Bikes are not mountain goats and neither are the people who are foolhardy enough to pretend they might be. This is a tough, tough section with the route taking us up and down the narrowest of paths and over rocks – our only option being to carry the bikes.
No one in their right minds would do this, but anyone reading this blog will already know that we are not, which is probably the reason for my finding some kind of spurious satisfaction from having done it. In fact, at some points it is positively enjoyable and for walkers I am sure it will be an absolute highlight in this section. In spite of Paul’s morbid fear of heights we walk along the edge of a gorge, with a thundering river at its base, and then emerge onto the top of ridges where the view across the peaks is so breathtakingly infinite that it is actually possible to forget the pain of getting there. This section takes just over 5 hours and then we ride into Orsiéres where we meet my brother, Alex, and his wife, Elwira, for lunch – how civilised!
In fact, apart from the very real pleasure of seeing them, there are some ulterior motives. We have persuaded them to pick up our equipment from where we had left it in the hotel in Martigny (so that we could travel the last section unimpeded by the extra 25 kilos per bike) and we have also persuaded them to take us and the kit from Orsiéres to the top of Grand St Bernard today. But before you draw breath to shout CHEAT, this is only so that we can ‘do the Col’ tomorrow with our bikes, though without the baggage. As we drive up, we take the opportunity to stop off and look at the tracks we will be negotiating, which does nothing for my hopes that we will reach the top in one piece and with our bikes.
The steep sides of the gorge into Orsiéres make for difficult choices. Either the pedestrian route Babette has described (expressly prohibited to horses and a route no sane person would take an unloaded, never mind loaded bike on the road) or the main road, which involves passing through an avalanche protection gallery, where the traffic sounds echo like kettle drums and there is little small protection from it. This is one of those places for riders where you need total confidence in your horse. Our recommendation would be to start from Martigny at first light and aim to reach Sembrancher before too much traffic hits the road. From Sembrancher there is a very pleasant, but steep off-road track to the east which will take you the rest of the way to Orsiéres.
In Osriéres we stopped in the Hotel des Alpes for 80 S.Fr; including a good breakfast. The restaurant here has quite a reputation and price list to match, but the rooms are reasonable and the staff pleasant.