I had never been up to Mt. Graham, hadn't really heard much about it whatsoever. It's one of Southern Arizona's Sky Islands at over 10,000', not a bad place to be in late August. This weekend was hatched almost two months in advance and a few others from Tucson would be joining in for a small, but fun group, Wendi, Katie and Neil would round everything out.
|Our campground for the weekend, oddly enough named Shannon...hmmm.|
I departed the Valley around noon on Friday and made my way east towards Safford. I wasn't certain which mountain was Graham as I approached, but then I saw the dark clouds hanging over one peak in the distance. That's it!! Katie was already up there reporting torrential downpours. Great. My car only saw a few sprinkles as I drove through town and circled around to the summit road. I kept a keen eye on the odometer both from Safford and the summit road turnoff. I wanted to know just how far it was from the valley floor to our campground. It ended up being 14 miles of flat riding at the bottom, then a 21 mile climb up the summit road on tight switchbacks with no shoulder. No way I'm riding that!!!
Shannon arrived a few minutes before I did and informed me that Neil couldn't make it due to car troubles. Wendi would arrive in the morning. In the meantime the three of us set out to hike up to Heliograph Peak before sunset. The rain had stopped, but the huge pine trees were dripping all over us. It was strange to see so much moss in the forest. Arizona is an arid desert, right? Yet another reason I love this place...err, I mean 'Arizona sucks, too hot, stay away.'
|Whoa!! That's a dinnerplate sized fungus that looks like bacon!!|
|Clearing skies brought spectacular views to the west.|
|Heliograph Cabin, built in 1933 and still in use by the Forest Service for the fire lookout tower.|
|10,028' in southern Arizona qualifies this as a Sky Island.|
|Mist thickens in the valleys below.|
The following morning started slowly, we were in no rush since Shannon and I had calculated precisely how long it would take us to ride down Ash Creek. It's 10 miles long, almost all downhill with some HAB thrown in. Our typical pace on these outings is somewhere around 5 mph, so we figured with some extra stops & photos we'd get down the trail in 3 - 3 1/2 hours at the latest. Then we could connect over to a jeep road, ride it up until it deadends and probably HAB up a couple miles to the top. Again, what could go wrong?
Wendi arrived as promised and almost instantly the maps came out as we verified what we had chatted about the night before.
|Bike riding is serious business, gotta have a plan!!|
We took off under the threat of rain just before 9:30a fully expecting to get drenched before the skies cleared in the afternoon.
|Series of waterfalls on Post Creek.|
|The air was thick and the layers came off quickly.|
|As dismal as it looked, the rain held off and we only felt a few drops.|
|8 mile forest road warmup complete, it's time for some singletrack.|
|The cast of characters.|
|Katie ripping through the rubble field.|
|I think this was the first spill of the day!!|
|The damp dirt made the rocks slippery, but it was good fun!|
|Some real nice singletrack up top.|
|You never know what you'll come across out on a ride!!|
We initially came up with the Little Off Cycling Club, but Wendi was quick to suggest 'Organization' and LOCO was born! Or in this day & age #loco or #locorides. I guess crazy fits too!!
