Saturday, June 9, 2007

Hautes Vosges Mountainbike trails

Hautes Vosges Mountainbike trails 03-08 June 2007

I set out with my friend Moster Blond (MB) towards La Bresse , Hautes Vosges in France , where she had rented us a gite from June 2nd to June 9th. We would be riding the multitude of Routes VTT in the area from June 3rd up the June 8th. Since I hadn't been on a real holiday for a couple of years now, I was really looking forward towards this trip. I was not going to be disappointed. I included a brief description of the ride I did during this week to give you an idea what is offered here.

Day 1 La Bresse route Nr 1 + Gerardmer route Nr 2

Started out at the Gite around 9.30. The weather was fine, dry and cloudy but with sunny intervals which would lenghten during the course of the day. The first stretch, on the La Bresse route Nr1 – a blue beginner route- was mainly tarmac. The routes range from Green (très facile) over Blue (facile) and Red (difficile) towards Black (très difficile)
Upon reaching de Col de la Grosse Pierre, via a short interconnection (marked as such) between the La Bresse and Gerardmer routes, we had to follow the busy D486 for a while and we were now on the Gerardmer route Nr2 – a Red route, which is supposed to be more technically challenged. After a while we turned to the right and started on a long climb on gravel roads. The forests which were now surrounding us where green and lush. There were little streams running over and besides the trail and the silence of the forest was only disturbed by the babbling of those little brooks, the chirping of some insect and the grinding of our tyres on the fine-grained tarmac. Very beautiful but the gravel roads were a bit boring. Upon reaching the hut at "Croix Claudé" (1031m) we came upon more interesting tracks, with some rocks popping up between the gravel. We reached the "Roche des Bioquets" (1091m) and things went downhill from there. A very interesting loop followed, taking us along the ski slopes and through some very nice downhill bits. An uphill, wet and singletracky which started beneath the skilift "La Chaume Francis", had us digging deep into our muscular reserves. Steep and slippery, technically challenging - nice. This was definately a good part of the trail. The rest of the number 2 had some fast downhills and another steep climb waiting for us. We could feel the amount of heightmeters digging in. Upon reaching the D486 again, we interconnected back to the La Bresse trail Nr 1. This time the trail went offroad, climbing towards 1056 meters, slowly but surely. A bit in the forest was very wet and strewn with fallen trees. Quite a bit of climbing to do, both on and off our bikes. MB was taking the shortcut back down to the chalet but I set onwards on the 3K that was left of trail Nr 1. And a great 3K it was, with a very technical downhill near the end. Rocky and slippery – I went a couple of meters on foot- and not something one would expect on a beginner loop. The signage was good, although sometimes the arrows were positioned a bit awkward and a good map (9.80 Euro for IGN map 3619OT Bussang La Bresse ) , is always a good thing to have with you. Or the plastic route cards which can be gotten for free from the Tourist Centre at La Bresse. These offer a good idea of the routes but cannot replace a good map in case of emergency or when you are really lost.
Ride Stats: 37.1 K and 770 heightmeters in 3h01
Hill Factor: 20.8

Day 2 Fresse-sur-Moselle route Nr 5 + Nr 4

Bright and sunny morning again so we set out by car towards Fresse-sur-Moselle, to try out the black route Nr 5 (Très difficile). This is one of only 2 black routes in the Vosges so our expectations were high. The route started with a long climb taking us towards the Croix de Fresse. This is a crossroads where we could interconnect to the blue route Nr.3 which lead towards the Red Nr 4. MB wanted to do the Nr3, which is slightly shorter and supposedly less difficult than the Nr4, which I would ride. By now we were already sure that the difficulty level of the routes had nothing to do with their technical content, but were solely a measure of the amount of heightmeters in them as compared to the lenght of the route (the Hill Factor). Which suited me fine "an sich" , but I would have prefered more technical challenges in the downhills on the Red routes , and especially on the Black route. Needless to say, with 400 heightmeters in about 7k, the black route is a tough cookie. The Red Nr4 had some nice climbing in it, leading up to about 1100 metres at the top of the ski loops at "Haut du Rouge Gazon" . A very interesting climb leading up to it, singletrack with some roots and very steep. The Fresse number 4 connects here with one of the Ventron routes , and the two overlap for a few kilometers. Then the 4 goes towards de col de La Rochelotte where it joins the Blue number 3. I saw that MB had already passed here so I made haste to not have her wait too long at the Croix de Fresse, where we were to rendez-vous. It had rained lightly from time to time – rain that didn't bother me because it kept away the heat and I was driving under cover of the trees most of the time. When I reached the Croix de Fresse we continued along the Number 5 route, which from now on was mainly downhill, on broad gravel roads intersected by – much too- short smaller and more technical trails. When we arrived at Fresse-sur-Moselle we had to climb one more time along a steep grasscovered road with some wet rocks to keep things interesting. We were a bit disappointed about the low technical level of these routes, especially the black route which we expected to be more of a treat. It proved only to be a treat for the uphill lovers, a few more technical sections notwithstanding.
Ride Stats: 39K and 995 heightmeters in 3h29mins
Hill Factor: 25.5

