“This is where the biggest hike-a-bike starts”, announced Jenny as we regrouped at the bottom of a particularly steep-looking rocky climb. Her revelation was met with nervous laughter by several of us who’d assumed that having already lugged our steeds for quite some distance, the worst was over. My shoulder and upper back were already pretty sore from carrying my bike slung over my shoulders for the twenty minutes or so it had taken to get to that point, so I was slightly apprehensive about how I was going to cope with the longer and tougher ascent.
However, as I plodded up the seemingly endless climb, my body seemed to enter a state of submission and I was able to zone out the pain of my bike’s down tube digging into my shoulder blade, and focus on putting one foot in front of the other.
As a group of eleven women (and three male hangers-on) snaking up the path laden down with heavy-looking mountain bikes, we drew quite a lot of attention from the walkers we passed, most of whom thought we were mad.
We’d come together from as far afield as Edinburgh, Leeds and Liverpool to do this route that was high on our must-ride lists. Many of us had never met before in person, but felt we knew each other already through various online communities for female mountain bikers.
The ride had been organised by local girl Jenny Nuttall, writer of the awesome Jozza Guns blog, who knows the area well. It’s great to see so many girls’ rides being organised throughout the country, and this one held particular appeal because of its challenging nature. Jenny had been careful to stress the difficulty of the route, which, due to the strenuous climb and technical descent, was only really suitable for experienced riders with a good level of fitness. Despite this, there was a great turnout of awesome female riders who were more than capable of the route, plus a couple of our other halves, who didn’t want to be left out. Many of the girls were mums whose partners were minding the kids, having done a boys ride the previous day.
After meeting in Glenridding at 10.30am, we set off on the 14 mile loop that would take us up to Patterdale, Grisedale Tarn and Dolly Wagon before traversing across to Helvellyn, then Raise, and down Sticks Pass back to Glenridding.
Although the climb started off easily enough, it wasn’t long until we were having to push our bikes up the steep, rocky path, before eventually resorting to hoisting them up onto our backs. The hardest part of the climb was up to the top of Dolly Wagon, which involved hike-a-biking for around an hour and a half up the steep rocky staircase. At the top we were rewarded with spectacular views and the knowledge that the worst was out of the way. From there it was just a traverse and relatively easy ascent to the summit of Helvellyn, from where the views were even more stunning.
We’d totally lucked out with the weather, which was mild and fairly sunny without being oppressively hot, and although it was cooler and windy at the top, I believe conditions can be a lot worse.
Now it was time for the fun bit. Our first descent was down Lower Man ridge, which was fast, loose, and a pretty sketchy in places. It was great fun though, and we all arrived at the bottom with huge grins on our faces.
Next there was another climb to the top of Raise, but in the grand scheme of things, it was nothing more than a slight incline. After taking some time to enjoy yet more incredible views, eat some lunch, and discuss post pregnancy paunches, we began the main descent down Sticks Pass.
The descent was worth every second of the gruelling climb. Some of it consisted of fast and flowing singletrack, but it was also steep, rocky and pretty technical in places, particularly the final stretch that consisted, almost entirely, of large loose stones that slipped, somewhat disconcertingly, as you rolled over them.
Although a long descent, it was over all too quickly, and before long we were back in Glenridding, absolutely buzzing from what I could easily describe as one of my best days on a bike to date. And, as we discussed the day’s adventures over a well-earned pint, and started to plan some more, the pain of the hike-a-bike was already a distant memory.
Jenny’s organising another ride on 25th September, this time to do the Borrowdale Bash. If you fancy coming along, check out the Facebook event page – the more the merrier!