Emma Pooley

A summer of backdoor adventures in the Voralpen

Emma Pooley

A summer of backdoor adventures in the Voralpen

Collection by Emma Pooley

The silver lining of the dark cloud of 2020's many cancelled events was having more opportunities to play around with fun adventures close to home in Switzerland.

I love where I live and count myself very lucky to have the Voralpen as my playground. Spending time in nature and appreciating its beauty is a huge motivator for me in getting out to ride, run, ski, swim, or hike... and after many years exploring I thought I knew my local mountains and forests quite well.

This year I found there's even more! I ventured onto new paths, trails, and passes where I'd never been before- some by accident, some thanks to great advice from similarly adventurous buddies. Along the way I had more fun* than for many years, and reminded myself why I do sport. It's not to train for racing, it's because I love it.

This Collection catalogues a mix of those running, gravel biking, and road bike adventures from the summer of 2020: a pick-n-mix of different sports, because that's what I do! Although I was a professional road cyclist for a few years, I'm not really a roadie at heart... my background is in running and I love getting off-road and deep into the mountains by bike. The steeper the better! Essentially, hike-a-bike is my dream sport ;-)

Maybe I was missing some aspects of the bikepacking and trailrunning races that were cancelled, or maybe I just like slightly crazy challenges... but at any rate, a few of the local adventures turned into quite an epic day out. There's something really satisfying about having to dig deep and push your limits, wherever those limits are. The point about challenges is they are always personal.

I hope some of the routes in this Collection help you find fun adventures, and maybe a challenge too. Enjoy!

*and snacks. So many snacks! 2020 has been a good year for adventure food - but that's a chapter in itself...

On The Map

Tours & Highlights

    111 mi
    9.7 mph
    13,275 ft
    14,900 ft

    The Vierwaldstättersee (also called Lake Lucerne in English) is a beautiful four-pronged lake not far from my home. Riding around it presents a bit of a challenge because along one shore the mountainside is steep and there's no road!

    Liesbeth and I love a challenge, so it seemed like the perfect adventure to try one beautiful spring day.

    If you try this route, prepare for beautiful gravel climbs, some road sections too, and tough hike-a-bike up (what felt like) a never-ending staircase. There's a bit of everything!

    177 mi
    10.6 mph
    33,025 ft
    33,100 ft

    At some point I decided I wanted to try to ride 10,000 metres (32,808 ft) of climbing in one day. Maybe it was when thinking about Everesting... I wondered, why not carry on for the extra few metres of climb to make it a nice round number?

    Then when I did the Everesting thing, I realised why not! I thought I'd have another crack at 10,000 metres but at a more relaxed pace and with more variety. And since I love my local roads and the many tiny back-road climbs, it seemed like a good way to string a lot of them together and make a big ride of it!

    I set off with a few friends but did most of this ride alone, and finished at about 2am the day after starting. It's still my longest ride ever (nope, I've never broken 300km in a day...) and it was, as expected, not exactly easy. But it was so much fun!

    If I were to try this challenge again I would route it slightly differently, with less flat riding at the start, and chose a less hot and humid day (the break to avoid a thunderstorm wasn't ideal). Oh, and I would probably not include Haggenegg because it's where I did my first Everesting and it still makes me feel sick...

    I reckon this route is best used as a guide to find some fun back-road climbs that are off the beaten track. Local tips for your own pick-n-mix ride!

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  • 13:22
    74.0 mi
    5.5 mph
    29,950 ft
    30,225 ft

    Everesting on a road bike was fun... in a type 2 kind of way! This was my second attempt at this kind of ride, and I deliberately wanted to go slower and take more time to appreciate all the wonderful things about riding for a long time in a beautiful place.

    So I took my beloved Sonder Camino to the steepest rideable gravel climb I knew, which just happens to also be breathtakingly spectacular.

    I say "rideable" but actually, on a gravel bike, only just! It's seriously steep, so I'd recommend MTB gearing. And although I always bang on about how important it is to have the right gearing... of course that's something I often forget to check myself.

    I "discovered" (by accident) this gravel road on day two of the bikepacking tour with Iris back in July, and it's so steep I had to walk part of it, downhill! But that was with full camping gear, so I hoped I'd be ok with an unburdened bike.

