Adventuring in the French, Swiss and Italian Alps often involves an interesting inter-modal blend of cablecars, ski lifts, trains, cars, buses and often helicopters. Motivated for a different type of adventure (ie not climbing) and inspired by folks riding the Tour Divide back at home, I decided to kick off my summer season with an old friend. My nimble, lightweight and reliable 1×9 Santa Cruz Chameleon, was at the ready in it’s now permanent residence of Chamonix, France. Not the fanciest, fastest, or most forgiving ride out there, but versatile enough for short bikepacking trip.

Having only a lightweight alpine climbing setup here in the Alps this summer, I adapted my alpine kit for my cycling adventure.


MEC Alpinelite 30 Daypack: My everyday guide pack for single and multi-day adventures. Lightweight and simple.

Brooks-Range Elephant Foot Sleeping Bag: light, warm and ultra packable.

Brooks range tarp

Brooks-Range Ultralight Solo Tarp: In case of rain or colder temperatures. This lives in my backpack as standard guide kit, so   why not for cycling?

Brooks-Range Alpini 3/4 length pad – I remove the stock foam frame of the backpack and replace it with the Alpini pad. Voila! sleeping pad, emergency air splint and bivy pad. This lives in my backpack at all times.

Clothing

Outdoor Research Helium Jacket

Brooks Range Cirro Hoody Cycling Shorts Softshell Pants Buff

OR PL Base Gloves Headlamp and small repair kit (tool, pump and tube)

Mountain Bike shoes

Lightweight Cheapo Flip-Flops

Black Diamond Tracer Climbing Helmet

Other Gear

A cheapo handlebar bag for maps, food, and helium jacket at the ready.

I reasoned that for this tour, a stove would not be necessary and due to the proximity to various refuges, buvettes and restaurants, I could get by with very little food weight.

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I’ve been enamored with exploring the various aspects of the Mont Blanc massif, so I decided to head for the Haute-Tarentaise via the Tour du Mont Blanc Trail. Note: the Tour du Mont Blanc is not a Mountain Bike trail, nor does it head to my destination in the Haute Tarentaise. I figured the return trip  would work itself out.  Here is the Tour Plan for the one way trip.

My itinerary roughly followed the first two days of the Tour du Mont Blanc. Naturally, I started my adventure by riding from Chamonix to Les Houches and ascending to the Col du Voza. I took advantage of my guide status and utilized the discounted mechanical assistance and sent the col du Voza.

“Sending” why not!?
Mont Blanc and the Aiguille de Bionnassay from the Col du Voza

From atop then Col du Voza I made a super fast descent into Les Contamines. Smiling the entire way down the extremely steep doubletrack. From Les Contamines, one begins the long grind toward the Col du Bonnehomme. The first several hours of the ride I passed hoards of hikers, clearly making excellent time on the fast wide singletrack and double-track sections. I had the sneaking suspicion that I was in for a wake up call in the next few hours, and sure enough, I ended up hiking (with bike attached to my backpack) over 400m vertical to the top of the Col du la Croix du Bonhomme.

It’s a strange thing hiking with one’s bike mounted to a backpack. Eventually I reasoned that it was really no different than attaching one’s skis and hiking bare ground in ski boots. With that, I resigned myself to the slow tedious hike in my mountain bike shoes.

I was greeted with equal parts envy and disdain by the hoards on the trail. Overall though,  my favorite trail user to encounter was one decked out in full UTMB gear on a training mission. I have to say that it was satisfying for me to jog past a lycra clad trail runner with a bike strapped to my back…

Col de la Croix du Bonhomme

Finally at my highpoint of the day, I was greeted by an excellent descent of 1,600m down to Bourg Ste Maurice. A mix of excellent singletrack, horrendous loose rocky shite, and some superfast road descending. Over 5,000 vertical feet of descent is something that we just don’t have in Colorado, and it was absolutely worth the effort.

By the time I had reached Bourg, I had conquered what I had thought to be the crux of the route. Unfortunately, riding the lower portion of the Col du Petite Ste Bernard was absolutely the mental crux and I suffered through the last of the road miles to my bivy spot near one of the Ste-Foy area bike routes.

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I spent the next day exploring the area on bike and checking out the local crag zones for future trips.

A well equipped cragging area in the Haute Tarentaise

Eventually, I had to find my way back to Chamonix, and completing the 5 day Tour du Mont Blanc circuit was really out of the question due to my limited time. It turns out that a Bourg Ste Maurice to Chamonix is quite a difficult logistical challenge without a vehicle. I opted to hitchhike my way to the top of then Col du Petite Ste Bernard, then descend La Thuile ski area down to a sweltering hot Courmayeur, where a quick bus ride through the Mont Blanc Tunnel had me back in Chamonix in no time at all.

Observations on my first Bikepacking foray.

  • A pair of lightweight hiking shoes would have been much more appropriate than hard soled mountain bike shoes for prolonged hiking.
  • Lightweight backpacking and alpine climbing tactics perfectly integrate to bikepacking. The Brooks-Range sleep system is really the ticket for “alpine style mountain biking”.
  • Riding with a backpack is not that sweet, and a frame pack or large seat bag rig like the ones from Carousel Design Works would no doubt be better. I’ll probably sew something like it eventually…
  • The Tour du Mont Blanc is not a mountain bike ride (Duh!) but like a colleague said on my return “it’s not mountain biking if you’re not hiking!”

Now back in Chamonix back into the swing of the summer alpine guiding season, I’m finding myself eager to explore more bikepacking adventures and integrating climbing and skiing missions en velo. Just think of the possibilities!