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.

Thursday, 13 November 2014

The annual big change in seasons

It's that time of year again when bikes get packed away.  Or in my case this season, sold.
I'm a mountain bike guide without a bike, but despite fluctuating snow line levels I'm in the mindset now of winter ski touring and snowshoeing.

Today we scored our first ski turns of the season.  Cham has not had as much snowfall as neighbouring Swiss Valais so it was time to drive over again, much like the end of the biking season.  The Valais keeps on calling us!

A few photo's, until next "summer time", enjoy:

*chainmark does not condone the use of snowboards

Saturday, 1 November 2014

Digging day

After my visit last week to the ever classic forests around Ludlow I was determined to make it back to my trail to sort out the fallen tree problem before I return to Chamonix for winter and skiing time! Happy with the results! Hope some people enjoy:

Old trail leading into new straight on section to lower part of fallen tree

Ramp/Rollover/Jump up and over fallen tree

Ramp/rollover/jump from on top

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!?