"Each step forward has a sacred meaning of its own"   Sri Chinmoy

Sixty Climbs - 2023-2024

This blog (if that's what it is) begain back in 2004 when I was inspired to run up 40 Mountains in South Wales as a way of saying thank you for 40 years of Sri Chinmoy's spiritual teaching in the west. He left India for the USA in April 1964, which is why we see that time as the beginning of the whole Sri Chinmoy movement, or mission, or family, or (add appropriate word here). Back then, Sri Chinmoy was still in the physical so some of the races I did were in his presence - something totally awesome now I look back on it. He'd sometimes be on the finish line of a 2 miler, or watching from the road when we did the 12 Hour Walk or 47 Mile Race. He encouraged me personally in the marathon at Rockland one time, which is a memory I'll always treasure.

Now Sri Chinmoy isn't physically here, but we still celebrate his significant anniversaries enthusiastically - especially April 13th. That date in 2024 will be the 60th anniversary of our path, so I decided to come up with a similar venture to the 40-mountains mission which I enjoyed so much back in my thirties. I decided to go for sixty "climbs" and leave the definition of climbs pretty loose - a serious uphill stint on the bike, or a run to a hilltop, that kind of thing. Some will, I hope, be epic ascents of named cycling climbs or conquering of summits in a fell race, while others will be low key sessions when I'm out training on the hills. Essentially, I'll be bagging peaks and cycling-climbs whenever and wherever I can until I have clocked up the magic number of sixty.

As this came to me in New York at the celebration of Sri Chinmoy's 59th Arrival Anniversary, I planned to get started as soon as I was back in the UK. Arriving home with a case of Covid-19 put paid to that and I had to spend a few weeks making sure I was sufficiently recovered before I got myself up to a high heart rate on a climb. So it was the next time I rode my bike to work that I managed to start the project - with the tough ascent of Providence Lane in Long Ashton as the first of the sixty.

1 - PROVIDENCE LANE - solo cycle climb - 10 May 2023 - 05:39. I was in my commuting gear, laptop and all! After the chilly descent through Ashton Court I paused to meditate at the foot of my first climbing challenge then, abike and light hearted I took to the open road (to butcher those wonderful lines by Walt Whitman). Providence is a steepy for sure, and soon had me up to around 160bpm with my legs protesting that I'd been neglecting my cycling and was asking them to do something they were'nt really prepared for. Well, I can't deny it. Anyhow, the road wound through the houses and out into more open country, finally ending at Beggar Bush Lane where I gratefully stopped for a breather before continuuing my journey to work with a descent of Belmont Hill and a scenic ride though Barrow Gurney. First of sixty done!


BEACON FELL -  solo hill run - 14 MAY 2023. Having had to pull out of a recent Fell Race because of covid, I engineered our trip to Scotland so I could squeeze in a proper run in the hills of Lancashire on the way. Beacon Fell had a car park quite near the top so I found an alternative, at the bottom of a gorgeous valley, and set off through sodden but sunlit trails and fields to ascend this lovely hill. There were bluebell woods and pine forests, boggy fields and breathless climbs. A wonderful hill run with amazing views from the Trig too. After chugging up one of the early climbs (as this one came in several stints, not just one mad uphill dash) I was slapped on the back by an inspired, retired pilot who admired me for running the climb but also wanted to share his love of the beautiful views with another person (I was the only one around). I had a strong feeling he was channelling the soul of Lancashire....

HOLLYWOOD LANE - solo cycle climb - 16 MAY 2023. After a recce of the Sri Chinmoy Try-a-Tri route on a clear, cool May morning I took the long way home to include this short but bracing climb on a car-free lane (nice!!) between Easter Compton and Cribbs Causeway. I run this route a lot as it gives me a traffic-free route from the trails around Severnside back to my house in Filton. Riding it in the morning before work was blissful, with the birdsong loud enough to drown out the M5 (with a little help from my imagination).

EAST DUNDRY LANE - solo cycle climb - 22 MAY 2023. Dundry is a word that resonates with any cyclist local to Bristol. It's a hilltop village and whichever way you approach, you're going to hit a stiff climb. I love the ascent from Withywood on East Dundry Lane, starting at the pinch-point on the road just after the shops and taking in the switchback bends to arrive at the Carpenter's Arms, where the road levels out on the hilltop. The climb itself took me 7:53 (complete with commuting kit and laptop in a backpack for added challenge) and the heart rate went up to 171 which shows the steepness. Pic is of the view back down, looking at some of the traffic I had held up on the climb :)

5 - WAVERING DOWN - solo hill run -  3 JUNE 2023. As part of my 55k ultra hill run on the weekend of my 55th birthday I only really bagged one "summit" and that was Wavering Down. The route of the West Mendip Way skirted the tops of Purn Hill and Hellenge Hill and ran along the shoulder of Crook Peak, but the 4th proper climb of the day did bring me to the Trig point of Wavering Down with gorgeous views towards Glasonbury and the Cheddar Reservoir. At this point I was still running, the ups as well as the downs. Later in the run I hit the wall properly and was reduced to a rather lame walk, before bouncing back to run the last 8 miles into Wells. An epic day that saw me climb 1400 metres in total - a kind of Mendip equivalent of Ben Nevis.

6 - BACKWELL HILL LANE - solo cycle climb - 12 JUNE 2023. Since lockdown I've mostly worked from home but now it's 1 day a week or occasionally 2 in the office. A great opportunity to ride on some unfamiliar roads that would be outside my morning ride radius otherwise. Backwell Hill Lane starts at The George, easily reached by a combination of the paths through Ashton Court (where I had a lovely ride through the Deer Park on this occasion) and the Sue Otty Way (shadowing the railway south-west out of Bristol). I grabbed a shot of the beginning of the lane then went for it. I am not sure quite how steep it gets but it does have a couple of kicks and it's long. Eventually you come out at Bristol Airport, climb the short dig of Potters Hill then it's plain sailing into the city. I definitely worked up a major sweat on this one though, not helped by having to stop and lose all momentum once or twice when the van in front of me had to pull in to let another vehicle through on the single-track section, which is also the steepest part of the climb.

7 - CONSTITUTION HILL - solo cycle climb - 14 JUNE 2023. An urban climb in the salubrious Clifton Wood area of Bristol. I tackled this one on the way to the office after a mega early start, down into town then along Anchor Road and up Jacobs Wells Road (a climb in itself) to the foot of Constitution Hill. It didn't look that steep from the junction but it did kick right up as I sweated my way up in the clear, cool morning sunshine. I did most of it in the saddle and I was on my Tri bike so it was good practice for Helvellyn later this year. From the top I grabbed this photo showing the 16% sign.

8 - YANLEY LANE - solo cycle climb - 14 JUNE 2023. One of my favourite hills to ride, this little gem is on a silent lane that I often take in on my long commute-cum-training ride through Ashton Court and round the back of the south-western fringes of Bristol. It's a stiff little climb and goes on a while, but the view over the gate at the top makes it well worth it. Photos are from the bottom (it kicks up straight after that railway bridge) and the top (epic vista over the Great Western City).

