Travel.P #59 – Furkapass, Glaciers and beyond that

“Remember that if you don’t prioritize your life someone else will.”

Greg Mckeown

“When you ride a bike and you get your heart rate up and you’re out, after 30 or 40 minutes your mind tends to expand; it tends to relax.” — George W. Bush, former US President

Waking up in the cold at 2429 m on the Furkapass, legs heavy from the last day, we put some warm clothes on, packed our camp and left towards a viewing point, where we had our breakfast, as the wind was pushing the white clouds over the white mountainpeaks and the sun was warming us up.

After enjoying the breakfast as much as the view, we started rolling down the hill, until we stopped after a few curves at the Gletscher-Stuebli, from where we left our bikes and went for a little hike to see the Rhoneglacier, the source of the Rhone. As far as I know it was the first glacier that Max has seen. We also found a few cool stones on our walk, that e kept. The glacier was melting in the now hot sun, and as a result a strong waterfall was purring down into the narrow green valley ahead, surrounded by mountains first black than slowly getting white towards the top. The Rhone Glacier is one of the primary contributors to Lake Geneva in the far eastern end of the Swiss canton of Valais.

The glacier lost ~1300 m during the last 120 years leaving behind a track of naked stone.

A little update on Melting conditions on out earth.

The famed snows of Kilimanjaro have melted more than 80 percent since 1912. Glaciers in the Garhwal Himalaya in India are retreating so fast that researchers believe that most central and eastern Himalayan glaciers could virtually disappear by 2035. Arctic sea ice has thinned significantly and it shrunk about 10 % in the las 30 years. Rising sea level is not the only change Earth’s oceans are undergoing, which would influence more than a hundred million people worldwide living within three feet (a meter) of mean sea level.

“Oceans, in effect, mimic some functions of the human circulatory system. Just as arteries carry oxygenated blood from the heart to the extremities, and veins return blood to be replenished with oxygen, oceans provide life-sustaining circulation to the planet. Propelled mainly by prevailing winds and differences in water density, which changes with the temperature and salinity of the seawater, ocean currents are critical in cooling, warming, and watering the planet’s terrestrial surfaces—and in transferring heat from the Equator to the Poles.

The engine running the conveyor belt is the density-driven thermohaline circulation (“thermo” for heat and “haline” for salt). Warm, salty water flows from the tropical Atlantic north toward the Pole in surface currents like the Gulf Stream. This saline water loses heat to the air as it is carried to the far reaches of the North Atlantic. The coldness and high salinity together make the water more dense, and it sinks deep into the ocean. Surface water moves in to replace it. The deep, cold water flows into the South Atlantic, Indian, and Pacific Oceans, eventually mixing again with warm water and rising back to the surface.

Changes in water temperature and salinity, depending on how drastic they are, might have considerable effects on the ocean conveyor belt. Ocean temperatures are rising in all ocean basins and at much deeper depths than previously thought, say scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Arguably, the largest oceanic change ever measured in the era of modern instruments is in the declining salinity of the subpolar seas bordering the North Atlantic.

Robert Gagosian, president and director of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, believes that oceans hold the key to potential dramatic shifts in the Earth’s climate. He warns that too much change in ocean temperature and salinity could disrupt the North Atlantic thermohaline circulation enough to slow down or possibly halt the conveyor belt—causing drastic climate changes in time spans as short as a decade.

The future breakdown of the thermohaline circulation remains a disturbing, if remote, possibility. But the link between changing atmospheric chemistry and the changing oceans is indisputable, says Nicholas Bates, a principal investigator for the Bermuda Atlantic Time-series Study station, which monitors the temperature, chemical composition, and salinity of deep-ocean water in the Sargasso Sea southeast of the Bermuda Triangle.

Oceans are important sinks, or absorption centers, for carbon dioxide, and take up about a third of human-generated CO2. Data from the Bermuda monitoring programs show that CO2 levels at the ocean surface are rising at about the same rate as atmospheric CO2. But it is in the deeper levels where Bates has observed even greater change. In the waters between 820 and 1,476 feet (250 and 450 meters) deep, CO2 levels are rising at nearly twice the rate as in the surface waters. “It’s not a belief system; it’s an observable scientific fact,” Bates says. “And it shouldn’t be doing that unless something fundamental has changed in this part of the ocean.”

