Morzine 3 Peaks Challenge
There are 3 mountain peaks that loom large over the town of Morzine: Pointe de Nantaux, Pointe de Ressachaux and Pointe de Nyon. All 3 mountain summits are over 2000m and involve over 1000m of vertical incline if trekking to the top of each one from the centre of Morzine. Climbing to the top of each peak and back down again can take anywhere between 3 – 8 hours depending on your speed and fitness level. They are tough individual walks with a relentless incline and all of them separately justify a hard day in the mountains.
Combining all 3 in a single day involves a little over 35km of walking and a whopping 3500m of vertical incline. To put this into perspective the UK National 3 Peaks Challenge (climbing the 3 highest peaks in Scotland, Wales and England within 24 hours) involves almost exactly the same number of kms but 500m less vertical incline at a total of a meagre 3000m. For the UK National 3 Peaks Challenge there is also much more time to rest and recuperate over the 24 hours as you travel between each mountain by car. For the Morzine 3 Peaks if you are to complete the challenge in daylight you need to be completing all 3 peaks in no more than around 14 hours depending on the time of year. This allows very little rest time and you should anticipate being on your feet for practically the whole challenge.
The Morzine 3 peaks is a big physical challenge and something that should not be attempted unless you are an inexperienced hiker with a high level of fitness. Although the trails are well marked and there is no technical hiking on any of the route the sheer number of kms and vertical incline makes the Morzine 3 Peaks a very physically demanding challenge. However if you have a good level of fitness and are willing to put in the training then the Morzine 3 Peaks Challenge is a truly memorable experience. It is also an amazing way to explore Morzine and the surrounding area – from each of the summits you will have unparalleled panoramic views into Switzerland and down towards Lake Geneva. All the whole you will have Mont Blanc lurking in the background at 4810m. If you are a guest at a Tasty Ski chalet then we can provide maps for you – both hard copies and mobile Apps. We use the Komoot App which is excellent and we have plotted what we believe to be the quickest route.
So what exactly is the Morzine 3 Peaks Challenge?
There are no official hard and fast rules so we decided to create some unofficial rules ourselves:
- You must start and finish at the clock just outside the Morzine Tourist Office.
- No transport other than your own fair feet can be used between mountains – no cycling between start points of each mountain and no parapenting off the top or each summit!
- Any order is permitted – although we suggest doing Pointe de Nantaux first, followed by Pointe de Ressachaux, then finally Pointe de Nyon.
- In order to successfully complete the challenge you must start after sunrise and be back at the clock before sunset.
What should I bring on the Morzine 3 Peaks Challenge?
You stand a much better change of completing the 3 Peaks Challenge if you bring the correct equipment. Below is our checklist for ‘What to Wear’ and ‘What to Bring’:
What to Wear
- Walking boots – exactly what type depends on personal preference. Trail shoes are closer to trainers and are lightweight. They let you cover the ground quicker but they offer less ankle support. Heavier walking shoes provide more ankle support but are heavier.
- Walking trousers or shorts – think lightweight and breathable.
- Sports top – again lightweight and breathable. Don’t go for cotton as it holds onto moisture and will weigh you down.
- Windproof and waterproof jacket and trousers – obviously if there is no chance of rain then these can be avoided but if you are in any doubt over the rain forecast bring them just in case.
What to Bring
- Map – there are excellent phone Apps available for maps but bring a hard copy as well in case your phone packs in.
- Water – we recommend drinking 1L – 2L per summit. It is possible to refill in Morzine as you pass through after Pointe de Nantaux. There is also a reasonably reliable water fountain half way up Pointe de Ressachaux.
- Snacks – you will burn in excess of 7000 calories during the walks so stock up.
- Gloves and hat – again seasonally dependent
- Mobile phone + portable battery charger (particularly if you are using an online map which will use up more phone battery).
- Spares socks and blister plasters (particularly if rain is forecast).
- First aid kit
- Sunglasses and sunscreen
- Head torch – just in case you are heading back in the dark at the end of the day.
- Walking poles – not essential but they give more stability and take the pressure off your knees.
When is the best time of year to do the Morzine 3 Peaks Challenge?
The earliest you should attempt the 3 Peaks of Morzine is the beginning of June. Before then the summits of Ressahaux, Nantaux and Nyon are likely to have snow on them. Even in June you need to check before fixing a date to go for the challenge. A cold Spring will mean there might be snow on the top of each peak well into summer.
During the main summer season of July and August the weather in Morzine is typically excellent – think long, hot, humid days. However this humidity can often lead to late afternoon thunderstorms with huge amounts of rain packed into a short period of time. Be sure to check the forecast as you need to avoid these thunder and lightning storms. The mountain peaks act as antennae to the lightning and are the most dangerous places to be during a storm. During the summer months you need to be aware that it can get extremely hot with no shade protection near the top of each summit. The unrelenting heat combined with the altitude can lead to heat exhaustion so be careful.
