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Daring Deeds - real stories, expeditions, road trips and adventure

Mountain Bikepacking

By Alpkit | 19, Feb, 2013

Ed Oxley enjoying the open space

My name is Benji Haworth. I've been getting away with being a freelance photographer and writer for a few years now. I specialise in mountain bike stuff. I've been a mountain biker ever since I could no longer ride my BMX without kneeing myself in the chin. I think this year will mark my twentienth year as a mountain biker. (I really should do something special to mark this anniversary shouldn't I? Hmmm).

So anyway. I went bikepacking. I'd never done (gone?) bikepacking before. For the past couple of years or so I've observed from lots of mountain bikers bivvying out overnight. These after-work bivvies were always quite modest and local affairs that never really appealed to me. They seemed like all the hardships of wild camping with none of the actual 'being wild' aspect to them.
Then this thing called bikepacking came along. I'm fairly sure I first came across this term here on the Alpkit website in fact. This thing was closer to the mark. It had an immediate appeal in that it seemed to be a way of doing some big adventures-on-a-bike. Covering an amount of ground that isn't feasible in your usual day ride. Yet most of the bikepacking stories that I read still seemed to lack something. Mountains. Technical terrain. Great trails.

I chatted about the whole bikepacking thang a few times with my friend Ed Oxley. Eventually we decided to stop chatting and start bikepacking. Our version of bikepacking. We wanted to tackle the same sort of big hills and testing tracks that is our biking raison d'etre. We wanted to use our regular mountain bikes (full suspension 'All Mountain' sort of bikes). But we'd combine all of it with a bikepacking ethos and equipment.

It didn't take us long to decide where we were going to do our adventure. The Lake District was the obvious choice. Mountains, singletrack, bothies, places unreachable or unlinkable by road, campsites, scenery, atmosphere. With the 'overnighting' ability that bikepacking gave us, we were suddenly able to come up with multi-day route taking in numerous sections of lesser visited mountain passes that are un-doable in a day ride. Before we had even turned a pedal we were pretty much sold on the concept of bikepacking already. The sheer liberation and expansion of planning routes is an immediate thrill. An addiction.

Day 1: Glenridding to Honister Mines.
Ed and I hadn't had a chance to try out our new bikepacking storage system until the day itself. Most of our clothing we carried in our regular riding backpacks. Ed also had cooking equipment in his backpack too, I had camera stuff in mine. I also had a cheapy eBay frame bag on my bike that held my tools, tubes and pumps etc. On our handlebars we mounted our new fangled 'storage systems', basically an AirLok XTra drybag lashed to our handlebars with a Pipedream 400 sleeping bag and Airo camping mat inside it (see below for our kitlist). It was these bar bags that were our main worry. How would they affect our bikes' handling?
It turns out they didn't really affect the bikes much at all. The first climb on to Helvellyn was severe and involved a degree of carrying and pushing. The bags didn't get in the way. The first descent (down to Thirlmere, steep and amazing) also proved to be wholly unaffected by our luggage. The bikes were still nimble and balanced. This was still proper mountainbiking and it's fair to say we were loving it.

I'll not go into mega detail about our trip. If you want the full story, grab hold of a copy of issue 78 of Singletrack Mountain Bike Magazine.

Here's the brief version…
After Thirlmere we slogged our way over a boggy fell to Watendlath. Thankfully the golden sunlight was gorgeous. The trail from Hell with the light from Heaven. From Watendlath we joined the classic up and over track to Rosthwaite. Again, our bikepacking loads didn't impinge on our hurtlings down the trail's rocky madness. The fading light of dusk was the main obstacle.
Once in Rosthwaite we only had one climb to do. Unfortunately this climb was up the infamous Honister Pass, and then a bit further/higher again on gravel roads. We completed the ascent in darkness, our Gamma headtorches lighting the way. Our destination was a semi-hidden mountain hut that we'd encountered up here a few months previously on an earlier ride. Eventually we found it and got busy preparing our evening meal with our MSR Pocket Rocket stove, Alpkit MytiPot, titanium sporks and MytiCups.


Day 2: Honister Mines to Great Langdale.
The weather overnight had been horrendous sounding. The weather in the morning was similarly galeforce and wet. We discussed our options from the comfort of our sleeping bags. We decided to alter our intended route as it wasn't safe or viable in these conditions. We opted for a shorter route back down to Borrowdale and then over Stake Pass into the Langdales, the destination for the next overnighter. We fired up the stove, busied the titanium, ate porridge, packed our stuff, prepped the bikes and hit the trails.
When we reached the valley that lead to Stake Pass it was a real journey into the unknown. Neither of us had been in this part of the Lakes before. Thankfully the track was distinct and nicely involving. The steep valley sides were keeping us sheltered from the worst of the weather. The track steeply zigzagged up on to Stake Pass (a bit of pusing was required here). Traversing the Pass and dropping down into Great Langdale will live long in my memory as one of my fondest and thrilling on a bicycle.
As we reached our campsite for the night we were ecstatic. We'd dealt with the elements, solved a problem, we'd gambled, we'd pulled victory from the jaws of defeat. It was time to go to the pub (the famed Olde Dungeon Ghyll) to celebrate.

Day 3: Great Langdale to Glenridding.
A soggy day. Less windy but much soggier on the trails compared to the previous day's good goings. Thankfully we still had some dry clothes in our packs (stored in drybags). The opening leg of the day's route was low lying green lanes and singletrack roads over, in a roundabout sort of way, to Grasmere. We were then facing the same hulking mass before us as we'd faced at the start of Day 1. Helvellyn. Thankfully we weren't heading for the summit (which was totally hidden in thick cloud) but 'merely' passing over the saddle point of Grisedale Hause. Ascending began on slippery limestone which was replaced with squelchy short grass track. Both were hard work. After far-too-long we reached Grisedale Hause and entered cloud level.

The couple of kilometres of trail that link Grisedale Hause to Ruthwaite Lodge are quite possibly my favourite couple of kiometres in the whole of the Lake District. The trail is constantly technical and demanding but it never tips over into un-rideability or stuttery-ness. It keeps up a sportingly joyous flow and rhythm. It was a fabulous last bit of singletrack on our bikepacking adventure.

A few miles of farm tracks and minor roads and we were back at Glenridding. We'd survived our first bikepacking trip. Not only had we survived, we'd thrived. It had been one of our best ever experiences on a bike, and we've had a lot of bikey experiences.
Ed and myself are currently planning our next bikepacking mission. We'll be doing some things a bit differently but essentially we'll be sticking with our 'proper mountainbiking' angle. 

The full Slideshow

Alpkit stuff that we used:

2 x Alpkit Airlok XTra drybag (w/ webbing straps)
2 x Alpkit Pipedream 400 sleeping bag
2 x Alpkit Airo camping mat
2 x Alpkit Flatiron Spork
2 x Alpkit MytiCup
1 x Alpkit MytiPot
4 x Alpkit Apollo II stuff bag
2 x Alpkit Gamma headtorch

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In pictures

  benji howarth bikepacking ed oxley mountain biking outdoor photography

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