Tuesday, 29 November 2016

Bikepacking in Morocco - Toubkal National Park

I went to Morocco in the company of my friend, Robin, with mountain bikes strapped up with gear. We set out from Marrakesh and rode, pushed and stumblefucked our way through a haphazard route through Toubkal National Park. The total distance was a mighty 143.2 km or 88.9 miles. That's a mighty 18 miles a day. Stumblefuckery ain't quick.

Big thanks to Shona from Keep Pedalling for all her encouragement and advice. If you are starting to step out on the bike, they are an awesome starting point.

Some vidya - not remotely in order of actual events.


The better photos are Robin's, as are the photospheres. Turns out phone cameras can be pretty high quality.

The road from Marrakesh. Slightly uphill all the way, just to gently crush you into pulp.

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Whoops.

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My helmet is all by it's self at the bottom of a slope.

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Singletrack trail characteristic of this area.

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There are loads of gravel roads, quick progress, great views, almost no traffic.


Across the valley from Oussertek.


Very cool descent, found here. I confess we walked much of it.

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We stopped in Amskere to help these guys with a broken chain. Unfortunately, it was beyond the resources to hand. Robin forbade any further acts of kindness because he is a hateful man.

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You could see the milky way with the naked eye, unfortunately the camera couldn't quite capture it.

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We stayed in a Gite in Tinerhourhine. It was nice, they served us hella food and tea. Robin got a touch of traveller's sickness and filled the room with fart gas.

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Perfect singletrack, just outside Imsker.

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We camped here, after a seemingly endless climb on meandering gravel roads.



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Restocking water.

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Heading north, somewhere along this valley

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On the road to Lake Ouirgane.


It looks bad, but the rain was pretty temporary.

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On the road into Taghenchoute.

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In Taghenchoute.


Sheltering from midday sun, on the climb to the east of Taghenchoute.


On the road between Agdour and Asni.


Camping in the hills above Asni.


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General notes
This trip was much easier going than I'd originally thought - I was pretty stressed about it, but for no reason. It was surprisingly easy and more importantly, rad.

The local Amazigh (Berber) folk in the national park spoke a reasonable amount of French, but once we veered off the main areas visited by tourists, this diminished significantly. The local language is Central Atlas Tamazight. There are a surprising number of villages, and people seemed friendly, interested and willing to help if necessary. Shops are often not obvious or open, but were specifically opened up for us in very small villages. Kids could be very interested, which was generally endearing but occasionally annoying especially after slogging up a seemingly endless hill.

Drivers are pretty considerate, we were typically given plenty of room on the roads. The roundabouts near Marrakesh seem to be a little more dodgy, the whole 'giving way' concept is a little more fluid than in the UK. We were tentative at first.

Moroccan passport control kinda sucks. It took a couple of hours to get through the first time I went, and about an hour this time. Bring a pen for the landing card because they don't hand them out. Marrakesh airport doesn't appear to have much of a system for retrieving your bike - you've just got to go to the entrance to the convener belt and yell to summon one of the baggage handlers who shove your bike awkwardly through the hole. This process in reversed at check-in, but the person checking you in shoves your bike through onto the conveyor and it gets manhandled through the gap in the wall.

They X-Ray all your luggage before you even enter the airport, so we had to take the wheels off, temporarily package the bikes and put them through the X-Ray scanner then repack them properly in the airport. It was annoying, made more difficult by a language barrier.

Route
Navigation was pretty easy for the most part. We used satellite imagery saved onto our phones - we had a Nexus 6P, and a Motorola Moto G as a back up. We should have saved topography as well, but we did ok with road map and satellite imagery. In general navigation was simple, much of the terrain was high enough you could eyeball the route - and we'd spent some time mapping out numerous paths on Google'my maps' which can be exported as a .kml file. We were optimistic with some of the trails, and if you're looking for ridable singletrack and minimizing pushing/carrying I'd concentrate on the foothills - such as those around Asni.

Spare portable battery packs gave above 5 additional charges although the power didn't run down as quick I'd feared - a charge lasted almost 3 days of use.

Gear/Bikes
Panniers suck. Panniers suck. Panniers suck. Well, for anything rougher than gravel doubletrack at least. Robin's bike handled much better and his lack of excessive crap can't have hurt either. I strapped the panniers down with a webbing strap each, then a third going round both. It helped, but not as much as I'd hoped. I will definitely be using a saddlepack for future trips. Robin's kit was all from Alpkit, except for the framebag, which I made. All seemed to work very well, especially given the cost.

