Climbing the Joux Plane, bikes, walking in the alps and Golden Eagles.

Walking in the alps in the Haute Savoie. I can think of worse things to do

Normally, the White Horse Challenge, my club sportive and my week in the alps would be the year’s cycling highlights – but I’ve already had the Ride London as a bonus in 2019. Equally, the lake district in January would be the focus of the walking – but now another week in the alps and more of both!

For a few years some friends have, very kindly, invited us to their place in the Lake District in January for some walking. We’ve reciprocated by having them and another couple (who are mutual friends) to stay in Bournemouth. This year we decided to try something different and it was ‘Bournemouth in the alps’.

So it was that, at silly o’clock on a Sunday morning, we left home in a well loaded car, heading for the channel tunnel and the Haute Savoie.

We had many things to take out, plus three bikes. The ladies (although all very competent cyclists) had decided that cycling back to a ski resort at 1150m each day might be a bit much so just the men decided to do some riding along with the walking that we would all do. We took all the bikes and some of our friends’ extra luggage so they could fly out with just hand baggage.

Our thinking was to get to the tunnel early in the hope that the almost inevitable delays might not have built up too badly by the early hours – and to give us a good chance of arriving in the light. It worked and the 710 miles (almost) flew past – and we were at the apartment (somewhat knackered) by late afternoon.

The first two days were hot and we prepared for the arrival of our friends, and relaxed, other than for a quick walk up the mountain to check which walking paths were open. Some are completely shut in the summer in favour of cyclists who have exclusive use of part of what is the ski area in the winter. VTT (vélo tout-terrain) is quite a big thing out there – but I am a little disappointed that so many are electric assist. To me, the hard-core appearance of riders with all the body armour should mean self-propulsion (although, personally, I’d want to take the telecabine up to the top, and I have to acknowledge that they are focused on the descent, not the climb).

The others arrived on Wednesday and the hot weather continued. On Thursday we walked from the apartment (at about 1150m), up to and along a ridge above the village at about 1700m – around 8.5km with 800m of ascent (5.2miles and 2620 feet). It never ceases to surprise me how ski runs that I know so well, look so different in the summer. It’s not just the colours but also the contours and the existence of roads that you’d never guess were there.

Friday was a cycling day. We decided to go for broke early on and we so rode over to Samoëns … and up the Joux Plane. It’s a tough (HC) climb – 11.6km, 989m of ascent at an average of 8.5% (7.2miles and 3250m) – it gave Lance Armstrong (by his own admission) his hardest day riding a bike as he nearly cracked in 2000 under a Jan Ulrich attack. It is also rather infamous as being part of the stage that resulted in Floyd Landis’ expulsion from the 2006 Tour. I believe that it’s been featured on the Tour 11 times.

I must admit that I like the climb which is picturesque and fairly quiet, even though it is very hard.

Our wives drove out to meet us for lunch at the top of the col. I have happy memories of this place as the only one where I have been mistaken for a proper cyclist … a few years ago the lady in charge of the restaurant offered me a newspaper to put under my shirt as I left for the descent in cold weather!

After lunch, we did the return trip with the inevitable climb back up to the apartment. In all, it was a 71km day with 1860m of ascent – a fine day on the bike.

Back to walking on Saturday – we drove about 5km to Les Moliets and walked a 10km loop with another 630m of climbing (6 miles and 2100 feet). Undoubtedly, the highlight was seeing two golden eagles circling low overhead as we sat at the Tête du Pré des Saix at 2100m (c 7000 feet).

We cycled 72km with 1260m of ascent to and back from the cirque at Sixt-fer-a-Cheval on Sunday – the ‘meet wives for lunch’ arrangement again – a beautiful setting I’ve visited many times and never grow tired of.

The main problem with the mountains is the unpredictability of the weather – for my cycling week I’ve been incredibly lucky over the years and if the rain has come in, it’s come in late in the afternoon/early evening. We were chased back from the cirque by the rain – and got caught just minutes before we reached the apartment.

It was a bit wet and murky on Monday too – but we cycled up the Col du Pierre Carree (my everesting hill – how did I ever do that 12 times?), over the top and down into Flaine. It is a purpose built ski resort created in the 1960s with a great snow record but little in the way of summer season – and it was almost completely shut at the very beginning of September.

We did not find a single shop open but managed to track down the one restaurant serving food (almost exclusively to resort maintenance staff) and had a very good lunch. We had an abbreviated walk in the drizzle before riding back – a total ride of 32km with 1045m of climbing (20 miles and 3400 feet), with a 4.2km walk sandwiched in between.

Our friends left on Tuesday and we drove back to England on Wednesday.

A 1500 mile round trip in the car and about 175km of cycling with 4166m of ascent (110 miles and 13700 feet) and 22.6km of walking with 1550m of ascent (14 miles and 5100 feet). No running – but that would simply have been too much. As it was, I returned fitter (but heavier) than I went out.

A great trip in almost exclusively good weather, with good friends, good cycling and good walking. It takes a lot of beating.

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