Thursday, 25 June 2015

The ultimate lift, Spring 2015

I have talked before about the beauty and technicality of the area surrounding the Telepherique du Brevent.  It’s somewhere not many mountain bikers venture, like the North face steep skiing lines off the Aiguille du Midi lift, it’s for the high calibre adventurist only.

So off four of us set!

The previous day we’d blasted around the best of le Tour/Switzerland/le Buet area in a mad frenzy trying to tick off the best on offer.  We didn’t ride everything, but we sure had fun, and could have gone back there for Sunday, but no, instead we headed high above Chamonix Town in search of tech rock rides, hike-a-bike and a huge descent into Servoz.  Overall we did 1900 metres of descending. Along the way we bumped into a Scottish hooligan, and linked into our classic Flatiere trails for high speed shredding and mate chasing shenangians.

At the end of the afternoon we drank beer’s and ate French snacks before heading back from Servoz on the train ready for the big Fete de la Musique party in Cham town.  A huge day out with a great crew, a huge evening out partying.  This equals a perfect Chamonix style days!

This is what happens when the pro photog' rides and the guide takes a close-up photo= bike in the background 

Monday, 15 June 2015

Brenta Dolomiti, Trentino, Italy

Holidaying with the parents & surviving one of the gnarliest World Cup downhill tracks

Before I get busy with work for the summer months I was able to sneak off to Italy with my CUBE and a Giant rental bike (Thanks Legend CHX).   The plan was to hike in the foothills of the big Dolomitic rock faces, take in some bike rides and of course sample Italy's legendary food, coffee, beer and sparkling wine.
At one refuge they were still installing the coffee machine which was being moved around in a wheelbarrow
For the main part of this holiday we stayed at the amazing Pra de la Casa B&B, near the ski resort of Madonna di Campiglio. It didn't matter that the resort was dead and had no restaurants open as we were well fed for breakfast, tea, and dinner at the B&B.

We found some great gems to ride just behind the B&B, but already the Italian map was proving a bit of a nightmare. Paths missing, accuracy off in places, yet bang on in others.

Superb walking terrain
Looking for a gap in the clouds we managed a great walk with 2 hours 20 minutes of ascent to the base of the tallest rock faces in the 42km long range of Dolomite rocks. Ascending first up through larch and rhododenron forests, into the chaotic rock fields and limestone pavements and then down through stunning dwarf pine forests.  The walk had a bit of everything, including huge waterfalls near the end.

The following day I drove my car up towards the top of one of ski resorts.  Me and Dad unloaded the bikes and carried on up further whilst super shuttle Mum drove back down (a bit like with Stevie Smith's Seasons segment).  The views were great at top lift station (2100m) as we spied part of our descent in the distance, and the town of Pinhole (700m) low down in the haze.  My Dad (63) got down the whole thing, he walked some sections, but he knew when too be safe to get down all 1400m of trail.  There were some great sections, but also some average sections.  Overall great fun to rack up a huge alpine descent with my Dad, just not quite the continuous high quality of other area's of the Alps I've ridden.
Water and view stop
Rhodo' singletrack
Lean green
Meadow descending nearing the bottom
Meeting point church
Shuttle roles reversed, Mum out on a cruise!

It was time to head on towards Lake Como for the second part of the holiday, but not without taking advantage of crossing a mountain pass and the realisation that one of the toughest UCI Downhill World Cup tracks was on the way.

After more helpful Mum shuttling we traversed our way across super tech, and not particularly flowing singletrack before getting rewarded with some good loamy trails interspersed with fire-road's and Italian map interpretation.

Could be British Columbia

And then it was time, a XC helmet, "enduro" bike, knee pads & a backpack, VAL DI SOLE WORLD CUP TRACK... i rode it like this . It was intense and full on, the bike was great on the constant barrage of mid sized drops and committing chutes. I nearly crashed on the last jump of all places...
Shaking at the bottom of the track this is all I got. Sam Hills corner just left of chairlift pylon.