Day 3 : Gerardmer Routes Nr 9 + Nr 10

Got underway very early this morning and by 9 we were ready to tackle some of the Gerardmer routes. I would try the Red Nr9 first, followed by the Red Nr10. MB would start on the Red Nr10. Starting from the parking lot near "le Grand Etang" the routes follow the same trail for a while, going upwards on tarmac, and then plunging into the forest on what would prove to be the first of some very hairy downhills. Very steep and with wet rocks , roots and boulders it proved to be quite a handful - yummie. The Nr9 then breaks away from the other routes and after dropping down towards the "Creusegoutte" river starts to make its way towards the "Croix Claudé" . But getting there was not going to be easy. The uphill proved to be a singletrail, wet at times with the water that seems to spring from under every stone here. And stones could be found aplenty on todays routes. I really enjoyed this uphill. At 1031 metres you reach the "Croix Claudé". From there onwards the broad gravel roads give you some time to recuperate before undergoing the final downhill. This really is a killer, very steep, wet and rocky , I had to get off of my bike several times, due to lack of braking power, guts and skills.
Next I went on the route Nr10. The same start as the Nr9 but this route really is a very difficult one. The uphills are very steep, wet, rooty and rocky, and even on my smallest gear I could not make all of them . And when you were on top of the hill , instead of giving you a break, the trails went down, singletracky steep and again with enough rocks and roots to give you plenty to do. Some of the rocks had me walking again. The nastiest bits had a warning sign before them. The trail keeps on going like this for a while, really making it one of the best I’ve ridden here so far. I climbed up the "Tour Merelle" to enjoy the beautiful view over the Gerardmer Lac, which lay 250 metres deeper along the slope. After the Merelle things slowed down a bit into the "Foret de l’Urson". But yet another steep climb was waiting, bringing me back towards the starting point. A great ride this was, the weather was fine as well so really very enjoyable. I was glad I saw the car and MB who was waiting for me to finish my loop.
Today was a very fine biking day indeed and if you only have a limited time in the Vosges and want to sample some great trails , you might consider take either or both of these 2 Red Gerardmer routes, you won't be disappointed!

