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Thursday, 1 December 2016

Not quite the end of the Alpine season

Snow in the Lake District of England got me ready for winter in France, but then...


 Me, and the Beaufort Bitches enjoyed a great weekend up in the lakes with the our brothers up there.  It really is like a mini alps up there.  Some mega tech trails and some great fast flow accompanied with top notch banter and a poorly executed, but highly amusing Kendal Mountain Film Festival Bike Night 2016.

BUT THEN I returned to Chamoinx, the good snow had all but gone and the trail riding conditions were, and still are, top notch.  There is still snow out there for the keen, i.e those willing to hike in trainers with all their ski gear on their backs, or those wishing to drive a long way into Aosta Valley.
Thanks to www.lornecameron.com

Local conditions in the Haute Savoie and neighbouring Valais have been top notch below 1800 metres.  This means there is still a good few options, and with winter driving work not having kicked in to full time, lots of time to ride, keep fit and wait for the impending arrival of winter. Lorne of the ski blogging world is still riding even. A recent visit to Dorenaz staying below the snow line resulted in easy access to a steep technical trail followed by a 1000 metre flow-tastic descent all the way down to the valley floor.  Skiers are out their searching. Winter is long once it arrives properly.  I'm going to keep biking for now and not telling lie's on social media about great powder snow.  In Valais the good trails are easy to link together and this guarantee's a rewarding, low stress day in the outdoors. TIP TOP! MEGA BON!





Wednesday, 23 November 2016

End of the alpine season

A bivouac trip, a Valais loam fest and a Loriaz descent in one go...

During my last week in the Chamonix valley the weather was really good, so between airport runs I ticked off some really fast and dry trail rides.

Starting with an overnight mission to a Bivouac hut on a remote old farm in the Passy Parc Regional on the boarder of the Aiguilles Rouges.  It felt so far from civilisation, despite the chaos of Chamonix being just one valley away.  The most incredible part of the trip, bar Ben nailing some mega tech sections, was the location of the farm being where the sun first hits the valley in the morning.







I had been wanting to re-visit this descent for a long time and never quite got round to it.  With a new and keen riding buddy we got even higher than before for some extremely steep footpath riding before hitting the loamiest descent in the area.  A trail only ridden by highly skilled Martigny riders, and us...  The lines are superb.  One of the most grin inducing trails of the year!



We only had the afternoon due to work commitments, but Loriaz has to be ridden at the end of every season (like the start of every season).  With light running out we made good time up the climb.  I took some photo's at the top and the boys disappeared.  I chased them down as they slowed at a junction to allow me to catch, and boom, Rich engaged his turbo.  We briefly (10 seconds? 20 max?stopped where there was a viewpoint before Rich was off again all the way to the bottom, shouting and hollering the whole way down.

"If that was my last descent of the season that was an amazing in-one descent to finish on"  I said to the boys as we caught our breath, shared tales of near misses, amazing line choices and stretched out our braking fingers.


Bye Bye to Alps for 2016 (?)

Friday, 21 October 2016

2000 rewards closer to home

"My Swiss friends are riding in the dry today", said Mael as we stood outside a cafe in Chamonix underneath his umbrella.


 A plan was made in my head. Let's use the Dorenaz lift to gain some height and hopefully find the driest trails in the area.  Aosta Valley was full of snow, and the Haute Savoie was soaked through.

3 hours after leaving the carpark we made it to the top of our climb, 100 metres or so above Col du Demecre.  However there was snow.  Maybe there had been some preciptiation in Valais after all?

The snow needed some serious care due to the exposure of the slope that the trail traversed across.  Luckily it was that grippy type of snow and below you could see glorious Swiss high alpine singletrack disappearing off into the larch tree's and joining the trail me, Bas & Jarno had done in spring.  The one with a horrendous scree field down climb section that rendered the entrance to the descent pointless. New entrance found:



Lower down the grass was damp which led to some creative line taking but it really wasn't that muddy, just on the greasy side.  We were soon on the trail I had done with the Dutchies and then across to a trail I had done with another Dutchy in August.  In here we found lots of grip and corners begging for loose back wheel action.  There are lots of fire road crossings which create great stopping points for re-grouping and talking about the speed, and the life or death moments that just took place.

2000 metres later, after about an hour of descending we made it to the village just down the road from Dorenaz.  A short, flat pedal back to the car was the perfect wind down after a huge classically Valaisian descent. TIP TOP as they say!

Why did I bother going south last week?  oh yeah, the snow and because I thought the there were better trails away from home.

