|Ollie readies himself for the Cass saddle descent.|
Both Michi and I had heard tales of the steep descents and long valley flats, and with estimates for the round trip being made at around 9 hours it was never going to be a short ride.
While the gale force winds and rain forecast in the preceding week cast a shadow over the weekend plans, when Saturday dawned clear and fine it was Michi who made the call. Hastily assembling tents, snacks and all manner of ancillary items that our car camping approach allowed.
The plan was to ride Cragieburn Saturday, camp the night then mount a full blown assault on the Cass on Sunday morning.
Some trail newbies joined our Cragie’ jaunt, and despite the inevitable complaints about steepness and roughness on the ascent, it proved to be just these things that left them grinning on the descent. With the first loop out of the way, Josh, Michi and I set about a second climb to Camp saddle with the final hike to the highest point justly rewarded with some spectacular vistas.
|Michi armors up|
This was only my second ride on the El Chucho, Ventana’s unique approach to a trail riding weapon. Designed as a 69er, the big contact patch of 29 inch front tire seemed to float over the unstable scree, while firmly locked and skidding on the edge of control, the 26 inch rear wheel sunk deep into the scree and slackened the harrowing slope by a precious few degrees.
As if to test one’s bravado, the rocks on the slope grow bigger and bigger as you approach the end, till the final 20 metre stretch where they form a full blown rock garden that could surely become the pictorial definition for ‘nuggety’.
Blasting down the track for the second time, we arrived back at the tents and scooted down the road to bathe in the cooling eddies of Cave Stream, making it through the treacherous caverns with no cases of denim induced hypothermia.
In true townie camping style, dinner was at the Bealey Hotel, where a monstrous plate of vegetable curry and venison pot pies were washed down with ice-cream sundaes (complete with nuts). Hasty preparation had left me floundering for snack options for our mission the next day, but the Bealey came to the rescue with an impressive lunch box containing a coleslaw and ham sandwich, some caramel slice, a juice box, apple and a slice of bacon and egg pie. It proved to be a seemingly endless source of delicious treats during the next days ardours, and a source of green eyed jealousy from my ride companions. Unfortunately I had to dispense with the box itself, but managed to squeeze the entire degustation into my Cactus Zero in such a way that I wasn’t left with a sandwich/pie/slice hybrid after the bike-across-the-back carry, of which there would be plenty!
Waking the next day to the tune of native fauna dropping some beats, we hastily packed up camp and headed to the trail head at Cass River, beginning with a river bed ride punctuated by dashes across the flow where the gorge narrowed. Once into the forest the track climbed steeply, but the bone dry beech surface made the odd rooty pinch surprisingly rideable, except in a few extreme cases. Out into the open past the Cass hut, tussock was reclaiming the narrow bench, also providing surreptitious cover for a wheel stopping rocks which proved too much even for the sheer rollability of the 29 inch tire.
From Cass saddle to Hamilton hut we were rewarded for our early labour. Insanely steep and criss crossed by thick mats of off-camber roots, we were thankful of the dry conditions as were struggling to stay on line and away from rapidly approaching trees as we shredded down the valley floor. Gradually leveling off we eked round switchbacks, which were again laden with roots. As the trail mellowed with lower altitudes the flow took hold, pumping rises and drifting the back wheel around turns. Again I was impressed by the 69er. Plenty of travel in the back to smooth out the big hits (of which there were plenty), but the drifting situation was where it came alive. With a front wheel so planted and secure, I could unweight the back and get it rowdy through corners with an ease and confidence I’d never felt on a 26” trail bike. Concerns over a threading the longer footprint through switchbacks were unfounded, and as we shredded down to the hut I was approaching a stoke double whammy, with bike stoke joining trail stoke for an off the charts reading.
|Ollie guardedly tucks into his B&E pie|
|Atop the saddle and ready to shred|
|Josh the roadie hooks into one of many sandwiches|
|Sequence on a particularly sick section of trail|
|View from the top of the Bealey to the Waimakariri|
A truly epic adventure and one that will be difficult to trump, even with the swath of mountain routes that we are fortunate enough to have surrounding us.
Mountain Pedaler out…