Photo Epic: Dan Milner Goes Beyond the Race Tape for an Adventure in Ainsa, Spain

Dec 17, 2018
by Dan Milner  

When the mist clears a real sense of adventure is driven home.
Photo Epic
ADVENTURE
BEYOND THE RACE TAPE
Ainsa, Spain

Words & Photography by Dan Milner
When the mist clears a real sense of adventure is driven home.


If you could write a dictionary of common misconceptions, then the prerequisites of adventure are: 1. ass-numbingly long flights, and 2. ass-loosening restaurant dishes. But what if adventure can be found closer to home, maybe just behind an EWS race track, just a short budget flight away in a place that has great food and beer, no risk of stomach trouble and has big mountains to boot? You know, somewhere such as Ainsa in Spain?


The Canal del Cinca is a classic long balcony traverse through the steep sided Cinca valley.
The Canal del Cinca is a classic long balcony traverse through the steep sided Cinca valley.


Ainsa was put on the global mountain bikers’ map by the EWS in 2015 and again in 2018. The popularity of this ancient town—or specifically the enviable 1200 Kilometres of trails that sit on its doorstep and are managed by Zona Zero— have led to a ten-fold rise in mountain biker numbers since that first EWS tape was unrolled down one of its trails. And now some 30,000 riders come to wash down good food with locally brewed Tronzador beer and thrash down descents in the tire-tracks of their EWS heroes.

Rafa and Pablo rail some classic Ainsa local dirt that helped put it not he EWS map.
Rafa and Pablo rail some classic Ainsa local dirt that helped put it on the EWS map.
Tronzadora beer the riders brew. A percentage of the beer s profits goes towards local trail building projects.
Tronzadora beer is the riders brew. A percentage of the beer's profits goes towards local trail building projects.

But there is more to Ainsa than beer, EWS tape and its fast, dusty tracks. Look beyond its stone ramparts and you’ll find even more riding and diverse experiences to be mined from the rugged, steep mountains that harbour this Medieval town.


Rafa and Pablo lost in a sea of rocks in the Sierra y Canones de Guara.
Rafa and Pablo lost in a sea of rocks in the Sierra y Canones de Guara.


In June I teamed up with guiding outfit Blacktown Trails for a taste of the adventure potential to be found in the mountains around Ainsa, going way beyond the race tape. On a road trip between the Pyrenees’ highest summit Pico Arneto to the north East, and Huesca to the south West, a tumbling landscape of unforgiving peaks and steep river canyons became the backdrop for six days of exploration and hard-earned descents.

Bedrock outcrops flavour the riding in the Guara.
Bedrock outcrops flavour the riding in the Guara... and they taste sweet.
Pablo earning his turns. Hikes are key to reading the nuggets on Comodoto and opening the area to adventure.
Pablo knows how to earn his turns. Hiking is key to mining the gold on Comodoto and opening the area to adventure.

With Blacktown’s guides Pablo Irigoyan Claver, Rafa Molina and Emilio Garcia leading the charge, we dipped into a diverse spectrum of landscapes and a year's variety of trails, from the fast, loose shale of the barren mountains above Benasque to the twisting, tormented rock gardens of the Sierra y Canons de Guara.


Rafa dropping into the descent and the abyss on Comodoto.
Rafa drops into the abyss on Comodoto.

Rafa and Pablo start the climb up Sierra Negra.
The region is not short of climbs, but the scenery will help take your mind off the pain. And when it doesnt, there is beer.

Mid summer snow just adds traction to the otherwise dry and loose Sierra Negra descent.
Mid summer snow just adds traction to the otherwise dry and loose Sierra Negra descent.


And in between we sheltered from unexpected storms in old shepherds huts and pitched our tents among the deserted buildings of old, abandoned villages that dot this wild landscape.


Rafa and Pablo wait for the rain to ease before a 700 metre push up to the Sierra Negra trail.
Rafa and Pablo wait for the rain to ease before a 700 metre push up to the Sierra Negra trail.

No matter what your plan sometimes the mountains have other ideas. Rafa waits out the rain before a 700 metre push up to the Sierra Negra trail.
No matter what your plan sometimes the mountains have other ideas. Luckily Rafa is a patient man.
Abandoned village doorways make easy bivouac spots. Pablo seizes an opportunity.
Abandoned village doorways make easy bivouac spots. Pablo scores an opportunity.

Pablo is as handy with a camp stove as he is with a bike... which is pretty handy if you re hungry for food or trails.
Pablo is as handy with a camp stove as he is with a bike... which is lucky if you're hungry for food or trails.


Surrounded by glaciers and tumbling rivers we slung our bikes onto our backs for arduous hike-a-bikes into the backcountry, and when unseasonal snowfall scuppered our plan to camp high on the Sierra Negra, our pre-arranged gear-carrying mules went light, hauling just our bikes instead to its 2700 metre high summit for a snowline descent.


Alvaro Yaque and Pablo Irigoyan Claver lead the mules up tot he Sierra Negra plateau.
Heading up to the Sierra Negra plateau and into 1200 metres of descent as reward.

