Cairngorms winter challenge

Bikepacking in cold and wintery Glen Tilt

The Trip Report

My plan was to cycle 40 miles through the farmland of Glen Tilt and then through the high mountain pass of the Larig Ghru over a winter weekend to finish in Aviemore. I’ve had this ride in my head for a long time, with the added challenge of full snow cover to make it challenging. Glen Tilt is rather pretty in an estate managed landscape sort of way. The Falls of Tarf mark the start of a narrow deep gorge with slightly nervy riding that leads into an open glen with a stunning view of the Cairngorms. From there the landscape becomes wild and untamed. If the fear of winter grips you then there is an escape into Braemar, else it’s deep into some of best mountain landscape in the world to finish down a stunning singletrack through the ancient Rothiemurcus Forest.
This is probably a two day route unless the snow is hard and frozen. I took the train up Friday night so had Friday and Saturday nights out. So glad I took my snow shovel to help clear the campsites.
First nights camp at the south end of Glen Tilt.
First nights camp at the south end of Glen Tilt.
The approach to Forest Lodge in Glen Tilt went well and oh so lovely.
The approach to Forest Lodge in Glen Tilt went well and oh so lovely.
Glen Tilt, the snow got heavy after Forest Lodge track ended, gulp.
Glen Tilt, the snow got heavy after Forest Lodge track ended, gulp.
Falls of Tarf
Falls of Tarf
The only respite was where herds of deer had created trails.
The only respite was where herds of deer had created trails.
Still smiling.
Still smiling.
Approaching Bynack Lodge, expecting easy track only to find it full of deep soft blown powder. So beautiful though.
Approaching Bynack Lodge, expecting easy track only to find it full of deep soft blown powder. So beautiful though.
After 9 hours and 14miles of pushing and dragging the bike there were 3 frozen rivers to ford just before White Bridge.
After 9 hours and 14miles of pushing and dragging the bike there were 3 frozen rivers to ford just before White Bridge.
Up early after a second nights camp near Geldie Burn
Up early after a second nights camp near Geldie Burn

Sunday and the Larig Ghru, well, I just didn’t have enough time against my route card. I left White Bridge at 07:30 and only got to Luibeg at the mouth of the Ghru at 10:30 (5miles) due to deep wet snow and melt water swollen burns. I probably wouldn’t have hit the summit of the pass at the Pools of Dee till after dark as the locals were saying the Ghru was bad with deep snow. Which would potentially have meant another night out which wasn’t on my route card and there was no way to contact my wife who was looking after my route card, and I was due back at work Monday. So, it was back off, for a £100 taxi ride to Perth, ugh! Bad planning on my part ultimately.

Game over!
Game over!

The Gear

I’m working on a proper kit list to publish soon. In particular on this trip I was trying out using my Hilleberg Enan tent with fly and foot print only to reduce condensation. Which it did, much less condensation. I also took a snow shovel to help clear campsites so I wasn’t spending the night trying to warm snow. And I also took two sleeping mats as I had read it was much warmer. Which it was.
I also experimented with different tyre pressures. From my usual 7-8psi down to nearly flat. I still didn’t get much float over the snow as it was so deep and soft. I also realised that pedalling in snow is hard thirsty work, going through over 3L of water during the ride and finding my Buffalo pile jacket to be way too warm, check out the t-shirt in one of the above photos. A thin top, warm gloves, full length tights and a buff were often enough clothing to keep me warm and not sweating cobs despite the snow!

The Route

My strava routes for the weekend. The last one is incorrect as I forgot to stop the tracking before getting in the taxi!
 
Mike McFarlane
Edinburgh Scotland United Kingdom

Evening Ride

13/1/2017
Mike McFarlane
Edinburgh Scotland United Kingdom

Morning Ride

14/1/2017
Mike McFarlane
Edinburgh Scotland United Kingdom

Morning Ride

15/1/2017

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