The trip so far
Day 2 numbers and route map
Distance - 39.6km Ascent - 1304m Descent - 2578m Highest Point - 2578m, Croix de La Cime
After a chilly evening spent high up the morning of our 2nd day brought us fantastic blue skies. Our 2nd night out in the hills gave us the chance to try out our tarp set up which we figured out by using the bikes upside down and the tarp draped over them and using ropes under rocks to keep it held down with a bike wheel in the middle propping up the tarp to give us room underneath, it did a great job of keeping the wind off our backs during the evening and stayed up all night.
We had some breakfast and even brewed a cup of tea, Jan being german didn’t have much interest in a cup of tea, before we packed up and set off down the valley, we were not in so much of a rush as we didn’t want to arrive at the refuge too early and it was only a couple of km down the valley.
We rolled along the shore of the lake we had camped by the night before and encountered quite a few walkers which made us a little nervous about how todays riding might go, this many walkers already at this time of day and we had only gone a few hundred metres. In the end we passed many walkers, young and old, and found that most were just excited or intrigued to see us and wondering what we were doing with out bikes up so high or ‘how on earth did you get those up here, we are struggling just walking’ (usually in a crazy french accent of course), and most were very friendly indeed as long as we treated each other with a bit of courtesy. This seemed to be a theme which continued through out the whole trip which was very welcoming to experience.
Refuge des Drayères
We made it down to the refuge for about 11am and decided we would stop here for a coffee and cake, again a theme which continued for the rest of the trip, mostly generated by myself with Jan not being much of a coffee or tea drinker, especially given the hot weather but I couldn’t help myself because that is just what you do when you are out riding.. isn’t it?
One of the original reasons for choosing this extra loop on our route was that we might find my friend Pierre working at this refuge, however it wasn’t guaranteed as I could only remember roughly where he had shown me on the map he would be and not the name so this was just a hunch. So you can imagine our excitement to arrive and find Pierre-Axel standing washing the dishes in the open kitchen when we arrived! And of course his total surprise to see us given that we had provided zero warning we were going to pass by.
It turns out everything is run to a tight schedule at a refuge, given the amount of people passing and the amount of different types of guests visiting means that you have some people up at 5am wanting breakfast, others (like ourselves) passing by during the day wanting food, whether it is snacks or a proper lunch, then people arriving and leaving all day, dinner in the evening and even people arriving into the night. We managed to persuade Pierre to put down the tea towel for an hour or two and grab his bike to join us down the valley for some riding.
After our coffee and some tart, a stroke of the resident refuge cat and some funny photos of the resident chickens we set off down the trails into the valley and back to civilisation with Pierre-Axel.
vallée de la clarée, descending from le refuge des drayères
After half an hour or so of riding we stopped by the river to chill out and chat a little while and get some inside knowledge into the working of a french alpine refuge from Pierre before he had to get back to washing his dishes and serving the hundreds of customers passing by that afternoon.
Pierre turned around and headed back up the road whilst we carried on down the valley with directions from Pierre to follow the trail alongside the river instead of the road. We were warned of lots of walkers but we must have got lucky with timing as we passed few and had some amazing fun on a very flowy, well I say ‘flowy’ I mean flowy compared to the techy madness of alpine singletrack we had encountered so far, beautiful and idyllic section of trail that followed the river for 4-5km before we had to climb once again back up and out of this valley towards Briançon.
La Vallée de la Clarée...
...We found some beautiful flowy singletrack alongside the river
Chalets de Buffére
We stopped at this spot for lunch as it was a good point to break up our climb (an 800m climb) and because it seemed like a rather nice setting agains the alpine meadows with some activity around the chalets below us. We didn’t go join them however, because we are outsiders, we don’t belong with the cultured hikers eating at proper restaurants, we eat from the floor and we know our place.
A rare section of the 'Côte Rouge' traverse we were able to ride
Finally at the top of Le Port de Cristol after a long hike-a-bike traverse, a big climb and a load of pushing! All downhill from here!
