2021 – A Year in Mountains
Things looked bleak in January and I thought this was going to be a pretty lean year for adventures but it’s actually been a great one. On top of the silly big rides in another thread elsewhere (which effectively replaced any racing) I crammed in a decent set of hills. It was a pretty good spring and summer and while I’d like to sneak in a last snowy summit like I did last year my Christmas plans mean it won’t be possible. Better get on with the reminiscing then, eh?
Straight in at the start of the year with a scary one. Despite the gnadgeriness and gnarliness of many mountain descents I’d say few actually scare me these days but Thornthwaite Crag definitely got the willies up me. Very steep and loose, with a few walking sections, it’s a severe descent that, while short, is one of the most memorable I’ve done. Having survived the craggy descent the group of young walkers at the bottom said they’d been afraid on my behalf watching me come down! Then, by the time I was back by Trout Beck all was peace and calm again.
Conic Hill and the Devil’s Staircase
It doesn’t really count, but I did it as part of a raid on the West Highland Way in a day and that had over 11,000ft of climbing in it and it’s my thread so it’s going in. Conic Hill belies its height – a savagely steep climb from the east then a rocky braided descent that was about the limit for the XC race bikes we were on.
The Devil’s Staircase near as dammit defeated me – being the highest point on the ride and coming 77 miles in I was off and pushing up, alone in the dusk after my riding partner had decided to stop torturing himself at Tyndrum. The descent still holds up even in that sort of ruined state – it’s a great ride.
An easily accessed hill from Ambleside, but not an easy ride by any means. The climb is straightforward but the descent is very technical and with frequent bits that you have to walk. Well, certainly on the east side of the drystone wall that runs down the ridge – there’s another path on the other side which I suspect is easier. If you’ve survived all the greasy slabs there’s then a swooping singletrack descent back to Ambleside. My mate Jim took these shots.
It’d been a while since I’d done this ride, and the last time was in snow and mist making navigation more technical than the riding. This time, in glorious sunshine, we did the whole thing properly, including going over Yoke instead of the bridleway up High Street, and what a ride. Nan Beild heading south is OK, but when it’s dry and combined with the more technical descent off Ill Bell it’s a stonking day out.
Posted 11 months ago
The Cairnwell Munroes
More of a box ticking exercise this to be honest – I had an evening free in Deeside and these were easy ones to rattle off. The climbs are easy – I started at the ski centre and that means a steep gravel road drag at the start and spinning up the road from A93 at the end. It’s a funny old place to be – ski lifts and other commercial stuff around very bleak, pretty and quiet Cairngorm hills. The top of the descent off Carn a Gheoidh seemed like it’d be alright but I was mincing down it – a cloud descended on me as I reached the peak and visibility was almost nil so I had to tread carefully to avoid plummeting down to the west. Once below the cloud it was a straightforward land rover track descent with deer everywhere.
Glen Callater Munroes
From a short blast to a big day out. This loop took in Carn an Tuirc, Cairn of Claise, Tolmount, Cairn Bannoch and Carn an t-Sagairt Mor. The start of the ride is a trundle up the glen on a landrover track, which at the loch gets suddenly steep. It’s bottom gear even if you’re fit but manageable. This takes you pretty much to the summit of Carn an Tuirc, then you stay high and bimble about on boggy singletrack. The reward from Sagairt Mor is one of the best descents in Scotland. This isn’t the easiest way to do it but it’s a cracking day out.
This is a cracking ride to knock off in an evening in Deeside. If you’ve one all the stuff in Ballater this is the next thing to try. The majority of it is hair-raisingly fast and wide with large chunks of rock thrown up by your front wheel (usually into your shins), then lower down it turns into an engaging and flowing singletrack with some decent rocky features. When I was up there it was at the end of a 6000ft day and wet so I wasn’t flying and the trails were greasy – I ended up elbows deep in a bog but it was still worth it.
A classic summit that has eluded me for a while. Having gone up Beinn a Bhuird last year and not been too taken with how straightforward the descent was I rode this as a rough out and back – up the Slugain, then Allt Mor to the summit before returning by following Quoich Water to the Linn of Quoich.
It’s one of the all-time greats. I was shocked when I got to the summit to be greeted by what looked like Peak District tors scattered all across the plateau. There’s a decent ride in itself to cover the plateau, and the return is a warm up for a loose, tight, switchbacky descent right next to plummet down the corrie wall to keep you mind sharp. Then the descent turns and becomes flowing technical singletrack. Once back at the valley floor it’s a nice gentle set of trails back home.
Posted 11 months ago
A sunny day on the Cobbler should be a bit of a daft idea in terms of business but it was late in the day when I started and there were surprisingly few folk about. It’s a descent of two distinct parts – the path up to the summit, which is a very challenging descent with big spikey slabs of rock followed by a seriously steep set of stairs, then the main path back to Arrochar which is a really nice flowing tourist path. It’s well mettled so isn’t the most challenging but it’s a good day nonetheless. I also noted that it looked like some work had been done to the path up Beinn Ime since I was last year so it might not just be a boggy trudge anymore and I will try to give it another go.
