Saturday, 24 September 2016

Le Tour du Toblerone (or A little ride around the Matterhorn!)

(Photo: Ruth Bowman)

It means different things to different people, and even for one person, adventures can come in many different forms.

It’s a word that gets used, and probably overused (including by me) a lot. 

But if Adventure means going beyond one’s own personal comfort zone, doing something that scares you or pushes you to your limits physically and mentally, going where you haven’t been before, and where the outcome is uncertain, then we can all have our own different limits for adventure. Just because someone has had them before, doesn’t mean we can’t have our own ones too.

(Photo: Ruth Bowman)
Who’s to say that a group of friends exploring some trails in a riding area they haven't visited before won't get the the same adrenaline buzz and sense of “adventure” that someone else might get from being the first to stand on an 8000m peak?

I go on what I call “Adventures” all the time…they are really just fun days or trips, often exploring new to me places, and there are different levels of danger, risk, or fear which I’m prepared to expose myself to on each of these.

But it’s been a while since I had what I would consider a real adventure, and this summer I decided that needed to change. That little part of me that craves adrenaline, excitement, discovery, maybe even the feeling of fear and scaring myself a little, was becoming restless. Inevitably, this adventure needed to include Mountains, and preferably, my trusty Juliana Bicycles Roubion….the best adventure vehicle I own.

My Roubion
I’m drawn to Mountains in a way I feel difficult to explain. It’s part of me….the little flutter I get every time I see them, like they are calling to me. I want to be in them, on them, part of them, to see the rest of life from them, and I cannot resist that call. I guess some people have that and others don’t, but if you’re one of those people then you’ll understand what I mean.

The Mountains are calling...
A few years ago, a good friend Tom and I rode the Haute route from Chamonix to Zermatt. In fact, we did it 2 years running, on different routes each time. They were real adventures….long tough days, routes neither of us knew, through amazingly beautiful scenery and along incredible trails. Every day we had no idea what we would face, and there were plenty of challenges along the way. But they were awesome trips that I’ll always remember. 

Tom and I at the end of the Haute Route July 2013
It was whilst along the route we took the second year that I first saw signs for a walking trail of the Tour du Cervin, or Tour of the Matterhorn, and the seed was planted in my mind of wondering whether you could ride a bike around the route.

The Matterhorn is an iconic mountain…the kind that even looks like the pictures of mountains you might have drawn as a child. A near perfect triangular peak, the Toblerone mountain, even for non-climbers or mountain people, I imagine most have seen a picture of it at some point. An adventure round this majestic peak was definitely something I liked the sound of…

The Matterhorn
A little bit of initial research when we first got back from our Haute route showed that the route was a bit more tricky than any previous Alpine bike trips I’d undertaken. There were two glaciers to cross, and whilst I’ve crossed many glaciers as a mountaineer and climber, I’ve never taken a bike across one. We’re not talking about the kind of pisted glaciers that people ski on either….the Glacier d’Arolla is a proper, crevasse-riddled, real life beast. I put the idea to one side and got on with other smaller micro-adventures and altogether less scary trips!

But the seed was there, and over the past few years I’ve kept coming back to it, researching online, buying maps, slowly planning, wondering if it was stupid to think about riding it? Or whether it would actually be possible. And then last year I heard via a blog I found online, that 3 crazy Italian guys had ridden the route…it was enough for me to know that if it had been done, then I could definitely do it too. So the proper planning began.

Adventure Buddies Ruth, Pete and Claire
I managed to persuade a few carefully selected friends (who I knew would have the necessary skills and fitness to complete the challenge, as well as being good fun company!) to come with me, giving them some purposefully vague information about the trip but not enough to scare them off! Pete, Claire and Ruth are all good friends of mine, but none of them actually knew each other before the trip. Admittedly this was a bit of a risk, but I was confident they would get on with each other!

Maps were pored over, (fortunately I’m a total map geek so I was happy to spend many long hours looking at the route), days planned, accommodation booked, logistics sorted.

