Greg and Kate Bike the Alps

Here are some pics of the bike trip Kate and I took in September, 2005.

This year we biked from Lyon in West central France through some of the passes in the Alps. Here is a map:-

Map of Trip

Here is a link to our previous trip to France in 2003

We flew to Lyon (via Newark, NJ, Paris, then the fast train (the TGV -- we got our bike boxes just so we could fit their requirements) to Lyon -- 24 hours from door to door, a long haul) and stayed in a very pleasant dive in the old town called the Hotel Iris. Here is a picture of Kate, le Patron and the hotel as we were leaving:

Hotel Iris as we leave Lyon

The first day was an easy day of about 75km to get acustomed to the bikes again. The biggest problem was navigating out of Lyon, and we spent the night in a place called Pont d'Ain.

The Ain is a river that flows out of the Jura mountains and we spent the next day going up the "Gorges de l'Ain", very pleasant rural cycling, until we actually had to start climbing. Here is a picture of the Gorges:

The Gorges d'Ain

The first problem on this trip was crossing the Jura without biking on an autoroute, this meant going up and over on small roads. We only got in about 55km because of the climbing and stayed in a town called Oyonnax in "la vallee plastique". After Oyonnax, we had a grunt of a climb up to the summit of the Jura, and then it was downhill to the road along the Rhone, this was how we were going to get through the last break in the Jura. It turned out this was easier than I had expected.

Now a problem we observed was that if we stayed in Geneva, we would have to pay about twice as much as we would have to pay for the equivalent hotel room in France; Switzerland just seems that much more expensive. So what we did was to stay in a small suburb of Geneva called St. Julien sur Genevoise that happens to be in France! Cost was half and there is not enough to see in Geneva itself to justify staying in town. The next day we biked into Geneva in about an hour to see what sights there are: This is me on the Pont du Mt Blanc with the Isle Rousseau in the background:-

Greg on the Pont de Mt. Blanc

And here is where we stopped, ate our lunch and watched the Jet d'Eau:-

The Jet d'Eau

Then, having seen all that Geneva had to offer, we headed out for Cluses where we had a reservation at a hotel. We had to cross into France again. We had been crossing back and forth from France to Switzerland for the last two days and this was the first border point that was actually manned. Of course, they just waved us through without checking to see if we even had a passport.

From Cluses we went to Chamonix. There are two main highways up to Chamonix, and they are busy, because of all the traffic that goes through the Mt Blanc Tunnel. They don't want bikes on either of the roads so they redirect cyclists to a Chamonix bike route. It is much more hilly, but has far finer views. This is a picture of the start of the road as we are starting to get into the Alps:-

Kate starting into the Alps

It is very quiet cycling. All went well until we hit Les Houches, where, in their wisdom and cunning, they directed us up some phenomenally steep side roads and then down into Les Houches and into the back roads of Chamonix. We found our hotel and Kate had a Fondue Savoyard (which I can no longer enjoy, since I don't drink).

I spent the summer of '72 climbing in Chamonix and I wanted Kate to see the place. One interesting thing to see is how far back the ice has melted. This is a picture (from Chamonix, so severely foreshortened) of the Grande Charmoz and le Grepon (the peaks on the left). When Burt and I climbed the Grande Charmoz we crossed to the base on a glacier that is no longer there!

Grande Charmoz, Grepon and Aiguille du Plaine

But we had to go up to the Aiguille de Midi on the teleferique. The weather was just as variable as I remembered it, and they said that you have to get up there in the early morning or it clouds in. So up we go. We get there in time to have good views. Here is one of the finest -- the Grandes Jourasses:-

Grandes Jourasses

Just near the skyline on the left is one of the finest Alpine rock climbs in the world -- the Walker Spur. One of my regrets is that we never got a chance to do it. The sharp peak on the right is the Dent du Geant -- see later. And here are pics of me and Kate with Mt. Blanc itself in the background:-

Greg with Mt Blanc behind


Kate with Mt Blanc in the background

In the picture of Kate, you can just make out the trail up to the summit, and you can see several ant-like parties as they head up.

Well, the next day we had to go bicycling. The first challenge was to get over the Col du Forclaz from Chamonix to Martigny in Switzerland. It turns out that there are actually two cols, and the drop in the middle is right back to the altitude of Chamonix! The first is the Col du Montets, and here is the trophy shot:-

Col du Montets

We then dropped down to the Swiss border at about 1000m -- there may have been a guard, but he didn't come out to check on us (it was raining), then a climb up to the Col du Forclaz:-

Col du Forclaz

in the rain. Then it was a great downhill run to Martigny where we lost all the altitude we had gained in the last four days. We spent the night in Martigny, and the next morning in clearing weather, we headed up the Great St. Bernard Pass. Most of it was easy going, and the traffic was not heavy: here is a typical switchback:-

Switchback on the way up to the Grande St. Bernard

On the way up we stopped for water at one of the towns and Kate saw this stuffed St. Bernard dog:

Kate and stuffed St. Bernard

The road is pretty good and easy to the St. Bernard tunnel (which avoids the top of the pass). After the tunnel, it gets hard. I had put a really low gear on my bike just for this trip, and here was where it paid off. These are two pictures of the roads as you get near the top of the pass:-

Approaching the top of the pass.

and in this one you can see the old "road". It was a mule trail:-

Part of the old road

Finally, we were at the top, as you can see, when we arrived it was just at snowline:-

The top of the pass.

That represented 2000m vertical of climbing that day, with loaded touring bikes, so when Kate observed that we didn't have a hotel reservation in Aosta that night, and there was a hotel at the top offering very good prices, we stayed in the hotel at the top. This was a great idea as it allowed us to see the Kennels and the museum the next day.

Here is a picture of Kate looking at the dogs in the Kennel, the dogs are taken out and walked daily, and sent down to the valleys in the winter. (As an aside, it was at the top of the Grande St. Bernard that my digital camera snapped its 10,000th picture):-

Kate and the St. Bernard dogs

Here is a picture of Kate in front of the hotel where we stayed:

Kate at the top.

This is what it looks like starting down the Italian side. Of course we got through customs with the officers waving us through:-

The Italian side

We then had 40km of downhill into Aosta. Here is the old Roman gate of the town:-

The Roman Gate in Aosta

The actual base of the gate and wall is about 3m down below current street level. Kate had issues with the hotel we ended up staying at, but the next day we left for the Petit St. Bernard. This involves heading West for Courmeyeur on the other side of the Mt Blanc massif from Chamonix. Here is a picture of the south face of Mt Blanc, the Brenva Face:-

The Brenva Face

As we were riding along, Kate suddenly said "Gee, look at that peak.", and I looked up and said "I've climbed that!". We were looking at the south face of the Dent du Geant, Burt and I climbed it with Gaston Rebuffat looking on and wondering about our North American aid technique. I don't think he had seen anybody in the Alps use nylon etriers before, remember this was in 1972. The Dent du Geant is the tall spike on the left of the massive:-

The Dent du Geant

The picture of the Grandes Jourasses shows it from the Aiguille du Midi. Once we hit Pre St. Didier we then started up the Petit St. Bernard pass. This was okay but started getting steep just past the ski area of Le Thuile. I had to rest a couple of times as I was tiring, but we finally made it to the top:-

Petite St. Bernard

and from there is was downhill to our hotel in Bourg St. Maurice. On the way through town Kate found this horticultural snail that she had to photograph:-

Horticultural Snail

From Bourg St. Maurice we were running out of time, and we had done all the passes we wanted, so we hopped the train to Lyon and did some sightseeing in Lyon. Then a long haul (28 hours this time) home.

Greg and Kate