No, not like that. 'Trailfinder General' Benji Haworth talks about the risky art of mountain grooming and Take Someone Up A Mountain Day.
There are lots of days these days. Non-uniform day. Dress down Friday. Take your dog into work day. Take your child into work day. Take your child’s dog into work Friday. Inspired by a recent experience, I’d like to add another day to the roster. Take Someone Up A Mountain Day. More specifically, take someone who’s already been riding mountain bikes for a while but has never actually been up a mountain up a mountain day.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I’ve nothing against non-mountain biking. 99% of my riding doesn’t involve a mountain. I like non-mountain biking. In fact, I probably like non-mountain biking more than I like mountain biking. Low level biking is where it’s at. Woodlands. Low fells. Steep sided valleys. The relatively short lived sections of uphill or downhill that come with non-mountain biking is a strength of British biking, not a weakness. It’s intense. It’s intensive. A lot of countries would kill to have the abundance of cool non-mountain biking stuff that we have.
But. You knew there was going to be a but. But there IS something special about getting high. Higher than a hill. High as you can possibly, feasibly go.
What exactly is a mountain? There isn’t actually any universal, globally recognised definition of a mountain. In the Oxford English Dictionary a mountain is defined as “a natural elevation of the earth surface rising more or less abruptly from the surrounding level and attaining an altitude which, relatively to the adjacent elevation, is impressive or notable.” This definition is impressively, usefully and reassuringly vague yet entirely unarguably true. But it’s not all that useful when it comes to deciding what and where we can rightfully claim is a mountain experience. In the United Kingdom we like to be precise. We like to have things written down and noted. We like measurements. Ideally imperial. In the UK a “mountain” is any summit of at least 2,000 feet (or 610 metres if you prefer your metrics er, metric).
If you’re used to reading about the altitudes of properly mountainous terrain – such as the Alps – then trying to find something more than 610 metres initially sounds like it’ll be a doddle. And if you live in Wales or Scotland it really is a doddle to find yourself a sizeable target. If you dwell in England then you may struggle.
Anyway. Back to the point. Take someone up a mountain day. I’m lucky enough to live in north west England – home of pretty much all of the English mountains. Yet with such choice comes dilemma. Which one to choose for my non-mountain biking associate? Which mountain would make for some non-mountain biker’s first ever mountain? It’s tempting to go big. To max out the drama. Go straight to the top of Helvellyn. But then you run the risk of your willing adventurer becoming an unwilling hostage. Going up mountains with a hunk of bicycle ain’t easy. It’s not fun and it’s not fun for a good number of hours. No amount of rad/sick descent can claw back a past-breaking-point friendship or relationship.
In the end I typically decide upon ‘doing’ Sticks Pass. It’s one of the many excellent trails running off the slightly-lower shoulders of the Helvellyn hulk. It’s a modest mountain ride but one that still packs in enough… stuff to make it qualify as something a bit different to your usual jaunts. As a bonus it’s usually relatively quiet in a trail-traffic sense. Certainly less rammed than Helvellyn summit itself.
What sort of… stuff are we talking then? Well then let’s see. Altitude? Check. The highest point we encountered was Raise at 2,897 feet (883m in eurospeak). Scenery? Check. Kind of. The summit was in dense cloud, which was something else of a novelty for my non-mountain biker. Weather? Check. Lots of it! Enough rain to make us temporarily but deeply concerned about our welfare and warmth. Trails? Check. And check again. From the wild rock garden helter skelter of Raise through to the sinuous singletrack of Sticks Gill and the mad tech finale down to the Youth Hostel – it’s a totally awesome track.