Ride Stats: 35K and 870 heightmeters in 2h54mins
Hill Factor: 24.8

Day 4: St-Maurice-sur-Moselle Routes Nr 15 + Nr 13

Rise and shine very early in order to get underway by 8am. Taking the car down towards St-Maurice-s-Moselle, we are again going our seperate ways today. MB was going for the Black Route Nr14, which would yield her 22.8K and 430 heightmeters, followed by one of the shorter loops, in this case Blue route Nr16, which was 7k and just short of 100 heightmeters.
Me, I wanted heightmeters so I set out on the route Nr15 with its 22K and 615 heightmeters. The beginning of loops nrs 12 through 15 is the same, a couple of K's easy on tarmac and then into a field ,where you needed an eagle eye to spot the signage. I left my eagle eye at home so I missed it and set off on an immensely steep uphill, walking most of it, only to discover that I should have taken out the map earlier - darn !. Oh well , 100 heightmeters more or less won’t matter, right? After that little mishap I paid more attention and in case of doubt consulted my map BEFORE choosing a direction. A quite unnecessary and unclimbable bit followed, over soapy green wet rocks where you had to be careful even on foot, let alone biking it. After that, a little path with another steep climb in it brought me onto tarmac. Here the ascent towards "la Chaume au Rouge Gazon" really started, quickly becoming a gravel road , but steep enough to make me walk at least once. The 26/34 combination and my legs, that did not seem to be awake yet, made this a long climb, steady but steep. About 500 metres from the top, I turned on a tarmac road, which allowed me to recuperate some. At the top, around 1100 metres, I had 13K and 670 heightmeters already. Wowza! The official starting point of the Red Nr 15 is here, but after a few hundred meters, the signage was gone, nothing to be seen. So I got out the big map, compared it to the little trail map, and sorted out my direction quite quickly. All downhill now, at one point going straight through a meadow where a broke sign had me puzzled as to which way to go. I finally figured it out and the descent went on, over a nice little trail this time. After that the trail became wider, took on gravel road proportions and I was zooming down with my hands on the brakes to control the speed. Some of the stones are rather big and I wasn’t looking for any snakebites. A bit further and some 300 heightmeters lower the trail was joined by Nr13 so I could practice this section bit for later. It went up again, dropping down and passing through a river, and then steeply up again. That really hurt after the long downhill section. Before long I could see St-Maurice-s-Moselle on my left and after a few switchbacks and some lovely bits of trails I was on tarmac again. I passed the car and left a little note with my time of passage and my intention to do the Nr13. That way my companion would know I was allright and how long it would approximately take me to be back again.
The Red Nr13 shares the first 6K or so with the Nr15. After that, it turns 150 degrees to the left for a long ascent, on a doubletrack which would gradually gain me some 300 heightmeters. The track was steep in the beginning, but my legs felt better by now and I could manage it all on the 26/34 without having to walk. At the 900 meter mark I stopped to have my second Power Bar of the day, and when I left I noticed a small deer climbing up the steep bank on my right. Amazing how strong and agile they are. Near the "Fontaine des 3 Mages" I turned to the left and the downhill began. Some 2K of fast doubletrack and just before a tarmac road the arrow pointed to the right, up a steep slope. Grinding time. The slope was badly damaged by forestry works so I had to walk. But gradually it became less steep and I could ride again. A nice little track which led me high above the tarmac road and further down to the D80. This road I had to follow a few hundred meters before having to turn right again, and commence the last climb of the day, which would first bring me nicely up towards connecting with the Nr15. Upwards again before plunging into St-Maurice-s-Moselle. When I arrived I found my note had been added to by MB. She arrived about 10 mins later. Good Timing! In all, the two routes I did are great if you love climbing, there are some technical passages for sure, but the focus is on climbing, steep and long. I saw a lot of danger signs on the downhills, but they were all ride-able, I’m pleased to say. At a few places on the Nr15, the signage was missing, signage was impeccable on the Nr13.

Ride Stats: 46K and 1330 heightmeters in 3h56mins
Hill Factor: 28.9

Day 5 : Xoulcés routes Cornimont 6 + Ventron 7

Today I started from the gite, riding my bike to the start of the Red Cornimont route at Xoulcés, a pittoresque little village a few kilometres from Cornimont itself. MB was taking her car to explore some of the routes of "La Bresse East" and Xonrupt. When I arrived at Xoulcés I already had 14k and 100 heightmeters. I started out on the Red number 6 (which is marked as a Blue route in the folders but is really a Red route). This route is 22K long and offers 520 heightmeters. Some nice trails through kneehigh grass led me towards the start of a big climb, which would take me in two stages and 10K some 450 metres higher. First the trail was small, but then it switched to gravel and I had to dig deep in my muscular reserves to stay on the middle ring all the way. At the top , a fast gravel road brought me down towards the start of the Blue Nr 7, a 15.5 K long route (which is erronously marked as a Red route in the folders)
This proved to be a very simple route, a long uphill on gravel roads, then some 5-600 metres of great singletrail and after that it shared the same 5K-long downhill as the number 6. When I completed the Blue 7, I continued on the remainder of the Red 6 which had still some very nice passages waiting for me.
I passed alongside a big "Jesus on the cross figure" which looked out over Cornimont . Some technical downhill bits, rocks and stones, wet or dry, and near the end a really steep climb ondulating on a singletrail which was covered with rocks and crossed by little streams.
Very nice and certainly one of the better routes I’ve done this week. Pity the number 7 was a disappointment. After 37.3K and 1040 heightmeters I was back at the start in Xoulcés. This yields a Hill Factor of 27.8 !

