Conquering Bwlch y Groes
With our plan to cycle from John o’Groats to Land’s End to raise money for the JDRF later in the year, we thought it was time to get some training in so Jay and Mike came up to stay for the weekend and we headed out for a ride each day.
Jay had said that he wanted to climb some hills and I’d been wanting to take on Bwlch y Groes for a while so a route was planned.
Saturday dawned a little chilly and overcast but we drove to Machynlleth and started our ride from there. As a warm up for the Bwlch y Groes which was to be the main climb of the day I thought I’d add an extra fairly tough climb to the ride so started off heading out to Forge from Machynlleth and then up over ‘Machynlleth Mountain’ towards Dylife.
As the climb started proper we split up and I headed off. There was another group of riders out on the hill today as well and they all had giant inflatable breasts on their backs. This group of 17 riders were split up all over the climb as the increasing gradient took its toll on them. I stopped for a chat with some of them as I caught them and seeing as their inflatable breasts had ‘coppafeel.org.uk’ written on them had to have a little grab as I went past! They were on a ride from Conwy to Cardiff in aid of Breast Cancer Research. I had a little chat with a few of them and then continued up the hill catching others from the group as I went.
The climb continues to steepen all the way up and is quite tough at the top. It was made even more so by a strong headwind today and it was quite chilly up over the top. I therefore continued on and back down the other side for a while before stopping. It was too cold and exposed at the top to stop. As I was waiting for Mike and Jay to catch me up a few of the coppafeel riders passed me as did a couple of their support vehicles. Mike then caught up with me followed by Jay who had been forced to walk a little bit of the climb. We continued on our way to The B4518 where we turned left towards Llanbrynmair. We turned left here again onto the A470 and made our way to Cemaes Road. We were taking it easy along here as we knew we had a monster climb to come.
At Cemaes Road we turned right and made our way through Mallwyd and on to Dinas Mawddwy. Jay and Mike were beginning to lag behind a little at times by now so I was stopping and waiting for them at junctions. We stopped briefly in Dinas Mawddwy for a nature stop and then headed off through the showers towards Bwlch y Groes.
Bwlch y Groes
Bwlch y Groes is listed as one of the top 10 climbs in the UK. It climbs from Llanymawddwy up to Bwlch y Groes and then back down towards Bala. The road is actually the highest tarmac pass in Wales. A quick search for it on the Internet brings up loads of accounts of people cycling up it and it has quite a reputation. Every account simply recalls how tough it was, many people don’t make it all the way up and those that do talk of leg burning, lUng busting gradients, pain, suffering, sweat, tears and the odd bit of vomit!
It is named Hellfire pass by the English and the official description of it describes it as ‘rough, weathered and remorselessly steep’. The description goes on to say that it is ‘arguably the hardest section of relentlessly steep tarmac in Britain. The sheer length of the steep section is what sets this climb apart, there’s just nowhere to recover.’
As you can imagine we approached with a little trepidation. I changed down to my smallest gear as I rounded the right hand hairpin as the gradient kicked up. I’d changed my cassette from a 11-25 to a 12-28 to give me a smaller gear, so in conjunction with my 39, 53 chain rings had a 39×28 gear to call on. I’m not ashamed to say that I used it almost all of the way up as well.
After the first hairpin the climb did indeed stay steep, and the rain started lashing down. The rain and gradient eased off slightly in the middle, but not for long as both kicked in again. There’s a turning off to the right towards Lake Vyrnwy which is where the cross that the climb is named after can be found. No sightseeing for me though I was going to make this climb in one go whatever it took. The road surface was deteriorating a little though and my rear wheel slipped a couple of times on the wet slippery road. I now had a tailwind which was a bonus and there was the occasional gust to lend a helping hand.
Not knowing the climb I’d been trying to stay within my limits as I wasn’t sure what was to come. After the junction it seemed to steepen a little more so I was glad I’d been holding back and certainly glad of that extra gear. It was getting pretty difficult now, but the summit couldn’t be far off. Sure enough, a couple more bends and I was there at the viewpoint. I didn’t stop though as I wanted to make sure I rode right on past the end point of any Strava segments on the climb. It would have been a shame to put in all of that effort only to stop short of a segment just for a photo!
The wet roads and gusty winds made the descent a little gusty so I took it easy. I also hoped that a slow descent wold give Mike and Jay a chance to catch up a bit. I carried on to the end of the road though where I found a bench and some shelter to wait for them. It took a while for them to arrive with Jay finally arriving after I’d been waiting there for about 30 minutes. Both had been forced to push up parts of the climb. I was getting chilly now so we carried on into Llanuwchllyn and left onto the A494. The rain returned for our ride into the wind along the main road.
I had intended to head up through Brithdir to Cross Foxes, but once at the junction waiting for the others I changed my mind. Dolgellau was only 3 miles from here and that meant that y Sospan, one of my favourite cafés was only 3 miles away too. We therefore headed into Dolgellau where we had a cake and coffee stop.
It was a good choice too as a coffee and hot cross bun was only £1.50, they had a huge choice of other cakes too, and some nice looking pasties. It would have been rude not to try them so we made ourselves comfortable and refuelled.
We couldn’t stay here all day though so we dragged ourselves away, re-saddled and headed off up the long slog to Cross Foxes and then on over the Tal y Llyn Pass with the peaks of Cadair Idris looming over us.
I had thought of heading out along the shores of Tal y Llyn to the coast, but Jay was flagging now and just wanted to get back, so after a final little climb up to Corris we descending into Machynlleth to finish our ride. The ride was just short of 75 miles with just over 6,000 feet of climbing. It took a while mind you with a moving time of just over 5 hours and therefore and average speed of 14.5 mph. I had however popped my Bwlch y Groes cherry and better still had got 7th place overall on one of the Strava Segments on the ascent.
I’m not quite sure what Jay and Mike thought of the day though. They had asked for big hills, but I think they were regretting doing so!
Back at home and it was time to pile on the calories with home made chilli and tacos. Mind you, the ride had been fairly easy for me and the cakes, flapjacks and snacks that I ate whilst out meant that I’d actually gained weight on the ride anyway. I don’t normally bother eating whilst training but today was a long day on the bike so I took plenty with me and ate it all.
A good day out in the hills of Wales, and time to start planning tomorrow’s route. Jay and Mike were already starting to request a slightly shorter ride with fewer, less steep hills!