Join myself, Manon Carpenter, and long-time riding buddy Emily Horridge on a multi-day tour around Mont Thabor, a 3000m peak nestled deep within the French Alps with our respective partners, Christian Stenvall and David Billings.
The French Alps aren’t that far from home for us, even closer for Emily and David who have been living in the French town of Les Arcs for the last 8 years, but they host incredible terrain and mountain refuges for people to overnight in. All you need is a bike and a backpack to find yourself on rarely ridden singletrack, surrounded by amazing scenery and with some big ol’ mountains to challenge legs and lungs. The presence of “hosted” refuges in the Alps means you can experience big mountains without having to carry bulky sleeping equipment and food, so you have a lighter pack and the riding experience isn’t restricted by the weight you’re carrying. This makes bike-packing in the Alps the perfect combination of adventure and real alpine riding, without compromise.
The build-up to this trip has taken place over the last few years, with Emily first introducing me to ‘hike-a-biking’ in the summer of 2017. I hadn’t touched a mountain bike in just under a month after stepping away from the World Cup DH race circuit in August, and found myself chatting to Emily and booking a few days to go visit and ride. Emily had moved out to Les Arcs in 2012, and progressed to become the first British woman to successfully pass the French guiding equivalence test in 2016, having been a British qualified guide since 2007. Shortly afterwards, she set up her own guiding/holiday company, The Inside Line MTB. She’s long had a passion for back-country adventures, so joining her and David on a hike-a-bike day trip up the mother of all steep alpine slopes, to swim in a lake at the top and enjoy half an hour of descent back down to the valley floor was exactly what I had needed back then. Prime singletrack that goes on for so long you can’t help but follow the flow and take each corner as it comes.
Since that short trip, while Emily and David have continued their many back-country trips in the Alps, I have been testing the water with Christian with a multi-day ski trip in Lapland and a spontaneous overnight MTB refuge trip near Verbier in 2018. A final, very fun overnight ski trip at the beginning of 2019 sealed the deal, and Emily messaged to say that Christian and I had to plan a hut-to-hut trip with her and David - and that she had had one in mind for a while! Mont Thabor: A three-day bike-packing trip, but with an extra day added in for a jaunt close to the Italian border. 112km distance and 5052m elevation gain all in all, starting at 1800m elevation in Valmeinier and with a mixture of riding, pushing and hike-a-bike to get us up the climbs by good old-fashioned leg power.
None of us had ridden this route before, and Emily had heard a few mixed reviews of the descent down from the summit of Mont Thabor. As it turned out, every descent was amazing with perfectly varied singletrack made all the better by the effort we had put in to get there. We made the trip in early September, set off in dense mist and returned to the same thick cloud, but the days in between were beautiful. Being out all day in the mountains, with nothing to do but make your way to the top and enjoy the descent back down, all in the presence of great company was brilliant. Each of my very best moments this year have been days spent out in the mountains, more than likely spending the night there too. The Tour du Mont Thabor is going to be a highlight for a long time. Bonus footage:
The full footage from the descent from Mont Thabor summit added up to over 20 minutes. Only a few clips from the descent made it into the final film, so here is an extended version of the best bits, for anyone who wants to get a look in.
Having GoPros attached to four people for the best part of four days ends up with quite a bit of footage - some that should or shouldn't ever see the light of day! More 'best bits' bonus footage from the trip includes some trailside maintenance, a few crashes, some silly exclamations and a solo:
Special thanks go to Adidas Terrex for making it possible to document this trip, to Emily for the route planning and guiding, David and Christian for the great company as ever, and definitely not least to Laurence CE who shouldered his camera bag for the entire trip to make this film happen - and kept good humour while at it!