by Andi Sykes
October 20, 2016
This is the follow-up extra feature from the article first published in issue 102. Jenn Hill, our deputy editor, died of cancer in October 2015, shortly before this article was published.
Mark’s Mountain Extras
Mark’s route was from the main lift station at Le Chable, at the base of the valley below the town of Verbier to the top of the Big One cable car that finishes at the foot of the summit glacier. It’s home to the highest restaurant in Europe.
Print constrains mean there’s a whole heap of images that just couldn’t be fit in to the feature. The beauty of digital, of course, is that space is virtual and endless. So here for your pleasure is a gallery of all the images we couldn’t lay down in print.
All photo’s by Vic Alker and Christer Lidslot
The idea for the ultimate enduro stage was brewed up with Lucy from Bike Verbier. Here she is marking out the route on the map when we arrived. The original plan was to start the route at the Bike Verbier chalet as it’s all up hill from there, but we decided to change the start to the lift station at Le Chable for the purpose of making it repeatable. It’s still a 23km climb and 21km descent though. And it was important to find a route that was as continually up hill as possible. Apart from one bit of fireroad that levels for maybe 100yards it’s a continual positive gradient from start to finish.
It doesn’t get more Swiss than this. Chocolate on the pillows for all guests at Bike Verbier 🙂
My principal strategy was food based. I knew I’d be burning around 6000 calories to do this climb so I had to eat a ton of food before and during. I am just never hungry at breakfast so eating enough before we left the chalet was really hard. Eating endless peanut butter sandwiches during the ride was a lot harder than I could ever have imagined too. Strangely, eating loads after the ride was very easy.
Pondering the climb to come as we stand in the carp park of the Le Chable lift station looking up at the mountain I was about to ride up.
The first few hours of the climb were warm, although I passed through pockets of cold air, which is why in some of the pictures I’m wrapped up and in others I’m down to jersey and rolled up sleeves.
Peanut butter sandwich stop – you can tell by the facial expression that I’m already starting to struggle to swallow the buggers, and I’ve not even reached the end of the tree section.
This was the flattest part of the climb at about 5500 feet. It was where I stopped for the longest as my neck was starting to get pretty stiff.
Yeah.. stiff neck. If only I had a personal physio at this point.
At about 6000 feet the trees start to give way to boulders as we approach the start of the sub alpine section.
But strangely it warmed up – hence back to shirt and no jacket.
Trees all gone now and the landscape starts to really open up as I approach the snowline. About 7000 feet I reckon.
Who watches the watchers? Photographer Christer Lidslot snapping my wife Vic snapping him. Meanwhile the trail kicks up steeper now as we meander across ski pistes at maybe 7500 feet. Christer and Vic were riding eBikes, which you can see laid out in the picture. At this point my legs are close to cramping at every bend and I’m literally nursing them up the trail at barely walking pace. I have no idea what I’m thinking at this point – I’ve been riding up constantly now for over 5 hours.
despite the blue sky it’s sub zero here as I make it to the plateau and the Mont Fort glacier. Right up until the final hairpin I really had no confidence I was really going to make it to the top, which is part of the reason at this point I became more than a little emotional.
I couldn’t make it to the actual summit as that is accessed by one final lift and there’s no track access. The glacier is as close as I could get, which is a few hundred metres from the official Mont Fort summit.
Coming down was much more fun than I expected it to be. I knew the trail down was amazing but I was expecting to be so incredibly tired at this point that I was sure I’d be barely holding my riding together. I think the adrenaline and euphoria of reaching the top – of having done something I’ve put off for so long – gave me a boost and I absolutely loved the descent. It’s a singletrack descent pretty much all the way from about 8000 feet back down to the valley bottom and the total distance is 21km of just DOWN.
Not shot on the descent itself but the previous day I’d pre-ridden the descent with Vic and guided by Lucy. It’s truly one of the best descents I’ve ever ridden anywhere in the world.
Lucy leads and Vic follows as we approach the final section of the descent on our pre-ride day. If you get the chance to ride in the Alps then September/October can be a stunning time to choose.
Sweet, sweet relief. Back at the valley floor and time to head back to the chalet and eat real food.
Lucy and me. She’s awesome too.
And finally… The day after my ascent we went back up the mountain to ride a few of the other trails – lift assisted this time. There was a snow blower being tested and it was too good an opportunity to miss. 20 minutes after this picture was taken a fell off my bike trying to cross a rutted trail and I broke my leg. Vic had to drive the van all the way home the next day.
I love my wife.
Lucy plotted this route using the app Bikemap. You can see it online here
Awesome people who deserve a lot of thanks for this challenge..
- Phil and Lucy at Bike Verbier
- Sally at Fit Naturally
- Nicolai Bikes UK for the bike, which is clearly a proper mountain bike.
Corrections to the published article.
I rudely and ignorantly got the name of the dietary help that was so important for this challenge. I used the services of Fit Naturally although in the feature I incorrectly called her Natalie when in fact it was Sally. Sorry Sally.