Sunday, 26 April 2015

Le Môle, 1863m

Four years of mountain gazing finally pays off with some of the best descending in all of Europe!

The drive between Chamonix and Geneva can get very boring even though there are many different mountains and valley's to look at.  Le Mole above the town of Bonneville has been on my ski touring list for a long time but some how things came together this past week and me and Tom got up there on our mountain bikes. 

Mid week in April, during a long spell of calm, sunny weather brought more than just two British mountain bikers out to the Chablais. Probably 200 walkers up and down the mountain.

We set off very slowly from lac du Mole knowing we had 1400 metres to climb.  We started on quiet village roads chatting about nothing in particular as we slowly gained height.  We arrived at the beginning of the off-road just as sweat began to gather on our foreheads.  All the walkers were starting from here, but we still managed to overtake many as we winched our way up.  There were many sections of gravel fireroad that were not quiet steep enough to be pushed up. This proved a real challenge in front of all the onlooking walkers.  When you overtake a nice blonde hiker you can't get off and push can you?  We broke out of the forests a with a view of the last 300 metres up.
Tom checking out the main face
Snaking road up with Saleve, Petit Saleve and Geneva town
Climbing up what we will later descend. Sweet!
The last section was actually pretty easy, a lot could be ridden and we were excited to get to the top to eat and check out the views.  Yes they were epic in every direction! Mont Blanc and the whole Massif, Chaine des Aravis, the Chablais (including last weeks ridge line), the Saleve, Geneva City, lac Leman and the Jura Mountain Range.

As for the descending up in the high alpine I'll let the pictures hopefully show how amazing it was:

Bonus traverse to avoid extra climbing
After the superb smooth fast open section on the main face we did a sneaky traverse to avoid too much extra climbing.  We descended through alpine meadows, double checked the map and headed to the final section of singletrack.  When I say final, I mean 700 metre vert of descending back to the car. It started on a muddy farm track to a barn, rounded a corner, and then like many good descents slowly turned into singletrack and ducked into the tree's.  Steep to begin, with some tight switchbacks to remind you of being in the French Alps.  However lower down it became gentle, as the trail traversed the hillside on smooth singletrack.  It reminded me of the Black Forest, fast, pump bump, blind swooping corner, fast, faster, and then a major feature just to make sure you are paying full attention. Super fun, super flow, super grins at the end!
blury, but swoopy

looking left
going left 
Nessie of the Haute Savoie
Now to just link it up with the Dirt Ridgeline on the other side of the valley and you have one truly "epic" "enduro" mountain bike day out.

3 hours up
1400 metre vertical height difference
5 hours total ride time
and of course 2 McFlurries consumed on the way home

Side note- if you go, think about hikers, it get's very busy up at the top in the summer holidays so try and plan accordingly

After this I spent the following two days on ski's reaching this at 4061 metre's in Italy (Gran Paradiso):
Rob happy to reach the Madonna
Jo kissing, me looking moody

Tuesday, 21 April 2015

Sunday classics

Get a van and a group of bikers together, take it in turns to drive, eat lots of bread and cheese and ride more...

It's not always about the trails, it's about the whole day as complete package. Friends new and old for the beginning of the season, a small selection of classic Chamonix trails to descend, a van to use as an uplift vehicle, plenty of food to eat, sunny weather and lame banter.

First two laps were down from the lower Merlet carpark to the bottom of Copeau.  A descent not ridden so much under pedal power due to it's "short" nature compared to the Merlet to les Gaillands descent.  So why not rip down it twice thanks to van power! Some of the lower corners were so fresh and loamy you could really gamble with high speeds and drifting.

Mael eyeing up the tech steps
Merlet laps back to les Bossons due to tree felling.  Fast and fun as ever.  Is the right turn variant 2/3 of the way down better?  It's a hard decision. But more loamy-ness near the bottom is fun to drift.
Tom H eyeing something up
Tom H high line entry

Saturday, 11 April 2015

Mythical Magazine Trails

More trail hunting, Chablais, Haute Savoie, France

I think it was last winter when DIRT Mag (RIP){recurring theme} printed two articles on the state of Morzine and the northern French Alps.  Many of the pictures where from Chamonix, but remained unamed in the captions in what I can only think was a ploy to keep the location's secret.  For me, it was easy to spot, a Cham local, the Le Tour trails have been mentioned on this blog many times and will continue to be written about.  

