as he was on a road bike and zoomed off. Phil and I were left to grind our way up, slowly, painfully. I took most of my photos at the bottom as it became too steep further up to take my hands off the handlebars, but I managed to get in a few nice shots - success!
The legs were starting to scream by the time we reached the summit, but it felt awesome to get there. What a climb! Apart from the pesky post buses we hardly saw another soul. It was just us and the Swiss Alps. Epic.
For those who are keen for a big day out there is the option of descending the other side to Meiringen then riding back around the lake to Interlaken and up to Lauterbrunnen, however we decided to descend the same way as we wanted to get home and watch the end of the Tour de France - priorities!
You could also ride up the other side from Meiringen which is not quite as steep, but longer (see profile above). It is rumoured to be equally spectacular.
I’m really glad I got to do this climb, even if I didn’t have a drone to follow me up it. It’s a must do if you are in the area.