From the Autoroute it seems impossible that a road could climb to the summit of Mont du Chat. The west side will appear in the 2017 Tour de France as the final climb in the terrifyingly tough stage 9.
If this post motivates you to try Mont du Chat, you may want to wait a couple of months. Read to bottom of post …. there was some snow hiking.
This 3D video does a great job of showing how scenic (and tough) the route is.
Col du Chat is not steep and only 7 kilometres but it’s a beautiful climb alongside Lac du Bourget – the largest and deepest lake entirely in France.
Less famous than its neighbour Lac d’Annecy, Lac du Bourget has some terrific cycling opportunities. See here for several.
I visited the col, but instead of descending the far side I took a great road higher that runs alongside the lake (see map below). Fantastic. After a few kilometres, I left the lake turning up towards Ontex. The descent down the far side is a revelation. A tiny little road with hairpins through a rugged, rocky forest.
The back side of Mont du Chat is wonderful cycling: rolling countryside through small villages, forests, a lake or two, vineyards, etc. The Côte de Jongieux is not steep but goes right through vineyards. When the Tour visits expect great helicopter shots of the hairpins and the Château de Lucey (a wine producer).
I was getting closer to Mont du Chat, but even far in the distance it seemed crazy that a road would climb to the summit:
The climb profile above starts from Yenne, but I believe the Tour will start the real climbing at St. Paul, 12 kilometres from summit. The official Savoie traffic map had the climb marked as open. This had surprised me. February is very early, but I trusted them and was only a little nervous as I started seeing “road closed” signs.
As the map shows, there are few hairpins on this monster of a climb, but the route is sinuous enough. Most big alpine climbs have open views because the tree line usually ends around 1600 metres or so. But the summit of Mont du Chat is only 1504 metres (it starts far lower than most climbs in the Alps). Unlike its equally fearsome neighbour Le Grand Colombier, Mont du Chat is too rugged for pasture land so it’s completely forested. The views were better today than usual as no leaves on the trees. 🙂
Asking if Mont du Chat is in the Alps or the Jura mountains can spark a lively debate. Wikipedia says the Jura and I think locals feel this. A geological argument can say Alps. I’ll stick with Juras.
I started seeing snow with 2 kilometres to go.
Near the summit is a look-out with a great view of the distant Grand Colombier.
The summit is known locally as the Relais du Mont du Chat or the Belvédère du Mont du Chat. There is a Ventoux-like communication tower exactly at the summit and a restaurant.
There are terrific views of the lake and the nearby Alps from the Belvédère:
It was here that my plan ran into problems. The east side road was covered in half a metre of snow and quite closed. It was getting late, I knew nearby Col de l’Epine was closed and I had no energy to back-track via Col du Chat. I decided to snow-hike!
It was tough going. Too deep to run, too soft to roll my bike. Not one of my best ideas.
As the map shows, I decided to take a short-cut down an even steeper hiking trail as there were some footprints and it actually seemed easier than trudging along the road. Not simple with bike cleats, a bike, snow/ice, etc. Three young trail runners stopped and asked me if I was OK (why was an old guy in polka dots carrying a road bike down a hiking trail). One kindly even offered to carry my bike for a while (I politely declined the kind offer). 🙂
But eventually I reached the road (completely snow-free) and I descended safely to the start. No worries, just cold, wet feet and some serious hunger!
This challenging loop is on quiet roads. Great lake views early on, and the terrifying steepness of Mont du Chat near the end. But wait until the snow has melted.
Quiet / No Traffic