The guys from H+I Adventures headed to Switzerland to sample a new route as summer closed its doors, taking advantage of the excellent public transport.
Missed Part 1? Catch it here.
Words and photos courtesy of H+I Adventures/Ross Bell.
Freeride legend Thomas Vanderham joins local H+I guides plus the HQ crew for a linking of the Trans-Graubünden in the Swiss mountain bike equivalent of Planes, Trains and Automobiles.
The snow had returned and the cloud blanketed the hills. There was no patience for the weather this morning so the thermals and waterproofs were dug out and a b-line made for the valley side to begin hammering pedals up the climb of the path awarded an ‘IMBA Epic Trail’.
It’s not hard to see why. The moody weather only adds a magical and eerie feel as the mist clings to the pine trees as we plod forward. We briefly take shelter in a mountain hut and use the opportunity to fill our water from a nearby spring, all the while the cloud lifting and skies becoming brighter.
The trail skirts round a pocket of rustic wooden cabins before plunging through a melt water stream and back into the woods, our tyres struggling for purchase on the contours of rocks and roots. We approach our rendezvous point after a short cruise on a farm track where we draw some questionable looks from the local cows.
With a fast spike of altitude we are soon scrambling for down jackets as the doors are flung open. There’s no easing into it as we viciously try to jump-start our legs and lungs as they burn in complaint, meanwhile the sun pierces through a wedge in the heavy black clouds, giving us a rather spectacular light show as we press on through a flurry of snow.
A thundering river is our indicator of direction as we carefully pick our way through the rock-littered trail with the surface water licking at our legs. By now our bodies are feeling the effect of the cold which made reaching the hotel, washing the bikes, and hitting the sauna all the more sweet.
Dawn broke to reveal a surreal stillness, the air seemed almost viscous with the lingering mist the clear night had left behind. It was going to be a perfect bluebird day. Breakfast was rushed or efficient depending on your nationality… The Swiss keeping the Scots and Canadian in check, there was a train to catch after all. We needn’t have worried, not even Swiss efficiency can overcome icy rails.
Thirty minutes of shivering later the bikes were carted onto the train and we were glued to the windows as the train made its way up the scandalously stunning Bernina pass. A glacial green lake signals our time to disembark, the train pulls away to re-reveal the impactful mountains as we stand on the platform in awe. The crunch of ice shattering under wheel is a strangely satisfying feeling as we crest the short but punchy climb revealing a vast headwall with a glacier hanging from its figure.
Edging round switchback after switchback with a burst of speed and heavy braking in between, we rattle over the railway line and exit onto a plateau surrounded by jagged ridge lines – the feeling of insignificance returns. We bolt back into the tree-line on a crazily diverse trail which starts fast and flowing before changing to steep, technical slabs of rock, and ultimately finishing with a teeth-rattling death grip through some long rock gardens.
Edging closer to the border we saunter into Poschiavo which feels like the lovechild of Swiss and Italian cultures – the perfect combination for four hungry mountain bikers. Gorging on meat and cheese platters, three rounds of pasta, gelato, and espresso… It was fair to say we were stocked up for the long burn to the overnight in the mountain hut of San Romero.
It doesn’t take long for the others to stretch their legs and create a gap in front; I was paying the price for a lazy summer behind the camera instead of behind the bars. Not even two shouty sheepdogs pacing their fence line can do much to spur me on as I mash the cranks back and forth. Eventually I round another switchback to find the trio sprawled on the grass soaking up the sun. “Wasn’t so bad was it?” Euan blurts out.
I needn’t reply as the sweat rolls off my face. Dave assures me it traverses from here on, the kind of traverse that apparently repeatedly stings you with viscous ramps… although I get redemption for my moaning / suffering when we leave the woods into the rich evening light, in sight of the mountain-hut.
With photographer mode engaged I begin running around the hillside barking orders as I make the boys work for their beer. With one last run and burst of red rays, the sun plummets behind the ridge. They can tell from my face I’m stoked with the result. Gino greets us with a round of local brew as the night slowly takes hold. The stars make a brief appearance as we watch the cloud shroud the glowing lights of Italy a few kilometres down the valley.
With most of the hard work done last night we were excited to cruise into Tirano, Italy for the lure of pizza. There had been a subtle but gradual change in the terrain since we’d left Lenzerheide, the surroundings green and lush compared to the rocky and barren mountainsides at the start of the week. Skimming past farm buildings at mach ten the grass soon changes for rocks and cobbles as we funnel through the tight alleyways and into the vineyards of Italy.
A glance backwards reveals the vert we’ve dropped with the mountain refuge a white spot above us. Rolling through the bustling streets of Tirano we begin sniffing out a pizzeria, conveniently finding one a stone’s-throw from the train station. It might not even be midday but you can’t pass up pizza in Italy. As they say, when in Rome… Inhaling would be a more appropriate term for how quickly they were consumed.
We’d reached our furthest point south and for one final fling we were back aboard the Bernina express headed to the top of the pass. Retracing our steps we can view a lot of our riding landmarks as they pass by during the train’s corkscrew route up to Ospizio Bernina. As the train summits next to the lake once again, we prepare for our Graubünden grand finale into Pontresina with reality beckoning in the form of a morning airport transfer.
We skim the edge of the lake whilst being buffeted by the wind which seemed to be doing its best to force us back into Italy. Thankfully it eases over the next crest where we savour a small sample of one of the many popular flow trails in the region. It’s short and sweet before we swoop into the woods for a last dose of Swiss tech; autumn beginning to flirt with the forest. Everyone’s riding reflects the fact this is our final day.
Dave is trying to rip our legs off up each climb whilst Thomas has turned up the descending a notch. Soon we are rolling through the streets of Pontresina with glamorous looking hotels on either flank, a slight juxtaposition to the four of us caked in mud.
Once the dirty bikes and kit had been ditched and a bottle of Lagavulin uncovered from a bike bag we were set for the night. Now this is the part of the story where I’m supposed to talk about how we spent the evening mulling over the ‘emotional’ journey we undertook…
In reality we drank a little too much, didn’t talk a whole lot about bikes, and laughed mostly at (and with) each other, because that’s what mates are for! But on a serious note Switzerland had treated us to some of the finest riding we’ve experienced, and better still it was rather effortless to access thanks to the Swiss grid of transport links and mountain lifts enabling us to connect the dots on so many Alpine gems.