Planning a cycling trip to Switzerland can be overwhelming given the endless selection of climbs and attractive squiggly roads on offer in this compact cycling paradise. But if there is one climb not to miss, it’s the Grosse Scheidegg.
Words and photography: Marcus Enno (Beardy McBeard)
I had been in the country for nearly a month and while riding a huge number of climbs and taking thousands of photos along the way, there was still one mountain I was yet to tick off. The Grosse Scheidegg was the one, accordingly to locals, that all others were measured off. This one was about more than just the challenge – the scenery, I was told, is jaw dropping. A level above the rest, they said. I had already experienced some stunning and challenging climbs during my trip so this one had to be something else!
A day prior, my host had passed me his phone showing me just what I was missing. Flicking through pictures of green meadows, wild flowers and towering rocky peaks gave me butterflies but in retrospect, these images did little to showcase the real thing…
It’s the morning of our ascent and the weather is perfect; jersey and bib shorts is all we need for the rollout. I’m staying in a Airbnb in the cute historic town of Unterseen, just across the river from Interlaken. Unterseen is nestled between the Thun and Brienz lakes and there’s a fast-flowing river connecting the two directly in front of my accomodation. It’s peak summer right now and I’ve already earmarked a swim down below after the ride, along with a stein of beer to be enjoyed on the sunny terrace.
I’ve been in contact with a keen cyclist called Jan who has kindly agreed to be my guide for the day. Such is his excitement to ride that the train journey from Bern is merely a small price to pay for such a day out. It’s 6:30am when we meet and the streets of Interlaken are completely empty. There’s no chance of an early brew at the Velo Cycling Cafe today which is good because as soon as Jan arrives, he sets off through the valley. The gradual climb up to Grindelwald is a nice way to warm things up before the real ascent begins. The road is quiet and a little cool as the sun is yet to stretch above the surround mountains. Before long however, the sun sneaks a look over the top of the craggy mountains and sends warming beams of light into the shadows of the valley. This magical display slows our progress as I stop multiple times to capture the Instagramable #LightBro moments.
The opening 20km seem to fly by and before I know it, we’ve climbed from 570m to over 1,000m above sea level. Grindelwald is a tourist town with amazing views and is a popular base for rock climbers who flock to the town to tackle the iconic North face of the Eiger Mountain. With a tricky descent to follow after reaching the top, I start to cross my fingers and toes that no ropes are required for us today.
We’ve been on the road for a little over an hour before stopping at the natural spring in the town square of Grindelwald and we both fill our bottles with icy water before setting off again. The climb starts immediately, the road narrows and if it was at all possible, the road becomes more quite again. Access here is for locals and the PostAuto bus only. Other than the sound of cow bells ringing and two cyclist puffing away, it’s silent. I’m fortunate to be riding the climb on a week day and like most of Europe, the locals are late to get started during the long summer days. Jan points out the glacier to our right and a small cabin amongst the rocks – a base for exploring it.
The climb from Grindelwald to the summit is 14km but I’m surprised how quickly the kilometres tick by. Watching the clouds swirling around the peak of Eiger takes the sting out but the double-digit pinches remind me to pay attention to the actually riding too. The road here isn’t much wider than what you’d find on a farm and it continues all the way around until I see the Berghotel. The summit mark! We lean our bikes against the wall and take a seat outside admiring the view back down. Coffees are ordered, the Swiss way, with cream and at this moment there’s nowhere I’d rather be – apart from heading down the twisting road we’ve just spent the better part of three and a half hours climbing.
The descent is spectacular and with a little more time, we would have tackled both sides (highly recommended). Today however, we have a date with a local speciality in Meiringen, the home of a world-famous meringue. It’s an appropriate dish for such an occasion as the crunchy white and eggy peaks are reminiscent of the snow-capped mountains surrounding the area. The satisfying crunch backed with a chewy centre goes down a treat and is the icing on top of one of Switzerland best cakes
By the numbers
Stats, stats, stats
Height of Eiger Mountain
Temperature in degrees Celsius of river for swimming
Do it yourself
How Marcus did it
The Aarburg, Beatenbergstrasse 1 3800 Unterseen Switzerland
Getting to Interlaken
Regular trains from Zurich to Interlaken via Bern. (Some services require bicycle to be packed in a bag or box to travel). Trip takes 2 hours.
Places to visit
Coffee: Velo Cafe Unionsgasse 10 Interlaken Switzerland
Meringues: Tea Room Frutal Bahnhofstrasse 18, Meiringen 3860, Switzerland
No, Marcus hasn’t shaved his beard. This is Jan. You can follow Jan on Strava.