Hiking and climbing in Switzerland: Grimsel Pass and Ticino

My first pandemic international travel. I’m a little embarrassed to admit I hadn’t heard of Grimsel Pass or Ticino even (!) before this trip. Seb had some free time between work meetings in southern Germany and offered to pick me at the Basel airport in a caravan for about ten days of climbing. I’m also embarrassed to admit that, having hardly climbed in two years, at first I wasn’t very excited. What?, a friend who knows the region very well and has a camper van, of course you have to go! That was Ferda’s mother’s reaction. Yes, a pretty fantastic opportunity, isn’t it?

Seb picked me up on the French side of the airport, and we stayed in France only long enough to eat some quiche before crossing into Switzerland. France, Switzerland too, both require a pass sanitaire to eat in restaurants (among other things). The woman who sold the quiche at the boulangerie asked to see it when I said we wanted to eat there (rather than takeaway). My Turkish covid 19 card with a QR code worked (as I had been told it would)!

Switzerland and Turkey (the US too) have about the same covid vaccination rates (~65% — lower than France (76%) and, interestingly, Sri Lanka (71%)), but the pass sanitaire makes travel feel safer (from a covid standpoint) in Switzerland than in Turkey since you can be more confident that fellow diners and bus passengers are not infectious. (France would be even better, I suppose.)

Ok, let’s get started. Shortly after leaving Basel we saw the sign on the highway for the Roman ruins of Augusta Raurica. I’m a sucker for these things and was tempted to ask Seb to stop until I remembered that I had visited those ruins six years ago.

A bit later on the way to Grimsel Pass Seb stopped at this pullout on Brünig Pass for the nice view:

I stopped at this same pullout (on Brünig Pass) 16 years earlier on my first trip to Switzerland. by bryandkeith on flickr

wait a minute! Check out this photo I took 15 years earlier on my first trip to Switzerland!

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Wrapping up Artvin: Borçka, Murgul, Arhavi

After spending about three weeks in Ardanuç and Şavşat, Ferda and I moved quickly through Borçka, Murgul, and Arhavi. The riding was some of the hardest of the trip with long climbs and descents on muddy, rocky roads. Stream crossings added to the excitement. We did find some pavement, but the Muratlı-Borçka-Murgul highway is an industrial mess with reservoirs, dams, tunnels, construction, and lots of fast traffic. The long paved descent from Borçka’s Karagöl ought to be really fun, but the deep, hard-to-see gravel hidden around too many turns made it stressful.

The reward here is passing through Turkey’s most biodiverse region. We often rode through thick green forest with some trees so covered with vines and other vegetation that it was hard to see the trees themselves. This is temperate rain forest, specifically the Colchian rain forest. The long descent from Indaczvina Pass to Efeler, a steep road through thick forest, probably had spectacular views, but we did the whole thing in a cloud, usually with light rain. Locals complained, “çürüyoruz” (we’re literally rotting) after daily rain for over six weeks.

Here we’re climbing up the dry side from Lekoban Yaylası to Indaczvina Pass.

IMG_20210912_101558 by bryandkeith on flickr
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Still Şaşvat: Bazgiret, Vaket, Cancir Yaylası

Sorry, one more blog about Şavşat, but it really is one of the most beautiful ilçe (district) in Turkey. I’ll also include a little about the numerous places to stay in this area. The riding here is hard with lots of up and down, but there are enough small hotels that I think you could put together a mountain bike itinerary where you’d stay inside every night. In other words you wouldn’t have to carry camping or cooking gear.

Ferda and I rode on the Meydancık road (a paved highway) downhill for about 5-6km before turning off for the climb up to Bazgiret (aka Madenköy). When I descended from Çermik nine years ago, I turned right uphill to Meydancık so now I was back on roads that I had never ridden before. We had just started up the climb and were looking for a shady place to eat lunch when Ferda’s derailleur hanger broke. Oops. We didn’t have a spare. Bigger oops.

What to do? In a more remote area I could have made Ferda’s bicycle into a single speed, but as it was, we mostly coasted (Ferda could coast but not pedal) about 10km downhill to the main Artvin-Şavşat road where there was cell service. After many hours and many phone calls, we had a derailleur hanger sent to the small shop there (the delivery point for any packages heading to any of the many villages up the Meydancık Road). That would take a few days to arrive. In the meantime we hung out in beautiful Bazgiret.

IMG_20210907_102052 by bryandkeith on flickr
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Beautiful Şavşat: Yukarı Koyunlu, Demirkapı, Çermik

Nine years ago I wrote “Artvin’s worth the effort!” Yep, it’s still worth it, and it’s still an effort. In retrospect (the trip’s over now, but I still have a fair bit of photo editing and blogging to do), the effort:award ratio is quite favorable in Şavşat. If you want to choose only one ilçe (district) to bicycle tour in Artvin, let it be Şavşat.

On this stretch we crossed from high in one valley, where we find the village of Yukarı Koyunlu, to high in another valley, where we find the village of Pınarlı, to high in a third valley, where the village of Demirkapı sits. As is true in Artvin in general, there are things to visit, but it’s more about the journey and the scenery along the way.

From Kanat (the camp for Tamara Kilisesi) it was downhill to Aşağı Koyunlu.

IMG_20210902_100514 by bryandkeith on flickr
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Bicycle touring Şavşat İlçesi: 5-4-2 rider attrition

We were still five people when we crossed from Ardanuç to Şavşat.

IMG_20210826_131859 by bryandkeith on flickr
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