Ben Vane cropped up on Trailforks sometime recently and, having previously written off this chunk of hills as being unrideable, I decided to try and tack it on to the Glen Loin loop from Arrochar. I don’t know who put it on Trailforks, but as with all my other experiences of it, it was a waste of time. The path is rideable from about 600m down but above that it’s a scramble. I aborted after lifting my bike up one cliff too many. Below there it’s a nice enough descent but given that the Glen Loin loop isn’t very engaging either it’s not one I can recommend.
Great Dun Fell
I did this as part of a two day off-road gravel ride from South Yorkshire to Scotland. This section of the route was following Cycling UK’s Great North Trail. I had wondered before I set out why Great Dun Fell and its bigger neighbour Cross Fell hadn’t come up on my radar before – big hills, over 800m, outside the Lake District in England would surely be pretty well known in MTB circles. Well, it turns out it’s because the trails are non-existent. Setting out with 115 off road miles in my legs from the day before, the ride up on the road to the RAF station was tough but in a fun way. Unfortunately, the payback is pushing through bogs and crossing streams for an hour before reaching a land rover track then a tarmac road. A complete waste of time – I can’t fathom why the GNT goes this way.
A dependable short-of-time hill, Ben Ledi may not be as exciting as it was before it got sanitised but it’s still a good blast. On my way to meet some friends to walk the Tarmachan ridge (imagine that, going up a munro without a bike. It was fine, but not as good) the next day I stopped off to bag Ben Ledi in glorious evening light.
Lake District Goodness
I’m not normally one for keeping ride locations secret but I was shown this by someone I don’t know so well and in good faith so I’m going to let those familiar with the area figure it out. One last run of the year in mizzley conditions in early November – the perfect time for some absolutely heinous death-tech. A savage but almost 100% rideable climb (apparently, if you’re me and my pal Tom. Apparently not if you enjoy not trying to vomit) is immediately followed by a full speed ahead charge down a wide, loose, twisty trail.
All of sudden we ducked off to the right on a precipitous trail that joins a ridge of greasy, jaggedy rock. The trail fights with you all the way down – sections have to be walked, crashes happen as tyres slide on water and switchback corners are almost made or hopped round. It was the business.
Posted 11 months agojimmyFull Member
Goddamit. Brilliant. Can I have some of your time?Posted 11 months agoBBFull Member
I look forward to this thread every year.Posted 11 months ago
That last trail looks mental!
Awesome. And quite scary how many of the mentioned rides I have also done this yea⁹r!
Conic Hill…. is there a way of avoiding the crappy wooden staircase section midway down the descent to Balmaha?
I have a vague memory of continuing down the ridge at that point but it was around 35 years ago so I’m totally unsure 🙂
Either way, would be good to find a way of mending what is otherwise a nice descentPosted 11 months agoeskimonumber1Free Member
As BB says above, I also look forward to this thread each year. Thanks for putting it together and inspiring me to get out more.Posted 11 months agoreadyFull Member
Cracking thread again this year, and some amazing pictures! As BB said further up, that last trail looks ridiculous! Is it even a trail??Posted 11 months agojimdubleyouFull Member
I reckon you’ve got a guide book in you somewhere 🙂 Get Writing!
That said, that last one doesn’t even look like it’s a trail! Did you just jump off the side of a hill?!?Posted 11 months agomartinhutchFull Member
Great stuff. One of the best threads (or at least OPs) of the year, always.
A complete waste of time – I can’t fathom why the GNT goes this way.
Because of the status of one short section of tarmac between Cauldron Snout and Cow Green Reservoir. There aren’t really any alternatives that aren’t even more purgatorial. Ridiculous, really.Posted 11 months agodukeduvetFull Member
Very enjoyable read and cracking photos! Cheered me up stuck at home ill in the flatlands of East Yorkshire.Posted 11 months ago
Re Conic Hill. Before you get to the steps, head right and follow the ridge down. There is one small section that has jaggedy gorse and a step down you will have to walk down but it is faaaaaaaaaaaaaaar better than the stairs of much shitness. Longer and far more enjoyable descent!
Re Ben Avon. The full route that heads north east is a bloody cracker. Not technical but tremendous fun with a lovely section of picture perfect singletrack as you descend towards Glen Avon. It just goes on and on but in a good way. Return via Loch Treig then you can head west up the glen that bisects An Slugain before descending to Linn of Quoich where you would pass outbound if you go up Beinn a Bhuird.
Brilliant thread as usual!
SannyPosted 11 months agofergalFree Member
The last one is not really a secret, also not really a great descent either, just incredibly steep with a good chance of being stretchered off the hill!Posted 11 months ago
*waves in the general direction of @munrobiker
That was a comical afternoon out when we hit the last descent on your list. Absolutely heinous death-tech is a good way to describe it, becoming only slightly heinous death-tech in the summer when things are a touch drier. Actually, scratch that. On a balmy summers evening, it’s an absolute beaut and becomes 99% doable.
