_19 Monastère de Chalais et Mont St. Martin

09/03/14

Route map here

I think this was possibly the best ride I have been on since I have been in France, just a mix of; good weather, good company, a nice climb, some interesting buildings and mountains and some absolutely amazing trails, seriously like the kind of things you see in the magazines, the kind of trails you dream of!

The trail is one we had said we would do for a long time but never bothered to go there yet as it means a bit of a ride out of the city on the flat before any ‘mountain’ biking gets done. From other mountains we had seen this ridge that descends from pretty high up (the top is up at 1800m somewhere) to the city at a very nice gradient and once we had looked at the map we found that there was an indeed a trail running all the way down the ridge!

I had spotted that two other guys had rode this (via their strava) the day before so guessed it must be clear of snow (despite the warm weather the snow line is still sitting at about 900m) so off we went with no idea of what it might be like but with the hope of something amazing as the trails are so easily accessible via a road once you get to the bottom of them, so if they were good we knew we would be back! We were not wrong…

Huuuge graffiti wall by the river
Huuuge graffiti wall by the river

The first part consists of running away from the city following the river and the main motorway that leads to the rest of France, this huuuge long wall that supports the motorway above is absolutely covered in graffiti, it must run for almost 1km and there is all sorts of everything on it, some quite amazing drawings as well. 10km later and we arrived at the bottom of the climb at a little village called Le Chevalon.

The disused quarry buildings that were asking to be explored
The disused quarry buildings that were asking to be explored

I love things like this… sitting just above the Le Chevalon was a disused quarry, with all the old buildings sitting empty, to me it just cries out to be explored (even more so because there is a fence around it all), to go and see what once was. I think most people would call it ugly but I find the industrial and unnatural shapes against the natural lines of the mountains behind quite interesting, makes for some very interesting views at least.

Anyway, we were here for riding and not hopping about old buildings, in any case Steve had SPDs on so would have had trouble hopping the fence! So off we went up the first part of the climb, all the way up the old quarry road winding between big excavated sections of the mountain.

Sun shining through the trees on the way up
Sun shining through the trees on the way up

Nearer the top, on the last section of the ascent the track turned into a nice singletrack trail, a perfect gradient normally however I realised recently I have a great big 36t chainring on the front so even though I was just able to ride up, it was a real struggle… As soon as I have the money I shall be treating myself to a nice 32t narrow/wide chainring!

Not a single cloud in the sky today
Not a single cloud in the sky today

The awesome weather continues!

Many apples were eaten on our way up as energy food however, I don’t know about you, but whenever I eat an apple I always end up with one massive burp afterwards, both me and Steve ended up with some rather impressive efforts, Steve winning with one rather huge one!

Chilling in the snow at the top, next to the monastery, biscuit time!
Chilling in the snow at the top, next to the monastery, biscuit time!

The last 100m up to the monastery was covered in snow, very wet snow, and while we were stopped at the top to eat the rest of our food we could hear what sounded like snow being compacted under foot but very very loudly and away in the distance, although I have never seen an avalanche I thought that is what it must be. There were 4 or 5 while we were stopped to eat and finally there was one which we saw, all of the snow and rock falling of the top of a cliff down onto the ground a good 60-70m below, unfortunately our descent went along underneath this cliff.

We definitely thought twice about going but in the end set off at least to investigate, maybe our path was not so close to the bottom of the cliff face.

This warning made us even more nervous after what we had already seen
This warning made us even more nervous after what we had already seen

The sign above only reinforcing our thoughts from before…

The point when we were thinking 'this is a terrible idea'
The point when we were thinking ‘this is a terrible idea’

A good bit of scrambling through 15/20cm deep, very wet snow below our cliff ensued and we hardly rode anything, we were definitely thinking why the heck did these guys come along here, I sure hope there was a reason. With that idea/hope in mind we scrambled over some previous avalanche debris and some rather exposed parts of trail until finally we were low enough that the snow stopped, luckily there was no falling rocks while we crossed!

Dreamy, rocky, technical trails, winding through the trees
Dreamy, rocky, technical trails, winding through the trees

The trail was definitely worth the wait!!! (three exclamation marks) I think one of the best trails I have rode here, hmm how many times have I said that?! It began traversing the hillside with me constantly trying to ride into the bank side as my subconscious kept pushing me away from the drop down to the right, then onto some steeper twistier sections with a few rock drops,

Then BOOM massive fly in my eye, damn that hurt!

Then into the section in the photo above, with a few banked up switchbacks as the trail was sat down in a little gulley, followed by some very rocky sections with a few big rock slabs you had to pick your way through, I followed steve all the way down with his dust shining in the sun adding to the awesomeness of the trail, he suddenly cut off to the right in a gap in the trees where there was a perfect clifftop view down over the valley, which also showed we still had a long way to descent!

And right after Steve showing off for the video there was a loud thud and a hiss
And right after Steve showing off for the video there was a loud thud and a hiss

Right after we stopped I went ahead to take a photo but ended up deciding to take a quick video, unfortunately this was followed by too much overstoke and a large clunk and flat tyre! At least it was at the bottom of the descent before we hit the road again.

Wheelies are always on the cards... No matter what
Wheelies are always on the cards… No matter what
More wheelies
More wheelies

We climbed up the road to the village of Mt. St-Martin; about 200m of height gained a whole load of wheelies, some kids skidding around a rather steep field in an old Renault Clio and a nice view back to the city, before we hit the 2nd half of the descent 750m down to 200m.

Did I mention it was sunny?
Did I mention it was sunny?

Much of the same as before to be honest, just perfect trails in my eyes; sun shining with dusty, try, technical trails, chasing your mate down, hitting whatever drop or kicker you can, skidding round every corner (trying not to skid off the edge (which I did think Steve had done at one point)) and generally having an awesome time!

Can you tell I had a good day?

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