Monday, November 16, 2009

Moab in November

I went to visit my father, who is now a full-time resident of Moab. On my list of things to do for the 10 day trip was mountain biking. Not much else was on my list, but if the weather didn't cooperate, we could always hike or trail run up some of the canyons.

The weather, however, did cooperate. Almost every day was sunny and temperatures ranged from 40 degrees in early morning to 65 degrees in late afternoon. Snow fell in the high country the night before I left, so I felt that my trip was perfectly timed.

The morning after I arrived, we headed over to Poison Spider Bicycles to buy a mountain bike from their rental fleet. Poison Spider always keeps the latest bikes in their rental fleet, so around this time of year, they sell of their 2009 bikes in order to make room for the 2010 bikes. I chose a Gary Fischer Roscoe, which had a good mixture of comfort and durability. Bike in hand, we headed up to the Porcupine Rim to try it out.

The Porcupine Rim is one of my favorite rides. You can ride (or shuttle) 9 miles up Sand Flats road to the trailhead. There are some new trailheads further along Sand Flats Road for Lower/Upper Porcupine alternate routes, but we (my dad, Kristine and I) went to the original trailhead that required a 900 foot climb up a 4WD road to the rim. I really enjoyed the climb as it allowed us a moderately technical workout pedalling uphill over minor ledges and rocks. The trail then continues along the rim, which provides amazing views of Castle Valley, with overlooks on the edges of cliffs that drop several hundred vertical feet to the valley floor. Get some pictures here. From the rim, the 4WD road descends for several miles and ends at a singletrack bike trail that drops you down to the highway along some fairly technically challenging, exposed trail. You'll definitely have to walk at a spot or two here (especially towards the end), but otherwise it is a sweet rollicking trail that is worth its reputation. At the highway, you can bike a few miles back to town, half of it along a bike path that is off the highway.

The only mishap that I had was that the front shock on my bike failed. I felt like I had a flat due to the hard jarring I took coming down the jeep road; however it turned out that all the air had leaked out of my front shock. We were able to pump up the shock with our bike pump and finger tighten the whatchamacalit that came loose, and the shock held for the rest of the ride. If you don't have shocks, this ride is much less fun. I took my bike back to Poison Spider on the way home, and they re-pumped/tightened everything, and the shock was fine for the rest of my trip.

On Friday and Saturday, we (Warren/Kristine/I) rode the White Rim Trail, which much support help from Karen, who shuttled us to and from Canyonlands four times. Karen dropped us off at Schafer Road, and we biked down it to the White Rim, then along the Rim to Murphys Campground. There, we locked our bikes together and followed a hiking trail back up to the rim, where Karen picked us up and took us back to Moab to shower, eat and sleep. The next morning, we got a ride back, then hiked back down to finish the ride, ending up at Mineral Bottom Road. The White Rim can be ridden in one long day (in November it may be partially in the dark), but doing it in two days was more relaxing. And after six hours sitting in my bike seat the first day, I was definitely ready to get off my bike for the 5 mile hike out and back the next morning. Many people do this route as a four day bike/camping trip, but it requires a 4WD support vehicle to follow the bikes the whole way, and sounds like an awful lot of logistics to me.

Most of the White Rim is relatively flat, with a few steep climbs interspersed along the way. I really enjoyed the second day as I became more meditative about the scenery, and we also dropped down to the river for a nice change of scenery as well.

On Monday, I rode the Slickrock Trail with Kristine. I love this trail. There is definitely a learning curve though of getting used to the idea that you actually can get your bike up some of the super steep uphills and downhills on the super-grippy slickrock. Confidence and tenacity are paramount here, but falls can be somewhat damaging to your health, so you have to accurately know your limits as well.

Karen wanted to hike to Osha Arch in the Mill Creek drainage, so we decided to do an exporatory hiking trip on Monday to give my bike seat a break. We drove up Sand Flats Road about five miles and hiked southward down a jeep road to the rim of a side canyon that fed into the Mill Creek Canyon. Following cairns and faint trails, we contoured and then dropped into the canyons down to Mill Creek, then followed it a short ways before heading up another side canyon that contained the arch at its end. After lunch at the arch, we followed Mill Creek back down to Moab, exporing some other features (such as Drop Slot Canyon) along the way, as well as criss-crossing Mill Creek a few times. Back in Moab, we shuttled back up to get the car on Sand Flats Road.

On Tuesday, I needed another mountain biking fix. I got up early and rode the Slickrock Trail as fast as I could, finishing in an hour and forty minutes. I saw one other person along the whole trail, just before I finished. It is great to have such a beautiful day and the trails totally to myself. I succesfully completed a couple moves that I hadn't done the other day, and I didn't hurt myself, so I was quite happy. I rode 3 miles back down to our townhouse, had a little lunch, and then set out again with my dad to go see Pothole Arch at the end of Amasa Back.

