I haven’t ridden all the climbs in the UK, but it will be hard to beat Hardnott Pass for difficulty, drama and the beauty of the surroundings. I always think of Hardknott and Wrynose pass and the King and Queen hill climb of England. In terms of overall length and height gain, it is not particularly spectacular. But, the great attraction (or should I say feature) of Hardknott is its unrelenting steepness. Sometimes 1/3 signs overrate the steepnees of the actual climb. But, with Hardknott pass, the 1/3 is really merited. No matter which line you take, you can’t avoid considerable sections of 30%. This is really steep; it’s so steep you can have a strange feeling that you might fall over backwards when climbing. No matter how fit or not you are, getting up Hardknott pass gives a sense of achievement, which is hard to replicate on longer, but shallower climbs.
Hardknott pass is not particularly accessible, hidden away in the Esk valley in the West of the Lake District, but it is definitely worth a visit and climbing both sides. Originally Hardknott was a Roman fort.
It is worth bearing in mind:
- The descents are pretty tricky too – check your brake blocks before riding.
- Unfortunately, the road surface was pretty shocking on the East face, when I went in 2013.
- Also, it is so steep, cars and larger vehicles can really struggle (you wouldn’t believe the inappropriate vehicles people try to drive up the 30% hairpins.) Before climbing, it is worth looking around to see if there is traffic jam in front or behind you. It is best if you can climb unimpeded by traffic.
Hardknott Pass West to East (from Eskdale)
- Distance: 1.6 miles
- Avg Grade – 12%
- Lowest Elev 126ft
- Highest Elev 1,159ft
- Height gain 1,033ft / 290 metres
- Max gradient 33%
As you leave the River Esk, there is a gentle ascent before you hit the first 20% slopes. This is just a foretaste of what is to come, but it is really hard for about 500m, before the 20% gradient eases off, giving you some time for recovery as it averages a mere 8% for a km. But, you might want to keep your bike in your lowest gear for the final section. After this relative respite, you will need to get ready for the final section of twisting 30% hairpins. It’s unbelievably tough to pull yourself around these corners. If you don’t have the right gears, you will be getting off and walking. You can help yourself a little by going wide on the corners, this slightly lowers the gradient. Hopefully, you won’t get stuck behind a tractor. Cars and large vehicles can also struggle and come to an almost complete stop. You will be climbing to the smell of burning clutch. As the top approaches, the gradient mercifully eases off slightly. When you feel the gradient reducing, you know you’re going to make it – there is a great sense of relief!
At the top, it’s worth stopping to have a look behind you – it’s hard to believe what you have just climbed. Continue Reading →