You’ll have to share your Thornthwaite Crag route – I’ve been trying to work something out there for a while…Posted 11 months ago
Cheers sanny. I had a feeling that continuing down the ridge was OK, but then thought I might have imagined it.Posted 11 months ago
Will try that option next time I do the Way.
@fergal – nah, you must be thinking of the ridge to the west. Now that one is incredibly steep and a one way ticket to being stretchered off. The one in the pics is bloody brilliantPosted 11 months agobigdaddyFull Member
Look forward to this thread every year, so I can sit here in Surrey and dream of riding mountains like that one day (he says every year in December!), and wasn’t disappointed again! Thank you for taking the time to write it up and take those amazing picturesPosted 11 months ago
also not really a great descent either, just incredibly steep with a good chance of being stretchered off the hill!
Bloody hell, it was my favourite one of the year!
@Sanny – I’d seen your route suggestion to go down to Linn of Avon then back via Glen Builg and fancied a crack at it – is that the route you’re describing as I can’t see a Loch Treig in that area?
*waves back at @justinbieber – here’s that Thornthwaite Crag/Threswaite Mouth ride. It wasn’t that imaginative a route (Jim had stood me up and I had to think on the fly), I wonder if you could head north from the pass but I’ve only done that on foot, pushing a hardtail with 63mm travel down it as we’d got lost when I was about 14 and I can’t remember it. Looks like there’s also a Strava segment off Stoney Cove Pike which might be good – the descent from the saddle is a bit of a bog so an alternative way off would be good.
Sorry. I meant Builg. Doh! It is an all day cracker and one to savour as a lovely day out in the mountains.Posted 11 months agochickenmanFull Member
You need to be pretty fit to ride up Glen Gairn (I’m average fit and after riding over Beinn a Bhuird and Ben Avon there was little left in the tank to ride very much of it). I’m not convinced that riding off Ben Avon down to the Sneck is a great idea, the path is made of soft gravel and will get ripped to shit by bikes.Posted 11 months agofathomerFull Member
Brilliant, as always.Posted 11 months agoshortbread_fanylionFree Member
Chickenman – @swavis and I did that route a couple of months ago. We were also a little goosed/time challenged to tack on Glen Gairn so headed back over Culardoch on the landy tracks. Was still a good day out, 7 hours or so I think.Posted 11 months ago
I’m up for a big day out like that. The Callater munroes and Morrone were all done in one very large ride and I’m fortunately fit enough to be able to hack that sort of thing.
I’ll give it a crack soon.
I’d not say the trail down to the Sneck is a problem – people have been riding it for years, but not in large numbers as it’s a pain of a place to get to by bike and I think most of the people who would enjoy it would just go to Ballater and play on all the built stuff there. It’s a great descent, it feels like what I imagine skiing to be. Swoopy and slightly mobile with a lot of hip movement.Posted 11 months ago
Fancy some company? I feel there could be an article to be had out of this with the Ben Avon and Beinn a Bhuird ride. The Glen Gairn and descent through the forest to Linn of Quoich are worth the effort to get to.
I always look forward to your annual thread. It is genuinely inspiring.
SannyPosted 11 months agoswavisFull Member
Fancy some company?
I did the Beinn a Bhuird route this summer whilst on holiday with the family and am really keen to try out other options in that area. I descended Bhuird to the Sneck and found it too steep/loose to ride much. I looked up at B Avon with great interest trying to decide if it would make a good descent or if I’d be better going up it and then heading north east into the wastelands and then heading south again to get back to Balmoral… ( which I think is what someone above is suggesting)
It was all pretty academic really as I only started the ride at about 5pm due to the constant daytime rain that I seem to get in the southern ‘gorms, so it was getting darkish by that point anyway.
God I wish I didn’t live in bloody CheshirePosted 11 months ago
Who’s your photomatographist? There’s some great shots there.Posted 11 months ago
@cougar – I shoot them myself, which is how a real photographer would be able to call them out as amateur. Any of me (on the grey Evil) are self timers.
Posted 11 months ago
@Sanny – sounds good. Definitely big enough to be article worthy. Sometime in the summer would be grand. (early July is when I’m often up there)
Well, isn’t that just even more impressive.Posted 11 months agoBlackflagFree Member
I too love these annual threads and find them very motivational to get out into the bigger hills than just ride my usual routes. Do you often do these on your own or do you always ride with someone else? Steep death tech is not something im too comfortable with when riding solo.Posted 11 months ago
Do you have a tripod ?
( feel so old saying that. )Posted 11 months ago
@blackflag – I ride a lot of them alone, partly because of when I get chance to ride them and partly because it can be a bit awkward to take someone on a ride that turns into a walk with a bicycle. Fortunately I seem to have weaseled my way in with a bunch of freelancers in the Lakes.
I don’t ride at ten tenths in the mountains anyway, the consequences are too high, but my dear of exposure is alarmingly low so I am alright handling most death tech on my own. That tends to be safer than the high speed stuff, which is where I’ve had my biggest accidents.
Posted 11 months ago
@thegeneralist – I take a small gorilla pod. Most self timer stuff is done on my phone.
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