The house I stayed at in Chamonix was in the last village before the actual city, called Les Bossons after the glacier above it. The first photo was taken a few hundred metres away from where I stayed and shows this glacier. As you might guess, I did not wake up at 8 in the morning this day. I was a bit relaxed about my plans from now on and made them very much up as I went. I had only some places I knew for sure that I was going to get to before returning back to Aprica again. I said goodbye to my sister at around 13 o’clock.
Today, the main thing was to escape France and not to be caught up in 14th of July festivities. First I was going to get up by bicycle to Lac d’Emosson. So, just like on the day before I started out on the same way up to Col des Montets (1461m). Thankfully the weather was superb this day!
I took a photo of the Mont Blanc range just where the climb starts after Chamonix, as I had noticed the day before that this place probably had the best view north of Chamonix. I stopped already in Argentière to get some energy for the next climb. I had a photo at the busy Col des Montets and descended to Switzerland. Here I took the Finhaut road that we had went up with the car two days before to Lac d’Emosson and the Col de la Gueulaz (1965m) just before the lake/dam. This climb is quite steep and starts before Finhaut at 1066m. From here it is a 900m climb with around 9.5% on average from Finhaut to the pass height.
There is nice cold water just at the entrance of a tunnel at the pass. There is a also a shop and a restaurant here and many people walking around and over the dam building. There is a bar across the road down to the dam building, but you can get over/under it with your bicycle and continue (carefully, so you do not disturbe the walkers) over the dam. At the other side of the dam, there is a path going up in a staircase – it goes in less than 100 metres to Col du Passer (1956m). The continuing path should be a bit difficult with a bicycle to walk on. The road after the dam continues around the lake and then at one place there is a new bar across the road and a note that not even cyclists are allowed to cycle up to the Lac du Vieux Emosson (2204m), so I decided to respect this and turned around there and took a photo from that place over the lake toward the pass, restaurant and dam building. I took another photo over the lake from closer to the dam and then a last photo from outside the restaurant over the Mont Blanc massif and area.
There is even a train going up to the lake (one has to switch from a nice small train that one could see below the dam to a cable car for the last bit up to the dam). As I wheeled back down to Finhaut I noticed that it felt much less dangerous going down on the bicycle than in the car on the somewhat narrow road. At Finhaut just where the bend is taking you around the village, there is a gravel road going straight down the valley. This is prohibited to use by any motorised vehicles. I had not found totally clear information on whether this road could be used by a road bike bicycle, but had decided to try it.
It starts as a perfectly fine and flat cyclable gravel road, but after some bends it suddenly begins to descend steeply in tight and very narrow hairpins, most of which is just about possible to manoeuvre with a hard grip on the brake handles. After going under the railway you soon reach the tarmacced road through the nice little Le Trétien, where you continue down on the clinging small road to Salvan (934m). At Salvan I stopped for a break and had some pastry and Coca-Cola. I had originally thought to try out the old route down to Vernayaz, which I found out was used in the earliest organised tourist travels by Thomas Cook in the ninteenth century to the Alps, and they are apparently working on improving this route for modern tourists, but I knew it would at best be a very difficult gravel road down and I was unfortunately too lazy to try it out – I wanted to get somewhere before the day was over. Later I heard from a Russian cyclist who had contacted me sometime earlier and put up a Russian language version of my 2002 tour on the web, that he had indeed cycled on this old road (I think he has thicker tires though (mountainbike)) – he has not this photo on the web site, but there are other nice ones from the area (there is a photo from the first gravel section from Finhaut down to Le Trétien in the last part of the 2005 adventures).
It was nice to go down to Vernayaz on the asphalt road and I met at least two road bike cyclists going up. At Salvan I had detected that I had gotten a deep cut in my front tire which looked really bad. Probably the 20 mm Schwalbe tire that I bought on my way up to Sestriere was old and not that good. (Yep, old tires are not that good.) It was already getting late in the day but I had spotted a bicycle shop in Vernayaz the day before and I managed to get there just before 18 and they had some fine Michelin Pro Race tires, but not in red like my other Michelin tire, so instead of paying much for it I asked for something cheaper and got a fresh-looking, but simple non-foldable tire from Kenda (a Taiwanese brand I have never seen in Sweden). It turned out to be quite good and was so easy to get on the wheel that I was a bit frightened it would come off on a serpentine descent (it was long since I bought a non-foldable tire last time and they are always easier to get on, but weigh slightly more – though foldable tires are really mostly a commercial gimmick, but also making postorder and handling easier). I still have it on.
The road up from Bex (428m) via Gryon (1114m) to Villars-s-Ollon (1253m) is somewhat steep, but good and nice. At Gryon I took my last photo for the day. There were some festivities in this village and I decided that it was not worth it to try and find a place to stay the night at there. I continued on the flat road to Villars. There is a train going roughly the same way up to Gryon that continues to Villars. Between Gryon and Villars the train goes on the road and it was pretty dangerous to be cycling there. Trains are a bit wider (normally and this one) than city trams and when the train approached behind me I had to go very far out in the road and then there came a car from other direction and I was close to being hit by the train (which honked on me), but where the hell were I supposed to go cycling … .
I was close to stopping a little before reaching Villars at a hotel, but it was still sunny and it did not look quite right. In Villars it looked like it was a super-expensive resort for oil sheiks, and also looking very boring, so I reluctantly continued. (I learned later that there should be one or two somewhat reasonably priced places to stay at there (one B&B).)
After climbing out through the village, I soon found the road that should be the one I was looking for. It is only marked as prohibited for any motorised vehicles (which is another way of saying that only cars for people living there are allowed) and no directional sign at all. It is a tremendously steep road (in places) and a very narrow one. It goes to Col de Bretaye (1806m) and is fully paved to the top. At Col de Soud (1524m) one meets up with the railway coming up from Villars (only in Switzerland would they come up with the idea to build a railroad up a mountain like this).
There is a restaurant at Col de Soud and it says hotel also, so I decided to try and get a room there as it now was getting rather late and I was not totally sure that I would get down on the other side (which has some gravel and there are alternative roads with no signs) befoore it got dark. At the restaurant a lady told me that the hotel was not open and that it would not open in 2-3 years. All right, I said, then I try and get down on the other side and explained that I thought I could do it. She did not agree and was worried to have helicopters searching for me (as she said), but suggested I get back down to Villars instead. (She first tried to call the hotel at Bretaye for me, but the owners had gone down by the Geneva lake to have dinner as they had no guests.) I was not in the mood of having to get down to that boring Villars and having to climb that steep road again the next morning and she suggested that maybe I could stay there, but changed here mind, but as I said I will go on over the col, she changed herself again and I was (just because I was stubborn) allowed to stay even though she was absolutely not happy with it. (The problem was toilets and showers – water was not working on the upper floors where they had beds, so I surely understood her hesitancy. I would suggest you wait until she opens to ask to stay there, but then I am sure it will be a very nice place! I got something to eat and even a little homemade icecream which was outstanding, but she charged me roundly for it! It all worked fine in the end, thankfully (or else she might have killed me … )!