As some may know, I had a bit of an accident a few weeks ago that's taking a bit of getting sorted, to re-adjust to life as it's not going to be the same again. One thing it's made me do is write up last years trip and get it on the Web so that hopefully others might enjoy it or use the material to do a better trip themselves. Here goes, make a cup of tea and get a comfy chair before you start!
Trip write-up. Transalp 2013. From Geneva to Como.
The intention of this write-up is to be such that others can follow the route, can improve on the route. That’s why it includes a lot of place names etc. It is also hoped that it will encourage other UK riders to take to the mountains and do their own traverses of mountainous areas over multiple days and self supported. We took 35 sheets of maps, A3 of the 1:25k map, reduced to 1:30k with the planned route marked on it. It is in PDF format. Also available is the GPX trace of the route we actually rode. A spreadsheet of the planned route showing leg by leg each one being about 2 or 3km and a kit list that we use as a general list year on year.
This years trip was to be a West to East traverse of much of Switzerland. Much of it in part’s I’ve never biked across before (as none of the rest of our group had either) and on trails that we were to find information on was sparse. We spend a huge amount of time before the trip, researching the route, looking at it on maps, on GoogleEarth and generally searching round (mainly the Web) for any information or photos at all about the track we might be taking. This time the group was very different to previous years. Gone was the 2 or three max in the group, this one was 7. Yes SEVEN! That made me very uncomfortable and worried about the time it would take us faffing. Most were new to Transalping and so unknown to the pressure that comes with being self reliant for many days. Three of them were girls which again was a new thing. As it turned out, it could not have been better. The group was brilliant. Not a cross word, not a single grump and so thoroughly enjoyable being together every minute of every day. The girls were so embarrassingly strong!
The group then; me – knowing the mountains from caving and paragliding and probably better at planning and map reading than racing! Pete – IT boffin, just as good as anyone in the mountains and very fit – again a paraglider pilot, climber and general outdoor man. Gary – another IT man, strong ex-racer making the three of us that ‘normally’ makeup the Transalp group. Richard – always juggling racing and hard riding with running an executive empire. Phil (Philippa) my ex-trailquest and Polaris partner. A vet up in Cumbria and lives for the outdoors. Ruth a GP in the lakes. A friend of Phils and new to the rest of us but turned out to be the demon-downhiller putting us all to shame and lastly Lucy, another GP in the Lakes. Makes her money as doctor to expeditions and events and proved to be a real hard cyclist.
Was our transit day. 6 July 2013. Flying out from Manchester and London to Geneva. It seemed every cyclist in the world was there as many people were flying out to do the Etape du Tour. All the team GB people were there to fly out to a round of the Worlds. A number of offroaders were going out o the usual Les Gets/Morzine/Les Arcs etc and then us in our ready-to ride gear and bikes in boxes to abandon. We saw a few guys who we knew (including Stu from Dales MTB Centre) and unbeknown to me Laura Trott and Beck James snapped my picture in the airport and put it on Laura’s Twitter page. Fame at last! (or was it because we looked so strange in full cycling gear clip-clopping around in cleated shoes)
At Geneva we’d planned to cheat the first 40k which was on road from the airport and climbing 650m. We’d arranged a bus mainly in case the weather was poor, our flights were late and to make sure we hit the first night in time. As it turned out, the weather was good and we landed on time but we still hit the first night just as daylight was going. Another 2 hours spinning out of Geneva would, it turned out, have spoiled it. From leaving the bus in the hamlet of Bogeve we were going over meadows and
woodland that looked to be hardly used. It was all around 1200m so was quite lush and wooded and route finding was difficult. We ended up taking a track that was not the one we’d planned but that was a great steep old track, mainly in a gully, rough and slippery and full of leaves. That dropped us to the road and some more good track to the bed for the night. We’d booked the first night too at a gite (we’d seen on the Web) in advance. It turned out to be a gem. A large house with husband and wife, a kid of about 8 and grandma. No English spoken (which was how we would want it) and they fed us to death with meat fondue and so much drink. Hopefully this hospitably would be a sign of things to come.
This was our first full day in the saddle. Or so it wasn’t to be! Up through woodland to col des Betets and Haute-Pointes. All good track but sometimes too steep to ride and sometimes wet as we were in the cloud although never raining.
When the clouds parted near the summit we were faced with a huge falaise (French cliff) of about 200m high which was a stunning sight.
