Riding the Rhone River Path – Climbing 400m from Reckingen to Gletsch

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Friday 5 September 2014

Riding the Rhone River Path – Climbing 400m from Reckingen to Gletsch

A sunny Friday morning dawned in Reckingen, after our unexpected epic hike to theGrathorn the previous day, and both our legs and the weather forecast suggested we take things a little easier. We did briefly consider relocating once again and pushing on towards Interlaken over the Grimselpass, however, we still had hopes of exploring the northern flanks of the Goms Valley, and possibly even seeing the Aletsch Glacier once again, before making that journey. Also, after a whistlestop tour of Zermatt and Saas Fee, the prospect of staying in one place for more than one or two nights appealed to us. However, with heavy rain predicted to arrive at some point in the afternoon, we decided to rest our hiking boots for the day and instead take a bike ride along the banks of the Rhone.

The Rhone river runs all the way from the Rhone Glacier, threading it's way through Switzerland before meandering all the way to meet the sea at the Mediterranean after flowing for more than 800km. For intrepid cyclists seeking an adventure it is possible to follow the river all the way from the spring at the Rhone Glacier itself right to the sea, an epic cycle path which just happened to pass within 10 metres of our very own motorhome (right through the campsite). With the morning sun lighting up the valley we decided we would head upstream the 10 miles or so to Oberwald right at the head of the Goms and maybe even cycle uphill a little way towards the village of Gletsch which nestles in the hills at the point where the tongue of the Rhone Glacier reached to several hundred years ago (it has now retreated a few hundred metres uphill and out of sight, but remains one of the largest in Switzerland).

The going was easy along the river, snaking away from the banks occasionally with the odd short climb to wake us up, but nothing too strenuous and we rode side by side in the sunshine enjoying giving our legs a relative break. Reaching Oberwald in under an hour and with the sun still holding we opted to push onwards and upwards, joining the road to climb from 1368m to 1757m over the next 6km. After our exploits in the French Alps, we thought this should be a doddle.

In reality several weeks of not cycling coupled with some very long recent hikes had maybe eroded our cycling muscles more than we expected, however, we enjoyed the climb. With gentle switchbacks up the wooded hillside, with the gradient rarely exceeding 5-6% we kept a steady rhythm and arrived in Gletsch within the hour to find a very small, historic collection of buildings, a large hotel and a museum. However, the view is entirely dominated by the cascade of rocks where the glacier used to sit, their smooth, rolling contours mimicking a glacial flow so well it almost hides the fact the glacier has retreated. Also revealed from Gletsch are two highly impressive Swiss feats of road construction, the Grimselpass which climbs away towards Interlaken topping 2164m and the even higher Furkapass towards Andermatt which reaches 2429m. It was the former we planned to take in just a day or so and the view left us a little nervous for our small motorhome.

Sadly, before we could contemplate cycling even higher (now that we were warmed up after all) the forecast rain began, initially a light drizzle but soon persistent spitting and the clouds hid the passes from view. It was time to head back. Whipping down the chilly descent to Oberwald we did escape the rain momentarily, but on the flatter path by the Rhone it soon caught us again and after a solid hour of pushing hard we arrived back at the camping soaking wet.

However, every cloud has a silver lining and this one came in the form of a very hot welcome shower before we whiled away a rainy afternoon planning our next hike with better weather predicted for the morning.

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