Killer climbs, Garmin dies

Been a while since I’ve blogged a ride. I thought yesterday’s ride was worthy for a couple of reasons. The climbs and the woes of a garmin

I’d planned a bit of an epic yesterday because of a rare weekend when my girlfriend was working and I didn’t have my lad. I took the opportunity to see my folks in North Wales too, so a couple of weeks ago a long ride around Snowdonia was in the offing and I began to look at the maps.

As much as I looked at routes, I couldn’t get away from The Colwyd. A unique climb in its utterly relentless brutality. I rode it once before, found by accident and tagged it as probably the 2nd hardest climb I have ever done but now I believe it is the hardest climb I’ve ever done in the UK and I would pitch it against anything else available to ride….but more on that later.

I set off about 10am with a 100km route and 2600m of climbing beckoning. The weather was moody. The forecast was cloudy with heavy rain due early pm. I wasn’t really suitably attired as I forgot my gilet and waterproof jacket so all I had on were a lightweight jersey, base layer, arm and knee warmers. I set off down the A470 which immediately kicks up for 3/4 mile or so. Easy gradient though. A nice lung opener. I’d been undecided on which bike to bring. I almost brought both to decide on the day but settled on my cross bike all mudguarded up. Weighs 22lb fully kitted but does have a 34/28 gear. Speed wasn’t the point today. I dropped down through Egwlsbach ready for the ascent of the first major climb, highlighted by 4 arrows indicating a serious gradient on my OS map. A turn right and I think I actually said ‘holy shit’ out loud when I saw the sign for a 33% gradient. You don’t see many of them so stopped and took a pic. I set off and it kicked up like a wall. I just popped it in first gear and got out of the saddle and grovelled round the right hand 90 deg bend before it eased off and I sat down and fought the gradient for a few hundred more metres. I’d plotted a back lane route parallel to the A470 which was a bit of a roller coaster and allowed a great view down the Conwy valley where I was going. It didn’t look good. RAIN. As I neared Llanrwst, the rain got heavier and heavier. Belligerence wanted me to just carry on but common sense, given I was clearly under-dressed and I was alone persuaded me to bail on the big climb upto Nebo and the loop back and around to Betws-y-Coed. Annoyed I crossed the Conwy river in Llanwrst and began my ride back home, heading to Trefriw, ironically back on my planned route. Quickly though the rain eased off to the point of stopping within a mile and I began to think of The Colwyd climb. I so wanted to ride it so in the few mins left before I had to turn onto the climb I convinced myself it was worth the risk and told myself if the weather turns, just bail and get back down asap. Decsision made, I passed an appealing coffee shop on the corner of the turn for the climb and then I it started.

The Colwyd

In Simon Warren’s book, 100 Climbs of Wales, he gives the Colwyd (spelt incorrectly in his book btw) an 11/10. That may give you an idea of scale of it. Its a real beast. A combination of length and undulating gradient between steep and silly steep.

I was already in first gear before I turned onto it. I won’t come out of that until the top. Straight up between the houses at least 20%. The road bears right, a bit steeper and then turns right again onto the climb proper, steeper again past a couple of houses on the right. The one stand out features of the climb is the quality of the tarmac. Nice, new and dark black in extended sections further up the climb. The gradient eases off a touch to just 15%ish I would say. At this point, you need to take it easy. You need plenty in the tank for later. The lane, quite straight bends gradually round to the right and then you see a house right up above you to the left. Really high. You’ll be above its roof in 1/4 of a mile. The road gradually gets steeper as it rounds the gradual right hand bend and then kicks up to a monstrous gradient. This is the first real test. A left-hand hairpin, probably 30%. I had to ride right around the right hand edge, the inside is unrideable. Sat down, my front wheel is light. I could wheelie. Out of the hairpin it kicks up again. Only a short ramp but you have to commit everything to get the pedals over. Then you’re above the roof of the house I mentioned earlier. Into the trees now and the next set of hairpins begin. Very steep but the change in gradient really hurts. 20-25% for a couple of bends until you reach a kind of plateau. A road goes off to the right but the climb bears left. Google streetview stops here by the way, like its too scary to show people lol. Now begins a series of 6 hairpins in quick succession on perfect tarmac. I’d say no less than 25% all the way, may be steeper in places. At this stage, my legs were ok, it was my lower back that was suffering. Its out of the trees and luckily the rain had stopped. After the first bend I saw a glimpse of a fluro jacket ahead. Another cyclist! I carried on and I could see he was all over his bike. I tried to ride most of it sat down, only getting out of the saddle for the steepest sections. At the top of the hairpins you are on an open mountain moorland. I was now above the clouds and probably the rain sweeping down the valley. It didn’t take long to catch the other rider who had stopped briefly for a breather. Not my style. I said hi and he tried to keep up but popped at bit further on. Over a couple of cattle grids the road just goes straight up now, no less than 15%. This the bit I forgot how it was. Just relentless. One more cattle grid and it was done. Top of the world. The other rider wasn’t far behind. We had a brief chat. It was his first time and confirmed probably the hardest he’s done too.

I descended quickly and safely and began the ride back along the valley onlt to find my Garmin had turned off. I restarted it but I knew I had lost the ride up the climb I wanted to share with everyone. I was so annoyed I just ride back to Conwy and back home, cold, wet and pissed off. I hate Garmin’s sometimes.

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