Aug 10, 2010

Biking the Grand Col Ferret in Switzerland

My Italian pals and I on the summit of the Grand Col Ferret

Last week I drove support for a crew of folks running around the Tour du Mont Blanc with Sierra Mountain Guides. Having put long trail runs on the back burner in exchange for triathlons and mountain bike racing, I grabbed my mountain bike and followed them around via and biked while they ran. The fun part about driving a nine passenger van was my bike fit in easily and it was a cinch to change clothes.

The Val Ferret and looking across to La Peule¬† where I was supposed to be…

After depositing everyone where they wanted to be in Champex, Switzerland after the day;s run, I drove back up to La Fouly at the end of the Val Ferret in Switzerland with the intention of biking one of the many cols on the TMB, The Grand Col Ferret (elevation 2537 meters). I anticipated it was about ten kilometers up and maybe 1000 meters of elevation gain - give or take a few meters.

Elevation from La Fouly to the Col and down into Italy

The first part of the ride was on asphalt through the town of Ferret and eventually gave way to a dirt road and then split - one continued on up towards the left and the other down into a parking lot that then rose up the opposite valley to the right. I did not see this other road at first and followed a German rider for about half hour or so until the road ended at an area I believe was called Plan de la Chaux. Aha. I looked across the valley and could see the correct trail leading up to the col. Had I continued that route I would have walked my bike a very long ways up to the Col Fourchon.

L’alpage de La Peule

Instead I rode down losing all my elevation and started again up the correct route. A nice dirt road, but rather steep at the start with a few switchbacks. It was Swiss Day and many families were out walking the hills and eating at the small restaurants or alpages that dotted the valley. I rode along for another thirty minutes and came to the Alpage La Peule I had seen from across the valley. Getting off the bike to walk through the wood chips (and it would be weird to ride past all the tables) I noticed it was comprised of a nice main hut and a few yurts that could sleep in total 32 people.

Cool yurt

After the hut the trail became a single track and rose rather steeply for the first three switchbacks or so requiring some hike-a-biking to the confusion of the bell clad cows that stared as I went by. The last hour or so the trail flattened a bit with some steep technical lung busting sections that I could see from a distance. I tried to plan my vertical attack on these sections while resting on the flats in between. Mainly the trail traversed gaining elevation until the notch of the col was visible which - at certain points to me - seemed to be getting father and farther away. One section had a slight bit of exposure for a few hundred meters or so - nothing to bad but a fall would have required rescue perhaps by helicopter.

Up and up, the col visible up and just to the left of center, almost above the white marker

I caught some Italian riders with full packs who had ridden the full Tour du Mont Blanc. I rode with them for a bit enjoying being in a group as well as their cheers when I would successfully navigate a technically difficult uphill section. These sections seemed like mini sprints made worse with the growing elevation. In any case, biking with Italians is fun and motivating!

The way down, woohoo!

We made it to the summit and encountered some riders coming over from the opposite direction - the Italian Val Ferret. We stood for a group photo and as the only female biker and an American at that, I got a lot of commentary and questions. A few minutes later as the wind picked up I bid farewell to my new friends and rode back down the way we had come. The track was perfect for the descent - the technical difficulties disappeared with the help of gravity and it was one of the most enjoyable single tracks I have ever ridden. The trail was still a bit wet from the previous nights rain making it solid and even the steep sections were easily ridden all the way back down to the hut.

All and all the trip with the short detour took about two and a half to three hours and was one of the best experiences on a bike I have had to date. If walking or running isn’t your thing, the TMB on a bike is great option. I found a great site with planning information here courtesy of Alps Mountain Bike.

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