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Wednesday, 25 May 2016

Bay

Boarder shred fest in the steeps

A bit close for comforts, the story of the day for not just Shane, all of us!
Normaly my posts mention International boarders and the trails that take me between these lines.  Today was slightly different.  Everyone knows that the Swiss Canton of Valais is full of great trails, and until today I thought that it's neighbouring Canton of Vaud was full of bad drivers, Freddie Mercury status (Montreux), vineyards and whole heap of money!

However right on the boarder of Valais/Vaud is Bex.  That's pronounced 'bay' in French, not Becks like Posh n Becks for you vrai Anglais.

It doesn't matter what Canton your in, in Switzerland public transport is top notch, and seeing as this place is near as ski town, the all-day travel card for mountain bikers is not actually too expensive at 28chf (€25). 

A little research revealed a whole host of trails, but luckily Timmy was on hand to guide us today which was really nice for me to not have to think about navigation.  Timmy is Fabian Barel's long lost brother...  When he tell's you to, "open your eyes" on a certain section of trail it means either get off and walk, or hold your breath and hope the berm at the bottom catches you.

First up was the old Maxi Avalanche course from the ski town Villars which was a mix of superb fun singletrack with fireroad climbs.  These ruined the flow of the trail, but for a mass start race like the Maxi Avalanche would be great for testing fitness, allowing overtaking and stretching the field out.


After lunch back at the van, for the second lap off the train we checked out the Gryon trails.  Fast, rooty, flat out corners had us all grinning, but little did we know what was in store.  Remember, it's still early season, most trails haven't seen much traffic yet and are still covered in last autumns leaves.  Also remember that even though it was 25.C, it did rain a few days ago so under the leaves is a slippery layer of mud.

We dropped in to some of the longest sustained chute sections I have ever ridden, with greasy corners with almost non existent catch berms.  Hold your breath and hope as you surf down, weight back, heels almost dragging into the ground trying to get as much grip as possible. Luckily after we all got through this there was some great flowy, old school DH style trail and then the loop back through the vineyard back to the train stop.
AND REPEAT for another lap, fast roots, slip, slide, slip some more and then flow!

Wayne in survival mode in the steep woods

Vaud's not all that bad!

Sunday, 22 May 2016

It was about time

Exploring Aosta for the first time in 2016



Thats kind of a lie, we had a few experimental, yeah, experimental is a good word to describe the ski tour's that took place in Aosta Valley this winter.

It was about time to get back there on two wheels and try out some new trails. Me and Wayne, my boss, didn't have any work so we journey'd over to search for more Aosta goodness.  The first objective of the day was achieved quite easily, cappuccino, at which time we also found our gelato stop for post ride refreshment.

So it began as most Aosta rides seem to with a big climb on a quiet road that slowly makes it's way upwards through tiny hamlets, usually a mix of beautiful alpine houses and run down old sheds. Wayne was telling me how it was a burden to sit in an Aosta Valley Freeride minibus for 45 minutes-a-time when doing shuttle days. Didn't sound too bad to me... Lunch stop one was followed by snack stop 2, 3, 4 and 5 and then after a good few hours lunch stop two arrived, the trail head.

Aosta town was a long long way down in the valley floor and there was a lot of loose spruce needle between us and the car.  It turned out there was a few rocks too, a couple of picturesque hamlets and a lot of grinning.




€2 for two scoops of delicous gelato and we were set for the journey home through the tunnel.



Saturday, 14 May 2016

Meanwhile back in the Haute Savoie

A breakdown of early season riding conditions in the steeps and deeps of the Northern French Alps

Good!
At the beginning of May there was still snow on the Peit Blacon Nord between le Planet and le Tour.
Me and my Chamvan boss Wayne also found above Servoz and Chalet Ayeres that there was too much snow to be able to drop in from the normal trail head.  Once we were on the trail it super dry, leafy and fresh!  You couldn’t carry too much speed into corners as there wasn’t the grip for late braking manoeuvres.
Cutting through the snow




I was then lucky enough to spend the whole weekend riding at Saleve.  On Saturday morning whilst my friend did some extra University studies in Geneva I took the opportunity to check out some new trails.  What I found was deep leaf cover over cruisey trails, but with some nasty climbs out of them.  One might be worth a repeat with some enduro boys as it finishes in Esserts-Saleve...