Lunch in the sun, driving, changing mountainous views, gelato, macchiato's, a few hours of sunshine at Lake Como, lots more great Italian food, beer and hospitality and it was time to head back to Chamonix.  Many many thanks to my parents!

Monday, 25 May 2015

My new favourite place- Part 3

It is possible to beat what you thought was a world class trail when in Gap

Read Part 1 and Part 2.

I woke after a warm nights sleep.  The wind had died down too as I ate my breakfast and took my time to pack everything away.  I was in no rush today.  It was very mild even at 8am & the scenery was stunning.

View under the road bridge near my campspot
From my research I decided to bolt on an extra descent onto a circular loop ride near where I had ridden yesterday.  The climb would be long, beginning on a very minor backroad, and then slogging up a fire road. Over 2 hours later I was nearing the top.

The first part of the descent felt familiar, like Saleve or Servoz. Within beech and pine tree terrain, roots, switchbacks, fast and fun. Again, part way down I stopped to take in the views when it cleared momentarily. Lower down things opened a little and began to feel like the southern alps should.  Dry dusty ribbons of singletrack through pines and spiky bushes.  And then really open terrain, rocky, baron and dry. Grippy and a fun.  It was never to steep and just seemed to keep going and going.  It clearly see's a reasonable amount bike traffic through the season, but not too much to cause braking bumps, a few cut corners that had been covered with tree branches, but otherwise perfect biker singletrack.

At the bottom I couldn't quite believe it, the trail had made yesterdays look average!

A little contouring climb around and then this red shale rock trail came into view on this steep hillside.  The top switchbacks even I walked. As the trail got lower they got better and better, and then more flowy high speed goodness to finish! A mini bonus descent.

Can you see the trail?

The circuit continued up, away from the lake side through another tiny peaceful hamlet.  Oh yeah, I forget to mention. Besides one old dude in a van near the top of the first climb, I hadn't seen anyone all day. 

The last descent I dropped into was actually quite disappointing, it had seen some forestry action so was quite wide up high, lower down it got a bit better, but the trail was strewn with large pebbles.  You can't everything though can you? And it gave me more inspiration to explore this area to try find more gems...

I will be back with friends and in the future hopefully guiding groups. Finale Ligure might have it's seaside, coffee and cheap pizza along with world class trails, but here the trails and views are just as good!

Sunday, 24 May 2015

My new favourite place- Part 2

Desperation is rewarded

I didn't sleep all that well.  The constant wind on the tent and rain storms throughout the night meant the temperature was pretty close to zero.  My old sleeping bag was not good enough, even with a down jacket on. Meteo France was predicting gusts upto 80kms on summits, I was half way up the hillside.

I woke, packed up and followed the winding road in search of the main road, coffee, croissants and phone signal.  I got into Crest and found a patisserie to, again do some online weather searching.  I'd seen a sign for GAP, along with Marseille. The latter being to far to drive for my 3 day trip.  However Gap seemed to be having better weather.  Today it would still be windy, but less grey than around the Vercors Massif.  The drive would be close to 3 hours, and I deliberately chose some back roads to try and take in some scenic roads and minor valleys.  The drive was great, but only a warm up for what was to come.

As I got close to Gap, the skies began to clear & temperatures rose.  I hadn't had a chance to research Gap trails so I looked for a McDonalds where I could get my laptop out and search a favourite VTT tracking website.  It was hot when I got out of the car, that summer heat when you arrive somewhere for 'summer holidays'. Good trails found near a cool looking lake. Sweet, time to go again!

Gap, is just south of the Ecrins mountain range. Famed for ski touring & hiking, and to the south the mountains extend to the seaside of the Provence region. Somewhere associated with a 'Nice' climate.  Maybe this is the town to find a good outdoor shop and buy a new sleeping bag? I did, my bank account is lighter, and my new (down) sleeping bag is also lighter than the old.

