Park Rash: A 10 out of 10 Climb
by Dave Rogers, 1 May 2018
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Dave Rogers, a cyclist born and bred on the tough roads of Yorkshire gives the pro riders fair warning about one of the toughest climbs in the UK.
Park Rash deservedly takes its place in Simon Warren’s book, the 100 Greatest Cycling Climbs – which details the UK climbs of cycling folklore.
Yorkshire has 19 entries – the most of any region – and Park Rash, a brute which begins in the village of Kettlewell and ends, for some, half an hour later on the top of Coverdale moor, is number 45.
I have one minor quibble with Warren: he gives it a difficulty rating of 9 out of 10. That is one number short. It is, no doubt about it, a 10 out of 10 climb.
I have never ridden Hardknott Pass over in the Lakes and am told it’s harder. Another 10 out of 10 rated climb, Rosedale Chimney over in the North Yorkshire Moors, bests it as well.
But for the hold it has on those who have actually ridden it, the climb is up there with the very hardest.
Cote de Park Rash
The Tour de Yorkshire gives it a go this Sunday – the Cote de Park Rash it has been labelled – and for those riders who haven’t recce’d it, they are in for a shock.
First of all you have to find it. Head north through Kettlewell, past Zarini’s, a cafe given over to walkers and cyclists, and maybe fit in a visit to Kettlewell Village Stores as well.
The shop sells fantastic jelly babies – not Bassets but some sort of fortifier which I always gobble up ahead of Park Rash. No jelly babies and I’m bound to suffer, the logic goes, but cram in a last-minute feed of the store’s jelly babies and I’ll somehow be fine.
The climb begins with a left hand turn onto an uneven road surface, a narrow road that ramps up to 20% and then swings right and immediately you’re reaching for the low gears. That’s a warm-up. Get past that and then it’s a flat run-in, some downhill even, to the bottom of the ramp that begins the climb.
The problem with Park Rash is that you can see the main climb in the distance as you approach it, well before you’re on it. It doesn’t look so imposing until you see cars going up or down it at impossible angles and suddenly you’re thinking: “How on earth am I going to get up that?”
A tarmac ski slope
That thought becomes ever louder when you run down to the bottom of the climb, swing right over a bridge and the full horror stares you right in the face. Warren says it resembles a “tarmac ski-slope” and he’s right. It intimidates the life out of you. It looks impossible to get up. Onto the ramp and immediately you’re into the lowest gear you can find, all the while mindful of the S bend up ahead.
If you’re unlucky, you’ll meet a car coming the other way as you get to the foot of the S bend. There’s no other option: you have to go around the car on the wrong side of the road. Because the alternative is no alternative. The inside of the S bend ramps up to an impossible angle – I would say more than 40% – and riders will do well to simply stay on the bike, let alone get up it. The outside is tough enough – certainly above 30% in parts, according to Strava.
Warren says it maxes out at 25% but that’s not true. I’ve ridden many 25% climbs and Park Rash is noticeably steeper. The Tour de Yorkshire website says its maxes at 21% which is, frankly, ridiculous.
Your head is about to explode
Once you’re past the S bend it levels out, if that’s that what it can be called, to around 20% and it’s a real grind for a good few hundred metres. The aim is to get to a clump of trees on the right-hand side because, when you do, solace awaits as the road starts to drop down percentages. But between the S bend and the clump of trees, it’s 5-10 minutes of hellish riding. I have seen people weave all over the road to get there. I have weaved all over the road to get there. The key is to control the breathing and set little targets as you inch up. It sounds silly, I know, but at this point it feels like your head is about to explode.
Past the trees and there’s a few cow sheds and the road noticeably levels out more and for a good five minutes you can pedal pretty much on flat roads. But there’s a kick at the end that ramps up to 20% and which seems to go on and on. It’s another 2-3 minutes of serious climbing. You can’t see the top but once you get to a cattle grid, the climb is pretty much done and dusted.
From Kettlewell to the top, it can take up to 25 minutes, half an hour, 40 minutes. From the bottom of the ski slope to the top, it’s 20 minutes, 30 minutes.
I first climbed it when I was a teenager and went up on a 42 x 25. The last time, which was a couple of years ago, I was on a 34 x 27. The pros, I suspect, will fit a 36 chain ring – some might go for a 34 because there are other sharp climbs on this stage – and probably go up on a 27. It will be fascinating to see because the road to it is twisty and narrow and with a peloton of 100-plus cyclists not everyone will be able to take the ideal route around the outside of the S bend. Some will be forced to go up the inside and they will be thinking they’re on some Flemish berg.
They’re wrong. Park Rash is harder.
If you don’t believe Dave then watch the Tour de Yorkshire this weekend, or better yet, check this footage - and ask yourself: is this is slow motion or is it really that steep?
Dave Rogers is a professional Yorkshireman, cycling devotee and contributing editor to Building magazine and regular London bike commuter and supporter of Just Ride the Bike.
Park Rash looking back, with kind permission of Cycling Uphill
Photography of Park Rash corner (30%?) by kind permission of Cycling Uphill
Park Rash and one of the steep bends near the bottom, possibly 30% at the apex, with kind permission of Cycling Uphill