It seemed like a good idea at the time… The Haute Route

“Thank F*** for that!” a thick American accent greeted me at the top of the ladders. This outburst was used many times throughout our assault of the Haute Route, but for once it wasn’t me using it! For her, getting her feet back onto Alpine Granite and her hands off the ice cold steel ladders was a relief. I was buzzing though. I had just climbed about 60m up vertical ladders with a bike strapped to my back, what a feeling. What we were undertaking wasn’t normal. We had slipped into our own deluded form of “normal”. Few would consider what we were doing as normal.

The Haute Route, a traditional ski route, that according to our Tour Guide Andrew, was a route once used by a doctor to cross the Alps between Chamonix and Zermatt. This had become a famous ski tour and subsequently a famous walking route. It had also grown fame as a cycling route. Using roads to cross the alps, not the walking path. We don’t do roads. A night plotting in Finale Ligure on our last trip led us to this point. We wanted something different. It was Brians 40th coming up so he wanted to celebrate in style. This wasn’t really what he was thinking. A throw away comment was made about the Haute Route, little did we know it would lead to a 210km, 5 day spin across the alps. walkers do it in around 12 days. Could we do it? Some videos of the Norwegians attempt were shared and the deal was done.

The best laid plans and all that

Dates were confirmed for September and flights booked in March. This was actually happening. I wasn’t sure if we were 100% committed until then when myself, Ian, Andrew and Brian all got our flights booked. Davy must have fell out with us and didn’t want to come so Chris was drafted into the team for this one. Andrew made full use of his sparse work calendar and started planning the route and we cracked on with the accommodation. A few evenings with maps and the Cicerone guidebook and we had a route loosely planned. There wasnt much talk of this being done by bike. Wonder why? My fitness wasn’t where it needed to be so I put into motion a new plan. But like every good plan that went to shite. A job and move home in April threw the training calendar out the window so had to make up some ground. I even bought a road bike to get some after work miles in around (its hardly seen daylight since).

The lead up to the trip was kit planning. No one really knew what we were going to need. We were relying on Ian and Brian for their knowledge from a previous Tour du Mont Blanc and our own mountaineering knowledge. We shared out as much kit as possible and slimmed our kit down to fit our packs and make sure if shit hit the fan we could ride or see it out. (personal kit list below). 5 days was a long time on the hill, but we were staying in the valleys at night, hoping to get cleaned up and fed, so not totally self-sufficient. The big ticket items we had to add to our usual kit was extra warm clothes, group shelter and first aid kit. i managed to fit all my kit into my 35l Evoc FR tour. It was perfect. It took a while chopping and changing what I wanted to bring but got there in the end.

Our plan was flexible. We picked September as we hoped this would offer up some stable weather. But this was the Alps, we could get anything. We got to Chamonix on the 4th, bikes built, no issues from the baggage handlser so we called a team meeting, basically tea, Milka and talking shite. We agreed to go for it on Thursday, September 5th. No messing about. The weather looked favourable so no point hanging around.

Day 1 was familiar ground for Ian and Brian as it took in some of the Tour du Mont Blanc. We set off excited but apprehensive as to what we had let ourselves into. Andrew was on nav duty. He had downloaded all the maps and was using Ride With Gps. He had the traditional route and the Norwegians route available and had plotted what he felt would be the best route for the duration. Fingers crossed he hadn’t missed anything- no pressure. We started just before 10. A little late but we were on our holidays. From Chamonix we climbed to the Col De Balme through Argientiere. A glorious morning and great start to the trip.

First Aid. The worst injury of the Route

The route started as it finished with pacing myself. I knew we were in this for the long run so didn’t want to be chasing the lads to the top and killing myself when I hadn’t the fitness for it. The Col was a scary reminder of how the weather can change quickly. It was Baltic at the top. A brief haribo stop and on we went. The descent was cracking. Fast rocky and not too tight. If this was a taste of things to come, we were in for a treat. From Trient it was a long road climb to pick up the Bovine route. We stopped at Forclaz. It was now hammering down.  Waterproofs were donned and espressos all round to get us going again. We expected Bovine to be a slog, but it turned out to be pretty good with some cracking descents. From here on we met many walkers and runners undertaking the Epic Swiss Peaks challenge. These guys were in various mental states. Some laughing and joking, some absolutely broken. Little did we know we would be going through a similar ordeal. On the descent Ian punctured his shin with a pedal strike. A tiny entry wound but a hell of a lot of blood. Not to worry, myself and Andrews first aid training coming into force by handing Ian a couple of wipes to clean himself up and some steri strips to tie it back together. Onwards and downwards. It didn’t stop raining. Thankfully we weren’t bivvying. We passed through Champex, a stunning wee Swiss Village in the woods and on down to Orsieres to the Hotel Terminus for the night. Great bike wash, but the food was a rip off! Fed and watered it was time for bed. Day 1 was over. This didn’t seem too bad!

Day 2. Oblivious of what lay ahead

Day 2, a monster. Looking back, it was probably one of the best days of my life, it’s amazing how rewarding a physical and mental challenge can be, this day was one of those challenges. a better breakfast would have been nice!

We set off around 08:40, a little too late in hindsight. Sandwiches made in the shop car park and off we went. Down the road to Sembrancher and on to Verbier. The climb from Verbier was through a stunning alpine village. The climb continued into the forest, one of the DH runs teasing us on the way up. A clear start to the day soon changed as the fog rolled in, we weren’t going to get many views today. We continued onto the open mountain to Cabin du Mont Fort. This was a combination of riding and carrying. We couldn’t see a thing, luckily there was a decent path to follow. The chains along the way seemed a bit out of place, but upon later Instagram searches, this was the most exposed section of the route! We were oblivious to it all though and plodded on. We expected a coffee stop at the Cabin but Ian wasn’t for having it. He was getting cagey. Maybe we weren’t at the halfway point we expected. A quick water top up and off we went. Onwards and upwards into the clouds. Up and over electric fences the whole way, the local cows judgingly staring at these idiots carrying bikes in the rain. A few hours passed and Ian and Andrew were having a look at the stats, “lads, we’re in the shit”. Ian’s outburst put it all into perspective. It was getting late and dark, but I don’t think the rest of us wanted to admit it. Hunger was kicking in and I had to share out the gels, Haribo had lost its appeal. I brought 4/5 thinking these would do me for the trip incase of emergency, this was the emergency! Sun down was due at 20:04, we were hoping the cloud would clear to give us a bit more light, it didn’t. We were up and down for hours. This was soul destroying. We took it in turns to lead the way, but soon everyone was flagging. 50m up followed by 50m down. We were getting nowhere. Just before dark we made the highest point of the day. At this stage I had accepted our fate. We were going to be in a group shelter for the night. I had an insulated jacket, gilet, waterproofs so it was going to be chilly but not life threatening. We had prepared for this. A group shelter between us, warm clothes and a couple of headtorches, not to worry! Brian was struggling to eat at this stage. Ian was at him to eat, but he wasn’t in the mood. I handed over the last of my gels to keep him going. I was plodding on, fucked off and fed up with the situation but having accepted our fate, my body felt suprisinlgy good. keep going, keep eating sweets and drinking water. Its all I could do. I was impressed with how I could keep going, there’s always something more to give.