There was one other photo in these articles that caught my eye. It was of a very specific looking modern metal cross somewhere in the pre-alps before Morzine with a stunning looking ridgeline coming off it. Thus the hunt began, first online. It didn't take long thanks to google and camptocamp.org to find the location of this cross. Today the hunt continued out in the mountains, after talking about it all last summer. Finally it's been ridden!
The cross with the ridge going right to left
 Unfortunately plans to go with Rich fell through when he pumped too much air into his Reverb dropper post and blew a seal, or something along those lines...
Another crew was over in Pila riding the final section of the freeride home run. It seemed like a lot of money for a lift pass to ride the bottom of one trail...

Looking across to the Saleve, Petit Saleve, Geneva & Jura Mtns
So I span my way up the 1000 metre climb from the Valley Verte floor towards the pointe. I was overtaken by some fast French enduro boys, but after a quick bite to eat we arrived at the top at a similar time. I had a quick chat and they said to watch out for the steep start of the ridgeline in the muddy conditions. I cautiously began despite my excitement for the long and potentially brilliant descent.

Stupidly I saw a rock step and still hit it flat out and ended up putting a slice in my front tyre that was just too big for tubeless sealant to re-seal despite my best pumping and tyre spinning efforts.  Tube in, and I continued through loamy, leaf covered mostly smooth singletrack. For the rest of the descent you'll have to imagine following a ridgeline but within light beech, spruce and birch forest.  Steep rocky sections were interspersed with rooty flowy sections.  Think Servoz, but more intense.  There are a couple of short fireroad sections to briefly rest between more fairly steep trails nearing the bottom.  These seem to be old footpaths that have seen a tiny bit of work from a caring mountain biker that enable you to stay on the trail when the slope steepens..

A great descent, and one I can't wait to show people!
It's opposite le Mole, so the ultimate day would be to combine both peaks which would equal around 2500 metres of vertical descending...and climbing...

Monday, 6 April 2015

The ascent is pleasant

Guide book exploration in the Val d'Aosta, Italy

I have several very good ski guide books including the now out of print Anselme Baud "book of death" that can reach €500 on eBay.  However, up until recently I hadn't owned any mountain bike related books. This changed when DIRT Mag (R.I.P) mentioned a Val d'Aosta guide book.

The best thing about spring is being able to take part in your favourite winter and summer sports.  So on my first day off, straight after the most recent storm to hit Cham we were up in the first bin of the Aiguille du Midi to ski the Cosmiques Couloir.  I could have turned home satisfied after my first turn which kicked snow up well over my head. But it was rude not to carry on searching...
Accessing the couloir
The next day after reports of muddy Chamonix trails it was time to go to the "sunny side of Mont Blanc" in search of dry trails.  I flicked through my new book and found one suitable just 20 minutes from the exit of the Mont Blanc tunnel. "The ascent is pleasant" it said about the 800 vertical metre climb. Doesn't sound too bad. "The descent is technical, but extremely fun" Lets go Rich!
More up
After some bonus climbing into an unsuccessful trail exploration we went back to the guide book route.  The snow had gone all the way up on these south facing slopes so it was easy going bar the last hike-a-bike for 100 metres.  The main descent started straight into high speed smooth singletrack, a few switchbacks to make sure our brakes were working and we popped out in the meadows above a mountain hamlet. We rested briefly in the village, but were excited for more goodness. We searched for a trail entrance but missed the higher trail head but luckily found it again on a lower firewood switchback.  And what a treat it was!  It was the stand out section of the day; a fast, smooth pine cone and pine needle covered trail with, like Switzerland, just perfect switchbacks.

As we got lower the trail became rockier with tighter switchbacks, not quite as good as higher up due to the lower speeds, but you can't complain at turn after turn of singletrack can you now!?  OR can you, when potentially out there in Aosta Valley are longer more perfect trails???

Tuesday, 17 March 2015

Horrendous traverses into delightful descents

solo mission today led me to Dorenaz to check out the trails

There seems to be an ongoing theme, the Valais region of Switzerland keeps pulling us over the boarder.  On Sunday we skied what this season was considered quite nice snow in a 40 degree couloir above Finhaut, and today I was near Martigny to sample the trails on offer using the Dorenaz gondola.  The beauty of spring is that you can mix winter sports and summer ones.

