A “Little” ride around the Matterhorn!

By Julia Hobson


It’s a word that gets used, and probably overused, a lot.  

It means different things to different people, and even for one person, adventures can come in many different forms.
But if adventure means going beyond one’s own personal comfort zone, doing something that scares you or pushes you to your limits, physically and mentally, going where you haven’t been before, and where the outcome is uncertain, then we can all have our own different limits for adventure. Just because someone has had them before, doesn’t mean we can’t have our own ones too.

I go on what I call “adventures” all the time…they are really just fun days or trips, often exploring new to me places, and there are different levels of danger, risk, or fear which I’m prepared to expose myself to on each of these.

But it’s been a while since I had what for me I would consider a real adventure, and this summer I decided that needed to change. That little part of me that craves adrenaline, excitement, discovery, maybe even the feeling of fear and scaring myself a little, was becoming restless. Inevitably, this adventure needed to include Mountains, and preferably, my trusty Hope blinged, Juliana Bicycles Roubion….the best adventure vehicle I own.

I’m drawn to Mountains in a way I feel difficult to explain. It’s part of me….the little flutter I get every time I see them, like they are calling to me. I want to be in them, on them, part of them, to see the rest of life from them, and I cannot resist that call. I guess some people have that and others don’t, but if you’re one of those people then you’ll understand what I mean.

It was during a bikepacking trip along the Alpine Haute Route from Chamonix to Zermatt a few years ago that I first saw signs for a walking trail of the Tour du Cervin, or Tour of the Matterhorn, and the seed was planted in my mind of wondering whether you could ride a bike around the route. 

The Matterhorn is an iconic mountain…the kind that even looks like the pictures of mountains you might have drawn as a child. A near perfect triangular peak, the Toblerone mountain, even for non-climbers or mountain people, I imagine most have seen a picture of it at some point. An adventure round this majestic peak was definitely something I liked the sound of…

I ummed and ahhhed about whether it was feasible, or just downright stupid to take bikes over the glaciers we’d have to cross on the route, but then last year I heard via a blog I found online, that 3 crazy Italian guys had ridden the route…it was enough for me to know that if it had been done, then I could definitely do it too. So the proper planning began.

I managed to persuade a few carefully selected friends (who I knew would have the necessary skills and fitness to complete the challenge, as well as being good fun company!) to come with me, giving them some purposefully vague information about the trip but not enough to scare them off!

Pete, Ruth and Claire had never met each other before the trip, and I don’t think any of them knew exactly what I had in store for them!
Maps were pored over, (fortunately I’m a total map geek so I was happy to spend many long hours looking at the route), days planned, accommodation booked, logistics sorted. 

Months, turned into weeks, turned into days…and all the time I was watching webcams, weather forecasts, climbing reports from the areas we’d be going through. Winter 2015 was a snowy one, and a late one, and unlike the previous super hot dry summer when the Italians had ridden the route, there was a LOT of snow still lying in the high mountains. Anxieties started to creep in. Should we cancel? Would it be a waste of time even trying? Were people even walking the route yet? That fear of the unknown grew a little stronger. No-one else that we could find had ever tried to ride the route, so apart from maps, photos, walking blogs, we couldn’t ask anyone for information….we would just have to go.

The adventure started from the moment we set off, with bad weather forecasts, crazy little lifts where we feared that our bikes would still be attached by the time we got to the top, and tough climbs where we spent hours carrying our bikes on our backs up snowy passes and along narrow, exposed tracks. But the rewards of endless, flowing alpine singletrack through mind-blowing scenery more than made up for the efforts needed to reach it!

We stayed in beautiful wooden alpine refuges, big old hotels with uneven floors that were a challenge for our tired legs to walk along, and even an Italian ski resort hotel. All were warm, dry and comfortable and sold us cold beers and delicious hearty food, which was all we needed each night. We carried the minimum amount possible with us, just a change of clothes for evenings, warm and waterproof layers, spares and tools for our bikes, and food and water, yet still our bags were as heavy as we’d want them to be for riding the incredibly technical trails we came across each day.

“You must be crazy, it’s really steep and dangerous! Is that even possible? You’ll never make it”

Each day we passed several groups of walkers, and a theme and general conversation began to emerge which would continue throughout the week. It went something like this…

“Oh my word, is that a bike on your back?”

“Yes, we’re riding the Tour of the Matterhorn”

“You must be crazy, it’s really steep and dangerous! Is that even possible? You’ll never make it”

“Thanks, we know, that’s why we’re here, we like these kind of trails, and we don’t know if it’s possible, but we won’t know unless we try will we? Have a nice day!”

*complete look of bemusement and incomprehension on walker’s face as we walked on.

Despite the repetition of these conversations, I liked them. I enjoyed the fact that we were doing something daring, something different from the norm, we really were adventuring, I was excited to try and prove all the doubters wrong….

We encountered some scary moments, like crossing the Glacier d’Arolla with our bikes, and without the mountaineering kit I’d normally be using when traversing a glacier, bum-sliding down steep snow from the Col Valcorniere and thinking we wouldn’t stop before hitting the rocks at the bottom of the slope, and almost losing Ruth and her bike down a steep gorge on the way down to Zermatt!

And there were plenty of tough moments too. Hours of carrying bikes uphill, and sometimes down! Trying to get the bikes up series of ladders and cables on steep paths that really weren’t meant for bikes, keeping going as our bodies became tired and weary from physical exertion during the week.
But there were far more moments where amazing memories were created. The views enjoyed from the top of each new col, the exhilarating and challenging descents, the great times shared amongst us all and the stories and moments that will keep us all smiling and laughing for years, the relief at crossing the Glacier, the fun of riding down a freshly groomed ski slope, the sense of pride and achievement amongst us all at completing the tour, too many things to mention.

And we did it! After 42 hours of riding over 5 days, 160km, and thousands and thousands of metres of climbing and descending, we made it back to our starting point. Slightly sunburnt, with weary legs, stinking clothes we’d been wearing for a week, creaky bikes after the abuse they’d been subjected to during the ride, but huge smiles on our faces. 

It’s several months now since we rode the route, but it’s taken a long time for it all to sink in! We experienced so much in such a short space of time, that it was only after we finished and had time to think back on all the amazing trails we rode, the beautiful landscapes we travelled through, the people we met, the individual moments and memories that made up the epic week we had, that we began to appreciate the adventure more fully.

My thirst for adventure has been quenched for a while, but the problem with awesome trips like this, is that it just makes you wonder what you can do next to get the same adventure hit!

I’m already planning what to do next year!

If you’d like to read in more detail about our trip then you can do so at http://thenever-endingtrail.bl...

Images: Ruth Bowman, Pete Dodd and Julia Hobson