Lac de Sanetsch, Col de Pillon & Col de la Croix – Day Two.
An EPIC day in the saddle – this is one of my favourite five rides & one of the hardest. The numbers by themselves don’t tell even a part of the story – 75 miles with 9,750 feet of climbing. Once again the weather gods smiled on us, as we were greeted with blue skies & light breezes as we set off on the day’s adventure. The Tour de France is visiting Martigny for a couple of stages this year, so there are reminders all over town.
The majority of first 15 miles were on a cycle path that hugged the edge of the River Rhone – the valley is glacial in origin, so there’s agriculture all along the valley floor & on the lower slopes. Helicopters buzzed overhead throughout these early miles, as they sprayed the crops – amazingly we rode past just as one was refuelling & preparing to take off. This gentle introduction finished after about an hour of leisurely riding – the day’s main event was a climb up to Lac de Sanetsch, one of many hydro-electric dams in the Valais region.
This was a brute of a climb – 16 miles long with 6,200 feet of ascent. The views back down to the valley floor helped to take away some of the pain, as did the fact that we were riding a road that ‘dead-ended’ at the summit. As a result the road was pretty much deserted.
There was a 4 mile stretch where the gradient didn’t drop below 10% & at one point my Garmin was showing a 17% incline – no amount of training in the UK fully prepares you for these kind of climbs, so I chose to admire the views & tried not to look at the slope!!! We needed a couple of espresso stops, so we could keep our water bottles topped up – the temperature was now in the 80’s, so staying hydrated was essential.
As the steep stuff relented, we rounded a corner to meet our next challenge – a ½ mile tunnel with fairly basic lighting. If I’m honest, these are the sort of things I love being confronted with on my trips – if I wanted a simple pootle on a cycle path, I could go to Bath & back!
Finally after just over 3 hours of climbing, we reached the summit, before dropping down a couple of hundred feet to the lake. Time for lunch & mushroom risotto looked like a great choice……well actually it was the only choice! Two main courses & two cokes set us back an eye-watering £45.
You may remember me saying the road runs out at the lake, yet we did a loop – how so, I hear you ask. By taking a cable car down to Gsteig on the other side – this gains in significance when I share the fact that Sean hates heights. In spite of this fear, he still got in the cable car & lay on the floor so he didn’t have to look out at the 2,000 foot shear drop!!!
From here, it was a straightforward climb up the Col de Pillon, before descending to Les Diablerets.
This was decision time, continue the descent back to the valley floor, or take a detour & add in the climb of Col de la Croix. Foolishly we chose the detour, as I’m sure you knew I would!!
Another brutal climb, rising just over 2,000 feet in a little over 5 miles. It was a steady 8% all the way & a real struggle after all the steep climbing we’d already completed. However, there were stunning views once again to distract me from the pain.
Once we summited, we were rewarded with a glorious descent, as the road twisted in & out of tiny towns & villages on its way back to the Rhone valley. All that remained from there was a 15 mile ride home along as we headed up the Rhone valley once again.