In the afternoon I took my first ever ride along the top of the Saleve range with my friend for some nice field and track riding with views of both Geneva and Lac Annecy!  We got all the way to the Grand Piton about 10km from the top lift station.  We cruised back and headed into Geneva town for burgers and expensive, but good Swiss beer!

I got a last minute invite to join Andy and some other Cham riders for a ride at Saleve on Sunday.  I’ve ridden many times at Saleve with Andy so I couldn’t say no. Especially as Laura had even more Uni projects to work on.  Geneve Jardins Botanique will have to wait.

All the classic trails were riding really well!  But there has definitely been a big increase in traffic since this time last year.  With this in mind we headed over and up to Petit Saleve to show the boys the fast trails there.   It didn’t disappoint and we zoomed down on great singletrack with huge grins that made the climb well worth it.
Geneva and Lac Leman not hiding unlike the unknown rider on the loaned Canyon...


And finally this week, before work and rain (snow at 2000m!) got in the way I had a big day up to Le Mole with Frenchie Mael, who is super fit from riding with his colleagues from Swiss bike shop Cross Roads.  We zoomed up the road, and then destroyed the awkwardly steep and loose fire road climb to break out above the conifer tree’s.

It was cloudy over the big mountains, but we still broke out into a good sweat on our way to the summit and our cheese/cornichon baguettes.  The Swiss don’t stop for lunch apparently, they just keep going all day on fruit& nuts!

The top of the descent in the open high alpine singletrack was really hard packed which made all the little corners that bit sketchier as you couldn’t push too hard for fear of loosing all grip. Once into the woods the trail swooped its way down for what felt like a long long way.  At many points the trail follows the contours so I would see Mael directly in front of me, but actually there was a cheeky blind corner between me and him.

The trail ends, and I remembered it from last year, on a section that is mighty fast and barely downhill, just pump and follow the undulations ready for big grins at the bottom!
View back into the high mountains



Saleve in background



BONUS MEANWHILE:
Meanwhile back in Herefordshire my parents are out checking the spring conditions on my Dad’s favourite local trails.
Mum getting her drift on 
Blubells as fas as the eye can see

Thursday, 5 May 2016

Lean, mean and green

Southern Roadtripping



I’d just come off the top of Europe, Mont Blanc with a 2000 metre powder skiing descent, but Wouter was still after final plan ideas for meeting him, my Dutch guiding buddy somewhere in Provence.
GAP was of course at the top of the list, being the most northernly town in the Provence Region, and having some very tasty dry and dusty trails! Read here about last years southern trip that put Finale Ligure to shame.


Even though there is more than 6 days worth of riding in the Gapencais, we wanted to taste something else and I’d seen a nice instagram photo from the VTopo Crew riding on this weird “terre noire” (black earth) stuff earlier in the year that looked very inticing.

The first day down south, my first major bike riding day of 2016 and I thought we’d get everyone going on some trails that I knew from previous trips over by the stunning Lac Serre Poncon.  Sitting having lunch in t-shirt and shorts at the end of April was a great feeling for us Northern Europeans.  The feeling after that days descending was an even greater one.

And this, this is how the trip continued for 6 days.  Coffee to begin with on the campsite, big climbs, good chat, lots of bread & cheese and then epic descending in beautiful surroundings.



We were joined halfway through the week by some Chamoniards and we all headed down to Digne Les Bains in search of this terre noire tastiness.
Oh boy what a treat it was for all of us, even the climb in was challenging but fun.


