Monday, June 23, 2014

Day 16- Martigny to Col du Gran Saint Bernard- 45km

I am actually going to let Ben write the blog today, even though it's my turn (we have been switching each day in case you have not noticed). This is his baby. He has been looking forward to climbing this beast of a mountain for so long now, so it's best he gives you the pedal by pedal detail ;) from me: I can't believe I am here. Today was the hardest day I've ever had on a bike. There were many tears, a bit of hyperventilating, many feelings of being overwhelmed, self doubt, and a lot of talk inside my head. But I am here, I made it, I didn't walk once, and I am super proud of myself and of Ben. He was an awesome support, stopping when I needed to stop and only ever offering reassurance and encouragement. I'm lucky I have such a lovely boyfriend :)

Over to Ben:

The Swiss alps, we started the day in Martigny

We had been looking forward to this day for a long time, the anticipation was huge, it was like the night before a big race, a mixture of nerves and excitement. We found a little Italian restaurant in town for an early dinner at 5:30pm, which is a contrast to france where nothing opens until at least 7pm, we had huge pasta dishes which were actually pretty good, and it felt good to fill the belly with some carbs.

Rolling out, heading up there somewhere

We got back to the hotel around 7pm and just lazed around watching cable tv, and then finally got our stuff organised for an early start.

We woke easily at 5am, already light, we underestimated how early first light would be, with sunrise not due till 5:40am. We filled the bidons with fresh mountain water and started out of town which was a steady 3% grade for the first 15k or so. It was surprising how much traffic there was so early in the morning, we guess that it must be workers needing to commute up to the mountains.

Verbier and GSB this way

We rolled through Orsieres and stopped for a coffee in the village at only 7am, unfortunately the supermarket wasn't open until 8am, since it was Sunday in Martigny we could only buy a few basic things for the day at the service station. We kept riding through to Bourg Saint Pierre which took a lot longer than expected, with the gradient slowing increasing and the fatigue setting in.

Still pretty flat leading up to Orseries

Once into the village we searched for a shop, but everything was either closed or closed down. We found a tourist souvenir shop that sold sandwiches, 6fr for a basic ham and pickle roll each, but better than nothing.

Now the Cols are in sight
Verbier and Bourg saint Pieree behind us
Still feeling good
Great Bernard's!

Then the 6k long gallieries started, it was not too bad to start mostly totally open on the cliff side with a metal balustrade. There basically was no shoulder and you couldn't ride near the shoulder anyway as it was crumbling and could steer you straight into the balustrade if you were not careful, a few times early on I bounced the panniers off with a few hairy moments with trucks barrelling past. Then it started to become more closed in, and a 500m section of a complete tunnel which was pretty dark. The gradient was not too bad but you could only manage about 13kph for the first few k's. Then it flattened out for the last few k's and we picked up the pace a bit and it was over within about 20mins all up.

Entrance to the gallieries
Left goes through the mountain, right goes over!
Just getting it done, 6ks of nerves

The gallieries were what we worried about most, the noise and traffic in particular. But it wasn't as bad as what we thought, luckily the traffic by that stage was fairly light. But at the end of the gallieries we were only at 1800vm and we still had to get to 2400vm in about 7k of riding!

Happy to be back in fresh air

Now the real climbing started, straight away it kicked up, and we got to the first switchbacks section, where you instantly notice the 20kgs of panniers over the back wheels as your legs start to burn and the speed drops down below 10kph to more like 6 or 7kph. At the same time you couldn't help but look at the views all around you, wondering how on earth the road can cut through the sides of the mountain. The traffic was minimal now, with only tourists as the tunnel cuts straight through the mountain after the gallieries.

Still gotta get up there

So we continued riding each switchback section after each bit where it flattened out we would have a short break, each one was around 1k long. We came across a couple of people on touring bikes coming down the mountain and had a quick chat, one American couple were on their way to Amsterdam from Rome, they warned us the last 3k would be tough. Thanks! It was already tough!

Breaking out the GU chomps, pastries are useless this high up! ;)
300vm to go, only about 4k!
This is were it got stupid steep

Rishi was starting to hurt pretty bad at about 4k to go, and the self doubt starts to creep in, wondering what to do if you simply can't turn the pedals over anymore! The weight of the panniers really changes things when climbing, I tend to think it is at least 3times the effort required at those sorts of gradients, with 8% the average for the last 7k, the switchbacks where not too much steeper but some parts were getting up to 15%

That's the road up there!
We saw some slabs of ice on the road, don't go to close!

The last 3k arrived and looking up you can just see this incredible road snaking up the hill literally on top of itself. All we could do is hit it in one go, and hope it was almost over. We still couldn't see the summit until only 200m to go, it was quite a feeling rolling over the top, getting a few photos in front of the signs and then the lake. And just as we arrived the weather started to turn with the clouds dumping a bit of rain down, perfect timing, less than 5hrs is about what I expected, probably the slowest 45k we will ever do!

Finally in sight of the summit
Relief sets in, we have made it!

We had thought to continue on down the mountain to Aosta, but after the long day already, including the early start and looming grey clouds with rain already falling we figure it's best to stay on the summit, luckily there is a 1000 year old Hospice which is for pilgrims right at the summit, it's a pretty awesome place, currently undergoing renovations, but we get a room dinner and breakfast for around a hundred euros which obviously keeps the place running. It should be a great experience. There are already a few other walkers that have also arrived, we passed one of them with about 3k to go and she got to the top only about 45mins after us!

So the Col is conquered, we just need to roll down into Rome!




  1. Well done guys, Awesome work! The training rides up Hotham and through Bright region would have been nothing compared to what you did today. Incrediable acheivement. It is such a stunning place, lap it up. Sim

  2. Amazing work! Looks stunning and like a climb you won't forget. Enjoying the blog posts - keep up the good work.

  3. Rishi and Ben Thankyou for a very exciting Post., and the Pics told the story ..Yeah and Congratualtions

  4. I'm so enjoying following your blog and congratulations on a tough slog uphill! I remember it from walking and it goes up and up and up! I cannot imagine going through those galleries---would terrify me!

  5. Congratulations guys. What a great achievement! Enjoy every minute.