2017 Alpine MTB Tour to Zermatt
15th to 23rd July 2017
Written by Ted Liddle Category: Alps Tours Published: 19 March 2018
| MTB Alps 2017 |
7 ride days
|Haute Nendaz to Zermatt||15th to 23rd July 2017|
The Alps 2017 MTB tour links the upper reaches of the west end of the Rhone Valley with Zermatt where the scenery is exceptional and MTB trails are unforgettable – even more so as Zermatt has been improving its already superb network of amazing natural MTB trails.
This route is so good the club has already organised 3 tours on it as it is one of the most memorable sections of the Great Alpine Chain MTB Route challenge (Geneva to the Venice plain) which the club completed in 2016. Describing it as the highest quality singletrack in stunning situations is no exaggeration.
On five days well over 3,000 m of high quality trails are descended and the other two days in excess of 2,000 m are descended totally over 20,000 m in 7 days.
There are many highlights on this tour but without doubt it is the magic mix of incredible scenery, magnificent MTB routes and memorable overnights that make this tour extra special.
MTB Alps 2017 itinerary
|Evening – collect & load minibus|
|2 Drive minibus to the Alps with bikes and bags|| |
En route B&B
|Flight to Geneva: - minibus to excellent accommodation in Haute Nendaz|
|Lift, descent, challenging traverse, lift to a mix of trails, road ascent then traverse and descent to Evolene for transfer to memorable Arolla|| |
Grand Hotel Kurhaus
|Descent, traverse & descent to Sion; cable car then traverse to Grimentz||Gites de St Jean|
|Descent then more descent to valley floor – funicular to Crans Montana; descent valley floor then transfer to Leukerbad||Hotel Paradise|
|Lift, trails down to Kandersteg then train back; bike down to cross main valley, lifts up / ride over then down into Mattertal – lift up to Grächen||Hotel Sonne|
|Ride BIG trails in the area||Hotel Sonne|
|Ride more BIG trails at Zermatt||Hotel Sonne|
|Descend 3,000+m from Zermatt to St||Hotel Sonne|
|Mon||Minibus to Geneva airport for flight home||En route B&B|
|Tues||Minibus heads home / Wednesday: minibus returned|
Following this tour, daily ride records confirmed we covered 320 km over 60 hours of cycling time descending a total of 22,000 m. Daily, we averaged 45.7 km over 8.6 hours descending 3,143 m.
We had 3 x full-on days [9 or 10 hours], 3 x full days [7 or 8 hours], 1 short day [5 or 6 hours] and no extra full-on days [11 or 12 hours]
Not all our Alps MTB tours are as tough as this one was – some have been tougher and some easier!
Day 1 Sunday 6th July 2017: Haute Nendaz to Arolla
53.24 km cycled over 10.25 hours with 3,264 m of descent: a full-on day
We began the day by catching the gondola to the top of Prarion (1,839 m) before descending steeply on a mix of paths and a narrow track down the fall-line of a ski piste to a traverse track which started off easily and pleasantly. It soon became obvious why the much longer continuation had been given a black grade. This part of the route was in fact the outer mound of a defunct ‘biss’ (pronounced ‘beece’) which is the name given to a contouring water course channel. It was easy to begin with but some sections were a balancing act which the group were pre-warned about. And so it proved.
My pre-tour research revealed the undulating ‘path’, which was made up of packed earth and stones, was used by local MTB riders at times of the day when the route wasn’t busy with walkers. Hindsight is a wonderful thing and our morning route was not without incident, hard going and with quite a bit of hike-a-bike it provided an adventurous start to the first day. To save wear and tear on his knees, I so wished I had advised Pete to ride the almost parallel fire road to the same point.
I’ve only managed to get this confusing descent right one time out of four. Our route follows the ski piste which threads between the zig-zags – knowing when to begin to traverse is the challenge.
We exited at Siviex and caught a chairlift up to 2,238 m with fine views from the balcony of our first of many high level coffee stops. The next route section traversed, ascended, descended and ascended the mountain flank until we reached Thyon-Les-Collons (2,125 m). The descent into our next valley was navigationally challenging and once we hit the right contour route we belatedly arrived at our lunch RV and tucked into the fine spread Patrick our support driver had prepared for us. Sadly, in the few years since we last rode this part of the route, a very pleasant 4 km traverse track had become a sanitised double width forest access ‘road’.