We had lunch just above the first section of terre noire before carrying on down through the forest on sublime singletrack for a couple of hundred metres until we broke out into the bright southern daylight.  We all came to a stop, looked out, looked around at each other, looked out again and then, looking back at each other, broke out in fits of shrieks and laughter.  It looked super special!




It also looked a bit narrow! You had to concentrate along the ridgeline sections to keep your speed into the steep uphill rises and then into the downhill's.  We managed to link together a few great sections of terre noire before finishing on a super fast rollercoaster down into the bottom of a valley.  What a superb area of unique grippy trails!

We wondered, that night, over obscene portions of pasta red sauce, how could this day could be topped.  In fact how could this day be beaten all season?
Luckily down in Digne, the "normal" singletrack trails are equally sensational and the remaining days, as ever, involved huge climbs, into huge amazing, grin inducing trails.
The kind of trails that make beer and ice-cream taste good at 5pm in 20.C temps...




The southern Alps reaped it's early season rewards again.  We scratched the surface on another small part of the Provence Region, there's still so much more to explore!

THANKS TO CANYON Bikes






Tuesday, 15 March 2016

INTERNATIONAL MOUNTAIN LEADER

Accompagnateur en Montagne


After many years of training, I am now a fully qualified International Mountain Leader (IML) which opens up a whole new world of work opportunities. I am now able to lead hiking tours all over the world, but more importantly I have an outdoor qualification that is recognised and highly regarded by the French for hiking and mountain biking.


The final assessment took place in the Pyrennees Orientales where we found great snowshoeing terrain.  We were tested on micro navigation every day during which we had to talk about various environmental subjects.  Animal tracks, tree's, geology, local area geography and other general nuggets of information.  Other area's covered included emergency rope work in snow covered terrain and multi burial avalanche transceiver searches (find and probe 2 units in 8 minutes, I averaged 4 minutes).
Snowshoe assessment in the Pyrenees 2016

Thursday, 5 November 2015

Coming to an end

My bike has gone online to be sold today


Ludlow blur
 Hopefully winter will be hitting the Alps soon, but in the mean time I have been back in the U.K visiting friends and family.

Me and my Dad hit up Mortimer's forest for our classic autumn ride checking out the new trails he's found.  There seem to be more each visit.  A great sign of the building community of trail builders in the boarder Counties.

This past weekend I went to North Wales to visit some past haunts.  Over the last 5 years I had only visited North Wales to complete International Mountain Leader courses, so it was nice to be finally back how it should be, with a mountain bike. However, over those 10 years many of the trails have been exposed to all the finest weather of North Wales, and many, many bike tyres.  Penmachno was basically a solid stream, but a fun roller coaster despite getting soaked in under 2 hours.

After a big meal, plenty of ciders and a sleep in a local Betws-y-Coed bunkhouse we headed across to Llandegla as my mate was taking part in a Halloween night time enduro. The trails are perfect for a good laugh.  Wide, smooth and with features to boost off all over the place.  Unfortunately, as good as the flow was, every descent seemed to have a nasty climb 3/4 the way through in an attempt to make the "descent" longer.  Not the greatest trail centre, but it did the job for my mate, his mates and the night race.

Night time enduro team
On the way back to Herefordshire I stopped off at Eastridge near Shrewsbury for a bit of a challenge.  There's trails all over the place if you know your way. I don't, so I stuck with the marked red and had a blast.  Slippery roots a plenty and even some quite steep descents for such a small hillside.  The local's are really spoilt in this area!
Wonderful Shropshire morning light, but mud tan inducing trail conditions

Now my bike is online, hopefully the snow will arrive and I won't need anything till next spring, it's been a superbly "epic" riding season showing that there are many good trails close to home in Savoie & nearby boarding countries, but it's also given me a taste for southern exploration!
CHEERS!

Thursday, 22 October 2015

How to retrieve a car, the Chamonix way

My car was left at somebody else's house a few hours drive away.

