Sustenpass - Pass portrait

      Arriving in Altdorf at the south-eastern corner of Lake Lucerne, the route first takes us in the direction of Gotthard before turning right at Wassen

      Into the Reuss Valley – and up to the Susten Pass. Used primarily by the military in the 17th and 18th centuries, the former mule track became halfway fit for traffic from 1811. Its present layout, which now enjoys a reputation in Switzerland as an artwork of national importance, only came about in the 1930s. At that time, many expansion plans were proposed for developing the Alps as a tourist destination, inspired by the International Klausen hill climb, and buoyed by a car-mad middle class keen to go skiing in the mountains or swimming in the Ticino canton on a whim. However, lack of the financial resources and courageous engineers – and strong resentment from heritage and nature conservationists – stymied many of these projects even before they got off the ground.

      Nevertheless, in 1938, the federal authorities and the cantons of Uri and Berne decided to construct a modern, 45-kilometre pass road over the Susten – which, given the precarious situation in Europe at the time, also promised military advantages. Conceived on the eve of an economic downturn, however, the road was only completed after the end of the Second World War.

      In great sweeping curves, it runs parallel to the old mule track from Wassen in Uri through the Maggia Valley, up to the top of the pass at 2,224 metres above sea level, and back down through scree slopes and rocks, alpine meadows and finally dense maple and pinewood forests to Innertkirchen in the Bernese Oberland. When the Susten Pass finally opened in September 1946, the wealthy turned out in droves: some 15,000 cars – representing around 12 percent of vehicles registered in Switzerland at that time – snaked their way up over the mountain pass in a bumper-to-bumper convoy. Luckily, it was not always this crowded on the mountain.

      Even today, the first Alpine pass to be purpose-built for vehicular traffic is still regarded as a masterpiece of road construction, and, for those who set the alarm early and avoid Sundays and school holidays, the Susten Pass offers a captivating and diverse journey for ambitious drivers.

      On the eastern side, travellers first face the wild, rugged gorge of the Meienreuss River. With a view of the majestic Fünffingerstock, they then cross the Maggia Valley and finally negotiate several tight switchbacks before climbing to the Scheitel tunnel. The drive down the western side rewards the driver with a stunning mountain panorama, with sweeping views to the Sustenhorn and the Gwächtenhorn, and the mighty Stein Glacier which, depending on the season, weather and light, glows in an array of colours, and on to the Steinsee below. After leaving behind the jagged mountainous realm with its sheer cliffs, a combination of exhilarating sweeping corners is perfect for a spirited game with throttle and brake. With clever foresight, the engineers even added a series of tunnels – a natural amplifier for the throaty growl of the engine. But you don’t need to own a sports car to discover the thrill of speed on the Susten Pass.
      The last mountain leg of the Susten Pass is cycled as part of the Alpenbrevet, a 2003-inaugurated road cycle marathon contested by extreme cyclists over five passes, 276 kilometres and an altitude difference of 7,031 metres. The fastest time from Wassen over the pass and down into Innertkirchen was just 1 hour and 50 minutes!

      Road racing cyclists with iron thighs, and well-heeled sports car drivers are not the only ones who appreciate the Susten Pass. Architecture connoisseurs also applaud the fact that the pass was mostly built by hand with little help from machinery. The Swiss architectural historian Walter Zschokke even dedicated an entire book to the Susten Pass, in which he traced the aesthetics of purpose-built construction and analysed the route contour in the context of the Alpine landscape. “When building roads in the mountains, the engineering challenges accumulate in quick succession and change abruptly,” writes Zschokke. He concludes in typical engineer-speak: “The result is a high density of events along the route. This primarily reflects the topography which has developed into a third dimension, hence creating many obstacles. And the intensity of the visual impressions is effective. The eyes constantly register changing views, downward views, mountain views, panoramic views, and views to the front and back.”

      It is this very density of events, the diversity of these impressions in quick succession that challenge our perception and make the Susten Pass, like many other Alpine roads on our journey, so impressive even today.

      Taken from the book »Porsche Drive« {Jan Baedeker, Stefan Bogner}

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      Comments (24)

      • Clearly my most favorite pass road in Switzerland with perfect tarmac. Love to take my Ducati for a ride up and down on weekends. But you gotta be early to avoid tourist traffic.

        Perfect route is Susten, Grimsel, Nufenen, Gotthard, Furka and back across Grimsel and Susten (opposite direction).

          3 years ago
      • Too many people from June to August, especially on week-ends. In summer you must be in the pass before 9am if you want to avoid slow traffic. For the last +5 years, snow came quite late, and these high passes stayed open until mid-October, and that's really the best time of the year to enjoy them. Clean roads, nearly no tourists left, superb autumn colors and new snow on the mountain tops, it is much nicer than in June, when you have the melting snow, the winter damages, etc...

          3 years ago
      • Best drive of my life Gothard, Grimsel, Susten, and Furka

          3 years ago
      • I was so disappointed when I went to Switzerland last year a bit too early in the season to enjoy the Susten and Furtado Passes. Luckily Switzerland is just full of amazing roads. Need to go back someday, and not in a Tiguan diesel either

          3 years ago
      • This road is just perfection! One of my favorite.

          3 years ago


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