I parked in a tiny hamlet and began my 1000m climb to a ridgeline trail.  The summit pylon almost constantly in view with the gently sloping ridge giving me inspiration to get up & see what the descent had to offer.
Ridge line left to right
Rock outcrops and spines
Summit view was special
The views alone were worth the 10km road spin up (note for next time- it can be shuttled with a van), and the descent was amazing.  Loose rouge shale rock that somehow just had enough grip. Fast open, into the tree's for a 100m's or so, then back into the open. I did stop to take in the view on the way down. Lake to the left, rich highly irrigated agricultural land to the right. Beautiful red coloured shale singletrack directly in front!

Arriving back to the car, I was ecstatic.  A trail up there with the very best in Europe I thought.  Shame I didn't have anyone to share it with.  But having journey-ed a long way that day doing exactly as I wanted there was some advantage to this solo road trip.

Being on my own, I had nothing better to do than drive around Lac Serre Poncon and look for a superb camp spot, eat like a champion and test out my new sleeping bag...

My new favourite place- Part 1


After a 9 days of riding in a row I was still up for more.  Tired legs, an increased appetite, and still with a hunger for more descending.

However Chamonix weather wasn't playing ball.  I had no work, it's quiet time at the moment, but I also had nobody available to join me for adventure's. Solo it was to be.  I sat in my apartment and looked where I could go to find good weather.  First option, Finale.  Stormy down on the coast.  Inland around Switzerland, also stormy.  The closest weather window appeared to be just below Grenoble, and westwards.

Heading around Grenoble the skies where still grey, the wind was still blowing, but the temperature was creeping up.  I turned off the motorway, and headed left (west).
I'd planned to spend the next couple of days around Die and Crest in the southern Vercors pre-alpine Massif.  As I lost mobile phone signal and the central line markings on the road you could feel the change from the Haute Savoie to the Mediterranean. Clay roofs replaced wooden.

I arrived at the Col de la Croix (745m) with the Bec Pointu (1342m) insight as my mission for the afternoon.  Being in the middle of nowhere, there was parking space for maybe 3 cars at the col, luckily I was the only one.  The wind was still blowing when I reached the summit after hike-a-biking the majority of the trail. Ready for a fun loose gravely descent!

Just down the road from the col I'd seen a quiet little track I could sneak down with my car to set up a camp spot. It was chilly, and I was as far out the ever blowing wind as possible. I climbed into my sleeping bag...

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Les Carroz

So close, yet so new to me.  Note to self, must go back!

Maxime was on hand to guide a small fast group of us around just below the recent new snowfall line in this lesser known Haute Savoie ski station.
There seems to be more exploring to do to link up some descents.  The bottom descent from straight out of les Carroz village started with fast drifty corners that got several of our group carried away well off line.  Then into an exposed traverse which leads into super tight and steep committing switchbacks.  You need your brakes here!  Lower down it speeds up in the gorge as you cross metal bridges from side to side of the steep rocky walled trail.  It ends up spitting you out at the bottom of Magland, in the Arve Valley near to where the base jumpers and wingsuiters land!
People jump off here with wing suits 

Riding home from MBC to les Bosons
The following day I dragged the boys up to Loriaz and zoomed back down, we shuttled Merlet twice and then got the jeep up to the top of Prarion for a lap down to le Fayet.  About 3000metres of descending!

Tuesday, 12 May 2015

The trail with everything


Are you looking for a good work out on the way up?
Are you looking for awesome views of the Mont Blanc Massif?
Are you looking for alpine singletrack?
Are you looking for tight switchback after switchback?
Are you looking for fast loamy traversing sections?
Are you looking for that trail that begs you to go faster, and then throws up a challenge?

An hour and a half up and lucky Tom, he was treated to another Oli special baguette filling.  Pork in cider sauce.  I hadn't been up in a year when I showed my new friend Gloria the way.  She's since disappeared back to America to write for Bicycling Mag but keeps threatening a return with a nice full suspension Juliana bike (womans version of a santa cruz).

The descent rewarded with every kind of trail and even finishes right in the middle of a picturesque hamlet near Vallorcine.