Soaking in the geothermal pools of Iceland can only mean one thing—our ride has finished. After five days of rest, travel, and reflection, we present here some final thoughts and statistics on our ride through the Alps.
We toured for 31 days and covered 824 miles (1,326 km). As we learned, a more representative way to measure this route is through elevation gain. Our route climbed 210,000 ft (64,000 m) of elevation and crossed over 40 cols! I suppose this is consequence of creating a route inspired by trying to traverse the Alpine Divide! Of the 31 days, we rode 26 and took five much-needed days off. We averaged about 30 miles per day, each with approximately 8,500 feet of elevation gain.
Starting in Nice, France, we wove our way along the divide of the Alps, crossing back and forth between France and Italy and working our way toward Le Mont Blanc and Chamonix. From there we circled clockwise around Le Mont Blanc back into Italy, where we turned south and then east to cross the divide again on the east side of the towering Grand Combin. Once in Switzerland, we remained on the north side of the divide, traversing the Swiss Alps and following a version of the Mountain Bike Haute Route to the Matterhorn and Zermatt. From Zermatt, we veered north and up the Rhone Valley to then cross the final cols of our trip and descend into the Prealps (foothills), following lakes into the Zurich area. We wrapped up our ride in the tiny village of Uezwil, where we were graced by the generous hospitality of our friends Georg and Tina.
As our legs and arms are starting to recover and our bikes are packed away, the only word to describe our tour is phenomenal. We have detailed the experience in eight previous blog posts, but here are some of the experiences that will forever stand out in our memories.
Finding ourselves on the Alta Via route’s infamous “impossible traverse” was a treat as the location (as in traversing veritable cliffs and knife-edge ridges) and rideability of the trail was mind blowing. The route continued to impress as we left the Alta Via and rode fantastically scenic dirt military roads along the French-Italian border for two days, passing incredible WWI ruins and cave-riddled limestone uplands.
The route from Acceglio, Italy to Chateau Queyras, France was spectacular. It involved three substantial climbs over cols (Col de Mary, Col Tronchet, and Col de Formage) that required hours of hike-a-bike, fantastic views, and the best descents we had yet encountered, all in a 20-mile span. We still look back on that day as a highlight of the route, despite all the hiking.
Riding from Cormayeur, Italy back over the divide into Switzerland should be an objective for any mountain biker that finds him/herself in the area. Particularly notable were the climb from Entraque over Fenetre du Durand on the Tour des Combins route, and the descent to Mauvoisin below down rugged but flowy singletrack and a narrow, wet three-kilometer long tunnel.
Even in the midst of the longest, steepest, most unrelenting hike-a-bikes we’ve ever experienced, the Alps never ceased to be impressive in their size and rugged beauty. The endless up and down meant that we had an ever-changing view. Every pedal, push, and step was worth it.
Our camps were usually quiet, scenic, and worth the effort of carrying camping gear rather than riding a hut-to-hut route. As a result of camping out most of the nights, the few places we paid to sleep were well worth it and very appreciated, especially as they typically coincided with pouring rain.
The hospitality we received from Georg and Tina in the Zurich area and the Puleio family in Chamonix is unforgettable. We leave Europe gracious for the beds, showers, meals, enthusiasm, and company they offered. Knowing they took care of us in ways we couldn’t ever buy gave our trip a special bonus that we could never plan.
We’ve left the Alps with great respect and admiration for the mountains and everyone who adventures there. The cultures and landscapes we experienced were new and offered endless uncertainty and unknown in the beginning. As we got our bikes to Nice, and pedaled away from the Mediterranean Sea and into the mountains, we met each day with what it offered. We learned along the way through our triumphs and struggles. As we now adjust to life post-tour, a sense of accomplishment still lingers from stepping beyond the familiar and creating our own adventure in the Alps.
CLICK THE FOLLOWING LINKS FOR PREVIOUS BLOGS FROM KURT & KAITLYN’S L’AVENTURE ALPINE, 5-WEEK BIKEPACKING TRIP THROUGH THE ALPS…
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I have shaped my life around exploring remote and wild places by foot, rope, raft, ski and mountain bike. I would rather be sweating than sitting, surrounded by trees than walls, and lost in a canyon than navigating a freeway. As I spend more than half the year sleeping outside, I’ve come to believe that life's full potential can be realized through seeking, enduring and relishing adventure.