Trient (via Champex) to La Fouly – Distance: 34km, Elevation gain: 1100 metres, (3609 feet)
Having not slept particularly well, I woke up at the crack of dawn and packed my gear away into the various handlebar and frame bags. I grabbed a coffee and began to cycle up a slight incline following some walkers ahead of me. After a short while I retraced my route, grabbed another coffee and began to ride on the correct route parallel to the one I had been on moments before. The morning was cold, and I wore my windbreaker over my standard cycling vest only to remove it again twenty minutes later once the exertion of pedalling had warmed up my body. This was to become a familiar ritual.
The first hour and half was on a windy road lined with pine forest. As any mountain biker will tell you, if you are used to scrabbling uphill over loose-over-hard surfaces, riding up a moderate incline on a real-life tarmacked road feels like a treat. And so, after a morning of unhindered riding and self-congratulation I found myself faced with a beautiful totally unrideable “path” which turned into a beautiful and totally rideable bridge and then a partially rideable long trek up to the Alp Bovine (1987m). Lunch was a life-affirming three egg omelette at the Alp Bovine refuge while watching my bike being slowly dismantled by cows.
After lunch, I descended down picturesque single-track towards Champex, bike bags slapping against the frame, crickets pinging from my wheels as I whizzed with a loud “Bonjour” past the hikers with whom I had shared a laugh over lunch at the incident of the cows.
Meadow became forest, XC single-track became downhill and riding became walking, but it didn’t matter. My bike became a packhorse and we lumbered on, up and over rocks and through trickling mountain streams until eventually the terrain became rideable once more and then became a road which circumnavigated the idyllic lake at Champex. I motored past families picnicking at the lakeside and slowed only to nose at the creels of a few trout fisherman but I didn’t stop. Once through Champex, the path became hardpacked mud and thinned. I passed the intricate wooden carvings that had been the subject of so many of the photos I had seen when researching the TMB, and eventually the path narrowed further and began to cling to the mountainside, fearful of the drop below.
I had been dreading this particular section of the route – the thin windy path, less than two feet across, a single rope on the right to cling on to; the Instagram photo of so many hikers on the TMB. I knew I wasn’t going to ride it, even without my vertigo it would simply be too dangerous, solo with a fully laden bike. On a bike, speed is your friend when riding thin paths, but this path meandered around to the right, and then back around to the left in big sweeping turns, all the while butted up to the mountain. I held the rope with my right hand and walked the bike with my left, occasionally lifting the bike out and over the scree at the side of the cliff face when the trail narrowed. After ten or so minutes I was through the most precarious part of the journey and continued on a rocky, undulating path to the evening’s campsite, Camping “Des Glaciers” in La Fouly. After a shower, a rehydrated meal and a Swiss malty beer, I fell into a deep slumber at the foot of tomorrow’s Alp.