Our post lunch on-tarmac ascent to Mandelon alpage (2,068 m) was gruelling in the heat and because of its relentless nature. We naturally split into three sub groups – the ‘fit and the fast’, the ‘steady away’ and Trevor thoughtfully accompanied by Graham in case he died from over heating.
After welcome refreshment at the alpage café, (a high dairy and cheese ‘farm’ occupied only in Summer) which didn’t have a café the last time we ascended this road on an even hotter day in 2008, we gently ascended off-road to Sex Pey (honestly) carefully passing through a herd of big girls before following a long thin generally contouring track with a few short sections of pushing.
Whilst the views were magnificent, they were tame for what was to come during the rest of week but that didn’t stop weariness from setting in and it was just day 1.
Rob & Allan
We then joined a double track which linked to a thin tarmac road which most of the group with tired legs sped down into whilst Allen and Russell took the singletrack option. Their grins were the biggest when we met up in the village for the transfer up to our amazing accommodation in Arolla and some all important fettling time.
The Grand Hotel Kurhaus is an old hunting lodge high in the mountains above Arolla at 2,030 m and this was our fourth club visit for good reason. The hotel is huge and magnificent in a superb setting with phenomenal views. The food is excellent and our rooms varied from functional to comfortable depending on the cost. The added bonus is the memorable descent to Evolene the next day which starts at the door.
Day 2 Monday 7th July 2017: Arolla to St Jean / Grimentz
61.6 km cycled over 10.25 hours with 3,594 m descent: another full-on day
The descent to Evolene was next to the river then down the side of a gorge on the old mule track then where the upper valley began to widen, we cycled very pleasantly through hay meadows to Evolene. On the riverside section, my derailleur wrong-geared itself into a twisted and jammed contortion and ongoing descent was only possible due to a miraculous temporary repair. We met the minibus and Nick expertly replaced the damaged derailleur with Rob’s kindly loaned spare.
Nick - the man with magic fingers
A fast road descent led us to a longish road ascent which enabled us to traverse the mountain before we could drop down to the valley floor from Nax (1,265 m) to Pramagnon (520 m) on a long challenging often deeply-cut packhorse trail with countless hairpins. It was Allen’s skilful navigation which enabled to find the entry point and the 745 m descent required everyone’s full concentration. Half way down, Russell demonstrated how to do a speeding slither and slide crash which numbed (and hurt) is upper right arm. At first he believed he had broken his arm but to everyone’s relief – especially Russell’s – once the numbing eased, Russell confirmed it wasn’t broken. Happily, this was another chance not to use the Sam splint I had carried in my first aid kit for the last 11 years – http://www.sammedical.com/products/sam-splint/
Patrick had set lunch at the valley floor lift station in Chalais which 8 quite tired riders welcomed and enjoyed taking a longer rest than was ideal. We then squeezed into the small cable car in two loads rising silently up to Vercorin before cycling up through the village to take the next larger cable car up to Crête du Midi (2,332 m). This was new territory to me and the consensus decision to take a signed footpath to avoid dropping lower to follow a contouring double track. This proved to be something of a misjudgement.
This path was a mix of on and off the bike sections full of awkward stoppers and pedal strike rocks which we were forced to endure rather than enjoy. Notwithstanding, the sun shone brightly, the scenery was lovely and the views quite splendid so we all grinned and got on with it. We all felt for Pete whose already knackered knees were pushed to, and probably beyond, their limit.
I was last man setting off from one rest stop when my phone peeped indicating a SMS text message had arrived almost certainly from Patrick. As the other 7 riders disappeared around the hill on the narrow barely ridable cattle-damaged ‘path’, I stopped, took out my phone and accessed the message which indeed was from Patrick. The message said “Just wanted to tell you I’m doing the shopping and it’s lovely and cool in the supermarket I’m in”.
