3-4 day bikepacking ride around Mont Blanc, off-road with some road. The TMB is a great bikepacking trip following an iconic trekking route around some of the most spectacular scenery in the Alps. It’s a route that takes you into the heart of the mountains and delivers massive rewards for the effort, both in terms of the scenery and the quality of riding. The TMB trekking route contains some sections that don’t work with a loaded bike so it’s more satisfying to use alternative routes to the trekking route at certain points.
There is no standard mountain biking route for the TMB – and there are loads of variants so it’s worth spending a bit of time deciding what sort of trip you want. We did the TMB in three days – and decided to travel very light and carried just bivi gear, with no stove or cooking gear and relied on buying cooked food in the valleys. We started and finished in Martigny because of its ease of access from Geneva airport. We left our hire car in Martigny and set off late afternoon on the road to Orsieres and then on lanes up to Ferret. In total about 30k from Martigny. From here we picked up the trail, rode until dark and then bivied.
The next day dawned warm and clear and gave us a tough but fantastic day as we traversed the two major cols of the route amidst stunning scenery. The first long climb, not all rideable, is to the Grand Col Ferret (2,537m) and then there’s a descent through Val Ferret into Italy to Entreves.
The climb up the long Val Veny just gets better and better as you’re close to the glaciers and peaks of the south side of Mont Blanc.The trail is rideable for most part and passes the Refuge Elisabetta before a final steeper climb (push!) to the Col de la Seigne (2,516m).
Next day and another early start, and spurred on by the need for more food, we climbed steadily on the road to the Col de Roselend This col is popular with roadies and there was a steady stream of riders climbing up as we descended 1,200m on a virtually deserted road to Beaufort – a great, flat out descent.
From Beaufort there is a choice of routes to the Col de Joly. Either take the minor road via Hautluce to the Col de Joly or an alternative route taken by some of the guided trips is on a track via the Col de la Gittaz. From the Col de Joly it’s an enjoyable run down long trails to Les Contamines.
From Les Contamines there’s two choices of route to get back to the Chamonix valley. The most direct is to climb to the Col de Voza and then descend one of the MTB trails from the col to Les Houches in the Chamonix valley. The alternative is to take the road from Les Contamines to St Gervais and then continue on the road into the Chamonix valley and to Chamonix itself.
At Vallorcine there’s a track that runs roughly parallel to the mountain railway that goes from Vallorcine to Martigny. This track descends through woods passing some amazing houses built into the rock face of the gorge and criss-crosses the railway towards Finhaut, Salvan and finally to Vernayaz where you join the main road for a final few kilometres into Martigny.
There doesn’t seem to be a guidebook for the TMB by mountain bike. There is no standard mountain biking route for the TMB – and there are loads of variants so it’s worth spending a bit of time deciding what sort of trip you want. If you download GPS files check them with a detailed map to see exactly where their route is taking you. One of the trekking guides for the TMB will give you lots of general information as well as a detailed description of the stages, albeit from a walkers view point. The Cicerone guide is a good one http://www.cicerone.co.uk/product/detail.cfm/book/779/title/tour-of-mont-blanc#.V6G-W6KjuPM
When you’re planning your route you might want to look at TMB route descriptions from some of the bike tour companies that opreate guided trips.
Maps. Rando 1:50,000 series. Pay du Mont Blanc map (number A1) Available from the Map Shop http://www.themapshop.co.uk/europe/france/francewalk.htm It’s also useful to have a Michelin 1:150,000 road map of the area as well
When to go/weather
The route traverses high and exposed terrain up to 2,500m and there can be snow on the higher passes until the end of June so late June/early July through to mid September is the season. Walking the TMB is very popular so avoiding the peak times of mid July to mid August if you can. Chamonix Meteo http://chamonix-meteo.com/chamonix-mont-blanc/weather/ gives detailed forecasts forthe Mont Blanc area
Flying.Flights from lots of UK airports to Geneva. If you fly consider either car hire or use the train to start and finish at Martigny as train links are poor from Geneva to the Chamonix area
Local train: direct Swiss Railways train from Geneva airport to Martigny http://www.sbb.ch/en/home.html Bikes should be permitted on most trains but check latest bike policy on Swiss trains http://www.sbb.ch/en/station-services/car-bike/on-the-move-by-bike/bring-your-bike-along-for-the-trip.html
There are lots of camsites in the Chamonix valley http://www.chamonix.net/english/accommodation/camping-1-2-star
Campsite in Les Contamines http://www.campinglepontet.fr/camping.html
There are plenty of opportunites for wild camping along the whole route. Also there are mountain huts around the whole of the Tour de Mont Blanc route – this link gives the names and telephone numbers but unfortunately not their locations. http://www.chamonix.net/english/accommodation/mountain-huts/tour-du-mont-blanc-huts
The Chamonix and Mont Blanc area is very popular so there is a ready supply of food in the villages in the valleys and usually in the smaller mountain villages so it’s rarely necessary to carry more than a day’s food.