Monday, 13 October 2014

Changing times

Being show around Valais trails for a change

People I've been riding with recently have been talking about the Emosson to Martigny trail and how good it is.  Me and Tom had been up there in June to ride the first half of the trail and loved it. blogged here. So I was keen to get back.

I wasn't keen to get up after a late night in Amnesia, but knew that the road climb from Finahut would sort me and Jarno out. 1 1/2 hours spinning wasn't too bad. Luckily the trail is great form the beginning, even if it undulates and you often have to get off your bike for a quick push up.  It still kind of flows, in a 'flow-tech' kind of way.

The views looking down towards Martigny and Sion were still great.  The trail really gets going after about 3 kilometres.  Basically from the Emosson the trail traverses North-Eastwards constantly hugging the mountainside to your left, and always with a big drop down to your right.  It's another one of those trails with everything in, slow and technical to dream like pine needle loam that you can hit flat out.

The section into Tretien reminded me of Stella Artur over by Albertville.  Loamy, fast and huge grin inducing!

We crossed the train line and could hear a train in the distance.  What shall we do, it was already getting late. It's autumn now and you can really notice the day light is running out sooner.  I was told we'd ridden the best bits so why not get a cheaper train journey back to Finhaut.  So we jumped on the train, which was a great as ever, also hugging the mountain side.  And even better we didn't have to pay to go the one stop up the train line.

So not quite all the way to Martigny, that'll have to wait another year.  A kind of best of Emosson-Martigny. 
Note to self: Must explore more Valais trails next year...

Sunday, 28 September 2014

Aiguille de la Grande Sassiere 3751m

One of those pure adventure days *warning mega photo post*

Ali-venturing as it's been known by over the summer.  When Ali from trailAddiction gets grand idea's in his head it always leads to hike-a-bike. Read here on DIRT Mag about a previous mission, its the highest rideable peak in the alps!

A special team was organised:  A top ten finishing team from the Bivouac Enduro, Mael and Max, Ali, myself and Fred the mountain bike mechanic from Mavic. All keen, all stupid?

And then my alarm went off at 04:30.  Time to eat and drink as much as possible.  I hadn't been up this early since ski touring in refuges last winter.  In my tired state I did subconsciously know how to load the bikes onto the trailer, it's easy after doing it everyday all summer.  We drove up towards Val d'Isere, then turned left up a singletrack road.  It was around 6am, and it was still pitch black.
Slowly the sun began to rise:
Tignes glacier ski area Grand Motte
Grand Casse on the right
And the hike-a-bike continued and turned into carry-a-bike, but with the sun coming up over more of the mountains it was still stunning.
Me, photo taken by Mael
Ali and Max carry, photo by Mael
There were a few sections of ridge that you could ride.  Though not marked on the map there is a path snaking it's way up the ridge line and amongst the scree is a ribbon of lovely grippy gravely dirt. It felt like Chile up there!
See that peak to the right, thats the top!
More like South America than Savoie
Skirting the glacier. photo by Mael

So after about 3 1/2 hours of suffering we got 3500m.  The last 200m were in sight, it looked steep and loose.  A group decision was reached to leave the bikes and quickly walk up.  Well as quick as you can go at 3 and half thousand metres.  I'd only ever skied at this height, like Fred who is a ski instructor in winter.   The others hadn't been that high, let alone with bikes. Journeying to the max!  The top was breathtaking.  It wasn't too cold either.  But the views, wow, 360! I didn't now where to look, Mont Blanc, Grand Casse, the southern Alps disappearing off, Aosta Valley.  The real highlight for me was the superb mer des nauges (sea of clouds) over the flat lands of Italy on the edge of the alpine range.
Our ridge line
Summit views of Mont Blanc
Sea of clouds over Italy
Group summit shot

After about 4 hours & half we got back down to our bikes at 3500m. We had to descend to around 2200m to join the infamous HEIDI trail and with that still came 1000m of climbing. So let the fun begin (note there were some sections of hike a bike between the gravel ribbon of single track and tech rock steps)

We joined into the classic mid mountain terrain of HEIDI at around midday.  We were about 7 hours in.  And we had a whole days worth of trail still left.  We kept a steady pace as all morning we'd been snacking and sipping at our camelbaks.  We were buzzing from the big descent off the Aiguille de la Grande Sassiere 3751m and wanted more singletrack. Lucky Ali had plenty in store for us.  Kilometre after kilometre of superb flow, some above the tree line, some just within the loam of the larch and pine tree's.
There was some climbing, but it was split into 300m here, 200 there.  So despite the sun beating down on us we moved and smiled onwards.  We ate more snacks.  Galette from Breton Mael was the speciality of the day, that and Ali's huge supply of High 5 gels and energy tabs.

As well as the singletrack descents which dreams are made of, we passed beautiful hamlets and farms perched high up in the mountains.  We filled up our camelbaks at a nice house as we were greeted by cheery old locals, it was much needed.

As we traversed towards St Foy the rocks and roots began to show through.  Part of this was liaison for the Trans Savoie this year and it was great fun going up and down.  This was all in aid of one last big finale.  The end section of HEIDI into Viclaire which sits at around 890m.  A descent that took us around 30 minutes of flow-tastic delight and finishing with the rock gardens from hell! A really special trail to end on!