I was truly thrilled to receive this information but in hurrying to catch up the other riders now some way ahead of me, my uphill pedal struck a lump of hillside and I was propelled head first some 5 m down the rocky bilberry-covered hillside astride my bike but no damage done. Unfortunately after just 10 steps along the regained narrowing track, I placed my left foot onto nothingness and once again tumbled back down the hillside only this time savagely bending my right knee at the start of the fall. It was a full 5 minutes before the pain eased and the steep climb back onto the ‘path’ could be undertaken followed by painful onward pushing to where the group were waiting. This incident served to confirm why rule 72 in the support driver’s rule book is don’t phone or text the guys up the hill unless the message is important.
At last a double track was reached but all too soon we had to spur off onto a further section of ascending unridable rocky footpath which fortunately wasn’t too long. On completion, once again the group split into two – Rob, Russell and Allen taking the singletrack path option down to our accommodation in St Jean whilst the rest of us opted for the easier but still very pleasant narrow road which wound its way steeply down to the amazing historical village of Grimentz.
Happily, the three singletrackers had an afternoon-rescuing descent on excellent trails whilst the latter group rode at a more relaxed pace through the village and down seriously enjoyable trails right to the back door of our gite accommodation in the hillside-clinging hamlet of St Jean. This was the club’s fourth visit to what is essentially a bunkhouse of some quality with its really old main building and modern facilities to the rear. Frederick, its previous owner, had long gone but Sebastien made us very welcome and fed us well with copious seconds and even plentiful thirds. We were the sole occupants and the drinks honesty box did well that night.
Day 3 Tuesday 8th July 2017: St Jean/Grimitz to Leukerbad
32.5 km cycled over 8.6 hours with 3,143 m total descent: a full day
It was such a disappointment to learn at breakfast the fabulous LONG descent planned for mid morning to lunch time - my Plan A - was closed due to a rock fall so Plan B was hastily cobbled together using the map and local advice from our host and tree fellers we met shortly after setting off (down the wrong track it should be said). Plan C took us UP and UP some more up a double forest track until we all got sick, stopped and wisely decided on Plan D at exactly the spot where an exceedingly steep narrow path cut DOWN through the dense trees towards the upper valley floor.
A lot steeper than it looks
A lot more fattening than it looks
Wow! Was it steep! But smiles quickly replaced grim asses and down down down we went with saddles dropped to the max and our bums hanging over the back of our fully dropped saddles. A short steep road climb brought us into Vissoie and Plan E was quickly fashioned during a well-earned coffee & cake stop. This was a long fast hopefully time-recovering road descent to the town of Sierre on the main valley floor where Patrick would be waiting with lunch. Funny how MTBers descend on tarmac at different speeds and those that are also roadies descend the fastest.
This just about brought us back onto Plan A only to go slightly pear-shaped when I suffered route-memory failure and was much embarrassed when I led the group to the lunch RV via the longest hottest steepest road possible. Patrick greeted us warmly (it was a VERY hot day) when we eventually arrived at the pre-arranged spot and we gratefully set about replacing the many calories we had burned in the morning.
I sniffed out a face-saving shortcut which took us to the funicular railway station in the centre of town and soon we were rapidly being transported uphill to Crans Montana only to take the first of several wrong turns for the first part of the descent back to the valley floor arriving further east from where we had left it earlier. The myriad of tracks, paths and narrow access roads which splatter every single section of the Rhone Valley’s steep flanks and all its many tributary valleys can only be described as labyrinthine so taking a wrong turning at one of thousands of junctions or inter-sections is always highly likely.
The 'biss' track erosion defence
Newly-built hill side erosion defence
And so it proved today. One benefit from Pete’s occasional brake-fade problem was he opted to see if a repair could be affected at a local bike shop in Crans Montana. Sadly, repair wasn’t possible but for Pete, it was a knees-saving blessing in disguise. Strangely enough, the last time the club descended this flank we took all the correct turns but not this time. Not only that, I had marked on my map NOT to ever repeat one particular red route I had surveyed alone one year which lost height from east to west. This year, Sod’s Law magnetised us to this same track from west to east which is the uphill direction and consequently for about an hour, no fun was had by all.
At last we arrived at the long transverse ‘biss’ track we had been aiming for which we rode in two groups at two different speeds with each group finally descending to the RV with Patrick by the church in Varen, a village where the club had stayed on two previous visits.