Months, turned into weeks, turned into days…and all the time I was watching webcams, weather forecasts, climbing reports from the areas we’d be going through. Winter 2015 was a snowy one, and a late one, and unlike the previous super hot dry summer when the Italians had ridden the route, there was a LOT of snow still lying in the high mountains. Anxieties started to creep in. Should we cancel? Would it be a waste of time even trying? Were people even walking the route yet? That fear of the unknown grew a little stronger. No-one else that I could find had ever tried to ride the route, so apart from maps, photos, walking blogs, we couldn’t ask anyone for information….we would just have to go.

And before we knew it the week had arrived….and the weather forecast looked horrendous. Storms, cold snowy unsettled weather….and I began to think it was all going to go wrong before we even started.
I honestly set off thinking the odds were stacked against us, a big part of me was expecting to fail. But if we couldn’t make it, at least we’d be able to turn around and ride as far as we’d come, back in reverse, right?

Day 1: St Niklaus to Zinal (34km, 2162m ascent, 11 hours)

I always find the best way to start these trips is to be incredibly well-prepared so that all that needs to be done the night before starting is to eat and get a good night’s sleep. However, in reality that never happens, and this trip was no different!

Pretending to be organised
Claire and Pete arrived from an all-night driving mission from the UK late afternoon, at which point we all still had to pack bags, fix bits of bikes and basically do quite a lot! Needless to say, we got a little less sleep than we’d planned.

We did wake to sunshine though, and with a pretty rubbish forecast for later in the day, and what I was sure would be the longest day of our trip, alarms had been set for a super early start. I’d seen on the map a cable car, that would save us 1000m of climbing…there was no way we weren’t going to be taking it! When we arrived at the lift station though it’s safe to say it wasn’t what we were expecting! A crazy little lift with room for 4 people squeezed inside, the bikes were tied on with some worryingly small and frayed bits of old rope and a load of dodgy knots, by an old guy who only spoke German, which none of us could speak back! We hadn’t even started riding properly and my heart was in my mouth that our bikes would make it to the top with us, but fortunately they did, or this story would already be over!

Plenty of room for 4 bikes and 4 people??!!
Our first col to climb over was the 2800m Augstbordpass, still 1000m above us despite the assistance of the lift. It was pretty much a push and carry from the start, with the gradient climbing too steeply to ride. But with fresh legs and a bucketload of excitement for what lay ahead, we made good progress, and I can think of a lot worse ways to spend a Monday morning than being out in the mountains, with good friends and bikes! 

Just your average Monday morning view
There were plenty of snow patches to traverse once we got higher which slowed things down a little, none of which were particularly steep or difficult, but the main hazard was where the edges were undercut and would collapse without warning as you stepped down off them. I managed to get my foot completely stuck in one of these collapsed holes, and it ended up taking all 3 of the others to help me get out!

Sketchy snow traversing (Photo: Ruth Bowman)
Who said these trails aren't for bikers too?! (Photo: Ruth Bowman)
We passed several groups of walkers, and a theme and general conversation began to emerge which would continue throughout the week. It went something like this…

“Oh my word, is that a bike on your back?”
“Yes, we’re riding the Tour of the Matterhorn”
“You must be crazy, it’s really steep and dangerous! Is that even possible? You’ll never make it”
“Thanks, we know, that’s why we’re here, we like these kind of trails, and we don’t know if it’s possible, but we won’t know unless we try will we? Have a nice day!”

*complete look of bemusement and incomprehension on walker’s face as we walked on.

Despite the repetition of these conversations, I liked them. I enjoyed the fact that we were doing something daring, something different from the norm, we really were adventuring, I was excited to try and prove all the doubters wrong….

Safely over the col, we enjoyed some fantastic trails down to Gruben, the kind all mountain bikers dream about in fact…ribbons of flowing and not too technical alpine singletrack winding through pretty meadows filled with carpets of every possible colour of alpine flower, the sound of cow bells ringing through the high pastures, spirits high, whooping and grinning our way down, happy to feel like we were finally riding.

