Mountains of Single Track in Spain with BasqueMTB,
Locations were Val D’Aran – Day 1 || Benasque – Day 2 and Day 3 || Ainsa – Day 4 || Biescas Day 5 and Day 6
Then we spent three days riding in the Basque Coast
Then we spent another two weeks driving around Spain
BasqueMTB’s six day High Pyrenees trip had us sample riding in 4 Pyreneean locations from approximately the Central to West Pyrenees. Trails were the best we’ve ever had the privilege of riding in the high alpine in Europe. Travel was tight and well-organized, accomodations were well-chosen; FOOD was amazing (and copious); service was superb, and weather was incredible.
Day 2 – Benasque
After a full day of riding in Val d’Aran, getting fed lunch then more riding, followed by a grand dinner and good nights sleep at Hotel St Anton in Benasque we were more than pumped for our 2nd day on BasqueMTB’s High Pyrenees mountain-biking trip.
Starts were early with a wake-up call at 7:00am for breakfast. A sidenote is that while Spanish coffee is superb the continental breakfast can be a bit light for a hearty day of biking particularly when lunch is the fashionably late Spanish 2 or 3pm. At Hotel St Anton it was a standard kitchen service to ask for more bread and eggs which then made for a hearty breakfast; and this is something we invariably started doing.. It probably did not hurt that we were the biggest group in the hotel and that the entire Valley seemed pretty deserted; such is the bonus of shoulder-season riding.
The sun was shining, the air was cool. Perfect riding temperatures. The next two days we were shuttled by Basque de Novela another group active in maintaining and advocating for the trails in this region. It is noteworth that BasqueMTB insists on supporting local companies during his tours. Doug MacDonald himself does a fair bit of trailwork and is exceptionally partial to supporting local trailworking volunteers and groups.
Not only is it a net positive for his guests as it allows us to meet with and interact with some great locals it’s a fairly easy way for one to top up the trail karma bank.
Benasque is a ski town. We started off in the Cerler ski area in temperatures of well below freezing in the shade of a chairlift. After a riotously fun, fast and rocky downhill we were shedding jackets and in short sleeves. Ssimilar to other ski areas who have embraced mountain biking, the locals too are making a living from this magnificently fun and growing sport of mountain-biking. It was pointed out to us that biking is particularly good for an economic shot in the arm to the valley since bikers like travelling and riding in the not-so-busy time of the year thus contributing work to hotels, restaurants and bars at their slow time.
Bikers are welcome in Benasque and as long as we’re respectful that should stay like that for a long time to come. After sampling the first set of trails all we can say is that aren’t we lucky for it!
Integral Gallinero and the Benasque high alpine
Val Benasque’s tourism website proudly proclaims that this valley has more 3,000m peaks (more than 80 of such peaks) than any other in the Pyrenees. We saw this on our next ride as the drive to the trailhead of the Gallinera is pretty much mind-blowing with expansive vistas overflowing the mental palate.
Val Benasque’s tourism is exceptionally conservation-oriented. The locals know and treasure the diversity of their geology, flora, fauna and in particular the fact that the presence of so many glaciers in the region is a storehouse of pure, fresh water. You’re constantly reminded not only by the guides of BasqueMTB and the locals of how privileged we are to ride bikes in such surrounding but these reminders are hardly necessary in the presence of these mountains.
Benasque’s character as a former glacial hanging valley becomes readily apparent as our drivers navigate a winding gravel access road from valley bottom at 800mto approximately 2150m. From this high ridgeline we then descend to the main Benasque valley to the Esera drainage. But what a descent and what variety!
You start off in the high alpine with these superlative views. Following a road traverse, you’re very quickly into alpine jank tech with trails carved willy-nilly by various Pyreneean wildlife and herd-animals.At treeline one then hits some wonderfully fun rocky tech-gnar where our North Shore low-speed handling trials skills and drops to flat followed by immediate left-right hard turns came into play – as did the long travel of our wonderful Orbea Rallons.
Somewhat implausibly following this rocky jank-fest the vistas open up into incredibly grippy red slick-rock. After you navigate this fantastic Moab-ian tech-fest transplanted to Spain the trails open up in speed as you’re into the by-now more familiar Spanish lower forests sliding and slipping through fast yet technical enough to keep you honest trails. That’s 1235m of good honest rip-roaring fun descent.
It’s worthwhile emphasizing again the sheer length and technicality of the Gallinero descent. It’s most definitely not a ride for the hamfisted or the non-jank loving non-technically inclined. There are rocks stacked with pinpoint chutes through which to slide. There are diverse trailroutes and line choices particularly at the treeline alpine interface. There are committing (yet exceedingly grippy) ledges on slick-rock.
Once you get through the tougher upper mountain though you’re home-free to the wonders of the lower tech-flow singletrack where all you have to do is burn brakepads
Gallinero is on the south side of Val Benasque’s main valley. On our third run we moved over to Benasque’s north flanks. These north side trails have their own distinctivenes being a tad steeper perhaps then the Gallinero which at least had benches. As is typical with Val Benasque, the trails are natural and in fantastic shape.
We were quickly finding out that trail quality in the Pyrenees is exceptionally high even by our snooty North American standards. Where we had previously experienced trails in the much more travelled and touristed Alps where cows and human travel would wear rats and spray chue-scheisse this was not the omni-present character of Pyreneean trails. Sure there is some erosion and not all trails are ribbons of meandering loam; but trailbed surfaces were in really good shape with technical challenge not proferred by fall-line ruts, abrupt jank euro-nose-pivot turns but by roots and rocks interspersed with fast sections.
These Val Benasque trails are not maintained in the way that a bike-park would be maintained ie with berms and grade-reversals and/or sculpted jumps. However, they are clearly maintained in that water and drainage is considered in some erosion-mitigation efforts (ditches for example) and that brush + blowdown is cut away. Fun, fast, yet technical enough to make you pick and choose speed and line-choice are these Benasquean trails.
Overview of todays ride
We descended about 4000m today on our four runs in Val Benasque including – Cerler, Integral Gallinera, Rabaltueres, Pianadona