Rare trails in the Chablais Alps

It’s been an amazing few months since the last post. The most incredible dawny on Snowdon, plenty of bikepacking and lots of exploring finding new routes with the maps. Loads of trial and error see me pretty good at figuring out what’s possible before I can see it in person. Getting back into racing has me feeling confident and strong. .. ready for something big.
Over a beer one of my mates said he was off to Morzine with a bunch of pals, they had a chalet sorted and could take a bike in the car for me, just fly out! I already had the time off work, it was meant to happen! The cogs started turning in my head with the possibilities of something proper, something full-on far away from the resorts and crowds.
Typical last minute trip time again! I guess I like it that way, no time for the buzz to fade.
In the spring on a demo day with Kona, I got to ride their Process 165, a beast of a long travel park bike on some local Welsh Gravity Enduro stages.  It was silly fun! Kona was nice enough to sort me out for this trip.
This is intended as both a guide to taking a mountain bike through a section of the 5-day hike of Le tour des Dents-du-Midi. While also documenting the story of my journey through it.

I knew at some point I’d wanna get out of the bike parks. What looks high? What looks different? What looks possible? Usually, there is everything to do with everything on the internet but only I found one or two very vague mentions of taking a mountain bike on Le Tour De Dents du Midi. A multi-day alpine hike around the breathtaking Dents du Midi mountains in the Chablais Alps of Switzerland.
I rode the bike parks with the guys for a few days then finally the weather worked out! After taking the lifts out of Morzine and France, the plan was to climb the Pas d’Encel from Champéry and up onto the Col de Susafne at 2494m. Using the Tour Des Dents Du Midi circular route anti-clockwise from Bonavau.

I didn’t need to stress with navigation, the signs are easy to read and follow in the alps. After making my way up and over the Swiss border from Morzine and smashing it all the way down into Champéry (1050m), there are clear signs at the central station with the names I wanted to see. Bonavau – Susanfe – Salanfe.

Head south on the road, follow the signs up a steep gravel fire road, stay on the fire road, don’t be tempted to follow the hiking signs, it’s too steep to ride so hike-a-Bike straight away.
Wind your way up to the beautiful Refuge Bonavau at 1533m.
It’s steep all the way, straight into it! At this point I should say that of all the crazy things I’ve been lucky enough to do on a bike, this adventure was the hardest so far. Take plenty of water and food, settle in for the long haul and give yourself ample time.
A couple of years ago I was lucky enough to go to the Italian Dolomites. A Via Ferrata trip with a friend who showed me the ropes and gave me the confidence to consider this route.
I knew there were dangerous passages that are very steep and narrow. You must be confident with the bike on your back with at least one spare hand for climbing and holding onto the chains and cables.
Behind the Refuge Bonavu (1533m) you can see the steep green gully of the Pas d’Encel. The trail splits not long after the refuge. Meeting the return path and closing the loop. Head up, following the signs to Susanfe.

