Last time I went over Camp Saddle was back in about 1996. I think I was riding a hardtail with 2 inches of flexy front travel. Pretty sure that Grant was along on his GT LTS full suss bike and Sarah on her Rocky Mountain. When we told people where we had gone and that we had ridden down the scree slope they all thought we were pretty hardcore extreme!! I wish I had some photos from the ride back then!
Mike, Sci and I headed for Camp Saddle on Saturday. With us all riding 4 or 5 inch travel full suspension bikes it was definitely a lot plusher than it used to be. Not that full suspension bikes make much difference when riding down loose scree slopes!! It was a lovely day with lots of blue sky and birds singing, which made for a very pleasant ride up the Broken River Skifield access road. Turning off onto the Camp Saddle track and things got steeper and steeper. Everything was still mostly rideable, but I know I was “on the rivet” to get up some of it. We climbed steeply through the trees. The further up we got, the shorter and more mossy the trees got until we popped out into the tussocks above the tree line. We managed a number of stops to enjoy the views and take photos.
There was some rideable trail above the tree line, but it soon got too steep and loose to ride. Bikes were shouldered and we continued on foot.
Of course the saddle was the perfect place to stop for lunch, after ducking just over the brow to be out of the breeze. Crickets chirping and magnificent mountain vistas made for a fantastic stop in the sunshine. From our lunch spot we could see the track a few hundred vertical meters below us. The slope was steep, and littered with tussock and scree. The key to finding a fun way down would be to find a soft piece of scree that would let our bikes sink into the scree on the descent. This would enable us to control our speed on the extremely steep slope. A line was spotted over to the left of the saddle, and we traversed across the scree and tussocks to get to the top of it.
Mike had not ridden down scree before and so Sci was telling him how. Instructions went something along the lines of “you just lock your back brake and your back wheel will sink into the scree and slow you down enough to control your descent”. Off went Sci, showing us how it was done. (Zooming in on that photo I can see braking going on with both hands there Sci…)
Mikes first effort at scree riding was extremely impressive. Mega speed was definitely obtained and he was able to hold it all together!! Video of the first descent
After his first effort Mike discovered that feathering the front brake can in fact help to control your speed quite a lot, and he descended with a lot more control.
We were soon on the track that is known as the “Edge” by the regular Craigieburn riders. A very fun track, just dont look off the side!! Riding the flowing tracks of the edge was a great contrast to the adrenaline and semi-control of careering down the scree.
A quick climb up to Lyndon Saddle from the Edge had us sitting at the start of the track known by the bikers as the “Luge”. I traveled around the world with a mountain bike for a number of years and rode a great variety of tracks. Everything from European Alps trails (France, Italy, Switzerland), to Welsh trails, to Bolivian, Chilean and Argentinian trails. Being away for 5 years and riding all those trails, the Luge track up at Craigieburn had stuck in my mind as one of the most fun pieces of trail I have ever ridden. The trouble was I could no longer remember if that was simply nostalgia for the trails back home, or if it really matched up. My first ride down the Luge when I came back to NZ confirmed that it really was as good as I remembered. It is the combination of curves, flow, trees and roots that just make it a super fun piece of track. We of course ripped down here on our bikes, smiles a mile wide! The only problem with the Luge is that i would like it to go on and on, but it pops out onto the Broken River Skifield access road. Maybe one day the trail builders will get permission to build a trail back to the car park and we will be able to add a couple of kilometers of fun singletrack to the experience! The fact that DOC have approved and are helping build a new piece of track called the Hogsback from Castle Hill village across to the Cheeseman Road is encouraging. This piece of track means that you will be able to ride from the Village via Hogsback to the Cheeseman access road, then ride the Dracophyllum track across to the Broken river access road, then head up to Craigieburn (via Camp Saddle, or up the Luge/Edge, or up Craigieburn Acess road) and return without every having to get on the highway. Fantastic!
The weather often throws a complete wobbly around the Christmas summer holidays in New Zealand! This year was no exception with torrential downpours around the country. I had been really keen to get up near the Main Divide and ride the Cass – Lagoon loop, but huge westerly storms covering the alps on the days I had free put paid to those plans. Howling Nor-West gales are no fun on the open tops, and so a Black Hill ride was the go as it is pretty much completely in the forest.
Tim and Chris were keen and we headed into the Wharfedale track. The Wharfedale used to be a favourite track of mine, but these days it has been relegated to a trail I ride to get other places and never a destination in itself. The track has quite gentle undulating gradients punctuated with copious bog holes, water flowing down the track and stream crossings. This makes for a mostly mucky slog, punctuated by small pieces of fun flowing trail. In a few places there are sharp metal waratahs protruding from the trail surface which can easily rip an entire sidewall out of a tyre. The tracks above the Wharfedale however are worth the trek.
Starting up Fosters Ridge from the junction past the Wharfedale saddle and it gets real steep, real quick. Bikes were on our shoulders and once walking you soon settle into your own pace. There were some trees down on the way up, which made for a welcome excuse to have a rest as did getting cameras out to play. Chris had a new camera and so was busy snapping away with his new toy.
After the initial steep climb there were undulations in the ridge which give respite from carrying. A couple of the little downhills were quite fun! As you get further up the gradient of the ridge flattens a little and the track is able to be ridden in places.
Near the top of the hill there is a track junction where the 2 ridges meet. From the junction we decided to go up to Black Hill hut for a look. Another 20 minutes of uphill grunt to pop out at a nice little hut in a nice clearing. I signed the hut book and we sifted around for a little eating food and enjoying being at the top of the hill and knowing there were hundreds of meters of descending on technical beech forest tracks below us.
We were soon heading down the trail. The trip back to the trail junction seemed extremely quick compared to how long it took to walk up, and it was but a taste of what was to come. From the junction we pointed our bikes down the ridge which would take us down to the Wharfedale Hut. The fun really started here! This trail has everything I really enjoy in a track. It goes from fast and flowing to weaving through trees, to tight off camber corners to rock gardens and root tangles. The surface goes from grippy loam to loose stone and back again. Unlike some downhill tracks which seem to be over in a flash this one does seem to last a decent length of time, although the number of fallen trees that we had to scramble over and through might have had something to do with this. Pulling up at the very bottom of the trail we all had big grins on our faces. Definitely a super fun track!!
A refill with water at the river and then we jumped onto the bottom of the Wharfedale track and started riding home. Past the Wharfedale hut and up to the saddle. My legs were starting to feel it as we had been out for over 5 hours by the time we got back to the saddle. I think Chris was feeling worse, not being used to the longer adventure type riding, however a couple more rides like that and I am sure he would be storming along. We had a reasonably quick blat back out the Wharfedale track and arrived back at the carpark. The beers that were in the van, although a little warm still tasted damn fine!!