15 August 2018
Scuol has a reputation as the mineral water capital of Switzerland, and, after sampling the stuff, I wouldn't touch it with someone else's barge pole. Maybe it's an acquired taste like dried sea slugs or agent orange.
We were ensconced at alpine resort Vulpera, opposite Scuol but on the wrong side of the railway tracks and river. This was where the old Swiss bankers used to hang out, drink copious quantities of mineral water, gamble with other peoples money and consequently spent a good part of their holiday on the loo. The faded once grand hotels and 80s budget apartments have been left to the vampires, vultures, chain smoking Italian road workers, and us mountain bikers. A bouncy castle, mini golf and kids swimming pool had invaded our front lawn, but an amazing piece of single trail descended from this to the mineral springs and back along the other side of the river into Scuol, bliss.
The things you find in villages.
Geology at work.
We headed up into the hills behind Scuol and onto a forestry road just where a private Swiss sports school hangs out, (no doubt the preserve of Swiss bankers offspring, learning the intricacies of secret Swiss bank accounts and how to gamble with other peoples money). The track climbed steeply into open meadow and eventually to a farm cafe. From there, cow trail prevailed along the contours as far as the eye could see. A row of farm dogs and their masters were mustering a very obedient flock of sheep high above us on the open slopes. From the far end of the trail we enjoyed over 1000 metres of endless downhill back into town. A real mix of tight switchbacks, dry off-camber tree roots and a lower section that hung onto the side of a stream gully. Town was more of a surprise when it finally arrived. Where did that come from. Anyone for gelato?
On a crystal clear day we launched early into a memorable hiker-bike, not really knowing what to expect. From the edge of the San Jun horse ranch just south of Scuol a steep and rooty climb of 4WD width soon petered out and the carrying commenced. We had vowed and declared we would continue, while the possibility of riding down remained vaguely feasible. The track must have been listening to our thoughts as it fought it's way up impossibly steep and bluffy terrain, riven with water falls, rock faces and dodgy gullies. How it managed this feet is beyond comprehension. Above the bush line flowering meadows prevailed and some uphill peddling made for a change in suffering.
Getting up there.
The Lischana Refusio came into sight and spurred us on to the top. Lunch was inhaled and water bottles refilled. Would we enjoy the fruits of our labour?, was the foremost question on our minds. Protection was put in place and seats subtracted, brakes checked, and the “all good to go” confirmed. With just the odd rocky drop and tight corner catching us out all else was manageable, tough but fair. The limestone rocks rolled under our wheels predictably, roots had grown across the trail and not down them, and the early morning dew that had made things slippery on the way up had evaporated.
It's a sign.
By Refusio Lischana.
It all came to a brake blistering end way too soon, but we did manage to catch another section of milder single track. This plied its way through larch forest and eventually delivered us back into Scuol, limp wristed after the initial rock bashing descent. Bread and milk were the only things on our shopping list.
The south side of Val Scoul is bereft of ski-fields, not so the north. Marching up its fair slopes is an array of ski related infrastructure and ever higher it must go to catch the retreating snow, or at least make its own to survive. Thus farming the higher slopes has been made easier with reliable roads and tracks. They are also great for those long never-ending MTB climbs, and on one we found ourselves. A robust service road took us to Motta Naluns where a 4WD track continued below Piz Clunas and Minschun.
How articulate is that?
We encountered contractors installing a water supply line below the track, using the most amazing all terrain digger. A bit big for building mountain biking singletrack, but a scaled down version would be magic. A large flock of what looked like texel sheep were being moved up the hill way above us, their tiny bells ringing around the valley like multiple wind chimes. Ahead, real single trail that climbed towards the saddle. But before one pedal stroke was turned in that direction, food was required. We had lunch at the top of an old chair lift while some cows looked on inquisitively.
Cotton bud damp patch, snow remnants leading to the pass.
Some of the climb was way too loose and rocky to ride, but after each short steep rise, riding prevailed and this was repeated all the way up to the 2730 metre Fuorcla Champatsch. The pass hangs below Piz Nair and Piz Soer with just a few remnants of winter snow on show. The top section of the downhill is way out there and touted as “one of the best single-trail descents in the region”.
Select a large dinner plate sized gear and arrive at pass.
Matching bike bell.
Alas the massive thunderstorm and deluge of biblical proportion that had trashed the once picturesque valleys to the south of Scoul had dealt to the lower part of this once laundered trail. A minefield of rocks and water runnels played havoc with our flow, tested our technical riding skill and drained valuable energy reserved. Never mind, there was fun to be had and some great stretches of riding down to the farm settlement of Grisoch at the famous Fimber Pass where the cows roam free and a number of old Suzuki Jimmys had seen better days.
7365 your time is up.
We hooked onto a very cool sidle and then a descent to the historic Zuort hotel/restaurant which has been serving travellers since time in memorial. From Zuort single trail plummets beside a mountain river, over rocks and down switch backs to cross two new massive kiwi style swing bridges. It then re-commences the head long descent to Hotel Sinestra, where a balcony trail awaits. It's hidden amongst thick pine forest and hangs onto the steep faces of the Ramosch Ravine. At the end of this technical fun trail the town of Ramosch refilled our water bottles and we cruised back to Vulpera via Sur En and a bunch of dust farm roads. Wild cherries, strawberries and black berries slowing our progress markedly.
The Swiss version.
Alas shopping for anything, apart from Swiss army knives, is a bit of an ordeal in Switzerland. So we mustered up the courage and headed to the duty free haven of Livigno Italy. It's through a one lane tunnel that pops out at the edge of a massive blue lake (Lach da Livign). First up we rode the top balcony trail, a riot of flowing singletrack that roams south down the east side of the Val da Livigno. It has a strategically placed farm shop and cafe at the very end. More singletrack of a similar flow returned us on a lower elevation back to Livigno via a cool sculpture trail, in time for well earned pizza and a serious thunder, lightning and rain storm. This was short lived, but had been a feature most afternoons during the unusually hot summer the locals had been enjoying. We shopped and headed home, a van full of dusty bikes, Italian cheese, butter and chocolate, yum.
A reason to be a pencil sharpener monitor.
A wild flower amongst the rubble.
We carved our names into a bunch of other rides and flirted with a few more high alpine passes and dodgy descents, including the infamous trail down the Quar Gorge. It was blasted out of a solid vertical limestone rock face in 1908 to give access to the remote farm settlements in the valleys above. It had been a bit of an epic getting there via S-charl and Alp Sesvenna. All in all we had had a great time in Scuol, but our time was up. We moved reluctantly onto Bivio, a village of 18 people at 1800 metres. It has no trains or tracks, but the promise of singletrack heaven.
Don't look down.
The Swiss love shiny things.
It's a dogs life.
The vast and efficient Swiss train network could move the entire North Korean Army from one side of the country to the other in one foul swoop and even provide first class passage to the military elite. What is less appreciated is its ability to transport their entire secret bicycle division in the dedicated bicycle cabooses. Their top secret parachute division's folding bikes, that fits innocently into a large hat box would cause not a raised eyebrows amongst the station masters or ticket collectors.
An extract from “Zen and the Art of the Bicycles”
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