Thirty one miles the previous day were a warm up for the loop we were to attempt on the second day of our Glencoe trip.
A while back there was a loop in the MBR ride guides basically circling Ben Nevis. Starting from Fort William take the West Highland Way north to south. At the Mamore Hills carry straight on, heading north via Loch Eilde Mor, Luibelt, before eventually descending into the Leanachan Forest and returning to Fort Bill via the Nevis Range trail centre at the foot of the World Cup Downhill.
This was one of our reasons for choosing to return to Glencoe - to attempt this route. A hard 43.5 miles was the distance on the route guide. Unfortunately we had to factor in another 9 miles along the road (twice) and a serious climb up to Mamore on the way out, picking up the route half way round at Mamore. The estimated mileage before we started was 60 miles...
The night before everybody was up for the route and took it easy on the beers. We aimed to start at 730AM. Morning came and everybody loaded up on muesli and toast. No time for fried breakfasts this morning.
The morning was cool and overcast, but not much rain forecast. Perfect conditions - not too hot. We got away nearly on time and rode a very steady (read slow) pace on the road from Glencoe to Kinlochleven where we opted to take the tarmac climb up to the Mamore Lodge.
From here on the climb got tougher. The trail became a loose, stony land rover track. We carried on riding up to 'Rob Roy View' above Kinlochleven and the Mamore Lodge.
From here we sampled a nice technical doubletrack descent to the shore of Loch Eilde Mor where the trail stayed relatively flat along the shore of the loch.
By now we were truly out in the wilderness of the Highlands. Nothing can prepare you for the remoteness and tranquility of the area. With no mobile coverage you realise you have to be truly self sufficient in this environment.
We then climbed gently up from Loch Eilde Mor before a fun doubletrack descent down to the abandoned building at Luibelt.
What followed was the first really tough challenge of the day. A cold river crossing where there was no choice but to get your feet wet in the icy river. Then followed a serious hour long push / hike up from Luibelt. An eroded trail rose up to a saddle, every time we reached the summit the trail would stretch on up to another false summit. Some parts were rideable for 50 yards or so, but to save energy from getting on or off the bike so frequently most people opted to push / carry all the way to the top.
What followed was a challenging, technical, undulating singletrack that went on for a few miles until we reached another river crossing and a bothy, and the start of another superb descent on a landrover track that took us eventually to the eastern edge of the Leanachan Forest.
We had planned to take lunch at the trail centre at the Nevis Range. Spirits rose as we knew some respite was imminent. But the endless fireroads of the easy Witches Trails leading to the bottom of the World Cup Downhill track went on forever. It was great to be back in civilisation though, and we watched riders practising the course in preparation for the SDA DH Champs that were staged on Sunday. We sat in the sun eating burgers, pasta, and chocolate whilst watching the fearless DH riders jumping the last two drops into the finish arena. After 30 minutes rest it was time to top up our Camelbaks with various mixes of Powerade and water and start to spin and loosen our stiff muscles, 35 or so miles into the ride.
At this point the directions on the route guide became a bit vague. And we ended up on a footpath that rose very steeply from the Nevis Range centre and had most of us off and pushing and gaining altitude very quickly. The route guide said 'turn right at the stile' but in retrospect I think the stiles had been removed since the guide had been written. We probably pushed 2 or 300 feet higher up a trail than we needed, before we realised something wasn't right and a few of the more tired members of our group were beginning to have a sense of humour failure. Somehow we managed to find a superbly loose doubletrack descent that brought us back on track, brought the smiles back on people's face and delivered us exactly to the right place in the yard of a whisky distillery in Fort Bill!
No time for tourism however as it was now well past 3PM. At this stage 2 people decided to bail out and found a helpful taxi driver with a people carrier to take them and the bikes back to base. But for the remaining 8 riders we had to press on. To save a bit of time and effort we decided to miss out on the 1st climb on the West Highland Way and take the slightly easier(!) option of a monster tarmac climb from Fort Bill to where the road met the WHW at 'Blar a Chaorainn'. Here the trail turned back into hard going rocky doubletrack. One of the guys riding with us asked us 'where the tarmac option was?'. He had misheard our discussions in Fort Bill and had failed to realise that only the 1st climb was tarmac, not the whole journey back to base. We laughed and even he saw the funny side of the situation realising he was too far committed to bail out at this point.
From here on was a long, hard technical climb past Larrig on the old Military Road. I don't mind admitting my legs were hurting at this point and there were a few times I got off and pushed up inclines I would normally power through. By now the sky was blue and the sun was shining. We decided to rest before the last proper technical descent along the WHW heading back to Mamore where we joined the loop in the morning.
Time for one last photo before hairing down the narrow tarmac lane at breakneck speed from Mamore to Kinlochleven.
By now the end was in sight, and the tarmac of the road was a relief as we rode for the second time this weekend the 9 road miles from Kinlochleven to Glencoe.
We arrived back at 7PM. An 11.5 hour epic with Memory Map telling us we had ridden over 62 miles with over 8300 feet of ascent. An epic day...