No, I’m not talking about a beauty treatment but rather the fabled ‘Brazilian’ mountain bike trail in the Valais region of Switzerland. We’d heard about it in whispered circles but until recently didn’t know exactly where to find it. Armed with maps, a good idea of what we were looking for and a packed lunch, we set off from Chamonix at 8am on a perfect blue sky day in search of the trail of all trails…
Rested from a long run two days ago, I got up full of excitement yesterday morning – our bags were already packed, lunch already made and bikes already loaded onto the bike rack. We were ready!
An hour or so later after driving over the Col de Montets and Col de Forclaz in France, we’d arrived in Chalais, Switzerland ready for the 1st of our telecabins of the day. I wandered into the telecabin looking for someone to pay for our lift tickets but there wasn’t anyone there. Luckily, a woman with 3 small children arrived and in broken Franglais I managed to establish that you paid for the lift at the top – very unusual indeed. We kitted up and loaded the bikes into the telecabin which said it could hold 15 people but we filled it with 2 bikes, 3 adults and 3 children!
At the top, we did paid for our ticket, wished a ‘bonne appetite’ to the 3 children who’d been given a biscuit by the ticket man and then set off in search of our 2nd lift. Boy, was it hot as we rode up the road to the 2nd lift station but we found it relatively easily. This one had stairs that we had to carry the bikes up to much to the amusement of a bunch of hikers. Bikes loaded onto the telecabin and we were on the move again. I’m sure the views were stunning from the cabin but I suffer from mild vertigo and telecabins/teleseiges are my worst thing ever! I spent most of the trip up looking at the bolt on the floor but I was assured you could see for miles!
At the top, it was a little cooler with the sharp sunlight you only seem to get on the top of a mountain. We found the first of our trails which was a slim singletrack blocked immediately by a piste bulley that a mechanic was using to repair an out of season teleseige. After pushing the bikes round the machine we saddled up and started off. Then almost immediately had to get back off again as this was definitely more of a hikers trail than a bikers trail. Full of big rocks, huge drop offs that required us to carry our bikes over them and unridable in 99% of places it took us over an hour to negotiate our way to a double track trail that we should have probably taken in the 1st place!
Onto the double track and we started to make some progress at last. My Garmin said we’d only covered 3k and the lift station we’d left was clearly visible and looked a 5 minute stroll away! We made our way round the double track, relieved to be riding at last and then saw our 1st glimse of what lay ahead. A slither of trail climbed the mountain in the distance, seemed to carry on forever and looked horrendous.
We rode down to the start of the trail to get a better look and found this beautiful waterfall at Le Pichioc. It was stunning with the blue sky and the river just disappearing over the edge.
Looking up at the trail we decided to give it 30 mins and see how far we’d come before we committed completely to it. 30 mins later after a lot of pushing and carrying of the bikes we made it to a shady spot under a rock. We collected our breath, wiped away the sweat and had a bite of our jambon fromage (ham & cheese) sandwich. We didn’t feel too bad so decided to carry on to the top. Passing strange sheep with black faces and knees and hearing the marmot’s distinctive warning call from afar was wonderful.
We did eventually make it to the top – 3 hours after leaving the telecabin and totally exhausted. I’d managed to get so many bumps and scratches from pushing my bike that my legs looked like I’d got chicken pox!
Now for the payback for all that hard work. After decided which trail we should take, we started to descend but it was still a bit unridable, requiring us to get off and push a bit but eventually it started to open out a little and by the time we reached La Combe we were riding proper. We stopped to refill our Dakine bladders as we’d drunk all of our juice already – luckily there was a water fountain there!
Then we set off again and this time the trail was beautiful, fantastic and stunning. All ridable we quickly made it down to the treeline at Pralovin and stopped for a well earned break in the shade of a tree.
We kicked off again, now in the trees and getting some relief from the sun we were grinning from ear to ear. The run down to Nax was something else, all singletrack and flowing, from open meadows to shady woodland trails with rock and roots.
At Nax it took a bit of negotiating to pick up the singletrack again but we found it partly due to a well timed map pinned to a garage door! We had lost a lot of altitude by this point and when we popped out into the sunshine it was boiling hot. Luckily, we were still in the shade most of the time and it was pleasant and breezy with the speed of the bikes. The trail changed to switchbacks with rocks and pine cones littering them which were like marbles to ride on. Our hands were really sore by this time from the braking but we were still grinning!
To end our epic adventure we rode back to the road through wine groves and then paced each other back to the car along the flat, open, boiling road. What a day – we were riding/walking for 5:45 hours, burnt over 1000 calories, had covered 15 miles, climbed 486m and descended 2279m. We drove back with the air conditioning on full and arrived back at Chamonix at 6pm!
I vowed I would never do it again but today, despite the bruises, cuts and aching muscles, I am wondering what it would be like in the autumn when it’s a bit cooler…