We used tents instead of bivvying - we couldn't be sure of the conditions although I'd be tempted to bivvy + tarp next time. We had no issues with bugs in the mountains, but we were only out for a week - late october til early november.

Instead of faffing with adaptors for stoves, I just bought an MSR multifuel stove. The fuel for this cost about 50p and can be obtained damn near anyway, whereas camping gas can only be purchased from a couple of shops (apparently) in Marrakesh and Imlil. Meths is also an option but I figured the petrol gives the most freedom and reliability. The petrol stove got sooty as all hell which was annoying. It probably about 10x the I used a few weather sites (mostly the Norwegian "yr.no", on the basis that it works surprisingly well for New Zealand) to try and get an idea of conditions, but I didn't find them hugely accurate - they gave significantly a colder forecast for Asni and Imlil than we encountered. They predicted around 5-15°C, when it was probably more like to 10-25°C - I'm guessing the altitude of the weather stations is relatively high.

Bikes were 26" wheeled, with low gears and fat tread. Conditions varied considerably, so I didn't feel stupid for having 2.4" of knobbly rubber. Both 9 speed with a low mountain double chains up front.

Robin's comments
I would have packed lighter sleeping bag (Mountain Hardware Lamina 35), learned more French, gotten maps a bit further out than we did. Maybe a 20t front ring or slightly wider cassette than (I think) 34t. Didn't need to bring 2 batteries in the end. I would also dump 1 of the 3 tubes I brought, my spare pair of cycle shorts, 1 of the t-shirts, and brought zip-offs instead of shorts and trousers. Glad I brought a change of clothes for the plane though. I'd practice packing bike using straps from front rack instead of carrying packing tape. Should have serviced brakes before leaving.

Things we did right: route planning, difficulty, time/length, location, climate/time of year, camping, spares provision, food.

Morocco is Rad. Go There
It was a great trip, aside from a couple of niggles it was about as easy as you could imagine a trip like this to be and I'd encourage touring and bikepacking folks to strongly consider it. And learn the Berber word for 'shop'. (It's Tannahout....I think).

Thursday, 12 February 2015

Cock Hill Quarry (Glossop)

Glossop is great for accessible, technical moorland riding. The descent from Cock Hill is split into two parts - the first part consists of singletrack across moorland. The trail is natural but not particularly rugged, so it's fast and mostly non-technical. It's still good fun, though. The second part is between two field boundaries of drystone wall. There's a ditch with a singletrack path alongside. This part is slower and more technical, with some rocky section towards the bottom of the descent. It's still not hugely technical - it'll present a challenge to less seasoned rider, but it's still fun for the experienced among us. It's never so steep as to be sketchy- you never have to drop your saddle and pray for the right line.

This ride is accessible straight out of Glossop, but still feels like the proper, desolate moors in winter, at least. In summer, it's possible that crowds will spoil that illusion.

The map below shows only the descent, since I haven't identified a good route up yet, although the Strava global heatmap has a route that looks promising. If you can be bothered trying to decipher those blue lines.

We hike-a-biked through an old quarry. Some mild scrambling whilst hauling bikes was also required. Like I said, I've not found a particularly good route up. This one is picturesque, but there's gotta be an easier way.

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The Gravel road to the top, which you Must Not Ride.

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The wind was blowing. The hut offered little shelter, to be fair, it only had about one full wall.

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The singletrack descent starts near the hut, and it's pretty obvious once you're on it. You can detour to the trig point atop Cock Hill.

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It's not particularly technical, but it's got enough twists, and you can rip and run.

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The second part of the trail between two drystone walls. The trail is often at an awkward camber, but it's mostly alright, some parts need you to carry a bit of speed to clear. I reckon it'll be prone to getting pretty soggy when the weather's bad.

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It gets rocky down the bottom, but it's mostly solid. A couple of fun, chunkier sections, but never overly technical. Although there's a drop at the very end with a super awkward landing (yeah, I walked).

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Another small quarry right before you get back into Glossop.

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I like this descent, it can be done in a few hours, although getting to the top takes quite a while. It's a definite step down in difficulty from somewhere like Doctor's Gate, but it's still got a little bit of that rugged, rocky, natural trail. There are probably loads of little runs through the quarry, but the piles and piles of loose rock make many of the paths unridable. I'll update when I find a good way to the top.

