We have spent a few summer seasons in the small hamlet of Les Gets, France, mostly riding down and using the ski lifts to get to the top. We had raced down, cruised down and fell down. So just sitting about one afternoon we decided to redress the balance. Lets go up. Now just climbing for the sake of it is not the most fun thing in the world, you may disagree, so how to make it worthwhile ?
First pick a decent mountain to climb, then do it at a interesting time, and make it tricky. So we decided to climb to the top of Mont. Chery in (1826m), before dawn to watch the sunrise over Mont. Blanc (4807m). We had the lights with us so we could set out in the dark making it a tricky ascent and hopefully make it to the top in time to watch the sunrise. Our base was at 1172m so the climb was a worthy but not undo-able (at 4.30 in the dark) 654m in height and 9km in length.
We did the two sections of the climb separately to see how long and tough it would be. The first from base to the top of the lift at 1578m, and the second from the lift to the summit at 1826m. The first section was longer with quite a bit of road climbing to get out of Les Gets before moving onto firetrack and then a steep climb to a forest section. A rocky climb to the lift station finished the first part. The second was harder but shorter. Steep climbing nearly all the way on mostly wide hard trails venturing in and out of the trees (and past the downhill course). Both sections were under 45 minutes separately in daylight.
Timing and the weather were important factors. Too early in the season and the sun rises very early and you would need to leave at 3.00am, but leaving it later meant the sun rising a 6.50am giving a decent 2 hour slot to get up there. The weather was Mr Unpredictable. A clear morning to see the sunrise was needed. So we waited until the weatherman said clear day tomorrow, but in French of course. The accuracy of the TV weather in in the mountains can be dubious, so you still have to check before leaving that the stars are clear and bright. So at 4.30am on a Wednesday I peered bleary eyed out of the window and it was time to go.
Everything was setup so no faffing about to do, just kit up and ride. The village was deader than tank tops (no surprise) so we shifted up a gear and blasted up the one way the wrong way and hit the road climb. The air was warmer than expected so within 15 minutes it was time to shed a layer. The air continued to be warm as we hit the firetrack and the darkness enveloped us. Notching the lights up to stun level, the climbing got serious. Somehow in the dark, you get messed up on time and distance, and what gear you would normally be in. At the this point it looked like we were ahead on schedule but were tiring badly. Some pushing on a mega steep slope made things look worse and we weren't half way. The trail was rideable again and the lungs were still working as we pounded through the forest, with just the heartbeat in your ears for company. Some more unexpected pushing up a rocky section and we took a brief break. It felt like were weren't riding enough but the clock said we were still on time. The legs said otherwise.
Riding again, and the top of the lift was eerily quiet and the distant Mont Blanc Massif was menacingly dark in the distance. Steep climbing began and we managed to keep riding up. And up. Time disappeared into the trees with us. When we broke cover and 3/4 distance, light was appearing above Avoriaz in the distance. The mountains were forming around us so we pushed on for the summit. Crossing the downhill course (they were just going to bed no doubt) again and the the final climb appeared. Light was pushing its way around us and the bike lights were switched back to just knocking shadows from the gullies. We climbed past the downhill start hut and then the top lift and on to the Point. We were there, and it was suddenly freezing. We stood by the 'Table d'Orientation' and the wind buffeted us into cover. It had taken 1 hour and 40 minutes, ten minutes more than during the daylight.
Within 10 minutes the small amount of cloud was turning orange and then the peak of Mont Blanc had a orange tip. Within another 10 minutes the sun was up and unbearably bright. A touch of warmth took the chill from the wind. Another ten minutes and the whole Mont Blanc Massif had an orange topped snow covering. With a spoon in could have been a first class desert. 10 minutes later we left for an enjoyable decent through pools of warm sunlight and cool forest air, back to a cold and clear Les Gets. It took 25 minutes with stops to say 'wow' at the glory of it all. Not a soul to be seen. What a great time to go riding.
2 hours later we were dead to the world.