9 - BLACKQUARRIES HILL- solo cycle climb - 17 June 2023. I discovered this climb a while back when i planned to follow a GPX file without realising it was a gravel ride rather than a road route! As a result I had to take a different line to that shown on the map on my phone and found myself struggling, not once but twice, with this monster of a lane that climbs from Wotton under Edge to the "roof" of the Cotswold Plateau. This time I was on my Tri Bike, so it was going to present a slightly different challenge to when I was on a 1:1 ratio on my old road machine. I rode up to Wotton in constant rain, with only some token hills (like the approach to Wootton itself) to contend with on the way, then steeled myself for a tricky ascent. I don't know what the actual gradient is, but I'd guess it is at least in the high teens if not 20%. With the road nicely rain-soaked, staying in the saddle as much as possible was going to be essential to prevent wheelspin. Everything began well enough on the lower slopes, but as the hill kicked up on the steeper mid-section I encountered rain-washed sand covering the middle of the lane and a lot of twigs, gravel and potholes making it hard to ride a clean line. I surprised myself by getting up without incident though and without really being at the "not sure I can do this" stage, which I had been half expecting. Needless to say, I opted for a long loop back via Combe Hill instead of returning down the dodgy surface I had climbed! With that test passed, I now needed to seek out some genuine, certified 20% epics. Based on some googling the options seem to be Hill Road out of Dursley, Draycott Steep down near Cheddar and looking further afield - maybe Lynmouth Hill or Cleeve Hill? That's for another day though. The photos are from before - and the view after.


10 - JOY HILL - GRANBY HILL - HENSMANS HILL - solo cycle climb - 20 June 2023. I spotted Hensmans Hill when I was riding the nearby CONSTITUTION HILL in Bristol's Clifton Wood area - the hillside neighbourhood of Georgian streets that rises steeply from the Avon (Floating Harbour) to the heights of Clifton. It's going to be a steepy whichever way you slice it. Joy Hill was a short, urban dig from a standing start, then the right turn on to Granby Hill brought me on to a section that peaks at 15% - tasty. I was getting in the way of some traffic sadly, but those streets are for bikes too, people. Nobody got narky so nice to see that the driver and the rider, being both Humans, can easily co-exist. It wasn't the killer hill I had been hoping for so I extended the ride to The Downs via The Promenade and Fountains Hill, which is where the finish photo comes from. That gravel from the road resurfacing was a tad scary. This only extended my ride home by around 10 minutes and gave me a look at some lovely old-town scenery on Granby Hill and an equally lovely ride along the tree-lined boulevard of Ladies Mile.


11 - HILL ROAD / THE BROADWAY - solo cycle climb - 24 June 2023. I had some unfinished business with this epic Cotswold Climb. I'll always remember it as the one that defeated me towards the end of a 200k Audax. Lost in the rain and darkness, fatigued and with batteries going flat rapidly, I was searching for a way back up on to my intended route that should have brought me into Wotton. I remember starting on the climb which was actually a pretty good guess at the right route, but having to give up when my tired legs just couldn't go on. I eventually found a way round on the A road and finished the ride within the cut-off time but only just! So it was great to come back years later and tackle it relatively fresh. I rode out from Bristol on what became a two and a half hour session to the Cotswolds and back. Although the sign says 20%, Veloviewer has it peaking at 26% and definitely the steepest I have tackled so far - the kind of thing I'll need to be able to do after an hour or two of racing when I get to Kirkstone Pass in September. Needless to say, this time I made it!


 12 - EAST DUNDRY ROAD - solo cycle climb - 26 June 2023.One of many ways up to Dundry that rates a V on the OS map, this narrow lane winds up from Whitchurch in the southern part of Bristol on to the ridge overlooking the city and skirts the edge of the iron age hillfort that is probably its precursor. I made this a long commute on one of my days in the office, so my ride started at home in Filton, then down to Bedminster and south on Hartcliffe Way before finally turning on to the residential street that morphs into a country lane when the houses end. The surface was truly awful, the gradient felt like it should have 2 Vs on the map not one and it was an exhilarating grind of a climb. The payoff was a transcendent view out over the city, with poppies and crops waving in the breeze in the foreground.

13 - FAN Y BIG - Fell Race - 8 July 2023. At last, another climb on foot! As I didn't have the car for this race, getting to the start involved 2 trains and then 18 miles on my road bike through the Bannau Brycheiniog national park. The race was a thriller and left me pretty empty at the finish, but I certainly did better on the climb (20th at the top I think) than the descent (26th overall in the results). Although I wasn't in hill-run shape, I still feel I held my own in this one and the climb was worth every second of effort. What a gorgeous mountain surrounded by inredible valleys, lakes, ridges and of course - stormy skies. The total climb in the race was around 700m and most of that is behind me in the photo taken by one of the summit marshals.

14 - BACKWELL HILL / CHESTON COMBE- solo cycle climb - 12 July 2023.Having tackled Backwell Hill Lane from The George I decided to take on the same hill but from another road, Cheston Combe. That meant my commute, with laptop etc in my backpack, got extended down the Sue Otty way then instead of going straight over the A370 at Backwell I took a detour and started the climb from its beautiful church. The slope was easy at first and then kicked up under the trees, a silent struggle on wet roads that meant coming out of the saddle was a risky business. I don't know the gradient but it was a long and hard climb with a load on my back and things didn't really relent until I got up past the airport and to the top of Potters Hill. From then on there's mostly 20-30mph freewheeling all the way to the office.

15 - BELMONT HILL - solo cycle climb - 17 July 2023. This one is a well known local slope although it's neither the longest nor the steepest. Somehow it's just long enough, and just steep enough, to be a decent challenge. I chose to ride it after a shift in the office on a day of rather dubious weather, so I was on my Cannondale (winter bike) with a backpack. Just to make it more of a challenge :). I was planning to ride through Barrow Gurney but signs warned me that the road was closed, so I detoured on Yanley Lane and then rode headlong into the stiff south-westerly breeze all the way through Long Ashton. When I did turn the corner and make it to the bottom of Belmont, at least I had the wind to my back.  VeloViewer has the stats for this one as: Segment Stats. Type: Ride; Climb category: 4th; Distance: 1.4 km; VVOM: 1.97; Average gradient: 7.0%; Maximum gradient: 10.3%; Elevation gain: 102 m ...it took around six minutes of toil to reach the top, conscious of cars queuing behind me, with quads feeling pretty sore and heart rate up to threshold.