Pete happy to be riding finally!
This was a two Pass day though, so once down, there wasn’t a lot of time to hang around before we needed to start the second big climb. A hot hot fire road climb carried us up a good chunk of it, but not without sapping us of energy. It was clear we were going to be fully earning our descents on this trip with some brutal climbs! 

Cooling down on the climb
The clouds were beginning to build by the time we reached the start of the singletrack push and carry, but to be honest I was amazed given the forecast (and I’d looked at every one I could, trying to find one that said something more optimistic) that we hadn’t already been soaked!

And just as I commented on our luck, the thunder started. The final push to the Col Forcletta looked ominous. A steep snow headwall which we’d need to kick steps up to reach the col, with the consequences of a slip meaning a potentially fast and painful slide down onto the rocks at the very bottom of the snowfield. Fortunately the snow wasn’t too hard or too soft, and all the years of mountaineering and kicking solid steps into snow meant it actually felt fine. I’d never actually done this in metal cleated bike shoes however, which did add an element of excitement!

Col Forcletta... who needs an ice axe and crampons when you have a bike and cleated bike shoes?! (Photo: Ruth Bowman)
There was a slightly wobbly traverse along a narrow ridge of snow at the top across to the col, and then it was all done. I knew all the others had good amounts of experience of many sports in the outdoors so wasn’t worried about them, but there is no way I would have felt happy guiding a group up something like this, or even many of my biking friends without mountaineering or climbing experience! Luckily the storm was far enough away that we didn’t feel too threatened on the ridge, at 2900m it wouldn’t have been a fun place to hang around with lightning going off!

Claire contemplating another 1000m + descent
Apart from the very top section the descent was once again great. We flew down rocky singletrack to an Alpage for giant sandwiches, before joining an amazing narrow balcony trail skirting the valley up high. There were a few tired, wobbly moments and comedy crashes along this, but at the end of the traverse a fast and fun trail brought us down through the woods to Zinal, just as it started pouring down!
Our home for the night was a traditional wooden alpine auberge, with all the delights that brings…a dormitory accessed by a ladder, great home-cooked tasty food, cold beer and friendly folk…..and some very loud snoring!

Day 2: Zinal to Arolla (34km, 1660m ascent, 7 hours 20mins)

The next morning dawned cloudy but dry, and with groaning aching limbs and slightly stinky clothes, we fuelled up on the standard breakfast of bread and jam and headed off for our second day of adventure. Once again we were able to take a lift towards the Col de Sorebois, leaving us with a much shorter climb than if we’d had to start from the valley floor. It was on this lift that we bumped into 2 French walkers, Henri and Sika, who were also following the Tour of the Matterhorn. They were the first people we’d met who hadn’t thought we were completely insane, instead they seemed to think what we were doing was exciting and courageous. They assumed our bags were really light, until they tried to lift one and could barely hold the weight! 

We took the bare minimum…the riding clothes we were wearing, a lightweight t-shirt and shorts for the evening, flip flops, a few small toiletries, lightweight waterproof jacket and trousers, a warm synthetic jacket, gloves, a hat, passport and credit card, chain lube, bike tools and spares between us, water and food…all in 25-30 litre bags, and still they felt about as heavy as we’d want them to still be able to enjoy the riding.

Lac du Moiry
We started our first descent amid atmospheric clouds, big glaciated mountains occasionally revealing themselves in windows through the grey. Some fast, sweet singletrack took us all the way down to the beautiful Lac de Moiry, it’s turquoise waters almost too vivid to be real.

Claire enjoying a sublime section of stereotypical Alpine singletrack
Fireroad climbing allowed us to stay on our bikes for a surprising amount of vertical height gain thankfully, before the push to the Col de Torrent. We’d managed to avoid any real rain, but the ground was clearly pretty wet from the previous night’s storm, and so part way down the amazing descent, things took a distinctly slick, muddy, turn! It was brilliant fun though, chasing each other round slippy corners, foot out to try and stay upright, sliding around trying to keep traction, giggling and whooping with glee.
Somewhat muddy!
Our bikes and bodies were covered in mud and a LOT of cow poo as we reached civilisation and the farms and pastures of the valley. Fortunately we happened across a convenient stream and were able to dunk ourselves and our bikes in it to get things clean and working again!

