TÊTE DE LA TRONCHE, Aosta Valley

Brilliant singletrack with the utterly sublime backdrop of the Mont Blanc Massif

In Stats

Location: Aosta Valley, Italy

Start: Courmayeur

Time: 5-7hrs

Distance: 22km

Ascent: 1100m

Descent: 1400m

E-bike? No

Uplift? Partial

Descent

Rideable: 100%

Ascent

Pedal: 15%

Push: 85%

Carry: 2%

The Trail

You’ve probably seen photos of this one magazines and thought to yourself “holy shit, I need to find that trail”. Well now you’ve found it. It’s a hell of a day out with a few variations which can significantly alter the amount of climbing and technicality of the descent. As part of the Tour du Mont Blanc hiking route, it’s a popular area, so it’s best to avoid the peak holiday period in August, and weekends, if you can.

The Ascent

Starting from the parking area, head for the buildings marked ‘Arnuova Desot’ on the map (don’t cross the river). After a steep climb initially, the trail flattens out with a few ups, downs, and a mixture of pedaling and pushing. There’s a short, sustained descent down to, and just below the Walter Bonatti refuge. After the refuge, be sure to hold left to avoid the trail which heads back down towards Lavachey on the valley floor. The trail swings around into the next valley and mostly pushing, with a bit of pedaling here and there, will get you up to the Col Sapin without too much fuss. The last section is a bit of a slog – steep, sand dune like terrain – but it’s relatively short. And anyway, as you reach the summit and see that ribbon of singletrack winding down the ridge, the staggering Mont Blanc Massif set behind it, you’ll almost certainly piss your pants with excitement and forget all about the climb.

The Descent

Dry underwear fitted, the direction of the descent couldn’t be more obvious. The top section of trail is generally fast and flowy with a couple of short climbs, and a couple of couple of rocky steps which are rideable but awkward. A short steeper section with a couple of awkward corners and a loose, sandy surface get you to the Refuge Bertone! Below the refuge, the intensity really picks up! 500m vertical of continuous rocky terrain, physical and technical, but it rides brilliantly. If you’re a good rider, and confident in that type of terrain, you’ll have an absolute blast. If not, check out the variants below. When the rocks end, you’ll probably want to check everything is still attached – man and machine – and then head on down the 4×4 track. Look out for the trail on the right, which has a short sharp climb and then levels out into some marked locals trails. There are several to chose from (‘Fuck the COVID’ is a personal favourite), all taking you down into Courmayeur for victorious Italian delights.

Variations

Refuge Bertone -> Val Ferret – You can avoid the technical descent into Courmayeur by taking the trail on the right just above the Refuge Bertone, taking you back into Val Ferret via Lechey Damon and Lechey Desot. It’s a great traversing singletrack with little technicality, with the exception of a narrow section and some switchbacks.

Lavachey start – You can take a more direct route which avoids the traversing trail before the Refuge Walter Bonatti by parking just after Lavachey and taking the trail directly under the Refuge Walter Bonatti. This should save some time, but honestly, the traverse is absolutely beautiful, and totally worth it.

Courmayeur start – if you have an e-bike, or only one car, then you easily pedal the entire loop and park in Courmayeur or Val Ferret. Climbing out of Courmayeur, it’s best to follow the Strada Larzey Entreves towards La Palud, then off up Val Ferret. It’s pretty steep initially but the scenery makes up for it.  This will add +500m vertical.

Map

Photos

Video

Useful Info

Beer & ice cream: Creme Chocolate Gelateria, Courmayeur
Parking: Val Ferret (free)
Map: Monte Bianco-Courmayeur-Chamonix-La Thuile (Fraternali Editore)