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Lac de Salanfe — a bikepacking overnighter from Chamonix

Scotty C

Lac de Salanfe — a bikepacking overnighter from Chamonix

Mountain Biking Collection by Scotty C

2-3

days

3-5 h

/ day

69.5 mi

11,675 ft

11,675 ft

This return mountain bike bikepacking ride Lac de Salanfe from Les Houches in the Chamonix valley takes you across the border into Switzerland to wild camp overnight at the edge of the lake at 1,925 metres (6,316 ft). An artificial lake created by a dam completed in 1952, lac de Salanfe is surrounded by higher peaks and numerous hiking trails that snake up and over the ridge lines. It's a quiet night out under the stars in the company of herds of Ibex and the occasional fox. With barely any light pollution, the night sky is a captivating view.

There is some route repetition back across the border into France, but then you turn off at Vallorcine, for the climb up to the 1,997 metre (6,552 ft) col de Posettes. This vantage point offers a long view down the length of the Chamonix valley, giving a real sense of just how narrow it is.

It's only a 113 kilometre (70.2 mile) round trip, but there is a solid amount of climbing for the distance. The route wouldn’t be considered overly technical for a mountain biking ride and it could be done on a gravel bike, but sections would be technically challenged. There is a refuge at the lake, but is only open in the high season. This is an overnighter that is best ridden in the low seasons of spring, early summer or the autumn to get the most out of the serenity of this wild camp and wildlife spotting. As you approach the towering dam wall, you will often see chamois casually walking around high up on this steep face, almost defying gravity, feeding on the lichen.

Ride up early enough in the spring to catch still lingering snow on the lake itself and the north facing peaks, although access will depend on snow melt up the track of the final approach. I managed to get up there in mid May this year as it had been a poor winter for snow and spring temperatures were high. Snow still lingered in patches necessitating short sections of hike-a-bike, which was easy enough in cycling shoes.

The Track goes past the refuge along the eastern side of the lake to find a spot on the grass overlooking the water’s edge. There is an unguarded winter hut, but it doesn't have a winter water supply, so bring what you need. You can fill up at a fountain in the village of Van d'en Haut, just before the dirt track climb starts.

On the return, once up at the col de Posettes, take a moment to enjoy the views, different across spring, summer and autumn. From mid June, the refuges will be open. Drop down just below the col to the Alpage du Balme for superb homemade tart or even an apple crumble and custard (crème anglaise). Alternatively, add a further 160 metres (525 ft) to the climbing tally with a ride up to the refuge at the col de Balme, situated a few metres over the border into Switzerland.

It's a big descent down to the old mountain village of le Tour. The first half to the mid lift station is on an open, double track, steadily winding its way down, its gradient steepening for the second half, with wide switchback bends on loose gravel. Ride through to the other side of le Tour (where there is a water fountain), to hop onto the singletrack roller coaster ride of the petit balcon nord. Cross over the river bridge (a few wooden planks in the winter or a proper wooden bridge in summer). The trail will take you right back to Chamonix and onto the cross-country ski tracks. If good coffee and cake is your thing, Moody café (open all year round and the best coffee in town) is on the way back as you pass through Chamonix Sud, before returning along the river path back to les Houches.

Wild camping is tolerated in the Alps, but be discreet and leave no trace. Be very mindful of cooking stove use and take heed of local regulations, especially during peak summer season. This summer, camp cooking of any sort was banned in the Haute Savoie region due to the significant fire risk.

The Mont Blanc Express (mont-blanc-express.ch) is the ideal way to access les Houches and the Chamonix valley with your bike or coach companies such as Flixbus take you directly to Chamonix centre with an additional fee for the bike. Accommodation is plentiful across hotels, AirB&Bs, chalets, camping and WarmShowers hosts.

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Lac de Salanfe Full Tour

69.6 mi

11,700 ft

11,700 ft

Last updated: September 29, 2022

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Tours & Highlights

  • Map data © OpenStreetMap contributors

    Stage 1: To the lake — Lac de Salanfe

    Difficult
    06:02
    33.6 mi
    5.6 mph
    6,350 ft
    3,350 ft
    Expert mountain bike ride. Very good fitness required. Advanced riding skills necessary. Some portions of the Tour may require you to push your bike.

    The way out has the most climbing, some of it steep, but nothing overly technical, with some lingering snow patches in Spring.

    

    From Les Houches, the river path is a steady warm up, wide and rocky in parts with shallow climbs and a couple of steep descents. Just be mindful that this is a shared path

    by Scotty C

    View
  • Difficult
    05:56
    35.9 mi
    6.1 mph
    5,325 ft
    8,350 ft
    Expert mountain bike ride. Very good fitness required. Advanced riding skills necessary. Some portions of the Tour may require you to push your bike.

    The morning reflection of the mountains on the lake is worth the early wake up call, the sun not peaking over the ridge until later. The views from the switchback, steep descent are stunning in the haze of the early morning sun. Keep the speed in check as it’s a towering drop over the edge around some

    by Scotty C

    View
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Collection Stats

  • Tours
    2
  • Distance
    69.5 mi
  • Duration
    11:58 h
  • Elevation
    11,675 ft11,675 ft

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