Bike wash Alpine style! (Photo: Ruth Bowman)
We rode through beautiful old villages of narrow streets and ancient wooden houses built on what looked like stone pancakes balanced on wooden stilts, before a final tough climb up to Arolla, for beers in the last of the sun before it dropped behind the tall horizon of mountains above us, to celebrate surviving another day!

The hotel was a crazy old building with wonky off-camber floors which made walking when tired  very disorientating, but it was warm, dry, and sold cold beer and tasty food which was pretty much all we wanted!

Day 3: Arolla to Prarayer (21.6km, 1379m ascent, 8hrs 22mins)

This was the big day. The one I’d been most nervous about. The one which was the key to actually getting round our planned itinerary. And typically the forecast had looked like it could stop us in our tracks.

Somewhere up there lies a Col we need to cross!
The route in question was a crossing of the Col Collon, at 3100m, via the Haut Glacier D’Arolla. I didn’t know anyone that had ever taken bikes across a proper glacier. As a mountaineer, I’ve always had a healthy respect for glaciers. I’ve learnt how to avoid falling in crevasses, how to rescue people if they do, and also witnessed people falling into them, out of the blue, without warning. It’s safe to say I was apprehensive, if not a little scared about what lay ahead of us this day. I also felt responsible for everyone else. Whilst I was confident in everyone’s ability to do what we were attempting to do, it had been my idea, I’d done all the research and planning, and if things went wrong, well, I knew it was myself that I, and probably everyone else would blame.

Sticking to the glacial moraine as long as possible...
When we woke up, the weather looked far better than expected. Blue skies and the morning sun glinting off the snow capped mountains, with little to no wind…it hadn’t been forecast, but we’d take it! I still felt on edge…wondering if the weather would break at a critical or dangerous point, wondering how much snow was still lying up high and whether making the calculated choice not to carry crampons, harnesses and ropes had been an error.

Contemplating the sea of ice to cross ahead (Photo: Ruth Bowman)
Armed with two days of snack supplies in our bags, we began the pedal up to the end of the valley and the first view of the glacier above. Reassuringly, lots of walking groups were heading out in the same direction. Worryingly, many of them had full mountaineering equipment….gulp. The research I’d done had seemed to show that the glacier had receeded to the extent where it was mostly possible to climb on the lateral moraine for most of the hike up, only crossing the glacial ice for (relatively) short periods of time. The Italians had also reported this, mentioning that they hadn’t felt the need to use ropes and harnesses when on the glacier. However, 2015 was a much drier, warmer year, and there was probably less snow lying, covering potential crevasses.

What that sea of ice looks like up close. Small crevasses on the surface...potentially bigger underneath
 The thing with glaciers is that there are crevasses everywhere, not just the ones you can see, and even they may look relatively benign from above, but be hundreds of metres deep and wide below. They are living, moving features, and not to be underestimated.

Trying to put all this to the back of my mind, we soon began the long tough hike up the side of the valley. The landscape on our climb was incredible, a geography teacher’s dream. A wide, recently carved, u-shaped glacial valley, littered with rough banks of moraine. It was raw, wild and beautiful. Nature at it’s most incredible.

Riding up the glacial valley
 It wasn’t long before we encountered our first doubting walkers, asking if we knew what we were doing? Whether we had proper equipment? The standard response was that if we didn’t like what we found or we felt unsafe then we’d turn back. Interestingly, shortly after the first person to question us, we reached an unmarked junction. I checked the map and confidently set off in the correct direction for the route as marked on the map. The walkers spent a few minutes turning a map in all directions, trying to work out where they were, before waiting to see what we did and following us. Their “equipment” also looked suspiciously new and unused. A case of potentially all the gear and no idea…at least we had a collectively large amount of alpine experience amongst us and the knowledge and skills to know what we were letting ourselves in for!