|The first sign you may be on a #loco ride. Photo by Shannon.|
|The deluge from the previous day left piles of hail all over the top of the trail.|
|The trail forked, we initially stayed low, but then backtracked to the higher route. Good choice.|
|A couple short grunt climbs led to some sweet contouring trail. Photo by Shannon.|
|So far Ash Creek was delivering the goods!!|
|Eventually we had to drop off the high line and drop we did. Downhill HAB!! Photo by Wendi.|
|A solid downhill HAB sesh will put a smile on anyone's face!|
|Or perhaps it was the payoff view? The Voodoo was smiling.|
|We doubled down on the DH HAB payoff, big views and a flowing waterfall after a scramble down to these rocks.|
|Not sure how something that large got wedged in front of my rear wheel!!|
|Thankfully, it avoided all spokes, but took some maneuvering to dislodge it. Photo by Shannon.|
|Clearing skies and a look at how far down we've dropped.|
|Katie leading the way down into the Ash Creek drainage.|
|Shannon coming in hot on a sketchy switchback....|
|...sketchy indeed. We pushed a lot through here.|
|One of the few downed trees the entire way. Thank goodness, there were plenty of other obstacles to hop over.|
|One of the rideable bits through this section.|
|Still a long way to go down.|
|This HAB train brought to you by an OTB from Shannon. I had just avoided near disaster moments earlier as I leaped over my handlebars through some chunky downhill to Shannon & Wendi's amazement. Stuck the landing. There's a fine art to crashing well.|
|I wanted to get action shots as we rode by another waterfall, but the trail was so steep & eroded it was hard enough to walk down!!|
|By this time, we had all crashed at least once. Nothing major unlike this fella.|
|Still smiling after the umpteenth crossing of Ash Creek. There's a trail in there somewhere. Photo by Shannon.|
|We exited the jungle to a short steep HAB up to the large rock on the left. Good thing we filtered water here as we were now about to leave Ash Creek for good.|
|A little more climbing before the final descent.|
|That expression says it all!! Woohoo!! Photo by Shannon.|
|It was looking like we'd have great singletrack to finish up.|
|What's not to like?|
|Contouring the hillsides.|
|Of course, one last downhill HAB greeted us before a short final rollout to the open jeep roads.|
|We survived!! Now what? No car was waiting, no one to come get us....|
|We simply had to get back up THERE ^^^|
|I wish Shannon enjoyed the ride more.|
|Cruising the flat easy miles into Safford.|
|Turned out to be a glorious day.|
|Sonic break for some treats. Photo by Shannon.|
Shannon & Katie were the natural ones to secure a ride. I thought they snagged one from an older fella outside the AutoZone, he genuinely felt concern for us making it up the mountain!! That didn't pan out and we thought we'd have better odds over at the general store on the Mt. Graham access road, it's the only way up!
A day earlier I had spotted a paved bike path through Safford, we stumbled on its beginning and zoomed through town not having to worry about traffic for a bit.
|Going my way?|
|Hello? Uber? No dice. Photo by Shannon.|
I had mentioned to Shannon that I kind of wanted to climb all the way back to camp, just to finish the loop. I also wanted to be done. So, Wendi & I began mashing the pedals up the highway waiting to get plucked off the road upon Shannon's return.
|Starting to gain elevation in the waning light.|
|Making my way back towards the trees.|
I crossed by the 5000' sign fairly quick, then arrived at the 6000' sign as darkness fell. I figured I would have seen the truck return down the mountain by now, but nothing. I had a signal, so I sent Shannon a text asking how it was going. Nothing.
|Heliograph Peak gave me an inkling of where I still needed to go.|
|Somewhere near the 5000' mark.|
A few minutes later Shannon's text arrived that they were finally at camp!! I kept cranking the pedals up the road and as soon as I passed by the 8000' sign she pulled up and asked if I wanted a lift? 'No fuckin' way, I'm finishing this thing off!!' She drove down to pick up Wendi and checked on me one more time as I crept up to 8800'.
|Still going!! About 2-3 miles from the top. Photo by Wendi.|
By the time I finally arrived the girls were getting set to crash out. Wendi poked her head out of her car and gave me a congrats, g'night! Katie had whipped up some food on the grill, but I was a bit too spent to eat it, but thanks a ton!! Shannon and I exchanged high-fives officially putting a cap on our first 'official' #loco ride!!
What a nutty day. It sure had a bit of everything. I'd love to explore more up on Mt. Graham as there are other trails, probably in worse condition than Ash Creek, but there's only one way to find out, right? I mean, what could go wrong? (sensing a theme here?)
Thanks for the invite and suggesting the 'epic' route Shannon, you're the best!!
|Adios Mt. Graham. Photo by Wendi.|
All the pics here