The Grimsel pass (2,165 m, summit sign 2,164 m) connects the cantons of Valais to the south and Bern to the north; it crosses the continental divide between the Mediterranean Sea and the North Sea.
It ‘meets’ the Furka pass at Gletsch and is part of the most famous routes – or round trips – of the Alps. It can be combined with the Furka and Susten passes (north loop), or the Nufenen, Gotthard and Furka passes (south loop). More info on the various loops on the pages of the Alpenbrevet.
Oberwald / Gletsch
I deliberately descended to Oberwald to be able to take on the ‘full’ length of the Grimsel. It has the first 6+ kilometers – until Gletsch – in common with the Furka pass. If you come down from the Furka, the ‘natural’ route would be to turn (right) in Gletsch.
From Oberwald, the Furka is 12.1 kilometers long, with an altitude gain of 797 meters, or an average of 6.6% – the second half, from Gletsch is slightly more difficult at 6.8%, but the views are such, that you’ll hardly feel it 🙂
Leaving Oberwald, you’ll ‘pull’ yourself out of the bottom of the valley through a tree covered area over a distance of about 4 kilometers (average around 7%). Once you pass a short tunnel, the view opens up and you’ll see the Grimsel switching left to right in front and above you.
Some 1.5 kilometers further, you might be lucky enough to see the train go through the spiral tunnel, before you take on the final stretch to Gletsch. By the time you’ve reached Gletsch, you have climbed 389 meters, averaging 6.3% over the 6.2 kilometers – the extra distance from Oberwald to Gletsch is certainly not a freebie.
Once you leave Gletsch, the part with the most jaw dropping views awaits you. From switchback to switchback, you’ll see more of the Grimsel and the valley towards Oberwald, but the Furka climbing up the slopes on the opposite side is also a spectacle to watch. The combined view of two major passes winding up a high mountain, is something I have not experienced anywhere else so far…
At the summit, there is a restaurant – aptly called ‘Grimselblick’ – and a real tourist attraction, the Crystal cavern and Marmot park. I didn’t bother to go in there, but the summit was crowded with Chinese tourists when I got there – must really be some attraction then…
Meiringen / Innertkirchen
In Innertkirchen, the road to the Susten Pass goes to the left, but the Grimsel continues towards Guttannen, located at 1,057 meters.
Entering Guttannen, you’ll have gained 432 meters, over a distance of 8.4 kilometers or an average of 5.1%. Other than the painfully steep, but very short section at 12%, this is a good warm up 🙂
The total length of the climb from Innertkirchen is 26 kilometers, with an elevation gain of 1,540 meters (5.9%). As usual, this average doesn’t mean a lot: the final 10 kilometers the average rises to 6.9%, but that’s only because of the near flat section(s) – the rest of it throws between 8 and 10% at you…
Beyond Guttannen, the road passes a pair of short tunnels to Handegg (1,378 m) – if you’re interested, this is where the lower station of the Gelmerbahn funicular, the steepest in Switzerland, is located.
Past Handegg, you’ll go through a series of hairpins and a long tunnel (850 m long, which at 8, 9% will take you a while to pass, but it’s well lit) to the Räterichsbodensee reservoir. Less than 2 km further on, you’ll reach the Grimselsee reservoir and the Grimsel Hospice (altitude 1,980 m).
When I came down from the summit, I was so stunned by the view from a little higher up, I stopped the descend and just wanted to sit down and stay there. So, as you’ll be climbing through the final hairpins, you’ll have chance to enjoy those while actually moving 🙂
As mentioned above, there is, among other things, a restaurant at the summit.