Cycling and Hillwalking!

Many club members - perhaps a majority - enjoy cycling in some shape or form. Long Scottish summer days allow evening cycling, and the club currently organises two Tuesday evening runs, mostly along local cycle paths and quiet roads. Other cycle trips are less formally arranged within the club cycling fraternity.

Cycling complements hillwalking in many ways - read on for a taster from Donald Smith:

Mountain biking makes big long walks enjoyable

When it comes to hill walking some hills sit well away from the road.  While I tend to be ok with long walks in I tend to hate the long walks back out.  As a result I like using a mountain bike to cover distances whenever possible.

Numerous walks lend themselves to the use of bikes.  A lot of the time the cycle in isn’t greatly enhanced by the fact that you’re going up hill.  However the cycle out can be sheer bliss when you can take the weight off your feet and freewheel.

Cycling also allows you to contemplate longer routes while keeping to daylight hours such as 50 kilometre route in Cairngorms. A number of munro routes that a mountain bike can be used on to good effect are:

  • The Cairngorms when accessed from Linn of Dee
  • Carn an Fhidhlair and An Sgarsoch from Glen Feshie
  • Beinn a’ Bhuird and Ben Avon from Tomintoul
  • Hills west of Glenshee from Inverey
  • Glen Affric hostel & hills from Cannich
  • Ben Alder and others via Culra Bothy from Dalwhinnie
  • Seanna Bhraigh from Oykel Bridge
  • Beinn Dearg near Blair Atholl
  • Carn a’ Chalamain near Blair Atholl
  • Maile Lunndaidh & other hills from Craig
  • Lurg Mhor from Attadale
  • Ben Lui from Dalrigh
  • Beinn Bhuidhe from at Loch Fyne
  • Beinn Mhanach from Auch
  • Gulvain

A bike can help on a number of linear routes as well such as where you can cycle on roads back to where you’ve parked your car:

  • South Glen Shiel Ridge
  • Five Sisters of Kintail
  • Ben Lawers Range
  • Strathfarrar Hills

Hillwalking fitness can boost cycling fitness

A couple of years back I participated in a four day sponsored cycle from Inverness to Erskine.  We followed the Sustrans route down through Pitlochry etc. which has a good number of unsurfaced roads sections so mountain bikes were the order of the day.  The daily mileage varied from about 48 to 74 miles per day.

When I met up with the team of guys I was to do the ride with I was worried.  Most of them had been training for the event and had done rides of 50+ miles in the run up to the event.  I had done two ten miles rides as my preparation.  However I’d just come from a winter walking season so my basic fitness levels were reasonably high.

When the event started it quickly became apparent that I was actually the fittest in the group.  The hilly roads proved quite a challenge for most of the group and their endurance flagged as the days went on.  By the end of the 4th day I was the only one disappointed that the event was over.  My team mates’ training on flat roads hadn’t prepared them fully for the challenge.  Winter hill walking had given me a level of general fitness and stamina that allowed me to transfer my efforts to cycling.

In addition the 4 days of cycling honed my cycling muscles and meant that any cycling undertaken to get to munros for the next couple of months was a delight.

This cycling lark is too hard, or is it?

I hadn’t really done any cycling in earnest for about 10 years when I decide to use my mountain bike to help me climb Cairn Toul and a couple of other munros in the Cairngorms.  The book advised that it was about a twelve hour day so using a bike would hopefully reduce the time significantly.

I headed off from Linn of Dee onto the unsurfaced road to Derry Lodge.  Despite the fact that I was going along at or below walking speed I was at my limit.  I couldn’t believe how hard I was finding it as I kept thinking to myself “I thought you used to be good at this cycling malarkey”.  What I wasn’t really taking into account was the fact that I was actually climbing uphill into a gale force wind!

I finally reached Derry Lodge and reverted to walking.  Three Munros later I was back at my bike.  The ride back was nothing short of thrilling.  Due to the fact that it was downhill and the tailwind was so strong there was no need to peddle.  Even without peddling I had to use my brakes a fair bit because of the speed.  

All my earlier doubts about why I’d attempted to cycle evaporated as my poor feet were saved the misery of the long trudge out.  Spent 10½ hours walking and cycling so the bike looked to have saved me about an hour and a half on the book time for the route.  Confirmed to me that using a bike made sense when there were rideable tracks so I was back doing the same again the next day on a route that took me 10 hours.

Cycling fitness can boost hillwalking opportunities

A couple of years back I planned to tackle Carn an Fhidhlair and An Sgarsoch from a house we were staying in at Glen Feshie.  The friends I was staying with had climbed these hills over two days, camping out to deal with the distance involved.  I planned to tackle the 50 kilometres in a single day so a mountain bike seemed a must.

The first, and therefore last, few kilometres were on road before I had to revert to unsurfaced roads and tracks.  The unsurfaced section looked pretty daunting at times but surprisingly I was able to ride up every hill I came to.  I put this strength down to the 4 days of serious cycling I’d done earlier in the month.  

After a time I was at the end of the rideable section of the route.  Abandoning the bike it was now down to walking.  Despite the fact that I’d covered a fair distance by bike there was still a significant amount of walking to be done.   When I finally got back to my bike in the late afternoon I was a spent force.  However once back on the bike I felt that I was getting some respite.

The closer I got to the surfaced roads the better I felt.  My friends were considering coming out to pick me up in their car.  But this would have spoiled the whole day for me. Charging down Glen Feshie with a tailwind having completed a big day out in the Cairngorms was a great feeling.  My friends were just about to sit down to dinner when I arrived back.  Great timing and a great day.