Facts of the day:
10 hours riding
2000m vertical height gain
3400m vertical descent
3 Chorizo sticks eaten
3 Galette's eaten
Plus many cereal bars, fruit'n'nut mixes, haribo's and energy bars
Oh, and 2 high5 zero tabs added to 30cl water makes you hyper hey Mael!?

Saturday, 27 September 2014

Crans Montana

Probably not quite up to the hype, but that's coming from a crew who have the best parks in Europe to choose from...

We headed over to Crans Montana to ride the lifts before they close down.  We'd all heard a lot of good things over the years about Crans Montana so were keen to check it out.

A winding road lead us up to a lovely south facing Valais mountain side.  The village of Crans is very smart. A classic Swiss style resort, caviar shopping anyone? 

Problem struck when we tried to park at the lift station carpark and were stopped by a security guard.  There was a Jeep 4x4 day taking place and it started at the lifts carpark.  The problem was that the security guard didn't know where to send us to park.  Not very Swiss. And also not very Swiss was the large free carpark we found for the day!

The first run we did was down the Red trail.  We stopped quite soon into to rest our arms due to the braking bumps and loose surface.  What have we let ourselves into I thought. Another lap and the trail flowed better despite not quite knowing how grippy the washed out berms were. Drift and hope was the way to do it.

Before stopping for lunch we thought we best check out the black run, a trail used for IXS European Downhill racing.  It should be good, if not crazy.  It was steep, it was committing and there were some huge root gardens, huge rock rolls and fairly sizeable jumps.  There was one step-up that was particularly crazy, not a hard jump, but Pam decided to hit it quite fast for the camera!  She landed with her weight a bit far back and ended up heading straight for me on the side of the track.  A slow motion crash lead to me getting stuck between Pam, her bike and Tom's bike. Ouch!  All ok though. Here's a photo of her looking good seconds before disaster:

After a relaxed lunch in the sun. Bright sunshine at the end of September is good right? We did another lap of the red which was really fun now we knew pour way and trusted the loose terrain a little bit more.  Perhaps it would be better at the beginning of the season? And then another lap of the black where Tom once again used up of his remaining cat lives.  How many does he have left?  He survived a huge rock slab landing at race pace after a superb gorge line on the steepest section of the track.


To conclude, I would state that Crans Montana is fun for a bike park with only two trails.  The red is a fun jumpy bermed trail, but unfortunately it ends 3/4 the way down the hillside.

I would also argue that the black is definetly Euro DH race worthy.  A perfect challenge at higher speeds.

But with the likes of Saint Luc on the other side of the valley which features really fun trails, challenging trails and lots of easy to access single track it looses out a bit.  Also Verbier is closer and has so many tracks in it's park and so much single track!

Thursday, 11 September 2014

An ode to Le Telepherique du Brevent

If the Aiguille du Midi lift is the ultimate lift in Chamonix, if not the world, for testing your big mountain skiing the Brevent Lift is the ultimate lift for a test of mountain biking skill.

Brevent face behind 
I've blogged before about the riding at the top of the Brevent lift. read here.  Its extremely technical, and so much fun lower down.  It dawned on me today though, as I looked across to the big glaciers and high high mountains on the other side of the valley, that, if the glorious Aiguille du Midi lift is the ultimate ski lift,  then Le Brevent is the ultimate bikers lift.  The Midi, love it and hate it is the true Chamonix lift.  From town it whisks you to 3800m onto glaciers where you'll find some of the hardest north face ski lines in the world, wonderful free-ride couloirs to abseil into and open gentle glacial ski-touring.  However everyone else in Cham who thinks they are big time heads there too.  And in Easter every tourist and their trusty 'guide de montagne' swarm upon the lift and create endless moguls onto the Vallee Blanche.  It is Cham through and through, love it for the access, hate it for the ease of access and everyone else being there!

If you want to, it will challenge you close to breaking point!

Brevent Lift is pretty similar.  However with mountain biking being a minority sport in Chamonix, it doesn't get busy.  But it will still challenge you and maybe break you, or your bike. The top is so so technical, momentum is key.  The middle sections are faster, but still with big steps and rocks to test your nerve.  Belechat is switchback heaven, but if you preserver on you get more big descents, ridge lines, and multiple options of fun, flow-tech, fast, rocks, big roots and everything else that Cham riding can feature! 

Lower down, just above Merlet Parc
When you make it to the bottom in one piece, you smile, look back up and recount stories of near misses.  Much like you do when you get to the Grepon carpark after an powder filled Cosmiques couloir into Para Face run.

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Keeping it going all the way back to the valley's

High above Samoens, not biking terrain, but still stunning. Can you spot the Argentiere basin?

After a busy and wet summer season guiding, followed by an exhausting, but exhilarating TRANS SAVOIE I somehow had to muster up the stamina and mental energy for my IML Summer Assessment.  It was tough!
Distant feature recognition
One of many flowers we spent hours huddled around
I made it back to Chamonix (thanks for having me you know who you are) with a urge to ride and use my valley lift pass.  My riding had slowed down a little this season so it was great to ride with some guys on big downhill bikes.  I mean try and keep up guys on downhill bikes.  I am still of thinking that in almost all situations, the Nukeproof Mega, is enough bike.  It's more the pilot that is slowing it down.  There are many good 'enduro' bikes these days and I think they are capable in all but the biggest of hits. And with a dropper post it's easy to ride uphill and traverse undulating trail sections...

Lucky that traversing ability as we had a trail in mind to get us to Argentiere from Flegere rather than going straight to Argentiere on the valley train.

The new Flegere lift cabin doesn't see many bikers these days so 5 of us were squeezed in taking up nearly half the cabin.  The footpaths up there are classic Cham flow-tech.  Welcome back I thought!  The end of the trail features many huge rocks and big roots which demand speed and concentration to keep a steady pace down to the village.

Humpo huck!
Once in Argentiere we headed across to our main objective for the day, The Grands Montets lift.  Rich had never ridden up there, and all the others had not been up there at all this season.  It was the last day of summer opening and after looking at the new lift station we hit the classic zig zag footpath down the front face back to the lift station.  It was dry so you could really lean into even the tightest of switchbacks to help you get around and keep 'flow' in order to be able to jump and hop your way down the faster sections. But we had to keep your eyes ahead, as there was always another switchback to catch you out!

Lower down there are several superb banked corners that you can ride high.  Tom had a go at the really high off camber line which dropped you into a perfect down slope just after a drainage ditch.  He claimed it was easy to keep the high off camber line, and the video on my iPhone does make it look easy, but in reality it looks tricky and is clearly a line that is not ridden very often unlike the lower line.

Andy on the wall ride
Up again and across this time to end up nearer Chamonix.  The Levancher trail takes a bit to get going, but there is a great variety of terrain.  A favourite always being the open meadow by the goat farm before dropping into sweeping lefts and rights with roots to launch off.  Luckily on the fast straight section we didn't come across any walkers unlike earlier on that morning.  Rich and Tom flew down on their downhill rigs.  Somewhere a big bike does have a ploughing through it style advantage.

Around the walkers

Meadows and views
It's great to ride with good friends again, getting back to the usual chit chat and indecisive-ness of where to eat and ride next that group dynamics bring. Funky coloured bread helped some of the group decide what to do, dog walking duty for Andy.  I wanted to ride more, but the other's were unsure.  What about that trail from Brevent that traverses towards Flegere then drops into the trees and gets faster and faster? They were sold.

The top trail section had quite a few walkers on it, but we were polite as ever and still got to shred and drop all the best bits.  Once we dropped into the tree's we only saw 3 or 4 walkers so we did it all in one go.  And we did pick up more and more speed!  I was able to hang on as Tom used up a few more of his 9 lives and Rich pumped down.

We still had the World Champs to watch on Redbull tv replay and we were kindly fed and entertained by our Aussie host! The riding on display was highly entertaining if not educational.

Welcome back to Cham riding, it's as great as ever!

Sunday, 10 August 2014

Where do guides from Beaufort ride on their day off?

In Beaufort of course, and they show off what they can to their visiting friends!

Two friends of mine made the one and a half hour drive from Chamonix Valley into the Beaufortain.  I insisted that they came early so that we could get on the 9am bus (!) and make the most of the day.  The bike buses are great over here, but if you don't plan it correctly you can easily loose large chunks of the day.  Another reason a helping local hand is so useful.

From the top of Mont Bisane it was time for 18km of descending all the way to Albertville.   When I say all the way, I'm forgetting the 300m of vert 3/4 of the way through.  It's so worth it though, the trail features everything you can think of in a package that was related to "Servoz woods" by Tom H.  We made it down with about 25 minutes to spare and 'boshed' down some cans of coke whilst resisting the temptation to eat kebabs and instead opting for Tarte Beaufort's.  When in Rome you know!

Roller-coaster rollers

Tech climbing

little teapots

Down here!

After lots of deliberating about what to show my friends for the afternoon we settled on classic Col de Pre trails. A hot pedal followed by some creative bike packing saw us climbing the last section into the woods.  At the trail head we, well Wim, chatted with some old locals about mountain biking in the area.  We all dropped in and they loved seeing us disappear off down the rocky trail.  Gloria was getting her flow on now! Super lekker! Whilst others over shot corners.

We were not done after the flow show as we all had a little bit of energy left.  And also guides still have work to do on their days off.  It was time for me to ride a new trail too!  Pink Eye.
Top Tip-  Never ask guides where trail names come from...

Always climbing to be done
 After a short climb we ate some madeline's, talked about deep-frying chocolate bars, and we talked about trail names...  This trail we were all about to be shown was not super long, but it was lots of fun.  Grassy meadows, rocks and roots and even a waterfall. But best of all, it finished right into Beaufort town, near the bar!

Gloria ordered a huge Hoegaarden beer, cos Colorado girls aren't just good at mountain biking, but they are also good at beer drinking!  Happy trails to you my dear!
Pink eye delight

Pink eye delight part 2