Darkness came and tree headtorches quickly became 2. Moral of the story Petzl torches work, even when it’s cold. Andrew’s phone with the GPS route decided it had had enough and the powerbank didn’t want to charge it. We should have dug the map out, but honestly none of us could be arsed with the nav. Me and Ian spread out leaving Andrew to try and charge the phone and the other two to get a breather. We were searching in vain for the red and white markers, our guiding lights, we had been following them all day but they had disappeared. I spotted a Cairn, was that the one? I took a chance “lads, I’ve got it”. Music to their ears. Back down to get the bike. Ian couldn’t see us, but could hear us through the dark. This could turn serious if we weren’t careful. He had to use our voices to find us again, fine work by the team. I led the guys up and over and found the path, a glimmer of hope, but how far did we have to go? 5 of us and 2 torches made for an interesting descent. Andrew led the way and myself at the back. Slowly making our way down, stop/start the whole way. Andrew, Ian, Brian, Chris and myself. Who would give up first and call for the shelter? I wasn’t going to let it happen. My headtorch didn’t want to stay on my helmet so every so often would add insult to injury and whack me on the forehead. Thank god for cable ties. It was now cold. I stuck the trousers on to keep some heat in. Ian was quiet now and looked cold. a worrying sign. He was the fittest of the team, but was this his downfall? I can only imagine he had the sickening feeling that he would have been off the mountain by now if he was on his own and not waiting on us all day. Time to keep talking and keep everyone going, if one of us gave up now the shelter would have to come out and I wasn’t ready to give up. We were getting quieter and quieter as the night went on, not a good sign. The descent looked a cracker! Such a shame to be walking down it.

Was that an engine in the distance? We couldn’t see a thing through the fog. We struggled to get our bearings. Hunger and tiredness clouding the mind. There should be a hut somewhere down there but where? Some lights came into view, but they were above us? Where the hell where we! It turned out to be a hut, a nice final kick in the teeth was the climb up to it. Hopefully the last climb of the day. It was 22:30 when we got to the hut. Thank fuck for that! Ian found a door and got chatting to someone inside. No room for us and he was told to get out and shut up! We had to get on the charm offensive, Andrew was dispatched with his limited French. He excelled in the task and soon came out with food, a room and a semi naked French chick who took us across to the guides hut! A nice upgrade to the group shelter I had accepted we would be staying in. A full dorm to ourselves so we took every available blanket and got stuck into the 2 sandwiches, 3 gingerbread and 3 snickers Andrew had managed to negotiate. Ian got stuck into his soggy old pizza. We just laughed. What  had just happened. What a day. What a team. 14 hours on the go. Lots of nav. 43km. 3000m of ascent. 1564m of descent- mostly in the dark and 5414 calories burnt. We weren’t ever going to forget it!

Our 5* hotel

Day 3 did not start how we had planned. We were due to be starting out from Arolla. We had missed breakfast, no surprise really, we had no notion of setting alarms. Some negotiations ensued and we were offered tuna quiche. Eventually some pear and apricot pies were produced and bowls of coffee. I would have eaten anything at this stage. We then had to endure a lecture about not being prepared for the conditions or the fact the Police would take our wheels in Arolla as bikes weren’t allowed. We were all still alive and kicking so didn’t give a shit, but Ian bit and informed her of his many, many years of mountaineering experience.

Bowls of coffee all round
Home is where your heart is. The saviour of a hut

We proceeded to Lac Dix, a nice descent down some old quarry tracks. Then we followed these incredible tunnels along the lake. The views were stunning in and out of the fog. We soon met the guides and the group who were in the hut the night before, confused as to where the bikes had appeared from the night before, we gave them the low down. They couldn’t believe what we were attempting. We started ascending. This was a desolate grey landscape. We were lucky to be up here later in the season as it saved us some glacial river crossings. The sad reality that many glaciers were disappearing form the Alps.

Tunnels along Lac Dix

Then the scrambling started. This was full on boulder field. Up, down, over trying to protect the bikes and keep ourselves on two feet. The going was tough. It was extremely steep. The ladders came into view and the excitement grew. The last section up to the ladders, was probably the sketchiest part of the trip for me and the only time I really felt I could get hurt here. Andrew had tried a lower line which hadn’t been a good choice. Scrambling up a scree slope with a bike on your bike is not ideal. There was a cable on the left. Bike on the shoulder, across I shuffled to join the queue for the ladders behind some walkers. Ian was already at the top loving life. Brian was struggling to get going up the ladders. He managed to get the hang of it and up he went. Me and Andy had talked a lot about these ladders. We had planned to strap the bikes onto our bags. Strap through the grab handle and on to the top tube. Andy mounted up and off he went. Piece of piss, the system works! Some small adjustments and up I went.

Saddle up

The long balcony was the most awkward. Face to the rocks, bike hanging out, side stepping across. The rest was easy. Not often you climb 60 odd metres of vertical ladders with a bike on your bike. A surreal experience.


It wasn’t over though. Chris was down below trying to get going. His bike weighed a tonne. The SWAT stash on his bike full of shit. We got 3 slings hooked up and myself and Ian started hauling it up. ‘watch it on the rocks’. Feck the rocks, we need to get it up! This wasn’t the trip for shiny new bike syndrome! Finally got it to the top.

Carbons light no?

