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!

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
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

Tuesday, 13 October 2015

The road trip that made Finale Ligure seem average

I have been truly spoilt recently with trails and company.  As an all round package, Finale is great; sea, coffee, food, singletrack, beer and gelato.  We just found a package that was even better.

Leaving Les Arc for Embrun we decided after 3/4 of the journey to check out a tasty looking footpath up above Briancon, just to break the journey up you know?  It turned out to be an absolute banger of flow. Me and Ali were chuckling all the way down. Basically things carried on like this for a the whole week, look for a nice footpath on the map and go ride an amazing singletrack trail.

We started our road trip proper around Lac Serre Poncon.  You can read about my first visit earlier this May here and here2.  Since my last visit I'd been itching to get back and show people.  Unsurprisingly everyone loved what I had found.  THAT SOUTH FEELING!

I've never had a col (mountain pass) named after me, but I now have Col de Oli.  Part way through the summer professional mountain biker photographer, Sven Martin posted an inconspicuous photo on his Instagram of a Col on the French/Italian boarder. He claimed it was one of the best trails he'd ever ridden, big words from a man who travels the world biking. Within about 15 minutes of research I was able to find the said col, and the potential descents.  The problem was, this area is full of great looking trail's in every direction.  Time to measure distance and contours...

We drove for nearly 2 hours, drop vehicles in the right places, drink some coffee and head up this narrow road towards the Italian boarder.  Every kilometre of the drive has been stunning.  Everyone is happy, and the bikes are still on the 4x4.  What is this trail going to bring I thought.  Some of the group claimed it to be the trail of the trip despite the short breathless push to the nearly 3000 metre starting point.  High alpine singletrack indeed, super fast up top, super tech section's in the middle interspersed with dusty larch forest singletrack and a rock gaden to finish.  A 9km trail with a bit of everything.  And the views?  Oh the views were beautiful!


Next up was the Mercantour area where there will be an EWS next year.  I'd found some routes online from the Portes de Mercantour Enduro that clearly needed to be ridden, including the infamous grey earth. Another member of the group knew a descent from the Trans Provence.  On top of all this me and Ali had been pouring over the map looking for more nice footpaths.

We nearly got shut down at the top of the Col passing into the Mercantour region, a light dusting of snow, we still unloaded the bikes and rode an amazing singletrack.

We didn't have many trails that turned out to be that bad.  There was one though that still confuses us.  Nice climb and traverse.  First section, amazing bench cut trail, like a UK trail centre.  A little bit more in the tree's and we break out in another amazing bench cut section.  We repeated this cycle several times till we lost the footpath in a field full of cattle tracks that all looked slightly like they could be the actual footpath. We "free-rided" our way down to the road and the next trail on the adventure.

It was my turn to shuttle as we headed towards the Grey Earth trail made famous by the Trans Provence enduro race.  I was disappointed to be on driving duty, but we all thought we'd want to do another lap as it would be so fun.  Waiting at the bottom,  Ali appeared first, but without the normal grin every other trail of the trip at been producing, then Lezley and Sam, then 10 minutes later Rachael and Pat. Again, no one was particularly buzzing.  Rachael and Pat had got lost on the lower section due to there being lines all over the place. Sam had jumped some nice lips, that lead into dead ends. Over rated, perhaps, but still scenic.

However, we had spotted a trail to the right that could be good.  We drove up, got lost, but then eventually found a dry rocky descent that lead into the most sublime roller coaster section of grey earth.  I was never going to keep up with Ali and Sam but we all still loved it.

After all this fun it was time to head to Finale for the EWS final race weekend where Nash and Ali were competing.  It was surely to be a great weekend of riding, partying, eating and drinking coffee & beer.  Finale is now world famous. Meh, it was alright.

Friday, 25 September 2015

The best of 3 countries, including the best trail of the year

Major and minor hits around the greater Mont Blanc region of Aosta Italy, Valais Switzerland and Savoie France. Tomorrow I head to the souther French Alps, and then onto Finale Ligure.

Swiss flow
I spent a few days ticking off classic trails in using the le Tour lifts before they closed.  It's good to see tyre tracks on the descent into le Buet. And I even tried a descent I had previously not done above Chatelard.  It was very Swiss, fun and fast. How do the Valaisan's cut such good footpaths?
Barage d'Emosson behind 

Aosta delivered with more good's high up near the Beccca France.  It took us about 5 hours to climb nearly 2000m.  Luckily there was a refuge near the top for a drink break.  The descent was worth every minute of suffering with views over the Grand Paradiso Parc, high singletrack lead into almost never ending larch needle covered singletrack that begged you to go fast and then gripped you round every tight corner.  We of course finished with delicious pizza, despite getting ripped off for drinks in Courmayeur.

