With a little over a week until the glorious 13th June, or less prosaically the weekend the lifts start opening in the Chamonix valley, mountain bikers in the valley are looking forward to no longer having to rely on their legs to get to the top of hills.
In the meantime though, it's good to get out on trails whilst they're a little quieter and ride some of the singletrack that, because it doesn't have a lift to the top, you might not head to for the rest of the summer.
With these thoughts, and only a couple of hours to spare after work, Robbie and I headed up towards the Alpage de Blaitiere above the town. It's quite an abrupt climb, but that means you gain height quickly. Also, for much of the ride you climb by the same route you descend, making it easy to turn round if you're taking longer than expected.....or the weather changes.
The descent uses tracks that are popular with walkers for most of the summer and can get quite busy. Yet just now, when the walking season's yet to properly start, and later in the day after the Midi lift has closed, the tracks are much quieter.
Starting from the Grepon carpark you ride (or push if you really have been avoiding any cardio exercise all winter) up through a field then turn left along forestry roads of varying steepness up through the trees heading in the rough direction of the Plan de l'Aiguille. After a couple of hairpins on the forestry road, on a left turning hairpin, a thin trail breaks off (about 1350m altitude) through the undergrowth.
Unless you're super fit (and this is Chamonix, so the person in front you're failing to catch might just be one of the fittest folks on earth) it's a push up the singletrack from here until you reach the Alpage, get tired or the aforementioned weather arrives.
After chatting our way up the hill for a while, it's much easier to talk at a walking pace, the distant rumble of thunder and gentle patter of occasional raindrops on trees made us decide to stop and turn round. You always get a bit of time before summer storms properly arrive so we didn't rush it, took a bit of time to appreciate the views over the town and across to the Aiguille Rouge, and then started down the hill.
This delay turned out to be a slight error on our part! We made it a minute or two down the hill before the skies opened and emptied themselves in the sort of rain normally reserved for movie sets or the bible. What, in the dry, is normally a fairly smooth trail, steep in places but generally not too rocky and technical by Chamonix's standards, turned into a stream. A slippy stream at that. And of course, not too technical by Chamonix standards is still fairly technical.
Not only that, but you get cold pretty quickly in rain like that, so neither of us enjoyed the descent quite as much as we would have in the evening sun. Never mind, it was still a good descent, a good stretch of the legs and a good reminder to expect the unexpected of mountain weather!
Follow more of Graham's MTB trips in his Chamonix Bike Blog.
- Mountain Biking