Mixing it up.

A week or more serious hill walking can be an arduous undertaking for anyone.  However a lot of us still want to remain active on any ‘rest’ days.  A great option is mountain biking.  A couple of years back I spent a week staying near Cannich at Easter.  The hills were still covered in snow.  We managed to climb the Strathfarrar hills but were repelled by the conditions on the hills around Loch Mullardoch. nbsp; 

In the glens the weather wasn’t too bad.  We found that there were numerous forestry and single track roads in the area near Glen Affric that allowed for exploration in stunning scenery.  When we couldn’t get on the hills or we were taking it easy from a previous big day out we took to our bikes.  The scenery was stunning, the exercise eased stiff muscles and the roaring fire at the end of the day was appreciated even more.

Road bikes and a bit of off roading.

Some years back I did a short 4 day cycle tour of the highlands.  We were wild camping so had to carry all our gear with us.  We managed to get a lift to Newtonmore and then cycled over to Invergarry via Laggan and Spean Bridge.

We had planned to camp next to Loch Garry for two nights so on the second day we were free of our heavy load.  We cycled out west to Kinloch Hourn where the road comes to an end.  We then headed off uphill into the wilds with our bikes briefly on our shoulders.  We followed tracks in the Glens which brought us out near Glenelg.  Now back on tarmac our next challenge was the long climb of the Mam Ratagan.

Having slogged up the climb we breasted the crest in bright summer sunshine.  It was my first time over this road and to say it took my breath away is no exaggeration.  The descent was like something out of a Pyrenean stage of the Tour de France.  The views over to the Five Sisters of Kintail and Glen Affric beyond were absolutely stunning.

Our return to camp via a stop off at the Cluanie Inn was a nice round off to the day but the memory of the wild glens between Kinloch Hourn and Glenelg and, the views across Kintail from the top of the Mam Ratagan probably make this my favourite cycle touring memory.

The Scottish country side can be inspiring.

Bored one day at work I stupidly suggested to colleagues that we participate in an up and coming sponsored cycle. The event had 3 levels of participation. 82 miles, 65 miles and 54 miles, with about 35 miles of the route being off road. So steep jarring descents and a river crossing were on offer.

The route stated in Kenmore and headed round Loch Rannoch before going off road over a hill pass to Glen Lyon. The route then went up to the head of Glen Lyon before another lengthy off road section round Loch Lyon. The final leg was over a tarmac climb before descending down to towards the finish in Killin.

The level of fitness and experience within the assembled group was low to say the least. So we arranged a few training sessions shortly before the event. This was a big wake up call for most of the team but everyone seemed determined to complete their chosen distance. I was organising our participation in the event and our training. As a result my own training opportunities were curtailed as I had to base it round the weaker members of the team. As a result I was apprehensive about how I’d personally cope on the day. 

It was one of the hardest days out that I’d had in a while. However the sun shone, the scenery was magnificent and I completely the 82 miles in a respectable time. The fact that I’d been hill walking up to shortly before the event probably meant that I was better able to cope with the challenge given the restricted on bike training. 

The individual in the team who had emerged as a weak link on the first training run did themselves proud on the day. Not only did he knuckle down to his training but he completed his 65 miles challenge despite the fact that he was cursing me all the way round Loch Lyon for getting him involved in the first place. It was one of the hardest things he’d ever done and he had tears of joy in his eyes when he crossed the finish line. But it couldn’t have been all bad as he is now a convert to cycling and is saving up his pennies to buy a better bike! I believe the stunning setting of the event contributed a lot to his sense of achievement and enjoyment. 

Cycling can have its challenges.

Much to my embarrassment the mountain rescue team was once called out on my behalf. It was over 25 years ago and I was a lot younger and more adventurous. Thing was I was actually out cycling at the time. 

We were camping out between Arisaig and Lochailort and decided on a cycle route that involved a section along Loch Morar where there were no roads or even tracks. We’d spoken to a shepherd the day before and he advised that if we stayed to high ground we’d be ok. I think he meant the top of the ridge but we didn’t understand that at the time.

It was June and the usual Scottish weather of strong wind and driving rain meant that we had a later than hoped start due to our deliberation as to whether we should attempt the route or not. Three of us began by cycling back in to Corpach before heading up and along Loch Arkaig. When the road ran out we cycled on tracks. We stopped off at A’Chuil bothy for a look around and wrote an entry in the log book there. This proved useful as the mountain rescue team read the entry and had a better idea of where we were. 

We carried on until we ran out of tracks and then the bikes were on the shoulder. We hit the end of Loch Morar in the early evening. We attempted the north shore of Loch Morar but the going was much harder than we had expected. Climbing down gullies in the wet passing bikes between us was not the safest of options. As the light faded and the rain fell we realised that we were in danger of falling and seriously injuring ourselves. A night out in the open would probably have resulted in us suffering from exposure. So we abandoned the bikes and retraced our steps back for about 3 kilometres to a shed we’d seen near the top of the loch. It consisted of four walls and a tin roof. We managed to get a fire going in the shed despite the fact that there was no chimney.

When we awoke we headed back for the bikes. With daylight we were able to complete the remaining challenging section and as we hit the road for the final cycle out a couple of member of the mountain rescue services met us. They’d been called that morning when we were reported late back. They’d come up the loch in a boat and spotted us on the hillside. They was no lecture from them as we’d obviously been capable of looking after ourselves as we hadn’t actually needed assistance. They offered us one place on their small boat and two mars bars. I chose a mars bar. Think it was the best choice as we heard later that it was rather cold sitting on the boat doing nothing.

Donald Smith