by Dave Anderson
December 10, 2012
We’d had quite variable amounts of snow during the week, but driving home from work on Friday night and seeing the decent coverage up on High Brown Knoll the route choice for Saturday seemed obvious. We’ve been under a self inflicted restriction of avoiding some of the higher moorland singletrack to try to stop it getting too cut up through the boggy season but the combination of frozen ground and a covering of snow seemed a good opportunity to head up and sample its delights without causing too much damage. Higher with snow also seemed a good plan to avoid the ice that was covering some of the lower trails too.
Just the three of us out and all running single chainring set ups which seem to be the gearing of choice for 2012/13; 1×10 Santa Cruz Highball for me, Matt’s 1×10 Mondraker Foxy XR and Sim riding the Lapierre Spicy 916 with SRAM XX1. As soon as we were suitably caffeinated we headed up, then up, then up some more. First a road climb as a warm up, before heading off road and straight into the first long section of ice and the first of the days traction competitions. Time to concentrate on pedalling perfect circles and hunt for the little snow pockets covering the ice which gave just enough grip to keep momentum going. Why do you breathe in and hold your breath when riding ice?
The moorland singletrack climb to the trig point was rideable but hard work thanks to the ‘just enough’ depth of snow. Any less and there’d have been no adventure, any more and it would have been a slog. Slow progress, a sky that needed photographing and drifts that tested balance, traction and technique all added up to a slower than usual ascent and everyone feeling the climb at the top. Time for a quick nibble before heading off.
After slogging up it was clear the descent wasn’t going to be its usual fast and flowy self. But with bit of pedalling, saddles down and trying to stay relaxed enough to react to sudden front wheel wash outs, hidden ruts and unexpected deep holes, we made a pretty fast descent to the first stream crossing. Top stuff. At the stream crossing we regroup and realise we’ve dropped into a sheltered microclimate which has kept the temperature that little bit warmer. Just warm enough for the ground to be slightly above freezing, which leads to an interesting mix of alternating ice cold pools of water, peat and snow sections. In the snow we’ve kept surprisingly warm but the repeated dunkings into ankle-deep slush and water quickly bring on numb toes.
It’s quite a relief to climb back up onto the plateau and into the more predictable and rideable snow again. The plan is to traverse across until we can pick up a trail that’ll drop us back into the valley. More slog and now a headwind to contend with too. Steady away, tap it out; we’re all staying quite high up the cassette for what is usually a gentle descent you can pump without much pedal input. It’s a relief to get to the gate which signals the start of the descent.
One short section of boilerplate ice and we’re on a sheltered sliver of singletrack that gives the first semblance of normal speed. Short steep drops and fast in between, it’s an opportunity to revert back to a more normal riding style. The last descent is in the woods and below the snow line. The trees have held onto what warm air there is and after being up high and exposed it feels positively humid. Steep, tight and with a grip-defying mix of wet leaves and loam it seems weird we’re now getting covered in mud given the previous few hours of cold and dry.
As we pop out onto the road all three of us have hit empty and it’s quickly agreed that it’s time to drop down into town for some food. It’s the first time in a while where no one’s suggested one more trail, we’re all happy to get back and eat. It’s been that good a ride.
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