Velo Ferrata

Not lost, just checking........

Most people imagine life as a Chamonix bike bum as a daily routine of getting up, selecting a bike from a quiver of top end steeds, being carried to the top of the hill by train/tram/chairlift/gondola or helicopter before ripping down on the finest rocky/rooty/buffed trails known to man then finishing the day quaffing fine wine with nubile bike groupies.  Alas the truth couldn’t be more different.

Sometimes we have to pedal up the hill first.

The exposure starts to get to you after a while.....

Then there’s also the exploratory rides, where we go looking for the mythical perfect trail…. Acting on a couple of tip offs and a promising looking squiggly line on the map, Tom suggested we head down the valley to St Martin sur Arve to take a look at a loop below the “Tete du Colonney” cliffs. If you check it out on the map you’ll see that most of the 900m height gain can be done on a tarmacked road before moving to the 4×4 track to the Chalet du Meyrieu, leaving only about 250m to be done whilst pushing. Unfortunately what we didn’t notice was the gradient of some of the tarmac and 4×4 track. None of this slowed Twix the dog down any, but if you’re wanting to drive up to the car park, probably best to take something with some ground clearance and a fairly low 1st gear.

Sometimes it's just easier to push. Photo by Tom Wilson-North

Eventually pushing up the 4×4 track gave way to pushing up singletrack, which at least was a change of scenery. The French IGN maps use a selection of colours and lines to give you a clue about what to expect on the trail. We knew that up ahead there was a section of red dots. This could mean that the trail got narrow but still rideable, or it could mean you have a full on climb with fixed ropes and cut foot holds. We were hoping for the former, it turned out to be the latter. To be fair, having seen the size of the waterfalls and gullies that cut through the cliffs here, we could probably have guessed this, but it’s amazing what optimism does for you.

More fun when carrying a bike. Photo by tom Wilson-North

Through some stroke of luck the trails into each of these sections were rideable (sometimes easier to ride than walk!) which meant we just had to shoulder the bikes for the climbs out. This did leave us with one hand holding the bikes, one hand holding the wire, and no hands to spare for making upward progress, but we got there in the end. Twix was having no problems, despite her lack of opposable thumbs

River crossings just add to the fun

Eventually we reached L’Achat d’en Bas at 1482 which meant the good stuff should start. Shouldn’t it?

Start of the descent

It did, at first at least. The trail down to Chavan was fast and flowing. Tom was destroying it on his shiny new 29’er with Twix not far behind. I kept being drawn to the views of the Arve valley far, far below, and as a consequence kept spotting the drainage ditches at the last minute! The trail then gave way to some fairly hardcore 4×4 track then, at a very easy to miss junction, we turned off right to contour back round to the inspiration for the ride, the switch back squiggles leading down to Besseray

Contouring, with exposure. Photo by Tom Wilson-North

After a few interestingly narrow sections getting over, the switchback started off promisingly. Not too steep to be worrying, but steep enough to be challenging and with the option of blatting straight down the middle if your ethics allow. Then it got steeper.  And tighter.  If you can’t rolling endo round corners, you’re really going to struggle on this trail. After a while we gave up, some corners the consequences of a near inevitable fall were just too much.

Even once the corners opened up again, there were some pretty gnarly outlooks, with a not-quite-as-high-as-I’d-like fence between the trail and a very long but very fast approach to St Martin sur Arve.

Exposure!It wasn't all switchbacks

As ever, Twix couldn’t see what our problem was and bounded back and forth with the enthusiasm of an animal that hasn’t been told how long it is till the next nap. Once out of the switchbacks our enthusiasm returned too.  If that section had been designed to be as unsuitable as possible for bikes, then next was the opposite.  Given some of the banking of corners, presence of little rock lips and use of the terrain, I’m almost sure it WAS made for bikes.  Either way, an absolute corker of a singletrack blast to finish the ride off.

Some rides are instant classics, some you know you’ll come back to with more skills (or failing that, more travel) and others, well, you’re not going back.  I’m not in any rush to ride the trail again and I can’t see Tom putting it in a guidebook anytime soon, but there’s plenty of other tracks down there which look like they could do with some exploration, so maybe that mythical ultimate trails IS waiting down there somewhere.

Getting tech in the trees. Photo by Tom Wilson-North

Anyway, time to get back up to Chamonix, there’s some fine wine and bike groupies waiting….

Twix, Chamonix's best trail dog?