Monday, June 22, 2015

Kinder Scout from Hayfield

It's been a long time since I did any fell running in the UK and a quick business trip allowed for a very early morning trot up Kinder Scout. When packing my gear back in the 90 degree heat of Boulder I remembered to include my waterproof jacket...and I ended up needing it.
Climbing up to the reservoir

I left Hayfield around 5.45am and jogged in the cool rain along Kinder Road. I crossed the bridge beneath the reservoir and ran along a dank, wet trail before switching back over a footbridge and ascending steeply to where a view of the reservoir - and my route - was possible. The cloud hung low over the hillside and that meant one thing - heavy rain. I was warming up though and there was going to be no turning back.
My route took me left (out of sight) and along the cloud covered hillside

Skipping along the muddy, puddled trail by the reservoir quickly led to the bottom of William Clough and the start of the steeper climbing. There were a few Herdwick sheep for company and after slipping and sliding around on the muddy sections, I was thankful for some rock and grass as I climbed higher. Two thirds of the way up I disappeared into cloud cover and that's when the really heavy rain started.
Bottom of William Clough

Just when I needed encouragement two sheep came into view
After running in Colorado I found the ascent of Kinder to be relatively short and I quickly arrived at the junction with the Pennine Way. I turned right and was faced with one stiff little climb to the very summit of the Kinder ridge. The wind was howling and the rain drenching. At least my jacket kept some of the wind at bay.
View back down William Clough to the reservoir

Final ascent in the cloud to the top of the Kinder ridge
I have run along the Kinder skyline a number of times over the years, so knew what to expect - a lot of rock hopping and puddle jumping. It was hard going, but a lot of fun. Threads of cloud and rain streamed across the ridge in front of me and very occasionally the cloud opened for a brief view of the valley - not long enough to take a picture but long enough to confirm I was in the right place. I had uploaded an image of the Ordinance Survey map before I began and used this at path junctions. There was little around by way of markers and the cloud concealed everything. I had to rely on general distance and headings and dead reckoning navigation to keep to the right path.
Kinder Downfall in beautiful weather

I have never visited Kinder Downfall in good weather and I wasn't going to break that streak today. The updraft of wind hurled water directly over me and I took my morning shower a little earlier than expected. The wind was ferocious and I quickly picked my way across the stream and then scampered along to trail towards the descent.
Wonderful paved section before the final, steep desent

I arrived at the departure point for the Pennine Way and climbed down the steep staircase towards lower ground. I felt like I needed to lose altitude as I had been in the wind and rain for about 45 minutes. But I couldn't shake off the cloud and this made navigating very difficult. I felt I knew where I was but wasn't 100% sure. I needed some visual reference point for confirmation. I wasn't going to get it!!
Relief at finding the Broad Clough sign - 100% accurate navigation in foul weather

I arrived at a trail intersection and faced a choice. I looked at the map and then stared into the cloud. On distance alone I figured that I must be close to Broad Clough, and that is exactly where I wanted to be. My compass suggested a Northwesterly direction, so that seemed right. I strode off confidently and ran for 3/4 mile before a final descent took me out of the clouds. 100yds ahead there was a National Trust sign - "Broad Clough" - how wonderful am I?
Final descent to the reservoir

The final section back to the foot of the reservoir was gently descending grass track and I ran as quickly as I could. I really miss these long grassy descents when in the Rockies and enjoyed every minute. The jog back along Kinder Road was only interrupted by one car - the only person I had seen all morning. I was dripping wet.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Mixing it up

After so much long distance running I was wiped out last year, physically and mentally exhausted. I needed a new challenge, something that would still get me physically exerted and high in the mountains. I bought a mountain bike. I then bought a second mountain bike, and I haven't looked back.

The bike I bought was far too good for someone with my modest abilities - a Specialized Epic World Cup carbon bike. So light I could pick it up with one finger. But when the snow came early last Fall I splashed out on the top end Specialized Fatboy Pro, an absolute beast of a bike and so much fun I rode it a lot over winter even on dry trails. The new exercise pattern is much more to my liking - when I travel for work during the week I go running, and at weekends I go out on my bike.

I quite like grinding it out on long, steady ascents - not the vicious little stingers that have you scrabbling your back wheel for traction, but the longer, lung-busting type that go on for ever. I recall the trip up to Georgia Pass from Kenosha Pass last November - 12 miles of solid, uphill on a steady gradient. This was perfect for me. I also recall riding Lair o' the Bear across to Mount Falcon - another solid 8 miles of continuous ascent. Fabulous.

Downhill is not so much fun for me. I am generally too scared of wrapping myself around a tree trunk or flying over the handlebars at speed. Unfortunately, I seem to be pretty good at doing both of these things with alarming frequency. I've suffered a few bruised ribs, but so far nothing serious.

It's been a great weekend on the bike. Yesterday I scaled Bergen Peak above Evergreen, CO. It was a cold start but the steady climbing warmed me up. It was a beautiful ride with great views from the summit. I thought the early start meant that I would have the trail to myself, but I caught 4 riders close to the summit and burned past them on the final steep, loose pull. I passed them still ascending while I was zooming down the singletrack.
View of the Falls

This morning I rode the big loop at Staunton State Park. Annoyingly I arrived at 6.30am to find the park gates locked. I had to wait 30 minutes until the park opened. The trails here are great. Apart from about 2 miles uphill on doubletrack the surface is spectacularly smooth and undulating. The climbing is steady up to the Staunton Falls overlook and, other than a few mud patches, the trail surface was pretty dry. I passed a single hiker in the first half mile and then saw no one except Elk and a herd of giraffe (I lied about the giraffe).
Profile of Lion Rock

The most exceptional part of this trail loop is the long ascent to the rock overlook followed by 5 miles of very fast, twisty singletrack descent. At one point I touched 35 miles an hour, which felt way too fast for me and my abilities. At one point I was going so fast I missed seeing a stream crossing and blasted through it before I realized. I got soaked, but stayed upright and then air dried in the wind as I sped back to the trailhead.
My Specialized Epic World Cup bike - love it!!!

Physically I feel a lot better for mixing up my exercise. The price I am paying is running speed and distance - I can't seem to be able to run as far and I am definitely slower. But I feel in better overall shape, so this is something I am having to live with. With the snow melting in the big mountains and the high level trails opening up, I might revert to some more high level weekend running, but for now, I am really enjoying the bike.
Staunton State Park trip