''Well that was a nightmare! It should have
taken us 1hr30 or maybe 2hrs at a push but
3hrs later and we arrived at the top of the
Porte de Cristol''
Well that was a nightmare! It should have taken us 1hr30 or maybe 2hrs at a push but 3hrs later and we arrived at the top of the Porte de Cristol. The map indicated a 3km traverse around the hillside before we started to gain any significant height which we thought we would have done in 15 minutes or so however it quickly became apparent that this was not a simple traverse and barely any of it was rideable. It became a slog of hike, push, ride a tiny bit, get stuck, repeat, the trail was not so steep or did not gain so much height but damn it was awkward! There were just rocks and routes and boulders at all sorts of angles, everything just wanted to catch your wheel and pull you off the bike, it was impossible to get any kind of momentum going especially with the extra weight of the backpacks compared to normal.
We struggled around this path for most probably almost 1hr 30 before we were weirdly thankful to hit the proper uphill and a new trail to take us up to the top of La Porte de Cristol. We cycled up past an tranquil lake with no one around before pushing the last 200m to the top where we were greeted with amazing panoramic views to the east and west into two completely different valleys.
We did however realise at this point we needed to re-evaluate our plans for food and camping that evening due to our very leisurely morning and the extra time taken on the traverse. At first we were thinking ‘shiiit we need to get to Briançon before 7pm before all the supermarkets close!’ (supermarkets close well early in France if you did not know). We dashed along a fire road as fast as we could and across the road at the Col de Granon to get to the proper descent into Briançon before being greeted with an epic view of a ridgeline leading us towards the town.
The plan was to just ride the trail that skirted the ridge and descended down into the town which would be a very enjoyable section of singletrack but then we saw the ridge. We liked the look of the ridge - the ridge looked inviting yet dominating, exciting yet scary, but we had one of this moments of we are here now and if we don’t go now then we won’t go again, we’re here to explore and give ourselves some challenges so let’s go! So off up the ridge we went!
But what about dinner I hear you ask?! Well we decided to splash the cash and eat out that night… more on that later.
The previous photo is what we were greeted with at the top of the ridge, this made us stop and re-evaluate once again. What we could not see from the bottom was that the ridge included many ups and downs, technical descents and hike-a-bikes, it was not a simple case of up the ridge, along the ridge, down the other side. We realised that if we continued all the way along this path we would not even make it before the restaurants closed and everyone was in bed so we decided it was best to try descent back to the original path, find a camp spot and head into the town for some much needed food.
We took a rather direct, steep line down from our trail on top of the ridge down onto the trail we could see following us along the mountain further down to give us access into a trail we could see on the map down through the forest below. Being out on an open mountain side like that with no trees or rocks and following no trail feels really quite exposed and unusual, sometimes the sheer scale of the landscapes we were riding through left us feeling kind of intimidated, even if the trail was not so difficult or technical.
Once we made it down into the trees we found a fantastic trail which was made especially for mountain bikes, personally I loved it! I usually prefer the technical slower paces alpine style trails we had gone searching for on this trip but when you are constantly riding challenging terrain and technical trails it is a lot of fun to be able to open it up on some slightly more manicured trails safe in the knowledge you aren’t going to skid off a cliff around the next corner!
At the bottom we climbed around the side of the hill until we were greeted with some amazing birds eye views of Briançon from one of the many fortresses surrounding the city. We decided the best plan was to ride down, find a camp spot before we arrived right in the city to leave all our gear and then ride into the city with minimal equipment.
We managed to find a really cool trail that switchbacked its way down a steep craggy hillside right outside the trail. One of the corners provided just enough flat space to set up our groundsheet so we hid our bags in the bushes and headed down into the city feeling very content with our picturesque camp spot.
The first place we came to was a pizza place, realising we were almost in Italy we decided pizza here was probably a good bet! Unfortunately the restaurant was completely full so we told them we would return in an hour and rode down into the town to explore, through the old fortified Vauban town and into the town centre we had explored the day before where we found a Chinese restaurant that could serve us right away. We ordered something to share as a ‘starter’ (a large starter), then headed back up the hill to the pizza restaurant where we ordered a large pizza each and dessert and coffee. The waitress was a impressed with how much we ate only to be surprised when we told her we had already eaten 30 minutes earlier!
Yeah… we ate a lot on this trip!