    Hope might move mountains but it can't change the maths of gear ratios and I was in the biggest sprocket most of the way up, on every single rep. I knew that if I blew up I wouldn't make it up at all, so I took regular snack stops.

    I was lucky that a friend came along with his camera, and another buddy joined me for a few reps of the climb. It's good to enter a meditative, solitary headspace on a challenge like this, but it would have been a loooooong long time alone.

    This climb is well worth a visit just for the view of the valley below and surrounding mountains. Can recommend at both sunrise and sunset.

    52.2 mi
    7.7 mph
    9,900 ft
    6,175 ft

    When a friend and former teammate I hadn't seen for years agreed to come and visit, with her bike, it seemed only right to seek out the most spectacular views to show her!
    Plus of course plenty of vertical, because after months of lockdown in the Netherlands a bit of catching up was surely needed.

    To confuse Iris before the trip even started, I sent her about ten different komoot routes, because there's so much choice of glorious off-road riding round here. Some local friends agreed to join the ride and we pooled knowledge to come up with what I think is really a drop-dead gorgeous off-road ride. There are a few sections of tarmac to connect the gravel, but never much traffic. It's not at all technical and fine on a gravel bike instead of MTB.

    Disappointingly, there's also hardly any hike-a-bike. But we made up for that the day after when I took them on a gloriously badly-planned route with hours of bike-pushing and bike-carrying and also loads of road!

    You can read Iris's blog about our summer adventure here on komoot for the full story from her perspective: komoot.com/collection/990127/once-pro-now-slow-through-switzerland-with-emma-pooley-friends

    40.1 mi
    4.3 mph
    10,525 ft
    10,425 ft

    This route is inspired by history and connects some of my favourite play areas in central Switzerland...

    On the gravel bike adventure with Iris in July a friend told me about the Russian generalissimo Suworow and his army’s epic march in 1799. Battling wintry snow and constant attack, Suworow led his troops over several mountain passes (including Chinzig) in a strategic withdrawal from the Napoleonic forces that vastly outnumbered them.

    I’ve become a bit obsessed with the idea of trying to retrace that route. Not that I’m an admirer of war and fighting (quite the contrary), it’s just such an amazing story of battling the odds, and with so many beautiful remote passes!

    There is a Via Suworow signposted hiking route but after some exploring in the summer (apologies again for that hike-a-bike Iris and Yorit and Liesbeth!) I thought I could find a more adventurous and scenic path on the central part from Altdorf to Glarus. Suworow's route was much longer, from Airolo to Chur.

    The run did not disappoint, it's pretty spectacular. It'd be suitable for a two-day run or hike if ultra-running isn’t your thing!

    In the summer there are various mountain restaurants and alpine farms where it's possible to buy food and fill up water bottles. Be sure to carry plenty though, just in case.

    The most daring part of Suworow’s Swiss campaign was when, after weeks of marching, fought back by the French at Glarus, he led his exhausted army over the snow-bound 2,404 metre (7,887 ft) Panixerpass. Many lives were lost but they were saved from total annihilation.

    For comparison, I slipped over on an icy rock after six hours, bruised my bum, had a little cry, then limped 25 kilometres down a road to the train station. They just don't make them like they used to...

    35.7 mi
    4.3 mph
    9,200 ft
    9,100 ft

    Riding round the Zugersee is a fairly standard road bike loop, and as a run it's flat and fast. But I'm not much of a fan of flat, so I came up with this route to circumnavigate the lake staying high... taking in Rigi, Gnipen, Wildspitz and Zugerberg.

    A bunch of crazy people agreed to join in, and we were treated to amazing autumn weather and great views.

    The route is fun because you can divide it into chunks intersected by train stations, so people can join or leave partway round (at Immensee or Arth-Goldau), depending how far they want to run and how much climbing they want to do.

    There are mountain restaurants on Rigi and Wildspitz, as well many little mountain 'Beizli' to get snacks, but check opening times first depending on the season. Plus of course threre's shops and railway station vending machines in Immensee and Arth-Goldau.

    In winter there's likely to be snow on Rigi and Wildspitz, and some of the paths are very narrow and steep, so choose your shoes appropriately!

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Collection Stats

  • Tours
  • Distance
    490 mi
  • Duration
    65:56 h
  • Elevation
    105,875 ft
Emma Pooley

A summer of backdoor adventures in the Voralpen