A short road then double track over the col de la Bolire and down to the road col de l’Encrenaz at the edge of the Les Gets resort area. We took lunch there and laughed with a group of three UK roadies from East Anglia who had flown out for a long weekend, first time from the UK, hired bikes and were stunned by the hills of the Alps. Well they would wouldn’t they! After chips at the col café, we set off down towards Les Gets on the narrow forest track. After a couple of Km, we came across a woman in distress who told us her small (11 year old?) girl had fallen off her bike over the edge and down the steep slope. Her dad had tried to find a way down but was struggling. When we looked we saw a gully, cliff and gully and she had clearly had a very, very long fall. Dr Lucy and I biked on for 500m to find a place to climb down which even that took us 20mins to get down. It seemed an age. I had renewed my mountain first aid only 2 weeks before and between us we had more dressings and drugs that a small cottage hospital. The little girl had fallen about 80-100m vertically and her helmet was wrecked. When we got there we found Alice clearly in shock, with a few fractures and her dad, Ross by her side but not making much sense. It turned out Ross lived near us in the Lakes and was very happy that we had turned up. We diagnosed and treated her and made the scene as safe as we could then made ready to guide in the winchman. Our guys left on top were able to call in the helicopter with GPS co-ordinates and less than an hour later Alice was being winched up and off to Annecy Hospital. I think the winchman and winch-doctor too were happy to see things were well sorted and we had English-speaking doctor on the scene as immediately they landed we were able to get a unit of fluid into her and pain relief.
We climbed back up to the track (a mean feat in itself!).
When we re-grouped, we realised we had missed any chance of getting to Switzerland that night but if we really, really raced might make the Chavannes lift out of Les Gets so be able to spend an hour along the tops dropping into Morzine for the night. We rode so fast into Les Gets and crossed the town to the lift. We were after the closing time (by 15 minutes) but the guys there let us on, we thanked them so much and they even waved us on without paying. Our good deed had payed us back although they never knew that. On the tops, we had the whole resort to ourselves, we enjoyed the evening sun as we rode across to Le Plenay and whooped all the way down the downhill course into Morzine town.
When we got there the Office du Tourisme pointed us to a bikers hotel, ran by an irish guy which turned out to be great. As we walked into the bar there Andy Murry on the big screen took championship point and the place erupted. We met with guys we’d last seen in the airport and swapped tales. To cap the evening off, Ross called to say Alice was being treated well at Annecy, he had just got there and she was going to be OK. We’d had a great day.
We woke up to a clear blue sky. We were the first to breakfast and made a good start to be the first at the lift. The hotel was good but the seasoned Transalpers amongst us had promised the rest tales of sleeping in mountain huts, roughing it at altitude.
The disappointment had been tempered by a hearty breakfast! Today’s task was scooting across the Morzine/Avoriaz/Chatel resort area and across the huge Rhone valley to get into the Swiss Alps proper. I had emailed some of the established MTB companies in the resort to try and get a good XC route across their area but failed to get any useful information. It turned out our route (we had made up from the 1:25k maps) was brilliant anyway! The final lift had got us to Super-Chatel then we took small footpaths from 2000m right down to a rough road at 1100m before the valley bottom at 400m.
Fantastic riding. Many of the fences have curious swiss grids across to allow for bikes or walkers but keep the cattle in. Then span across the valley, doffing our hats to the UCI headquarters at Aigle and lunch there of bread and cheese outside a Co-op. We knew we were at a very low altitude and sure enough the only way was up! We needed to get to Leysin (1300m) to get the last lift up. As we’d noticed an hour before cu-nim clouds were building but we were still super-hot and basked in sunshine.
On the long slog up the road to Corbeyrier (900m) we started to witness the impending storm and by the time we were on the singletrack in the woods, the heavy rain started. Phil had bust her spring in the rear mech and as we got into Leysin, the town was awash with rain, we’d missed the lift and just managed to get to a bike hire shop to get a spring. The guy in the bike shop was adamant that the mech could not be repaired but at the risk of loosing time, we bought a new mech and took the spring out of it and butchered it.
We fixed the bike and found a bed. This time in an Ibis hotel. Nothing could be further from roughing it at altitude. I was starting to feel a fraud. That tempered slightly as we ate pizza in a nearby bar. We looked like a fashion disaster but we did have white linen bedding! We were at 145Km. It rained hard and long into the night but we had our stuff drying on the radiators. We knew it was an alpine storm and should bode well for the next day.