Claire crossing the glacier (Photo: Ruth Bowman)
 When we finally left the relative security of the Moraine we had been scrambling up, there were no walkers around. There were no signs to follow, just a big wide expanse of glacial ice to traverse. Those minutes crossing the glacier were pretty scary. Noises of water running somewhere below us, ice cracking and moving, I felt a sudden sense of responsibility for the others…this was my crazy idea, what on earth were we doing! There were small crevasses everywhere, but the more worrying thing was knowing there were bigger ones underneath us. I made first tracks, tentative steps on the most solid looking bits of ice I could see, avoiding unusual depressions in the snow, praying no snow bridges would collapse, aiming for anything that looked like a bigger bit of rock. Thankfully the traverse was practically flat, the visibility good, and the glacier crossing easy as these things go.

Ruth on the final slog to the col
It was a long slog though up to the col at 3100m, where the altitude and thinner air was definitely noticeable, and the views disappeared temporarily as we climbed the final 100m in the cloud. It was a massive relief to get to the top, to cross into Italy, to know we’d crossed a major hurdle of the route. But what we hadn’t really counted on was all the walking down we now had ahead of us. The terrain was too steep, too snowy, too consequential to ride, it was difficult just to walk!

Much easier was bum sliding down the patches of snow, using the bike across me and the bars and pedal as brakes in a technique I’d used during the Megavalanche a few years ago!

Starting the descent from Col Collon (Photo:Ruth Bowman)
 We giggled our way down, trying to ride when the terrain was less steep, pushing or bum sliding or walking when it wasn’t possible. There were comedy crashes, snow wedgies, and cold bums, but it was a beautiful place.

Bum-sliding territory! (Photo: Ruth Bowman)
The short rideable sections were hard, and the conclusion at the end of the day was that it had essentially been a long tough walk with a bike! Of a nearly-9 hour day we must have ridden for a total of about 30 minutes, but I will still remember it as one of the most memorable days I’ve ever had on bikes!

Pete on a rare rideable section!
We stayed in a beautiful refuge that evening, enjoying being in Italy and the cheaper beer and coffee that that meant! 

Day 4: Prarayer to Cervinia (20.8km, 1486m ascent, 7hrs 55mins)

Looking back towards lots of snow on the way we passed on day 4!
We awoke to a completely different view the next morning. There had been lots of fresh snow overnight, and when we looked back from where we’d come from we realised we wouldn’t have passed the col the previous day if it had been like it looked that morning!!! We had dodged another weather bullet! It was cold but sunny, beautiful and much better weather than expected….again!

Mountainbikeaneering? (Photo: Ruth Bowman)
Once again, we were pushing and carrying from the start of the day, but by now our limbs were becoming accustomed to the daily abuse we were subjecting them too, and seemed to be showing less resistance.

The climb was stunningly beautiful, but the most awkward so far. There were ladders, cables, and tricky scrambling sections covered in a thin veneer of ice. It would have been tough without the bikes…with them it was even more arduous! But with a combination of teamwork, grit and determination, we somehow made it up to the Col de Valcorniere. Another 3000m col, but by now it was noticeably easier to breathe up high!

Not designed for bikes...
We were passing the same groups of walkers from the previous days, most by now were really cheerful, some in awe of what we were doing, and some still just bemused and surprised that we had made it so far.
Almost at 3000m again! (Photo: Ruth Bowman)
As with all the cols we’d reached, the new view which lay before us on the top was magnificent. It also revealed a terrifyingly steep and sketchy descent directly from the col. 

Enjoying another hard earned view (Photo: Ruth Bowman)
There were 3 options: a wire cable traverse, on steep snow, around some cliffs, to reach easier ground. An awkward long narrow snow ledge descent, not steep but not easy with bike shoes on! Or finally, a steep and long, but soft (ish) snow slope, that looked possible to bum slide down. There was no question that this looked the easiest, and as all of them were going to be pretty dangerous, I decided that this was the best choice.

Pete and I beginning the descent (Photo: Claire Bennett)
As soon as I sat down and pushed off, I began to think it might not have been my best idea ever… It was steeper than it had looked, I was getting faster and couldn’t really slow myself, despite digging in heels as hard as I could, and every possible bit of my bike, bars, pedals, tyres, everything. There was a huge pile of boulders at the bottom of the snow slope which I was heading increasingly fast towards…this was pretty suboptimal. 

