Two trips to Aviemore.

7 09 2014

Ugh! where does all the time go, eh? I have a huge backlog of things to say, from trips, rides and messing around with various bike parts to a review of the Mountain Laurel Design Cricket tent. I try to keep things in chronological order and no doubt as the skies darken and the winds and rains come, there will be plenty of time for blogging. Now, however, the sky is blue, the sun is still warm and I am enjoying being outside as much as possible – solo and with my family. All good.

A while ago now I had two different trips to Aviemore. For the first, I had a plan to clover leaf several rides from a base at the Rothiemurchas campsite. After arriving in the middle of the day, I wanted to take advantage of the warm sun and long day to head north on the Dava Way, essentially heading through the Ryvoan pass, then following (for the most part) an old rail line, to the coast at Forres. A blog I follow, Topofests, had described some sweet looking singletrack along side the river Findhorn. Unfortunately, I left too late in the day to cover the distance and see this. Another time.

My hombre Chris joined me for the next couple of rides. After the initial climb of the Burma road, we had a great time taking in this classic loop, but threw a curve in at the end and headed out to Burnside, railing some of the tight, woodsy singletrack. Awesome!

That left a classic Morlich/Badaguish loop for the last day – those trails always deliver a broad grin and are as challenging as you want them to be.

The next trip to Aviemore, a few weeks later, was with intentions of an evening preamble to find a decent camp, somewhere in the trees, followed by a big mountain ride the next day. The bags were packed and strapped to the bike, but the weather refused to play ball. The rain was sheeting down. Hardly conducive. Fortunately, I found a space at the Old Bridge Inn bunkhouse and planned a loop for the next day, up towards Ben Macdui, then round to Cairn Gorm and studied the topography of the various ridges and potential ways down over a fine meal and a dram.

The initial climb across Coire an Lochain and up onto the shoulder of Cairn Lochain started in fine weather, but became punctuated by squalls of rain and low cloud. It was clear the wind was strong but once I was up onto the plateau, 60kph sustained wind made the sleety rain sting and a ride around the cliffs edge towards Cairn Gorm a perilous proposition. With tail tucked firmly between my legs, I enjoyed the descent and the weather was far better below cloud level. I headed over to Abernethy forest instead, revelling in the warmth amongst the caledonian pine forest.

Nothing ventured, nothing gained – but sometime soon, I’d like to get that loop done.





Wheel build: a photo essay.

19 07 2014

With thanks to Sean for the advice on building with the new style nipples and the nipple tool. The old aluminium Pillar nipples were rotting with the ammonia from some sealants escaping through the porous gorilla tape, so Enve updated to a flat surfaced brass nipple.





Torridon.

19 07 2014

After the rugged beauty of Skye, I turned my attention to an old friend – Torridon. As I have mentioned before, Torridon is an awe inspiring place to ride. The terrain is rugged and technical, but the trails drain superbly, for the most part, and offer good grip: a useful characteristic as they can be steep and consequential.

I wanted to extend the usual Annat/Achnashellach/Coire Lair loop so after climbing from Coulags and descending the awesome trail to Annat, I took the road west towards the Ben Damph estate.

Incidentally, on the descent, I chatted to Alasdair McLean, who was on his way to completing the Highland Trail 550. I had pulled out of this a few weeks prior and it caused a twinge of regret to talk over his experiences. He was clearly tired but in very good spirits. I wished him well and continued down the trail.

After taking the excellent estate track south into the hills, there was an exceptionally wet singletrack alongside Loch Damh to the turn around at Kinloch Damph. Here, the trail climbs gradually, onto the shoulder of Beinn Damh, before descending from Coire Roill back to the coast.

It really wasn’t until the final few kilometers that this additional loop became worthwhile and I am not sure I can recommend it.

I had met a few other riders taking part in the HTR 550 the day prior at Strathcarron Station, including Alan Goldsmith. Alan had warned me off my previous plan of taking the trail up Coire Mhich Nòbuil behind Liathach, before descending Coire Dubh Mòr, back towards Loch Clair. As he explained it, he likes a good hike-a-bike, but the route in question was hideous. Fair enough!

I had been wondering about overnighting: climbing to Loch Coire Mhic Fhearchair and (hopefully) sleeping above the midge ceiling before contining around to Loch Maree, or perhaps Fisherfield, but this will have to be another time.

After Ben Damph, I climbed back up the road from Annat, to Loch Clair and from there up the beautiful trail past the Easan Dorcha bothy.

From here, I descended the Coire Lair trail – perhaps the best trail in Scotland. A few hours later, I was sat in the Plockton Inn enjoying a seafood platter and a locally brewed pint. You can’t beat that.





Skye.

19 07 2014

A while ago now, I had a few days riding on the Isle of Skye and in Torridon. This instalment will show some of the trails I rode on Skye. Despite the weather being kind enough, some of the trails were very wet, even under water, but you take what you get on Skye: the weather is often as challenging as the terrain on the Inner Hebrides.

