Rallye Sudety 2013

Ben grimaced. He looked like he was struggling. He muttered something about not making it. I gave a few words of encouragement to him, something to ease the pain. No matter how hard he tried the pedal just wouldn't budge. We were trying to dismantle Ben's bike in the middle of his central London flat. This was the last piece of the puzzle in order to make his bike fit into the worryingly small bike case and for over an hour we had thrown all our body weight at it. Several allen keys had met their fate. "Bang", something gave and I looked at Ben...his shoulder seemed intact, as did the pedal spanner. We both looked at the pedal and it had freed up!

The adventure began with us walking two bike bags through London to ride the tube at rush hour. We managed to weave our way through tube stations against the ebb and flow of the masses. It was with some relief that we arrived at Heathrow and checked in. Ben's bag was clearly well over the weight limit and he was hit with an oversized luggage fee. With my bag too big to weigh, the lady at the check in asked how much my bag weighed to which I replied, rather predictably, "around 20kgs". She just smiled and let my bag through!

Phil Applegate arriving in Prague

Arriving in Prague, bike bags in tow!

Our next stop was the Czech Republic. A friend and former colleague, Andrea, who worked at the Patagonia store in Covent Garden had persuaded us to enter the Rallye Sudety 2013, a mountain bike race in East Bohemia, which, it turned out, was the culmination of the Czech mountain biking calendar and claimed to be "pretty hard" due to its distance (110KM), height gain (3100m+) and technical nature. Luckily we were well prepared. Ben had been doing lots of road biking and had recently clocked a very respectable time in the Ride London 100 and I had. . . well I had had my mountain bike serviced. At least I would be able to change gears and brake on the scary descents.

Andrea and her brother met us at Prague Airport and, fortunately for us, they had a car that could fit all our luggage in. We made our way to Trutnov, our base for the week, about 2 hours north east of Prague. We seemed to have survived the journey and with the re-building process much less time-consuming than the dis-mantling, we turned our focus back to our training regime. . . cheap beer and tasty food!

With 2 more days before the race we managed to sneak in some climbing on the awe inspiring sandstone towers of Adršpach-Teplice Rocks. I can only describe it a bit like Fontainebleau on steroids, the very strong ones. Towers and cliffs rise some 30-40m out of the pine forests in every direction which gives way to some fantastic climbing. Most lines are bolted due to the nature of the rock, however this is also the reason for the sparse nature of bolting, with the first bolt generally being 8-10m off the ground and then spaced every 6-8m. This requires a very cool head and having faith in the use of knotted slings or monkey fists as nuts if you should want any more protection.

Miki climbing in Ardsach-Teplice

Miki climbing in Adršpach-Teplice

Jane, Ben's fiancé, joined us on the Thursday evening for a short break, having finished her medical exams, plus we needed a team medic with us. . . just in case! Friday, the day before the race, was left for our final preparations, tweaking our bikes and then eating lots and drinking more beer. We registered in the evening and tucked into the food provided by the event at the Noodle party.

Saturday morning 5:30am arrived far too soon as we struggled, bleary eyed, out of bed. Ben and I sorted our kit and cycled the flat 5km to the start line. This would be the longest flat section we would ride all day. The mist hovered low above the fields. It was 4 degrees and the wind cut through my top and gloves, chilling my core and numbing my hands as I struggled to pull the brake levers. The predicted forecast of clear skies and 26 degrees better come good, I thought to myself. We found ourselves at the Starters' breakfast tent, shivering and hunched over a plate of bread, meat and cheese that would see us across the start line. With an hour still to go we did last minute checks on our bikes. A couple of laps of the main street loosened the legs off after stiffening in the cold. The surrounding hills kept the rising sun at bay and so, like reptiles, we went on the search for a sunny spot to warm our chilled bodies.

Ben Acty and Phil Applegate before the start of the Rallye Sudety

Me and Ben  before the start

Competitors for both the 110km and 60km races were soon lining up so we made our way to the start line. Somehow most of the 1000 entrants were in front of us and we started at the back of the field. The sun was sneaking over the hills now radiating its warmth down upon the field. The next thing I knew we were off, racing out of town and up a long windy road. I passed the first mechanical casualty of the day, a puncture to the rear wheel. The field slowly opened out as we found ourselves flying down tracks and across open meadows. We passed many more punctures early on. . . was this a sign of the brutal nature of the race to come? The trails flowed through small villages, pine forests and open fields, with the odd technical section thrown in to keep you on your toes. An ambulance raced along a track from the opposite direction as it kicked up a cloud of dust. We reached the first feed station in good time and I swapped my long sleeve top for a short sleeve one as the sun was now beating down. 

