Old Ghost Road - Part 1

Postby Rik on Wed 19/Oct/16 8:52am

Like all good adventures, this one needed to begin with a good nights sleep beforehand, and after a comfortable nights sleep at the old nurses home in Reefton, l was as ready as I was every going to be to tackle the infamous Old Ghost Road.

There are ten of us in this group and the plan is an early start at Lyell, read early as on the trail by 8am. Then hit the Stern Valley Hut for an overnight stay, then ride out to Seddonville the next day, where, an army of partners would collect us and shuttle back.

Now, I'm not a great believer in bad omens, but things took a turn for the worse right from the get go. Taking my helmet out of the car at the Lyell carpark. The rock-stop strap snapped. Panic set in as I contemplated two days on fast, technical, unknown and dangerous terrain with a loose helmet or no helmet at all. Shudder. Thankfully, five minutes with my Swiss army knife, I had augered two holes, enabling me to zip tie the strap back together. Was it safe? No, would it hold? Doubt it. Would I recommend you try this at home kids? Definitely not. Now, more so than any other ride, ever, crashing, was just not an option.

After the required amount of 'faffing', myself and the rest of the group where hastily organised into an effort to get the ten of us into frame for a photo session under the 'Old Ghost Road' sign board. Click, media duties completed, we jumped on our bikes and dropped into the bush, over the first of many swing bridges and straight into the climb. TimeCheck 8:04am

Ready for adventure?

It's a beautiful climb, meandering through dense bush on an easy 5% gradient with good surface. Weather conditions are also favourable, blue skies, scattered low cloud and temperatures in the low double digits. Not too hot, not too cold. This is a good place to be on fresh legs. Good to know, because I'm going to be here for another 1000 odd metres of vertical climbing.

One of the few places you can check your emails

With plenty of rest stops to adjust luggage solutions, or the number of clothing layers required, or even a photo opportunity or two. We made it to the Lyell saddle hut bang morning tea time. Timecheck 10:00am

The Lyell saddle hut was mid refurbishment, but even in an unfinished state it was in an extremely impressive hut.

Actual Photo, not stolen from the cover of the Blue book

From here on in, the going gets a bit tougher. After leaving the Lyell saddle hut, the trail begins switch backing it's way up the increased gradient.

Cometh the weather

Rounding one of the later hairpins, my legs screamed enough. It started with the right leg cramping up, then through the effort of dismounting, my left leg wanting to join the party. Bent over my bike, both legs locked in spasm, I knew I wasn't going to be able to ride this one off. Not knowing the exact cause of their discontent, I gave them everything they could have wanted, a quick stretch, a rub, and an energy gell washed down with a good gulp or ten of water for good measure. Which ever one was it was, it did the trick. The legs where happy enough to keep moving after only a few minutes.

quick breather before the top


Eventually climbing above the tree line into what is probably the jewel in the crown of this trail, in terms of panoramas. I say probably because as the trees stop the clouds start. Visibility can be measured in hundreds of metres rather than thousands. On the plus side the lack of visibility was doing wonders for my vertigo. I had absolutely no idea how exposed I was riding across the top ridge. The flat light combined with epic landmark names like 'Heavens Door' and the 'The Tombstone', this section of the trail reads and appears like a brilliantly choreographed video game.

As mesmerizing as the scene might be, this is no game, and this is reinforced by the numerous trail-side warning signs. By now the wind had picked up and had blown in much heavier cloud. Mist became drizzle, drizzle became rain. We cowered in the wind shadow of the tombstone waiting for the stragglers. There is no desire to hang around here any second longer than is absolutely necessary. Time check 12:00pm

The Tombstone

I didn't feel cold across the top, but when we grouped on the other side and one of my buddies commented how blue my lips were, I figured maybe I was cold, we're still over a kilometre above sea level, there's a lot of freewheeling ahead. I think I'd better put another layer on.

33rd milestone

It's funny but this section was the worst section for weeding out any deficiencies in people's luggage solutions. It was either the rain, the terrain or a combination of both. No complete failures, just a number of quick pitstops to re-attach or re-tighten something. I have to say though my Revlate Designes Viscacha was faultless. It didn't get in the way,it didn't come loose and it didn't leak. It just worked. delivering all my overnight equipment safe and dry to our accommodation.

It's all downhill from here and wrapped up in my waterproof jacket, I'm warm and dry (for now) and I am enjoying the freewheeling. This is what the Old Ghost Road is all about, I get it now, I get why we've spent the whole morning climbing. I push back on the bars, drop my heels and play a game of how high a pitch can we get the freewheel to whizz. For nigh on two blissful hours of singletrack.

At this point the trail is broken up by terrain untraverseable by bike, well, for anyone not named Danny MacKaskill that is. Hundreds wooden steps snake their way steeply down through the dense bush. To make matters worse, everything, including myself is saturated at this point. I stand atop the first step and my mind throws back to being eight years old and the feeling I had when the pool came into view when I got to the end of the high diving platform. I rate my chances of getting down here without slipping, in rigid soled shoes, whilst carrying a bike, as slim. In reality it wasn't as bad as I imagined, all the steps have anti-slip bands on the edge and the majority of the flights had handrails or a tree within grasping range for peace of mind. I made it down without incident. Time for a celebratory munch on some calorie dense oaty square.

steps 290 through 301

What came next was the last few hundred metres of vertical drop to the valley floor. And holy cow, what a section of descent this is. The surface is hard pack rock, about a metre wide, running down through the forest, along the left hand side of the valley. This it important because is these conditions right handers are often stream crossing run offs from impromntu water faills. They offer a measure of visibility around the corner and a bermed exit to kerb any excess speed carried in. Left handers on the other hand, mask their radius behind a curtain of solid rock benching, and the exit? who knows. It could open up, it could be a large drop to a undoubtedly serious accident. Some are sign posted, but all of them demand to be respected. The survival plan is overbrake until you can spot your exit then get back on it and power out. This kind of stop-start riding doesn't flow, but it great fun trying to keep the pace up and keep up with the riders infront. Three of us have broken away from the rest of pack, I say three, maybe there's more, I can't hear anyone behind me and at these speeds in these conditions I am not taking my eyes off whats ahead. Even in the sopping wet there is a surprising amount of grip to be had braking into corners. And the speed picks up terrifying quickly on the straights. On one of the straights I ponder the consequences crashing at these speeds. Thankfully a corner arrives soon enough to distract me before that gloomy train of thought goes too far.

Waiting at the bottom for the others to regroup, I'm completely soaked, my shoes are squelching and I'm chewing on the gritty trail paste thrown from the rear tyre of the rider in front. But I'm still buzzing from the adrenaline of the descent. A robin hops onto my handlebar as brave as you like, so close I could grab it, I'm mesmerized. I'm in a happy place.

It doesn't look it, but this is my happy place

We're so close to the days finish now, you can almost smell it. We wind our way through the remainder of the forest until finally and most gloriously the Stern valley hut peaks into view. Time check 3:30pm

Wow what a well equipped hut this is. There is a covered bike storage area complete with basic tool should you have had the misfortune to suffer any minor mechanical issues.

The hut itself has a large vestibule on the side to act as an airlock between the muddy outside and a clean inside. Most importantly for us, large enough with enough hooks and shelves to more or less accommodate 10 sets of saturated riding outerwear.

As I wander in I fall for a passing remark "Hey the river is nice and warm".
So I traipse down to the river and wade in to wash off the worst of the mud. Eeesh I wouldn't describe the water as warm, but it's hardly freezing either, its hard to tell when your stand in the rain cold and wet. I look down to see the plume of brown water floating off downstream, I can see just how much mud I've managed to accumulate.

Outdoor bathing facilities

Inside there's already three or four 'chiefs' trying to coax life out of the wood burner. There's no need for me to add my 2c to that discussion forum, and I set about organizing my bunk and getting into dry clothing. Before long we've got the fire roaring, everyone's clothes are hanging from the amply sized dry rack above the fire.

After dinners have been prepped and consumed we settled down to make our own entertainment with nothing more than a bottle of whiskey and a pack of cards for the dying hours of the day.

Hut entertainment, cards and whiskey

As the sun slipped behind the hill tops and darkness descended three lights scanned through the trees. Which turned out to be three more mountain bikers who where staying in one of the two sleepouts on site. Like drowned rats drawn to shore. Our huts smoking chimney told them we had everything they needed. They where soon squeezed into our hut to prep food and hang wet clothing. Their later start time meant not only arriving after dark but having to endure the rain for most of the day. Poor guys.

By eight o'clock most people had drifted off to their bunks and I wasn't far behind. It had been a day of ups and down, both physically and mentally. that had left me shattered, but with plenty of positive thoughts to ponder in the five minutes between my head hitting the pillow (clothes stuffed into a stuff sack) and drifting off to sleep.


Here =} old-ghost-road-part-the-finish-t128153.html
35.15 km
4.68 kph
1324.80 m
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""Cities are becoming more rational again, after the folly of car-centric planning," Colville-Andersen"
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Re: Old Ghost Road - Part 1

Postby jo on Wed 19/Oct/16 9:55am

Wow, good on you Rik! Old Ghost Road is definitely a new Classic. :cool:
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Re: Old Ghost Road - Part 1

Postby Kev on Wed 19/Oct/16 11:25am

Cool writeup bro
It sounds like it was an epic ride
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Re: Old Ghost Road - Part 1

Postby Claude on Wed 19/Oct/16 8:09pm

O for Oarsome! Bring on part 2.
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Re: Old Ghost Road - Part 1

Postby Rik on Wed 19/Oct/16 9:13pm

Thanks all, I've added the GPX trace.
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""Cities are becoming more rational again, after the folly of car-centric planning," Colville-Andersen"
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Re: Old Ghost Road - Part 1

Postby BrokenKonaRider on Wed 19/Oct/16 11:16pm

Like! How much of that whisky did you get through on that night?
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Re: Old Ghost Road - Part 1

Postby mfw on Thu 20/Oct/16 10:22pm

Nice writeup and pics Rik, look forward to the next installment :thumbsup:
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Re: Old Ghost Road - Part 1

Postby Rik on Fri 21/Oct/16 8:16am

BrokenKonaRider wrote:Like! How much of that whisky did you get through on that night?

Durr, all of it, there was 10 of us though. You don't want to carry out a half full bottle now do you.
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""Cities are becoming more rational again, after the folly of car-centric planning," Colville-Andersen"
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Re: Old Ghost Road - Part 1

Postby jo on Fri 21/Oct/16 10:24am

:D :thumbsup:
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