France – bikepacking Tour de Mont Blanc

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.

The route

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.

Alps06 001The 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.

Alps06 003The 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).

Alps3aAt the col you’re rewarded with  spectacular views on the Mont Blanc range and  now cross into the French part of the route.

Alps06 021From the Col de la Seigne there’s  perfect, sweeping and fairly straightforward single track then double track descend to Les Mottets.

Alps06 025We  stopped short of the village and bivied in a lush meadow with a stream and fine views of the surrounding mountains. Excellent day – breakfast in Switzerland, lunch in Italy, dinner in France!

Alps06 028Next 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.

Alps06 030From 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.

Alps06 037From Chamonix follow the road to 15km to Vallorcine with stunning views of all the peaks in the Mont Blanc range.

Alps06 042At 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.

Alps06 043Practicalites

Guidebooks/maps/websites

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

Travel

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

 Camping/supplies

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.

 

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