Hardknott – the clue is in the name!

I wanted to blog about my recent cycling experience over Hardknott Pass in Cumbria. If only because if I don’t, there is a risk the rose-tinted spectacles will alter my memory.

And as the title suggests, the clue is in the name. Hardknott Pass, really is the hardest climb I’ve ever undertaken, by quite some distance.

Having recently successfully conquered (I’m using that word very loosely) Cold Fell, Newlands and Whinlatter and Outrigg, perhaps I was feeling a little blasé about Hardknott. However, the signs at the start of the pass, and the view as soon as you are on it soon bring you back down to earth!

Recognising it was going to be a difficult ride, my friend and I decided to head straight to Hardknott from Beckermet, rather than a more meandering route we might ordinarily have chosen.

My first error was not fuelling up for the ride. I had a light lunch earlier in the day, long before this evening ride, and all I had to keep me going en route was water and a Crunchie. It turns out that wasn’t enough.

Those who have completed Hardknott, or have attempted to do so, will know that it is split into two steep sections with a flatter section in the middle, for some respite.

I’m pleased to say that I made it up the first section. It was incredibly steep, and had me making some crazy routes across the width of the road to try and make some of the switchbacks. At the halfway point, I felt ok. I deliberately kept myself moving slowly so as to not use the last of my rapidly depleting energy stocks.

However that soon changed, almost the instant I got to the second steep section – which I think is the steepest on the whole ascent. As soon as I started to ‘pedal’ (or stomp on the pedals), I realised that the sick feeling in my stomach was a worrying lack of energy.

At this point, I chose to take a few seconds rest. I say this was a choice, but it wasn’t really – I couldn’t have made it any further.

Feeling in no way refreshed, I set off up the hill and got as far as the next corner. It became apparent at this point that I really must have a longer rest, so I busied myself with taking the pictures you see on this page. It became apparent because I nearly pulled my bike up on top of me, just trying to grind my way up the hill.

A few minutes later, I set off again.

Or I tried to. The steepness of the section I was now resting on made this quite difficult. I almost fell off the bike, but managed to gain enough momentum to crawl to the top.

And that’s when I realised that Hardknott is so extreme that getting up is only part of the challenge!

The way down involved speeds of around 4MPH, applying the brakes throughout. One section of the road has been washed away, with the interesting and entirely sensible decision to replace it with gravel.

That’s actually a good thing, because it scares you enough to slow your speed further, which is helpful for the next section of descent where your bike, amusingly, skid its way down!

And a few corners later, that was it. The Duddon Valley, Birker Fell  and Irton Pike all paled into insignificance, by comparison.

I felt battered and bruised, but I made it through the experience. And an experience is exactly what it was.

I’ve never seen roads so steep, where you need to think not only about how you’ll pull yourself up but also which parts of the road you must use to do so. Get it wrong and it’ll simply be too much of an incline to climb.

The ride definitely gave me something to think about, both in terms of my training and potential future routes, but also in terms of fuel on rides. I left myself short for this climb, and that meant the result was a foregone conclusion!

Published by Ian Curwen

Communications professional and a bit of a foodie that wants to travel more. Sharing my observations on life.

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