8.12.2012

Mogollon Bikepacking

There was some chatter flying around on the AZ mtbr forum a couple weeks ago about a possible bikepacking scouting trip up on the Mogollon (muggy-OWN) Rim. I've been wanting to get out on an overnighter this summer and time was slipping by. A few people expressed interest, but in the end I joined up with Chad from Tucson.

Chad just so happens to be one of the main reasons I entered the world of endurance mountain biking / bikepacking. A few years back when perusing a writeup on Mike's website he mentioned these two crazy guys from Tucson who do some incredible routes. Enter Chad: AES organizer and Scott: Mr. Topofusion / Bikepacking.net / Trackleaders.com / SPOT. To say these two fellas have done a few things for the AZ mountain biking scene is a gross understatement. They supply and endless stream of riding stoke, even for the non-rider. Seriously, check out their blogs!

I digress, Chad put together a 98 mile or so loop route above & below the rim. Most, if not all of this route was new to him, but I had been on sections here and there. A few of them as long as 15 years ago! We kept the route open to improvisation based on how we were feeling & the threat of thunderstorms. The weather was looking good if not a bit on the warm side for 7000'.

After meeting up at my house, we headed north deciding to start up on top of the rim near the junction of SR87 & FR300 (Rim Rd.). Most of Day1 would be on FR300, but that was ok because the views were fantastic!!

In some ways the views reminded me of North Carolina and the Smoky Mtns.

Big country out here.

We passed a few reminders of fires past.

My setup, this was the last ride for that seatbag.

Other times we imagined ourselves riding on the north rim of the Grand Canyon.
 We came upon the crossing of the AZT near General Springs cabin and the Cabin Loops trail system looking for the General Crook Trail. We couldn't locate the trail visually, so we consulted the GPS. Should be about 200' that-a-way. Meandering through the woods to where the track resided only rendered us more bewildered. I don't see a trail here, wait, what's that? Is it? Perhaps, but we're not following a trail so vague it would take all our concentration to stay on course. So back to FR300 we went until the Houston Bros. turnoff. We followed Houston Bros. for a short bit, up & down a few steep washes until we met up with the Barbershop Trail.
Fern forest on the Barbershop Trail. Photo by Chad.

For every short grunt up, there was an equally nice meadow.

Barbershop wasn't nearly as bad as we heard, sure there were a few HAB's, but nothing crazy.
Water wasn't an issue on this day. We crisscrossed on a few FR's until we dropped back out onto the smooth confines of graded FR300.

Just 3 miles 'as the crow flies' became our mantra.

We were reminded that not all plant life in AZ must withstand 115º.Photo by Chad.

It's remarkable how insignificant we really are. Photo by Chad.

Photo by Chad.

Not a bad view for lunch.
After lunch we headed back out of FR300 towards Woods Canyon Lake. We jumped on a more recognizable portion of the General Crook Trail at See Canyon, from there the trail was great hardly needed the GPS. Plenty of chevron symbols on the trees designating the trail. We bailed of GC in favor of a spur route through the Carr Lake trails via the Aspen trail.
Should've hung a left. Photo by Chad.
We were a bit disappointed with the Aspen trail, it was super short maybe a half mile or so then it was back on forest roads. We would have been better off staying on GC or trying a different Carr Lake trail. At this point I really wanted to make the Woods Canyon Lake general store before it closed, but what time was that?? Show up & see if it's open. Lucky for us, we made it by a good 20 minutes, downed some cold gatorade, Pepsi, ice cream bar & a snow cone!!
So festiv. Photo by Chad.
After a quick stop to re-fill our water we were on our way towards the turn-around point and dropping off the rim. We hopped onto the Military Sinkhole and pointed the rigs downward. I rode up this trail (well, ok, I HAB'd up this trail) about 15 years ago and it couldn't have looked or felt more different. Rubbly chunk all the way down but ridable.

Nearing the bottom I went off a small drop and my front tire caught a small rock just perfect. I felt the back wheel start to rise as my weight shifted forward...rut-roh...going down!! Like so many over-the-bar (OTB) crashes it was unfolding in super slo-mo. I smacked my knee into the rubble field, then as I looked up I spotted my rear wheel aiming directly for my head...clunk. That's one reason we wear helmets! Now I'm on the ground in a boulder field with a 40+ lb bike lying on top of me, drat, Chad is gone and I can't seem to get my footing to get up!! I would have loved to a) see the video of this and b) had a picture of me lying all knotted up with my bike. I could only laugh at this point. I wriggled my way free of the bike being careful to not push the bike down the adjacent embankment. Finally I was standing next to my bike checking for damages: knee - a little bloody, nothing major; bike - all looks well.....the GPS!! Aww crud, the screen is hosed! Let me hit the power button.....whoa! the entire casing is smashed! How the hell?
Death of an eTrek Legend.

More than a flesh wound.
Now I feel really terrible, Chad loaned me the GPS for this ride since my Edge 705 was on the fritz. As luck would have it, this unit was an extra for AES events. I guess it was going to happen eventually, but I wasn't supposed to be the one to kill it.