16 - KILCOTT HILL- solo cycle climb - 21 July 2023. I hadn't heard about this Cotswold Edge climb, but scanning the OS map for the tell-tale 2 "V" symbols that mean a 20% gradient, I guessed this was one of my closest uber-steep climbs and set my sights on it for an evening training ride. I headed up there at a tough tempo on my triathlon bike on a dry and mild evening after work, with the long run of the week still in my legs but no option for a rest-day with a mountain triathlon on the horizon. The approach was an idyllic lane, gorgeously leafy with the spurs of the Cotswold escarpment rising on all sides and all road noise faded in the distance. The reverie was broken somewhat on the lower slopes when the road became no more than a farm track - I stopped to check the map and confirm it was the right road and it was - then carried on, hoping against hope that the 20% section would be a little smoother. The broken surface was worse than your standard lane-gravel, more getting on for hard-core down the middle of the road in places. At least it was dry. Soon I was on the bend that marked the start of the super-steep section, down into the lowest gear and holding it steady while climbing in the saddle. Suddenly the proper metalled surface resumed and it stayed reasonable up to the second steep section, which was only a single V on the map. I could tell that the climbs I was getting in every week were starting to have an effect, as while I can't say I breezed up it (legs felt bruised from the very start), there was never any hint of a "will I make it?" moment. At the very top I emerged on the lip of the Cotswold hills and there was a short section between recently mown fields with massive bales of straw before I plunged down Starveall Lane for the return journey. This descent looks like a cracking climb in its own right, one for another day perhaps. Photo, stolen from google maps, shows the smooth section ten years ago. It's not so smooth now.
17 - BEACON BATCH - solo hill run - 23 July 2023. A training run on a warm but rainy morning in the lovely surroundings of the Mendip Hills. Beacon Batch is one I know from the race that bears its name, which hasn't happened for a couple of years but may, I hope, return in the future. After all, it's my most local proper fell race. I parked up at Burrington Hams and ran a gradual ascent that took the contours diagonally while skirting the base of the hill. Then came a right turn and the climb proper, over springy turf on a barely perceptible track that came out at the Trig. It felt amazing to be back in these hills where I have raced and trained so many times and there's a certain magic in arriving at a trig point, with epic views over Somerset and the sea. The weather was murky and I was looking down on the cloud ceiling at times, the weather bringing a special hush to the lush, green hills.
17 - DOLEBURY HILL- solo hill run - 23 July 2023. After climbing Beacon Batch I descended into the pine forest paradise of Rowberrow Warren and clocked up several miles of ups and downs, coming out to the road briefly at Tynings Farm then sliding back into the maze of wooded trails to find my way to the valley bottom at Rowberrow Village. After that  I found myself running along the levee of the old Lead Mine and coming out at the foot of the steps to Dolebury. At some point on the descent I felt a sensation like a sudden kick in my hamstring and worried I had tweaked something - it was a kind of dead-leg but could equally have been a cramp rather than an injury. I carried on, jogging tentatively, to see if I could run it off.
I can see why my ancestors built a hill fort here - the side of the hill looks almost vertical and cliff-like and the way up today, part of a waymarked trail, is on narrow steps cut into the earth and reinforced with solid wooden panels. I started ambitiously, running every step, but as the slope started to ease off my legs told me it was time for a fell-race-style walk, hands on knees for a spell, before I started running again to get myself on to the Iron Age rampart then down into the interior of the fort for a final effort up to the highest point. The rain and mist were swirling around me and the atmosphere was of clarity and serenity, apart from my concern about the tweaked hamstring which I still hoped was no more than a spasm in the muscles. I remembered the hard effort of two and a half hours on the bike less than 48 hours before, plus the fact I usually take magnesium to stave off cramp before a hill session and this time I'd forgotten. Later after a bath in epsom salts and a double dose of magnesium it eased right off, though I could still feel a dull, bruised sensation hours later. As I write this I think it is just a cramp, but it serves as a timely reminder that you're only ever one niggle away from a long layoff and all that running-injury-frustration.
18 - THE W, NAILSWORTH - solo cycle climb as part of a DIY Audax - 6 August 2023
This was a lovely switchback climb that fell 2 hours into a 100k hilly Audax. As my photo doesn't do it justice I found a black and white shot of the bends which gives a better illustration of what a lovely (and challenging) climb it is. The name comes from the aerial view which is the kind of W a 4-year old might write but a W nonetheless. It was a dry day so I could get into a low gear on a nice, grippy road and just enjoy the unfolding views as the climb went on, over the Severn and deep into the welsh mountains.
19 - HALE WOOD - solo cycle climb as part of the ATGIG Audax - 12 August 2023
This 100 mile Audax had 2.25 AAA points (2250+ metres of ascent) hidden in its many twists and turns. The first big challenge was this beast of a climb in the narrow lanes that criss-cross the high land between the Wye and the Usk. After the initial drag up to Itton from Chepstow, the course plunged down a narrow lane with a broken surface, through woods that had shed a lot of leaves and twigs in the recent storm-lashed days. After that nervy descent to a staggered crossroads at Llwyn Bedw, the real climb began. It merits 2 "V"s on the OS map making it north of 20% and boy did it feel like it. The rough and wet surface meant I had to stay in the saddle and weave between potholes, working my way up a total of around 125 metres of idyllic woodland. Not having expected this challenge at this particular stage of the course, the only pic I could grab was of myself from my phone on the handlebars (there for GPS, but easily switched to camera mode with a couple of taps).
20 - CEFN-Y-CRIB -  cycle climb as part of an Audax - 12 August 2023. Another one from the awesome ATGIG Century Ride, this climb took us unawares as we navigated our way out of Swffryd towards Pontypool. One of my riding companions announced his Garmin had "gone purple" and from a standing start (because the start of the hill was a tight bend, almost 180 degrees) we began the long and testing grind through the trees. A car turned into the lane just behind our grupetto of three riders and the driver soon gave up and stopped to allow us to wind our way to the top. It went on and on and while it only merits a single V on the map it must have been close to the magic 20%. Once we were out the top I confidently said it should be all downhlll to Pontypool and our next control, but that proved naive in the extreme as the lumpy lanes kept on coming. An amazing climb and worth a detour if you find yourself in these parts. Again the only memento I managed to get was a handlebar selfie that shows the welsh summer weather in all its glory.
21 - WENTWOOD - cycle climb as part of ATGIG Audax - 12 August 2023. The third and last of the trio of climbs in this gorgeous hundred miler came in the final quarter of the ride, returning from the Usk valley to the high ground around Chepstow. There are several ways up this epic escarpment, of which Star Hill is probably the best known. On this occasion we took the prison-road out of Usk and from the floor of the vale the wooded hillside began to loom large. I peeled off my jacket despite the uncertain weather and began to winch myself up. The pre-event spiel rated this hill at 22%, though the road sign had a mere 16%. It came in stages, each one steeper than the previous one, culminating in the approach to a bend that my memory told me was the lip of the slope. It turned out to be a slightly dodgy memory but after the sharp left hander there was only easy climbing. This was the headline climb of the ride and hard enough to be worthy of top billing, though for me Hale Wood was more of a challenge.


22 - CHEDDAR GORGE- cycle climb as part of CAL/On Yer bike charity ride - 13 September 2023. With a hilly 72 miler in prospect for the CAL ride I was hoping to clock up more than one climb. Although the ride was lumpy in every way, only one climb stood out as a singular challenge and that was the iconic ascent of Cheddar Gorge. I started at the back of a group of 5 and was in the first three to complete the climb and take a well earned rest at the water station up by the turning for Charterhouse, so despite having a plan to take it easy (I had just got over an illness, plus I had a hill race lined up 3 days later) I had not been able to resist the temptation to step on it and push hard on the climb. I was on my Cannondale endurance bike with a smooth action and low gears but a higher overall weight than my Tri-bike - I'm not sure how long I took but I felt strong on this one, to the point where I could even enjoy the awesome views from the deep section of the gorge where the walls press in on both sides and the road kicks up to a fearsome gradient. The drag at the top was endless as always.

23 - PEN CERRIG CALCH - Hill Run as part of Black Mountains Fell Race- 16 September 2023. First of four long and challenging ascents in this amazing AL-class Fell Race, Pen Cerrig Calch is a mountain I have run up several times and always found relentless and unforgiving. The weather on this occasion was mild and damp, with low swirling cloud. I started half way down the pack, easing up to steady pace on the road as it climbed out of Llanbedr before we turned sharp right and contoured along a flat lane before turning off on to the mountain itself. The climb begins with a concreted farm-track, then opens out on to proper fellside on the flanks of Crug Hywel, Table Mountain, then offers you confusing route choices (especially on a day with poor visibility) as you tackle the amorphous hulk of Pen Cerrig. It took a while as I was maintainging iron self-discipline on the effort levels, having gone off too fast last time I ran this race (a mere 23 years before). Eventually in the swirling mists a check point came into view and I dibbed my wrist band against the reader to hear 2 reassuring beeps. From there the breathless journey carried on along the ridge to Pen Allt Mawr, with all visibility cancelled and the compass coming out at regular intervals to make sure I hadn't somehow got lost on a simple (but wide and rambling) north-south ridge.

24 - PEN Y GADAIR FAWR - Hill Run as part of Black Mountains Fell Race- 16 September 2023. Second climb of the AL Fell Race and the one that took us to the highest point. This climb began on the slippery slopes by a stream crossing at the bottom of the valley and from that ladder of mud and heather joined the vague path (more just a line of studmarks) up the side of a forestry planation before the race route turned left over deep and difficult heather and peat bog to the slopes of the peak. Visibility was hopeless and I caught only the occasional glimpses of other runners, all of whom were running different lines. I ran from the map in my memory, turning left slightly before the top of the plantation boundary, joining paths that could have been only sheep trods as and when they seemed to be going my way. My instincts proved reliable when I say a splash of colour though the mist and hauled myself up to the electronic dibber to beep in for check point 2. The next bit was hard, as in the thick cloud it was no easy gig finding the way down towards the Grwyne Fawr. A handful of other runners appeared from behind and one was confident enough to lead us down the first 100m or so, at which point we were out of the cloud and clearly descending on the right side of the mountain. I remembered that descent from a night years ago when I was running the South Wales Traverse with Bahumanya and the batteries in his head torch failed leaving us with one between us to navigate down in rain and absolute darkness. The pic below does NOT date from either visit to Pen Y Gadair, this was taken on a fair day.

25 - CHWAREL Y FAN - Hill Run as part of Black Mountains Fell Race- 16 September 2023. This third climb in the Black Mountains epic was a full-body workout, with tired legs aided by the old tactic of hauling myself up using the fence. It's an unusual sight to see fell runners using a fence like a ladder, but the steepness of the climb and the stage of the race where it comes mean that you need all the help you can get! Into the cloud at the top of the fence, I was relying on a mixture of memory and instinct but I did emerge from the thick mist to find the marshal at the peak.

26 - CRUG MAWR - Hill Run as part of Black Mountains Fell Race- 16 September 2023. I almost missed this one! The final climb of the race was up through the forest past Ffordd Las Fawr then a short jog across open mountainside to this trig point. With zero visibilty I relied on a bearing and followed a path heading south, but that path veered down and to the right so I had to strike out over the heather and keep looking for the higher ground. My instincts served me well and I did emerge at the top having only lost a minute or two by missing the smaller path that had headed up and to the left when I emerged from the forest.

27 - FERAKLOS CASTLE - Hill Hike in Rhodes - 22 September 2023. Staying at Haraki, I couldn't resist a hike up to the crusader castle that dominates its skyline. Although I went early, just after sunrise, it was already hot and the trail was dry and dusty. Such a contrast in surroundings and atmosphere after those climbs in the rain and cloud on the Black Mountains! A world away.

28 - ACROPOLIS OF LINDOS - Hill Hike in Rhodes - 22 September 2023. We went to Lindos with a plan of scoping the town out and maybe coming back another day to hike up to the Acropolis.Once we wre there though, we figured we should go for it and hike up the hill in case we didn't make it back. The first challenge was parking as Lindos is awash with visitors at almost any time of year apparently - September may not be high season but the numbers were high nonetheless. Somehow we sneaked a free spot on the road from the main square with the big tree (the first landmark most visitors see) down towards the beach. It was only a couple of minutes walk back to the square and then we headed into the old town, weaving our way through a maze of tiny alleyways between the whitewashed shops, byzantine churches and old houses. Every so often we noticed a sign to the Acropolis painted on a wall to reassure us we were finding our way through the greek maze in the right direction. Half way up we stopped for a smoothie on a rooftop garden (it was mindblowingly hot) and then made our way up and out of the town into the scrubland of the hillside, following a stone path with countless others up to the citadel. There were clothing sellers with their wares laid out on the rocks in the sun, a bouzouki player busking, plus several skinny cats sleeping in the midday heat. At the top we had to pay a tourist tax to get in but the views were incredible - over St Paul's Bay, Lindos, over the Aegean.....vibrant blues in the sea and the sky. There was time to explore the ruins at the top - a mix of mediaeval and classical with the highlight for me being the temple of Athena with its doric columns - then down to the relief of the shade in those winding alleys.

28 - TSAMBIKA MONASTERY TRAIL - Hill Hike in Rhodes - 23 September 2023. I had only a couple of hours to get away from Haraki, find a hill and hike it - so I picked on one near Archangelos but on arrival found the roads to the trailhead too gravelly to drive in our hire car. A quick rething saw me on the road to Tsambika beach, running out of time. The hill looked massive from the road, then the long winding descent to Tsambika beach seemed to just be adding to the distance and the climb I was going to have to wrap up in about 1 hour - I was pretty uncertain over whether I could make it to the top and back! I set off at my most purposeful walk, into the baking heat of the mediterranean sun, soon soaked in sweat on the exposed hillside. Despite the signs dotted here and there, the hillside was a mass of broken trails making it hard to follow. Still, I made it in short burst of hard effort on the steep ascent, from each patch of shade to the next. At the top, after the final section over 300 steps to the monastery,  there was only the briefest of pauses to offer a prayer and a moment of meditation at the shrine before turning on my heel and heading down. Around one hour and five minutes in the end, and back in Haraki on time. Another climb notched up and probably the hottest and most atmospheric so far - steeped in greek ambience.


29 - DUNDRY LANE FROM A38 - solo cycle climb - 6 October 2023. Back in the saddle after as short layoff I was keen to get another climb in on a workday on my way to the office so that meant - Dundry! Having climbed there twice already as part of this 60Climbs adventure I still had several options left as all roads lead to Dundry it seems. I went for my old favourite, a climb I used to use as a training session when getting myself in gear of things like the South Bristol CC Hill Climb or a hilly Audax. After riding through the city in the semi darkness I shot straight past the turning for the office and past the Lime Kilns to the turning for Dundry Lane - I knew I used to do this in 8 minutes something, so I was keen to get close to that again despite having had some time out from riding. After starting my stopwatch I had to wait for a van to pass then I was off, on what seems a pretty inoccuous slope but those of us who have ridden it a few times know what's coming. The hill gradually steepened, up past the houses, round the chicane bend then on to the steep section - flanked by wooded banks and towering trees, then the surface became so rough it was slowing me down as much as the climb, then I hit a newly surfaced smooth section....and so it went on with my legs fatigued and breathing growing more rapid and heart rate rising. Eventually the church came in sight and I was round the bend and level with the churchyard gate, my usual timing point. Sub 9 mins as I hoped, but 20 seconds longer than the previous time for this segment on my garmin. Work to do....

30 - SUGARLOAF - as part of the Night Sugar Fell Race - 9 November 2023. My first experience of a Fell Race at night went amazingly well. This shot of the view from the start down to the lights of the valley doesn't do justice to to the experience! The sensations of running in that sensory-deprivation of darkness and silence was spellbinding. In fact, in some ways the senses were heightened and I began to use my hearing and peripheral vision to work out where I was - the distant sounds of feet splashing through water up ahead meant a descent to a stream, the absence of stars in the sky to my left meant the main summit of the Sugarloaf was looming there and filling the sky. All in all, an amazing race and another hill - one of my favourites - brought up the half way mark in this challenge of sixty climbs.

