The Quest Episode 7 - the High Line
: The highest route in the Alps, travelling from Switzerland to France through Italy in the purest form of mountain biking.
Tito Tomasi takes you on another epic adventure in the mountains, for another episode of The Quest. As always he is on a hunt for the best trails, but for this episode in the Alps, he decided to go high and rough with the highest itinerary you can design in the Alps.
This trip is born from one crazy idea, to link the Grand Combin to the Grande Sassiere. The first one is a giant of ice located in Switzerland, reaching 4,314 meters, and the second is in France. It's considered the highest rideable summit in the Alps with an altitude of 3,747 meters. Hopefully, there are plenty of awesome and high trails to ride in between in Italy. Aosta Valley is a popular place for mountain biking and offers super high trails in the Gran Paradiso National Park.
I have been drawing and thinking a lot, and finally I found the perfect way to combine those place and passes. With many uncertain spots on my map, I prepared the trip in a weird summer with lots of thunderstorms. And on a rainy Saturday, checking the forecast I decided to pull the trigger and go on the next day.
The trip had to be done at this time, I was way too excited to start. And I quickly found myself on the train from Geneva to Martigny with my trusty Rocky Mountain Instinct. This bike is a mountain machine, it's efficient and fun. I took a 25L pack with the minimum for this kind of trip, for the cold and for an eventual bivy in the wild. My goal was to stay light and fresh for the super technical and demanding downhill. Day 1:
On the first day after the train ride and the first long climb, I arrived at the bottom of the Grand Combin, in front of the sea of ice. In the Panossiere hut at 2,600 meters high, with an impressive view. Stoked to be here, I showered outside in the rain and basked in an incredible sunset in the storm, what a start!
Trail for days in Wallis.
Hiking in the rain. The best!
Nepali bridge in gruyere cheese country.
Chamossiere bridge is impressive with the river and glacier.
The second day was clear and beautiful, I enjoyed the fresh air filming the impressive glaciers all around the area before I started this big day. Leaving the hut I had the hope to push hard and make it to Cogne in the Aosta valleyItaly, I knew it would make the perfect stage and start for a day 3. So I wasn't losing much time in the following passes, but the mountain is big there and everything takes time. I crossed the Ottanes pass, with a sweet downhill to the Mauvoisin lake. The lake is a mountain damm surrounded by big peak, glaciers and waterfalls. Climb to Fenetre of Durand for a classic alpine downhill in Italy, what a place!
I passed Aosta and the medieval city center before going to Pila with the lift. But the day was far to be done and I climbed to Chamole lake and pass to reach the De Arbole hut for another huge pass and hike a bike up to the Arbole pass up to 3150 meters. The mineral environment and the thunderstorm around weren't really what I can call a warm welcome, it was rough and long. With serious doubt on what I could find on the other side! But I stayed focused and made this pass and then the next one, the rock field were tricky to cross but I kept a light and fast pace. The downhill was really good and eventually joined the Invergneux pass's trail for a sick last descent to Cogne.
In town I bought some food for the night and the next day and rode toward the Gran Paradiso national park, looking for a place to camp. And finally slept on the floor of an old hotel nearby the river after a cold bath! The night without sleeping bag also was cold.
Grand Combin summit 4314m and it's sea of ice.
Black cows, traditional bread used in Valais for meat and fights.
De Arbole pass over 3150 meters.
Welcome to Aosta valley, Italy.
The third day started with a very long climb to Lauson pass through the Sella hut, around 1800 meters of climbing to start this day. The end is a very exposed trail with ropes but fairly flat. Standing at 3300 meters at the pass, it's the highest pass I've done in the Alps so far! Steep and slippery downhill in the grey dirt before reaching the alpine grass and fun turns. A long downhill in the valley, where I saw the rain coming and catching me. Reach Eaux Rousses for a lunch before my last climb to Nivolet's pass. My plan was to sleep in a refugee around here, to enjoy the view on the lake and climb a summit on the next day, but all the huts were full and I had to move forward to find the next hut. So around 5:30pm I was going west toward another lake to find a hut I saw on the map. After a long trail I could finally see it, the refugio was built in the cliff above the lake! The place was unreal but unfortunately closed. While I was going back to find a farm or else for the night I run into a group of student. They were going to the hut, with the key! And accepted to help me out for the night. It was the perfect opportunity to get my Italian back! Warm welcome from the guys, Gracie ancora.
The trail to Lauson's pass.
Incredible landscape all the way.
After a comfy night here at 2400 meters I woke up fresh and ready for another epic day in the mountains, super happy about my trip. Reflecting the trip in the sunrise, conscious of every moment and every luck to be there and live such an adventure.
I've left the hut and started this hell of a climb to the Loza pass. It was only a plus 500 meters climb but 350 meters were done on via ferrata with ropes and ladders! And this pass is the only and most direct way to cross from Italy to France without massive detours on the roads. Hopefully I made it with no problem, the way was safe and well done, and at the pass the riding to a small summit was incredible! Going down in France happened to be in Vanoise national park, so I walked it as bikes are forbidden in French parks. I was getting closer to the last goal of the trip, but it was too late to try it this afternoon as the rain was already back, so after riding to the Saut's lake I rode back to Val d'Isere to rest and visit my friend Ben.
Unfortunately, by the time I joined him and we ordered food I was feeling nauseated and weird. And had to spend the rest of the day and evening in bed, sick and weak.
via ferratta climb to Loza's pass.
Vanoise national Park in France.
For the last day, I woke up in better shape. Ben wanted to help me more in my trip and drove me to the Saut's lake early in the morning, back on my itinerary. From there the climb to the summit is 1500 meters. But in the middle of the climb I could see the fresh snow on the summit, confirming what the early climbers told me on their way down, the summit is covered of ice and impossible without crampons. Around 3500 meters, so 200 meters under the summit I was blocked here. With the ice the trail became unrideable and the clouds were already back, so there was no chance to see it melting. Really disappointed I had to accept and let it go. Nature always has the last word and likes to teach us about humility.
Leaving the peak in my back like something unfinished I started the downhill promising myself that I will try it again.
The ride down is great with some impossible section and some fast ones! Diving into the valley, the ride to Bourg Saint Maurice is a cool one, long and demanding. Near the end I had branch caught into my front spokes and the branch snapped my brake hose. The rest of the ride with only one brake became challenging! But finally I was getting to town through the road, where I was meeting a friend. He was around for a ride and could drop me back home.
Talking about the trip with Yvan in the car, I remembered the good moment of it and the tough ones. Pushing myself in the mountains, getting sick and learning a lot. The trip was a rough one, intense and beautiful. Just like my vision of mountain biking, a place to express and be myself.
Vive La Vie!
Bike packing in the Alps! Fun and fast.
Trusty beast, the Rocky Mountain Instinct performs flawlessly in the rowdy conditions.
Words: Tito Tomasi