Sunday, 6 December 2009

Chop Gate: Canyoning

Canyoning. Apparently that's the technical term for the sport of running up and down waterfalls. We did better that on Sunday, we turned it into a triathalon; a bit of running, a bit of cycling and (almost) a bit of swimming, all of it in the waterfalls that the trails on the moors had become.

The BBC had promised us a sunny, cloudless day after heavy overnight rain, so we optimistically bore that in mind as we set off in the drizzle that still persisted. Leaving Chop Gate we headed straight up the bridleway to Medd Crag, the first of many hike-a-bikes that we'd be doing today. It's a hard enough climb when it's dry, it was impossible in the wet.

At the top we turn south along the ancient earthworks before dropping down the fast and furious descent into Tripsdale. I'd already wondered what the crossing would be like and I soon got my answer. The usual trickle of a beck had become a fully fledged river and it was almost impossible to spot the shallow way across. The first five of us walked it, treading carefully, hoping not to get washed down stream by the torrent. Neil, Eston-bred mountain man that he is, decided to ride it and came across totally unscathed and with dry feet, and made us all think "wish I'd done that".

So back up the other side of Tripsdale, up the never-ending zig-zags, another tough but easily achievable climb made impossible by the slippery conditions. Hike-a-bike number 2, we'd come about 4 miles in 80 minutes. At least the sun is out at last.

The speed picked up a bit after that as we crossed the open moor, and thankfully Hodge Beck was still just a beck and in no time we were at at the descent of Jackson's Bank, the second 4 miles had taken "only" 40 minutes. The drop down Jackson's Bank is a delight, the fact that it was now a river of mud didn't really take anything away from that. The fact that my rear brake stopped working did though! A quick examination revealed that after less than 130 miles of riding my pads had completely worn out. Thankfully I'd ordered spares on Thursday. Unthankfully they hadn't arrived yet. The second half of Jackson's Bank (and the rest of the ride) was done with careful modulation of the front brake only - in this slippery stuff the last thing you want is to have to jam on the front brake to try to stop.

Left through Greenhow Plantation we eventually emerged at Clay Bank car park, something that usually signals the end of the ride, but this time it was just the half way mark. Across the road into Broughton Plantation and we're into hike-a-bike number 3. This one is a real bastard, and once again I'm taking issue with horse riders who insist on going out in stupid conditions and churning up trails. We plodged our way uphill through a mire of mud pockmarked with horseshoe sized holes full of water.

100 vertical meters later and we're back onto rideable stuff, eventually bringing us out at the two stone pillars on the Cleveland Way.

Good to see that these have been repaired after one of them was somehow demolished a few months back. The steep little down and up across Trows Beck is always fun, and something we all always do, but today the mud was making some think twice. Neil was thinking the combination of mud, loose stones and £10 tyres was a sure fire way to A&E, but he gritted his teeth and went for it and once again came up smiling. Sam just made it look plain easy.

At this point Howard's brakes also decided they'd had enough. Luckily for him though he did have spares! "Avid Juicy, the brake pads you can change with just the tools that God gave you - your fingers". So Howard begins by removing the brake calipers, cos that's the only way you can actually get the pads out, which rather makes a monkey of that slogan of theirs. And you try pushing the pistons back in with "just the tools God gave you". Still, he has the whole job done in under five minutes and I'm rather impressed.

So on we go, on to the aptly named Cold Moor (though today they're all bloody cold!) via the tough switchback climb from the farm at Beak Hills. Usually we can clean this as far as the final 100m or so, today loose ground, running water and chain-suck mean it's hike-a-bike number 4, really one hike-a-bike too many. To top it all it's hailing and blowing a gale now too. Thanks BBC.

We're all just looking forward to the end of the ride now, and what a good end it is. The drop off Cold Moor to Chop Gate is one of the best there is, and just like at Jackson's Bank the river that it has become does nothing to spoil the fun. Some lines are harder to spot because they're under water, some are easier because you just "go with the flow", literally. We all end the ride soaked, tired, as muddy as hell and beaming from ear to ear.

All the pushing has given us our slowest ride time "since records began" (the end of September), a stupendous 3.78mph. Really, we could have walked it quicker. Oh hold on, we did walk half of it!

Chop Gate, Urra Moor, Cold Moor: 15.1 miles, 2800ft, 4 hours dead.

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