Tour de Suisse Summits – Barrage de la Grande Dixence – July 2016

Dam Busting – Day Three

Today’s adventure was a monster climb up to the world’s fifth tallest dam (it was 2nd tallest until 2010), the Barrage de la Grande Dixence.

The day started in a similar fashion to yesterday, the first 20 miles or so followed the River Rhone through fruit orchards (apples, pears & apricots to name a few), vineyards & fields of vegetables. For once I had a bit of a nightmare getting us to the start of the climb, but luckily we were still in high spirits, so it didn’t matter, plus it added to the adventure!

The early part of the climb is on a relatively busy road, but this only affected us for the first four miles until we reached our coffee stop of Vex. After an invigorating slice of apricot tart & a cappuccino, we turned onto an almost deserted road, as we continued to climb towards Dixence – everything was hunky dory, my training had prepared me for just this sort of challenge…..

At which point we turned a corner & there some 5 miles in the distance was the Barrage de la Grande Dixence & it was still several thousand feet above us! I can only assume that the engineers that planned & built the road were sadists, as the gradient never dipped below 10% from this point on & the majority of it was between 11% & 13% – my training hadn’t prepared me for this.

It was even more challenging than the hardest bit of the Sanetsch yesterday, so it was time to look in the suitcase of courage – sadly I’d only packed a rucksack of despair!! After a quick energy bar it was time to man-up & get on with it & a mere hour of pain later we’d reached the car park at the foot of the dam.

A few statistics for you;

At 285 metres, the Barrage is 9 metres higher than the top platform of the Eiffel Tower.

The dam took 14 years to complete & was finished in 1964.

This is part of the Cleuson-Dixence complex, which provides hydro-electric power to 400,000 Swiss households per year.

At peak capacity the reservoir can hold 400 million cubic metres of water.

The top part of the descent required total concentration, as the steep road we’d previously climbed now dropped in a series of tight hairpins & the price of getting it wrong was too severe to consider. Once we’d negotiated this tricky start, the remainder of the descent back into Vex was easy. After a quick baguette for lunch we continued to descend on a fast, open road back to Sion – look away now if you’re family…. I maxed out at 45 mph as you got such a great view of what lay ahead, which included a posse of horse riders crossing the road!

From Sion, we reversed the route along the cycle path into a tough head/side wind, but we made really good time as it was also very slightly downhill. All in all, another day that was fully worthy of being called an Alpine Adventure & deserved to be celebrated in style with a slap up meal in town!!

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