Monday, 17 October 2016

Southern Road trip Autumn 2016

Ups and downs...of trail snobbery




Meeting Wouter at Nice airport was always going to cause issues.  First off it's a long way from Chamonix, even going through Italy fuelled by cappuccino's, and secondly, Rob's van was already had three bikes and us two people.  Somehow we managed and when Jamie arrived the following day we made as much use of his rental Fiat 500C as possible.

Sospel. Home of Trans Provence.  When you drive into town and see the head of the Enduro World Series pulling up to a bar after a days riding you feel like you've hit gold already.

With high hopes we set off the following morning up a long fire-road, Bever Rally came down with their shuttle vehicle.  Wow, what have we got instore up here?  VTT internet site has loads of routes on this hillside, as does Trailforks, this should be Provence gold.

I excitedly dropped in first, when was this trail last ridden?  There's old enduro lines, but now it's full of debris.  And that's how it continued for a day and half, bar the 400 metre brake less flow trail late one afternoon that delighted all of us till we got spiked to death by Mediterranean plants at the bottom.

Ok, it was time to try something different. We saw the Trans Provence minibus heading up another hillside.  There's a trail on Trailforks called Ze Holy Trail.  Time to try it and see if it's seen more traffic.  It certainly had and we found the trail of the area!  The top required inch perfect precision between the rocks and steep chutes.  Lower down the brakes were let go of as you could really trust the traction and braking distances.   Smiles all round, about time.


Sospel. Home of Trans Provence, a guiding company.  Pay and you shall be shown the trail's in conditions, pay and you shall be driven an hour around the corner and picked up afterwards. I intend to be back, better planned and vehicle equipped to try find more goodness like Sven Martin always takes photo's of.

The weather was constantly changing it's mind.  Dolceacqua? Molini? Mention? Finally we settled on Finale Ligure in the hope of getting further enough east to beat the storms.

Classic Finale, we arrived to a bustling campsite, in mid October, and then went out to eat and drink like kings for €25 each! Things were looking up.

The following day we set off on a big pedal for the Rollercoaster trail. I've never ridden a trail outside of the bike park full of braking bumps, constant braking bumps.  We tried down the steeper side and found a real gem, the second best of the whole trip, which was mega flowy.  What Finale does well, is utilise the terrain to be fun.




Our second day was very much like the first.  Some good trails away from the main horrendously beaten up lines, followed by frustration.  Bar and aperitivi in the afternoon reminded us, the trail snobs, of how lucky we are.

France Meteo was warning of Orange Vigilance (their 2nd highest) for the impending days of stormy weather so we packed up and called it quits.

We found some goods, but we learnt some lessons too.  The main being, we are massive trail snobs!

Crossing back from Italy into France through the Mont Blanc tunnel we left Aosta Valley with snow down to the valley floor.  Winter is coming, biking time is running out for 2016.


Sunday, 16 October 2016

Le Mole & Dirt Magazine trail in one day

Shuttle crew day


The day started early with 2.C temperatures, Autumn is here then?

With the trailer loaded we set off on the 1 hour drive half way up Le Mole hoping we would break out of the clouds.  No luck, 5.C and 50 metre visibility greated us at the carpark.

We set off, cold legged, and with mixed feelings about what was ahead.  Luckily after the first big effort we broke out and the views alone were worth the struggle!


It wasn't cold at the top, we even broke into a sweat on the way up and the views were still majestic in every direction, 360 degree's.  Coming up we could feel how dry and hard packed the descent would be.  We were all excited, and after a few photo's by Humpo, warp speed was engaged.  The noise of tyres scrabbling for grip as you come into a corner is both scary and magically energising.




As we hit the tree line, we also entered the mist level and it got dark and slippery.  Those of dressed in black to look " enduro " and cool disappeared.  At one point even a right corner disappeared, but luckily to mine and Humpo's luck there was a safe run out. Lower down the grip came back, as did the higher speeds in the dark loamy forest.  Positions changed down the descent as somebody over shot one corner, and several well worn cut corner's were be spotted, and taken by the second place rider.  The final part is sooooo fast and smooth we were giggling by the bottom!

Me and Wayne from Chamvan went back up to retrieve the van whilst the others went round to the supermarket to make monstrous lunch time baguettes before lap two;

Dirt Magazine ridgeline.  A bit shorter, at only 1000 metres descent and boy does it go fast due to sustained steepness.  Savoie flow-tech, made better by being able to drive almost to the top of it through les Brasses ski area.