Rallye Sudety 2013

Ben Acty pulling a casual wheelie

Some steep, slow ascents followed before we reached the first testing bit of riding - a narrow single track that made its way up through a pine forest. Pine needles scattered the floor, whilst tree roots crossed the track. I dropped into an easy gear and just kept turning the pedals. There was little room for manoeuvring and over taking so whenever somebody up front fell off or decided to walk, it was hard to cycle around them. The lady in front slipped on a root and fell to the ground, cushioned by the layer of pine needles. I panicked trying to unclip my foot from the pedal and in doing so also fell to the floor. Luckily it was a soft fall and I continued on. From here the 2 races split and things turned noticeably technical as we descended a steep corner down a narrow rocky track. My braking fingers were getting a good work out as I hit a protruding rock and my bike bounced into a bush. I somehow managed to keep riding and found myself at the bottom of the descent and, to my great joy, another feed station, where I took on some cheese and meat and waited a few minutes for Ben to arrive.

The hardest part was trying to enjoy the spectacular scenery whilst avoiding trees, rocks and other cyclists. The route was brilliant. Fast single track descents and wide open spaces with big views enticed you enough to forget about the last hairy rocky decent, but only for a while. Crowds gathered at the more technical sections, cheering us on and doing well not to get hit by the less reserved rider. This all added to a great atmosphere. The route was very well signed apart from the section where I took a wrong turn with a couple of other riders and we ended up going up a very long rocky hill, only to realise our mistake. . . at least the downhill was worth it! Ben had passed me at this point but had thought I was up ahead so just ploughed on hoping to catch me up. The miles passed by with little let-up in the hilly and technical nature. I saw Ben in the distance over some rolling hills and eventually caught him up. He was surprised to see me. We kept thinking that every town in the distance was the finish but it dawned on us that we had longer to go than we thought. Luckily the well- stocked feed stations kept us going. 

a steep forest climb in the rallye sudety

The only major mishap I had was on a sandy, rocky descent where my wheel slipped from the sloping track and turned 90 degrees as I was flung over the handle bars. Luckily both feet unclipped and I landed on my feet, but the seat post clamp had taken a knock, which I didn't realise until a little while later when my saddle decided to point to the sky. Not a pleasant way to ride a bike and so every few miles I had to adjust the loosened saddle and tighten the bolt as hard as I could. As we drew closer to the finish we could hear some loud music through the trees and, thinking this was the finish line, we sped up, only to discover a wedding going on in the grounds of a private manor and not the finish line at all! Feeling a little deflated we carried on and came across the most technical section of the ride. 

One of the many steep descents in the Rallye Sudety

One of the many steep descents

I had seen this section on youtube and was amazed at how steep it actually was. . . needless to say I walked down. We rode into the town where we had set off from, finishing in 11hrs with bikes and bodies intact!

Adrspach Teplice National Park

Miki, Andrea, Ben and Jane in the Adršpach-Teplice Rock National Park

We met the others who had been watching the race in various locations and went for some food and a well-earned beer. We managed to fit some more climbing in, some more good food and had a bbq with Andrea and her family, all of whom had been so warm and generous in receiving us, on our last night in Czech. 


Phil works in Outside Hathersage and Ben manages the Patagonia London Store

By Phil Applegate

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Dolomites Rock

The Tre Cime di Lavaredo

After a couple of winter Alps trips plagued with -30 temps and buckets of snow, it was time to have a summer rock Alps trip. Aiden, Rich, Bart and I headed to the Dolomites. We had 10 days off work and with such a long drive, time was limited.

As normal we arrived to pouring rain and so we started with some quick drying single pitch, where we ran into friends from Sheffield, Ryan and Duncan; small world. They said they were having a rest day as the next day was a good forecast and they had their sights on the mega classic Brandler Hasse on the Cima Grande. So this instantly sorted our plans and we all headed up to the Tre Cime car park. We started early on a very cold clear day, Ryan and Duncan on the Brandler Hasse and, in two teams (Bart and Rich and Aiden and I) on the classic of the North Face , the Comici Route.

