What started out as a leisurely main trail spin turned into a 3-hour mini-adventure.
The ride was scheduled to start at 7:30, but waiting for a few first-time/oversleeping riders running late delayed the start about an hour or so. 12 riders, mostly beginners, started out on the main trail at Wadi Degla with the intent to make it to the end of the trail at the dry waterfalls (is there even such a thing as a dry waterfall?) area and back to the Maadi side entrance, a total of about 21km on a relatively level, mostly light sand and gravel trail.
As usual with beginner rides, there is wide spectrum of skill levels, which makes riding in a single group tricky. Some want to have a more spirited ride than last time, others want to take their time (which is what they should do on the first few rides). The decision came to split up into two groups: a “slow” group, and another, faster, one.
One rider broke a pedal early into the ride and had to hike back to the trail entrance. Six riders sped east towards the end of the trail. A stop was made near the end for a quick rest (which is really an excuse for picture taking). The group made it to the end of the trail, where a steep, rocky crevasse was the only way up to the wadi shoulder, where the Wadi Degla visitor center is located. The group decided to climb up and check it out.
Reaching the top of the crevasse, Hani had a “brilliant” idea:”How about we climb up with the bikes (not on the bikes) and get back to the western trail end via the “roller coaster” single track on the southern plateau. Not a group to shy away from adventure (despite the general collective “rookie” status), there was a unanimous “okay”.
We decided to take some video footage of such a (potential) feat: getting the bikes up to the plateau via the crevasse. M. Hanafi had a 2 GB memory card, and I had my small Casio camera for the purpose, but we needed all the man power and the idea of someone being given the luxury of being a camera man didn’t sit well with the group. Ayman and I came up with an ad hoc helmet mount which involved cable ties, string, a mini tripod and of course, my helmet.
The main challenge was to get six bikes up to the top of plateau, a problem solved by using the crevasse’s almost ladder-like formation which made it somewhat feasible. Employing a technique whereby two rides climbed up, were handed the bikes by their mates further down, who then took their turn to climb up and switch roles, the bikes where on top of the plateau in no time (well, it took about 20 minutes). We started the ride back after another photo op.
The rolling singletrack on the southern plateau is a great ride, but it demands a more advanced riding ability. Steep climbs and descents, cliff-edge, technical sections and rock fields quickly took its toll on the rookies, but their excitement gave them an energy boost and no one complained…until someone, who shall remain nameless :), demanded that we descend down to the main trail. Honestly, it was not an unreasonable demand, this was only their second ride and I probably over-estimated the collective stamina of the group. Besides, a group ride is a group ride. One out, all out.
After a short moment of deliberation, it was decided that we exit the singletrack and descend down to the main trail. I, being the ride leader, decided to scout out a suitable decent point and signal the group to follow. Far to my right (north), I spotted what looked like a rocky embankment descending to a steep bluff, which would ultimately lead to the main trail via a short climb to the left of the bluff. Or at least that’s what it looked like from where I was standing.
I descended to the bluff and signaled the group to follow. The team assembled and we climbed down to a flat section which led to a very steep, rocky downhill section, which we descended with some difficulty because of the inability to gain a solid footing on the slippery rock surface. It was hard enough climbing down, let alone climbing down with your bike. The group made it down safely and in relief to see the main trail in sight. Laith was first to make it to (what looked like) the step-down to the trail, but a wide grin on his face told us something wasn’t right.
And indeed, something was very wrong. The “step-down” to the trail was actually a 10m high, 90% double bluff. We were locked in. We had the option of climbing back to the plateau or down to the trail, just not with the bikes. There was a collective “oh #$&^” moment and everyone had one thought : “What now?”
Then Ayman found a rope. Yes, a long, strong rope just lying there, a few meters away, neatly looped. What are the chances of that? It was a Godsend. We instantly split into two teams: one group climbed down and the other rappled down the bikes one by one. We finally made it to the main trail and sped towards the entrance, meeting up with the slower group halfway back.
All in all it was a good ride and an adventure with a lesson learned. This is desert and decisions to change the route plan should be only made when one is firmly sure that the alternate route is feasible and safe. It also shows that it is usually best not to ride solo on longer rides or new trails.