Feel the serenity.

Feel the serenity. And feel small. That's the other thing hills do for you.

Everyone loves a good bit of content. A little creative framing of the background, your best insta-face, appropriate filter, add a witty “zinger” of a caption. Sorted.

Problem is, once you’ve got a few good contents under the belt your start needing to get something a bit……more…..to get the same hit. Like.

Flowers, sporting equipment, in and out of focus objects, blues and greens and a bit of filter to help them along. Instagold. Which I think was a 'coffee' brand in my youth.

Then, quicker than you can re-write some tired broadsheet copy from the last decade, you’re hanging backwards off a large building in Abu Dhabi. Or biking for 2 days to get to a totally improbable descent on your bike. Obviously one of these situations will be more relevant to most of yous.

Which is why last weekend, Toby, Tim and me found ourselves hiding underneath an overhang in a large couloir as raindrops the size of smarties battered down around us.

Back to where we started, or a couple hours in from there at least.

Obviously we didn’t start at this point. We started in Plaine Joux, a bit above Servoz, with a pedal out of the ski area and up towards the Chalets Souay, then up towards the Refuge Moede Anternne, then up towards the Col du Mode Anterne. I say pedal, there was a fair bit of pushing in there. And a bit of carrying. Which kinda started a theme.

Climbing 1000m doesn’t make for great content. Normally the slow pace means you get plenty of little rider/big scenery shots but the weather was treating us to 7/8ths cloud cover. This was grand news for my pasty Scottish skin but kinda hides the Mont Blanc and Chamonix Aiguilles banger backdrop we were hoping for. So we had to speak to each other and just get on with the climb instead.

Too cloudy for climbing shots, fortunately Toby could muster up this one of some scenic traversing.

Once over the col and on with the assorted padding and protection modern biking fashion and injuries dictate the content creation didn’t get much better. The descent from Col d’Anterne down past the Lac d’Anterne is normally framed by the massive limestone cliffs of the Fiz on one side and the rolling Scottish (slash Lake District slash Kiwi, the problems of going biking with foreigners) hills on the other. When we got there, it was framed by cloud. Not to worry, the trail is just as good irrespective of whether it’s bathed in sunshine or if the weather’s gone for an early bath. It’s also entertainingly unpredictable, with multiple line choices and several moments where what looks benign trail suddenly turns quite engaging.

To infinity....and beyond! Or oblivion. It might be oblivion over that edge.

So far so good, but so known. The ride to here had already been done, dusted and put online, at which point Jamie Carr had pointed out to me that there was a better descent than the line we’d ridden down to the Refuge d’Anterne Alfred Wills. Which is why we turned right just after the Lac d’Anterne towards the catchily titled “Le Petite Col ou Bas du Col d’Anterne” and into Terra Nova. Well, nova for us. The worn path on the ground and fact there was a sign pointing where to go makes it about as undiscovered as America or Australia was. Meh, we’re white and male and we’re claiming it as ours.

Toby being the small biker in big scenery. As Toby is 6 foot 7 and riding an XL Mega, you get a good idea of the size of the big scenery.

Turns out that as one of the original UK alps mountain bike guides, previously a world champs racer and currently a long time resident of the Grand Massif, Mr Carr does indeed know his good descents. After the scenic traverse towards the savage west face of Mt Buet the descent drops into a Mordor esque cirque. The deep greens around us start to blur as the trail eggs you on to ride quicker and quicker. It’s not a difficult trail but it’s plenty fun. As it’s worn into the hillside you’ve almost always got some form of support on the outside of each curve and the drainage ditches have mellow walls that let you manual, hop or bounce over and out as you feel like. And, as the gradient never gets too steep, you get massive value out of the 700m you descend to the hut.

Tim heads for the hut. Quickly. No one want to be an orc snack.

The hut, Refuge des Fonts. Overnighting is a sure fire way to up the value of your content from a trip. Doesn’t matter if it’s climbing, skiing, kayaking or biking. Stay overnight, fire some shots of chillaxing at the end of a long day onto your socials, mibbies add a couple of star studded sky images or a long exposure of headtorches and you’re golden. Except there was no 4g. Oh, the humanity. There was beer though. We ordered some beers and chatted to each other. Again.

Some good beer content that....

There’s not much to say about staying in refuges. Either it’s something you enjoy or you don’t. The food is hearty unless you don’t eat meat and vegetables and cheese. The beds are comfy as long as you’re not over six foot tall (and to be fair, the beds are still comfy, it’s just you can’t stand up in the dorms). The breakfast will be coffee, stale bread and jam. Someone will snore (apparently it was me).

Would sir prefer the en-suite with shower or bath?

They’re also infinitely better than riding with a tent, sleeping bag, stove and food strapped to your bike. The Refuge des Fonts ticked all these boxes, everyone was super friendly, our bikes got locked away in the store shed and we got to stay warm and dry through the overnight rain and wake to blue skies and sunshine.

Refuge des Fonts. Poos with Views.

Day two started as it was intended to finish. Going downhill. Rolling out of the refuge grounds the trail is just about 4×4 truck friendly with some surprisingly well placed banks to make things more interesting. After a few kilometers of that we got to break off left into some sweet singletrack through the trees. In the morning. After a overnight rain storm.

Wet root gardens are a much better wake up shot than any cup of coffee I’ve ever had. We all survived somehow.

It all seemed so easy at this point.

