An alpine pass is a strange place to be. It’s so high above the rest of the country and only generally accessible in the summer. Once you leave the safety of the main road, you’re quickly into wild territory.
The best time to feel the true nature of the place is at the beginning or end of the summer season, when the main road is clear of snow. It’s not warm enough for the summer tourists to turn up and picnic within sight of marmots and choughs, and the mountains only rarely echo to the sound of motorbikes and cars in high gear. Where the valleys echo continually to the sound of automotive invasion throughout the warmest parts of the year, they are silent but for the sound of the wind in the short weeks before and after the sun melts the ice and snow. The triple horns of the Swiss Post buses are a distant memory, as they wind their solitary way around the hairpins with no need to announce their presence.
On the passes themselves, tattered restaurants and optimistic hotels aren’t yet overcome by high season, and battered, weathered boards are nailed across some of the windows to keep the wintry weather at bay. Up here, away from the green meadows and tourists clinging onto the last or the first straggling breaths of warm weather, you can feel the true nature of the higher alps. Windy and bleak, with frozen lakes even in what many of us would term summer, the alpine passes in early or late season offer a reminder to the untamed nature of the mountains.