31 - WINFORD LANE - solo cycle hill climb - 10 November 2023. The day after my fell race I finished work early so I took advantage of the remaining daylight to tackle the ascent to Dundry from another angle. This time it was from Winford, on a narrow and rough lane up to the shoulder of the ridge. One V on the map tells me it tops out between 10 and 20 percent and it's also quite a long drag. The weather was wetter than the wettest during the day and although it had cleared a bit by the time I reached the junction near the church in Winford that marked the start, I knew that  parts of the lane would be like riding up a river. This climb comes in two main sections - the initial pull up hill from junction in Winford then some flat and even downhill sections before the killer section up a spur of the mighty hill of Dundry. With tired legs (and everything else) from the night betore I started at a slow to steady pace and began to wind it up as the climb went on. A couple of descending cars or vans made life difficult as I had to stop and tuck myself right into the hedge to let them past. Then the broken road surface and running water made it more of a mountain bike challenge than a road climb! Ultimately the low gears and steady legs got me slowly but surely to the top. The further challenge came on the steep, hairpin descent to Withywood - as usual there were unrivalled views over Bristol, caught in that beautiful twilight as the day fades and the street lights begin to shine, but I was in survlval mode with my hands hurting from squeezing the brakes so I didn't pause to take a shot. Maybe next time - I have more ways over Dundry to come still, including the long drag up Limeburn.

32 - LIMEBURN HILL - solo cycle hill climb - 24 November 2023. A 4pm finish in the office and some cold but dry weather meant I had another chance to haul myself up one of the many routes to Dundry. This time it was the relentless 2-parter that starts as Limeburn Lane then joins the Wells Road into Dundry for the final struggle. After this one, I think there's only one Dundry climb left to bag and that's the one the Chew Valley direction, past Norton. Maybe that can be my next winter/darkness ride or perhaps I'll leave it for the Spring? Anyway, I am getting ahead of myself. I was on my cannondale endurance bike - blue bike - carrying plenty of weight in a backpack and sporting 3 layers of thermal/windproof gear against the winter conditions. It was what you'd call crisp. The sun had just set and I was treated to glorious colours out to the west, ahead of me, as I rode the A38 down to the Winford turning. It as nice to get off the A road (though the airport deckers and most of the trucks were giving me plenty of space) and ride the rolling hills towards Chew Magna. Just before I got there I hung a left at a mini roundabout, descended to a bridge and started my stopwatch for the ascent of Limeburn. It was twilight now and the moon was rising over the high ground that overlooks Bristol from the south - Maes Knoll and the Dundry ridge. The first chapter of this climb peaks at 14% according to Velo Viewer and it was hard graft. Once up and over the first section I had the illusory rest of some flat and even downhill sections before the second chapter arrived in the shape of a hard haul up to the top by Dundry village - a top that seemed to recede as the light and my legs both began to fade a bit. There was no risk of failure though and after 12 minutes of thigh-attrition I rolled on to the flat and topped my timer as I drew level with a lone, twisted tree that stood out from the hedgerow. Like the Mendips, this little outlier of high land above the city is relentlessly windswept and it looks it. After the satisfaction of the climb I had another  tortuous descent on Oxleaze Lane, my brakes just not seeming to be really powerful enough on wet and broken roads. When I got home I realised the back one wasn't working at all - a jammed piston in the rear caliper - so that kind of explains it. Fortunately the front brake was powerful enough to get me home safely. I paused at the end of Oxleaze to grab a pic of twilit Bristol - if you zoom in you can see the Suspension Bridge.

33 - ADEYS LANE - solo cycle hill climb - 16 December 2023. I set out on a damp and drizzly Saturday morning hoping to tackle a few of the climbs dubbed the Orrible Eight on the funny and quirky Hill Thought Out Cycling Blog, but my first ascent of Kilcott Hill made me rethink! The roads were like rivers and the thick coating of leaves, twigs, grit and greasy mud was making the climbing lethal. I had wheelspins before I even hit the really tough bit. I thought the descents were going to be pretty hair-raising too. So, for once in my life I decided to play it sensible and safe (actually I do that quite a lot, I was being sarcastic at myself there) and keep off the really rough stuff. I knew that Warend Lane and Waterley Bottom would be really dodgy, but that still left Blacksmith Hill and Adeys Lane to have a crack at. The turn-off to Ozleworth looked as muddy as a farm track so I thought, stuff that, and headed on towards Adeys Lane to see if it was any better. It looked promising enough so I started the ascent out of Wotton and gave it my best shot. It was manageable at first, never quite getting to the point where the wheels were losing traction. I was able to stay on actual tarmac rather than muck most of the way up, though I didn't dare get up and out of the saddle. I just got into my lowest gear and winched myself up - the hill got harder as the summit approached and I was having to take care to pedal even efforts and not let myself pedal squares, as the saying goes, for fear of more wheelspinning. Briefly I felt my front wheel lift off the road but only for a second. The top of the climb came with a sense of satisfaction and some bleak but beautiful Cotswold scenery. This photo of the lower section is just Proof of Passage - it doesn't tell the story of how steep it gets!

34 - COOMBE HILL - solo cycle hill climb - 16 December 2023. After conquering the nasty climb on Adeys Lane I descended the better known Coombe Hill. Half way down, I realised it was certainly a qualifier for my sixty climbs, so I turned around in a side road that the foot of the climb and started the long gring up. The signs say it's ten percent and I think in places it's more, but Coombe Hill challenges you with its length rather than the brutal steepness of the lanes and back roads out of Wotton. It was a long and serious effort, in and out of the lowest gear and in and out of max heart rate zone, but the result was never in doubt despite the wet and slippery conditions. I paused on the way back down to a pic by the gradient sign. 34 down and 26 to go....

35 - LEITH HILL - solo hill run - 23 December 2023. This was part of my four hour session following the Greensand Way. I picked the short, sharp, shock of a climb to start the day off, shuffling up the steep stairs from Windy Gap to the imposing tower that tops out at 1000' above sea level. It's the summit of Surrey and the highest point in this corner of the country so well worth including in the 60 Climbs. There were not many people around at 8am on a Saturday morning so I was able to run up without having to weave through the crowds you'd get here in the middle of the day. The view from the top, down over the weald to the South Downs, is pretty spectacular.

36 - HOLMBURY HILL - solo hill run - 23 December 2023. After a breathless ascent of Leith Hill I headed for the next summit along the greensand ridge of the North Downs (my home hills) and hit a few navigational snags! Anyhow, after some extra, bonus miles around the forested slopes I did come the climb I was looking for and run my way to the ancient earthworks with their commanding vistas down over Surry and Sussex to the south. The summit was a proper summit, with all the summit furniture you expect when bagging hills. On a local map that structure in the middle of the shot is called a cairn but it's not what I think of as a cairn - a bit too built really. The views are lovely from this promontary on the ridge though. I was really struck by how much uninterrupted green there was - endless fields, hedgerows and woodlands - all this in the most populated corner of a country we are constantly being told is full or overcrowded.

37 - PITCH HILL - solo hill run - 23 December 2023. Of the four hills I ran up on this long training session following the Greensand Way, Pitch Hill looked the toughest on the map. Those contours were scarily close together. In fact, with a long and rambling approach along the waymarked (just) path there was no real shocker of a climb and I came to the summit via a succession of short ascents as if I was running hill intervals. This was mountain biking country and I had to keep my wits about me to stay out of their way on the shared route.

38 - WINTERFOLD HILL - solo hill run - 23 December 2023. After 3 well-defined summits on the ridge, I wanted to get a fourth under my belt so I carried on along the Greensand Way heading west along the ridge. Here things got a bit less well-defined, but there was enough climbing (especially the pull up to the Ewhurst Windmill) to justify calling Winterfold Hill / Winterfold Heath another successful climb in my series of sixty. The high point of 207m was marked on the map but not marked in reality - no trig, cairn or tower here. So, I wondered around the myriad footpaths and bridleways until I found myself pretty much looking downhill in all directions as far as I could tell, then declared myself at the top. I'd certainly run a fair bit of uphill since Pitch Hill so the climb was in the bag. I was reminded of that saying about the tree falling in the forest with nobody to hear it. Did this climb really happen?

