Pre Dyfi Winter Warm Up Ride – 26th January

A weekend based in Machynlleth at our old favorite ‘Reditreks’ bunkhouse. Saturday would be a ride ‘to be decided’ on the day (although a route on the wall map in the bunkhouse was always favorite), while Sunday would be the Dyfi Winter Warm Up event.

With snow on the ground but the weather set to change by the Sunday it was a bit of a gamble to take the Fat Bike, but with the amount of snow around it seemed worth it. As we travelled West on Saturday morning and climbed out of Welshpool a dusting of snow on the road began to appear. Soon it was quite a substantial amount, there had been some overnight snow, and even though the car temperature guage was showing low positive numbers, the amount of snow on the hills as we looked out of the windows gave the impression it was going to be around for a while.

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As we descended into the Dyfi Valley the change in snow cover was quite obvious, there had been no fresh snow here, and the temperature increased as we dropped down onto the valley floor. Looking up at the peaks though, quite a bit of snow remained.

Into the bunkhouse at Machynlleth, we quickly unloaded the bikes, changed, and stood looking at the route map on the wall. The unanimous decision was we’d have a crack at the Tarrenhendre route. It was listed as an epic, but we were happy that we could manage it. We studied the route, and soon headed off across the Dyfi River and started a tough road that got us up out of the valley quite quickly. Soon we were up on forest roads, we climbed higher until we came to a junction, with several options. We were at the top of Cwm Rhonwydd, ‘Valley of Pines’ very aptly named, although just about all the valleys on this side of the Dyfi could be called that!

Now we had a fast fire road descent, great fun, apart from the random sections that were sheet ice and slushy snow. Steve on his ‘normal’ mountain bike was struggling, the two Fat Bikes however had plenty of grip and could take corners far faster.

Getting back onto tarmac we knew we had to turn right, we also knew where we wanted to get to…. we had however not really paid any attention to this part of the route…. Doh! A quick look at the map and we devised our own route, slightly ‘cheeky’ as it involved some foot paths, but out here in the wilds we shouldn’t encounter any disgruntled ramblers. As we slowly climbed the patches of snow became more frequent, and looking back showed just how high we’d climbed.

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Soon the weather started to change, gone were the white cloud with patches of blue sky, replaced by blanket greyness. We pushed on, the route we were taking wasn’t exactly easy, but we were on a mission. Following the path we suddenly found ourselves at a deforested area, we carried on. If we’d have thought about it we should have been above a forested area…. the area we crossing was in fact the forest shown on the map.

The Fat Bikes were in their element riding over the deforesting debris, while Steve was struggling. By the time we hit a logging road it was quite apparant that we’d gone wrong somewhere. Misty rain was blowing up the valley as we consulted the map. It dawned on us where we’d gone wrong. Reassuringly position co-ordinates from Steve’s phone pin pointed us in exactly the spot we thought we were in.

We could either retrace our path or head up the logging road  to the top of Esgair-Uchaf where the road and path were not very far apart. We headed up the road and soon sure enough on the other side of a fance was the path! Result! We congratulated outselves on not being as bad at navigation as we’d thought.

Back on track we climbed higher, into the mist. The path disappeared completely several times and position checks with Steve’s phone and a soggy map confirmed we were on course. Now the snow was quite deep in places, and the combination of snow and soft ground below meant even the Fat Bikes were struggling.

Another position check confirmed we were in the spot we expected to be. We now joined a decent track, but in places the snow drifts meant it was easier to get off and push.

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Once we’d cleared the snow drifts, we headed round the end of the valley. There should be two paths leading off this track, and we needed to take the second. We stopped at the first one we saw, checked the now very soggy map, but didn’t do a position check…. why would we, we knew where we were! The track now dropped slowly, and with occasional snow drifts it was a riot to ride. Keep the bike going, and to get through a drift, weight back and the momentum would push you through.

We got to the bottom of the trail, there had been no second turning on the left, but there seemed to be a track in front that lead round the hill. That’s got to be it! We followed it, and it gradually got fainter… then a fence…. there’s got to be a stile…. nope. Looking up and down there wasn’t one, and looking the other side of the fence it was a long since deforested area, with no way of crossing it.

A position check confirmed our position on the map….. we should have taken the turning we stopped at. There was no other way than to retrace our steps. It was a long way back… and all up hill, with no real option other than to push the bikes! Looking at the contour lines we’d dropped about 300ft. A time check saw 14:20, we really needed to get back to the path split and reassess the ride plan. No one wanted to be stuck up here in the dark. The push started….

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Twenty five minutes of pushing later and we were back at the turning we should have taken. We decided to bail out on the route, there was no way we wanted to get stuck up here. Even one earlier idea to drop down to the pub in the next valley at Abergynolwn was scrapped. We could make it down OK, but how would we get back. With no lights we couldn’t even ride the road back to Machynlleth.

Looking at the map we worked out we needed to get back round the head of the valley, past the snow drifts and then head down forestry tracks to the road. From there it would be a lane down to the A493 at Pennal and the main road back to Machynlleth.

As we rode back round the head of the valley we kept an eye open for the first turning, the one we missed. None of us spotted anything, although with the snow drifts the post and track could easily have been buried.

The route back was easy to follow and we rolled into town just as the light was starting to fade, it had been an ‘interesting’ days riding for sure.

Throughout the ride there had been Police tape markers tied to trees everywhere, like the pink ribbons tied everywhere in Machynlleth, a constant reminder of April Jones and Monday 1st October 2012……

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