Friday, 6 February 2015

Dove Stone Reservoir Cliff Ride

Dove Stone Reservoir is a scenic reservoir just outside of Greenfield, on the western edge of the Dark Peaks. It has a great, but fairly rocky, trail on the overlooking cliffs.

There's an old road, which turns into a gravel road leading up to the higher Chew Reservoir, and then you turn back upon yourself to join a trial that leads along the top of the cliff edge, heading roughly north in a crescent. This trail rocks. If you like rocky technical fun and awesome views, then this trail is for you.

There are a couple of boggy patches, but that's not exactly a surprise in mid-winter in the Peaks. Or in midsummer in the peaks, either, really.

The descent shown on the map is mostly just singletrack cutting through the grassy hillside, it's not technical, but it is steep. Watch out for walkers, especially since this isn't any kind of bridleway. MTBers seem to be well-tolerated, so let try nad keep it that way.

The road up from Dove Stone reservoir to Chew reservoir.

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Looking down the road, toward Greenfield. The road turns from concrete to gravel as you get higher. Not remotely technical, but it seems to take a hell of a long time to get to the top grinding away in low gears.

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Chew reservoir, at the top. There are a couple of different trails starting from this junction.

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The trail conditions vary between either muddy, or rocky, or a combo of both.

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Since most of the trail is along the edge of the cliffs, overlooking a valley with Dove Stone reservoir at the bottom, you get get view pretty much the entire time.

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Mudpocalypse.

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From the descent on the southern face of Ashway Hey, looking back over towards Great Dove Stone rocks and Dean Rocks.

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The descent is grassy and steep, but not technical. There are a few different ways to descend though, and I haven't exhausted all of them yet.

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Dove Stone is a great ride and a really easy trail to get to from Greenfield station. There are a bunch of trails coming off of the old road leading to Chew reservoir at the bottom and top, but the cliff ride is definitely recommended. Once the snow melts, anyway...

Saturday, 3 January 2015

Manchester Urban Mountainbike Trails (Southwest Manchester)

This post is the first of a series of four, cataloguing the 'urban' trails suitable for mountain biking within the vague limits of Greater Manchester, starting with the south-west quadrant which has a number of green spaces along the Mersey valley. Unfortunately, a lot of the paths within the various green spaces are very tame. There are a few bits of half-decent singletrack dotted around though, so a route could be pieced together and hopefully this guide will assist in that process. These posts will more likely serve as a reference guide for people trying to find trails locally. There's a lot of repetition so it'll make for pretty dull general reading. If you're looking for proper singletrack: Hardy Farm is good, but small, Kenworthy woods has a stretch of rooty fun and Priory woods has a few fun paths and a couple of dirt jumps. Aside from those, the vast majority of the paths are non-technical.

If you think I've left any out, or that I've missed something, drop me an email.

Ivy Green

Ivy green is a patch of wood, fens and fields near Chorlton, with the Mersey snaking through the area. There's not a lot of proper mountain biking, it's more like family riding, with flat, level paths. There's a tiny length of singletrack running through a section of woods, although the vast majority of the paths here are completely vanilla. That said, it's a pleasant area, bikes are permitted pretty much throughout and the fens are pretty nice.

The majority of the paths resemble the ones shown below. They're wide and flat.

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The path alongside the Mersey. Again, it's a wide path without any challenge.

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The paths through the fens.

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Some singletrack with minimal undulations divide the field ().

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There's also some singletrack with a couple of bends running through the woods, which run roughly parallel to to Chorlton Brook.

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Precious singletrack for a whole 300 metres.

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A couple of roots going over the singletrack is about as technical as it gets.

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The path peters out, leading to this mossy patch of woods.

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The paths around Ivy Green aren't challenging, except for one relatively easy section of singletrack which winds through the woods.

Priory Gardens

Priory gardens lie to the south of the motorway, cut off for Chorlton waterpark. It's a small patch of wood, with a mixture of surfaced path some singletrack and a few (disused?) jumps. You can access Priory gardens by going beneath the motorway. Considering the competition, it's not a bad area, but small.

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Most of the paths are about doubletrack width, flat and surfaced with cement or gravel.

