As I slung my bike back up onto my back, I cursed myself for having forgotten to bring the ingenious piece of foam insulation tube that I’d been given when I did my last big hike-a-bike, up Helvellyn. Whilst the gift had puzzled me initially, by the time we were half way up Dollywagon Pike, I wouldn’t have swapped it for a hundred quid. And now, hiking up to Nan Bield Pass from Haweswater, I’d probably have paid that to have it with me. I tried to zone out the burning sensation from the down tube of my bike digging into my shoulder blade, and focus on climbing up the rocky crag, but my powers of Zen would only last for a matter of minutes before I had to put it down again. Every now and again I’d find a sweet spot where I could hike for a bit longer pain-free, but these were becoming increasingly elusive the further we went.
We were two thirds of our way round a twenty one kilometre loop from Kentmere taking in Gatesgarth and Nan Bield Passes, and had already enjoyed two awesome descents. However, the one from Nan Bield was the biggie, and we were certainly being made to earn it.
Having parked in Kentmere, we followed the road for a couple of kilometres up towards Green Quarter before joining the byway and climbing a bit further to Stile Cop for a great little descent to Sadgill.
After following the track along the valley floor for a while, we started to climb Gatesgarth Pass, which started gently, but quickly escalated into a steep ascent that had us pushing up in places.
From the top of the pass, we were rewarded with amazing views out over Haweswater, and an awesome long, rocky descent to the lake that was pretty loose in places, but lots of fun.
If we’d thought the last climb was gruelling, it was about to get a hell of a lot tougher. There’s not a lot of pedaling involved in the climb from Haweswater to the top of Nan Bield, and after pushing for a while, it wasn’t long before we had to hoist the bikes up onto our shoulders and start hiking.
It was a beautiful day and the stunning views back down to Haweswater and beyond gave us the perfect excuse to pause intermittently and relieve the shoulder pain. About half way up, we arrived at a stunning little lake where we stopped to chill in the sun for a while before embarking on an even tougher hike-a-bike to the top of the pass, which involved lunging up some massive steps.
Once again, the views from the top were stunning, but it was the superb long, techy singletrack descent that would offer the biggest reward for our exertions. It starts with a narrow rocky trail that snakes down the steep hillside in a series tight bends that can be tricky to negotiate and easy to overshoot. One corner in particular saw us all nearly fall over the edge like lemmings. By the time we dropped round the final corner, I was starting to feel the burn in my arms, but from this point the gradient decreased allowing us to take fingers off the brakes and fly down the rest of the rocky singletrack trail with only the odd dip and stream to interrupt the flow.
From the bottom it’s an easy pedal back to Kentmere. But if you’ve still got enough juice in the tank, you can extend the route and head up Garburn Pass to add on yet another classic Lakes descent. Unfortunately we didn’t have time on this occasion, but will definitely be heading back to ride all three Passes in a one-er soon.
We were content with what had already been a fantastic ride though and didn’t feel the need to bag any more passes that day. The route may have involved some tough climbing, but once we were smashing down those epic descents, the pain soon became a distant memory … until the next morning!