Thinking quickly of what I could do, I saw a darker, older deeper looking patch of snow off to my right and somehow managed to throw myself towards it. It was soft enough to slow me down and let me stop myself, thankfully! The amount of adrenaline coursing through me at that point was massive, there’s nothing quite like scaring yourself a bit (or a lot!) to induce that! After this initial steep section, the gradient of the slope thankfully eased off and with a combination of more bum sliding, skiing with the bike as a frame at the side of us, and trying, pretty comically, to ride, we quickly reached the bottom of the snow field. 
Stoked to have made it down...full of adrenaline!
We had taken less than half the time of the walkers on the sketchy traverse, most of whom were cheering and whooping for us as they saw us successfully reach the bottom, much to the disgust of their guide, who clearly thought we were reckless, foolish, and a bad influence on his group….all of which were completely justified and accurate assumptions.

Awesome descending as a reward! (Photo: Ruth Bowman)
Classic Alpine Terrain (Photo:Ruth Bowman)
The reward for all our climbing and the scary snow descent came in the form of hours of beautiful descending. Crossing giant granite rock slabs, winding along narrow balcony traverses, negotiating loose, steep and technical switchbacks. 

Claire riding towards the Matterhorn
And as we rounded another corner, there it was, our first view of the Matterhorn! It was a special moment for all of us. There was still a way to go, but we had come so far and experienced so much that had challenged us already, that confidence we would make it started to grow.

There it is! (Photo: Ruth Bowman)
I think I started to finally relax a bit, letting some of the worries and uncertainties I’d had throughout the trip go….maybe I switched off a bit too much, stopped concentrating, focussing on what we still had to do…whatever it was, I crashed. Hard.

Smiling (sort of) at being able to breathe again! (Photo: Ruth Bowman)
One of those crashes where it happens so fast you have no idea what you have hit or what has stopped your wheel so suddenly. All I know is that I was ejected over the bars, high into the air, still holding onto my bike, to land on something that completely knocked all the breath out of me. Probably my stem or bars. My back had scorpioned, extending to a range I don’t think it’s been able to for a number of years, and I Iay, gasping for air in the foetal position, not wanting to move in case I did and then realised something was broken, and not able to even if I’d wanted to. 

It’s a horrible feeling being winded like that. It doesn’t last long, but it feels like forever, like you’ll never be able to take a breath again. Unbelievably, I managed to get away with the crash unscathed, other than some bruises and a sore back and chest for a few days...I was very lucky!

As we rode into Cervinia, feeling tired, a bit shaken, and pretty sore, the temperature had started to drop again, it felt like winter it was so cold!

Our hotel felt like a complete luxury though. Big comfy beds, a hot shower, way more space then we’d been used to in the Alpine refuges. It seemed only right that as we were in Italy we should eat Pizza for dinner, and conveniently, there was a pizza restaurant less than 100m from where we were staying. Complete with a friendly and slightly eccentric owner who insisted on playing Queen “We are the Champions” when we told him what we were doing! I’m not sure I’ve ever managed to eat a whole pizza plus another half to myself before, but that night I did, plus several large beers, and a gelato! By the time we headed to bed I couldn’t feel any soreness from my crash, in fact I could barely remember it! Needless to say we all slept well that night!


Day 5: Cervinia to St Niklaus (48.5km, 1064m ascent, 7hrs 30mins)

It was hard to believe waking up on our fifth day, that it was also our last of the trip if everything went to plan. There had been fresh snow overnight, and though the skies had cleared to a bright and perfect blue, the temperature had stayed freezing cold.

