Crossing the French Alps: Evian – St. Raphaël by Olivier Latouille

Some words from our dear friend Olivier Latouille.

Pride and privilege

Imagine, dream of elsewhere, of wide-open spaces, endless valleys. Imagine, dream of the Silk Road, of nomadic encounters, of green pastures. Imagine leaving, immersing yourself, feeling and coming back. It is a privilege to dream, to imagine. It’s another to make dreams come true. This year, the poison that plagues the world interrupted the dream. This trip to Central Asia will be in the corner of our imagination … until the next opportunity.

An aborted adventure is just a pretext to improvise a trip from home. Reasoning short circuits, local routes or even discovering, rediscovering our regions, our garden, the one that many envy us and have not had the opportunity to tread this summer.

The two fellows who accompany me are no less demotivated. Quiet strength, technical ease, unfailing morale, the mountain bike trip with them becomes child’s play. They play it, they laugh about it … and don’t forget to let me know in the extravagance of their behaviour. In the lead when crossing passes, rear wheels do you want some here, and downhill to bite their dust. How can you blame them? On the contrary, following in their footsteps is only pride and privilege.

No need to comment here on the track, the picks, the singles and other statistics. For those who travel roaming with their kids, drunkenness is elsewhere, in shared emotions, laughter and sorrow. Everything is sharing. The joy of accomplishment but also the suffering of excess.

This roaming has been a lesson in many respects and the observation that we did not go wrong.


This route is only one possibility among others; we must be well aware that the choice is immense and that any choice is renunciation … A random example: I wanted to avoid Chamonix and go through the Italian side of Mt Blanc that I did not know by mountain bike. Another random example: I absolutely wanted to go through the Plateau d’Emparis and the Clarée valley … We can obviously make it shorter; or longer …. One last random example: in Queyras, which I know well, I did not go through the Col de Péas nor the Col Fromage and Ceillac to take other routes that I knew less about. The breakdown of the stages proposed here corresponds to my own breakdown. Obviously, it will depend on the physical form of the participants, their desires, the weather and any accommodation envisaged.

Day 1: Evian – Tanay; 30 km; 1200 D +, 300 D-
By road, then tracks and trails to reach Lake Tanay via Chalavornaire.

Day 2: Tanay – Champéry; 55 km; 2050 m D +; 2300 D-

The route winds under the border on the Swiss side to reach Morgins and cross part of the Portes du Soleil area before descending to Champéry. Magnificent landscape in particular on the Dents du Midi opposite (if the weather is nice).

Day 3: Champéry – La Fouly; 80 km; 2200 m D +; 1700 m D-
Bypass the Dents du Midi massif by their North then East slope on a beautiful series of tracks and small singles, before plunging into the Rhône valley to reach Martigny by a few km of road. Road again to join La Fouly via Sembrancher and Orsières. If you have more time, this stage can be easily improved (and lengthened) by going up to Champex and using the trails between Champex and La Fouly; what I would have done if I had had that extra time and good weather …

Day 4: La Fouly – Elisabetta Soldini refuge; 47 km; 2000 m D +; 1300 m D-
Queen stage at the foot of the Italian side of Mt Blanc on magnificent paths and on balconies. It can be further improved after Entrèves by climbing the balcony path that climbs towards Lake Chécrouit before descending to Lake Combal (300 to 400 m of elevation plus in addition). It must be worth it if the weather is nice (which unfortunately wasn’t quite my case …).

Day 5: Elisabetta Soldini refuge – Nant du Beurre refuge; 60 km; 2200 m D +; 2400 m D-
Another magnificent stage between the S side of Mt Blanc and Beaufortain. The passage of the Col de la Seigne then the series of singles and passes between the Plan de la Lai refuge and the Nant du Beurre refuge is a delight. Many shelters allow several divisions.

