Saturday, July 10, 2010

Week 4 - Snow glorious snow

Wind carved snow on a Patagonian mountain

The word of the past week here at Lake Disierto, Chile was snow. The week began with a light sprinkling of the fluffy stuff but built day by day in a crescendo of flaky flurries to the solid metre of depth that surrounds us today. As I write this now, snow it is still falling in hearty quantities but we have been spared the indignity of digging trails in it again after 6 days straight.

Terromoto cools off after the ride up the hill

Given the bad habit I have of lapsing into surliness when I don’t manage to get out for a bike ride, I was determined to ride up the hill each day, picking a path through the snow, attempting to eek every last bit of traction out of the slippery trails. Leaving it in the biggie and slogging it out singlespeed-style was a surprisingly effective technique for the conditions. This approach reduced the wheel accelerations that caused breaks in traction and in the worst of cases a knee/stem disagreement.

Snow clogged drivetrain on a Hope Snow 2 hub

The latter part of the climb here was on the techy side on the gnarlometer and had been dubbed ‘Gay Valley’ by the predominantly downhilling boys who built the trail. As a dedicated follower of the technical climb I love the challenge each morning but with snow depths growing into the meter range the boundaries of rideability are starting to be stretched.

Building trails in the snow also raises some interesting challenges. A blanket of snow makes it difficult to distinguish what lies beneath. It becomes a hit and miss affair as to whether a steep rocky slab or a slope of grassed soil lies beneath . The former could lead to an unrideable slipfest while the latter is what we are after, and is the starting point for the flowing trails that we know and love.

Another challenge is the extra labour that is required to strip the covered slopes of their snowy blanket, hopefully hitting (pay)dirt and not rock beneath. However our crew has mastered the steps to created benched singletrack perfection.

First step is to strip back the snow with a spade, revealing the soil beneath:

Next the top layer of topsoil and vegetation is scraped off with a pick:

Finally a spade/pick combination is used to dig the bench to a flat track at least a spade wide, with spoil scattered clear down slope. The bench is matched to the next person's down the line. Emil cowers in a particularly nasty snow flurry: 

Our team has taken all this in our strides, and this past week have managed to push on with 750 metres of new track. A few sections traversing waterfalls have been deemed unbuildable, let alone ridable, with sheer ten metre drops below making them a risky proposition. While the opportunity to deploy intricate bridges and or mining explosives is an exciting one, we have concluded that some sections will just require a hike-a-bike and are awaiting a rock drill to allow us to install handrails over the trickier sections.

Jake with completed trail in the background

In time when the weather decides to warm up a smidge we'll be treated to more buildable terrain, ableit with a transition period of sloppy snow and soil as the snow melts to liquid and flows to the river below. We are truly experiencing winter in its full Patagionian force. It is an experience that will help me value to relatively warm climes of my usual home, sunny Christchurch!

Mountain Pedaler out...

No comments: