Best Christmas Ever

What is one to do when you have been given a Christmas holiday and your family is too far away to visit? Spend a few days in the wilderness of course! Now I must start off with the fact that this was my first Christmas off of work in four years (oh the joys of working in the ski industry) and a flight home was upwards of $3,000 return. Thus I was Westward Bound for the Old Ghost Road.

Heavens Door 952x720px4

Heaven's Door, the highest point of the Old Ghost Road about 25km in

Christmas Eve rolled around and I found myself standing at the southern Old Ghost Road Trailhead in Lyell courtesy of a shuttle drop-off from Barry at Buller Adventures in Westport with 85 kilometres ahead of me. I fully psyched myself out for this ride since I was doing the journey alone and I read reviews warning how tough the track was. Nonetheless, I set off for my 30k climb up to Ghost Lake Hut for my first night. The kilometres slowly ticked by as I gradually climbed higher and higher, almost in sync with the clouds lifting and the sun finally shining through. The terrain was never overly technical, just an arduous and relentless climb.

Big Slips OGR 952x720px2

The entrance of the Big Slips, a welcomed hike-a-bike section

After nearly 6 hours of biking and 1350 meters of climbing, I made it to Ghost Lake Hut. I was welcomed by other hikers and bikers who were eager to hear about my ride up. Normally an introvert, I was happy for conversation as I had spent the last 6 hours debating in my head whether I was crazy for doing this alone and how one could possibly find joy in a 30 kilometre climb. It was here that I met a couple from the UK who had the same trip itinerary as me and invited me to accompany them the following day. Clouds filled the valley below us and after dinner and some banter, the hut was asleep early, resting up for a big day ahead.

Stern Valley Waterfall 952x720px2

All smiles after an amazingly flowy decent from the bottom of the Sky Steps to Stern Valley Hut.

We awoke on December 25th to a white Christmas- low cloud filled the valley below us and much to our disappointment, Santa seemed to have forgotten to stop at the hut. Either that or we were all on the Naughty List. More disappointment struck when had to hike-a-bike for four kilometres over a long section of technical terrain along what is known as the Skyline Ridge and a series of steps. Our spirits were low, but once we made it to the bottom of the notorious Sky Steps we were able to hop on our bikes for the first time all day and finally ride, not walk. The disappointment immediately vanished as we encountered the best singletrack on the entire trail. We effortlessly weaved between the forest through the amazingly flowy trail for many kilometres with hoots and hollers filling the valley we descended into, smiles glued to our faces and the sun shining. What more can you ask for on Christmas Day?!

White Christmas 952x720px2

Low cloud clearing from the valley below us on Christmas morning from Ghost Lake Hut.

Thirty-eight kilometres later we arrived at Specimen Point Hut exhausted after another big day. The heat had gotten the best of us through the Boneyard climb in the beating sun and we opted for a swim in the creek by the hut. The sand flies got in on the action and left my body covered in fresh welts. Apparently once you get bitten 1,000 times you become immune? I must be awfully close to that number.

Singletrack 952x720px2

The best Christmas present I could ask for- flowy singletrack for miles!

The next morning we set off for an undulating 17 kilometer ride to the northern trailhead in Seddonville. Rumours floated around that the pub at the finish didn’t open until 10am so we made sure to pace ourselves appropriately as to not arrive too early. We saw the “Seddonville 1km” sign and felt excited, accomplished, happy, but also sad as our incredible journey was about to end- back to the real world. Then we saw the end of the trail and we cheered as we biked through because now it was beer time! We had a very well deserved beer and pizza from the Rough and Tumble Bush Lodge, followed by a shower in their famous bush shower. We did it, we made it- 85 kilometers. Seriously, best Christmas ever.

Specimen Point 952x720px2

Departing Specimen Point Hut on the third and final day

GEAR REVIEW: I biked the Old Ghost Road on my GT Force Elite full suspension bike (available for hire at Chill). This bike was perfect for the trail. It had plenty of gears for the climbing and was exceptional for the descents (the TRP brake pads held up beautifully). I had no mechanical issues or tire punctures (thank you tubeless!) the entire trail, a Christmas miracle! And on cloudy days the bright yellow colour of the frame really made it pop in photos. I used the Lezyne XL Caddy that attaches to your seat post (sold at Chill) for some of my heavier gear to take the weight off my back. It holds seven liters and provided more than enough space. This caddy was a bit tricky with the rear suspension and also got in the way of the dropper post (much more suited for a hardtail bike), so I think next time I will go with the Lezyne Bar Caddy (attaches to handle bars), but it still did its job and was a great asset!

OGR Photo 952x720px3

While out on the West Coast after I finished the Old Ghost Road, I did a couple sections of the Paparoa Track to see what all the hype was about. Since the middle section is currently closed due to a slip, I biked in both ends into the first huts, so be on the lookout for a trail review in the near future.