On The Volcano With Team 20
The trek up and over the Piton de la Fournaise volcano is the centrepiece of this World Championship course and teams feel it’s the crux – if they can get over it they stand a good chance of finishing the course.
The 3000m ascent and the nature of the terrain don’t make this easy and I walked with Team number 20, Nantes Aventures 1 of France as they crossed one of the features of the volcano, the ‘Plaine des Sables’, a huge flat expanse of fine black sand in the midst of a vast jumble of ramparts, volcanic cones and small craters.
The team had walked up a little used trail to skirt the outer crater of the main summit, walking much of the way along the rim of the crater, with sheer cliffs dropping away to the flat crater bed over far below. They then took trails away from the main crater to cross the Plaine des Sables before zig-zagging up more cliffs (known as ramparts) to make their way to TA5.
The team were walking well and in good spirits, with no visible sign of limps or soreness, though Pierre Francois told me, “We slept a couple of hours this morning, so if you had seen us before that we were not looking so good!” Having seen the state the leaders finished in its tempting to imagine those following will be worse off, but it’s not the case. “We are taking it easy and looking after ourselves,” Pierre said, “we want to make the finish and feel we can do that now we’ve climbed the volcano.”
Their ascent hadn’t been easy. “The climb up was terrible, really terrible,” said Pierre Guerin. “It was an overgrown trail with lots of vegetation and really wet, both with a lot of rain and humidity. The vegetation we had to push through kept us very wet and we were freezing. It was horrible. The weather cleared this morning though and it was amazing to see where we were.”
Looking back the team were impressed with the first trek and excited to have made the pack raft descent. “I don’t think many people will have made a descent of the Marsouins River,” he said, “and it was a wonderful opportunity.”
When I met the team the weather was good, with just some dense cloud floating around the ramparts, but the weather is fickle here and on the volcano is prone to turn worse in the afternoon. Within a few minutes of leaving them drenching cloud-rain was swept across the plain on rising winds and soon dense cloud settled. You could hardly see more than a few metres, which will have made their ride down the switchback road from TA5 to CP12 much less enjoyable.
From there they got off their bikes and pushed them down 600m into the Riviere des Ramparts, an immense canyon flanking the volcano. The next checkpoint was the descent into the lava tunnels, which is not a technical stage and is a timed out. It’s a chance to walk into a remarkable natural feature and explore. When they came out they had to continue pushing their bikes down the canyon to CP15, before finally being allowed to mount them and ride the rest of the volcano descent.
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