Chances are, you’ve never heard of the Sanetsch Pass in the Swiss canton of Valais. Don’t be ashamed: no pro race has ever been there, and it’s a dead end. Nothing to make it popular amongst cyclists. But there’s more to this pass, which may be Alain’s favorite climb in the world.
The ascent of the Col du Sanetsch starts in the Rhone valley and meanders through the vineyards of Valais, Switzerland’s largest wine-producing canton. After a short flat section, we enter a narrow valley with some steep sections. We have climbed more than 1,000m by now but it’s far from over. In fact, the best is to come. A few switchbacks later, we reach the high pastures, surrounded by the tall peaks of the Sanetschhorn and the Arpelistock. Some more switchbacks and we enter a dark and humid 800 meter tunnel across a rocky face. Most of the time, it is lit. One day, it was not and I will always remember my slow, blind walk in the dark, bumping from time to time into the tunnel walls. So, be prepared and take a set of lights when climbing the Sanetsch.
The last kilometers after the tunnel are endless but we finally reach the summit at 2,252m, near the Glacier de Transfleuron. Yes, that’s more than 1,700m of climbing. In 25km. The Swiss equivalent of the famous Passo Stelvio, without the endless flow of camper vans, cars and motorbikes around us. How’s that?
Sanetsch Lake, a few kilometers beyond the summit, is the end of the road. Does that mean having to turn back? No! We can hook our bikes onto a cable car and go down 1,000m to Gsteig near Gstaad, in the German speaking part of Switzerland. We then climb to the Col du Pillon (1,546m) and make for Les Diablerets before arriving back on the Rhone valley floor at Aigle. After that, we have two ways of returning to Sion: take the train, or ride back for 55km on the wonderful flat cycle path along the Rhone.