Aidan on the Comici Route, Cima Grande

We started climbing as the sun rose around 6am and quickly we were at the first crux, which with very cold fingers felt like a rude awakening. All went smoothly though and we were really pleased to be first on the wall as other teams arrived. The next 6 or 7 pitches were amazing with steep positive climbing and good rock (for the Dolomites!). Duncan and Ryan seemed to be moving well too, and the views were spectacular. As normal the upper chimneys were pretty wet but they definitely could have been worse and lead up to the exposed and very serious 30m traverse. Aiden kept very cool tiptoeing out across the huge drop with very little gear, heels hanging over 500m of air! It wasn’t much safer seconding the pitch!

Ryan and Duncan on the Brandler-Hasse, Cime Grande

Before we knew it we were at the finishing terrace for 12.30pm and traversed round into the sun and waited for Bart and Rich to join us before the scramble to the summit and again stunning views. The descent was fairly painless considering all the loose rock and we heading back to the van for beers. What an amazing route. As we opened our second beer we wondered how long Ryan and Duncan would be as their route was considerably harder. At that moment they walked round the corner grinning from ear to ear, they had climbed it all free (many resort to aid on the hard and often wet crux pitches) and in a fast time! A successful day all round!

The summit of the Cima Grande Team Banter beneath th Tre Cime di Lavaredo

The next few days had pretty poor forecasts with rain due in the afternoons, which meant we could not commit to big routes. We climbed on the south side of the Tre Cime and up at Cinque Torre where, amongst other routes, we did the stunning 4 pitch sport route Columbus (7a).

With only a few days left of the trip we had a weather window coming and we definitely had the pysche for something big. We headed to the Marmolada. We walked into the hut the day before but with no view of these huge 1000m buttress as it was covered in cloud. We had optimism on our side bolstered by the hut custodian telling us "if it doesn’t rain again today it will be fine tomorrow". An hour later, it rained - a lot!

The next morning we set off for the Vinatzer/Messner combination anyway, leaving well before sunrise as 3 teams of 2, with Aidan and I up front. The first few pitches of chimneys in the dark were intimidating but went well. The sun rose and the pitches got better and it looked like a lovely day was in store, but it didn’t last and soon we were back in thick cloud. I may have climbed the South face of the Marmolada, but I’ve still never seen it!

We carried on despite not being able to see much, but soon we hit the wet, not just a little damp, nearly running water wet. I thought we may go down but as usual Aidan quested on like the hero with no ego he is and freed the pitch. I followed but found it desperate in the conditions as did the others. A fine effort. The damp was set in all the way to the top of the Vinatzer and the half way ledge but with more positive and brilliant crack and chimney climbing, it was all great fun and banter with a good group of friends.

Bart on the Marmolada headwall

When we arrived at the very lose midday ledge we carried on up the Messner finish which was very different to the first half. The route finding got hard, rock quality became varied from pitches of perfect limestone pocket pulling to choss corners, but the run outs were certain. BIG. I cost us a lot of time on a F5 pitch as I could not believe where it was heading for the grade! The moves, even though easy when you commit, were tenuous and hugely bold. English 5a with a 20m runout anyone? It felt like E2 5a! Upon reaching the last few pitches another team topped out on a neighbouring route and we were showered with scree, it was terrifying and the screams from the guys below made me think the worst. I shouted "everyone ok?" as it sounded bad. The response from Rich (who had been swearing and screaming) was a calm and very, very Yorkshire "yeah sound". This had us all in stitches and the fear was gone and the banter was back.

Aidan on the top crack of the Vinatzer Messner

The last two pitches of the route were stunning. The guide read 6a+, which we all think of as steady when bolted. After 800m of wet, loose climbing, in the cold, with packs on, it looked intimidating again with the run outs. 35m with a thin crack in a steep wall and 5c moves all over the place. It felt like Left Wall (E2 5c) on the top of a 1000m face with an odd gap in the clouds to soak up the exposure. Once again fate had it as Aidan’s lead and he dealt with it in his normal cool way and we all thoroughly enjoyed following it. One more excellent crack pitch lead to the summit and the encroaching dusk.

