High-Alps MTB Tour 2002

 

A Mountain-Bike Week in the Swiss, French and Italian Alps

 

Day 1, Saturday, July 20, 2002: Lourtier – Aosta, Italy

The first day of riding – and the sky is blue with no clouds! After a hearty breakfast we change into our bike jerseys and take our bikes off the car roof rack. It is still quite fresh in the shade at 9:15am, but the rays of the sun already provide comfortable warmth.

It is often a strange feeling when you plan and anticipate a big trip for many months, and then you suddenly realize: This is it - we’re starting! The next 7-8 days would be spent on the MTB, far away from the day-to-day routine of our office jobs. We are full of anticipation and excitement as we start up the first valley towards Mauvoisin.

We are starting slowly to warm up and also because we know that we have a long day ahead of us: We plan to cross the “Fenętre de Durand” at 2802m near the Grand Combin mountain peak over to the Aosta valley in Italy. Tonight the hosts will speak a different language (Italian) – something you wouldn’t experience in the U.S.!

Apart from Frank having to fix a flat tire after just a few km and then another one shortly thereafter, the morning ride is great. We had been riding up here before and knew what to expect. First we rode up a small winding road in a narrow valley to Mauvoisin. A little further up lies a big dam which had been built to create a lake storing water for electricity generation. It took us a good amount of effort to climb the vertical 700m to get to the top of the dam, which forms the backdrop to Markus aluminum bike in this picture.

We take a break at the top of the dam. Standing there provides a nice view straight down the dam wall.

The last time Frank and I were here, we saw two Frenchmen with small backpacks climb up on the pillars right behind me. They looked down, focused, and then jumped straight down – BASE jumpers! Our adrenaline was flowing just from watching them. I watched the guys plunging into the abyss like a rock, accelerating fast towards the ground. I thought by myself: If he doesn’t release his parachute in the next seconds, he is dead! Next thing you know is that they release a small dragchute in their hand, which rips out the big chute and stops their fall almost instantaneously. These guys only have one chance – it has to work the first time. We all take turns simulating the BASE jump focus phase.

To continue we have to follow a rock tunnel along side the lake. It provides relief from the heat and is an interesting experience, with water dripping down from above and occasional lookput holes with water running out providing a little bit of additional daylight.

 

Once on the other side we climb higher above the lake level and the valley opens up a bit for some sweeping views of the lake.

We take a 1 hr rest stop and lay down in the tall grass. We need wind jackets to stay warm enough, but the clear air and smell of flowers (and cows) makes us close our eyes and dream a bit.

The road ends here and we are looking at pushing or even carrying our MTB up the small foot path.

Slowly but steadily we rise out of the valley and the horizon opens up. We also get closer to the Fenętre de Durand, our first major highlight of this trip. At 3:00pm we reach the col and pause to take in the view and the warm sun – a gorgeous first day of our trip!

Now the downhill challenge starts. Much to my surprise, we can ride practically the entire way and do not need to push or carry our bikes down. The path is near perfect for MTB, and the view down to Italy is just spectacular.

Not your average day in the office, huh!

The descent has a lot of technical sections; boulders have to be passed, snow fields crossed, and small streams fjorded before we get to a dirt road which will lead a looong way down to Aosta, almost 2500m lower than the Fenętre at 2800m.

Even when we reach the end of the surfaced road, it is still pretty high up the mountain with nice meadows – a summertime retreat for the locals from the heat of the Aosta valley below.

Next we let it roll for what seems like an eternity – look at the 1400m vertical drop (almost the depth of the Grand Canyon) as well as the Gran Paradiso mountain and National Park in the background, our goal for the next day.

The descent is a rush which feels well-deserved after the long ascent on the Swiss side all day. Markus takes some pictures while rolling down, which is not easy to practice safely!

Eventually we reach the town of Aosta and start looking for a hotel and restaurant. How about a typical Italian Pizzeria? We mingle at one of the many small plazas and finally find what we are looking for.

The remainder of the evening is spent with showers, food and recounting the great impressions of this first day. While waiting for dinner, Frank grins into the camera.

Any MTB trip in the High Alps is highly dependent on the weather. So far, Frank’s big plan is certainly starting out well!

 

 

>> Day 2