Over the weekend I had the pleasure of mountain bike guiding Alun, Paul and Jonny from Yorkshire in and around the Torridon area. With the weather proving to be somewhat ‘challenging’ this summer I had to do some local rece rides prior to their arrival and consider our choice of routes carefully for safety, enjoyment and the trails.
Despite being an ‘out and back’ the 32 kilometers and 645 meters up/down of the Kenmore-Applecross track is a fantastic introduction to the area. On the ascent you pretty soon get to grips with the terrain and warm up with the climb. After passing Meall Dearg the views over the lochs and hills southwards give a more remote feel. The guys were well armed with SPDs and some nifty carbon bikes from Scott and KTM so it did not take long to swoop down to the top of the river gorge by Meall Arachaidh. This is an exposed section but good skills and bike handling took us all down quickly to The Applecross Inn for some shelter and refreshment. The banter with Alun, Paul and Jonny was flowing well by now so I knew it was going to be an enjoyable three days. After a wee bit of carrying/pushing above the gorge it was time for the main event – the descent to Kenmore. This descent of 4 or 5 kms. never fails to put a smile on your face… unless you are trying to look for the camera you dropped on the way up! By the way, it was quite wet and windy.
Day two promised a better forecast so the logistics were put in place to do The Classic Torridon Loop but avoid riding along the road from The Torridon Inn to Coulin Estate road end. We were treated to sunny weather on the approach and climb up to the summit of the Coulin Pass at 286m. At the summit we discussed the implications of embarking on more remote and committing rides such as this one. Emergency procedures, basic first aid, navigation and communications were considered and we all had our chance to share our experiences here… little did we know. Next the warp-speed descent on fire roads to Achnashellach Train Station, followed by some ‘off-road’ on road cycling on the Lochcarron to Achnasheen road. Surely something has to be done soon about the state of the roads in the Highlands? Soon the guys were getting stuck into the technical climb from Coulags to Coire Fionnaraich bothy; we got to the bothy in good time but as forecast the weather started to close in from the south. For most of the climb from the bothy to just below The Bealach na Lice we appeared to be getting watched by a Coastguard S-92 rescue helicopter. By this time I was in ‘guide from the back’ mode and started to think ‘Why is the helicopter here circling us?’ It was Torridon Mountain Rescue Team training today and I knew that our Team Leader had arranged for some helicopter training. Surely the Coastguard had not agreed on a joyride to watch Jim trying to keep up with his clients? The other worry was that my SPOT device had gone off and they were looking for me! By the time we got to the bealach it was clear that it was an actual rescue and I ended up assisting with the winching of the stretcher whilst the lads took selfies of the helicopter or tried to stop their carbon bikes getting blown away. Once I’d established that everything was fine with the companions of the casualty we finished our climb to the bealach. Now for what I call the ‘Magic Carpet to Annat’: rocky corners, steepness, rocks, drops, stunning scenery, rocks, exposed slabs of Torridonian Sandstone just made for biking over, more steepness, rocks and technical problems to work out in a blink of an eye. Four hundred meters of descent in six kilometres; Alun, Paul and Jonny all said that this was one of the most enjoyable descents and rides they had done. We barely noticed that the rain had come on because we were all so engrossed in this fantastic finale to the ride of 35 kilometers and 752 meters of descent right back to The Torridon Inn
For the third day I suggested a wee blast in the woods at Flowerdale. This meant that the guys got to see a bit more of the other surrounding areas and were able to visit The Steading for a great lunch. By now everyone’s appetite for riding in the rain had almost been satisfied so instead of riding up to do ‘The Old Road’ descent we headed straight to Flowerdale Estate where we did ‘The Waterfall Descent’ & ‘The Muddy Track’. Jonny enjoyed the wee surprise drop off and Alun agreed that it was a muddy track. Paul as usual just quietly got on with it. We finished with a few dizzy laps of the trails above the old ice shed before finally stopping at the river where the bikes go a well deserved wash.
From start to finish it was great fun being a guide for Alun, Paul and Jonny. I wish them well on their future adventures!
blog by Jim Sutherland, nineonesix-guiding