Well, normally around this time of year I put a post up with all the mountains that I've mucked about on with my bike.
Unfortunately, this year hasn't been such a good year in the mountains for me. Due to one thing and another there just haven't been that many mountains in my life this year.
It started back in January when we lost our friend Chris in an avalanche, which you can, if you like, read about here-
The aftermath of me moping about after this combined with a number of attempts foiled by bad weather have made for a much quieter year in mountains this year. As a result I've put up more photos in an effort to make up for it.
Following the short-term high of doing something good out of something rotten I crammed in a few of mountains in the West Highlands nice and early in the year. A return to Ben Lomond with a bit of snow on the top was great- the snow was just shallow enough to let you go all the way to the top and ride back down without getting bogged down. Drifting about a familiar mountain like this is a great feeling, and I doubt there's too many times the snow is just perfect for riding like this. The weather was beautiful as we drove north at the end of the day to Fort William too, with the lochs around Glencoe totally flat calm.
The presence of a Sea King out on a training exercise was an unpleasant reminder of what had gone on earlier in the year, though.
I also had a crack at Ben Ime, which sadly turned out to be a bit of a washout. The main ascent to the summit is a bog for a lot of the year, and given we were having a crack at it in February it was never going to be the best ride. The section at the bottom of the valley before dropping back into the woodland is a cracker, though- a swoopy, almost trail centre style, track gently loses height and has enough technical interest to make up for the disappointment of Ben Ime. While we were up there another group of riders was out having a crack at the Cobbler but they seemed to have very little success.
Following Ben Ime we had a crack at Ben Narnairn. Our race to the summit was blighted by fog and we never got to the top as it seemed too dangerous. Another Sea King out training on our way down reminded us again about how dangerous the mountains in Scotland were last winter. The descent off Ben Narnairn is an old pipe trail and is really technical. A narrow ribbon of loose, rocky, steep trail interspersed with large concrete blocks with drops off the far side where the pipe used to run was a tough and exciting way to round out the Scottish winter.
Another snowy hill, this time in the Lakes. This has had a fair whack of the dreaded sanitisation done to it but it is nonetheless a nice trail. The top was pretty deep in compact snow when I was up there so was a big drift-fest rather than the usually very technical trail that was hidden underneath. The middle section is steep and fast thanks to a layer of paving slabs. I was short of time so took the trail along the north side of the river bottom of the valley but apparently the southern trail is more technical.
I ended up working near the Lakes in March and had a snowy attempt at the more common eastern descent of Nan Beild. The steep section at the head of the pass is bloomin' scary in the snow- the switchbacks were barely visible and the snow made clinging to the gradient hard work. The gentler trail below was on as good form as ever, though- but I do still prefer the descent to Haweswater.
You'll have to forgive the number of English mountains in this year's edition- I still live in the Midlands and getting up to Scotland has been tricky this year. Following my efforts earlier in the year I had a bit of a lull, feeling a bit sorry for myself following the death of my friend and not too motivated to ride bikes at all. Two further trips to the Lakes and Snowdonia ended up in trail centre and valley floor rides as the weather caught us out- snow and torrential rain scuppering 4 mountain attempts.
The stand out ride in this period was a trip up Skiddaw with my mate Pete. Trying a new route- up the bridleway, down to Ullock Pike then back up through Dodd Wood and down Carl Side made for a brilliant, if shattering, ride.
Ullock Pike's terrifying scree slope was as exciting as ever, and the beautiful sun set as we descent the frankly bonkers Carl Side made for a wonderful day. The descent down Carl Side is less flowy than that of Ullock Pike and requires a lot more concentration but is definitely a worthy addition to the loop. Ending in a seriously steep grassy drop to the bottom of the valley it's highly recommended.
Sadly the following day our plans to take on Red Pike were scuppered by yet more biblical rainfall.
Back at the end of 2012 Dirt had an article about the trails in Andorra and pointed out just how cheap it was to holiday there. After exhausting the Portes Du Soleil last year this opportunity seemed ideal. I was there for a long weekend which seemed plenty of time- the bike park there is small. However there is a wide variety of really brilliant lift assisted big mountain riding in the area. More rocky and less crowded than the Alpine trails there were some cracking trails that with the help of a map are relatively easy to find.
A trip to Scotland with my wife was too good an opportunity to miss. While she caught up with an old friend in Edinburgh I tore off towards Callander at 6am to have a crack at Ben Vorlich. The forecast was for a clear, sunny day but when I got into the Trossachs is was clear that today was actually going to be grim. A biting wind and rain showers weren't enough to put me off and with a smattering of snow I had a crack at the snow capped mountain.
It turned out to be a bit of a re-awakening- after a few months of not doing much on my bike it was a real revelation. With it being my 5th snowy summit of the year it felt like familiar ground. While the trail has had some work done on it after decades of walkers damaging the heather it has, unlike much work in the Highlands and the Lakes, been very sympathetic and this steep, exciting trail switches from twisting through rock fields to steep bouldery steps and back again very happily before opening up into a fast estate road for the last section. Unfortunately I'd forgotten to charge my camera for this ride, although apart from a brief moment with a double rainbow in a rain shower it was not a very picturesque day.
After our stay in Edinburgh we headed north and stayed near Pitlochry. Ben Vrackie is a big tourist trap normally, but with frost on the ground we saw only two other groups on the hill. The trail up Ben Vrackie is a funny one- it seems to go right up the back wall of the corrie rather than skirting around the edges. On the way up this seems to make for a trail that is barely rideable but in reality it's a nice gnadgery bit of trail with lots of corners that require hopping round and features which spit you straight at tricky lines you then have to commit to.
Crag Hill and Sail
Despite plans to sneak in one more mountain this month with the weather being so warm, Crag Hill and Sail were my last big hills this year. A relatively easy climb up a gravel road lulls you into a false sense of security- the rapid ascent is soon measured by a descent with a lot of hike-a-bike. Despite this it was great to have a go at it- when you take a push bike up trails like these you aren't guaranteed success every time, and occasionally stumbling something like this which is right on the limit of being ridable is a lot of fun. It's good to see how far you can push your technical skills. Although, as you can see from the photos, no matter how hard you push yourself there are some things you just can't get down on two wheels!
Hopefully 2014 will be a quieter year, with more fortunate weather and a few less disasters, but 2013 has been, on the whole, a good one.