Evolution and tradition Muleteer Alvaro Yaque s mules usually haul the overnight bags for trekkers on trails trodden for centuries.
Evolution and tradition: Muleteer Alvaro Yaque's mules usually haul the overnight bags for trekkers on trails trodden for centuries.
From the 2700 m high Sierra Negra Alvaro Yaque and Rafa Molina look out towards the Pico Arneto the Pyrenees highest summit.
From the 2700m high Sierra Negra, Alvaro Yaque and Rafa Molina look out towards the Pico Arneto, the Pyrenees' highest summit.

And we emerged from our six days dirty, tired but grinning and swearing to return, aware that we’d only scratched the surface of the adventure potential of this area. Leaving the race tape behind we had merely eaten the crumbs from a seemingly limitless adventure buffet, and it has left us hungry for more.


Rafa finds some playtime on the Salto del Roldan.
Plenty of playtime options on the Salto del Roldan trail.

The loam tunnel the bottom section of the Comodoto peak descent.
Tunnel vision at the bottom of Comodoto Peak descent.
Dwarfed by enormous rocky outcrops Rafa and Daniel begin the long winding descent that is the Salto del Roldan trail.
Dwarfed by enormous rocky outcrops, Rafa and Daniel begin the long, winding descent that is the Salto del Roldan trail.

In a place like Ainsa, adventure doesn’t have to mean long-haul flights and stomach upsets, it just means ducking the race tape and heading off the beaten track. No timing chips, no trophies, no fuss; just you, your bike, a solid group of friends and some world class backcountry singletrack.

See here for more info on Blacktown Trails guiding.
See here for info on riding Ainsa’s Zona Zero trails.


Pablo and Rafa start the 1300 metres of vertical down to Benasque.
Cloud 9 above Benasque.


Putting the VW shuttle s offload capabilities through their paces to reach the Comodoto Peak trailhead.
Putting the VW's 4-motion capabilities to the test to reach a high trailhead.

Ainsa s local trails provide a warm up before diving deeper into the backcountry for Rafa and Pablo.
Ainsa's local trails provide a warm up before diving deeper into the backcountry for Rafa and Pablo.

A friendly early-morning visitor drops by camp to sample the breakfast menu.
When wild camping, keep an eye on breakfast. This cheeky fellah ran off with the camp's muesli.
Rafa and Daniel roll the fast and loose Salto del Roldan trail named after a legend about a horseman leaping between the rock towers in a single bound.
The towers of Salto del Roldan are named after the legend of a guy leaping between them on his horse. Riding its namesake trail without grinning is no less believable.


MENTIONS: @DanMilner / @yeticycles




21 Comments

  • + 38
 That fox looks well-damped.
  • - 1
 but the fox 36, poor fork stanchion on the mule...
  • + 2
 He looks lubricated
  • + 3
 @qreative-bicycle: Yeah he looks like he might have run off with some of our vino tinto too the night before. Me: "Big night Fox?" Fox: "Ay, you betcha. Got any paracetamol?".
  • + 2
 @DanMilner: I would be a bit cautious with friendly foxes in the Pyrenees or Central Europe. Unlike the UK these animals are really scared of man and don't live in towns, normally only the diseased or desperate would take such an approach - and rabies has been found in wild foxes in Spain and Europe.
  • + 2
 @DanMilner: Oh and by the way, awesome article, as per usual! Wink
  • + 8
 Epic is the right word for this!
  • + 4
 Yup! Lots of places to visit and explore. Been there several times and every time I swear and waiting for the next opportunity. 'Sierra Negra', Benasque and 'Puerto viejo' are amazing and they need to put at least one on your 'to-do lists before die'

@mbl77 Yup... that Fox surely was plush and swift. Kashima coated too!
  • + 2
 I love Dan's photos. As stunning landscape shots as they are, they very much feel like trail snaps, from the POV of someone who has just pulled over in the middle of a ripping descent to take in the view!
  • + 1
 It´s an amazing experience to ride and shoot with Dan, his skills to spot the best moments for shooting are just unreal!
  • + 3
 Definitely one for the bucket list.
  • + 3
 Open bar of shuttles in Ainsa and Benasque with MtbSpain!!! Epic!!!
  • + 2
 Spain rocks! Killer trails, great food, welcoming/social people and affordable. Why would you want to go anywhere else?
  • + 2
 Dan, your photos and content never fail to amaze
  • + 2
 What a great week of riding @DanMilner , awesome article!
  • + 1
 Arneto? Do u mean Aneto? Lol
Epic place!!
  • + 1
 look like a great adventure! Cheers from Chile!
  • + 2
 Hey @matzx am guessing you have a download / resolution / browser issue and they are showing low res for some reason? They are uploaded high enough res to show nicely. Ask Santa for a new laptop, LOL.
  • + 1
 nice photos and adventure, but why are some photos so BAD quality??
  • + 2
 I think issue might be on your end. Showing up big and clear here
  • + 1
 All pics are crystal clear on my laptop.

Post a Comment



Copyright © 2000 - 2019. Pinkbike.com. All rights reserved.
dv65 0.039221
Mobile Version of Website