Col de Joux Plane
The forgotten climb
The Col de Joux Plane is an often forgotten mountain pass that links the villages of Samoens and Morzine. Known as one of the tougher climbs on the Tour de France, long and sinuous with a summit of 1700m, it has been featured in no fewer than 12 tours.
Starting in Samoens, a small village near the end of the Giffre valley — the start of the col road is lost in a maze of minor village roads. The D354, to give it its official number, runs across the top of the village and there are multiple ways to get on it. From the centre, a sign points to 'Col d Joux Plane 12km' which takes you in the right direction, if not the most scenic.
A less-than-salubrious start takes you through a series of anonymous communes on a steady climb on often narrow roads. As the chalets thin, you may notice the markers counting down the distance to the summit - found in the middle of the wide hairpins common on these lower slopes.
The road is narrow, often a single carriageway and surrounded by pastures and the odd farm building. Dogs bark somewhere in the distance fields and cows graze roadside. As we pass a sign marking the need for snow chains in winter, pastures are replaced by steep forest and the road starts to climb in earnest.
Pausing at one of the few cliffside hairpins reveals another facet of the Col. A short, steep hike upwards on a precipitous edge brings us to a wooden structure that leads out to an abyss. In normal life, a sheer drop to the valley floor of nearly 2000m would mandate a sturdy fence and a few warning signs but here a ramp down and out into the clean air just sits at the side of the trail. Designed for parascenders to leap into the void, these are not uncommon in the French Alps. The view of the Giffre valley is outstanding but jumping from here requires some balls, even with a chute. The trail leads to the viewpoint at La Bourgeoise at 1770m. Trails lead back down to Samoens on foot or bike, with a wide variety of surfaces and views. At one point you even go past someone's back garden with a swimming pool and sunbathers, very odd whilst on a mountain bike. Bourgeoisie indeed.
From here up you leave the tree line back to open pastures and eventually the Joux Plane lake and summit. It's a nice spot to stop and enjoy the views over both valleys and stroll around the lake.
The plateau extends to allow us to switch valleys as we enter the Portes du Soleil ski and bike area. We are at Col du Ranfolly and the chairlifts at the top of the Les Gets ski and bike park either stand abandoned in spring and autumn or are busy with bikes in the summer. A brief stop to watch the bikes take on the large gap jump and switchbacks that sit just below the road, and then the descent begins.
You now enter the forest and picnic areas appear at the sides of the road. Crossing the road a couple of times are chairlifts or 'Télésièges', demonstrating the closure of the col come winter. The descent is 12km, approximately the same as the ascent and similar in many ways. The views this time are of the mountains of Nyon and Avoriaz in the distance. There are no cliffs this side of the col and as we descend the final quarter it's ski developments, not farms that side the road.
The D354 becomes the 'Route des Nants' as we enter Morzine. Similar to the start, the end comes on a minor road on the outskirts, at a roundabout marked 'Samoens' and 'Col de Joux Plane. Morzine is a busy little village in high season with plenty of facilities and a hub to the Portes du Soleil area.
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