[…] By all accounts it has changed significantly in the past 150 years.

Walking through the various labs filled with cylinders of standardized gas mixtures, absolute manometers, and gas chromatographs, Tans offers up a short history of atmospheric monitoring. In the late 1950s a researcher named Charles Keeling began measuring CO2 in the atmosphere above Hawaii’s 13,679-foot (4,169-meter) Mauna Loa. The first thing that caught Keeling’s eye was how CO2 level rose and fell seasonally. That made sense since, during spring and summer, plants take in CO2 during photosynthesis and produce oxygen in the atmosphere. In the fall and winter, when plants decay, they release greater quantities of CO2 through respiration and decay. Keeling’s vacillating seasonal curve became famous as a visual representation of the Earth “breathing.”

Something else about the way the Earth was breathing attracted Keeling’s attention. He watched as CO2 level not only fluctuated seasonally, but also rose year after year. Carbon dioxide level has climbed from about 315 parts per million (ppm) from Keeling’s first readings in 1958 to more than 375 ppm today. A primary source for this rise is indisputable: humans’ prodigious burning of carbon-laden fossil fuels for their factories, homes, and cars.

Tans shows me a graph depicting levels of three key greenhouse gases—CO2, methane, and nitrous oxide—from the year 1000 to the present. The three gases together help keep Earth, which would otherwise be an inhospitably cold orbiting rock, temperate by orchestrating an intricate dance between the radiation of heat from Earth back to space (cooling the planet) and the absorption of radiation in the atmosphere (trapping it near the surface and thus warming the planet).

Tans and most other scientists believe that greenhouse gases are at the root of our changing climate. “These gases are a climate-change driver,” says Tans, poking his graph definitively with his index finger. The three lines on the graph follow almost identical patterns: basically flat until the mid-1800s, then all three move upward in a trend that turns even more sharply upward after 1950. “This is what we did,” says Tans, pointing to the parallel spikes. “We have very significantly changed the atmospheric concentration of these gases. We know their radiative properties,” he says. “It is inconceivable to me that the increase would not have a significant effect on climate.”

Exactly how large that effect might be on the planet’s health and respiratory system will continue to be a subject of great scientific and political debate—especially if the lines on the graph continue their upward trajectory.” – ( The Big Thaw – Daniel Glick, National Geographic)

After our little walk, we continued cycling down the Furkastrasse, until Gletsch, where we changed our route to follow the Rhone instead of our first plan of cycling over Briezersee, Thunersee, Grimselpass to Lake Geneva. I think we had enough of steep hills and were enjoying it too much to just roll down the Furkastrasse, rolling all the way, 16.7 km for 35 min until we reached Oberwald, from 2432 to 1377 meters, where we made a new plan and spoke about this amazing run down the mountain! Once at around 50 kmh we drove through a plastered tunnel, but we couldn’t see that it was plastered and as soon as I started panicking loosing control over the thin tires on the plaster we have already been through the short tunnel of maybe 100, 200 meters. I literally feared for my life, a crash at that speed with that much weight might end fatal. But afterwards Max and me were just shouting at each other in excitement, adrenaline flowing through our bodies about what just happened. It was incredibly surprising and the peak of excitement of our run down.

We ended up at a little lake, and since it was a boiling day we went for a swim, that really refreshed us and continured until it was getting dark, when we camped on the banks of the Rhone. The next morning we continued further, now with more dense populated bigger towns, not far apart from each other.

“A bicycle is the finest mode of transport known to man.” — Adam Hart-Davis, English inventor

The cycling route of the Rhone was great, wind came from the back and sun from above. As good spirited as we were we were thinking about the idea of the couple we met at the lake, to cycle over Milano, but finally decided to stay with the Rhone until we reach Geneva.