Day 6: Nant du Beurre – St Jean de Maurienne; 70 km; 2400 m D +; 4000 m D-
Very long descent on the valley of Isère by singles then just as long ascent in the pastures between Valmorel and the Col de la Madeleine. Lots of tracks, including to cross and descend on St Jean de Maurienne.

Day 7: St Jean de Maurienne – Besse en Oisans; 60 km; 2300 m D +; 1450 m D-
Very nice stage in three stages: first an ascent to Albiez by beautiful track and a few singles, then a track / road crossing to go up to St Sorlins, and finally the magnificent passage of the Prés Nouveaux col (a little portage) and its interminable but superb descent to Besse. The Oisans and its great summits (Muzelle, Meije, Rateau) are starting to show up.

Day 8: Besse en Oisans – Drayères refuge; 70 km; 2900 m D +; 2250 m D-
Another major stage with the crossing of the Plateau d’Emparis We stay on the balcony facing the glaciers of Mt de Lans, La Meije, Pic Gaspard then Agneaux and even Ecrins for hours; all on very rolling trails. You then have to drive a few km on the Lautaret road before going up to Galibier via the old track. You can avoid the tar on the descent of the Galibier by taking the Combe de Mortavieille (on the left at Pt 2405 m from the road): it adds 200 m of elevation but it’s worth it if you have the time. From Plan Lachat, you then have to go up to the Col des Rochilles by an energy-intensive track and then descend to the Drayères refuge by a sometimes technical path.

Day 9: Drayères refuge – Ville Vieille; 70 km; 1500 m D +; 2250 m D-
Descent of the magnificent Clarée valley. I then went down to Briançon for logistical reasons but there are many possibilities to avoid it; for example by going up to Montgenèvre then between Chenaillet and the top of the Angels to reach Cervières then the Laus. You can also add a stage by going to the Fonds de Cervières to cross the Col de Péas (long portage) to reach the Queyras by the magnificent descent of its southern slope then the balcony paths that lead back to Souliers. From Souliers, do not miss the small crossing on the side of the track to join the superb descent on Chateau Queyras and Ville Vieille.

Day 10: Old Town – St Ours; 70 km; 2400m D +; 2000m D-
Beautiful crossing on the canal de Pierre Dimanche before going up to the magnificent village of St Véran. Long, easy climb to the Blanche refuge then portage (1 hour) to pass the highest point of this crossing: the Col de la Noire (2955 m). Superb and very long descent to Maljasset before an ascent to Fouillouse then to the Mirandol pass before its superb descent to St Ours. If the weather is good, this is a “must”.

Day 11: St Ours – Allos; 57 km; 1400 m D +; 1700 m D-
Lots of road to climb to the Col d’Allos; Once again we can improve this stage by climbing from Praloup to the Col des Thuiles then to the Col de la Sestriere to descend to the Col d’Allos. It’s magnificent and rolling but it’s much longer … The descent from Col d’Allos sur Allos via the Transverdon route is absolutely superb.

Day 12: Allos – La Colle St Michel; 64 km; 2400 m D +; 2300 m D-
Another superb stage in two stages: magnificent crossing of the Autapie (a must in the sector) then a long wild and exotic passage under the Petits en Grand Coyer. Obviously, you can also climb to the Lignin lakes by following the Transverdon but it takes 1/2 day more …

Day 13: La Colle St Michel – Valderoure; 66 km; 1800 m D +; 2300 m D-
A few more beautiful, very wild and severe passages before gradually leaving the Alps. The long passage in the footsteps of the Chemins du Soleil between Ubraye and St Auban is remarkable and sometimes physical; not to be underestimated.

Day 14: Valderoure – St Raphaël; 94 km; 1450 m D +; 2500 m D-
A few more good “ass shots” before plunging into the Esterel, its heat, its colors and soaking in the Mediterranean.

Original Version by Olivier Latouille (French): http://www.vttour.fr/sorties/traversee-des-alpes-francaises,18163.html

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