Jerry’s Tour of the Alps 2006 – Thursday July 13th

Chamonix — Col de la Forclaz — Monthey — Portes de Culet — Col de Bassachaux — Col de Joux Verte — Col de Joux Plane — Cluses (train to Chamonix) (180,5 km, 4281m, 11-37°C)

Col de la Forclaz

This day started out very fine with the nice and easy ascent out of Chamonix (1017m) to Col des Montets (1461m). Then there is a fast descent to the Swiss border and Le Châtelard (1094m). Just after a road takes off to Finhaut, the main road starts to climb up the easy side of the Col de la Forclaz (1528m) and it was a little longer climb than I expected at first. The road really goes to what looks like a mountain top when coming from this direction. The pass has a restaurant and the shop you can see in the first photo. They have a big watch (we are in Switzerland now) on the building which reveals that I did not reach the pass before 11 am. From here it is a long and moderately steep descent to Martigny (467m).

Portes de Culet

I went through the little town and came out over a nice little covered wood-bridge and proceeded on the flat road toward Vernayaz and eventually, Monthey (398m). I stopped for lunch in Monthey and I remember that I had a hard time finding a small grocery and had to shop at some bigger shop and it took some time before I got going again. It was very hot now and the climb out of Monthey was quite steep. I was taking the road up to Pas du Morgins (1370m) on the border between Switzerland and France. Not long before reaching the small village of Morgins, a road takes off to the right (north) and this is a narrow paved road that eventually takes you to Portes de Culet (1787m). It is also mostly steep, but unevenly so. It is hard to tell where the road is going, but just stay on the main little road and it will eventually became clear where you will turn right again to get to the actual pass (you see that place in my photo here). The paved road continues down on the other side (I do not know whether it is paved all the way down on that side or not and you can also get over to France on a gravel road somewhere north of here).

Portes de Culet

There was fine views from this pass and I took two photos – one shown here as the second photo. The third photo here was taken on the road down to Morgins which was the road that continued ahead just before you took right up this pass before. The road down to Morgins is even more narrow and becomes extremely steep the last part down to Morgins (around 20%) – you better make sure your brakes are all fine before descending here. (Going up from Morgins would be very hard.) The climb from Monthey to Portes de Culet was the hardest paved road climb this year for me. It is nearly 1400 height metres and often around 9-10% and climbed in hot weather. It is probably among the 50-100 hardest asphalted pass road climbs in the Alps. Something for Tour de Suisse perhaps?

Col de Bassachaux

I stopped for water and a Coca-Cola (half the price or less in Switzerland compared to France) in Morgins and then went over Pas du Morgins (1370m). Here I noticed that bad weather lurked in just the wrong direction. I went down to Châtel (1191m) and started on the climb (flat road for quite some time at first) up to Col de Bassachaux (1783m) and met some people hurrying down on road bike bicycles. At some ski lifts the serpentine road up to the pass starts. Here the rain also started. There were many mountainbike and downhill cyclists here. They took the ski lifts up near the pass and then went down back on a track – apparently fun, but nothing for me ;-). The asphalt runs out just after the pass height is reached. Here a road choice between two unsurfaced roads appear. I could not make out which one to take and took the first one going down as I was in hurry to escape the rain, that I was just outside the limits of again. I had also decided to get down on this unsurfaced side no matter what, so it was just to get down as quickly as possible. Later on (on the next climb) it became totally clear that I took the clearly least good choice of road. The other one had apparently been improved recently and was visible on the next climb as a good and wide gravel road all the way. The one I took soon degenerated into a track that was too steep to try and cycle down without a downhill bicycle. I could cycle here and there, but it was sometimes over-run by water and trees lay over the road here and there and occasionally it was washed away. I got down to Les Lindarets rather muddy just as it started to rain very heavily.

Col de Joux Verte

Les Lindarets (1400m) is a couple of bars and farms with animals, popular with families with children to visit. I went into one of the bars to escape the rain and dry up a little. Ordered an ice-cream despite being chilled down. I left as soon as the rain faded away and was assured by the bar owner that I would get into trouble going my planned route because of the weather forcast. I saw a young boy washing his mountainbike and asked to borrow the water for a quick fix of my own bicycle (I guess he must have wondered where I had been going with my road bike or maybe he thought I was going to help him with his bike as he looked a little puzzled). Then full speed (to get warm) up the next pass – Col de Joux Verte (1765m), which was easily reached now that I started this high up. The views were rather bleak up this pass as the sky looked even more ominous now with obvious thunder and lightening just up the next pass that I also was determined to get over this day. It was very nice around Morzine (1012m) otherwise. It was almost dry down to Morzine, so I was still lucky thus far, but the future of the day did not look bright, to say the least!

I started out on the road up to Col de Joux Plane (1700m) with some reluctance, but with determination to make it down to the other side. I was lucky and had no rain on the whole way up to the pass. It is a rather long irregular climb on the north side, but it is easier than the southern climb (which they rode this year in the Tour de France). The climb was shifting and nice despite the lurking bad weather. Almost no cars and no bicyclists at all, of course. I saw some mountainbikers packing down up at the first pass – Col du Ranfolly (1655m). You will see the real route over the Col de Joux Plane (1713m) earlier on as the natural road straight up, but this is only used as a walking path these days and one goes around another mountain top to get back near the pass on the other side by a lake. Here a sign appears declaring ‘Col de Joux Plane 1700m’, but the real col is only reached by a track some hundred metres off the road. I took a photo here and as I did this it started to rain and I hurried down.

Col de Joux Plane

I was going full speed down and did not stop to look at the map to determine which of the descending alternative roads to take as I knew all would lead down in about as long time as the other. I escaped the rain a little here and there and here I actually met a struggling cyclist going up. When I came down to Samoëns (687m) I could no longer escape the rain and from here it rained very heavily all the time until I reached the next little col – Col de Chatillon (738m). It continued to rain all the way down to Cluses (475m) and I got very cold by then. It also now started to get extremely windy outside. I decided that I should take the train back up to Chamonix to get there in a reasonable time (as I had half-planned to do beforehand) – and try and comprehend this! – I had agreed to show up at some kind of party on the town with my sister and her boyfriend. I was supposed to meet up with them in Chamonix and I had no keys to their house so this is what I would had to do now.

As I was really cold and almost totally wet from the heavy rain, I could not think of trying to cycle up to Chamonix, especially not as the clock was over 19:00 in the evening and it started to get dark outside (mostly due to the terrible weather). It would have been two hours cycling at least and I was already exhausted. The reason I mention this in detail is that in retrospect I should really had cycled up to Chamonix no matter what (I would probably not have gotten too cold either). What happened in Cluses was that the train that were supposed to come had been delayed. After waiting for almost an hour they announced that the train would come still two hours later (due to the bad weather)! Jesus – why do they have trains at all? Now it was totally dark outside and I reluctantly decided to wait. Had a bad small pizza and a beer at one of the two bad bars outside the station. Still had to wait at the boring station (with no functional coffe and candy machines and a telephone that it took me half an hour to get a phone call through on) for at least another hour. Then two trains came more or less at the same time. I got confused as someone who had also waited long did not jump on the first train, but I jumped on and then tried to ask someone as fast as possible if the train was really going to Sallanches and toward Chamonix. As I did this the train started and my bicycle fell between the seats so the paint on the frame crackled up really badly – and I who had managed not to get a spot on it at all before … . Thankfully the frame did not broke, but I was now not in a party mood, so to speak. I am not the best friend of French trains now.

I learned that the train would go no further than Le Fayet and no train would go to Chamonix, that night. There was only one bus that would go there. I got off the train and tried to find some other people looking for the bus. I found where the bus would come and after a short time it arrived and now I was very angry and wanted have my bicycle with me on the bus. I was told that bicycles are not allowed at all on these buses and that I would have to get to Chamonix in another way. If the lady had not changed her mind, I would probably actually had started a fight with someone there!! (But I had to throw it in the baggage area where it would roll around.) I have seldom ever been this angry in my life and on the bus up to Chamonix I was thinking of never entering into France every again – and the next frenchman even suggesting something not entirely nicely I would have insulted as severely as I could in order to start a fight! Luckily, the next few ones I met were nice. I was just too damned tired for this. Of course, I had my own unfortunate decisions to blame most of all.

Now there was only the party left! Right … ! I arrived in Chamonix around midnight (I could have walked up to Chamonix instead). Well, I calmed down a bit after finding my sister. We had some beers and so on, but I could not quite enjoy this and my sister could not quite understand that I most needed to get back to the house and get some sleep. They had a sweater with them for me though, but I was still not dry. I was almost too tired to care myself and stayed until we decided to leave. I cycled zig-zaggingly ahead of them back to the house through Chamonix (had some beers too much) and got to sleep after washing my cycling clothes! – As if it should not be enough with 4281 height metres (not including the train/bus ride) in one day!

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