This week’s Trail Guide TV takes us back to Scotland once again to ride with Ben Cathro, ex-pro downhill racer and now full-time skills coach for his own company, Sick Skills.
Film maker Mark Huskisson headed for the Devil’s Staircase with Ben and here is how the ride went.
The Devil’s Staircase
Words: Mark Huskisson
The Devil’s Staircase is a classic Scottish trail and one I’d not actually ridden in its entirety. I’ve filmed parts of it for various projects but never the whole trail. It has a bit of a reputation within the mountain bike world as a bit of a wheel killer and also a bit of a slog to do as a loop.
The trail as we rode it starts just beyond the Glencoe ski station on the edge of Rannoch Moor, it forms part of the West Highland Way and the ascent begins at a small hamlet surrounded with trees, which is a rare sight up on the moor.
It starts off fairly steeply with some large water bars which make ascending pretty technical, Ben managed up most of it with a little bit of pushing near the top but his skills are beyond the reach of most so I would expect if you’re an average rider like me you’d be pushing a fair bit more. It only takes about 20-30 minutes to get to the cairns and beyond these stretching out in front of you is an amazing descent.
As Ben explains in the film the trail is littered with features from rocky booters, tightly banked corners and some rather large water bars, with a healthy dose of rocky outcrops thrown in to keep you on your toes. However, the trail does flow amazingly well.
The only caveat to this is that the trail is fairly heavy with walkers at certain times of the day and they mainly walk from south to north, which is also the direction you ride. To avoid this an early or late afternoon start would probably see the trail pretty much clear of hikers.
Distance wise I’m not sure how much ground the devils staircase descent covers, I would hazard a guess that the descent on the trail would be 6-8 kilometres with a few short climbs to tackle to break up the descent. Ben managed to make the trail look fairly tame but when you’re riding it is fairly technical with a few multiple line choices thrown in for good measure. Once the trail descends down to the fire road you have a few choices: The first is to continue on the fire road to Kinlochleven which is pretty fast but you lose your height very rapidly with little gain. The second option would be to backtrack and tackle the descent as a climb and drop back into Rannoch moor using the initial climb as a descent, this option saves what can be a bit of a slog round on the road and trail back to trail head. The third option is to take a right when you hit the fire road and climb up to the reservoir and take in the Cieran path back down to Kinlochleven. This option is a fairly big day out especially if the car is parked at the trail head, but the extra descending is definitely worth the pain of the return leg. Just be sure to refuel at the cafe/bar at the Ice factor or the Coop to get some extra fuel in for the long slog back out.
This is a classic trail and one I wish I’d done when it was first mentioned to me over 10 years ago – I only wish I’d paid more attention back then. This was also the first time Ben hit this trail and he loved it, as his riding shows. I’ve driven past this trail so many times on my way up to Fort William and never really given it much thought. It’s well worth the effort and the scenery is stunning, a truly classic Scottish trail.
About Trail Guide TV
The aim of our Trail Guide TV series is simple: to inspire and uncover. We will ride some of the finest natural trails in Britain and occasionally abroad too, sometimes with local riders and sometimes on a trail hunt of our own. Trail Guide TV won’t provide maps and directions to each of the rides, but it will give a place name and some insight into the terrain. You’ll have to go on a search of your own if you want to ride the same amazing trails.
These features will all be put together by the expert hands of Mark Huskisson of Reset Films (think Find, MacAskill etc.) and will combine beautiful landscapes, stories and some of the best natural trails around. We are rather happy to have Mark on board.
Enjoy the show and keep coming back to Bike Magic as Trail Guide TV is a regular show.