Lift station on top of the Marmolada

Aidan and I topped out first with some light to spare but by the time all the others arrived darkness was upon us. We considered our options. The guidebook said it was a 3 hour descent across a glacier, and even if we did head down we would have had to hitch back to the van at midnight. We decided the safest option was to bivi in the lift station. When we opened the only unlocked door our heart sank. One tiny room, about the size of a double bed with a concrete floor. There were 6 of us, only 1 under 6ft tall, with no bivi gear whatsoever. It was a long night! Big thanks to Rich (who loves to suffer anyway!) and Duncan for sitting up all night so the others could lie down. As it was cold and cramped we were up at first light and instead of waiting for the cable car we walked down. It may have been a grim night but I would not have changed it for the world as the views the next morning where incredible. We headed down the snow with ease and a little over an hour later we were at the road, such a simple descent. What was the guide on about!? Coffee and breakfast at the cafe were very welcome.

Good morning Marmolada

It had been a stunning, adventurous and memorable day and we were shocked to read in the guide that Reinhold Messner did the first ascent of the top section in 1969, solo but with a little aid. The thought of this on the head wall is truly shocking with only a small amount of aid possible. It must be one of the greatest achievements in the Alps.

We spent the next day refuelling and dozing in the sun after the sleepless night and chose the convenient Sella Towers for our final day as they could be climbed in the morning and we could start the long slog home in the afternoon. Aidan and I chose another Messner route, it had many of the same qualities as the last, steep, exposed, brilliant and hugely run out. It was only short but we decided it was one of the best routes of the trip with steep rock, good holds and bags of exposure. That’s what the Dolomites is all about.

That afternoon we headed back but the banter didn’t stop, summing up another amazing trip with awesome mates! Thanks guys!

James works in Outside in Hathersage

By James Turnbull

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James Turnbull
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Briançon PART TWO

Blogging can sound so boastful sometimes but hey who cares. Be jealous, be inspired, be competitive and do something better, or be happy that you are drinking tea at home and not exhausting your body thrashing up mountains. 

Via ferratas became quite addictive for us and we had five terrific days out, all within a short distance of Briançon. If you have a head for heights and want safe, exciting adventure in some outstandingly exposed positions, then get kitted up and go for it…

Jane on the Voie du Colombier via ferrata near Les Vigneaux

Jane on the Voie du Colombier near Les Vigneaux

Chris Harle on the Voie du Colombier via ferrata Les Vigneaux Briancon

An airy walkway on the same via ferrata.

If you want to do something a little more sedate then the options for scenic walking are endless. Only be warned – there is no such thing as ‘walking on the level’ near Briançon. In four weeks Jane and I ascended well over the equivalent height of Everest from sea to summit. We particularly liked the Parc Naturel Régional du Queyras, a wild, spectacular and relatively unfrequented area.

Monte Viso (3841m) from the Refuge de Viso

Monte Viso (3841m) from the Refuge de Viso


Jane eventually succumbed to the pressure of my persistent enthusiasm to do a rock climb, so I found a French ‘Classic Rock’ route just up the valley at Eperon de la Route. The 180m 7-pitch route had easy access, amenable technical grades and unbroken panoramic vistas. The clincher was a perfect weather forecast.

We were not disappointed. Different guidebooks offer two different names as well as various indecipherable grades: Voie de l’U.C.P.A. AD sup (IV+) or is it  Voie des 40 (5b max)? Regardless it was a great route at perhaps British Hard Severe 4c.

Jane on pitch 5 of Voie des 40 Briancon

Jane following the 5th pitch

Our mountain bike challenge was to cycle up to the Col du Lautaret via various tracks and the old road. It took several hours to get there but just over one hour to cycle back down the main road in a blur of frenzied speed. What a blast

Chris Harle - king of the mountains Col du Lautaret

King of the Mountains (if only)

Briançon is an outdoor paradise both in winter and summer. There are no current English language via ferrata guides to this area but feel free to email me at chris.harle@outside.co.uk if you want details of the 5 via ferratas we did in the area.

For climbing see the comprehensive Escalade en Briançonnais on our website.

Chris is Outside's 'Book man' and Jane works in Head Office

By Chris Harle
The 'Book Man'

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Chris Harle
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