LAKE DISTRICT MTB EPIC
by Rich Duckworth
by Rich Duckworth
It’s cold, my whole body is aching from the previous three tough days I’ve had. I didn’t sleep too well either, due to excitement and the anticipation of what’s in store. My alarm has just gone off and instantly that’s all forgotten – my kit is made ready, I get dressed, grab a bite to eat and load the van up. Outside it’s dark, almost day break and there’s ice covering the van. I set off – Lake District here we come!
Heading for some good elevation and steep gnarly snow covered trails isn’t everyone’s cup of tea (I don’t even drink tea), but luckily I wasn’t alone in my quest for a winter thrill. Even on a morning such as this, I met up with a couple of other fools that I’d convinced into tagging along with me and we gave all our kit a quick double check. Snacks, drink, spare gloves and a jacket in my bag (along side the first aid kit and basic spares). I’m the type to sweat easily so after debating what to wear I opted for a base layer with my race jersey over the top and we get going!
The first mile along the valley through Glenridding is cold, no, it’s freezing; but knowing the route and the first climb, I wasn’t worried! Within 15 minutes I’m off the bike and hiking, red hot now…
Up and up we go, steady away in the snow as we switch between pushing and carrying the bike – anything but riding! Changing the muscle groups while doing the ‘hike a bike’ trips I always find very beneficial in reducing fatigue. I even walk differently; on the steep sections I exaggerate the bend on my knee, and on the flatter sections walk on my ankles and toes keeping my legs straighter. After hitting the first false summit of Birks, (622m) a quick snack is out, and from here I can see across to Helvellyn and behind us in the distance are the Howgill Fells.
Sunday Crag lurks in front, casting a shadow on what I’m about to scale. A foreboding sight. It’s probably the hardest part of the day – with the bike on my back, I’m aiming for 3 points of contact on the ice covered rocks. Peaking Sunday Crag (841m) and the sunlight hitting me was a good feeling. It was like the day was really underway! I quickly scoffed some more flapjack before charging down across the ridge line, a race in my head and into the last climb onto Fairfield (873m). Time is simply flown by with it being the slowest part of the epic. My concern’s over daylight arise, as there wasn’t time to take in the stunning views and I set off towards the north face!
Heading down the steep scree to Grizedale Tarn is not for the feint hearted – this is a mountain in winter. I disengage the brain and let instincts take over. If you think about what you’re doing at this point it’s likely to go wrong.The snow is deep and I’m cutting in fresh tracks, and the bike’s controllably sliding underneath and allowing me just a bit of safety – but nothing is promised. The feeling simply cannot be matched – trepidation, excitement, fear, adrenaline rush!
Within a few minutes I’ve dropped over 300m and pick up the trail across to the tarn, upwards again! It’s steps from the tarn, passing walkers and sheep, taking breaks individually now as we all remember again what carrying a bike is like. Dollywaggon Pike (830m) the views just keep getting better as the sun starts to drop. It’s 2:30pm now and Helvellyn is calling. The aim was 3pm, so no time for hanging around, back on the bikes. Tough going in the snow, with some sections I could ride, and some that just weren’t worth the extra effort – but collectively that second wind was there, the drive and commitment to make our goal! Passing High Crag (884m) and Nethermost Pike (891m) we all go at our own pace, within site of each other across the bleak open mountain we’re still as one.
Helvellyn, my favourite mountain, I’m back – 950 meters of beautiful views in every direction and it’s 3pm! On target, the obligatory pictures with our bikes are taken and have a last quick feed. The cloud inversion over Ullswater being a talking point, as well as sunset knocking behind us and the realisation that there’s a couple more climbs to attack yet. It’s a true adventure outing!
I lead the way across to Helvellyn’s Lower Man. It’s a trail that runs down the north face ridge that I know well, and know it’s littered with big sharp rocks that bite you. Covered in compressed snow it’s the only route that we can take. Cautiously, I lead our party down, playing on the brakes and testing grip levels as I start to open it up a bit. Purposely drifting into the edges on the path where there was sure grip by the form of rocks, I got passed the tricky section and I decided to straight line the rest (usually switch backs). With some speed built up on the 120m+ descent, the chill of the sun setting started to freeze my ears. Attack, “must get warm”, I said to myself as the climb up to Whiteside Bank (863m) steepens.
With a couple of minutes to spare, being in front I grab a few more pictures, but I wasn’t going to let the others – we need to descend. Sunlight was our hour glass and time was ticking! Another brief down and we ascend for the final time. Raise (883m), a tricky one to ride to the top of but somehow easier in today’s conditions! Gathering the last bit of energy, I warn (excite) them of this descent – it has a techy start that turns tame and in an instant turns again.
Leading the way, I pick my way through the rocks and follow the open wide trail down. Speed picks up and as I’d just warned the others it soon turns again. On the brakes, a quick slap in fresh snow and I’m round the hairpin left, immediately into a right and I’ve no grip, I lean back, off the brakes, I’m fully committed and hoping there’s no rock with my name on it. Dropping into snow, I get up to my bars and with the added speed, I somehow plough back onto the trail unscathed laughing and shouting back at the other two not to follow my line. Back on the pedals it’s open, there’s hardly any snow and it’s a straight run down. Speeds up, there’s drainage humps to hop and the adrenaline is flowing again – we’re on the home stretch!
Sticks Pass – its an incredible techy single track that leads us back towards Glenridding. Now in the valley, the light is going but there’s not a worry; visibility is great and only a mechanical or injury will cause a problem for light now.
Half way down Sticks Pass I’m waiting, then take a short push across what may as well be a bog, to the last section called Seldom Seen – seldom dry!
Running along the edge of Sheffield Pike it drops down almost to Ullswater. Covered in snow it appears to only have 2 sets of footprints on it! Excited to crack, on I don’t hesitate – blessed again, it’s a full moon above for this final stretch. Into the trees and not far from the van I hit tarmac again. Not far along and we’re soon back, discussing the day, the trails and the views.
Going our separate ways, I set off home over Kirkstone Pass reflecting on the day… Fresh, gruelling, tough, exciting, exhilarating, stunning, lucky, sore, aching and absolutely worth it! A couple of hours later and I’m back home with my kit in the wash. The bike is pretty clean, but it’s still having a rinse and quick check over.
What a day. I’m not sure we could of had it any better, and now I’m all set and ready for another one!
3 more to go…