As boggy as the initial part of the 50km loop on Skye was, the views of the Cuillin ridge and the superb trail higher up in the mountains, more than made up for it.

Goosebumps.

The descent down to Sligachan, mild in gradient, was one of the better trails I have had the pleasure of riding.

Next up, Torridon.





Breaking news.

19 07 2014

Rather unfortunately, after 2 hours of use, the Thomson dropper doesn’t seem to want to return to full height anymore. You have to give it a pull and there seems to be very little pressure in there. I suspect a nitrogen leak (the hydraulic cartridge relies on a nitrogen charged spring in the Thomson: it is not user serviceable). I suspect I probably jinxed myself by vocalising the fact I had waited for a good few years for these devices to demonstrate reasonable longevity. Anyhoo. Back to the shop and we’ll see what happens.

So just to cement my position as a paying beta tester, I got this to mess about with…

The 44 is getting lower gears. I do ok with 32 – 11-36, but there is no doubt that when loaded, with those big and relatively heavy tyres, it can be hard work. So…we’ll see.





Thomson Dro(o)per.

9 07 2014

A nod to Dicky, there….can’t seem to say dropper anymore….anyway.

Recently, this…

…came into my life.

B.A was always meant to have a dropper, but I had been hanging fire until they seemed to prove their longevity. With Dicky and Sean both liking their Thomson’s and with the features aligning to what I wanted, it seemed like the time was right.

With a twiddle or two of an allen key, a wee spray of effetto carbogrip and a footer with the positoning of the lever on the Jones bars, it is done.

I’ll let y’all know how it works out. Looks sweet though.





UL/SUL shelters.

2 07 2014

As ever, I’ve been thinking about stuff. I have been using my trusty Rab bivi bag for a good number of years. It is made from eVent fabric and breathes well, whilst dealing with abrasion and rough ground superbly. It is a long bivi -with enough room to stow a bag and helmet at the bottom, without leaving the sleeper feeling cramped. The midge netting is essential in Scotland: leave the bag open in dry weather, perhaps with a guy line to a tree, or close it down if inclement.

But you cannot sit in it to read, cook or pass the time of day. Once you stop moving, if it is raining (likley) or if there are midge (ineviatble) you are obliged to bed down for the night. Great if you have eaten and are planning to move far and fast but not so great if you want to chill out and enjoy a glorious sunset and perhaps a wee dram. Until recently, ultralight shelters were either too fragile, too expensive (cotage industry cuben fiber one offs with dodgy stitching and stratospheric prices) or too heavy. My bivi sack weighs in the mid 800g range and after deciding that more often than not an overnighter for me includes a sit, ponder and sip scenario, I re-visited the UL/SUL shelter market.

Once you have decided on the basics: size, shape, material, free-standing or not, poles or hiking-pole use, mid or tunnel, tarp with bug net or one-piece, boom! there are now lots of good options.

The first I looked at seriously was the Six Moon Designs Lunar Solo, conveniently available from Backpackinglight.co.uk. Very light, one piece for easy pitching, available with a carbon fiber pole as an alternative to the almost universal use of a hiking pole as centre upright in these ‘mid-type shelters and it has been revised recently to increase depth of bucket floor to the ‘roof’ giving more sleepign space and less likely hood of drips. For some reason, I could not make the leap to purchase this tent. I have no idea why, I think it is superb.

Inevitably, I started looking at even lighter shelters of a similar design. Perhaps the one I spent the most time pondering was the Z packs Hexamid. This super-ultralight shelter is made from cuben, seems very simple to pitch and has über-high geek factor. However, in Scotland I suspect the ‘bill’ isn’t quite big enough to protect from rough weather. A shame, I’d love to have this shelter for fine weather use. It should also be noted that even with pegs and pole it is substantially lighter than my bivi bag – astonishing!

Another shelter that ticked all the boxes is the Henry Shire’s Tarp Tent Contrail. This is another neat design. Again, I cannot fully explain why I did not go for this one. I had decided that silny had a better cost to weight ratio for me than cuben and in some cases the stretch of the silny was desirable (see Chris Townsend for a far more useful description than I could offer as to why).

The shelter I kept coming back to, time after time, was the trailstar range from Mountain Laurel Designs. The particular version that seemed to suit my needs was the cricket (alternatively known as the Solo Trailsatr). A review from Tramplite was highly informative and persuasive. I emailed Ron Bell, the approachable and helpful alpha cheese at MLD, with regards several details – primarily the use of a non-hiking pole and the pros and cons of single or double pole pitching (I am intending to use my bike as the second ‘pole’ if required) and along with a carbon fiber pole from Z packs of the correct height that folds to a mere 12″ I finally made my choice. Again, all in, lighter than my bivi bag. The only down side is it needs pitching rather than simply unrolling. The benefit, I can sit up and eat behind the midge netting.

Once I have the shelter and have used it I will report back.

The pictures used in this post are taken from the manufacturers websites and are owned by them. I reproduce them with the hope that some readers will be interested in their products.








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