Transalp: Chamonix to Zermatt

View the complete Chamonix to Zermatt photo gallery.

The Haute Route is a cross-country route running between Chamonix, France and Zermatt, Switzerland. It was first charted by English adventurers at the end of the 19th Century and generally follows an 8 day or so path of over 100 km, glacier walking or skiing from the Chamonix valley, home of Mont Blanc to Zermatt, home of the Matterhorn.

I’ve always wanted to do this route, but it isn’t a snowboarders thing and the opportunity to do it by bike was just too good to pass up after reading about it in Singletrack. The Ride the Alps bike route follows the general direction, but adds in other thrilling additions like the majority of the Grand Raid Cristalp race route and an opportunity to enjoy the best of Verbier’s excellent trails. The ride documented here took place between the 8th-15th July 2006.

Day One: Chamonix to Champex [35km approx. 1,550m ascent. 1,865m descent]

From the lovely Snowflakes lodge we rode up the valley to Le Tour and took the gondola up to the mid station before continuing on double trackway to the summit of the Col de Balme and the French Swiss border. It offered stunning views of Mont Blanc and the Chamonix valley. It was followed by a fantastic but technical descent to Trient and an off-road climb on a grassy track up to Col de Forclaz. Despite a reasonably big effort I failed to break Mary’s record time on the road climb up to Champex, only managing a 1:02. Still it gave plenty of time to get the beers in and soak up the sun at the beautiful lake side.

Day Two: Champex to Verbier [45km approx. 1,050m ascent. 4,365m descent]

We rolled out of Champex into a fantastic, fast sweeping descent to Sembrancher on paths and tracks. Somewhere on that trail is the spot that launched Simon’s bike down the mountain where it was later found bent, buckled and leaking in a tree. Fortunately the excellent support crew soon had him back on the road and heading up the mountain. For the rest of us we tackled a gradual off road climb through woodland.

This was followed by some technical singletrack descent and a short road section to the gondola station for a ride up to Verbier. The rest of the day was play time and we checked out some of the best singletrack descents in the bowl. At the end of the afternoon we stomped up the double track to our stunning over night stop at Cabane du Mont Fort. The sunsets did impress and the beers were well earned.

Day Three: Verbier to Evolene [75km approx. 1,575m ascent. 3,200m descent]

The descent from the Cabane du Mont Fort took us onto the route of the Grand Raid Cristalp, at the top of the Croix de Coeur at 2174m followed by a fabulous descent on rocky, rooty and swooping singletrack. Three climbs followed that day, mostly on forest track with some road and singletrack. The reward was a switch back descent through pine forests on rarely ridden, technical singletrack. The last climb of the day on road and dirt track took us up through forest and alpine pasture before delivering an exciting traverse on technical singletrack with beautiful views over the surrounding valleys. The fast descent into the town made the whole thing worth while.

Day Four: Evolene to St Jean [75km approx. 1,880m ascent. 2,065m descent]

The biggest ride of the trip with an early start to get the coolest temperatures for the ascent of the Col and Basset de Lona at 2787m and 2792m respectively – the highest passes on the trip. The route up was mostly ridable (more so for superhuman guides near the top) on double dirt track and then singletrack but the final section will involve some pushing or carrying. The viewpoints from the top offered spectacular views all the way back to Mont Blanc and the Grand Combin and everyone shared a great sense of achievement seeing how far we had come.

The descent was fast and spectacular with the stunning turquoise water of Lac de Moiry. Our seemingly endless descent took us to Grimentz on varied, fun singletrack comparable to riding Jacob’s Ladder, but ten times as long…. Beer and cake was followed for the brave by super duper forested singletrack descents to the overnight stop.

Day Five: St Jean to Tignousa [15km approx. 540m ascent. 85m descent]

Today was a well-earned half rest day. We took a combination of road and off-road climbing followed by a funicular train ride up to Tignousa. We then spent the afternoon relaxing and enjoying the views from a mountain hut perched high above the valley. A few of the full suss riders took the option of riding the Swiss National downhill cup course back down and found the trail carried them at great speed under the funicular (500m descent). That evening as the sunset turned the snow-covered peaks rose pink, we had our first and only views of the Matterhorn.

Day Six: Tignousa to Eischoll [35km approx. 1,370m ascent. 2,475m descent]

After a rest day yesterday we were all a bit fresher for our assault of another big pass today over the Illhorn at 2,552m. We took the chair lift before taking on the singletrack and a narrow traverse to the Col itself, where we found snow on the ground. It’s another double pass day and the initial technical descent and skirt around the lake and over the reservoir dam was followed by a 20 minute push to our highest point of the day – the border between French and German speaking Switzerland.

An awesome, uninterrupted 1,300m descent followed with three distinct sections; the first is fast, high alpine with big views, the second and hardest section forms the start of our descent into the trees with boulder-strewn switchbacks, the final section in the woods is the best by far with corner after corner taking us down steeply through the trees – 58 switchbacks at the last count. It was awesome.

The descent tested everyone to their limits but was 100% if you were prepared to commit yourself to some of the sections. A short road climb was followed by yet more descent, on fast and flowing singletrack through woodland. This delivered more great riding and brought us back to the the very edge of the Rhone valley and our overnight stop at one of the best hotels en route.

Day Seven: Eischoll to St Niklaus [33km approx. 1,000m ascent. 1,070m descent]

As we rolled over the shoulder of the mountain today we left the Rhone valley behind and joined the Mattertal. The riding was a stark contrast to yesterday’s high alpine experience. as we follow varied singletrack trails with a series of short sharp climbs and descents on soft pine needles on trails that showed little sign of use. The riding took us through beautiful alpine villages that were clinging to the valley side and more of those never ending switch back descents! The day ended with a sweaty and hot technical singletrack challenge – a testing climb on a rooty trail which brings us out near St Niklaus.

Day Eight: St Niklaus to Zermatt [52km approx. 1,000m ascent. 1,975m descent]

The last day of our trip was familiar territory for me as we headed up the valley on cycle trails by the river and marvel at the height of the mountains surrounding us – the Weisshorn, the Briethorn, the Dom and of course the Matterhorn. This is riding I have covered before, but it was nice to revisit it. Once in Zermatt we took the Sunnegga funicular train and then the new gondolas up to Blauherd. I opted to climb further to enjoy one of my favourite trails in the world, the Fluealp Moraine Trail, an extremely exposed sinew of singletrack that descends back down the valley.

After catching up with everyone at Sunegga for lunch we took in some photo opportunity spots, some leisurely winding doubletrack descent and then an ultra technical singletrack descent into Zermatt. There was a bit of time now for shopping and sight seeing in the town centre, before we stormed the excellent singletrack route back to St Niklaus.

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