The team at the start of day 5 in Cervinia
We were able to take a lift to half way up the climb, unable to convince the lift operator to sell us a ticket to the top. The reason being that there was too much snow to ride bikes up there apparently. We didn’t waste energy telling him we would be pushing up to the top anyway, and that if he’d seen what we’d ridden in the last few days he might revise his theory that you couldn’t ride bikes on snow….or not, depending on whether he’d have caught us at a rare successful, on-bike moment
A cold start to the day
 Anyway, we were grateful for any mechanical uplift. It was a slightly surreal experience being on the cable car with skiers, climbers, hikers, and bikers. The Matterhorn stood proudly above us, visible at all times, dominating the view, looking stunning with it’s fresh coat of snow, and the wind blowing plumes of spindrift off the upper ridge. We were seeing it at it’s most magnificent and it was hard to believe given how much the weather had threatened to be against us from the start.

Snowy push up (Photo: Ruth Bowman)
It was however, bitterly cold, well below freezing, so cold that Claire had to resort to putting her spare socks on her hands on top of her gloves! The push up was fairly slow, given the soft snow we had to walk on, but at least it kept us warm, and once we reached our final col, the Theodulpass, and moved out of the wind and into the sun’s warmth, it didn’t feel so bad at all! What was even nicer to find was that all the recent fresh snow meant our whole descent across what had looked on the map like another potentially hazardous, open glacier, was actually on perfect pisted compact snow...a ski run in fact! The sides of the piste were roped so we didn’t need to worry about crevasses either. We drank a last Italian coffee in the refuge at the top before we descended into Switzerland.

Approaching Theodulpass at 3300m (Photo: Ruth Bowman)
And what a final descent it was….simply awesome! The slope gradient was shallow enough to fully enjoy it without being scared, and we carved fresh tracks down the corduroy that felt like it had been groomed just for us, only stopping for photos of each other and for fist bumps and high-5s  (Apologies to any skiers that day who wondered why the easy run out back to the lift was full of wiggly deep tyre ruts!!)

Glacier biking on freshly groomed pistes! (Photo: Ruth Bowman)
When we reached the bottom of the glacier and the end of the piste, we took a long lunch break in the sun, all of us trying to take in how far we’d come over the last few days. We could almost smell the finish, only the final trails down to Zermatt and the roll down the valley to St Niklaus remained of our epic trip.

Soaking up the sun (Photo: Ruth Bowman)
There were some great trails down, but after 5 tough days, my body felt tired and reluctant to do what I wanted it to. I got off and walked sections of trail I would normally have ridden, not feeling confident in my ability to ride them without crashing and making tired mistakes. Ruth seemed to be riding better than she had all week, confidently cruising sections the rest of us were pushing over!

Great descending towards Zermatt
 And then, a small tumble in a sketchy spot saw us almost lose her and her bike down a gorge! The bike had stopped precariously on the edge of an undercut ravine which Claire and I could see, but Ruth and Pete couldn’t. Screaming at them not to move off the trail towards the bike, we were able to all form a human chain to slowly pull the bike back to safety! Needless to say we were all a bit spooked by this, and reined it in even further to ensure we all made it to the end safely. 

Newly made Bike park berms, and flowier trails led us into town and celebratory ice creams, before the roll down the hill to St Niklaus, and our finish!

A moment to reflect on how far we've come...
We’d done it! It’s a weird feeling when you finish these kind of trips….like what you’ve done doesn’t really soak in for a few days or weeks after, and at the immediate finish you just feel a bit kind of flat. Proud of what you’ve done, tired, glad to be back, relieved to have survived in one piece, but just kind of deflated after the excitement and adrenaline of the week.

We finished our week off with a BBQ at the World’s most expensive campsite (probably), enjoying wearing clean clothes for the first time in a week!

It was a week which more than satisfied my thirst for an adventure for a while. It was dangerous, risky at times, exciting, tough, challenging, rewarding, fun, and completely brilliant, shared with a great bunch of friends. Would I recommend the route to other riders though? … For the most part the answer would be no! I can only think of a few other people I know who would enjoy the level of suffering and difficulty we experienced!

Stopping to take it all in (Photo: Ruth Bowman)
I’m already planning the next adventure though, my addiction has been reawakened and my love of this kind of adventure rekindled…let’s see what I can come up with for the next trip! Watch this space!