In summary, being forced to abandon Plan A first thing had knock-on effects which we never really overcame and only my knowledge gained from previous visits meant we were able to keep more or less on route even if not always ON all the routes that we had originally planned to ride. Once time is lost it cannot be replaced so we loaded up and jumped into the minibus for the 30 minute ascent to the spa village of Leukerbad. Bad means bath but we had no time to enjoy free admission to the grandest open air spa imaginable in Leukerbad, a village ringed by spectacular walls of rock and towering peaks.
Leukerbad - where we stayed...
The spar which we didn’t use ...
We arrived at our comfortable accommodation in rain and that evening much enjoyed eating at a local well appointed pizzeria. It was good to see morale was still high.
Day 4 Wednesday 9th July 2017: Leukerbad to Grächen
32.5 km cycled over 5.75 hours descending 2,109 m – a short day
Ready for off
It was just a 5 minute pedal up to the cable car which would speed us and our bikes up to the Gemmi Pass, the name given to the easy but spectacular high traverse of the mountains before steeply dropping down to Kandersteg on the far side. Last time the club rode this route it was sleet turning to rain and we were COLD, drenched and determined to return on a sunny day. Today our wish was granted and up we went, this time soaked in sunshine and anticipation rather than cold and wet.
The suspended uplift journey is nothing short of awesome as panoramic views unfold in all directions … of Leukerbad far below us, of the magnificent cirque of mountains which ring the head of the valley, of the precipitous side walls and rock faces we silently passed through and the via ferrata* climbers carefully making their way up the final head wall below the top station. [*a steel wired route attached to the rock face next to iron rungs or stemples to which climbers in harnesses attach themselves by alternatively using one of two short spring-loaded tethers.]
Pylon a crag
Climbers on via ferrata
The onward route past a large mountain lake was easy but speed was curtailed so we could appreciate the stunning scenery around us. Soon, and still in bright sunshine, we curved down to a mountain refuge clinging to the hillside where we stopped for refreshment in the heat.
We continued onward and downward to a large flat open plain before climbing steeply to the exit cable car station to / from Kandersteg which we were grateful to reach in bad weather on our last visit. But with no thought of taking the cable car this time, we had two route choices – the 2 m wide easy snaking path down to the main valley floor or the fairly recently man-made, challenging, steep, multi-bermed downhill descent with frighteningly BIG optional drop-offs which intermittently crossed it.
A lot steeper than the camera reveals...
The start gate and easy top berms - no chance of pics of the mid section monster berms!
Choice of 2 launch ramps none of us took!
Starting the last section in groups of one
Stations in Switzerland are such sane places – spotlessly clean toilets, ridiculously efficient helpful staff, shed loads of information and there’s always a café but most importantly, on-time trains. We had just enough time to sample the full set. The sub mountain train journey back to an upper tributary valley of the Rhone Valley only took 12 minutes but long enough for us to wonder at how normal bike transport is in Switzerland.
We sped down the upper valley access road passing through or bypassing several tunnels until we were able to turn off down the no longer-used old road. Why not, we wondered. Down we went, corner after corner, under overhangs and safely close to a seemingly bottomless gorge on our left until we arrived at the explanation of no use by traffic – a massive wash-out that had completely taken out the road and bridge. Undeterred we found a way down to the river bed to a ford too deep to cross comfortably and weighed up the options – a deep plodge or explore upstream for enough lined-up boulders to hop across.
Thankfully, the latter won the vote and before long we happened across a tucked away disused hydro-electric unit which had a metal access bridge to it from the far bank. This we took and after some fine balancing, we regained the old road which allowed us to continue down to the valley floor. This we traversed in an increasingly ominous head wind under gathering glowering clouds before crossing the Rhone itself and making our way to the cable car station at Turtig where Patrick had yet another late lunch waiting. What a star!
Holiday mode set in and sheltered from the strong wind and still burning sunshine, lunch was gratefully attacked. My original plan was to catch two lifts then ascend the last part of the mountain shoulder and descend steeply to St Niklaus in Mattertal – Matter derived from the Matterhorn at the head of the valley and tal being German for ‘valley’ or dale. It was clear this was too ambitious for the time we had left but the decision to pack up quickly and load the minibus was made for us when the promised rain arrived right on cue. No-one minded this change of plan as by the middle of a tour as demanding as this one, it’s normal for bodies to be tired and the offer of a shorter day was unanimously voted for. The fact it was now raining quite steadily sealed the deal.
