Jerry’s Tour des Alpes 2002 – Day Ten

Noasca — Colle del Nivolet — Aosta — Col du Grd St. Bernard — Sembrancher (162 km, 3829 m up, 10-38 C)

Tunnel du Nivolet

I was up at normal time, had a cup of coffe and a croissant or whatever I got at the place in Noasca (1058 m). I had no cash euros left with me, so I had to go back down to Locana (613 m) where the nearest money machine could be found. So, I did not save me any climbing by going up to Noasca. Up to Colle del Nivolet (2612 m) a 2000 meters climb still awaited me. The road only gets really steep just after Noasca. It must be one of the steepest tunnels in the alps. It is very steep up from Noasca to Ceresole Reale, which is soon after the tunnel (up to something like 16% here and there). At Ceresole Reale there is a lake, a few houses and bars. I had first thought to stay the night here, but I am not sure I would have found a place up there for the night.

Lago Serru

Just when I reached Ceresole Reale (1620 m), a team of cyclists caught up with me (do not know where they came from, but I suspect they started above the tunnel, it looked that way and I had seen a team of cyclist going past me with a van up the valley the day before). I hanged on to them and after a while some of them wanted to race away from me, but that only resulted in them losing most of their team mates behind. Some of them then tried to race away from me, but only 2-3 of them managed to get away, and all stopped when it again begun to go uphill – oh well, I never saw them again ;-). The second photo here is of the highest laying little lake, the Lago Serru (2275 m) where the road descends a little.

Colle del Nivolet

Again I asked a motorcyclist to take a photo of me at the top. I did not see many motorcyclists here otherwise. I went down on the well surfaced road to the bar on the other side, where busses with tourists also went. I had a coke and set off down the path I knew was the only way down. Some say you can take the unsurfaced road and then climb down to the path further on, but some say it is better to go down on the path right away. It is not really difficult to find the right way down there, even though there may be a few alternatives they mostly lead to the same destination – the Croce de la Roley (a cross just below the mountain of the same name and just above the steep and narrow path down to Pont). I met many walkers on this sunny day and some asked me how far it was left and I asked them the same. I had gotten good advice from reading Fred Wright’s little book on roughstuff routes in the alps (available through OCD).

Path down to Pont

I could sometimes even roll a little on my bicycle on the path which is rather good for some time, but it was never any longer stretches and I did not really save any time. I tried to keep a good steady pace, so it would not take needlessly long time to get down to tarmac again at Pont (1960 m). Here and there I had to choose among paths to get past some rocky place, but I usually had the luck of chosing the better alternative. Here and there I had to lift my bicycle and carry it, but only occasionally. I was beginning to get a little tired as I reached the Croce de la Roley and it had taken me 1,5-2 hours in getting there, so it is not quite as near as one might think seeing the first views down the valley. I was happy to see Pont and the road below though.

Croce de Roley

I took a photo at Croce de la Roley as you see here and I thought it looked rather steep down there – I had to go down this steep part on a zig-zagging steep path. It did not seeem very difficult apart from that I now had to lift the bicycle for most of the time (I lifted it up and down instead of carrying it over me constantly like the mountainbikers (I had met two MTBers on the asphalt near Colle del Nivolet), since I thought it helped me keep my balance here and there).

Now, despite that it went rather well to walk down there in my Kool-cover equipped Look cleats on my road bike bicycle shoes (Decathlon (France, previous summer) the better model), things did not go so well. I suddenly lost my balance and fell together with my bicycle without control down the steepest part of the mountainside! I happily stopped at the next lace in the path, which was lucky as I felt like I was gaining speed down there. Of course, I first had to look at the bicycle to see what shape it was in. The cyclecomputer had fallen off, but I found it in one piece and put it back. The saddle had gotten some damage, but not enough to be a problem. There were some scratches on the frame, but it turned out I was lucky and still had a rideable bike. I looked at my elbow and it was all bloody with blood running down my arm. Other than that and some more scartches on my legs it seemed like most things was okay with me too (apart from feeling a bit like the air had gone out of me) and that I got a bit nervous now in proceeding. I understood that I lost balance because the cycling shoes are very hard in the middle with a roundish slippery surface there and the stones on the path were of the size that it was not always easy to know whether I had support in front and back of my shoes – one could easily be standing only on one loose stone under the middle of the foot. I took extra care for the rest of the descent and after a while reached the forest where the path is better.