On the way we stopped at orchards to fill our basket of fruit and enjoying the view. Onces past Tête du Portail, we cycled north, facing the wind and had a few hills on our path. But it was still a beautiful day. We had lunch at a climbing spot, watching people climb and continued until we reached a few nice, calm little lakes were we had another swim and decided to continue until we reached Lake Geneva. We choose to cycle on its southern side. A massive incredibly clean lake. We cycled into france, were we slept at Plage naturiste de La Pinède, in our hammocks, swimming into the sunset in the cold lake. Again, no one complained about us sleeping there and we had 2 L of Ravioli, with a lovely burned bottom can aroma for dinner. I love Ravioli, and it was the perfect treat for us. The next day was quite relaxed, we cycled to Geneva, hung out for a while and had a little look around. We slept at a place a few hundred meters after Viaduc de la Jonction on the banks of the Rhone, it was a beautiful place, possible to swim in the just mixed crystal blue Rhone and grey Avre. From the bridge it looks like smoke mixing with into blue air. We much preferred Geneva to Basel, and had a little evening stroll around, getting all kind of different vibes of the town. From super rich, over hippie to poor areas. Geneva has got something to it and seems worth spending a few days at.

“When the spirits are low, when the day appears dark, when work becomes monotonous, when hope hardly seems worth having, just mount a bicycle and go out for a spin down the road, without thought on anything but the ride you are taking.” — Arthur Conan Doyle, British author

Because we had to go to Marseilles soon, we decided to book a bus, from the next town, instead of cycling. It also was getting very hot and just when my chain split into two we push the bike to the bus station, abandoning them there, except their saddles, well used and a final big adventure, from where we entered into the bus and left the bus at Marseilles airport in humid, hot standing heat. Sweating like crazy and trying to figure a plan how to get to port Saint Luis, where our friends and the boat where waiting on a yard.

“Those who wish to control their own lives and move beyond existence as mere clients and consumers — those people ride a bike.” — Wolfgang Sachs, German author and academic

So far I have to say, a bicycle is the most enjoying way of traveling for me. This journey just showed me how simple and beautiful traveling on a bike can be. You have the perfect mix of seeing things, sopping when you want to experience them. You feel the terrain, the wind and make actually a lot of distance with not too much energy. Max actually declined going to his examens party, to join me on the trip and I can tell you he enjoyed it as much as me. It was a great introduction into the world of cycling/touring. I’d say the next time it will be better to have no time limitations, so you can chill out more and do more things when you are in a town or at interesting places, like hiking for a few days. Also next time, I would now get a better bike, not new but better. Lorna and me just bought a Thorn Sherpa, ready to start cycling down the west coast of England from The Lake District to Cologne. We don’t have a big plan, like always. Waiting for one more parcel to arrive, with head torches and we will be ready to set of. This time in a different set up on proper bikes. It will be a time until I will be able to catch up to this adventure, but at some point you will be able to read about this as well.

“The bicycle is the noblest invention of mankind.” — William Saroyan, Nobel prize winner

So that’s it of 2 Oldschool Racers durch die Tallen Alpen. Thanks a lot for reading and maybe you will be more motivated to use your bike. Even just for grocerie shopping ot to visit a friend that lives 20 km away from you. It is quick, reliable and in my opinion safe. It is amazing. You really can do loads of trips on your bike instead of using your car. I would be so happy if you would choose your bike in the future more often, sharing your experiences with your friends, and maybe convincing them to use the bike more often. A bike is freedom, it has class. In my opinion I am more impressed by a woman or a man enjoying a ride on a whatsoever bike than a guy or a woman in a Ferrari or whatsoever. Really, just imagine a world where everyone would use their bikes more often. Especially, because the government would focus more on better cycle networks/roads, the would lead to better traveling. In a car I always feel isolated, lonely and kind of loosing time just to travel from A to B, while on a bike, you are exposed, more likely to chat to others, exercise, be outside and having a great time just enjoying yourself.

“One of the most important days of my life, was when I learned to ride a bicycle.” — Michael Palin, British actor

Here a few more great quotes about biking:

“Bicycles are almost as good as guitars for meeting girls.” — Bob Weir, Grateful Dead singer, songwriter and guitarist

Leave a Reply