39 - TOYS HILL - solo cycle climb - as part of Down to Downs Audax - 24 December 2023. The first climb on this AAA Permanent came almost straight away - not much warmup on the flat before I saw the name Toy's Hill and realised it was a long one and a steep one. I studied the geology of this area endlessly at school so I know the shape of the hills - the 2 steep scarp slopes, 1 chalk and 1 sandstone, with shallower dip slopes in between, are etched on my memory. The day before I had been tackling the greensand ridge on foot, with four runnable but steep climbs up its southern slope. This time I was on the bike and the stats were 3k climbing, 173m of ascent, steepest section 14%. Enough said! As you can see I was happy to have reached the top, which happens to be where the Greensand Way, which I'd been following on that hill run, crossed the road. Seemed to tie things up neatly.

40 - BRASTED HILL - solo cycle climb - as part of Down to Downs Audax - 24 December 2023. Hard on the heels of the Toys Hill climb came a narrow lane with a sharp ascent to Brasted Chart - this one was sweatier and harder than Toys Hill, but only because I was already tired from the first climb and still feeling a bit lame from that 4 hour hill run the previous day. Great excused. The hill was lovely, with great forest scenery on all sides. I wanted to get out of the sadle and attack it to get it over with but the wheel slipping when I did so soon put paid to that. I sat back down and ground it out. 2.2k, 113 metres, max gradient of 16%.

41 - BLACK HILL  - solo cycle climb - as part of Down to Downs Audax - 24 December 2023. After several hours in the saddle and not a lot of good quality energy food, I found myself on the long, steady ciimb of Church Hill that morphs into Black Hill and brings you out on top of Ashdown Forest. Despite the gloomy day I was blessed with lots of colour - bracken, gorse and berries providing a little contrast to the greyness. This was hard work as I was truly knackered at this stage of the ride. Somehow I managed to be cheerful at the top! 7k of steady climb, 230 metres, max of 9.5%. 

42 - ASHDOWN FOREST - solo cycle climb - as part of Down to Downs Audax - 24 December 2023. This was the reverse of the long descent I had enjoyed from Ashdown Forest into Uckfield via the strangely named Fairwarp. The scenery around those lanes was of truly mystical beauty, or maybe that was because I was so fatigued. Equally inspiring was finding a cafe open in the afternoon on Christmas Eve (a Sunday) in Uckfield. My second veggie breakfast of the day revived me and got some all important calories into my tired frame. Then I was back out into the grey weather ready for the last epic climb of the day (though there would be several more micro-aggressions from the contours after that). The climb took me up a closed lane (bikes could get through) and then on the busier B road up past Camp Hill and finally back to the windswept moorland of Ashdown Forest itself. I don't have the stats for this one as it isn't on VeloViewer but I can tell you. It was a CLIMB.

43 - LAPDIARI MONUMENT, TIRANA - solo hill run  - 29 December 2023. This morning run from the Mak Hotel in Tirana was supposed to be a one hour loosener, the day after a flight and the day before a 3 mile race. Inevitably once I got out there, in new and unfamiliar hills, I couldn't help doing a bit of exploring. I had mapy.cz with me and so I followed trails towards one of the high points on the ridge, which topped out at around 300m and had commanding views over the city. These trails turned out to be imaginary in many cases, so there was a lot of retracing steps, fighting my way through thicket and generally having a bit of an intrepid explorer experience rather than a runner experience. Suddenly, after a steep ascent through terraced woodland I burst out of the trees and on to the small eminence where the monument was, with enough time to enjoy those incredible views down over Tirana before I jogged back, this time mostly on the road! Mapy.cz still played games with me though, taking me on supposed trails through what appeared to be private grounds, complete with loose dogs. I made it back in 80 minutes, not so much loosened up as well cooked.

44 - KRUJA TREELINE TREK - hill hike in Albania  - 29 December 2023. The 45 minute coach trip to this cute, historic, hillside town actually took 2 hours, so I was glad to break free of the road and head straight out on the trails with Pradeep, Petr, Suswara, Dhuni and Varsneya. The top of the ridge looked a long way off, perhaps a ridge too far, but we started hiking briskly up the steep slope on a dubious trail with the idea of getting as far as we could in the limited time we had. We made good progress despite the trail being poorly marked and hard to follow (the second time that day I had had the experience of making false starts, retracing, trying another goat track to see if it was the proper trail) and soon found ourselves coming out of the trees and into open hillside. The trail got better and more well-maintained the further we went, but in the end only Petr and Varsneya went the whole hog and headed for the ridge at around 1000m. The rest of us were content to get up above the treeline for expansive views over the town and out to the Adriatic where the reflected sun on the water was penetraing the clouds and making for a vision of a view. We got back down with half an hour to spare before the coaches left town, which meant we had time to take in the bazaar and some amazing, thick hot chocolate that you could amost stand your spoon up in. The others who went all the way were last to the coach, but just about on time!

45 - DAJTI EXPRESS - hill hike in Albania as part of Sri Chinmoy Oneness-Home Peace Run  - 2 January 2024. So, the new year began with a joyful Peace Run, first across the city of Tirana and then up 840m of steep ascent on the Pioneer's Trail leading to the top of the Dajti Express cable car. So no summit on this occasion, but we conquered the ridge and with all that ascent on road, track and trail it more than deserved its inclusion in this collection of climbs. All in all the run took 2:45 including the city section (which also featured an ascent of the Pyramid of Tirana - that's a lot of steps). I felt strong on this one, thanks to the amazing team around me who were running so happily whether they were seasoned mountain goats or road-runners moonlighting on the trail. The shot shows how far we had come as we came up to around the 700m mark. In all there were 18 of us, but we had strung out a little by this point! I was in charge of counting everyone in though so I can confirm everyone made it to the cable car station in around 3 hours 15 or less. A Sri Chinmoy Peace Blossom plaque is now there in the cable car station too, so this run has left a lasting legacy. So, 15 climbs to go in 3 months. This is becoming quite a journey.


46 - WRAXALL HILL -  solo cycling climb - 5 January 2024. 3 days after exhilarating trail running in Albania came a return to the routine of seeking out steep hills near home or work to ride - this one was an old favourite which doesn't look tough on paper but always presents a nice challenge. The stats online have it at a mere 13% (or 15% depending on which site you believe) but it was certainly a good workout on this occasion. I escaped from the office at around ten past four, with the daylight fading and consequently as many lights arrayed on the bike as you are ever likely to see. First down the A38, then the tricky Yanley Lane (a river running down it, 3-inch deep sludge in places on the road, several cars coming the other way making life difficult) then a meander through the back roads of Long Ashton down to the foot of Belmont Hill. This time I carried on futher to the Battleaxes and then paused to get myself geared up for the climb. The photo is useless, just proof that I was there really - you can't see this hill until you are actually on it. It kicks up immediately from the B road to Clevedon near a solid Somerset church, then gets steeper around a zig-zag half way up before slackening off a bit (just enough to let you change up one gear) before killing you with the final kick. Even after turning right on the Clevedon Road to head back to Bristol it was still relentlessly uphill, past Tyntesfield and the turning for Portbury Hill. I'm really running out of local hills now, so to clock up the last 14 of my climbs in the spring I may need to Audax my way over the Mendips, or penetrate further into the Cotswolds in search of hills.

