Plaine Morte.

Plaine Morte. Where to start, 3000m altitude by a glacier perhaps?

Plaine Morte. Literally dead flat. A plateau devoid of life. A place where time has ended. But then, what is time….?*

Is time a linear constant thing, do we all start at the cradle and progress at 60 seconds a minute to the grave? Physics says no, we all take our own journey and the faster you go the longer it takes. If Sam Hill and me sync watches and agree to meet in 1 years time, he’d be late. The faster you go, the slower time moves. Which is why Greg Minaar has maintained his form, he’s younger than his age measured at our frame of reference.

Wayne is almost as ageless as Minaar, the rocks of the half way point on the other hand, very aged.

That’s the non controversial part, Einstein’s theory of general relativity explained in downhillers. More fun is when you move onto the theories of time progression. Do we move along a fixed chronological line (that’ll be presentism) where neither the past nor future exist only the now or has/does/will everything that happens/ed/ing exist in the same instant (this one’s block theory) and can be located by coordinates in the same way a geographical location in a cube (…or block)?

Dude, what are you on about? We're here for the pictures of bikes, give us pictures of bikes. First turn of the trip, downhill from 3000m.

You don’t get intros like that in MBUK do you? It was/is time to go biking.

Following a 7am start in Chamonix, which is no damn time at all to be dealing with riding bikes, the ChamonixMTB party bus was parked in Sierre and a motley selection (a more sophisticated, European way of saying crew) of riders were headed for the first of a long series of lifts.

Safe to say it was a bit cloudy to start.

And our first pleasant surprise. At the Sierre-Crans funicular the convivial conductor quickly established that the 8 of us trying to buy the cheapest possible ticket up the 900m to Crans were out of our depth when confronted by the automated ticket machine and directed us to the book of 6 passes, which we could split between us. Thank you friendly conductor.

Well out of time sequence, but that's just something you'll have to deal with today.

From the funicular we progressed with classical presentism the short distance along the road to the Barzettes-Violettes lift. Once again, the Swiss failed completely to live up to their national stereotypes and the lass behind the desk correctly surmised we a) wanted to ride the Plaine Morte trail and b) had a limited idea how to deal with the lifts. Eight discounted online purchase tickets later (visit here for cheap lift passes in advance should this piece convince you to follow in our footsteps), we were headed for block theory.

Block theory mtb stylee.

Yes, the Barzettes lift exists in multiple times simultaneously. Both in the now when bikes are allowed on the lift, and the past when lifts didn’t need to take bikes. Even the 26″ Yeti needed its front wheel removed to fit inside. All good practice for things to come.

Will you look at the colour of that rock!  Sets off the black/red Airdrop Edit combo something lovely.

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And then, it was time for lunch. At the pleasingly named Plan des Roses lac. We were back over the rosti line.

We were still at 2360m and with a bit of wind running through the valley, we were all aware of the approaching change of seasons. It wasn’t just the season changing, the trail character moved too. Less gradient and more playfulness.

Block theory. All events exist at the same time, like all the pages of a book exist in the same time and you need to choose the order to read them in. Theoretical physics jokes too much for you?

_________

The final lift, in and out of the clouds in a small box containing a lot of bikes.

1700m down (or up) 640m to go. A coffee stop whilst we waited for the next telecabine rotation then it was on to the summit. At a kick to the nads (or a Reverb for Jamie…) shy of 3000m, the views were stunning.  At points in time before and after, just not the point in time we were at the summit. I’d love to write that we burst through the clouds to the stunning summit views, and I guess we did burst through some clouds, only just to emerge into another layer. We hung about for a bit but even in August 3000m is chilly. It was time to go bike.

Oliver on the edge. Well, Karl's closer I guess.

With no trees or grass, no real sign of life, at this altitude the trail is simply a worn line through the rocks. Surprisingly smooth, almost bikepark flow trail like in the way it rode, we worked our way along the plateau on short climbs and short descents past the out of sight glacier. The biggest distraction was the in your face nature of the geology all around you. In the past all this was ancient seabed or shore, the varying energy of the water moving sediment apparently deciding how friable the rock would be. As the rock breaks smaller and the planet warms, grasses then trees take hold and the plateau is a verdant loam filled forest. Block theory can really mess with your head when you’re pushing up in the mist.

We might have just done 2600m of height gain in the lifts, but we still had a bit more to go the old fashioned way.

The first few km of the ride follow this up down traverse theme, it’s a long day out so why rush. Still, reaching the Wisshorelücke (you ain’t in Kansas now Dorothy, there’s umlauts in that and everything) and a short section of snow to pass, it’d be fair to say the descent truly started. It’s 44km of mostly down though, so a precise start point isn’t exactly crucial.

The crew. Possibly discussing fruit based desserts. Or Sean Bean saying bastard. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tE8d-uGmIWk

Perhaps you could say the Wildstrubelhütte (anyone else hoping for a Germanic forest fruit based dessert here…) is the start of the descent? Maybe it was just where we popped out of the cloud and could finally see that most fabled of bike photographers vistas. Big mountain backdrops with a thin singletrack line snaking off into the blue lake’d distance. It was certainly where the trail started getting more interesting.

And like that we were out of the clouds. Although Jez still seems to be going the wrong way....