As we reached the top an 80-year-old yank came up behind, fair play to him. For him this was his big achievement. For us, it was getting a bed in the hut. It was all downhill now! The cloud was still low at this stage and with the lack of food we were getting cold. We layered up for the descent. What a descent it was. Rocky and flat out in places. This was what it was all about. We met another group of Americans on the descent and got chatting. “its good yall get along”, we hadn’t time to explain that yes, a group of Irish/Northern Irish/English can actually get along nowadays and we weren’t here to blow each other up.

The descent ended with some fine alpine corners with a maze of line options.  Andrew bombed up the inside and took a sneaky line. Straight into a gate, a fine somersault dismount into an electric fence caught on camera by the walkers below. Perfect timing! We got down to Arolla. It was Sunday. No supermarkets open- disaster. We plodded on down the hill and in search of accommodation. We missed our slot the night before so had to find somewhere new. we ended up the wonkiest hotel ive been in. Not a square wall in the place. Bikes cleaned, kit washed, accommodation rearranged for the rest of the week, and a 4-course meal to top things off. What a day. what a descent. Could get used to this.    

Day 4 was a wet one. Starting off with a road descent in the cold and wet. Wet gear was well used on this trip. Dropping off the road Brian realised he had forgotten his phone. Ian volunteered to go back for it. True love!  The now customary stop off to make sandwiches outside a shop for the day ahead. The Andrew and Tony production line in full swing. A long fire road climb took us into the hills from Evolene, a cute little Swiss village. The descent was cracking. We were well wrapped up at this stage as it had started snowing. Good job we hadn’t left this any later in the year.

Getting slicker

We descended towards Lac Moiry. The bluest lake you will ever see. It looked like a painting! This descent was fast and great fun, like most we had encountered. It was freezing though. Hail and snow the whole way. Our target was Grimentz. We missed the line down to the town so some head scratching ensued. But we got there in the end. This was my time to shine. I was tasked with the Grimentz leg of accommodation and I had picked a cracker. As I checked in I was given the key for the Spa. Not what you expect on a trip like this. But definitely well needed. We were due to do 2 more days, but due to the extra night in a hut we were considering doing it in a oner.


Goggles work

We got to our family suite and we quickly donned the dressing gowns. Quite the luxury. We got planning. Andrew took to the desk and started the sums. 60 odd kilometres would be required with over 3000m of climbing. We decided to go for it. Chris returned from the shops to the news. He had missed the vote. Not sure if he wanted to laugh or cry. We would need an alpine start for this one.

Big sums for the wee man

We made the most of the spa. The only people in there. We needed the recovery session and probably couldn’t have done the last day without it. Sitting in the outdoor Jacuzzi in the snow was the icing on the cake. A stunning hotel, wouldn’t fancy the winter prices. We got the kit washed and scattered everywhere to dry, not what the luxury hotel was used to, but Everything needed to be tip top for the day ahead.


5am came around quickly. Iced lattes all round with croissants and baguettes to get fuelled up. By 6 we were on the bikes. Headtorches on and ready to hit the road. We had a long road descent ahead in the freezing cold. We started our climb up a ski slope leading to a river side path up a steep ravine. Simply stunning in the fresh morning air.

Must be Day 5, there was no rain

We proceeded into the open meadow to the Meidpass. This was amazing. Sun rising beyond the hills and the sound of cow bells all round. It was like a dream. Day 2 seemed like an eternity ago. The view from the Meidpass was incredible and the descent was the best yet. Loose switchbacks to start leading into open twin track with lots of line choice. Such a buzz. We then came on to a path closed sign. The last time we ignored a sign like this was a “zona militaria” sign in Finale. This ended with a bollocking from a fat Italian man with a German Shepherd. What’s the worst could happen this time? We couldn’t really see a work around on the map so we went for it. We had a tight schedule. The descent into the forest was incredible. This was the best I felt on a bike in a long time. I was flying into everything and just letting the bike do the work with Ian on my back wheel. The Orange Five never faltered. Its the perfect bike for this! Not often you truly get in the flow, this was one of those times. We then realised why the trail was closed. The sound of chainsaws and falling trees below. Only one thing for it, plenty of shouting on the way done and hope for the best. They weren’t best pleased and a lot of shouting ensued. We ploughed on with Chris bringing up the rear and apologising as best he could.

Water stop on the way to Gruben

We made it into Gruben for 11 and had a quick lunch stop.  We were bang on time but had plenty more to do. The sun was out and spirtis were high from the epic descent. I would definitely do it all again for that descent. The sign said 3 hours to Augstbord pass. To Ian it was a red rag to a bull, no way would he want it to take as long as the mere walkers. For me I was hoping for 3.5 hours and I’d be happy. This was a long climb and the week was starting to catch up. Ian was gone. A mere spec in the distance. I kept plodding on. There was a false summit. My timing had me nowhere near the pass, but couldn’t shake the notion that just maybe this was the top. It wasn’t. I was still on for 3 and a half hours so kept pushing. The legs were feeling good. Maybe they were learning to deal with this, the rest of the body was aching. The bike getting heavier and harder to lift onto the shoulders with every break.

I made it to the top, exhausted but excited for the next descent. The early start seemed like yesterday. It was cold up here. Autumn was coming and we probably couldn’t have done this any later. Ian was waiting near an hour. Machine. The descent was technical and rocky. Ian was hooning down it. Something had clicked and he was cleaning everything. Me and Andy leapfrogged down the trail. I was too tired by this stage to work some lines. Think we need to come back for this again. Another climb welcomed us at the bottom. We thought the carrying was over! This lead to some extremely exposed singletrack and a nice descent through an alpine village. We continued an epic descent to St Niklaus.

The last stretch

We had a pitstop for coffee here to get the energy levels up. The fun was over and we still had to get to Zermatt for our pickup. Google screwed us over. The distance it gave us to Zermatt was nowhere near Zermatt, but the end of the no car zone. We had a long 20km climb ahead and it dragged. Head down and pedal. Lovely.

We rolled into Zermatt and got the customary photos of the Matterhorn. We had made it. A pipe dream whilst sitting in Finale became a reality. How many had actually done the walkers Haute Route with bikes is unknown, but it can’t be many. The taxi back was on time and uneventful. I don’t think we could have managed any last minute hiccups.

She could have at least focussed on the Matterhorn

What a trip. What a team.

Next up, Dolomites for some bici ferrata!