We recommend tackling the 3 Peaks in early Autumn – around the beginning of September is perfect. The days are still quite long to help you avoid finishing the challenge in the dark. It is too early in the year to have a high risk of snowfall (although still possible!) at high altitude and it is also starting to cool down so you are unlikely to experience very high temperatures. However please remember you are in the mountains so most weather is possible at any time!
Although you can choose any route you like we suggest doing Pointe de Nantaux first. It is the furthest away from the Morzine town centre and the bottom of the mountain is about 2km walk from the clock outside the Morzine tourist office. It allows you to warm up your legs on a gentle downhill track for the first couple of kms early in the morning. The subsequent route from the bottom of the top of Nantaux is the toughest so nice to get it out of the way early.
1. Pointe de Nantaux
Begin in the centre of town and head north west taking the track down into the Parc des Dereches forest. You can take the path either side of the river as both lead to the same spot. Arrive into Montriond and then wind your way up briefly past some chalets before arriving at the start point of the Pointe de Nantaux. It is marked ‘KMV’ and from here you begin a relentless straight line all the way to the top. It has the highest degree of incline of all the 3 peaks. This climb is famous in it’s own right with the annual ‘KMV Nantaux’ taking place every August. Somewhat unbelievably the best trail runners in France are able to summit the Pointe de Nantaux in less than 40 minutes. The route is also used as a training run for the Marathons du Mont Blanc which take place in Chamonix each year. These are high altitude trail running competitions with the toughest being the Mont Blanc 90km race which includes over 6000m of vertical climb and is recognised as one of the toughest and most technical trail races in Europe.
About half way through the climb you will emerge through the trees and as you turn round the views back to Morzine are spectacular. As you gain altitude looking back down to your right you will be able to see Lac Montriond a few kms away. There are no trees for the second part of the climb so the views continue to improve but you are also more exposed to the elements. It might get quite windy as you approach the top and if you are summiting on a sunny day be sure to bring sunscreen. From the top of Pointe de Nantaux you will be able to see over the ridge into the valley of St Jeans d’Aulps and towards Lake Geneva. Heading back you follow exactly the same route as you summited before following the same track along the river along a gentle incline back into Morzine. This is the only time you will be back in town so is a chance to refuel and fill up your water bottles.
Lac Montriond to the east half way up Nantaux
The cross at the peak of Pointe de Nantaux
2. Pointe de Ressachaux
At this point you have the choice of doing either Ressachaux or Nyon – the overall route is equidistant regardless of which route you take. We recommend Ressachaux as you will probably have taken a short break in town and the start of Ressachaux is steep and nice to get out of the way! Head east out of the centre of Morzine towards Prodains before turning right where you will begin the steepest section of the climb to the top. It is similar to Nantaux in that the first half of the climb is through the trees before emerging out and turning round to reveal wonderful views of Morzine and the surrounding area. You will also be able to see the top of Pointe de Nantaux which looks quite far away! The main difference is that the second half of Ressachaux is not as relentlessly steep as Nantaux. If you are using an App you will be able to see clearly on the topographical chart that it is less demanding that Nantaux.
On the way down you follow the same route before arriving at the Le C’mon junction at 1528m where you turn left instead of heading back down the way you summited. This new route brings you down into the Vallee de la Manche as you head south west down the mountain towards the start point on Pointe de Nyon. This descent is slightly less steep and more forgiving on your knees. As you arrive at the bottom you cross the road before arriving at the Nyon cable car where there is a small collection of apartment buildings which is busy in winter as it marks the bottom of the Nyon ski area.
The view back down to Morzine from 3/4 the way up Ressachaux
The cross at the peak of Pointe de Ressachaux
3. Pointe de Nyon
Unlike the walk between Pointe de Nantaux and Pointe de Ressachaux there is almost no flat section between Ressachaux and Nyon. You finish one and then almost immediately you begin ascending the other. The good news is that climbing Nyon involves the smallest amount of overall vertical ascent an it is generally less steep apart from the final few hundred metres. This is particularly welcome news as you will now be several hours into your hike. You begin by taking a wide track along what is a ski piste during the winter. When you arrive at the Plateau de Nyon you have 3 choices. The quickest and steepest section to the left, straight to zig zag your way up the ski piste, or to the right where you can enjoy a stop and a drink at one of the restaurant by Lac Nyon Guerin. If you are trying to set a fast time go left, if you want the scenic route turn right.
When you reach the top of Pointe de Nyon enjoy the view – it’s all downhill from here! This summit also offers the best views of Mont Blanc as you are closest to it being at the most southernly point of the 3 peaks. On the way down you can take either one of the 3 routes. The centre route is the least steep however it is a heavy gravel track which makes it difficult to keep your footing. When you reach the bottom of the mountain you turn left for a gently descending stroll back into Morzine along the river. If you have made it this far then congratulations – you have completed the Morzine 3 Peaks Challenge!
Lac Nyon Guerin
The view back down to Morzine from Nyon with Pointe de Nantaux in the background