Wednesday, 13 May 2015

Cairngorms Overnighter April 2015

After a rainy and lonely, but very comfortable Friday night at the Bruar bothy I whizzed on my bike down to Blair Atholl and then trundled in the car up the A9 to meet Andy and Danijel at the Mountain Cafe in Aviemore.
Coffee and cake consumed and plans formed we were almost ready to go.
An hour later after a fruitless search for a replacement Boa fastener for my Specialized Rime shoe which had broken that morning we finally set off at almost midday.
The ride out to Glenmore was very pleasant and scenic. The light was lovely and Danijel who is from Slovenia was keen to capture some photos of the Scottish scenery. Fresh snow from the night before and fresh early spring colours made for some eye catching views.
We soon slowed down as we hit the steep climb up over the shoulder of Bynack Mor. All three of us were riding singlespeed bikes and carrying overnight gear, so the steep parts of this were unrideable and became a slightly more sociable push.
As we approached the top of the climb, which was to be the high point of our ride at just under 800m we started to encounter pockets of fresh snow from the previous night's snow showers. This turned to a covering of a few inches as we crossed the plateau. Danijel was on a custom titanium Moonman fat bike, while Andy was on his 29+ wheeled Pugsley. Both of these machines were in their element on the snow. I was on my usual 29 inch wheeled Shand, which was perhaps not so well suited, but managed to cope. In places the snow covered the stone faced drainage channels that cross the path, so these threw up some nasty surprises when the front wheel unexpectedly dropped several inches into them.

Soon after we began to descend I was enjoying a little speed and trying to catch up with the other two after stopping to take photos. As I approached one of the frequent stone water bars I braked and the front wheel skidded on the snow causing me to whack the front wheel into the stone. Straight away the front tyre began to hiss loudly, so I knew a repair would be required. The repair took a few minutes and a couple of anchovies to repair by which time my hands were freezing.
We pressed on, keen to get warm again, Andy and I pushing up the next hill while Danijel was able to ride most of it due to his low gearing and grippy fat bike tyres (not to mention a healthy chunk of skill and strength).
As I was approaching the Fords of Avon I glanced back and was unable to see the other two. When they still didn't appear after a few minutes I backtracked to find them and could see from a distance that Andy had suffered a mechanical as they were both leaning over his bike. Andy's aluminium seatpost had jammed in the steel frame many moons ago and had chosen this moment to snap right where it entered the frame. With no means of extracting the broken section Andy's only option was to ride with no seat, either turning back or carrying on to complete the loop. While turning back would have been much shorter it would have meant that Andy would have missed out on the rest of the ride. We therefore convinced him to keep going - 75km with no seatpost - no problem!
A few minutes later we reached the Fords of Avon and stopped for a break in the surprisingly warm sun outside the shelter.

The next obstacle was the ford itself - pretty much knee deep icy water. I employed the "stride straight through" technique while the other two went for the "shoes and socks off" option. The waters were icy cold which wasn't really a surprise as there was a large snow drift on the far bank of the river.
Once shoes and socks had been put back on we continued up to the Lairig and Laoigh where a fantastic view down into Glen Derry opens out.

The clouds sweeping across the skies were illuminating the glen with bright patches of light which made the spring colours even more spectacular.

The descent to Derry lodge was enjoyed by all of us, although the water bars do interrupt the flow of the trail somewhat, most of them can be negotiated with minimal hassle once you get a feel for them. Some require extreme commitment and a well timed bunny hop meaning that a stop and dismount option is usually better on a laden bikepacking rig. Some of the stream crossings have become rather more interesting since the flash flooding of autumn 2014 washed out many of the crossings and the bridge at Derry Lodge (since replaced with a temporary structure) although none of this caused us any problems.
We hit the tarmac at the Linn of Dee for about 50 metres before diving back off road and heading up the glen and taking the Geldie burn tributary. The track was somewhat dull at this point, and not easy progress as we had turned west and into the wind. Andy was starting to suffer quite a bit due to not being able to sit down. This is the kind of riding where sitting down to pedal is really useful!
The track climbed very slowly until eventually we turned off the 4x4 track and onto singletrack which would take us over the watershed. This track has quite a few boggy spots, but also some quite rewarding bits of riding.

We had startled some red deer as we rode along this section, and we kept catching glimpses of a few of them just on the horizon running away from us. After a few minutes we noticed that every deer in the glen seemed to have gathered together below us - there must have been over 100 of them going for the safety in numbers strategy.
As we began to descend into Glen Feshie the sun was just finishing setting and Andy and Danijel were questioning me about how far we had to go and how long it would take. I had to admit that although I had walked this trail before about 10 years ago I had never ridden it and had little idea how long it would take. I tried my best to make an estimate that wouldn't give them false hope or dishearten them too much.

The trail took us over a bridge just above a spectacular waterfall and I stopped for a few photographs.
Andy's suffering was increasing and he just wanted to be done by this stage, so  he wasn't too impressed by the waterfall.
As we continued past an ancient shack the riding became smooth singletrack which sometimes turned to braided slivers of trail through the heather and offered up multiple choices. Eventually we ended up following a land rover track which crossed several fords in the by now quite large river Feshie. We avoided crossing these by climbing the ancient path on the steep side of the glen - although damaged by landslides the path is still passable with care, but not all rideable.
The light had by now faded to almost nothing so we put our lights on for the final ride in to the bothy.
The glen eventually widened out and the tree cover increased which I recognised as a sign that we were nearly there. A final splash through a small ford and the shape of the bothy emerged from the trees with a dull glow from the windows.
It was 9.45pm and it had been a long day of riding - especially for Andy with no seat! We were all hungry, so I fired up the stove and got some pasta on the go straight away. Stupidly we had only brought two sporks between three of us so Danijel improvised a spoon from an empty squeezy cheese tube and we dug in. Hot food can't be beaten after a long day on the hill.
Once we'd munched all the pasta and topped up with some extra cheese and oatcakes we had a wee tipple of whisky and got to know some of our fellow bothy dwellers a bit better.
Bothying can often result in meeting some interesting characters and this night was no exception! A group from the north east of England were in residence when we arrived and had consumed a prodigious amount of alcohol by the time we joined them.
At some point we noticed that the skies had cleared and went out to indulge in some late night photography before finally getting into our sleeping bags.
The next morning after coffee and sausages we made our way out to Feshiebridge and then on through the forest to be back in Aviemore just before midday.
Andy was most relieved to finally be able to sit down in the cafe after riding about 75km with no seat.
The numbers for the whole ride were 97km with just under 1,600m of height gain. Moving time according to the GPS was 8 hours 10 minutes out of the almost 24 hours we were out. A grand overnight trip!

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