DayTotal TimeMoving TimeDistance kmAscent mDescent mCalories
Total48 hours 23 mins34 hours 34 mins210.03109811103219521

Kit List

  • Orange Five
  • Evoc FR tour 35l
  • Troy Lee A2 Helmet
  • Troy Lee Raid knee pads
  • Norrona fjora shorts- wore these every day
  • Alpinestars shorts- these were spares and kept clean for evenings
  • Fox padded shorts
  • 2x pairs gloves
  • merino boxers
  • Merino mix short sleeve baselayer
  • Troy lee ruckus jersey
  • Spare jersey- mostly worn in evenings
  • Nano puff gilet
  • Montane prism jacket
  • Berghaus gore tex active shell coat
  • Berghaus paclite trousers
  • Wooly hat
  • Buff
  • Five ten access trainers- these were perfect for all the hike a bike and really good on flat pedals
  • Petzl tikka
  • Flip flops
  • Guidebook
  • Earplugs
  • chargers
  • Spare hanger
  • 2x tubes
  • quick links
  • 2x pairs brake pads
  • tubeless repair kit
  • spoke key
  • leatherman
  • multi tool

Bikes, Pizza and lots of Gelato

Five grown men “yeooing” like kids and high fives all round. The German onlookers waiting on their uplift looked confused by this outburst of emotion. If you asked each of us what we enjoyed down that run, you would likely get five different answers, but one things for sure mountain biking is what we love and that feeling at the bottom of a trail is something that unites us.
Finale Ligure, I hadn’t even heard of the place until the EWS rolled into town some years ago. In our last trip to Scotland Ian planted the seed “Next trip Finale”. I don’t think any of us took it seriously, but it ate away at us all and by Christmas the plans were in place. 1 week in the land that helped forge the Enduro race scene. Davy let the side down. He came back from a winter in New Zealand a changed man and didn’t want to associate with us “riff raff”.

We arrived at our apartment on Saturday afternoon. An absolute cracker, secure bike area, washing facilities, pool and to top it off the apartment looked brand new. First things first get the bikes built and make sure the baggage handlers had been kind.

Our uplift wasn’t until 10:30 on Sunday so we took our time getting ready, already starting to embrace the Italian way. No one really knew what to expect, bar Ian who had been here before, so an air of anticipation hung over us. The NATO Base was to be the starting point. This place was eerie. An old telecommunications base for the US Army back in the day. A concrete outpost overlooking the sea miles from any civilisation. It is now the centre of a mecca for mountain biking. Off we headed down “Madre Natura” and as soon as the wheels hit that first dusty corner, I knew this week was to be epic. Halfway down and the Ian’s trusty 29er had suffered a flat. His Huck Norris either saved his rim or failed to anything, you decide. An hour and a half later we were on our way. Brian with some words of wisdom, “stop fecking about fixing tyres and stick a tube in”. We ended the day absolutely buzzing and psyched for the rest of the week.

“We’ll pick you up at the beach”

Monday resulted in me being the most bored I have ever been on a bike. Long descents = long climbs. We climbed from the bottom of “New Rollercoaster” back to the top. An hour of spinning the legs up a moderate gradient, for the life of me I couldn’t figure out how people enjoy road cycling. Ian’s fitness was his downfall on this. I came to the top to see him huddled and shivering with the cold waiting on the stragglers. The boredom was soon forgotten and I soon realised it was more than worth it. Dropping into the trails and this time trying “Kill Bill” and “Madonna del a Guardia”. The views halfway down from the chapel were absolutely incredible. Madonna was a cracker. Lulling you into a false sense of security before breaking off with a tight left hander into rocky chutes and some epic corners. We all came into the hardest section at full lick, a long rocky, steppy section. With a bit of a look this section would likely be easy but coming in hot it was a case of pick a line and commit. To make matters worse we had an audience, some poor soul who had decided to walk this section. To his dismay we all passed him hollering with excitement (more likely relief) for getting through.

Eyes on the prize. Andrew Lynas Photography with a cracker

Tuesday was to be a full day guiding with Finale Freeride. Our guide loaded his Intense M16 onto the trailer, we knew it was going to be a day of epic descents! Toboggan was our first stop and my god does it live up to its name. I was on Ian’s tail down this. He would gain on me through some corners and I would get him in others, every time he stalled in a turn I made sure to remind him that it was the 29ers fault! This was a trail to find your flow, coming out of a corner, wheels planted, body shape perfect, head up looking to the next and nailing it is a feeling like no other. This was going to be a good day, or so we thought. Next stop Rollercoaster. Matti our guide sent us on. We knew this trail and he knew to just let us at it. I lead us down the bottom section of Kill Bill and got to the bottom buzzing. A few seconds passed, Ian had been on my tail for most of it. I was in the zone and didn’t notice losing him. Had I taken a wrong turn? As the moments passed I started to worry, someone was down. Brian rolled down and broke the news, Ian had binned it and hadn’t just jumped back up like usual. Eventually he rolled down. He was in a lot of pain but keeping a strong face. Matti and one of our fellow group members got to it and started patching him up. It wasn’t the cuts that were the problem, his shoulder was in a bad way. Ian, our leader, the one person who had probably taught me more about biking than any other was out of the game. This was a not so subtle reminder that we weren’t invincible and mountain biking is a dangerous game. It took a while to get back into it. The atmosphere was a bit shit in the afternoon. It turns out me leading the way is not a good idea. Eddie binned it over a small rise into a corner whilst on my tail. His thumb was mangled! Disaster. Back at the apartment we regrouped. Ian was out for the week and potentially longer. Eddie had a gammy thumb but with ample strapping he might make it out another day.

Too many cooks…

Wednesday was an enforced rest day. It rained all day so uplifts were cancelled to preserve the trails. Cabin fever soon set in. A trip for Gelato was the highlight of the day, but this Gelato is like no other. The best ice cream you will ever experience.

Valleys of endless possibilities

Myself, Andrew and Brian rocked up to the uplift centre on Thursday for one of two uplifts. Eddie and Ian left behind licking their wounds. Unfortunately, uplifts were cancelled again. Mountain biking has become a huge industry for Finale, so a sustainable attitude towards the trails is to be respected, but you couldn’t help but be frustrated. Time was running out and all we wanted to do was ride our bikes! Plan B was to pedal somewhere. We reviewed the map and made for the San Bernardino area. This was a surreal area. Riding through ancient terraces on a hillside, it was epic. The steep hillside also resulted in the hardest trail I have ever tried to ride. “Pianarella”, steep rocky switchbacks. A couple of Hail Mary moments all round, but we made it down in one piece, albeit battered and bruised!