47 - UPTON LANE -  solo cycling climb - 12 January 2024. This one happened when I swapped shifts and ended up with a 10am start time at work - a great opportunity to revisit an old training-commute ride through Keynsham and out over the A37 to Norton Hawkfield / Norton Malreward. Usually from there I would go down through Chew Magna and Winford to get to work but this time I chose a route up and over Dundry via Upton Lane. Onlines stats tell me this one climbs 100m or so and has an average gradient of 7.6% and a max of 18%. The ride over to Chew Valley had been steady and smooth on a dull but cold morning, so I was well warmed up and in daylight (for a change) when I got to the bottom of the ascent. I had a choice of Upton Lane or a nameless lane heading off to the right, but I chose Upton as the surface was good and lately I had had enough of tackling broken, potholed roads covered in winter road-trash. It was the right choice. An initial climb led over the V on the map (the 10% or steeper section) with the views opening up around me through gaps in the sparse hedgerows. A brief flatter section came before the final pull up to East Dundry, where my legs were telling me they had had enough but I knew they weren't serious. That recent 100k ride has definitely toughened me up on the hills and with blue bike recently cleaned and tweaked it all felt smooth and well within range of my physical capacity. An app tells me the whole ride was 23 miles, with the hill itself taking me up to 160bpm which is a hard effort on the bike. As usual the picture is just to show I was there - it's taken from Model Farm, before the road starts to ease up, and well before it actually gets steep. Shame it wasn't possible to grab a photo on the climb (but stopping for a pic would be cheating!).

48 - THE PINNACLES / CHEDDAR CLIFFS -  solo hill run- 14 January 2024. This one was part of a 3 hour epic run across the Mendip Hils, starting at Charterhouse. It was bitterly cold and misty when I started out, so the hills at an almost lunar or otherworldly atmosphere, with nobody else within earshot or eyeshot. After a shuffle down the dry valley of Velvet Bottom I came out at Black Rock, crossed the road and immediately found myself tackling a steppy ascent of the hill on the south side of the gorge. It was surprisingly runnable (slowly) and I gradually gained height, passing the incredible gorge goats (the leader an alpha male with stunning, long, curling horns) perched on seemingly impossible ledges and rocks. I emerged from the wooded hillside into open country and was treated to views across the ridge to Crook Peak and the Bristol Channel beyond.

49 - PINEY SLEIGHT - solo hill run- 14 January 2024. After descending the southern side of Cheddar Gorge, past the lookout tower at the top of "Jacob's Ladder", I crossed the gorge road and found the sloping footpath leading to the Gorge Walk. It starts near the Lion Rock Tea Rooms (highly recommended but I didn't stop on this occasions) and after ascending on a drive-able track, turns you out on to a steep trail. There's a lot of ascent, challenging but runnable at first then with the slope easing off for a steady ascent to the viewpoint at the highest section overlooking the gorge. This goes by the name of Piney Sleight and I stopped there briefly to admire all I could see as the mist lifted, before taking my time on the steep steps down to Black Rock. The terrain around here is beautifully rough and mountainous, although the Mendips barely edge above 1000', so it's well worth the trip down from Bristol.

50 - MONUMENT HILL - solo cycle climb - 21 January 2024. My first big (relatively speaking) ride of the new year was one I found on RWGPS called Thornbury & Monument. It was roughly 60k and my legs had plenty to say about doing that distance while still not recovered from recent Mendip runs and interval sessions on the road. After coming through Wickwar I descended right down to Chase Brook, took on the stiff but brief climb of Chase Hill and then rolled over Inglestone Common to Hawkesbury. Towards the end of the Common section, I paused to grab a shot of the Cotswold Edge up ahead with the top of the Somerset Monument just showing above the trees. Once through Hawkesbury the road rises sharply for the first serious dig of the climb, around 15% I think, then things level off a bit so I was able to go up a gear or two. Then came a bend up into the really steep section, the OMG part of the climb, between terraced hillsides. I only went up to 156bpm on this one but I think I was there for a while! The nice thing about this climb was the beautifully smooth surface - a rarity in these parts!

51 - BAL MAWR - solo Hill Run - 28 January 2024. I'd run over this bleak dome in the Black Mountains Fell Race but on that occasion I was descending - so when I needed a 4 hour hilly trail run as part of my build up to the Dartmoor Winter Traverse, I picked the Cambrian Way and included this climb. From my start at Forest Coal Pit I followed the waymarked trail, descending a boggy stream crossing in the corner of field then climbing steadily on lanes that became trails until I was up on the ridge. From Bal Bach I got a decent view of Bal Mawr and from the dip between the two I tackled the steep climb. I was on steps formed of large boulders cut into the hillside but was just about runnable. At the top the trig was familiar - last time here it had been shrouded in mist but this time I was in clear air, above some of the clouds gathering in the valleys to either side. The whole ascent had taken around an hour and 15 minutes, so it was a worthy 51st climb in my sequence of 60. The finish line is coming in view now.

52 - CHWAREL Y FAN from the south - solo Hill Run - 28 January 2024. After the 400m of climb that took me to Bal Mawr I carried on along the ridge, descending into the saddle at Bwlch Isaf then slogging up a height gain of only 80m (though it felt like more) to reach the top of Chwarel Y Fan (Quarry Peak, roughly speaking, in English). It's more than 20 years since I first ran up this one, but probably the first time I'd done so from the south, along the nose of the ridge. Where it narrows, it's not exactly Striding Edge but for the Black Mountains it's a pretty sharp ridge and it falls away dramatically on both sides, especially the west. The mist and cloud had rolled in at this stage, making the cairned peak an island in the sky.

53 - SPANIORUM HILL - solo Hill Run - 4 February 2024. A week after my epic in the Black Mountains I stayed close to home for a 4 hour trail run - which meant rather than raw mountains I had edge-of-urban golf course, trails within spitting distance of the loud and hectic M5 and my most local proper ascent - Spaniorum Hill. This tiny hill is only around 200' high but it somehow looms large on the Bristol horizon and it does have a proper, steep climb on the Easter Compton side along a trail with a couple of gates. After running the loop known as the Spaniorum Skyway and then exploring the flat but muddy marshlands over towards Almonsdbury, I circled back with around two and a half hours of running in my legs (plus the 4 hours from the week before still lingering in there somewhere) ready for the ascent. By then my run had slowed to a short-stride-shuffle, which is fair enough as I'm training for an ultra on Dartmoor, but at least I kept that shuffle going to the top. It was hard work (though on fresh legs it would be a breeze) and the reward was an ample view out over the vale - both Severn Bridges, the Port of Bristol, Wales and the Forest of Dean in the distance over the water. Just seven hills to go now, with a handful of the Dartmoor Tors likely to qualify and then a few nasty shockers on the bike maybe to wrap it all up? It's been an interesting journey and has made me seek out slopes instead of staying on the flat for quite a few months now.

54 - CLARKEN COOMBE - solo Cycle climb - 16 February 2024. Another power-commute, out of work at 4pm with daylight in hand (such a treat as the year starts to turn) and out via cycleways and a little tricky A road to the gates of Ashton Court where this climb begins. It's a hard slog up through the trees, past another embattled gateway like a miniature castle leading into the woods and on up to the junction with Longwood Lane. I kept on grinding it out until I came to the top shortly before Beggar Bush Lane. Garmin tells me I covered an ascent of 400' and hit 157bpm on the heart rate. Although no part of this one was critically steep, Veloviewer has it peaking at just over 10% so that makes it a qualifier for my 60 climbs. Who knows there may not be many more en velo but we'll see. Dartmoor on foot and The Mendips (including Draycott I think which could be a new one on me) are booked up and should give me enough opportunities to reach my goal before April 13th.

55 - MIDDLE STAPLE TOR - climb as part of the Dartmoor Winter Traverse ultra run - 24 February 2024. This was the first proper climb with a definable top that I tackled as part of my epic across Dartmoor. It was amazing to be back in the ultramarathon world after so many years, in the magical surroundings of Dartmoor in winter. We were enjoying an interlude of sunshine (after the rain and before the hail) as we forded the headwaters of the Walkham River then climbed up to the road at Merrivale before turning steeply upward and northward into the depths of the North Moor. First up was this climb that began as a super-slow jog but was soon a hands-on-knees walk. We were already about half way through the event and so there were several hours of running through energy-sapping bog and moorland in the legs. I had lost touch with the guide runners and my phone had gone dead so my only navigation at this point was memory of the map and picking whom to follow. There were confident runners/walkers ahead of me with GPS so I zigged and zagged up the hillside behind them. At the top the two rock formations formed a gateway to the moor and I began to jog again as I passed between them, heading into vast tracts of open country with tiny figures of runners up ahead.

56 - ROOS TOR - climb as part of the Dartmoor Winter Traverse ultra run - 24 February 2024. After the slog up to Middle Staple Tor came a long traverse on boggy tracks across the bleak interior of Darmoor. We lost a fair bit of height and then toiled up to the next Tor, a more dramatic rock formation with some kind of metal marker (like a transmitter almost) protruding from the eastern side. The weather was closing in a little and my energy levels were up and down but I was still making steady, if slow, progress on my journey from one end of Dartmoor to the other. The high point and its Tor came as a relief then the next few miles of gloomy but beautiful moorland came into view.

57 - GER TOR / HARE TOR / RATTLEBROOK HILL - climb as part of the Dartmoor Winter Traverse ultra run - 24 February 2024. I had been reduced to speedwalking rather than running on the way in to the final checkpoint of the Traverse, then the climb that immediately followed proved to be a walker as well. Steep and sodden with the fording of a Mine Leat half way up, this one took a lot out of me, but I was replacing calories as I went by munching on a brownie from the gazebo at the check. The sugar must have kicked in as once I hit the ridge at Ger Tor I was able to resume shuffling and start eating up the miles. In fact I got stronger as I went, from the heights of Ger Tor to Hare Tor (pictured) the skirting the highest point of Rattlebrook Hill (Great Mis Tor) before finding the key to the run-in, an old mine railway trackbed that led almost all the way to the end of the moor. This was hard graft, coming as it did with well over 20 miles of bog and hill in my legs, but the awesome moorland scenery more than made up for it. 

58 - HARPTREE HILL - Solo Cycle climb 29 March 2024. I had been planning to ride the Mendip Flip Flop Audax Century Ride but had to sit it out after catching a cold. Later in the month, with Guru's 60th Arrival Anniversary looming on April 13th, I set out to ride the three big climbs from that event anyway, as all would be good challenges in their own right and all were climbs I hadn't done so far. I had been riding for a few hours when I crossed the A37 and started heading for the Mendips, with a tough headwind making me even more fatigued. A harsh hailstorm broke too, then it slackened off into merely heavy rain. Miles were slowly passing, eventually bringing me out by the Chew Valley lake where I approached an old and familiar foe in the shape of Harptree Hill. By this time cold, with the rain having penetrated my gloves and my headgear, I was not in great shape to enjoy the challenge, but I stopped to grab a photo (you can't see the hill, but it proves I was there) before grinding my way up. Velo Viewer tells me this one had stats of Climb category: 4th; Distance: 1.1 km; VVOM: 2.67; Average gradient: 10.2%; Maximum gradient: 15.9%; Elevation gain: 113 m. It felt much harder, but that was the 3+ hours of toil in the legs of course. My reward for eventually coming over the top of this one was a long toil over the Mendip Plateau, riding full-on into the headwind. That was not ideal preparation for the next one - Ebbor Gorge - but I did have the good sense to stop in Wells and get some food and drink down me.

59 - EBBOR GORGE - Solo Cycle climb 29 March 2024. Second climb of the day, and another one I started feeling well below par (but determined to get up it anyway). This one was miraculously dry - had the previous storms missed this edge of the Mendips? Whatever the reason I was grateful that I could negotiate the hill which VeloViewer logs with numbers of Climb category: 3rd; Distance: 2.4 km; VVOM: 4.25; Average gradient: 8.1%; Maximum gradient: 17.4%; Elevation gain: 195 m. The payoff for the challenge of the climb here is the chance to grab views on the way up which really are incredible. Especially if you love Somerset as I do - the Levels, the Tor on the horizon with a halo of dark cloud, the Bristol Channel far in the distance. The view from the top is pretty good too, but the teasers you get through gateways on the climb help your mind disassociate from your fatigue. 

60 - DRAYCOTT STEEP - Solo Cycle climb 29 March 2024. Next up after Ebbor Gorge was the final challenge of my Sixty Hills in memory of Guru's 60 Year Arrival Anniversary, so with the sugar still zinging in my bloodstream I rode a gratuitous extra hill (following the Audax route which was studiously avoiding A roads where possible) then came down into Draycott at the foot of Draycott Steep. As per usual the photo doesn't do it justice but - see those trees on the skyline? - yep, that's where it goes. And then a bit higher too before you get any relief. The stats for this one are Climb category: 3rd; Distance: 1.9 km; VVOM: 5.40; Average gradient: 11.1%; Maximum gradient: 20.1%; Elevation gain: 214 m. I stopped just long enought to meditate on the final challenge of sixty and snap the poor but authentic photo, then I began the approach. As the climb began I decided to save a gear or two for the steeper sections, but that decision was soon reversed as my legs were forgetting the recent injection of calories and remembering only the several hours of hills they had just endured. The only way was to turn off the thoughts and engage the human powered winch, then slowly and consciously keep the pedals turning. The 20% sections were tough going and at times I was telling myself I might have to break my usual rule and stop half way. That's a dangerous game though - means you have to restart on the hill which can be very tricky. Once again I had the surprising experience of a dry road surface on the steepest sections, allowing me out of the saddle in short bursts to rest the usual climbing muscles and torture some different ones. It went on a long time and the top didn't seem to be getting any closer, then all of a sudden I realised I was over the worst of it and reeling in the less-steep, upper section on to the Mendip heights. As occasional cars passed I was aware that I didn't look anything like a cool cyclist conquering a well-known local climb, more like a beginner wrapped up in multiple waterproofs who had taken on too much and was wasted as a result, so the whole experience was humbling. At the same time, reaching the top, after not being sure I could make it, was deeply satisfying. That was climb 60. 

So - there it is - 60 Climbs in honour of the 60 years since Guru - Sri Chinmoy - arrived in the West from India to begin teaching his unique way of spiritual living - that combination of a meditative and spiritually-focussed life that also embraces endurance sport (hence this blog of sorts, which I know has barely any readership, so it's really just a public, personal diary). I've taken on various year-long challenges before, both in the Audax world and the hill-running world, but this was the first since 2008 (my 40th year, when I did 40 events) to embrace both. I'm happy to have set myself a challenge and completed it - I've also learned a lot about how my body responds to these challenges over the course of nearly a year, so I hope I can do something with that recently acquired wisdom.

The most memorable climbs now I look back were the long, relentless toil to the summit of Pen Y Gadair Fawr, the rides that took me to the skyline of Bristol in brilliant summer sunshine, the intense heat on the slopes leading up to Tsambika Monastery and the joyful group-run up Mt Dajti in Albania. Quite a mix! Now the question of questions is - what challenge to take on next?

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