Conquering the Cairn


The Cairn O’ Mount is a bit of a legendary climb if you are a cyclist in Aberdeen. Ascending from the north means 3.78 miles at an average gradient of 5% but this hides some truly nasty sections at close to 25% gradient. If you are unlucky with the wind direction then your day just got longer as there is no shelter on this climb from the elements.


My partner was away for the weekend so after factoring time in for all the DIY that needed done around our new house I had a few hours aside for cycling and asked my good friend Smurph if he wanted to join me in my first ascent of this famous climb.

It was February and Scotland had just been hit by a later winter that surprised everyone yet was entirely predictable. On the days leading up to our cycle, checking the webcam at the bottom of the climb revealed that the snow gates were closed and that the Cairn might have to wait from another time. Towards the end of the week the temperatures rose enough for those gates to open and by the time Saturday came we were blessed with a beautifully sunny and crisp winters day.

Fuelled by pizza and beer from the night before we set out early west towards Banchory, moving upstream of the River Dee. The first twenty-five miles afforded us flat roads and plenty of time to warm up the legs before we turned south across the river and towards the Cairn. On the route profile, this stood out as a prominent peak in the middle the route and on paper looked benign. In reality it was brutal. In full winter cycling gear we boiled like chickens in a bag with the effort against gravity and wind.

In general it was a long enough and steady enough climb that finding a rhythm was key as well as trying to not go too far into the red on the steeper sections that pepper the climb. The views on the way up were stunning in the low sun.

The top slowly came into view and we stopped for the obligatory picture or really because we needed to rest. With snow piled-up on either side of the road and the temperatures plummeting, neither of us was particularly looking forward to the descent off the mountain that would lead us to Stonehaven and the prospect of a warm lunch. The descent was not particularly technical except for the feeling that you could hit a patch of black ice and essentially be dead. With hindsight it was not wise to get up to speeds of 48mph on the way down but it was exhilarating and we lived to tell the tale.

Glad that the worst was now behind us we made good time to Stonehaven but as we got closer it became clear that the winter off the bike was taking its toll on Smurph. Rather than continue on miserably we decided to bail out and get the train back to Aberdeen form Stonehaven.

Despite this inglorious of finishes it was still an undoubtedly epic day in the saddle and true to our cycling manifesto the day of cycling turned into a night of drinking at the pub.

Check out the video below to see my descending prowess. I would no longer do this sort of thing with two kids to look after but this was a different time altogether.


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