Strange sites in the hills

Friday, where did that week go. Eddie got the strapping out, he was going to get one more day in. We started with an uplift from Finale. We had planned another pick up at 12:00 from further up the valley so everything had to go to plan. A Swiss man had other ideas, he took it upon himself to join the uplift without a booking. Half an hour late we rolled out. We were late to the top. No time for messing about. The rain over the last couple of days left the trails in amazing condition. The dust was now mostly hard pack and there was so much more grip. A new trail to was on the list “Mini Champery”. It lived up to its name. A masterclass in trail building with epic corners. We rolled into Feligno at 12 on the button, perfection. We finished the week on one of the favourite trails “Ingegnere” the perfect end to the best weeks biking I’ve ever had and potentially the best holiday I’ve had.

NATO Base, the Five admiring the views

It wasn’t just the biking. The food, the people and the ice cream made this week one to remember. The craic was 90 all week despite the injuries. Barry Scott helping to ease the tensions. Everyone in Finale was happy to see you. They’ve embraced mountain biking and are prospering off the back of it. Every uplift van and trailer was full. The pubs and cafes in the town were full of bikers. They’ve turned this place into an absolute mecca and I can’t wait to get back.




Scottish Alpine

Last week saw me taking a trip to the Highlands to enjoy/suffer some winter climbing. The plan was simple. Meet up with Andrew, get back into the swing of the winter stuff and climb some routes. The weather had other ideas. A bit of a thaw had left conditions a bit on the lean side, to say the least!

The last of the snow
Thursday was to be a refresher day. Get the crampons on, dig some belays and get back to grips with the whole winter lark. There was a bit of snow hanging in around Cairn Lochain so we headed up here, along with every other sinner and the  ptarmigans seeking out some winter conditions. After a bit of route finding through the bogs which should have been frozen, we made it to the snow slope. Crampons went on and up we went. A couple of ice axe belays and the like and we called it a day for the winter stuff. Unlikely we’d be needing it. We dandered on up round to Cairngorm and back down via the ski slopes, a bit of a strange experience with the total lack of snow.

Happy with the buried axe
10,000 years bad luck apparently
Ski practice
Day 2 took us to Ben Nevis. Kris had informed us there was still some snow hiding in No.3 & no.4 gully. An early start meant we were at the North Face car park for just after 8. A bit of a slog up the path was well worth it. By the time we reached the hut we were above the cloud line.

The view from the hut
From the hut to the snow slope was a nightmare. This had to be the slickest rock around,  bambi wouldn’t have a look in!

We donned the crampons and made our way up no.3 Gully. The going was a bit awkward. The footsteps were well frozen and you just couldn’t get a good rhythm going. However as it got steeper the going got a bit easier. A great wee route to get a bit of a taste for Winter Climbing again.

Ascending no.3

Once at the top, we got ourselves some grub. The views were simply incredible. Cloud inversion and sunshine made it look like the Alps. The conditions may not have been up to much for climbing, but when you had views like that it more than made up for it. My first time up the Ben so a quick jaunt to the top was in order.

Incredible views from the Cairn

Our descent took us down No.4 Gully, it was easy enough going and didn’t take us too long to get back to the hut. From here it was a quare slog back to the car. Would be a fun line to try on the bike! We got back to the car for around 4 or so, not bad going.

Descent of no.4

Day 3 saw us joined by Andre. We decided to head back into the Cairngorms for a bit of scrambling. The plan was Fiacaill Ridge and possibly Afterthought Arete. We flew up the Ridge overtaking a few groups. This was a fun wee section with some great views and a nice balance of exposure and technical wee steps. At the top we grabbed a bite to eat and had a nosey at the map. We decided not to bother with Afterthought Arete and just go for a dander round the plateua. Another beautiful day up top. Sun splitting the rocks, just what you expect of Scottish Winter!

Heads down missing out on the view

Day 4 and the weather had changed slightly. There was a small dusting of snow on the ground and it was very overcast. We decided to give Curved Ridge a go. The going was awful. The fact the rock was dusted in snow meant every foot hold was slick. Had there been more snow or no snow at all we would have flown up this, especially considering the speed Andre flew up Fiacaill Ridge on Saturday. But it hampered our progress significantly. There were a couple of moments of “why the feck do we bother” but once at the top we realised it was actually good fun despite there being no views at all.  The descent was horrendous. You had to think about every step and more often than not you’d be slipping on something. We eventually made it down in one piece.

Andre keeping a good eye out

So overall a good trip was had. The conditions were terrible for climbing, but the views were magnificent. It more than made up for things.

James and M

Thanks to Andrew and Andre for their company and also to Jonny Parr for the accommodation and advice while we were there. I’ve been out with Jonny in the hills alot and he is one of the best instructors about so look him up if you’re looking at giving Winter Climbing a go, he may be able to squeeze you in this Winter .

Not your typical spin

The forecast was awful for Saturday. Rain, followed by rain and more rain. It was one of those days where you know you really couldn’t be bothered to go out in it, but neither me nor Andrew had the heart to bail. We’d planned on doing this for a while. Spurred on by doing the Brandy Pad and Binnian in recent months we knew it had to be done sooner rather than later. 

Friday night we got the route planned. Rostrevor to Newcastle throws up a lot of possibilities. Do we want to stay completely off road? How many peaks do we do? What will be the best descent? After getting the route sorted it was time to sort the kit. I knew this was going to be an all dayer so needed to pack properly. Plenty of food, extra tube, extra layers and a head torch were the essentials. The rest of the stuff was what’s always in my bag, pump, tyre levers, leather man, multi tool and various other bits and bobs. 

All the gear, no idea

Saturday arrived and off to Newcastle I went. My car would be at the end point. Andrew picked me up and by this stage we had a new recruit with us. Josh, one of the new trainees at Tollymore was to join us. I’m not sure if he realised what he had let himself in for! 

We set off at 10am into the rain. The first part was easy. I knew exactly what to expect. This was my standard Sunday morning spin back in the day. Rostrevor to Leitrim lodge. A nice wee warm up to get the legs ready for the day. The boys really enjoyed the last approach into Leitrim Lodge, pity it wasn’t any longer!