Whilst the day would start and end descending, there was this middle bit where we would go uphill. It started easy enough with a nice meandering road climb up to Le Liggon. It then eased us into some rougher fireroad but still something you’d get a Rangerover up.

A little steeper.

A little narrower.

A little rougher.

Are we having fun yet?

It’s like a good book or movie. The protagonist slowly gets deeper and deeper into trouble but, like the proverbial frog being slowly boiled, doesn’t notice it until they see the side salad getting prepared for their “tastes like chicken” flesh to be served with.

The bikes went onto our backs and we kept going uphill.

Torrent de Sales. Good distraction that.

Fortunately we had the distractions of the Torrent de Sales and its waterfalls as we went up.

And, with good scenery comes the potential for good content, so we got to stop every so often, stretch out the shoulders, and take some photos. Woop.

Sometimes we even got to ride the bikes uphill.

Eventually, and after a pretty brutal 800m and 2hr of climbing, we rolled into the Refuge des Sales. It didn’t take much convincing for us to stop for refreshments. I’m not sure it even took any discussion.

If that menu's blowing away, you probably don't want to eat outside anyways. Refuge des Sales

With only 500m of up left you’d think things would be looking good from here. You’d think, but you’d be wrong. We were entering the Desert de Plate, one of France’s largest limestone karsts and home to some impressively big fissures (and you thought it was an option on the Refuge des Sales’ menu….). When the nearby Flaine ski area opened in 1970’s skiers were quick to exploit the off piste potential of the desert du plate, and promptly started disappearing into stone crevasses covered by thin snow bridges. It also doesn’t make for particularly direct trails.

Still going up.

Never mind, every pedal stroke (or footstep), is another stride in the right direction. Eventually we reached the Col de la Portette and could start looking at the down rather than the up.

All downhill from here Toby....

Looking down had it’s advantages too, the trail from the top of the Col de la Portette isn’t really the kinda thing you just drop into. Not if you want to get beyond the first switchback at least. None of us rode the first switchback.

Tim. Dropping. Or whatever the kids say these days.

Nevermind, a couple switchbacks out of a near 1800m descent isn’t much to stress over. We continued down, and down, and down until we got to the Chalets de Plate. Where it started to spit with rain.

Switchbacks we could deal with.

Up till now the weather had been pretty nice and the forecast had promised that it would stay so.

Unfortunately the weather hadn’t read that forecast.

Strong pointing game from Toby. Strong background game from Sallanches.

Fortunately it seemed to be listening to those of us on the ground complaining and no sooner had it started raining it stopped and the ground began to dry again.

Buoyed with the excitement of it now being downhill all the way to the bar we traversed the short plateau to the main event of the day, the passage through the cliffs of Les Egratz.

TIm passaging as the trail gains interest.

Good content, as implied at the start of this, needs to be a bit eye catching. What could be more eye catching than some big views of a big drop and a wee trail scratching it’s way through it?

Cautiously, because you really didn’t want to fuck things up here, we started to descend….

Now THIS is where it gets interesting.

Then it started to rain again.

Some geology deals well with the rain, a bit of moisture hardly dents the friction available. Squamish granite and Skye gabbro are two examples that come to mind. Limestone is not one of these materials. Limestone does not shrug off moisture and keep its mu. Limestone plus water equals a very unpleasant time for all. Limestone plus water plus death exposure equals not a massive amount of riding getting done.

Ask yourself. Do you want to be here when it starts to rain bigly?

There was a wee bit of debate as to how best to proceed when instead the environment made the choice for us. The rain turned to a deluge, drops of water the size of smarties pummeled us from above and we found ourselves right back where we started this story.

A loose, steep couloir is NOT the place to hang about in weather like this so, being all too aware of many events in the alps this season, we got down as fast as we could and hid under an overhang at the exit from the couloir.

When obviously it stopped raining.

Out of the frying pan, into a nice pool of cool soothing liquid. Things were much better once escaped from the couloir and weather.

I’ll not lie. We were all a bit disappointed by this turn of events (the rain, not the stopping of the rain). Two days is a fairly long approach in bike terms for a descent. It’s about the journey not the destination and all that though. We’d already had a wheen of good riding, missing out on less than 100 meters of vert didn’t change that, nor did it change that we still had a little over a vertical kilometer to drop yet. Dry your eyes mate, get back on the bike and start having fun.

Both riders in the air at the same time, on a natural trail. Rare as unicorn poo that. Rare trail too...

From a story telling content perspective, I’d finish this post there, stepping out from the overhang, shot of three riders laughing and shrugging shoulders, then cuttying and manualling off into the sunset.

From a real life perspective, we continued more sheepishly. There were a few navigational issues on the descent, it turns out that if only one of the members of the team has ridden the trail, and only once, and that once was part of a longer ride where he was not on an e-bike whilst the others were, and it was in the evening, and it was 4 months ago, his memory might not be perfect for each junction……we got there in the end, and it was worth the detours. A trail destined for another visit for sure.

That's some of your genuine loam there lad, no fakes, no imitations.

We reached the bar, the traditional end point for all rides and start point for the creation of the story of the ride. As none of us had go-pros we skipped high fives and went straight to ordering beers. What did we learn? Nothing we didn’t know already*.

Refuge des Fonts. It's not all fun and games, we found a hidden mine relying completely on child labour there too. Dark things happen in them thar hills.

*An abrupt end for sure. I considered padding out the “living life in the moment” analogy even further, but there’s more than enough words in this already, and the irony about spending current time by writing of a past event as a parable to live in the moment is getting too much for me.

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