Semi-organised by workmate Paul, I picked him up and we careened out of town at about 11am, in pouring rain, to Sheffield where we met Nelson, who followed us to Springfield where we met up with Derek and Babs in the Yello Shack Cafe (very nice service, and good coffee and according to Paul, better pie than Sheffield). Rain was sort of easing out here, but was still in evidence as we ploughed our ways over Porter's, where the sun shone on Lake Lyndon and most of the valley. Wasn't looking so good up towards Helicopter Hill tho, so we pulled into Castle Hill Village as planned and discussed our options. Figured best option would be to head into the Hogs Back from here to see what we would see. Gave us the option to turn around at any time, and it sure looked wet further up the valley.
So, off up the road then into the trail, carefully ignoring the 'Closed for winter' sign, "It's spring now, anyway, so the sign's out of date" remarked Nelson... Rather greasy and roots slippery, but not that bad, we rode up, all of us feeling the pinches. Babs did incredibly well considering her slick rear tire, and Paul struggled having never ridden mtnbikes up hills. Some adjustments and tips by Nelson and he was better further up, but still walked a fair bit of that climb near the top of the trees. Once out on the top the view up valley suggested we'd made the right decision, with our planned route in view and out of the weather, vs Helicopter Hill and Lyndon Saddle being completely obscured by what looked like snow falling. On up the ridge, the strugglers finding this easier, then into the first downhill, where they were exposed to Nelson and my concept of not actually using brakes... Awesome wee blast down this track then across the big flattish valley crossing the stream beds, and back climbing to the forest edge. Regroup and off down across the stream crossing, and climbing again, small scrapple / graupel falling (wanna-be hail, but too light, falling more like snow) bouncing off our jackets (not wetting). Clamber clamber clamber then across and some mucky bits and climbing up to the bridge. Here, Paul was concerned about his knee, took this photo and then turned back while the rest of us continued the climb with the rain starting to get through a bit, and less of the haily-snow.
Finally into the last forest section and climbing around and out to the bottom of the moonscape section, Nelson hit the first of the corners and here we decided it was too mucky to continue.
Turned around and the fun began. Bloody glad I was wearing my jacket and GE leggings... Roots were slick, but manageable, and was lots of fun. Met Derek and Babs in the forest here, where they turned around to follow us. Nelson and me bombed it away and down and through and back over the bridge and then down the open section and into another rooty forest where we pulled up and waited a while for the other two. They were almost clean, vs Nelson and me head to toe splatter - difference a bit of speed makes. Rolled on around and through and then stream crossing and grindy climb out and up. Could see Paul now, across the valley on the final climb so we chased. Eventually finding him at the big dead tree where we regrouped again and awaited the others. They came into sight and we watched as they crossed the landscape.
Here's us sitting there, me hanging my head in shame at the state of my clothing...
Final little climb from the tree, and off down the ridge, floaty flow and a final regroup before entering the forest. Then off. Careful speed into the woods, sketchy mud and slippery roots, both of us kept our speed down from the usual rocketship ride, but was still pretty good. Seemed like no time and we were at the bottom, cruising down that paddock singletrack and into the houses, a lap of the pump track and to the cars.
Only 12 kms, and a meagre 361 gained and lost... but muck and the altitude and the lack of recent riding made it seem a bit bigger.