Wednesday, January 18, 2012

climbing Crown Range pt 1 : Wanaka side

During a particularly good SF2G, I head the rider called "Space" say he'd been to New Zealand. I asked him what the best ride he'd done there. "Wanaka to Queenstown", he said. At that moment this became a "must-do" for my trip to the country.

There's two routes connecting the two cities. The main route, Highway 6, goes around the mountain while the more direct route, Crown Range, goes over it. Obviously Space has been referring to the latter.

Crown Range was only paved relatively recently. Indeed, the profile in Scott Kennedy's book marks it as dirt. The text description, on the other hand, makes no mention of a dirt surface (although gravel on shoulders is described in the summary directions). Obviously Lonely Planet had failed to update the profile in the edition where the text was updated with the new road work. The book has many issues.

Strava verified Space had ridden the Crown Range. So when Cara and I arrived in Wanaka, after a fun stop to run the maze at Puzzle Town, the ride was on my short list of to-do's.

We were staying at the Outlet Holiday Park on the shore of the lake. It was a wonderful place, within walking distance of the Sticky Forest, home to a virtual amusement park of bike-legal single track. Not only were the trails legal, but they were labeled with such evocative names as "Super G" and "Woo Hoo", marked in signs with a Bike logo. While I didn't have a mountain bike, the trails made for a most excellent trail run.

click on image for expanded view

From the park it was a bit of a ride to get to the Crown Range Road. But once there the route was simple: ride west on the road over the pass, turn right at the "T" with Highway 6, go to Arrowtown, stop for food, return.

The route began nicely enough but unspectacularly. After an initial little rise, the road began its initial gradual ascent. I stopped to take a photo of a sheep, one of many this trip. It was to be my last photo of what was to be a day of spectacular scenery: my camera battery emptied with this shot.

The first goal was Cardrona, approximately 25 km from Wanaka, 22 km from the start of the "climb". After passing through a construction zone and the entrance to the popular winter ski resort, I was there. As far as I could tell, there was no active mid-summer commerce here: a historical general store/post office, and an old hotel. I did see a woman in what appeared to be a kitchen of the hotel, so that was probably open. There was an antique car parked on the street.

Onward... I knew from Kennedy that the road eventually kicked up from here, increasing in grade. Indeed as soon as I left town I began climbing in earnest. This section is around 5.9%, but doesn't last long. Soon after the road levels out again, beginning a series of crossings of the Cadrona river: ten, I think.

I crossed a cement cattle guard. I noted I'd not before seen a cement one: they're almost always metal. Soon after this musing, I noticed something else: my front tire was most definitely going flat. So much for any Strava heroics on this side of the hill... at least starting in Cardrona.

Before the trip, based on advice from my SF2G brethren relayed by me, Cara had purchased two Lezyne "Road Drive" mini-pumps. 100 psi without problem, I'd been told. When we arrived here, our tires deflated by Security, I'd inflated them with around 150 pumps of the little pumps. This was the pressure where pumping became difficult. I'd not really assessed how much pressure this was, but when after this ride I stopped at Outside Sports in Wanaka to inflate my tires fully, I realized they'd probably been only around 40 psi. No wonder I pinch-flatted.

I repaired the flat, perhaps unwisely using a patch instead of swapping tubes. Another Lezyne purchase before the trip: their expensive but apparently high quality "glueless" patches. I put one of these on a puncture hole, reinstalled, and reinflated. No luck. So I removed the patch, which seemed to still be intact, applid some patch kit glue, and moved the patch to cover both holes. This worked: the patch held, and the tube held air when I reinflated it. 17 minutes for the stop... but it seemed like less, as it really was a nice place.

My incident marked the beginning of the true climb From here the grade began to increase, never decreasing until the summit. The final 2 km was surprisingly steep: sustaining around 11.4% before finally relenting in the last hundred meters.

And when I reached that summit, what i saw was absolutely spectacular.

I can't really describe the view from Crown Range Pass. It was so panoramic, so dense in detail, it was just too much to really all absorb: the road winding down the opposite slope to an expansive valley, mountains in multiple layers of distance, dirt roads winding up the closest slopes. It was an overwhelming excess of color and shade: various hues of green marking the valley and hillslides, extending to white snow on the distant peaks, a light patching of clouds on the otherwise blue sky. Really incredible.

And my camera battery was empty.

Enough, I decided: I'd told Cara I'd be back by 2 pm. So I got back on my bike and continued down the western slope.

Much later, when I'd run my rating formula on the numbers from Crown Range (E), I got a rating for this climb of 106% Old La Honda, with a distance of 705% OLH and an altitude gain of 197% OLH. So it gains more altitude but does it so gradually, at least initially, the net "difficulty" comes out about the same.

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