About 10 minutes from Martigny you'll find a tiny lift that can hold up to 10 people whilst your bikes are suspended underneath.  I had two journeys up when it was only me.  The maximum number of people that were in a cabin today was 5. A school girl returning to her village high above the valley, an old farmer boy coming to do maintenance on his 'alpage' fields & some other old dears.  It's a strange place.  Very Swiss.  The yellow Poste bus has a priority parking space right next to the lift that runs year round almost every hour.  How, why, what, where and when I'm not 100% sure.  But in recent years mountain biker's have been building official DH tracks.

And of course, being in the Valais the number of potentially good dotted footpath lines on the map is ridiculous.

I started on the downhill course which is well known to be steep.  Call it the new bike, or perhaps because it was the first run of the day, but I didn't really feel it.  Maybe after a few runs it'd go better when you had an idea of what to expect.  Maybe on a proper downhill bike that could handle repetitive steep steps and drops...
Views back to Mont Blanc Massif
So it began, exploration and adventure time.  A tale of highs and low's. Carrying the bike around sketchy traverses tightly gripping onto handrail chains.

I'd found a few potential options on various bike websites.  They all started much higher up from the lift so as I started spinning up the road I kept an eye on the snow line.  Unfortunately I was unable to get as high as I had hoped for one trail so another sketchy traverse eventually lead me to 2/3 of the way down the singletrack.  Brown POW! Deep leaves covered the trail that meandered down the steep hillside.  The switchbacks were perfect.  There was no need to nose manual or hop your way around, just flow around corner after corner.  Lower down, you cross over a minor road a few times on tight technical trails in light forests and then finish with this:
Wild garlic singletrack
The real gem of the day came on my last run that took me around to above Martigny town.  This was part of a descent that in summer can be started from 2124 metres.  I joined in at 1100 metres, and it still took me 20 minutes to get down to the bottom. In short this trail compares to the ultra special Albertville trails.  Where I started from was steep but it flowed with more perfect, not too tight switchbacks, then into a dry dusty trail swooping in, down and around before dropping you into a long rocky section in the open.  I thought I'd missed my right turn, but decided to carry on as the trail was so good.  Just rocky enough to be technical, but still very fast. The trail had seen recent maintenance to the drainage ditch's.  In Chamonix Valley they are built deliberately large to hinder mountain bikers, in Valais, they accept that mountain bikers are part of the outdoor culture and design accordingly.

I hadn't missed my right turn, a little uphill, and the trail texture changes. I was right in the open, just above the vineyards.  The surface was dry, hard and almost sandy.  A perfect enduro section, a little down, smooth across, a rock step, and more smooth ribbon singletrack to follow.
Too good not to show again
Dorenaz deserves some more exploring once the snow disappears above 2000 metres altitude.  For mountain bikers, after the lift another 1000m must be pedalled to get to highest 'goods'.  For downhillers, session-ing the trail straight out of the lift is also well worth a visit.  Get in the flow of it, and it'll be a great "vtt descente".

Sunday, 8 March 2015

Earliest start ever

2015 really starts here

This winter has not been the greatest.  We've had some great days, but in general the snow coverage has been poor and as temperature's increase it soon disappear's. 

And that is just what happened and how we ended up riding on Sunday the 8th of March 2015 at the Saleve.  The earliest start to an alpine biking season I've experienced after a long mild period melted lots of low lying snow.

The Saleve lift was open for one last day before it shut for the end of it's 'winter' schedule.  I wanted to check out some trails on the Petit Saleve and pedal a little. Despite the late night shift me and Tom were up and away early to make the most of the day with our 'enduro' bikes.

The new CUBE was finished up on Saturday afternoon between work shifts and ready to roll.  I'd been keeping an eye on the Saleve mountains for a while.  Petit Saleve had been snow clear for atlas 3 weeks however the very top of the main mountainside still had snow.  We didn't know if this would effect us as the lift doesn't actually drop you at the highest point of the mountain.
Snow near the top for Tom

As fun as it scooting with feet out, we were glad once the snow disappeared from the trail and we could let it flow somewhat.  It was around about 1000 metre altitude mark that the snow went, and the autumnal fallen leaves were revealed.  The trails had not seen much traffic so you really had to keep your eyes peeled to be able to see the ribbon of trail in front of you.