Grippy needles?

I don't actually have any photo's of what are possibly my two favourite trails of the year, but let me tell you; Somewhere in the beech and spruce tree's above Pussy(!)/Moutiers lays untouched footpaths with a magic carpet surface of fallen leaves, that are slowly getting shaped into perfect berms and fast straights.  Sessoning down these trails with fast riders was such a blast, bwaaaaaap! trailAddiction Ali, Lapierre mechanic Fred, chømage Max and Scottish Nash, thank you!
Not in the woods, but heading to them from the back of Val Morel

Winter then tried to stop us in Switzerland but Cross Road Cycles' Mael kept us going, and it was well worth the cold winds for spectacular views and nice singletrack from the Col du Grand Saint Bernard down to Osierers.


Sunday, 13 September 2015

Portail du Fully

Finally getting up there in the Valais, Switzerland

By J

It's been on my list to do for quite a while now and luckily a few things came together to get up there and get it done. Following on from my early season visit I was excited despite the prospect of another 1400 metre climb, only 2 days after having ridden a long way uphill in Italy.

After squeezing into the 10am Dorenaz cable car, from near Martigny we were soon spinning up on the tiny mountain road, that lasted at least an hour till it became a steeper fireroad.

We all kept going, knowing that the prospect of long smooth Valaisian singletrack lay ahead. First we had to have a lunch stop with a view.

The descent starts near a ridgeline before skirting along the west side and then turning around it to traverse across a huge cliff band north of Martigny.  We were told not to fall here!  As the trail got going the speeds picked up on the smooth gravel trail. Another quick push and we were at the main part of the descent, 2km's of traversing, on a 1 metre wide trail.  A roller coaster on slightly loose gravel.  Every left hander was blind, you didn't know how much speed you could carry around it, and if you took too much and ended up on the edge of the trail you were sure to get both wheels drifting.

After this we cut our way through picturesque Swiss hamlets on narrow flowing singletrack, loamy sections with switchbacks, more traversing on slightly downhill trails and fast blasts with tricky rock gardens.  A great selection of descents that ended through the Martigny vineyards.  2000 metres of descent done and dusted, box ticked, maybe again next year?

By J

Tuesday, 8 September 2015

Passo Invergneux, 2902m

Aosta Valley paid of whilst France was grey, with sunshine, delightful ribbons of flow and the usual Italian taste bud treats

It started as any good Italian ride should:

And once we started riding, the road soon turned uphill, to what inevitably any good adventure requires, the multiple hour climb to a trailhead:

In our case just under 3 hours of climbing lead us to the Passo Invergneux.  It wasn't too bad a climb, our caffeinated legs sped us up the step tarmac road away from Cogne, and onto the fireroad for a couple of hours before the final hike-a-bike up to the Passo.  We enjoyed the views, shelter from the wind and French baguettes with Tome de Savoie cheese. The tops of the Grand Paradiso National Park range where still snow covered, including the highest, the Grand Paradiso which me and my partner for the day, Rob had ski-toured earlier this spring.

The top of the descent started in a lunar like landscape that was dry and dusty, but actually fairly grippy unlike many gravel trails.  It was smooth apart from the rock drainage gullies that previous mountain bikers had weaved around creating a 'bikers line'. It was super fun to ride and undulated through mini gullies, across wide expanses and stream crossings.  There was never more than the odd fist sized rock to distract from the main ribbon of smooth singeltrack.

Halfway down when more rock steps began to appear and you had to pay a little more attention to just in front of your front wheel rather than 500 metres down the trail. By the end the roller coaster trail was interspersed with big technical rock step sections that really tested line choice after 45 minutes of following singletrack. In all the descent is about 12km long with 1400m height loss.  It's a great trail for intermediates up to experts.  The smoothness of the majority of trail will make all types of riders smile, and the few technical bits aren't too bad to walk, but will give the technician something extra to what is already a superb ride.

We descended right into Cogne village and searched for the Gelateria we had seen as we'd ridden through in the morning.  Gelato was not enough to keep us happy however and we made plans to visit Aosta town in search of quality pizza and beer.  Which of course we found fairly easily!  Italy pays of again!