This would be the fourth time we had stayed in Grächen which is a lovely village located 12 km up from St Niklaus. Beyond the entrance to the town centre, all the narrow streets are pedestrianised so we fettled our bikes for morrow before parking our minibus in a small private carpark which Patrick found and negotiated then using the hotel’s rickety luggage trolley which we collected, we transferred all our kit to our ‘home’ for the next four nights.
I had rebooked Hotel Sonne which I liked because it was small and anachronistic with pine-panelled rooms, unlevel floors which creaked when you walked across them and sometimes when you didn’t, good food and friendly staff and Bruno, its helpful owner. But since we last stayed, Bruno had upgraded his hotel so gone were the unlevel creaky floors and newly acquired was the modern yet in-keeping restaurant on the opposite side of the narrow street. This is where we ate and where Bruno worked from early morning until late evening every day without fail.
Everyone loved the village, the hotel, the restaurant and the food. We all much appreciated the friendly helpful staff and stood in awe at Bruno’s work ethic and stamina. And he could not have been more cooperative. As it turned out, the village was holding an evening festival which gilded the lily of the amazing day we had just experienced. Everyone slept well.
Day 5 Thursday 10th July 2017: Grächen to Visp then transport back to Grächen
40.46 km cycled over 10 hours duration with 3,661 m of descent: a full-on day
Pulling the net curtains back from the window and looking up into the clouds towards in the direction where Zermatt would be, revealed the previous evening’s forecast for overnight rain was spot on. We ate a hearty breakfast then rode our bikes to the gondola (mechanical uplift comprising 6 seater cabins) at the far end of the village with the plan to ride down the valley today where there was a greater chance of less rain and even the possibility of no rain.
Easy way up
Easy way down (apart from the electric fences)
From inside our gondolas, everywhere looked dank and it was dispiriting to see the murk that clung to the mountain sides but undeterred, we split into two groups with one group descending a black run down to a ‘perched’ café and the other group descending a blue–red route to the same place.
View from the café terrace
The cafe in question is a must-go to location when visiting this area. The views from the terrace area are incredible and most of our group found it beyond belief that the near vertiginous rock face on which the café stands, is a popular climbing crag. Unfortunately, today was rühig or rest day so after the views were admired, we mounted up and began to descend.
The long descent to the hamlet of Kalpertrun in the valley is a favourite amongst members who have ridden it before. It starts quite easy before dropping between towering pines then winding its way along a scenic contouring track to the point where Patrick was able to continue on to the main road up into the village to collect the minibus which he then drove down to park at Kalpertrun. The rest of us turned right to descend a steep unforgiving technical mule track for some considerable distance. Such was the level of concentration required to stay upright and in control, nobody minded waiting for Allen to fix a tyre mal function which occurred a little after half way down the descent.
Patrick once again joined us and we pushed up a very steep track, which had been surfaced since the club’s last visit, before riding the shelf track along, to and through, a series of small hamlets until we joined and descended the road into Stalden where we ate lunch at the station café. After lunch, Patrick caught the train (4 paces from his table) back to Kalpertrun to collect the minibus.
Because the rain was still only a threat, the rest of us ascended the tiny double section cable car up to Gspon (1895 m) as we had done on at least two other occasions over the last 10 years although we noted this small, quaint on-demand lift system would become two new larger cable cars to be opened in 2019. This year, as on previous years, communication was by telephone in German to the operator at the mid station which was a challenge in itself. In two sittings (‘standings’ is a more accurate term), four riders plus bikes were jammed inside the small cabin with front wheels stored in a tray outside the cabin.
The route from here took us UP to the Gebidum Pass (2201 m) first passing the highest football pitch in Europe, albeit in Switzerland. With only a few sections of easy cycling, a good double track took us relentlessly upward with just enough angle to keep turning the pedals in the lowest granny ring. We could see, and even feel, the rain was at our heels as we finally crested the pass – hot, bothered and grateful. From here we would descend 1551m to the town of Visp (650 m) in the main valley.
Hot and bothered? Me?
The descent took us down good singletrack to, and through, two villages which, annoyingly we passed through on roads that bypassed shops and cafes. Between the two villages was a pesky tarmac ascent which was hardly visible on the map. Mmmmm.