From Leitrim lodge it was up the Ulster way. The descent from the col of Rocky and Tornamrock was our first real taste of the open mountains on the day. A large covered hole left me clutching at the air trying to find solid ground. The front wheel had almost completely disappeared beneath the grass. The landing was soft so I walked away without a scratch. 

Descent towards Rowan Tree River

From here it was over to Rowan Tree river and up around the side of Cock mountain. Tough going in the long wet grass. This was probably the biggest slog of the day. Some serious man handling of the bikes to get through this. Off the side off Cock was epic. Massive steep rock slabs. Weight back and pray the tyres grip! The cloud came down at this stage so a bit of nav was needed to get us round Slievenamiskan and down below Spelga Dam. Lunch stop along the Bann was well deserved. The climb up past Spelga was tough and reminded me why I’ve never had the urge to take up road cycling. Andrew scraped a few quid together to get a chip for the lads at the chippy van in the car park. A pleasant surprise and a real moral booster. 


From here it was up round the road to the Ott track. The track itself was tough going on the bike. The shale not doing us any favours when putting the power down. Wheels spinning everywhere. 

From the wall we contoured round the hills following the path towards Bernagh. Some nice sections along here, but nothing sustained. At this stage we were starting to feel the day catching up on us. Any climbs were starting to sap a fair bit of energy. 

The descent down towards the quarry below Hares gap was so so good. Just what was needed to get some psyche back. Next stop Hares gap. Me and Andrew had been up this way before. Always good to get back on familiar ground. Josh got his first real sense of hike a bike here. No chance you can push your bike along here, on the back it goes and hope to god your legs still have the energy to pick a line through the boulder strewn ground. 


Another rest was called for at Hares Gap. Here we met a lot of people heading home for the day, trying to figure out had we seen the forecast or if we were just a bit mental. 

What a view

From here the route was simple. Follow the wall to Commedagh. Well I say simple but this was a killer. Very little time on the bike here, lots of steep ground to cover.  I lost the lads on the last ascent to the top. I think this was the first time I’ve ever lost Andrew on a climb! The water tower a welcom sight through the cloud. I’d never felt such relief to see the top of a mountain. The two lads soon appeared through the clouds, looking a bit worse for wear by this stage. However, some snacks and we were psyched for the route ahead. Once again the descent entailed getting the weight on the back wheel and hoping there’s no holes under the grass and heather. We made it to the top of Donard forest unscathed by the descent, but absolutely shattered. At this stage the sun was out. Eagle rocks appeared through the mist. An amazing sight to end the day. 

Eagle rocks never looked better

A few trails through the forest and we were back at the car praying I hadn’t forgot the keys. 18:00 was the time. A long day. 

This was without doubt one of my favourite days on the bike. I love being in the mournes and having my bike makes the descents so much fun. Having checked the forecast I wouldn’t normally go out in the onslaught of rain that was forecast. But with two ML awards and two MBL awards between us we were never going to be out of our depth in the hills in those conditions. 

However I wouldn’t recommend the route to everyone. It took a lot of energy, planning and motivation to complete it. At times we had to rely on a map and compass as visibility was less than 20m. 

If you have experience of big mountain days go for it. If not, get a guide for the day or stick to the forests!

Tweed Love

I woke up on Saturday with serious withdrawal symptoms. I knew that it would be a while until I was riding extremely steep, perfectly built natural trails in the Tweed Valley again. This trip wasn’t like others, accompanied by Ian, a world class fell runner, there wasn’t going to be time for slacking on the ups.

The Crew (minus Davy)
The Crew (minus Davy)
5 days, 121.2km, 5,109m of climbing, 3 (extremely slow and stupid) crashes, 2 barbecues, 2 No1 Peebles Road Bagels and 1 birthday cake were the stats from probably the best weeks biking I’ve ever been a part of. It started with the 7:30 ferry on Monday accompanied by Andrew, Ian and Brian. Davy was to meet us over there considering he’s now a sort of local. We arrived around lunch time and got the van unpacked into the Kailze bunkhouse. Not a bad spot, even better as we had the place to ourselves!

Two Oranges
Made for the Tweed!
So day 1 took us up the Gypsy Glen route. According to a drunken local chef its 6 miles up and 6 miles back down. This was a great route to get us into the swing of things. Amazing views and such a good descent back down to Peebles. Starting at Cardrona Forest it took around 2 hours. We crossed the Tweed and headed over to Glentress. No trip to the Tweed Valley is complete without a run down Spooky Wood! We ended our run with The Bitch and Ponduro, two amazing trails, fast steep and lots of line choice!

Gypsy Glen Peebles
Top of the Gypsy Glen
Day 2 was dedicated to the Golfie. This has to be my favourite place to ride a bike. Endless trails all starting at various heights on the forest roads. Starting with Nae Spleens, the lads who hadn’t ridden here were pleasantly surprised by the steep technical turns. A lot drier than my previous outing to the Tweed Valley resulted in a clean run. Great start to the day. 3g was probably my favourite trail of the day, but to be brutally honest I could have picked any of the trails! Forsyth’s Butcher in Peebles was hit up for supplies for dinner, followed by an amazing barbecue.

Too many cooks?
Too many cooks?
Day 3 was Innerleithen. Straight up to Minch Moor to show the boys what we are seriously lacking on the trail centre front at home! That descent is just amazing fun. Next up some dh fun. Make or Brake is guaranteed to make you smile. Numerous other natural trails were hit up including Too Hard for the EWS. A clean run down this left me absolutely buzzing. No better feeling. The hardest track I’ve ridden, hands down. The lads loved it too. For future reference Forsyth’s the Butchers closes early on Wednesdays, Tesco’s would have to do. Another bbq followed by some birthday cake, cheers lads!

Happy Chappy!
Happy Chappy!
Day 4 was an adventure for all of us. The plan was Yair and Thornielee forest. Davy knew Yair and the first trail was a classic. Long fast descent into some technical woods. The second was a bit pedally to start, but near the bottom we ended up in some of the most beautiful corners I’ve ever ridden. Thornielee was next. No one had been here before but we had all heard great things. Trailforks loaded and off we went. A bit of a climb to the top, but nothing too severe. We found ourselves on a tight bit of trail to begin. I personally found this quite awkward to ride. Lots of tight trees and couldn’t get her going. Nonetheless it was still brilliant fun. Towards the bottom it started to drop away. Steep, loose corners with just enough to catch you. Endless fun. To the top again!

