Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Crazy Andy Vine Mountain Bike Weekend

I've just got back from one of Andy Vine's crazy mountain bike weekends. Why are they crazy? Because he always plans really long, proper mountain bike routes. Not the prepared mountain bike tracks in many forest parks now, but bridle ways on real mountains that are generally long, remote and traverse often difficult rocky terrain, sometimes with terrifying drops to the side.

I've been on several of these before and generally I am unable to walk for several days and I always swear I'll never go on another one, but I always find myself agreeing to go when asked again. I had agreed to this one as I won't be seeing them all again for a year, so I wanted an outing with them.

On this one there were five of us, me, Andy Vine, Gareth Harrison (fit and just as adventurous as Andy), Tony Watson (also pretty fit) and super athlete Rob Smith. I have to confess that when I heard Rob was going, much as I like him, he is in a different league to me and I was worried! I remember traversing the Cuillin Ridge on Skye with him several years ago and nearly dying, The Welsh three thousands, the three peaks, several long ski tours in Scotland and the Alps and many other long, long outings that I have literally crawled off and Rob has just ambled along! There was to be a sixth member, Dave Oldacres, but he got the weekends mixed up and forgot to come! All of these people I have known for years and have been past members of Solihull Mountaineering Club, so it was good to catch up with them all again.

Our weekend started off on Friday night with Andy picking me up in his Freelander and, after picking Gareth up we drove up to a little place called Dufton, which is in Cumbria in the East lake district. I had no idea where we were going as it would have made little difference. I knew it would be hard and that's all I needed to know! We arrived at a small campsite at 10:30pm, parked the car and went straight to the Stag Inn for a few pints before pitching the tents. I hadn't bothered taking a tent so joined Gareth in his three man. We awoke on Saturday morning to blue skies! A bit chilly and windy, but otherwise a perfect day.
The campsite on a a sunny Saturday morning
I got an inkling of the day ahead when I saw Gareth opening two 1:25,000 series maps. The route appeared to go diagonally across one map, then to the far side of the second map before looping round back to the start. No roads were evident, only lots of contours showing lots of ascent and descent over mountains! It turned out to be just under 40 miles with 1800m of ascent and lots of difficult rocky paths.

We set off at 10:30 after Gareth had finished bleeding his brakes and trying to sort out the bottom bracket on his bike. He didn't quite sort it out as the bearings were binding making it more difficult to turn the pedals. Not the best thing for lots of ascent, but at least it gave me a fighting chance!

The rocky ascent, which was along part of the Pennine Way, was not fast and this was noted by the walkers from our campsite who passed us on several occasions and always seemed to be ahead of us. This contined to our first notable viewpoint at the head of a valley known as High Cup Gill, which is a huge valley carved out by, apparently, a small stream.
View down High Cup Gill
Tony enjoying a bit of downhill

The team at the start of the day. From L to R: Tony, Rob, Gareth & Andy
Our way was not always on tracks and we had some pretty tortuous off track moments, pushing bikes through marsh, tussocks of heather and hidden streams (wet feet!!). I left navigation to Rob, Gareth and Andy and I'm not sure they always knew exactly where we were:
With no path in sight, how confident are we?
Anyway, we pressed on, got back on track and arrived at an impressive dam holding back the water of Cow Green Reservoir. On the way there were several unexpected dismounts from bikes, from my point of view most notably at one river/bog crossing where I decided the 3m wide ditch could safely be crossed without stopping, only to find my front wheel disappear in bog sending me over the handlebars to end up face down in thick mud, the bike ending upside down saddle and handlebars in deep mud - lovely! Unfortunately it was seen by the walkers, who were still keeping up with us! I also got no sympathy from my colleagues who all found it highly amusing.
An impressive waterfall at the reservoir outflow with the dam in the background
And 'Yours Truly' after the mud incident!

It was at this point they told me we were only one third of the way round it was now 3:00pm. Better get a move on! The next stages were on mainly tracks so we made good progress, but the pace was taking its toll and on a steep uphill I could feel my thighs starting to cramp. It didn't get too bad and I was somewhat relieved when Andy told me he was having the same problem - at least it wasn't just me, we were all feeling it!

Around about 5:30pm we arrived at a small town called Garrigill with just time for something to eat and drink. What I didn't know was that it was at the foot of the mother of all ascents! It went up and up and up, but at least that bit was on a track (still the Pennine Way). Rob had read somewhere about a really good descent from the top of Cross Fell (no relation!) and to get there we had to go off the track we were on. Gradually the route reduced to nothing but steep uphill moorland with lots of marsh, high tussocks and hidden streams. Up and up it went, tired and more tired, muscle cramps, aching arms, fading light and a top a long way away. I think we were all wondering whether we should be here at this time of day with no-one knowing where we were and all feeling pretty well spent. Would we find this good downhill Rob talked about and would there be enough daylight if we did? Fortunately Rob and Gareth are very good navigators and we pressed on over the shoulder and eventually to a rideable descent which turned out to be excellent! A steep downhill in great surroundings with superb views across the valley. We all had to keep brakes about halfway on all the way down to avoid going too fast, but it was superb and we were down in about half an hour.

It wasn't all over however as we had another 8 miles or so along some minor roads back to Dufton, which we did in almost total darkness, arriving back at the campsite at 8:00pm. With the exception of Rob, I think we were all totally exhausted and even Rob looked tired!

By the time we had showered and reloaded the bikes it was about 8:40, but when we got in the Stag Inn at 8:47pm we were told they had stopped serving food, even though they had told us 9:00pm was the deadline! We had no alternative but to drive to Appelby, 8 miles away and got food in an Indian Restaurant, which was superb. The only problem was the difficulty of trying to get comfortable in the chairs, everything ached!

Sunday saw me and Tony sitting in the car chatting while the others went to do a short (2 hour) ride up to a quarry and back in the rain. I just didn't fancy it, my cycling shoes were soaked and thick with mud, so I didn't want to put those back on, plus it was forecast to rain, which it did just as they set off. Much better to just sit and chat!

Will I go on another one when we get back? probably!

To see more photos follow this link:  http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10151035751605563.417966.675745562&type=1&l=10db7987e9

One final entry - I know my blogs are long, but I just wanted to mention a walk Jackie and I did with Dani and John over the Malverns a couple of weeks ago. John was best man at our wedding and we've known them for many years. It was good to catch up with them as we haven't seen them for a while. Emma, Dani's sister babysat their two daughters for the day and we had a great 10 mile or so walk over the hills, stopping for a beer halfway.
Jackie with John and Danielle
The sun shone, the views and the company were great. What more could you ask for!

1 comment:

  1. Oh Brian! I love your posts. Just have to plan to read them with a cuppa and feet up (i.e. plenty of time!). Another incident with the bike I hear? Mud is a change from canal water I guess - thoiugh possibly as smelly?? See you Friday. xxx