With the afternoon slipping away from us, we eventually cut off left down a forest fire road only to be halted when Pete’s bike suffered another bout of brake fade. Once again, Nick came to the rescue allowing us to fly on down to a dead end and a few moments of ‘Oh no’. Salvation came in the form of a sole fit mountain biker as thin as a slater’s lat, who suddenly exited from the woods below us having unbelievably cycled UP to there from Visp.
We exchanged greetings then gratefully set off to Visp via his upward route on the final descent of the day down a dusty, steep, narrow, tree-lined track our passing friend had cycled up. However, narrow isn’t the most accurate word to describe this always-descending tree-bedecked ‘path’ which at times was barely 25 cm wide as it angled its way down the hillside, over small streams, under fallen trees, circumnavigating blind shoulders and around countless switchbacks. It should be said our group’s front riders rode this route speedily and skilfully whilst the back markers were just grateful to complete the descent in one piece.
As tempest had well and truly fugitted, the plan to catch the train to St Niklaus and take the connecting post bus, with bikes attached, up to Grächen was knocked on the head. Patrick was phoned and requested to pick us up at Visp railway station, dinner was re-scheduled until 8:30 pm and beers and teas were ordered whilst we awaited Patrick’s arrival. Everyone agreed it had been demanding but enjoyable full-on day in the best area possible under the circumstances.
Day 6 Friday 11th July 2017: Grächen to Zermatt then up to Sunegga and down to Täsch
39.3 km cycled over 7.55 hours descending 2,677 m – a full day
Right on plan we woke up to blue skies above Grächen and the fact the village was bathed in warm sunshine gave us great confidence a good day lay ahead. However, intermittent heavy rain was forecast for higher up the valley, and so it proved, but we decided to adopt the maxim ‘faint hearted mountain bikers never ride great trails’ and we headed off up to Zermatt to hopefully descend from even higher than the village itself.
Our route down to St Niklaus for the train up to Zermatt took us along a terraced ‘road’ which extended away from our hotel before converting to a double gravel track. Before long, this track changed to technical singletrack which threaded through boulder-strewn pine woods with an increasing sense of space on our right. After the time it took, we began the increasingly technical steep singletrack descent to the valley floor passing the spot where Ian Hendry broke 2 ribs (both of which were his) in an unfortunate fall on the first riding day on our Zermatt to Grindelwald MTB tour in 2010.
The train from St Niklaus to Zermatt was really crowded and instead of travelling in comfort gazing out the windows at the steep-sided upper Mattertal, we had no option but to squash into an already full goods and luggage section of one of the carriages. Russell amused us all when the result of sitting on his rucsac and inadvertently squashing his water reservoir stored within became apparent in the form of quietly rising damp up through his nether regions.
Zermatt has become an unpleasant cosmopolitan ever-expanding honey pot because of its unique setting and views of the extraordinary towering Matterhorn (4,447 m) which I climbed in 1983. Although still traffic-free, apart from silent electric buggies which speed up behind you, Zermatt is hugely different from the largely unspoilt mountain village it was in 1976 when I first visited it.
The rain arrived on cue so lunch was taken in a peripheral café not far from the nearby underground funicular we would take IF the rain stopped. Happily it did stop and up we went – first on the swanky funicular to Sunnegger (2,288 m) then up again by gondola to catch the relatively new large capacity cable car to the top of Unterrothorn (3,103 m) (meaning under the red peak]. After that, the only way was down….. for 1,400 m ….. ☺☺☺
The first section was over barren rounded hillside which had been smoothed (relatively speaking) into an extensive ski area when covered in the white stuff but we didn’t mind as its still uneven inclined surface provided us with a different challenge. Sadly, the high peaks were all shrouded in cloud as far as the eye could see but for us, the main thing was we were about to spend our afternoon in a rain-free mountain biking paradise.
So DOWN we went - to begin with on an easy but very pleasant trail before cutting off onto high quality red grade singletrack which soon turned to black. A rare puncture gave waiting riders time to take in the awesome scenery and attempt to digest the special nature of what we were experiencing. Eventually we hit the Europa Way walking route, a fairly recently well-made contour track which links this part of upper Zermatt with Grächen. This however, wasn’t for us to ride due to the thin nature of several sections of track which cross a few en route crags with steel cables to hold onto. We carefully traversed two of these but not the biggest suspension bridge in the world which, unknown to us at the time, had opened only 2 weeks previously not far ahead of us.
