Dinosaurs, high alpine lakes, snow-covered mountains, a crazy cliff road? Another Swiss paradise.
This is a truly beautiful Swiss climb up to the high alpine Barrage/Lac d’Emosson (1930 metres). I was excited to return as I had recently heard that the crazy steep paved road beyond/above the lake was re-opened after some years of construction. This leads to another dam/lake: Lac de Vieux Emosson (2205 metres). More about this below. Note, the above profile excludes this crazy extension.
The first dam (barrage) was built here in 1925 to power the Swiss Railway. But the current, much bigger, replacement dam was completed in the 1970’s. Here’s a post with 28 rides up to Alpine dams/lakes.
I started in Chamonix. Sometimes called the adventure capital of Europe, it’s a lousy place for cycling, especially road biking: Few roads, steep mountains. But it’s the start of the 11 kilometre climb to Col des Montets (1461m) – so I headed off. It’s an easy climb with beautiful surroundings, glacier views etc. But a touch more traffic than I like.
Here is the best ride I know from Chamonix. A super high, unpaved mountain-bike loop to Col de Balme.
Exactly at Col des Montets, but strangely invisible from the road is a little lake. I tried to recreate an old photo, but the reflection someone wasn’t as good (and my bike slipped into the water). 🙂
Next, it’s an easy descent, crossing the border into Switzerland, before turning off the main road towards the village of Finhaut, and above to the lake.
From Switzerland, one can approach Emosson by first climbing the very scenic Col de la Forclaz from Martigny – see here. Or from the same side, here is an excellent mountain bike option via the Vallée du Trient.
The climb to Emosson appeared in the 2014 Dauphiné and then the 2016 Tour de France in a stage won by Ilnur Zakarin. There is still plenty of Tour graffiti painted on the road. For example, the little strips in the photo below say Morabito (Swiss rider Steve Morabito).
The climb hairpins up the side of a mountain with plenty of views of high mountains including the Mont Blanc massif.
Just before the lac d’Emosson is the summit of the main climb at Col de la Gueulaz (1965 metres). This is where the Tour de France stage ended. There are a couple of restaurants, great views, and yes, a dinosaur. Real dinosaur tracks exist above here. They are viewable after a big hike well above Lac de Vieux Emosson. Dinosaurs are good for tourism.
Up to this point, it’s been a very good ride, but it’s about to get great. First, the lake is beautiful.
But if you look closely in the above photo, across the other side, on the top left, you can just about see the second dam, and the road leading up to it. Or, here is a zoomed photo:
I had ridden up this way back in 2008. But the last few times I had returned, the route had been shut. Recently, I had seen someone post a photo of it. And someone from the tourist office confirmed it had been re-opened. Me, being exciteable and impatient, couldn’t wait to visit again. 🙂
From Gueulaz, the road descends down to the dam (closed to cars) and goes right across it (see map at bottom). It’s great fun to ride along the top of the dam. Views in every directions. Here is a 360 degree photo from on top of the dam (you can move it with your mouse):
Or me riding across the dam:
Next, a new road (hence the construction closures) skirts the lake to the far side. Beautiful:
Now things get tough. The road just turns up. I am not certain the grade, but it is constant and steep (and includes a couple of small tunnels. Perhaps 15%-20%. I hit my max heart rate for the year …. going very (very) slowly.
It’s paved until just below the second dam at a refuge/hut. I then hiked the last gravel stretch to take a photo from on top of the Vieux Emosson dam (2205 metres).
And yes, as there was no-one around, I took a drone photo before descending:
Going down, I was glad my brakes were well adjusted. Yikes! But I survived the descent, and just retraced my steps back over the dam, down the mountain, back over Col des Montets to Chamonix.
A perfect autumn day.
A 3D video of the ride: