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Trail > New Route: Canals, Mountans and 9km Descents

I’ve been exploring around a local mountain in Spain recently, looking for new bike trails for the 2011 holiday season. As is always the way I found a great descent but finding a decent route up has proved elusive. My first attempt resulted in me climbing about 700m in 4km up a concrete road, totally demoralizing and not good enough. Back to the drawing board then! A few more unsatisfactory searches and then, finally this week I found a nice route up. It’s tough, that’s for sure, the route is 27km long and has around 1500m of climbing, and when I went this week with a local rider it took us 5hrs with very few stops.

The route starts in a traditional Basque town, and we ride through the narrow streets before dropping down on what must have been an old road to the river. Nowadays it’s a very broken down stony trail with lovely drops and tight corners, a great way to start the day. I was riding my friends Lapierre Zesty and, although it’s a great bike, it doesn’t quite have the hooligan element I’m used to with my Hustler and I was definitely backing off on the straights here as I felt the QR flexing on the front forks and the back end squirming. In credit to the Zesty, it’s the first time I’ve found it to be out of it’s depth but the combination of the high speed and fixed rocks was too much for it.
From the river there is a sharp climb and here comes the key discovery, the key that unlocked our improved climb: a canal! If you’re a regular reader of these trail updates then you’ll know all about the canals here, very briefly they are very old channels for carrying water which follow contours and often offer sweet singletrack links. This is a big claim… but I think this is the best canal I’ve ridden. It’s not as scenic as our “Canal Ride” but it’s 99% rideable whilst still being technical and having that slightly exposed feeling as is clings to the contour lines. The first part is covered, with big stone slabs, so you ride on that, to the soundtrack of a deafening clunking noise as your wheels move the slabs on the hollow canal, the second part is uncovered but there’s a really nice techy singletrack to the side of the canal and we follow that. We roll canal-style for 4km, skirting round the hill sides to leave our valley and get into another.
Now we have the first part of our climb. It’s tough, and we climb on a mixture of forest tracks and singletrack to reach the start of our ridge at 700m, climbing the 500m in about 5km. Here the trail becomes spectacular, lots of rooty forest singletrack in a stunning old beech forest, and although we are still climbing I have to say I didn’t really notice. Then we have a lovely techy descent, still rooty and rapid which looses height very gradually, giving us a couple of km’s of fun but only loosing us a hundred meters of hard won elevation. I was “quite excited” here and was making up Spanish words to try and convey my enthusiasm!
So, we are at 650m now, and have been following our ridge for about 5km, all singletrack, and we now have a bit more climbing. The climb starts on concrete and then exits onto rooty forest paths taking us to a col, and here we have to climb up to get to the next part of our ridge. There is a bit of pushing at the start but we soon pick up a singletrack across the hill face and after some effort pick up the next ridge. The views from here are spectacular, it must be the most scenic fence in the world. Surely! We can see San Sebastian, on towards Bilbao, Biarritz and the whole Atlantic coast laid out before us. We pick up more singletrack and follow this ridge, with a short, 1km, technical descent, before we arrive at the second obstacle on our route.
The summit before us reaches 1050m, and we are at about 960m, but it’s mostly not rideable. It takes about 15 minutes to push the bikes up the final climb but it is quite hard. Today we looked at an option to skirt round the summit but it ended up in a horrible, dangerous scramble up a heather covered cliff. Not that way then! I think it’s best to just suck it up and push on to the summit.
At the summit we can sit, under the tattered Basque flag that flies there, and have a rest and some food before padding up. We are looking at a descent of just under 1000m with 9km of singletrack to the van. We were in a real hurry, Javito had to pick up his kids from the school, and we didn’t hang about but it still took us 40 minutes to get down. The singletrack continues almost into the village, and once in the village the last bit is on a lovely twisty narrow street which spits us out at the van. We both agreed, it’s a special route, tough but if you have the legs and determination to get there then the reward is impressive. This is real remote biking, very few people will use this trail, braking bumps or marks from skidding just don’t exist. 9km of singletrack formed by local people walking or animals, laid out in a perfect blend of curves, bumps and gravity for us to throw our bikes down.
Thanks for Javito for some of the pictures, I took a few too.

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