Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Saturday to Monday on the Old Ghost Road

So...  Nelson and me drove up to Reefton on Friday night, staying in a cabin at the campground.  Headed off Saturday morning and rolled into Westport around 9 where we got breakfast at the PortSide (which was really good), and waited for Ken and Ross to turn up.  They were driving from Murchison and had gotten in there from the ferry really late, so had a late start.  They arrived quarter to eleven or so and ate, so we were off to a pretty late start.  Up to Seddonville to drop off Ken's truck, all piled into the Stagea and scraped the muffler along the gravel exit back to the sealed road.  Eventually got round to Lyell, and it was raining.

Doesn't look that wet, but here's the likely lads, clean before departure.

Hit the trail just after 3 and Nelson set a bloody stupid pace, which had us all huffing and chuffing, so I complained and got in front, and proceeded to set a pretty similar pace, concerned that I was holding them all up...  so, Ken got in front and slowed us riiiiight down, to granny + 1 kinda speed, and it was good.  Breathing eased, and we made slow but steady progress, with scope for more in the future.  Pretty wet, but not so bad, trail was firmer (more gravel applied) than I remembered from the previous time climbing this bit... The slips (about 10kms) were where we'd gotten to last time, and were a lot more rideable than they'd looked then.  Met a couple of guys riding down, not too much gear, who asked where we were staying, and when we told them, said, cryptically, "you're in for a treat."  My thoughts were, hut full of hot grrrls or hut full of drunken d!cks...  Kept the smooth pace from here up til about the 14km mark when it sort of leveled out and Ken picked up the pace til we were rocking along and those km markers just flew by.  All of a sudden, there's the sign for the hut!  Pushed up the little grunt to this and got settled in for the evening, rain steadily coming and going, not very much view to be had.  2 hours 40 mins from starting.

Our sleepout (the deep dark back one (Zala) was good, but noisy with the big drips slamming down from the trees above.  There were a young couple camping next to us, 2 older riders in the Gibbs hut, and the aforementioned 'treat'?  11 older (60's/70's) women walkers in the main hut, plus Rob the guy building steps for the toilets (sleeping in one of the dunnies cos there were no free beds!). 

Next morning took our time cos it looked like it was clearing, but then it kept raining, getting away about 10.15, or was that 11.15?  Anyway, the couple on bikes had left about 40 minutes before us and we caught them after about 15, so they must have been going pretty slow.  They were struggling with the 'technicality' of the terrain, and they weren't used to riding full suss bikes (on rentals).  Anyway, we trundled on and overtook the odd one or two of the walking old ladies too.  Met 4 other riders coming the other way around when we hit the open country.  And the going got more interesting, and more downwards through the top section.  Lots of exposure, lots of wetness, cloud and howling wind.  I recall some rapid sections, ragged edge corners, and a LOT of water pouring out of moss or in creekbeds.  Overtook 3 of the walking ladies in here, with very little view to be had. On the descent through the bush before the hut we passed one of the Ghost Road Gurus, 'Stacky', walking the other way.  On down to the hut and we found a couple of touring bikes parked here.  Made some lunch, got warm, even saw some sunshine, before rain returned and backed off a bit too. The frenchies with the touring bikes set off ahead of us and we watched them walk them up the steep bit after the lake.

Re-donned wet clothes and got riding again.  Technical terrain starts immediately after the funky boardwalk through the little bit of forest before the lake, then steep climb briefly and over to the steep corners descents.  Good blast down these, me dabbing an inside foot on most of them, not quite game to let my weighted bike get the better of me.  This is us on the way down, somewhere, below Old Ghost Hut.
Somehow I got out in front, the boys were faffing with Ken's bag on his rack, and had the twisty techy rooty rocky descent through the scrobbleforest to myself.  This was the most techy and fun part of the whole trail so far.  I waited for the others on the chopperpad (the Anvil) and they rolled in.  It was here we spotted the cliff below the corners.  wow!  Then Ken led the way down to the start of the climb for Skyline.  I dropped back a bit and tail-end-Charlie'd it on the climb, getting a bit knackered, and struggling, but nearly cleaned it all.  Nelson fell on his elbow ahead of me, and was in a lot of pain from there on down.  We caught the others and blazed on down the Skyline Ridge to the top of the steps, loving the twists and turns and the view was starting to improve too, with bits of sunshine gaining traction on the hills beyond. Various techniques down the steps - i did a little on it's back wheel, some carrying, but mostly just walking it beside me, it held back quite well on the brakes.  Sore arms by the time we got to the bottom, where we found the frenchies on the touring bikes.

Best flow section award goes to this next section.  From the bottom of the steps to Stern hut was fantastic.  So much fun, swooping back and forth, amazing landscapes, from slips to big scarpy crazy lifted sedimentary mixed rock to mossy goblin forest to tall beech and roaring creekside flow.  Wonderful.  Arrived at the hut and the sun came out so we hung stuff out to dry.  It rained again, but it was no bother, we then started using the hut heat for drying.  Another totally full hut, with older walkers again, and the frenchies (young guy who'd ridden overland to NZ from France... and his mate).  From Lyell, to Lyell Saddle Hut, then on to Stern Hut, 39.7 kms, 1972 m of climbing, and somewhere just over 4 hours 30 mins riding (it failed to autopause, which is why I stupidly paused it at Stern, assuming it would restart the next day.  But then  neglected to 'Resume' it the next morning, thinking it would just pick it up our moving... which i think is what it did, but not the gps bit...  the 7 hours total on it must be the whole shabang).

Next day, woke up after terrible sleep, and it was fine weather, tho low cloud that proceeded to burn off a bit as we rode.  8.30 start, cos the two Wellington boys had to make the ferry that night.  So, off out, steady but easy pace, passing the walkers, and climbing up the Boneyard I was gasping (from the lack of sleep), but once above this was good going.  We met a goat.  Young black billy, he was cute, but weren't really sure what his intentions were and he wouldn't let us pass.  Then the other 3 got past and he bailed me for a minute, putting them out of reach.  I chased but barely ever saw Ross's red arms.  We hauled arse all the way.  Stopped for sugar when we made the Mokihinui.  A chopper was flying over with a bundle of timber underneath when we crossed the big swingbridge, and we heard it several more times later.  Long section down the river, a few ups and downs, and then the Forks Hut, and into the gorge, spectacular country all around.  Specimen Hut we stopped for snacks and helmets off, then I set off ahead on my own, Ross not far behind, and we proceeded to clean up many kms down the gorge.  Met a couple of workers on motorbikes coming up the gorge, tight passing them, flowy descents and grunty climbs.  Finally, maybe 6 kms from the end we stopped for a rest the top of a rise with a nice view and within a few minutes the other two boys turned up.  Not far now, we blasted on me getting more lagged and slow, til the out the gate and along the 4wd section, I could barely climb that last climb before the turn onto the last km of singletrack...  But, in here I caught Ken up, he was starting to lag too.  Ross Strava'd this day's ride - it was 42.1kms, over 720m climbing and we did it in 3 hrs 45 mins (3.03 hours riding time).

And we rolled out to the car and celebrated with a cold swim in the river.  Great for the legs. Then, into the car, googling to see how much time they had to make the ferry, allowing us to have lunch in Westport, then up to Lyell to split the gear and go our separate ways.  Nelson and me made it back to Amberly about 6.15pm, where I had the Fiat waiting, and was home around 7.  perfect.

My tallies then.  2700m of climb, 83 or so kms, all done in around 7 and a half hours total of riding.

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