No Comment
No Comment

How many MBL's does it take to fix a puncture?
How many MBL’s does it take to fix a puncture?
Day 5 our last assault on the Golfie. The legs were well done by this stage! An early start was needed to ensure we got the most out of the day. The favourites were hit, 3g, Flat White and Community Service. What a friggin week!

Wheel Wash
Wheel Wash
The bike performed like an absolute dream once again. This was the first time I really felt like the Hope brakes were working for me. On the long sustained, steep trails I felt they always had something more to give and was never at their limit. A Maxxis Shorty on the front really made a difference in the steep damp stuff, but the Minion would have been nice for the drier rooty stuff. Once again no punctures for myself. Tubeless really is a revelation for me, even if it took me an age to get the rim bed sealed. Hopefully have it sorted now with one wrap of electric tape and one wrap of joe’s tape.

So there you have it, a brief rundown of probably the best mtb trip around. I’ve ridden a hell of a lot of the trails now in the Tweed Valley, but it still leaves you wanting more. Can’t wait to get back.

Next stop might just be Finale Ligure though!

Thanks to Orange Bikes, Urge Bike Products and Gamut for keeping me on the trails.

Rocking the tweed

Last week saw myself and Andrew returning to the Tweed Valley. This was my 6th trip to the area, some would say it was time for something new but if it ain’t broke don’t fix it!

The big difference between home and the Tweed Valley is the length and volume of trails. It’s definitely worth the trip. There’s something for everyone. Family trails in Glentress, harder routes in Innerleithen, some of the best natural trails in Golfie and some big mountain routes in between.


Filled to the neck
Standard Ferry pic
A late ferry meant a few hours kip in a lay by outside Stranrear before trucking across to Peebles. 3 hours later and a can of Red Bull and we arrived at Glentress at about 7am. Another couple of hours kip and off on a lap of the trails. The highlight was seeing 3 grown men riding with no helmets, one even had knee pads on! Natural selection and all that.

Saturday saw us meeting up with Andre and another lap of the red in Glentress. Cool Runnings was the only change from previous years and a brilliant addition! Spooky wood as per usual was so much fun.

Spooky Wood
Spooky Wood
Day 3 and we headed off to Innerleithen. Up the Southern Upland Way straight to the top of Minch Moor. Such a nice climb with great views. We descended down the red. It’s starting to get a bit ropey in places and could do with a bit of tlc, but nonetheless great fun to ride. A bit of a push up to the top of the DH trails and a run down Make or Brake and some sessioning. It’s a testament to the guys who built these trails that advanced riders can be challenged, but other riders can still get down them and have fun!

Southern Upland Way
Southern Upland Way

Make or Brake
Day 4 and 5 was dedicated to the Golfie. The sheer amount of trails here is mind-blowing. This is where the new Orange Five got a serious testing, but performed with flying colours.So stable through the rough and railing round the corners. A spike on the front would definitely have been useful for the typical summer conditions. The Scots like their steep muddy trails apparently.

The pick of the trails has to be Nae Spleens and Flat White. Nae spleens being steep and technical and Flat White being perfect berms top to bottom. Like nothing I’ve ever ridden!

Eyes on the prize
Eyes on the prize

Golfie View
Golfie View

Andrew keeping 26" alive
Andrew keeping 26″ alive
Day 6 was a quick blast at Inners. Too Hard for the EWS and Caddon Bank to finish off another amazing trip to the Tweed Valley.

Big shout out to Craig at No1 Peebles Road for the great food and tea and also for pointing us in the right direction. Make sure you call in next you’re in Innerleithen.

Still more to do next year, Cademuir, Thornielee, Yair and plenty more. Time to get planning!

Thanks as always to Orange Bikes, Urge Bike Products and Gamut for keeping me rolling!

New Bike Check

More exciting than Christmas morning, waiting to come home to that delivery. 

After a fair few years on my 2010 Orange Five it was time for change. The forks were feeling tired, but upgrades were limited by 1 1/8 steerer; I wanted to give tubeless ago, but 27.5 was now all the rage and the rear hub was cracked so a new bike was the most sensible option. Well that’s the story I’m sticking with. 

orange five 2016 mountain mint
The steed

So I decided to stick with Orange. I really liked the five, it could do anything and go anywhere. The new one is quite similar, but slightly longer, slacker head angle and a steeper seat angle. These changes really make a difference. From the limited time I’ve had on it, it feels perfect. Point it through a rough patch and get off the brakes and it will pull you through. 

The 27.5 wheels are something I didnt think I would notice. The speed you can carry is such an added bonus. Tubeless tyres are also something that really improve the feel across the ground. Hard to describe, but it feels like you’re stuck to the ground rather than bouncing over it.

The model chosen was the factory with a few small changes. 

  • Forks: orange 34 factory 140mm
  • Brakes: hope tech 3 e4
  • Shock: fox float evol
  • Wheels: Hope pro4 with Easton arc 27 rims
  • Tyres: minion dhf and High roller 2 rear
  • Seat post: reverb stealth 150mm drop
  • Cranks: race face sixc
  • Mech: Sram xo 11 speed
  • Chain guide: gamut trail sxr
  • Bars: gamut cillos tr
  • Stem: gamut cillos 50mm
  • Grips: odi Troy lee 
  • Pedals: gamut podium 

Hope brakes, ODI Troy Lee

Brakes with all the adjustment you could need. Taking a while to get these where I want them, but they pack so much power and great feel. 

Fox 34, Floating rotors, enduro guard

These forks are such a step up from my previous 2010 32s. Can really notice them tracking a lot better. 

Right hand reverb lever mounted on the left
Velcro keeping it neat and quiet
Velcro is my preferred chain stay protection. Looks neat and really dampens the sound. 

The 11 speed seems a bit excessive to be honest. However, having that bail out gear is a nice bonus. 

Race Face six c, Gamut Guide

Carbon cranks, a bit of a luxury. Gamut guide with taco. Wanted a bit of protection to protect the chain ring for when out coaching and guiding to limit any potential damage. Gamut guides are the best on the market too. 

30t chainring seems just about right. Used to run 32 but the 30 saves a but of energy on the hills. Gamut will have cinch compatible rings by July so will get it switched out. 

Gamut Podium Pedals

I have never put my foot on nicer pedals. Just look at the thought that’s gone into these. Hollow pins to increase grip and allows them to breakaway easier without damaging the body. Tapered leading edge to limit damage of strikes. 