On reaching the top we were just out of the clouds, le Mole was looking majestic, and very high.  Great to be looking back at it after descending 1500 metres off it!


And bam! Hold on tight!  The first bit is steep, really, now don't let go of those brakes because you think you've made it onto the smooth line...there are two big compressions near the bottom of the chute...  After that go for it, hold on tight, but look as far ahead as possible to enjoy the flow tech challenge.

MANY THANKS to CHAMVAN for uplifting us.

Tuesday, 4 October 2016

Somewhere you shouldn't ride, and somewhere you think you shouldn't ride...

French travels afar and much much closer to home

I was in Corsica last week for a holiday.  A holiday, but you live where you want to holiday?  A friend had been guiding there for the whole of September so I went out to join him for a client free few days of island warmth.




I flew into Ajaccio at 0730, my friend was on his last day guiding, so I took a walk from the beachside town up into the mountains.  Think of Finale, just with a bit more French, so good bread to make lunch from & a warmer sea to swim in(though there is an ever real Italian influence all over Corse).

We did one of the best canyon's on the island.  And the jumps and abseils into gorge lined pools was great fun. A new sport to add to the list of gear purchases.

After another night eating great local food and chestnut flavoured beer we set out on a pretty big hike. 1500m vertical with a lot of scrambling.  We hardly stopped all day and we just beat the guide book time of 7 hours.  Two fit guides!  Those Corsicans are bloody mental and fast. 

The terrain everywhere is really tough.  There probably is some good biking somewhere on the island, but I wouldn't bother taking the mountain bike without being really sure.  Sturdy hiking boots, canyoning gear and swimming shorts!

Meanwhile back in Haute Savoie...after ticking of some classic rides with mr Humpage and using the last lifts in le Tour we started to explore a little.

I had an idea for a trail I'd walked which I felt would be fun to ride.  So me, and two Frenchies left a car in the beautifu l (!)Sallanches Carrefour supermarche carpark and drove the second half way up the hillside towards the Aravis mountain range. 

"We can go past this chalet that I went to a wedding at", Mael said. Cool, coffee, and a rest after the very steep, but efficient 4x4 track climb up 550metres.  What a place!  Classic Savoyard farm/refuge with stunning views back over les Houches and the Mont Blanc Massif.

AND THE DESCENT, MEGA BON!  Gentle fun and fast at the top, rooty in the middle, and then narrow singletrack to the valley floor.  We finished riding back to the ugly supermarket, a place I never thought would be the finish of a fantastic trail.  Savoie Surprises are still out there to be found...

Tuesday, 20 September 2016

"Enduro was made for you"

Riding with mates old and new


On the afternoon I returned to Chamonix from my final trip guiding the Tour du Mont Blanc I met with an old friend from my Cardiff Uni days.  He's visited me a few times over the years in various styles.  And this trip for Dave was no different.  As I crossed the Col de Balme on foot in wet conditions with clients, he crossed the Cormet de Roseland and Col des Saisses on his road bike with kit strapped to every free tube on the bike possible.

My mate was planning to cycle from Geneva to Nice, via 2 days in Les Arcs mountain biking, and a day in la Thuile with me and a Chamonix friend, bivi-ing along the way.

The lure of Aosta of course played high on our minds and we made plans to ride an Enduro World Series trail in La Thuile on mountain bikes, before leaving Dave to continue on his road bike towards the Mediterranean via some bloody horrendous Col's.

Road climb with Monte Bianco poking through
We were climbing and talking shit between the 3 of us like we'd all been hanging out throughout the summer.  The road climb was rewarded with finding a bar open for cappuccino's at the Col.

Fueled up Italian style we hit a lovely long gentle off road climb up to the start of the descent.  We paused for a bite of baguette over looking both the Cervinio (Matterhorn in Aostan) and Monte Bianco.  A site rarely enjoyable in the Alps, but of course for an old mate, the views came out!




The worst part about the descent was not the EWS, but the recent 4 day rain storm that had hit the northern Alps.  Too much front brake on the open descent and the front wheel would drift as much as the back. Luckily loose rock turned down into larch forest and classical Aosta flow through the forest back to the carpark.

"Enduro was made for you" Dave said to me.  He's right, even in the old days of South Wales riding, we'd slog up big hills for big descents and big smiles.



And like every descent, time with an old friend was over all too quickly.  We all headed off to different parts of France with big smiles and more tales to tell in years to come...

And introducing the savoyard stem saucisson: