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:

Tuesday, 9 August 2016

A tale of downs in Switzerland

Did we stumble across the best view in the Alps? Introducing Stella Helvetica:

Several people had been talking about a funicular train above the jazz town of Montreux on the shore's of Lac Leman, that despite being expensive, had some good trails back in to town. The lure of swimming in the lake had us, and with Bex and other Valais trails nearby there would easily be a good few days worth of riding before the next storm came through the alps.

Me and the lone Dutchy headed to Lac Leman, padded up and rode to the central Montreux station next to men in suits, blacked out Mercs and Asian tourists. After being quoted 60CHF for a day pass we said no. Our intel of a cheaper pass was wrong.

So instead we climbed 1000 metres up 20% stretches of road past English speaking all boys, and all girls boarding schools over looking the huge lake.  The views made up for the unexpected climb.  We'd brought all our food from France to save money so that at least made us feel smug at the Col.  Little did we know what was instore.

The trail started by going through bike friendly gate's, a good sign surely?  No, the trail was awkward the whole way down.  It never got going.

Disappointed we got back to our lake side parking.  I'd put two beers in the water to keep cool, even these were luke warm...

The following day we set of early know we had a big climb ahead, we took many breaks to make the 1800 metres upwards more do-able. The views were stunning all the way up so this kept us energised.

The Cabane and it’s lure of cold drinks was nearly in drinking distance.  One last hike-a-bike section, dig deep I thought, lunch will be good and long up here, long enough to dry sweat ridden kit.

10 Swiss Francs later me and Wouts were close to heaven.  The modern refuge (Cabane in Suisse) was a treat in itself, let alone the view north, south, east and west!
From our grassy picnic knoll we looked left into the whole Mont Blanc Massif, and to our right stretched out patchwork Rhone Valley agriculture up to the shore of Lac Leman.

It was eventually time to descend.  We felt fairly re-freshed, but luckily the first section was really mellow and perfect for getting going again. From here we left the Cabane behind us and traversed with just enough downhill gradient that you didn’t need to pedal for about 1 km, all directly under cliff faces.  The trail then changed to a ribbon switching left and right, a traverse here n’ there, left and right again, watch out for the cow poo!  Two farmers were putting out an electric fence, around their up high alpine shack we went and through marvellous corners in a field well in need of some cow grazing.  A wooden fence forced us to stop before our next section of treats lay ahead.  Needles, dry dirt and roots itching to be pushed to the limits of their tyre giving grip.

We whooped down, crossing fire-roads, section after section of goodness.  The final section became rocky with holes that required speed to skip over the top of the big gaps, through a neatly mowed garden and more rock gaps lay ahead.  Speed, despite 1800 metres of climbing in our legs, and nearly 1800 metres of descending in our braking fingers, needed to be kept.  

Just like the smiles that lasted into the bar perfectly positioned at the end of the trail, through the chope’s (Valais-ian for pint), the ride home to the campsite, and for days after!

The tour of this Swiss valley was not over and for the final day we crossed back into Vaud, and Bex for some train laps with some Chamoniards.  It was so dry, the flowy bits of trail were mega fast and grippy, which should have helped in the numerous chutes littered in the woods, but man, are they steep!  Great fun on trail bikes lap after lap!

Saturday, 6 August 2016

Getting back on it in Aosta

Dry trails, and even dryer bread. 1600metre+ descent days back to back

Up to the last week in July I had only ridden my bike about 4 times.  My International Mountain Leader work had taken me around the Massif du Mont Blanc and along the edge of the Fiz.  I hadn't missed my bike at all and I knew I was going to have an overload at the end of the month.

The Beaufort guides from last year were re-grouping for reconnaissance, and general banter missions. And where were we going? Italy of course and the wonderful Aosta Valley to escape the hoards of Chamonix.

*Day -1- Dorenaz adventuring with the Dutchies
*Day 0- Le Tour laps into Switzerland with the Dutchies before bottles of Duvel with the crew.

Day 1- La Thuile
The venue for the recent Enduro World Series race was unbelievable.  The tracks were destroyed and tiring.  The odd time I managed to stick out a fast line it felt great, but with lines all over the place and plenty of gnar (large rock gardens, large root gardens) it was tough!  Of course being Brit's (plus a token Netherlander) we wanted to get our money's worth and we rode 90% of the bike park. By the last run, I couldn't pedal uphill, I had to push a short sharp uphill in the middle of the descent, even though I had my hands on the bars pushing the bike, it was still a rest from the constant feature's the trail was littered with.  Huge respect to the EWS racers!

Day 2- La Salle
Re-visiting this route  I did a month or two ago.  It was super hot and some of the boys struggled with the up and down nature of the ride before the big technical descent.  However one of the lads had recently walked in the area with his visiting girlfriend and found a fantastic final variation, a trail full of deep dusty loam that rarely see's more than a few hikers and mule's.

Day 3- Becca France
After last year's mission up here with Rob I wanted to see how it felt if we drove as far up the hillside as possible to cut the climbing to just 600 metres.  How do you think?  Superb! With energy to enjoy the descent from the high alpine down through loamy forests and finally onto the mega rock flow trail we were all buzzing at the bottom.
We were trying to keep costs low for the week staying on campsites, but we had to check out the local pizzeria that night.  Huge salads were followed by great sized pizza's that satisfied even the most Italian sceptical eater, "the pizza's are cheap, that's all".  Still the bakery round the corner didn't hold much hope for the following day.  How can Italians do such great food, but not bread?

Day 4- Shuttle day north of Aosta town
Even though we'd cheated yesterday, with the temperature's hovering around 30.c we decided to check out some trails and take it in turn to be the shuttle driver.
All the trails were superb bar one which turned out to be a fast wooded fireroad.  But you can't win them all, even in Aosta Valley.  This area is full of great shuttle-able trails of good length, all with classic Aosta flow interspersed with technical challenges and of course great views.

Day 5- Chatilgne
With a bit of strategic car driving we managed to cut the climb to just 1000 metres.  However whilst the car's were being dropped the two other lads were left in a small village with only one tiny shop.  They had no choice but to buy the driest bread of the the whole trip for about €6.  With crumbs all over the grass at our lunch spot 800 metres up the climb we slung the bikes over our shoulders for the last section of hike-a-bike to the ridgeline summit high above Aosta town.  It was dry, hot and as we dropped in the dust kicked up along the ridge. As we entered the tree's the orange singletrack twisted through knee high lush grass with perfect fun angled corners.  Lower down it became rocky before kicking us out above Aosta where our next search began, gelato!

Day 6- Grand St. Bernard - Sembrancher (Verbier)- 2200 metres down
We left Italy and headed over the boarder into Switzerland with a grand finale in store.
What I thought would be a long gentle approach to Col de Mille was in part steep bike carrying, part lovely traversing singletrack and steady fireroad climbs finished with a hike a bike just when the legs thought you were almost there.  Having left Italy and cheap food behind we didn't visit the Swiss refuge at Col de Mille (read my next blog post coming soon about the best 5CHF coke's I've ever had) and instead ate the last of our moisture-less bread and prepared for 2200 metres of descending as the storm approached from the Massif.
"That was the best ridgeline I've ever ridden" said one of the boys. Fun and classic Verbier magazine cover-shot trail riding.  Into the tree's we sped hoping small roots and trying to rail the steep banked corners as fast the Canyon team would. Tried, but we all loved it none the less.  Another trail with everything!

We got back to Chamonix before the rain started. Exhausted and hungry.  We all slept well before we all began our next adventure's.  One driving back to England, One riding back to Beaufort, and two with their eye's on more Swiss delights.