Gamut Cillos bars and stem

I didn’t like the 35mm stem that came on the bike, so swapped out for the Gamut cillos. Lovely looking stem and so light. The bars are 760mm and feel really nice so don’t think they’ll be getting cut down. 


So far so good. Absolutely loving this bike. It feels so balanced and I haven’t even got the setup dialled in yet. 

Big thanks to Orange Bikes and Gamut for sorting me out!

Now what?

So I’ve been a bit quiet on this front the last while as I’ve been pretty focussed on my MBL Award. Last week saw myself and two others become the first to achieve this new award from Cycling Ireland, so a proud achievement!

MTB Mournes
MBL Assessment

18 months ago I started out at Tollymore. I had no formal awards, but had plenty of experience in mountain biking. It didn’t take long to get my TCL award but I wanted more. I didn’t want to be limited by the remit of an award, I wanted to be limited by the skill and ability of the guys and girls I was out with. This led me to the new version of the MBL award.

CI had put alot of effort into to developing this award. Having taken the Scottish Cycling equivalent, they went on to redesign it from the ground up to include alot more focus on coaching. Assessment went from one day to two days and the award slots into the European Qualification Framework at the top end, above the equivalent British Cycling qualification so a handy one to have.

For me, coaching is just as important as the guiding. Everyone can benefit in some way from coaching, so for guides not to have the skills to do this is ludicrous. British Cycling have abandoned the MBLA scheme in favour of their own  shceme, which leaves coaching out as an optional extra! This disregard is sad to see, but highlights how Cycling Ireland are committed to developing a good pool of coaches as opposed to developing awards to create profit.

The assessment itself turned out to be two great days, sunshine and great trails. The first day was focussed on coaching with lots learnt. If you don’t learn something on assessments you’re doing something wrong. Day two was focussed on leadership with one of the best days riding I’ve ever had in the Mournes. It was nice to actually enjoy the assessment and not be stressing the whole way through like some other awards.

Now I’ve finished this chapter I’ve been trying to figure out what to do next. Its strange not having an award to focus on but maybe it’s time to start working on the log book for MIA, what’s the worst could happen?

Cane Creek Double Barrel Inline Review

So I’ve been running the DB inline since before the Summer, so a fair amount of time now to make an informed review.

No denying how pretty this shock is
No denying how pretty this shock is

So as you can see the shocks mounted on my Orange Five, replacing a fox RP23. I’ve it set up with one Burgtec offset bushing and the other is just the standard hardware. There’s no doubt about it, this shock needs some attention to get it running right, but the provided notebook talks you through how to set it up properly and is an absolute doddle.

I initially set it up for my usual riding in Tollymore, tight, technical trails with no big prolonged downhills. The biggest and most noticeable advantage this shock gives the Orange is grip. I was gobsmacked at the cornering grip provided by a well damped shock. It felt like having a new bike! After getting used to the shock and the control it had I started to get alot more comfortable on trails and was really noticeable the confidence it offered. I had always thought my forks were excellent (Fox 32 FitRLC) but once I fitted the shock they felt as if they were letting the bike down!

During the summer I made the trip to the Tweed Valley. This is somewhere were I really felt the limitations of the Fox Shock. I remember in a previous trip getting to the bottom of the Minch Moor Descent and thinking I had blown my shock to pieces. Turns out it had just overheated so much. So I was prepared for the Cane Creek to exhibit some of these symptoms. I dialled in a bit more Low Speed Damping for the big sweeping berms and g-outs and was once again I was pleasantly surprised by the performance. Yes there was a small amount of fade at the bottom of the longer descents, but this was to be expected, but was nowhere near the fade experienced by the Fox.

The climb switch is a something to behold. Unlike other systems, this impacts both the low-speed compression and rebound damping. It transforms the shock and offers incredible grip on technical climbs, if that’s what you’re into. Some people may rather a total lock out, but for me on a single pivot the current system works brilliantly.

There are however a couple of things that I have an issue with. On the high-speed adjusters there is no “click” or marker to suggest how much you’ve adjusted, having to count the revolutions. I made a mark with permanent marker which has made the task alot easier. The other is the lack of user serviceability. I like to strip parts and make sure that everything oiled and greased accordingly and working as it should. I suppose with the complexity of the shock they don’t want Joe Bloggs making a mess, but it would be nice to have a guide for a simple service to keep it running at its best.

So all in all this is an incredible shock. The control it gives is second to none and the options allow you to fine tune it to your liking. It might not suit the fit and forgot type who doesn’t fancy all the tuning, but its a small trade-off for a huge increase in performance. Anyone who’s ridden one has told me how they’re blown away by the performance. Heres hoping they’ve sorted out the small issues with the first batch, but judging by mine they certainly have!


Five Ten Impact vxi review

So, I’ve had these for nearly a year now and it’s time to update the review.

Overall it’s a mixed bag of feelings for these. I wore the old ones today just to remind me what they were like and it reminded me of how good they were.


The new Impacts are a pretty well thought out pair of shoes and a lot different form the originals, however having worn them for a year I don’t really think they’re a huge improvement over the previous model. Don’t get me wrong, they’re a brilliant pair of shoes and still one of the best on the market with a lot going for them but I just feel they’ve lost what made five tens so good- comfort, support and durability.


• Light- these are a lot lighter than the original and its noticeable when you’ve them on all day
• Grippy- they seem to be slightly grippier than the previous ones i.e. They stick like nothing else
• Quick drying
• Hard wearing uppers, the uppers hardly look marked so far


• Don’t drain well. As there isn’t a gusset on the tongue they fill up with water pretty easily. Once full they don’t drain well and with less padding in them don’t keep your feet as warm as the previous version.
• They aren’t very comfortable for walking about in all day. Sessioning or digging leaves my feet sore.
• Sole isn’t hardwearing. Already these are showing significant wear on the soles unlike the old ones which lasted years.
• Sweaty- in the limited heat we get these get very sweaty and don’t breathe well in the slightest.

Sole wear not as good as predecessor
Sole wear not as good as predecessor

So basically there are some small niggles. Overall they seem a more refined shoe than their predecessor but that bulk of the old shoe gives you a lot of support, especially for those foot flat out scenarios where running flats comes in to its own.

Overall they are still a brilliant shoe and should definitely be on your list of potentials. If I were buying again, I’d probably go with the previous version, but who knows what’s in the pipeline!