Sunday, 5 July 2009

Steep frowning glories.


Chris and I did a circuit of Dark Lochnagar today. Starting in Braemar, we ride out of town on the road practising our "through and off" technique in a 1:15 ratio - 1 minute at the front for Chris, 15 for me. This takes us to Invercauld Bridge and then up into Ballochbuie Forest past some languid toffs watching a group of young stags and seemingly unimpressed by our vulgar presence. After a bit of navigational laziness, we get on the track out to Gelder Sheil and then up to the start of the path to Meikle Pap. I spot a pink dot in the distance and have to chase it down. It's a husband/wife combo and we soon leave them churning in our wake.

Chris suggests that we take a contouring trail around to pick up the path from Glas Allt Sheil rather than carrying bikes all the way up to the plateau. This looks a bit doubtful from afar but it turns out to be 100% rideable and takes us to a recently-surfaced path leading to the summit. We manage to ride a lot of this though one or two of the drainage ditches are just too wide to bunnyhop going uphill in the second lowest granny gear. There are a couple of steeper pitched sections where we are more or less compelled to carry the bikes, but we arrive quickly at the summit plateau, just in time to be enveloped in a rain shower. I'm glad that I've packed a waterproof and that the rain doesn't last, lest I be found out for being woefully under-prepared for a day in the mountains...

"Have you got a map, son?"
"Spare clothing?"
"First Aid kit?"
"Does piriton count?"

The way down from Lochnagar has some brilliant riding over sandy/rocky/peaty paths. There's another short push before it begins to head down to Loch Callater. This is one of those descents where you have to stop periodically to shake out your forearms. It's really absorbing biking, down steep rock-gardens and slabs, over drainage ditches and through some serpentine singletrack before spitting us out at Loch Callater Lodge.

We get back to the Glenshee road and consider the possibility of tacking on an ascent of Morven to round out the day. Were it just an ascent, the idea would be dismissed out of hand; however there is a pay-off in the form of a steep dotted line on the map which brings us right back to our starting point in Braemar. We start up Morven...

I'll not dress this bit up in fancy-dan prose - the climb up the land-rover track to the summit of Morven is a complete bastard. Probably not too bad in a Land Rover, but on a burly 5" full-suspension mountain bike, it's a complete bastard. I don't know how long it takes but it just seems to go on forever; never slackening or steepening particularly but just maintaining its complete-bastardness for many hundreds of metres. The sun has come out now and it's giving me a bit of an insight into what Transalp climbs might be like. Pleasingly, my legs don't hurt from the effort though I do start to develop a niggling ligament pain in my left knee and my right shoulder is aching like a ... complete bastard.

The summit of Morven is like a moonscape, albeit with a great big mobile relay tower pumping out gigawatts of microwave energy which further cooks my flesh and my brain. The descent turns out to be worth the suffering to get to the top and in what seems like no time we're back in Braemar buzzing from the adrenaline, or the microwave irradiation - hard to tell the difference sometimes.

(Apologies to languid toffs everywhere, including Lord Byron)

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