Chasing the Sun in North Wales

My son and I walked Cadair Idris for the first time in 2019, we couldn’t believe it had taken us so long to do it. The views were amazing, the crowds of Snowden were absent, and the effort to reward was perfect.

Ever since that day I’ve been wanting to ride it.

Life, pandemics, weather, excuses all got in the way. I finally had a weekend free to plan the ride but couldn’t find anyone else to join me. Another solo adventure for me.

I also wanted to ride one of my favourite loops around Pont Scethin again. To see if it was something to add to my guiding, and to get a view without rain, mist, wind.

The last time I rode it was 2 months before the first lockdown as a birthday ride get together with an amazing group of friends. We rode, laughed, got soaked, broke my mech, and had a blast. The long rock/riverbed descent was one of the most fun I’ve ever done. It was literally a flowing river all the way down.

Needless to say, I was looking forward to this, especially if I could catch some sunshine.

DAY 1

I planned on riding Cadair on the Saturday after looking at the weather forecast 25x. Overcast/mist in the morning, clearing to sun by about 11. Perfect for a leisurely pedal up around 9:30.

The sun was out low down when I started, and I was smiling and loving the well ridden bridleway that wound up the back of the mountain. About 3 miles in and up I was getting bored. The bridleway then went through a gate and became single track up the mountain, the gradient increasing and the ruts, holes, rocks increasing. This was more like it. Another 1 to 1.5 of some pretty technical climbing.

Then I hit the mountain rocks properly. More gradient, more concentration, more sweating. I managed to pedal most of this for 1/2 of a mile as I watched the mist move in. I struggled on, determined to get to the top, I was only about 100m of climbing away. Within another 50m I was off of my bike pushing. Eating my chocolate, and wondering exactly where the ledge was with the fantastic views..

I decided at this point, that the rocks were too big, the line choice too difficult, and being alone it just wasn’t wise to carry my bike to the top. I propped it up 50m shy and walked up to say hi to the others walkers at the top staring into the clouds…

After a little chitchat I headed back to my bike, sat down and hoped the clouds would disappear. Within 15 minutes I was too cold to wait, and decided the best option was to slowly pick my way down until the sun came out.

I did get on my bike, and I did ride, but the rocks were massive, the cracks between grabbed my tires more than once, and I ended up laid on my backside a couple of times. Not offs, but those stuck bike moments where you can’t do anything but gently fall over to the side.

This was for about 50-100m then the cloud lifted ever so much, the rocks became visible and smaller and the speed picked up. This was the technical riding I was after. I had to keep reminding myself of the normal, you are on your own, stay in control, but the smile was back on my face.

At this point I am in glorious and the day has taken on a whole other feel. Hitting the techie grass/rutted climb up was fab on the way down, there was even a small diversion off the normal boring bridleway through the bracken and small woodland that was fast and fun.

A leisurely coast down the flat bridleway to the van for lunch was a nice finish.

After eating I sat in the 22 degree sun and thought, what if the weather moves to rain as predicted tomorrow, it would mean Pont Scethin without the views. It was only 2pm, I didn’t have anything else to do but find a place to camp…so I headed in that direction.

DAY 2 = DAY 1 EXTRA

I parked at the midway point for the Pont Scethin ride. It was a great wild camp spot too.

As I got ready, a group of trail bikers came down the path, this route is about half open to them. In the past I don’t think it was an issue, but with 18 months of lockdowns and stay close to home, it had some reprecussions.

The pedal up the first steep climb has always been rutted and tough, but this time it was nothing but hard work. Obviously I was tired from riding Cadair, but I struggled for every pedal stroke. It was a mixture of always having to choose the right line, and fighting to get out of a rut when I didn’t. There was several stops on the way up.

I was looking forward to the long riverbed rocky descent and as I perched at the top of it all I could see were the grooves and channels in the rock bed. Large stones, and relentless line choice again. When I rode in early 2020 the riverbed was flooded and I think that kept the motorbikes out and the rocks moving instead of stuck in grooves. This descent was tough, took a lot of thinking, and I only went about rolling speed.

By the bottom I’d had enough and wished I had waited for another day. I still had half a ride to go, and my chain and mech were playing up from all of the rock hits over my 2 rides. My cheery attitude was nowhere to be found.

It was a relief to the ride the 2 miles of fire road to the last grassy climb and hike a bike over the monolithic road. I wasn’t looking forward to carrying a steel bike up and over, (last time it was carbon).

After struggling up the grassy climb which should have been type-A fun (it wasn’t) I was surprised and please to see I could ride (today push) up the previous hike a bike. The 18 months of extra use had made the path more accessible.

Finally, I was on the last descent, and loose and steep rocky straight down. Back were my inner thoughts of slow, safe, wide stance… It was still fun, and brought my smile back, but I was so ready for the day to be over.

I was so tired at this point, I didn’t even enjoy the views properly, the little rocky waterfalls, the sea behind Barmouth, the quiet of the countryside. Seeing my van again was a relief.

As I changed, had my van shower, made some food and cracked open a beer…

I had a lot of second thoughts about bringing a group here. Both Cadair and Pont Scethin have fantastic riding, but was it enough to compensate for the shear determination needed to get to them?

I think both rides need another recce, possibly with a group of willing friends to get a better perspective.

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