The highest climbs of Europe #17 - Furkapass


Wednesday 29 April 2020 by Frank Jansen


In this edition we're travelling to Switzerland to show you one of the most spectaculair mountain passes in the Alps: the Furkapass. Together with the Rhone glacier, the Furka represents a fairytail like surrounding. Prepare for Stelvio / Sella round-like beauty. Better is simply impossible. 

Furkapass

Picture 1: Furkapass, seen from the Grimselpass

Furkapass

Country: Switzerland
Height: 2436 meters


Location

The Furkapass connects the Swiss cantons of Wallis and Uri. 

Wallis is bi-lingual. French is spoken in the west, while the east speaks German. The French name is Valais. The larger part of the canton is occupied by the Rhone valley and mountain ranges. The highest mountains in Switzerland (including the Dufourspitze, Dom, Matterhorn and Weisshorn) can be found here. And so is the Aletsch glacier, the largest in the Alps. Next to the Furkapass, Wallis has many more well-known climbs such as Grimselpass, Nufenenpass, Simplonpass and the Col du Grand-Saint-Bernard. In 2020, Martigny hosts the cycling world championships

Uri is known amongst riders thanks to the hotspot (and ski resort) Andermatt and the numerous Alpine passes. The Furkapass, Oberalppass, Gotthardpass, Sustenpass and Klausenpass are all party located in Uri.

The west side

The west side climb of the Furkapass is famous. Starting from Oberwald, it's a 16,5 km long climb averaging at 6,4%. The climb starts with a few switchbacks through a forest. But then all of a sudden a world opens up! It's hard to find words to describe the beauty of the view on the majestic, switchback-packed Grimselpass. On the right side of the roads, there's then old railway of the Furka steam train. The Rhone river seeks the fastest way down. This panorama is unique.

The next 3 kilometer to Gletsch are though. At the old hotel there's an intersection: left leads to the Grimsel, right to the Furka. The long, almost straight road ahead offers a marvellous view on the magical valley. The large Rhone glacier with its waterfalls stays on your left. Cycling here doesn't really hurt, the moderate climb with its beautiful surroundings is perfect to fully absorb the landscape. 

When the switchbacks are coming, the road becomes steeper. At the parking lot for the glacier you'll find the the famous abandoned hotel Belvedere. For cyclist as well as James Bond fans this place is holy. From here it's only 2,5 km to the top. When riding, one has a never ending view on the valley with the Grimselpass. This climb is one big photo opportunity. Rushing here is a bad idea. The only disappointment is the somewhat boring summit, which clearly lacks atmosphere. 

The east side

This climb is also worth riding, although it doesn't offer the overwhelming character of the west side. The climb is shorter (12,4 km) and somewhat steeper (7,2%). The actual climb starts in Realm with a few switchbacks which can be nicely seen from the bottom. Gradients around 8-9% - not easy. But since you just started, it's fine. 

After the switchbacks, it gets better and better. The road is located alongside the rockface. You can easily see the road ahead for miles. For those who have already suffered, the rest of the climb will be a mental challenge. Enjoying the surrounding is what this climb is made for. At the end of the long stretch, you can already see the buildings at the summit. From here, it's not very far. Make sure to ride a little further than the summit. The view on the Rhone valley is divine.

Crowded

Riding over Swiss mountain passes is populair amongst cars and motorcycles. Especially in the high season it's crowded. Try to avoid the summer months and if you can't, try to leave early and avoid the weekends. The Furkapass is too beautiful not to climb, it belongs on your palmares. Not convinced yet? Watch this video.

Cycling history

The Furkapass was only included once in in the history of the grand tours, in 1965. It was stage 19 of the Giro d'Italia, from Saas Fee (SWI) to Madesimo (IT), covering an impressive 282 km and 4 mountain passes. The stage was won by Vittorio Adorni , who would win that Giro as well. 

Tour de Suisse

The Tour de Suisse is a regular visitor here. In 2019, Hugh Carthy won stage 9, after riding solo on the Nufenen-, Gotthard- en Furkapass. His total time was just little over 3 hours. See the video here. In 2020, the Furka was also included in the race, but unfortunately the event has been cancelled. 

Gran fondos

Alpenbrevet (Gold Tour & Silber Tour)

Gran Fondo San Gottardo

Profiles

  Furkapass west


  Furkapass east

Routes and tours

The Furka is part of 2 of the most famous Swiss tours: Susten-Grimsel-Furka en Nufenen-Gotthard-Furka. When you pass by, you can ride them in 2 days. On the east side, Andermatt, Hospental or Realp are good places to stay. On the west side, you could stay in Ulrichen or Oberwald. Personally I prefer Andermatt. It's highly recommended to ride these loops counter clockwise. First of all because of the cobblestoned Gotthardpass, the Tremola. A unique experience. Furthermore, you will climb with both the Grimselpass Nufenenpass from the most beautiful side. And finally, in this way you'll ride both sides of the Furka in this way.

From my own experience I can truly say these routes are magnificent. I've done them multiple times. On a sunny day in August last year, I did the Nufenen-Gotthard-Furka loop. Riding in the sun with hours to spare: these are the best moments in cycling. 

  

Click on the images to download the route.

The highest climbs in Europe, the list

17 Furkapass Switzerland 2436
18 Roque de los Muchachos Spain 2426
19 Hochwurtenspeicher Austria 2421
20 Col du Granon France 2413

Foto's

Furkapass

Picture 2: The switchbacks of the allmighty Grimselpass


Furkapass

Picture3: Rhone valley


Furkapass Hotel Belvedere

Picture 4: Hotel Belvedere, a place of pilgrimage for cyclists

Furkapass

Picture 5: The heavenly view on the Rhone valley in daylight


Furkapass

Picture 6: Rhone valley, at the break of dusk


Furkapass

Picture 7: Switchbacks 

Furkapass

Picture 8: it's easy to see the road ahead


Furkapass

Picture 9: Almost there


Furkapass

Picture 10: The summit


Furkapass

Picture 11: Summit, view to the east side


Pictures: Frank Jansen: 4, 6, 11 - Herman Nekkers: 1, 2, 3, 5, 7, 8, 9, 10







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