Accessing the Alps’ Best Trails—the Hard Way

Climb all day, camp on top, and then drop back down at dawn

With access to one of our favorite trails in Chamonix, France, made difficult by the closure of a key chairlift, the quest to ride it became even more enticing. It’s a hefty 3,900-foot climb up from the valley floor to merely reach the start of our chosen descentwe would surely have the trail to ourselves. If we could get there.

Accompanied by friends Greg Watts and Keith Macintosh we had a choice: either man up and hit the climb head on, sucking up a good three hours of bike portaging, or try to reach the trail via a neighboring lift and connecting traverse.

This lift would get us so far, up some 2,600 feet above the valley floor, but would still leave us with the challenge of another huge climb, a descent and then yet another climb before we reached our chosen trailhead, and could finally begin our epic descent. Decisions, decisions.[slideshow:531]

We opted for the latter, a tricky ride and hike-a-bike that incorporated technical trail riding with ladder climbing up sheer rock faces. With so much effort involved, we decided to make it an overnight affair, choosing to bivy out at the top of the trailhead, and drop into the descent at sunrise. Rewards don’t come easy in the Alps, but they are usually worth every drop of sweat shed en route.