Deconfinement diaries-Shand in Chamonix Part 2

25 May 2020


This week we have part 2 of the Deconfinement diaries from Chamonix, with Scott Cornish on his Shand Bahookie…….

In recent days, there has been an intense buzz of relief resonating across the Chamonix valley as the community has been indulging in their passion for outdoor activities with the return of the warmer weather. From those chasing the last few days of skiing from Aiguille du Midi for its 2 days of opening this past weekend, to those returning to the playground of mountain trails for running and riding, whether solo or, as we can now, in the company of mates.

Having missed out on the gradual acclimatisation to Spring’s warming temperatures, many people have been sporting the tell tale signs of long days out in the hills, both sun tan and sunburn marks! In all the excitement of being let out, we may have been absent minded about applying sun cream, forgetting how much more intense the UV is at higher altitudes.

This past week has been about rediscovering the legs and the trails we haven’t ridden since November last year. All the lower valley trails are fully open, with the rivers that flow alongside full of snow melt, emitting a constant loud roar as they cascade down the mountain sides. At this time of year, negotiating avalanche debris and fallen trees along the Balcon Nord route is the norm, but with the hot weather the route was clear, meaning uninterrupted flow from the far end of the valley back towards town.

Many of the trails here lend themselves to being more suitable for full suspension bikes, offering grip and speed over the rocky and rooty terrain, but the rigid Bahookie has been holding its own. It’s been making the trails feel new and exciting again, piloting it with more precision for the fastest and smoothest lines. The voluminous 2.4 WTB Rangers creating predictable handling and grip, keeping me out of trouble. It takes a few rides to dial in the ideal tyre pressure on the larger tyres, but once you hit that sweet spot, the 2.25 versions seem so small for trail riding!

Heading down to the Swiss border over the Col de Montet is one of the shorter out and back routes, the descent into Vallorcine fast and fun, with views of the Swiss Alps beyond, whilst negotiating your way through herds of mountain cows, which are a little intimidating with their size and hefty horns! Our usual riverside trail into Switzerland circumvents the actual border control popping out just below it. Usually it’s a wave to the border police and carry on. Intrigued to see how far we could ride, the large placard blocking our way across the narrow footbridge was our end point, informing us that the river is the demarcation line of the border. Every day is a school day. It was back the way we came.

This time of year is all about chasing the receding snowline, riding and running as high as we can before snow stops play. Snow tends to linger on higher pistes where the snow has been heavily compacted and the more sheltered north facing slopes. The 2186m high Col de Blame via the Col de Possettes is a classic climb from Vallorcine at 1264m and one of the longer, local strava sections! The Col de Possettes is also a favourite for some of the valley’s singletrack and tech descents with riders eagerly waiting for the snow to melt to reveal its trails. So I headed up to take a look!

There are 3 ways up. Lift assisted in the summer season for uninterrupted descending. Via le Tour if the legs are feeling adept enough for regular pitches of 25% to the mid station, all over loose, chunky gravel, just for the added challenge. Ideal MB race training! Longer, but with shallower inclines is the climb from Vallorcine. Tree lined and more scenic, it’s a personal preference, with one crux section, a brief, super steep slope, the views making up for this short abuse of the legs.

I had an excuse to hike it this time, snow patches making it unrideable. I wasn’t riding much either over the next km, on and off across more dense snow patches, coming to a complete halt in front of a slope of deep, wet snow. Not overly surprised, given that this section of the mountain is quite sheltered, the choice was returning the way I had come or continue the adventure on foot across the snow to the col. Being mostly stubborn with a hint of determination, and it being safe to do so, I ventured onwards and upwards.

A bit of a trudge, but with each step the view gradually revealed itself. From the Col de Possettes you can see most of the Chamonix valley 1000m below and just how narrow it is. The goal of reaching the higher Col de Balme would have to wait though, being a lengthy, further hike a bike up the snow bound track. With these higher reaches still snow bound, I had the hill to myself, a moment of quiet calm amongst the surrounding snow capped peaks. Worth the effort.

From here it was directly down to le Tour, although it was a brief dash over snow before I could hop back onto the bike, passing a guy lugging his e-mtb up the snowy slope. Leg powered riding almost seems to be becoming the minority here, often getting quizzed myself by hikers and other riders if I’m on an e-bike just because you’ve managed to make it up a steep climb. Fast, double track winds its way down to the mid station, before embarking on THAT track up from the le Tour. Even descending makes you appreciate just how steep and loose it is! Drifting the rear wheel out on each corner has never been so easy, but being equally careful to not be overzealous as it’s a steep drop off should you misjudge any turn! For the last couple of km, I jumped onto the DH track, just to see. Non technical, it’s just steep with tight, bermed switchbacks, super exhilarating riding it on the drops.

I keep forgetting that we are still in the process of a gradual deconfinement with cafes and bars not yet permitted to open. I’ll usually make a pit stop in an excellent cafe in Argentiere, but alas not able to yet, so it was straight back for a home brew. Longer and more remote rides are in the pipeline, but these need more careful planning than usual with refueling points and refuges not yet open, so I’ll have to be more resourceful. Looking forward to seeing where I can get to in the coming week.

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