Off camber slabs, loose gravel hairpins, chaotic rock steps. There was something to puzzle anyone, and to provide entertainment for everyone else as we worked out way towards lunchtime (lunch time, the best of all known types of time?)

Confused by the gap? Blame your understanding of block theory.

Then that changed too, back to plummet, more rocks and consequence, our first tunnel, the first indications of the exposure to come (which time model are we working with again?) and the return to proper human footprints.

Benoit drops into the glare of a hundred social media accounts.

The Barrage de Tseuzier is small by Swiss standards, but it’s still well impressive to hang your head over the edge and look down. And assume all that damage has been repaired… If you looked just a bit further out than straight down you could in theory see our trail down the valley, but I could just see cliffs and scree. This should be a clue as to where the trail character is going. I guess you don’t need to be a physicist to theorise on the future, you don’t need a weather man to know which way the wind blows. etc.

Still some way above the barrage. Infact, still above lunch, but you should be ok with being outside of chrono-logic by now.

Sure enough, the next section of trail starts innocuously enough, with some pretty fast riding and just technical enough to stop it getting silly sections. But every glance up confirms that the cliff wall is still approaching and there’s nothing remotely like a breach appearing in it.

Looking for a breach in the ramparts.

When the trees finally part to see the narrow band hacked out of the side of the cliff it’s almost a relief to finally know that at least there is something like a path ahead. You’ve still got to ride it though…

Skinnies, swiss stylee. s'alliteration....

And then you’re at the bisse. An old open viaduct to transport water between fields, now a conveniently only just graded downhill trail next to a cooling stream, that flows efficiently into the next cliff face.

So when was the last time you started a ride at 3000m altitude and had to take a subterranean water way to get to the end of it?

Stepped round the face of the cliff are the remains of the ancient wooded walk and aqua way that carried water and people around the cliff. In 1991, which really isn’t that long ago, it was decided that a tunnel through the cliff would be better. Whether or not the residents of the 1800’s version of the valley imagined bikes would be trying to use their walkway is an interesting but irrelevant point. Whether the architects of the 1991 tunnel did is more pertinent. Perhaps they had seen John Tomac race DH on his drop barred MTB and assumed that was where the future was, a tunnel only needed to be a human plus 450mm bars wide. Perhaps they had a portal to now and could see gravel bikes. Perhaps Tomac is not just a farmer, but a preeminent physicist. I don’t know. I do know the tunnel was bloody tight with a bike.

At least the lights worked.

Have you any idea how damned hard photos are to take in light like this!?!? Very hard. Which is a shame, as they're some of the best moments, beautiful light, contemplative trails. Bliss innit

Back to the bisse, back to flow.

We weren’t done with the surprises yet, there was still one more tunnel to go. And this one was proper small.

Claustrophobic? At least no one was on a geometron.

Remember the throwaway comment in the early paragraphs about removing wheels for the lift? Well, that shows that the human perception of time is relative. The amount of time you feel has passed, and what your watch will have recorded, are not that same. One is much longer. And that we now have to remove our front wheels again. It was a pretty small passage and I’m glad I’ve neither the biggest frame or frame because both would have got pretty scratched. The lights weren’t working either.

In the absence of working lights, this photo was brought to you by a handful of phone torches and some very quick playing with the dials in the dark. Ben seems fairly non-plused.

Back to back to the bisse, back to flow. Then back to junctions. With a selection of mapping devices at our disposal you would imagine the navigation went smoothly, but GPS was obviously channeling time confusion and those of the group that had ridden the trail before were called on to remember which trail was which.

But if we’re running on block theory, surely the trail we would take was as known as the trail we had just finished? If all of the days events were occurring simultaneously but experienced concurrently then we had no more free will to choose which trail we would ride than under presentism, where our choices are shaped by our environment and the genes our ancestors pass on rather than anything happening in our 3lb lump of head jelly that makes us build bikes.

Stop making me think, take me back to that lunch time time.

I know, it’s all a bit much when really you just want to know if the trail is worth the effort of the logistics. The right choice was made and we were back to some of that fine low mountain singletrack that Switzerland does so well.

Swiss singletrack. Also, #26aintdead

A final wee sting in the tail, the last drop of tech down through the vineyards, and we were out on the peleton chain gang spin for the van.

Worth the logistics effort? Most definitely, especially when someone else has done all the effort on your behalf, hence a big cheers to Wayne, Oli (also on photos, double cheers!), Karl, Jez, Ben, Benoit and Jamie for doing all the hard previous bits and making a pretty big day out happen with (broken derailleurs excepted) no mishaps. 2875m of down for 525m of up over 45km. Finally some plain and easy to understand numbers.

Oliver nailing the last tech section, quite a contrast to the moonscape of the trail start!

*This is not the greatest blog in the world, no. This is just a tribute. After the ride over a week ago a post was slowly crafted, full of wit and clear eyed scientific explanations. Then the laptop died. During backing up files. Taking inspiration from several prominent world leaders, my complete lack of education, knowledge or experience in computer repair was ignored and I set about the Toshiba armed with a screwdriver and access to google. Hence, this was written on an unfamiliar “azerty” french laptop using memories. Just imagine how good the first draft was…

Always finish on a banger. Lucking out with the light about half way down, spot the 4 riders. Also, what is finish if everything is concurrent?

 

 

  • Chamonix Bike Blog

    Mountain bike blog for Chamonix and the Western Alps

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