Sunday, 26 October 2014

Welsh goodness

British perseverance paid off

Some of us nearly turned down to a lower route after about 10 minutes in near 50mph Welsh winds up above Hay-on-Wye.  But we carried on and it wasn't too bad.  A great ride up, down and around The Black Mountains. Shame the iPhone died:
Hay Bluff view
On the way up to Lord Hereford's Knob (!)
A mighty Hereford drink from the night before

Friday, 24 October 2014

Being shown around my classic stomping ground

Another chance to be shown around trails.  Not as glamorous as Switzerland, but just as good! Mortimers Forest and Bringewood, Ludlow, Shropshire, England

The woods of Mortimers Forest and Bringewood are where I grew up mountain biking so I always love going back.  A few years ago I built a long section of singletrack trail to link in above a much loved piece of trail that had been a staple of rides for many years.  It was my way of giving back to the forest riders and builders.

Over the last few years whilst I've been away riding 1000m+ descents my Dad has still been out exploring every corner of these forests.  Sometimes walking with my Mother, other times out on road rides with his Wednesday night Pub Ride group or usually with his main Sunday morning off road group. They are trail connoisseurs, though they might not look it.  They are the type of group that make up every British Forestry carpark on a Sunday morning.  Escaping the wife for a few hours of banter with the boys.  Not descending at pro downhiller speed, they still have fun weekend after weekend.

1 beast, 1 29" trail weapon, 1 5'8" trail searcher
Today however it was midweek, my Dad had fed the cattle and got permission from Mum to go out riding.  It's not been too wet around here recently, some soggy climbing took us up and around Mortimers Forest and towards the first new descent.  The start is hidden, as every good secret trail should, and then joins into a great terraced section that gently traverses the hillside to your left.  A few gentle rises keep the trail going between the bumps and downs.  A field comes into a view on your left, a sharper left corner and the faint trail continues.  It's seen bike tracks for sure, but not too many, just enough for the trail to stay defined year in year out. And more importantly for it to remain a secret pleasure to those that have found it.

We climb back up a sticky fire road and just past the start of the previous trail is the next trail.  This time loamy and with slightly banked corners.  It's seen a little bit of spade work to get it to ride.  Tight, but if you pump the bike into and out of the short tight corners you keep speed into the next section, an opening with one of those rare perfect corners.  Just enough grip, just enough support, perhaps its today's conditions that make it so good, or perhaps its the trail sculptures skills that do.  I hit it a few times to try and get a good photo:

We head around and up towards another area where my Dad has been exploring for a few years now.  It's great to be shown trails that tightly twist their way further down the hillside making the most of the great dirt and less than amazing terrain available.  What results is a slow but fun trail that snakes it's way through dense young forest.  You don't need to pedal, just look ahead to try and keep your flow!

 Around the hillside we go again,  "That trail down there isn't so good anymore, heavily rutted and always so muddy" my Dad explains.  We hit the the old old downhill track that then sends us into My Trail.  It's fast, I've not ridden it for two years, but I know exactly where to be.  I hop an off camber root, I know what the trail is should to do, but will it?  How eroded has it become?  I spy a little rut, I plan to hit it for support and carry speed back up the hillside over the next little pump bump rise and then down into a corner. Dropper post up.  I didn't have one of these when I built the trail and it makes the 100 metre length of climb easy, drop post, and drop in! Wow its good today.  "TREE!"  And a big one.  To finish my trail we have to lift our bikes over the tree.

It's time to head back out of the bottom of the valley, but not without the real classic of the area.  This old trail has been there for many years, often we'd lap it several times it's that good.  Today was as good as autumn could bring.  It sits low in the valley and was full of leaves and moist air.  Sticky, with the odd slippery root thrown in, but still fun!

My Dad now won't ride much in these woods much, he know's of better places for winter riding conditions.  Come spring he'll no doubt be back with a group of old dudes to (slowly) shred the singletrack!

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.