But I still had to bike 14K back to the gite, and had another big climb waiting for me , from the centre of La Bresse at 636 metres up to our gite at 890 metres.
Ride Stats: 65K and 1495 heightmeters in 4h18mins
Hill Factor: 23

Day 6 : La Bresse East Nr14 + Cornimont routes 2 + 4

A heavy series of thunderstorms last night made me decide to stay close to La Bresse. So I started out from the gite again down to the tourist centre and the start of the "La Bresse East" route Nr14. This took me on a long winding ascent up to the "Lac de Sèchemer" and further towards the "Lac des Corbeaux" . This big mountain lake is 27 metres deep and holds some 240000 cubic metres of water. I hade to ride around it, which was a little more than a 1000 metres. After this lake, the gravel road took me towards the "Col de Brabant" , where the Cornimont Routes 1 through 4 start. I took number 2 first, and was not dissapointed. Descending at first along tarmac and gravel roads, the road then changed into a nice little rocky descent, slippery and wet, but always just rideable. A turn to the left and upwards it went, steep on loose gravel, rocks and grass. I just made it on my 26/34. I saw the tower with the "Notre Dame de la Paix" on it, and looking towards the other side of the Xoulcés valley, I saw the Jesus figure where I stood yesterday. Another steep climb and then a nice passage through the forest and I was back at the Col de Brabant. I decided to do the Blue Nr 4 as well, which follows the track of the Ski de Fond towards the Col de la Vierge. Nothing spectacular, a long uphill on gravel roads towards the Col, and then a fast downhill towards the Col de Brabant again. There I finished what was left of the La Bresse East Nr14. Which was in fact nothing else than a fast downhill on tarmac towards La Bresse. A bit disappointing to say the least. I remember the nice Cornimont Nr2, only 8K but well worth the ride. The 3 trails yielded me 39.5K and 925 heightmeters. Thats a 23.4 Hill Factor. I was left with only 4K to go and some 240 heightmeters, back from the La Bresse centre towards our gite.
Ride Stats: 48K and 1155 heightmeters in 3h22mins
Hill Factor: 24

Totals: 270.47 and 6615 heightmeters in 21h08mins
Total Hill Factor: 24.5

Bottom Line

So, did I enjoy myself? Yes, I most certainly did. The region is beautiful, with hills ranging from 500 to 1200 metres , green and lush . The area breathes an air of calm and cleanliness. There is water everywhere, rivers, brooks, gullets, trickles.. most of France's "eaux" come from this area. The marked trails are great for those who like to climb and the effort the region has made is certainly to be commended . The more technically challenged may want to consider hiring a guide though because, even though some of the trails I did include some very fine sections , nasty downhills and certainly very difficult and steep uphills, most trails seem to focus on providing at least one long climb on gravel roads, followed by a descent on the same type of road.
There are exceptions, but the difficulty of the trails seems to be determined NOT by their technicality but by the amount of climbing they include. So this basically leaves you to try all routes in order to find those you like, or you might strike lucky like I did a couple of times. Another point of note is - even though the signage is generally good - some signs are at awkward places or angles, so you need AT LEAST the little plastified trail maps you can get for free at the Tourist Centres of La Bresse and, to be completely safe, you might want to get a copy of the 1/25000 IGN maps of the area. The people you encounter are very friendly and clearly used to seeing tourists most of the year. We went in June and the best time of the day to bike was early in the morning. Temps were high around noon and chances of thunderstorms increased past 1-2pm. Thunderstorms can be violent here, but the trails are not that much affected by the rainfall. Except that the rocks and roots get wetter at some areas, the water is channeled effectively away from the trails, or absorbed by the fine gravel , with only the exceptional muddy area or puddle remaining.
You might wanna try the following links for more information on the area and the activities: