bikebritain News April 15, 2012

Greatest Cycling Climbs No.69 - 'Bealach Na Ba' - Prelude

Bealach Na Ba, meaning 'Pass of the Cattle'

Here's what I know. For one reason and another it has been a slow start this year in terms of climbing some of the 100 notable climbs in the UK. This is about to change. Next week I'm flying to Inverness courtesy of easyJet with my friend and fellow cyclist Frank. As well as ourselves we are bringing our bikes. Frank owns a BMC road bike and I have a Specialized. Both have a 39/53 chain set. I have recently purchased a new bike box, which is coloured orange, from BikeBoxAlan. This will ensure that my bike gets to Inverness in one piece and I won't go completely mad trying to fit it into my previous (dhb) one.

We fly mid-morning so there should be plenty of time to re-assemble the bikes and go for a spin around Loch Ness for a warm-up ride. I say warm-up deliberately because the following day we'll be headed for Lochcarron where we'll start our ride that will include an ascent of Bealach Na Ba. 

Here are some more details about the climb itself. The ascent measures 626 meters (from sea level) over 10km. It's generally considered to be the toughest climb in Britain. It's not a busy route though because it's located in the Western Highlands of Scotland. We will be ascending from east to west using what amounts to the direct road to the small coastal village of Applecross, circa 238 inhabitants. By my reckoning it will take about 1.5 hours to get to Lochcarron from our hotel on the shores of Loch Ness. I am very excited about what awaits.

Simon Warren discusses this ride in his book "100 Greatest Cycling Climbs", saying "Anything you have read or been told about this amazing road is likely to be true." Having combed some of the Hils that are featured in his book, I've taken this as a word of warning. He rates this pass as 11/10. Basically it’s the toughest climb in his book. Everything else I've read about Bealach Na Ba correlates with this view. So it's not going to be easy. But then we wouldn't be interested in doing it if it was. I've taken some solace in the fact that there's nothing more than 20% gradient mentioned. I know I have the legs for that (plus a little extra), so the key variable will be its subsequent duration. I think I should be ok. 

The most important piece of advice I can gather relates to the weather. At that height the weather is likely to be quite different to that at sea level as well as prone to swift change. The forecast for the next week looks reasonable, with a relatively low probability (10%) of rain and potentially sunshine. However, I'm taking that with a pinch of salt. We'll be appropriately prepared. 

Once we've scaled the pass, we'll be heading north along the coast to Callakille, Arrina and Shieldaig. Once we've got to Shieldaig we have a choice; we can either ride back to Lochcarron or we can add a further loop and push east to Lochrosque and then return to Lochcarron. We'll see how we feel when we get there. The hill is our point of interest. 

So this is the plan as it stands at the moment. I've just read that the hamlet of Abriachan has a steep climb en route so we might try and integrate that into our ride around Loch Ness on day one. 

This is the prelude. 

I'll let you know how we get along.

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