Croesus – Blackball to Bazvegas
It was a route I had looked at biking a number of times, but had never got around to organising. Start from Blackball, bike up and over the Paparoa ranges via Mt Ryall, then drop down the ridge into Barrytown. Starting at a pub, finishing at a pub and having some great biking in between is a mighty fine idea! Lucky for me, Charlie had picked a weekend and I just needed to turn up!
A good sized crew assembled at Blackball on the Friday night, with 11 of us planning on going up and over. Another smaller crew were doing the easier (but super good fun) option of up to Ces Clark hut and back down.
After a night in the pub “Formerly Known As The Blackball Hilton” we were away early in the morning. Frost on the ground and mist in the valley made a chilly start to the day, but as always biking up the hill soon had us warm. With super tacky 2 ply DH tyres on my bike it did feel as if I was biking up the hill with my brakes on, but with the descriptions of the downhill in the back of my mind I was quite happy to lug the stickies up the hill.
We were quickly above the fog in the valley and onto the singletrack. It was very dim climbing up through the dense West Coast forest. One of the things I love about the West Coast is that the forest is always so alive and green. Lots of moss and a much bigger diversity of plants than the east coast and mountain beech forest I often ride.
By the time we got up to Ces Clark hut the clouds were hugging the tops and keeping us under cover. The views from the hut were amazing as always, and we all took the opportunity to load our bellies with food while absorbing the amazing views. I had been up to the Ces Clark hut a number of times, but never over the top. It was nice to be going somewhere new and having a bit of an adventure. It was also nice having a crew of 11, to share the experience with!
The climb from the hut across the open tussocks was great. Challenging loose rocky trails with a good gradient for biking. There were views up to the tops through the clouds, and down to the big river valleys below. The track gradually got less rideable as we got up and past Croesus Knob until we were walking all but a couple of fun downhill sections. It was not long and we were at the top, which was just beneath Mt Ryall. The top marker post was colourfully marked with a large bra and some bright pink panties.
Shin, knee and elbow protection was installed on the riders, seats were dropped and tyre pressures adjusted. I was excited to be heading down a new piece of track, which from other peoples descriptions sounded like it would be somewhere between sublime technical singletrack and a barely rideable, insanely steep, technical crazy rootfest. The track in the open was over quickly and we entered an arch of forest to be greeted with a steep root entangled shelf, that dropped between a few trees. The grin on my face got wider as I started down the roots and found there was plenty of traction. Thank goodness for super tacky tyres, big 203mm disc rotors and what must have been 3 days without rain on the western slopes of the Paparoas!!
As the track dropped down the ridge the challenges kept coming. So many technical moves to get down bits, with quick decisions of which root to ride, and which hole to avoid making the difference between surviving a section or not. The trail is consistently steep to the point where I was getting hand fatigue and failing to bring my bike to a stop in places I should have been able to. Often to make a challenging drop or root you need to get off the brakes. On this track getting off the brakes means you almost instantly hit warp speed, which then makes keeping control on the next section even more interesting!! There were a few sections that looked almost survivable, that I did not attempt, and there were a number of sections I was not sure about but rode anyway. I ended up off the track and still on my bike a few times, and I managed a couple of over the handlebar dismounts in the middle of sections. Dugall who was following me for both major OTBs was impressed that I managed to land on my feet both times! In between all of these shenanigans however was some superb technical singletrack through amazing forest. I loved the ride down!! The great thing about a technical downhill like this one is that it goes on for a long time! It took the lead group about an hour and a half to get down the hill. The first 3rd down was the most technical, the middle 3rd got more rideable and a bit faster and more flowing, and the last 3rd down the hill was on much more open, fast and flowing benched track.
Charlie, Dugall and I popped out at the Barrytown pub and into brilliant sunshine. Our planning was a little off, as we were about 30 minutes before the pub opened!! At least the sun was shining. Neil soon showed up, and informed us that Steve had crashed on the way down, and munched his shoulder pretty bad. Eye witness Nick said Steve was “sailing through the air for a long time from pretty high up before meeting a tree”. Steve was in pain, but luckily he was able to gingerly make his way down on foot. Charlie headed off up the hill to retrieve Steves bike, while Neil organised for an ambulance to meet him at the bottom of the hill. Steve appeared quicker than we had thought he would, and the ambulance took a lot longer than we thought it should. The ambulance also appeared to be staffed by dumb and dumber (no real pain relief drugs on board, no proper patient assessment done). However, Steve eventually made it to Greymouth Hospital safely and had his dislocated shoulder relocated.
The ride stories were re-lived later that evening over big plates of food and jugs of beer at the Blackball Hilton. Everyone had a fantastic day out (even Steve before his fall) and had many stories to tell. It was a slow morning the next day, with the sound of rain on the roof meaning that many peoples tired bodies were only too happy to stay in bed a bit longer.
The Croesus crossing is a great trip, but be warned – this is trip for experienced riders who are up for challenge. With the crossing taking up to 8 or 9 hours, you need to be prepared with plenty of food and warm clothes, and you should be carrying survival blankets, first aid and a PLB (Personal Locator Beacon). You should know about NZ mountains and be aware of the weather forecast. Leg and arm protection is definitely a good idea if you intend to try and ride the descent to Barrytown, as are sticky tyres, long travel forks and big brakes. Oh, some riding skills would probably be a handy thing too!!
Some snaps from the day.
Individual Photos – thumbs link to full size images!