After the fall

Only the day after did I realize that things were not as good with me as I had first thought. I also noticed when I had a shower that I had a big area on the right hip that was blue. It turned out, as I first got confirmed when coming home after the trip, that I had fractured a rib (or two?). I got very aware of the problem in the days ahead though.

When I reached the woods I met a family walking down and talked a little with them. The woman was a photographer for a magazine in Seattle, USA and wanted to take a photo of me, as I was happy for – she also took the one I have here (this was the only time on my 14 days that I used my glasses, because I stayed so long at high altitude). (She said she would send me one of the photos she took and I gave her my e-mail, but haven't heard from her … yet. If you have seen a photo of me in some outdoor magazine or what it could be, please tell me (I did grant her the right to use the photos for such a purpose)!)

View at Introd

After washing away some blood at a toilet in the bar at Pont, I was on my way again. It took 3 hours to get from Colle del Nivolet to Pont, just like Fred Wright had suggested. It was a nice trip down the valley on a good road. The photo from around Introd is not very exciting though, I admit, but it looked quite nice as I remembered it. I had some kind of salami-sandwhich and fruit and soda lunch again down in Villeneuve (many french names here in the Aosta valley). It was very hot down in the Aosta valley, and when I got into the city of Aosta (on the nice main road with splendid views), I thought I would soon die if I did not get out of there really fast.

I managed to find the road out of town north to Col du Grd St. Bernard. From Aosta (576 m) it is a very long climb up to Col du Grd St. Bernard (2473 m). I cycled somewhat fast to try and get away from the heat. I looked most at the temperature rather than speed or anything else on my cyclecomputer. It took ages for it to get down under 30 celcius – I was halfway up at the top by then. So again, I lost a bit of my good temper. I wanted to find a shop to buy a coke or something, but there was no such shop along the road. Last place I tried at was a very little old-looking village called St.-Rhemy, but there was nothing but a pub and I continued straight through the village up a really steep road on cobblestones where a group of kids came running down not looking ahead of them – I just barely escaped cycling into a boy. Then up and under the road where the most heavy traffic goes. Now it was getting colder, indeed almost a bit chilly.

There were some roadwork up here (it seems like the hill just up the side of where the both roads meet (and where the big road soon goes into a long tunnel under the pass) is very prone to ravines and they seemed to be taking precautions by building barriers up the hill. Here I stopped to take the photo of the enormously wide (long) lactets of the Grd St. Bernard (a bit like the north side of the Col de l’Iseran).

The lactets of Col du Grd St. Bernard

On this col I really had to stop on my way up to rest at the last place on the way there, just after were I took the photo (at the extreme left you see some cars, I believe). I got a coke and a croissant at this odd place. I sat on the outside because I could not stand the smell inside there. People were eating all kinds of meat, sausages and cheese – probably some local specialities. It was just a bit too genuine to me and I wondered if they had the slaughtered cow just behind the desk. The people running it looked like it could be so ;-).

Col du Grd St. Bernard

After 15 minutes I was again on my way to the top as it was rather cold here in the shadow of the high mountains. I reached the Col du Grd St. Bernard (2473 m) just before the sun was about to disappear. A girl (american I believe) took the photo. It was nice up here. It seemed like a monastary on the other side of the road. Now I had entered Switzerland for the first time since I passed through on train in 1992.

On the way down in Switzerland I had to stop at one place for some time and I first thought that maybe there had been an accident – as some others I talked to also had first thought. It turned out that some farmer was moving his cows (which made the road a little less nice to ride down on from there ;-)). I talked to a canadian with his swiss girlfriend and mentioned I had gotten some ideas on my trip from a canadian (Mario Labelle, who travelled over all surfaced passes above 2000 m in the whole alps in the summer of 2000, and now manages some mailing-lists for cycloclimbing).

I found a good and decently priced little hotel in Sembrancher (714 m) after asking a local lady. It is quite hard to find if you come cycling there (it is by the train station however!). I had a pizza at the hotel, which was good.

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