Amasa Back has a very difficult start, but if you can get up the road a little ways past the initial difficulties, then it is one of my favorite rides. It is sunny and south-facing (good for winter riding) and quite technical for a 4WD road, and has beautiful views of the Colorado once you get to the top. The route to the arch is now well-marked with paint across some of the later slickrock sections. Some of the locals don't like it, but if it keeps the tourists from criss-crossing all over the delicate landscape, then I'm all for it. We returned the way we came, although there is an alternate loop option going down Jackson Valley trail. We met Danielle Ballengee along the way, who was marking the trail with orange tape for an upcoming trail run on the weekend. Warren asked her where she fell that one time a few years back where they didn't find her for three days, and she pointed down a side trail that we had not yet explored.

On Wednesday, we decided to get Karen out on her mountain bike. She also got a new (to her) bike from Poison Spider the other week, and really likes it. We visited the trail system up at Dead Horse Point State Park, about 8 or 9 miles of flat, easy trails with some good views. After lunch at the overlook, we headed over the the Bar M loop, which is another easy loop on dirt roads (but without the views). While Warren and Karen rode mostly on the main loop, I tried out several side loops: Bar B, Rockin A, Circle O. These side loops were moderately technical, and included some nice singletrack on Bar B, and lots of fairly bumpy slickrock on Rockin A and Circle O.

On Thursday, my dad and I rode up Poison Spider to the top of the mesa to explore the trails up there. His neighbor Tim said that he didn't like the trail as it was too sandy, and I can see why. After so many days of sunny weather, we spent a lot of time pushing our bikes along deep sandy roads. The steep slickrock sections immediately after sand pits were a non-starter, so we pushed our bikes up those, too. The easternmost trail on top of the mesa (the one closest to the edge) was much better than the trail that ran to its west. I would do this ride as an out-and-back along the eastmost trail rather than as a loop. Or you could ride down Portal Trail, which is the realy exposed technical trail on which a few cyclists have died. If you go that way and are not a male between 18 and 25, then you will definitely walk your bike through the techinical exposed section(s) so that you don't end up doing a 400 foot bunny hop off the edge.

After many inconsequential falls throughout the week, my dad finally took a 0 mph fall on Poison Spider and sprained his ankle. We decided to skip a couple side trips on spur trails to overlooks and just head back to the car, as we had had enough of the sand anyways. He fell a few more times along the way back. I think it was because he hesitated when clipping out of his pedals on the side on which he had a sprained ankle. Luckily, there was deep sand, so the falls were soft and we made it home without any more injuries.

On Friday, my last day, I decided to go for a trail run, as rain was threatening and biking did not look so fun. There was going to be a trail race on Saturday, so I chose to run the 20 mile course that the race would run the next day. Danielle had already marked the course a few days ago, so all I had to do was follow the copious orange ribbons. The course went up Pritchett Canyon then back down along the rim of Hunter Creek and down some singletrack, then out and back along Hunter Creek, then across the highway and up a jeep road, across a mesa, down Nellie's secret trail, up Amasa Back, and down Jackson Trail. I had never been on any of the course except for a small part on Amasa Back, so I really enjoyed seeing some new scenery.

Going up Pritchett Canyon, I got to see why this was labelled a 5 (on a scale of 1 to 5) as a 4WD road. While it was mostly easy going, there were about three difficult slickrock sections, the hardest being near the end. I watch a motorbiker try to go up this last section, and he jumped off his bike as it fell and slid down the wall. Ooops. I scrambled up the wall while they were picking up the pieces.

The rim road along Hunter Creek was very beautiful. The singletrack coming down was unrideable for a biker (although mountain bikes were allowed), and somewhat hard to follow without the ribbons. It was very, very technical, and required a bit of downclimbing in spots.

The jeep road up the south side of the mesa south of Amasa Back was very tough, but had beautiful views. Coming down through the slickrock on Nellie's trail made me realize how Danielle could have slipped here in winter. Ice on the north facing sloped slickrock is dangerous. There is one section in which the race course takes you through a two foot wide crack in the slickrock, almost like a miniature slot canyon, except that it is only six feet high. The Jacson trail had one section in which I could look down to see the Colorado River next to my feet (exposed), and one or two tricky sections for bikers. It was a nice run. I thought this course was really great, and I would recommend the race for anyone who is interested in visiting Moab this time of year.

Friday night, it rained in Moab and snowed on the high mesas. Winter is coming. I could have stayed another week or two and spent every day doing more trail running and mountain biking, but it is time to head home to cold, gray Seattle. I will definitely be back soon.