I could have gotten somebody to drive me around to collect my car that had been left near Aime in the neighbouring department of Savoie. I even had the idea to borrow a road bike and finally do the huge climb out of Beaufort and over the Cormet de Roseland.

Instead the Tom's joined for a two day Oli-venture across the mountains.  There was hope for great singletrack, and I did warn them about some height gain.  It's just a shame many of the vertical metres gained where whilst pushing our bikes.
Near the Col du Bonhomme looking into the Beaufortain
We left Notre dame de la Gorge and pedalled for about 1 kilometre before the first section of pushing began.  And so it carried on for about 5 hours, ride, push, hike a bike, ride a little more and push even more.  Luckily we were fresh, the banter crude and the views in every direction were beautiful.  The views and sunset really made up for it all!

Arriving just before dark at the Refuge du Col de la Croix du Bonhomme we tucked into our freeze dried tartiflette. It's out of season now so there is no guardian to look after you. Freeze dried meals are an expensive but very efficient way to eat.  We had packed as light as possible for this trip. For me: 1 set of riding clothes (long sleeve light weight merino jersey, 3/4 lycra tights, baggy shorts, mid weight waterproof jacket, 1 pair of gloves, 2 pairs of socks plus a mirco down jacket) a sleeping bag liner, food, pocket rocket stove and a light weight saucepan.  By arriving late we'd missed the opportunity to grab the 6 beds right by the wood burning stove so were up in the cold winter room dorm. Luckily there were only 2 other people in the dorm so the three of us had about 5 blankets each.
Uno before bed in the Refuge
We awoke to glorious views and clear skies.  We left on downhill singletrack right out of the refuge door.  What better way to start your day! It was soon time to climb a little to get onto the wonderful ridgeline descent.  It was stunning and great to ride, even if the north side was slightly frozen.  We descended for around 600 metres on fun singletrack with the odd bit of farm track to cross over.
Leaving the refuge in the morning sun
Sublime!
Next the big climb. To begin we were on road and span up chatting together, then fire-road where we continued to chat.  We reached the start of the footpath, and started pushing, silence took over. About 4 hours later after lunch, caffeine energy gels we'd crossed the boulder field and reached the snowy col.  The boys were tired.  I was on the edge of getting cold. The views were still stunning as we looked over the Pierra Menta from an angle I'd not seen before.  After what we'd carried our bikes up I was nervous for the descent on the other side. Luckily it was great!

The best part, was passing a stunning new refuge that needs to be re-visited in both winter and summer. By now it was around 16:00, the rain had begun to arrive, mr G was exhausted but we were all in high spirits.  From here it was 2000 metres down to the valley floor!!!  The main chunk of the descent was on a trail that was true Beaufortain flow-tech.  Keep your momentum, drop in and hold on!

As the rain got harder the singletrack ended, the option of another push to link up lots more singletrack was skipped due to various factors.  A sensible option.  We zoomed down a fire road which normally would be boring, but on this adventure ride where the riding is not the main priority we still had fun.  From here on we got soaked through and took a mixture of tracks, wide single tracks, and roads to get down to Aime and my car.
Struggling up the boulder field, note the fog behind
Loose descent, note how grey the sky now is

Steep and deep
We arrived at my car just before dark, cold and wet to the bone after a true epic.  Bikes loaded, McDonalds eaten (!) and 2 hours drive later we were all home.
Now that's the Chamonix way to retrieve a car!

Facts and figures:
Day 1: 11km, 1200m up.
Day 2: 33km, 880m up, 2600m down.

Km's of uphill pedalled: about 4km
Biggest section of descent: 2000m!
Games of UNO played: 1 extra long game. We forgot all the rules.
Humpage's alarm waking people up in another part of the refuge: Once, at 11pm, when they'd gone to bed at 8:30!
Car's retrieved: 1
Oli-venture: tick