I would not recommend this route in the wet! It is on the edge of what is possible with a bike. On the way up to the first of these passages, there were experienced looking people telling me it was not possible with a bike, to turn around and that I am crazy for even trying!
Now… I might be a fool but I am not an idiot! Be prepared to turn around. There is no loss of pride in taking things as far as you are comfortable. To find your limit is an incredibly humbling thing that is a success in itself! To walk away and fight another day is not a failure.
I got a fast taste of this limit on a particularly steep section through a very narrow gully that would not fit the bike in any way. Holding the bike high above my head I lost my cool just for a moment and by struggling managed to slice my left hand open at the wrist on the disc rotor…
I barely noticed, after dumping my bike and bag down, exhausted I saw the blood dripping from my arm, small but deep it had exposed a tendon and sliced a nerve…
In one of those d**khead moments I left the first aid at home but thank the stars, I had some insulation tape so was able to seal the wound and carry on.
It goes to show that injury can come from not even riding. It was incredibly selfish of me not to bring first-aid, to begin with, it could be just as needed for someone else along the way. ALWAYS carry it.
Eventually, the climb flattens out.
Get used to hearing “Bon Courage!” from the hikers and mountaineers! It is very out of the ordinary to see a bike up here, it’s just not done!
Use that buzz to fight the now noticeable altitude and keep following the trail marks on the rocks. This inspiring sign lets you know you are close. That cold beer at the hut has your name on it!!
Just because the trail mellows it does not mean you can drop your guard. Keep it cool and calm, a rolled ankle is easy to do with a heavy pack and even heavier bike on your back. So relax, enjoy the views and just keep moving forward.
I’ll remember this moment forever, I always dreamed of glaciers.. how mighty and majestic they are. To be looking across and hearing the roar of a glacial waterfall is something special. To do this while sitting on a bike, that you’ve got here under your own strength is a truly life-affirming moment.
La Cabane de Susanfe. A perfect Swiss sanctuary at 2102m. I highly recommend finishing your day here. Relax and refuel. Dawn will bring fresh legs and a full day to get around the rest of the loop.
Cold beer, good whisky and amazing food.
The owner Fabienne cleaned out and patched up my hand. Over dinner, my new friends told me that the main topic on the other tables was the crazy Welshman with the bike! They named this new type of adventure as “VTT Ferrata” and toasted me on getting this far!
Fabienne remembers two Germans with bikes about 5 years ago, but no-one else… I was very proud at that moment and had the most amazing night hearing the adventurous stories of others, and adding some ideas to my notebook.
Please stay. it’s perfect.
Isolated, warm, welcoming, and epic.
It also lines up with a summer sunset 😉
Looking back through the pass and into France.
After sleeping arm-to-arm with all the wonderfully adventurous people I was treated to a big breakfast and the cutest gift of a picnic from Fabienne. Keep pushing/carrying east on the clearly marked path up to the Col de Susanfe at 2494m.
With an early morning climb, you are in the shadow all the way up to the col, then as you come up to the crest the warming sun hits you and the view takes your breath away!
Above you on the left is Haute Cime at 3257m, the first of the seven peaks that make up the Dents du Midi massif. The Highest mountain between Lake Geneva and the Mont Blanc Massif. Your next aim is the far end of Lac de Salanfe. Between you and it is some of the most incredible and real mountain biking I have ever been lucky enough to find. Moondust, tight switchbacks, incredibly steep sections aided by chains and cables take you onto a singletrack traverse that eventually drops you down to the lake… savour every little moment!

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Not long into the descent, you come across the wonderfully indestructible Bivouac du col de Susanfe… What stories this place could tell!
When I first started looking into this route, staring wide-eyed at maps, finding the sparse information online to what might be in store for me, I dreamed of getting here with a bike to share its space and make my mark. To sit in the thin air up with the glacier, basking in the sun… Blindly hoping it wasn’t just another pipe dream, that it wasn’t too soon or too ambitious.Disrupting the moondust scree are passages of very steep ferrata. The chains really help. So make sure you work on your descending skills too!
I find getting the bike up on the back wheel rather than carrying is best, you can kinda use it as a walking stick to descend.
Bask in the glory that the rocks of the Pas d’Encel have only heard a few freewheels, a few pairs of tyres rolling through them.
Remember the people telling you it’s not possible, or it’s too difficult when you started the pass. You took it slow and only as far as you were comfortable. There’s no loss of pride in coming back another day. For those with the skill and strength but more importantly grit and determination, this is an incredibly rewarding and not well known Swiss alpine pass.
Follow the signs round to Mex to continue the well-signed loop of Le Tour des Dents-du-Midi, where back at Bonavau you can retrace your steps back to Champéry. There is basically nothing online about this trail/loop/pass with a mountain bike. I really hope this helps anyone considering it.
It was a big moment personally, inspiring me to see what other lesser known alpine areas can be ridden.. I hope you get the same from it.
Keep chasing those dreams.
Owen

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