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Some singletrack winds through the coppiced area. The path itself is largely featureless on the ground, apart from a few twists and turns.

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Unfortunately, there's only a few hundred metres of proper singletrack, with few features.

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There's a rooty 'step' section, this is probably the most technical feature in this area, with relatively large roots forming a rugged series of steps.

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Jumps, too! They seem a little forgotten.

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Kenworthy Woods

Kenworthy woods is one of the larger patches of woods in the area, with a reasonable density of mostly non-techy trails. The paths are mostly wide footpaths with basic gravel hardpack, although there's also a few dirt trails which can get waterlogged and muddy, and some rooty singletrack. I also found one lonely jump. Like the others, it's not exactly going to rock your world.

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There's a bit of singletrack bisecting the fen area within these woods, although it's not demanding. Parts of the paths can get muddy, although nothing to call home about.

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The paths alongside the Mersey will connect you up to many of the other riding locations. The photo below shows the entrance at the northwest corner of Kenworthy woods, which is near the start of the only piece of singletrack I'd actually describe as proper riding. If you take the path on the right, leading into the woods it'll take you...

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...to this junction of tracks leading uphill, the start of the singletrack is on the right, although the leaves are providing camouflage, it's not far up the path after entering the woods (~30 metres).

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The singletrack here is almost as good as it gets, locally (not saying much, I realise), with undulations, small roots and an awkward camber due to the hillside. Unfortunately, it's only about 200 metres long, and trees have fallen over the end of the trail. Due to relatively low use, the trail also tends to fallen branches and leaf litter strewn across it.

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Hardy Farm

Hardy farm is a small patch of land with some woods and open fields. The woods probably have the highest density of proper singletrack, some of which is more technical than anything else in the locality. It can get muddy and overgrown, but it's significantly more interesting riding than many other local areas. Some of the paths are very tight and twisty, giving more of a challenge than much else in this general area. Unfortunately, it's popular with dog walkers so you've got to be aware and not take out anyone while barrelling round a turn. Although dense with paths, it's still very small so you'll burn through them rapidly.

The main path running along the east edge of the woods. It's muddy in patches.

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Grassy singletrack at the southern edge of the woods, near the Mersey.

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A number of singletrack paths running through the woods. They're twisty and fun, but moderately muddy, and the trees are closely spaced.

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Some of the singletrack is becoming lost to intruding foliage.

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Chorlton Water Park

The Chorlton Water Park has one main track, shown below, of wide hardpack which circles the lake.

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A path running parallel with the main track is slightly more rugged, on the northern edge of the lake. This is about as wild as the water park gets.

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Barlow Tip

To the west of Chorlton Water Park, a small area called Barlow tip has a main dirt road, and some mucky singletrack IMGP0991

There's a few bits of overgrown singletrack here, the best of which runs alongside the edge of the neighbouring golf course.

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The singletrack through the fens is not particularly fun - too lumpy and mucky.

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Stretford Meadows

Stretford Meadows is a wide open greenspace to the north of the motorway, accessible by following the transpennine bridleway (national cycling route 62). It's criss-crossed with a singletrack paths and gravel tracks, although they're all tame. The area is slightly raised, so you do get a view of the surrounding area.

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It's an open meadow with a network of single- or doubletrack paths, an a small hill in the middle. The various tracks are a mixture of dirt and loose gravel.

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There's nothing technical or challenging, but you get a view from the hill...of the motorway. I guess you could introduce a new rider to descending by shoving them down the steepest path down the hill - you can see this descent at the end of the path, in the photo below.

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Kickety Brook

Kickety is a green space south of the M60, near Stretford Meadows. There's no singletrack to be found, just muddy hardpack tracks.

Green Space - near Old Eea Brook

A good number of paths slice up this area, fairly muddy but none particularly interesting. The protrusion of land at the turn of the river looks good on satellite few, but floods pretty regularly so it's best as a testing ground for your bog-crawling fatbike rather than fun mountain biking. This might change if it hasn't flooded for a while, but when I rode there on the 'cross bike, I'd push the bike for about 12 feet before the tyres would clog up to the point of uselessness.

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So much mud.

That's the breakdown of the southwest Manchester's greenspaces I've explored thus far, I'll add more if I find anything else noteworthy and hopefully add the additional 3 quadrants in the future. Like I said at the top, send me an email if you think I'm missing some sublime piece of obscure singletrack.