After passing three avalanche and stone fall shelters built into the mountain side, we rested at a HUGE magnificently-built stone avalanche deflector wall and discussed which of two options to descend on down to Täsch (1,696 m) which we could see far below us. Happily we chose the right one and soon found ourselves on an ever ever-descending twisting path through a massive pine forest which was a delight to ride and even though all of us admitted to being a tad tired, we weren’t going to miss a single opportunity to ride such a high quality trail.
Our route down to Täsch
Patrick had kindly driven the minibus to Täsch to transfer us back to Grächen accompanied by Graham who hadn’t been with us today due to an injured body part which was the result of an unfortunate fall earlier in the week. We were completely knacky-noodled but grinning from ear to ear from our day’s riding. Undoubtedly, having our own minibus driven by an agreeable and supportive driver such as Patrick is invaluable in terms of flexibility, use of time, fatigue management, convenience and cost efficiency.
Day 7 Saturday 11th July 2017: Grächen to Zermatt and down to finish at Täsch
37.9 km cycled over 7.45 hours with 3,425 m of descent: a full day
Being selfish about it, today really needed to be sunny and it was. Sadly, Graham still felt he couldn’t cycle so the rest of us were transported up to Täsch and caught the short hop train up to Zermatt. Which onward ticket we should also buy was lost in translation and it turned out the one we were recommended to buy only covered the Gornergrat funicular although ‘only’ is hardly an apt word!
Both train journeys went well and as is the norm, all passengers therein gasped and a phalanx of phones and cameras clicked in unison when the mightily impressive Matterhorn first came into view. For once it wasn’t all that cold at the top station which meant we lingered longer to take in the awesome panoramic views. Huge glaciers in recession, monster mountains in every direction disgorging massive moraines below and hundreds of tourists trying to take it all in. Of course we weren’t tourists as such – we were mountain bikers who had come to really engage with the terrain.
Our first descent was punctuated with quite a few photo stops not to mention two punctures but we managed to fit in the obligatory loop of Gornergrat See before calling it the well appointed Riffelberg restaurant for lunch. Not everyone took on-board food is pricey at such places and comparing the price of chips in England with what we were charged in that location is pointless.
Further descent took us to the Schwarzsee lift but to our chagrin our pre-bought ticket wouldn’t allow us to travel up it. Patrick had intentionally bought two individual tickets – one which he used on the Gornergrat funicular and the other on the Schwarzsee lift. Once the rest of us had extricated ourselves and our bikes from the automatic barriers and got to the bottom of our ticket problem, we waved goodbye to Patrick at the departure station instead of at the top arrival station which had been the original plan.
Patrick followed my directions to the letter and rolled enjoyably down to Zermatt on a gravel road before continuing mostly off-road all the way down the valley next to the river to St Niklaus where he took the linking post bus up to Grächen all of which absolutely made his day. The rest of us rode down a mix of fun trails of varying grade to Zermatt and caught the train back up to the Gornergrat top station for one last descent back to Zermatt.
The afternoon of the last day of such a full week of mountain biking on some of the best and most challenging bike trails in the world invariably requires everyone to stay fully switched on and to keep safe. Caution is the watch word and the good news is everyone did stay safe despite 3 of us choosing to ride down one last steep rocky path to meet the others half an hour later. Unfortunately, the golden rule to be responsible for the rider behind was forgotten causing the group to be split in two. Three of us who had been in front found and whooped our way down the lower section of a flow trail which we came across by accident which sadly the back half of the group missed.
After some hanging around and attempted phone calls we separately set off to ride the remaining section into Zermatt where we regrouped. The paths and lanes close to Zermatt were thrumming with people and we were relieved to exit the town onto the new recently built track that now links Zermatt with Täsch. After an initial seriously steep but short ascent to the descent track, the new route provided us with the ideal end route to a superb day and a fantastic week.
There are 3 available places on Tyne Valley MTB Cycling’s 2018 MTB Alps tour between Geneva and Briancon: 11th to 19th August 2018. Do get in touch with the organiser asap if you would like to join us...