Variations.

27 08 2013

Thanks to some excellent route advice from Naegears, I enjoyed a great ride in the Grampians the other day. The starting point, as it has been so many times, was Old Bridge of Tilt car park. Suited up, I hit the trail, up Glen Tilt. This is not the way I would usually choose to go, as the classic guide book ‘Tilt route is MUCH better anti-clockwise. However, this was going to be a variation – involving Carn a’ Chlamain.

If you look on a map, you will see that there is a landy trail all the way to about 10 meters from the summit. It is a munro, but barely, so you’d be forgiven for thinking it would be a breeze to ride on up, turn tail and take the singletrack descent back to Glen Tilt, before going on to the rest of the ride. Well, actually, you wouldn’t be forgiven. You’d be kicked in the jacksie, because it is really pretty steep and loose – testament to what a landy will drive up. Soon enough I managed to get up to the top, and the view, although hazy, was worth the effort.

I could also see the next section of my preferred route – staright up the steep side of Meall a’ Mhuirich and from there onto Carn nan Gabhar, part of the Beinn a’ Ghlo massif, before taking the steeper still route up to Braigh Coire Chruinn-bhalgain and then trying to find a trail I noticed the last time I was on ‘Ghlo, down to the Allt Coire Lagain. All these elements were somewhat ‘malleable’.

As soon as I saw how steep the entire climb would be, taking into account my seemingly low energy levels, I decided that it probably wasn’t on. I would reassess once I dropped to the valley 750 m vertical drop below.

The descent is up there with the best I have done in Scotland. Not overly technical, not overly steep, but it requires constant attention and rewards a positive riding style. You don’t want to be doing this trail if you left you’re riding chops at home.

Soon enough, I sat surrounded by bored looking sheep with my map in front of me and a decision to make. If I returned to the car, I would be home in time to mess around with Daisy before bed time, but it would perhaps be a slight waste of the beautiful weather and trail conditions. I was getting a bit low on water, had limited food and my legs were showing their age. No doubt the imminence of autumn was part of my decision to continue, but rather than slog up the brutal, heather slopes of Meall a’ Mhuirich, I climbed up to the Falls of Tarf and then onwards to Fealar Lodge, before hitting a head wind for the climb up the the pass that takes you down to Daldhu. It was at this point that my water ran out and I consumed the last of my calories. That packet of llamas was nectar, but unfortunately the 119 calories lasted until just shy of the top of the climb, with a fair amount of riding still to do.

All the while I had been hoping to get back in time to say night night to the grom, an aim that kept me driving harder than I really felt able. I could feel my limbs and back beginning to tighten up, odd pains invading my enjoyment of this golden evening. Nevertheless, I closed the loop in just shy of 6 hours, eased my tired body into the car and despite all that the A9 can throw at you, I did make it home to be greeted by a smiley wee face.

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Glen Tilt.

6 07 2013

It always happens like this. I spend the evening getting my kit and bike sorted, a destination in mind. By the time I turn the light off and try to get some precious sleep, I begin to wonder if I ought to strike out for somewhere new, unknown. I drift off to sleep, with trails in my dreams. Over coffee, I pull out some maps, crank up the internet and do a little research. An hour of riding time slides by and I haven’t left my home. Then 2 hours. Frustration bubbling, I finally throw everything in the car, and head to where I was going in the first place, or – if I have evaporated too much time – I just ride off with out any clear plan and a furrowed brow. So it goes.

The last time this happened, my original intention was to do the ‘classic’ Glen Tilt loop. I have no idea how many times I have ridden the route, pretty much exactly as it appears in countless guidebooks and magazines, but for some reason always (to my mind at least) in reverse: it is better anti-clockwise. It may not breed contempt, but it is so familiar it lacks excitement.

However, it is close, gives a taste of ‘out there’ and scratches the itch for solitude that I always feel. So, after messing around, looking at Glen Lyon, various other places and generally asking more questions than i answered, I decided to go with the flow and head up the A9. And, to be fair, I have not ridden the classic loop for several years, indeed the last time I was there I went over Beinn a’ghlo.

It had been relatively dry and I was optimistic that both the Allt Girnaig crossing and the peaty, heather covered ground on the other side, before the land rover tack down to Daldhu would be easily rideable.

So it was. The descent from there was very enjoyable, despite it being a wide, loose land rover track. The Maul was handling telepathically. The new rear, tubeless, set up felt superb and offered excellent traction. The whole bike just amazes me every time i ride it.

After turning at Daldhu, I realised that perhaps the reason I had been making such good time was the howling wind! Penitence was the name of the game as I crawled my way up to Fealar Lodge. Again, the recent dry weather meant the usually boggy, grassy trail down to the Falls of Tarf was in superb condition. I met another rider, doing the route clockwise, and then a few guys who were battling a broken chain before I made my way down Glen Tilt, again, screaming into the wind, back to Bridge of Tilt. Overall, completing the 54 km loop in 3 hours 45 minutes was pretty satisfying. I worked very hard down Tilt, my legs felt like they would split, but I am getting some strength back. Time to plan another big ride.