The lower we got, the drier the trails got, and despite neither of us having ridden for about 4 months, the speeds also began to creep up.  We hit our favourite fast natural berm chute's that lead into a fast, twisty, trail that culminates with 3 or 4 mini rock gardens.  Enough to keep us on our toes as we got used to riding again.  We ended up at the bottom of the village where we'd normally pedal back up on our downhill bikes and drop over the frontside and back to the lift.  This time however we were going up to the Petit Saleve as we didn't have any downhill bikes with us today.
Mont Blanc hiding in the background on the way up
We'd heard about Petit Saleve from CUBE Bikes Yarno who lived nearby when we he worked for Kona and from Tom's Morzine friends.  All reviews were very positive despite the climb up and pedal back to the lift.   For our first lap we pushed up the direct route which was horrible and steep.  On our second lap we pedalled around on a pretty gentle track that features the odd technical limestone rock outcrop.  Take the pedal, it's only 30-45 minutes.

The trails up there are similar to the main Saleve side just without the jumps and big berms suited to downhill bikes.  This was mountain biking terrain, pedal up, and zoom back down on woodland singletrack.  Great fun and there are a few more options up there to be explored on this mellow hillside.  In places you could be riding in a UK park as you traverse a footpath through a clearing before dropping into another section of flowy trail that has seen just enough spade work to be fun, but enough to keep it feeling real.

On our second lap we actually descended the top part of an official French VTT route.  And for an XC itinerary it was amazing!
Hazy view from the top 

The pedal back takes about 20 minutes if your cruising on the track by the railway line, or a bit less if your feeling fit on the road.

After loading the van we of course took a diversion past McDonalds as it tradition with Saleve trips.

The day after I was ski touring to a 3500m col in the Argentierre basin and descending on great spring snow.  Who know's what the next few weeks will bring us.

The Cube Stereo 160 was riding very well.  The rear suspension felt very planted like a downhill bike.  Perhaps I will have to play around if I feel the need to make it snappier, but it could be a rocket ship as it is.  I didn't do many jumps or drops so for now I'm not sure how it would do in more downhill orientated terrain.  Time will tell.  With the shock in climb mode there was no bob at all from the suspension.

Saturday, 29 November 2014

Spring 2015 arrives a year early

Some people hadn't packed their bikes away yet and had been doing a mix of skiing and biking.  I had sold my bikes so instead had been studying for my next IML tests and doing a bit of walking in the autumnal weather that had returned to the northern Alps.

It was with news that Courmayeur was unable to open is ski pistes, and that the ever Swiss resort of Verbier was even offering reduced price passes as their ski area was so poor that several people were talking about more biking.  I was kindly lent a Mega, 26 inch, but it was superb to be heading out.
Green style!
Five of us actually quite comfortably got our bikes into the back of the Bluebird minibus and headed down to Servoz for several laps of leafy goodness.  Load the van and repeat! We even managed to befriend a dog and take her for a lap in the minibus.  She eventually ran off when she had a chance to escape from Mr G.
Stabby T getting low

Humpage huck!
More Jarno green style

After a stylish Super U carpark lunch where we were treated to such culinary delights as the goat's cheese and banana baguette and turkish delight style chocolate it was time for the classic Merlet track!

You definitely know that you are back in Chamonix Valley after riding in Servoz.  Big rocks, exposure to your side, roots all over the place at awkward angles, and more rocks.  You really have to be on your toe's at all times, in the dry you can try daring lines hopping over a root here and then trying to charge through the next set hoping that your rear wheel doesn't slip out.  And of course there are some switchbacks to contend with too. By the time we got down to les Bossons, everyone was grinning and/or grimacing from close calls on the way down.  Only option was to do another lap!

So what a way to finish November 2014!  There is no snow forecast for a while, people will keep on riding, running and walking.  And I'll keep on studying.
Wheel size debate: 26" is quite possibly dead.  The sweet little Mega I rode was great, the tyres gripped like anything. It felt familiar after a season on a similar, but slightly newer version.  It's still a great bike for around here.  BUT.  The wheels, they are small and you do feel all the bumps and roots more.  And when you try and pump, there is not quite that same zippy acceleration as when you get 27.5" wheels going.