The Escher trail

The stairs look like they go down but the man is walking up. Mind blown.

There’s been a running joke for a few years now that, as well as the Chamonix Bike Book, there should be a Chamonix Don’t Bike Book. A bible for Chamonix riders of the trails that, no matter how tempting they look on the map, just ain’t worth the hassle. Dinnay bother.

Prime examples would be the auspicious looking dashed line heading NE from the Col de Balme past La Remointse (the descent from the Refuge des Grands would be fun enough, if your enthusiasm somehow survives the preceding hike a bike). Then there’s the trail from the Refuge de Logan down to Argentiere, which does start promisingly enough (….then keeps suggesting it’s going to get better again, then just gives up and dumps you out onto 500m vert of rubble). And how many naive riders have rocked up at the top of Brevent full of enthusiasm to take the track down towards Col du Brevent and round to Pont d’Arieve (there’s a reason the bitter old locals just carry up from Planpraz to Col du Brevent and it’s not that we like carrying our bikes)?

This is what a good trail should look like.....if you ignore what's about to happen. TIm and Robbie are enjoying this bit at least.

All this isn’t to say that unrideable trails can’t be part of a good day out on the bike….

Unrideable is subjective. Tim's got nae issues calling this rideable.

With the look of ovine compliance only those who don’t know what’s about to happen can truly nail, Dave, Tim and Robbie followed me to the Bellevue lift to join the hikers and e-bikers and start the ride. Robbie did have an inkling of what was about to happen, he’s been on my exploratory rides before and also up to the Col Du Tricot, but it turns out he’d forgotten all the bad bits. Or maybe blanked them out as part of a coping mechanism. Hard to tell.

If you want to ride down from the Col du Tricot, first you've got to push up to the Col du Tricot.

Anyways, the descent down to the snout of the Bionassay Glacier is classic big mountain mountain biking. Huge views, a good trail, occasional exposure and the odd bit that it’s probably for the best if you don’t ride.

The trail culminates with the photo stop classic of the wire bridge, which still isn’t any easier to ride with 650mm+ bars but a pure dead good wheelie could get you to the other side. At which point rider stops riding bike and bike rides rider. With the advantage of youth, fitness and no knowledge of how long the climb is, Tim and Dave pulled off into the lead whilst Robbie and I set a more relaxed pace.

The bridge. When oh when will it go boost compatible?

Considerable skepticism as to the ridablility of the descent for the Col du Tricot was being expressed by walkers on the way up and Dave and Tim didn’t seem completely convinced by Robbie and my assertions to the contrary. Fortunately on reaching the col and looking down all doubts were assuaged and lunch one could be enjoyed with the view of the descent to come.

Lunch #1, nice spot for a washing line.

The trail’s changed a bit from the last time it was written about here but only 2 short sections weren’t ridden by anyone in the team, mostly due to a combination of fear of smashing brake rotors and the amount of goat poo on the track.

Like snakes and ladders, but where the snake bit is winning. Top of Col du Tricot

At the chalets Miage the first trail choice had to be made. Another 200m of hike a bike over Mont Truc
[Cartographer: You there, local hick, what do you call this insignificant mountain?
Local Hick: Indecipherable.
Cartographer {to scribe}: God knows, call it Mount Thingy] to get to a grand wee trail I knew down to Les Contamines or roll the dice with the 4×4 track traverse round the hill to an unknow line on the map that would also drop us down to Les Contamines.

Dave and Tim approaching the Chalet Miage to the cheers of a hundred Japanese walkers.

We gambled and, at first at least, it seemed we’d rolled double sixes. The traverse was pretty quick and the short climb pretty easy. Dropping into the singletrack (or straight off the singletrack in Tim’s case) we found a smashing wee trail that snaked down the hill with a fine balance of narrow and tech without loosing flow too much. Then it went uphill for a bit, then a fainter trail descended from the climb. Obviously we took the descending trail. It wasn’t quite as good as the trail before, loamy straights into hairpin turns, but still plenty fun, before it spat us out onto an overgrown 4×4 track.

The trail goes left. Tim didn't.

A slightly too late look at the map showed we should have suffered up the climb for another couple of minutes more and we would have had a longer descent down to Les Contamines. As it was the 4×4 was pretty interesting as these things go and we headed down to Les Contamines and on to the Telecabine de la Gorge.

Messing with the image/writing continuity a bit here, but no one will notice. Jump back to Robbie and Tim high on the Col du Tricot descent.

The Mont Blanc Unlimited lift pass covers a huge area of lifts in the summer, however with such a spread of lifts comes some idiosyncrasies. The lower half of the Les Contamines lifts runs no stop during the day, the upper half closes from 1230 to 1345. On a completely unrelated matter, at the mid station there’s a little paddling lake and a couple of cafes. Nothing for it but to sit with the feet in the lake eating icecream. And “help” Robbie fix a slow puncture.

This is how all punctures should be fixed.

Once the lift had opened and carried us up to 1875m the main part of the day could start. Following the trail that traverses from the ski area out towards the Chalets d Roselette and then from there on to the Lacs Jovet.

Got to admit, the trail started with plenty of promise.

And at first it seemed ok. Not fully rideable but not too far off. Then there were some slightly harder bits to carry the bike across then. Then to carry the bike up. Then to carry the bike down. Carrying the bike down is not a good sign, group enthusiasm starts to drop off pretty quickly once you have to carry the bike downhill.

Riding new trails is fun. We are not riding. We are not funning.

By the time we’d finished climbing and carrying and climbing our way down across the first half of traverse to the trail that scampered back towards Les Contamines it wasn’t hard to find a bunch of perfectly rational reasons why it would make much more sense to head back that way rather than continue with the original plan.

About turn. The alpine rolling endo's about the only trick I've got left in the bag, so I'm going to darn well use it whenever I can.

At first the trail was pretty good, though the novelty of just being on the bike and rolling across the terrain without much effort possibly helped this assessment. Even this trail then started to head up hill, even as it was definitely loosing height.

What an achievement, we’d found the fabled Escher trail. Like an alpine Electric Brae we seemed doomed to keep ascending to the base of the trail forever.

Dave drops in. Def downhill at this point, so presumably we were meant to be climbing.

Fortunately we’re all rational folk and physics quickly re-asserted itself. We joined the furtherest south of the trails we normally ride from the Les Contamines lifts. It pointed downhill and stayed downhill. And it’s a really good trail too. Braap, laugh, wheelie and drift our way down towards the Nant Borant refuge. With a quick excursion off the bike and into the undergrowth for Robbie.

The trail after it picked up its spirits again.

We could have gone for another lap or two off the Les Contamines lifts, but the prospect of letting gravity pull us down towards St Gervais along the riverside singletrack through Les Contamines followed by ice cold sugary drinks and an earlier tramway back into the Chamonix valley was too much to resist, so we enjoyed the last of the 1000 or so meters of descent that counts for a way home out here and I mentally put another red line onto the map of trails in my head. Not fully scored out, but for now mibbies best leave that one alone and just pedal up from the valley floor to explore the trails near Lacs Jovet. Another time, there’s trails straight off the lifts to be ridden before the summer ends…

Looking over the Roman bridge to see if we could find where we went wrong....