I rolled through the trail contours trying to catch up to Chad as the sun was setting. I found him setting up camp in a really cool spot, near the 260 TH as we found out the next morning.

Day 2

A small slice of Sedona. Photo by Chad.
We ended up camping less than a 1/2 mile from here.
I didn't really sleep much, just dozed on & off a few times, but I did rest quite well. We packed up & headed out to tackle the Highline trail, infamous for its stretch from Pine to the rim. Luckily, we weren't doing that part of the trail. The first section from the 260 TH towards See Canyon was a hoot, a few downed trees and some short HAB here and there, but overall a lot of fun. The final descent into See Canyon was an absolute blast.
Zipping along Highline. Photo by Chad.

We both remarked how sections of the trail reminded us of varying parts of AZ, from Sedona to Flagstaff & Prescott.  Photo by Chad.

Here we are in Sedona. Photo by Chad.

Happy to say I cleaned this, but sadly it was only 1 of maybe 3 logrolls on the day. There were plenty of other opportunities to create more of these. Photo by Chad.

It was warm and a bit sticky, helmet off, jersey open and sweat pouring. Photo by Chad.

Little bit of chunk by a side trail. Photo by Chad.

Love riding among the big trees, hard to believe this is only 1 1/2 hours from the desert pressure cooker. Photo by Chad.
We arrived at See Canyon and Christopher Creek was running pretty good, but not THAT good just don't tell the dude who was fly fishing!! We immediately started to HAB. It was getting warm, mid 80's or so and a bit humid, which was enough to keep the sweat flowing. The sign read: 7 miles to Horton Creek, onward we went.

For some reason that HAB out of See Canyon really took a toll on me. I don't mind a good HAB, it can be a nice change of pace sometimes. Perhaps it was the elevated humidity or the warm temps, maybe I just didn't eat enough, whatever it was I became increasingly worn down. Chad would ride ahead and I would play catch up, HAB'ing up short steep drainages, bushwacking a bit here and there and constantly having to dismount over downed trees. That was the one thing that started to bug me, I'd finally hit a nice section of trail to rip and BOOM - downed tree. Where were those logrolls?? At one point I lost my balance on a sketchy stretch of trail and started to fall off the shoulder. I pushed my rig back onto the trail, but by doing so  my momentum took me down. I smacked my funny bone right into some alligator trunk bark...OWWW!!
Not a good destination for one's funny bone. Photo by Chad.
I finally caught up to Chad, ate a snack and listened to him tell me we had a couple miles to go before a 1000' drop into Horton Creek. Ok, let's do this! We rode on, crossing more downed trees and I limped down the chunky fall lines where I could. I know AZ trails are rocky, but jeez the Highline trail was littered with sections of trail with loose, steep, cataloupe sized rocks. I ended up walking a lot more than I would have liked, mainly because I couldn't pick a line to save my life!!

We finally came to the downhill into Horton Creek, what a relief! Time for lunch & a water re-fill. Too bad it tasted like the local public pool.
Horton Creek.
I waffled back and forth, but informed Chad that I was toast and needed to bail to the pavement of 260. We skipped the 25-30 mile control road into Pine in favor of thumbing a ride into Payson. Our efforts for a lift were rewarded in less than 10 minutes by a family from Holbrook. Back in Payson we were craving a Taco Bell gut-bomb and glorious fountain drinks. After eating, dare I say, a 'real meal' in lieu of the space food in my pack, I felt really good despite the 97º. We rode up SR87 for a couple of miles, hitched another ride into Pine and were dropped off at the Pine TH of the AZT. My renewed energy had me thinking of at least salvaging this day with an 8 mile 2000' climb up the Mogollon Rim back to my car.

We started out on the Pine Valley Trail climbing quickly to overlooks of town. It was a really nice start, then we turned onto Dripping Springs Tr and climbed some more. The trail skirted by a few homes then turned sharply to the right and up, up, up a steep loose rutted grade. I stopped to catch my breath and watched as Chad rode almost the entire grade with only a couple short dabs/steps over a washout. I just walked it.

We came to Dripping Springs and guess what? Yes, it was actually dripping!! The trail turned upward past the springs and became a gnarly switchback HAB grunt to the top. It was Highline all over again, ride a bit, HAB, drainage, downed tree, rock garden, downed tree, ride, downed tree....you get the picture. Five miles later we hit Pine Canyon and were confused by the sign: 8 miles to SR87?!?! We thought there was only 3 miles to the top!!

A couple of hikers approached from up trail, so we asked them how the conditions were. The fella was all jazzed about taking his bike down the route, said the next couple of miles were fairly easy, but he wouldn't be riding to the top. His wife asked us how far up the trail we were headed, we replied 'all the way to the top'. In unison they both shook their heads and told us we'd be hating life over the last two miles and we should plan on at least 3 hours. It was around 4:30p now, so we opted to take our chances back in Pine to hitch a 3rd ride of the day up the rim to the car.

Our first two hitch attempts took only a few minutes each, but in Pine, all the trucks just whizzed on by. One after another, then finally after an hour and twenty minutes a vendor from the Pine festival took me up to the car.

I picked Chad up back in Pine, then it was off to get some burritos & fish tacos in Payson. I don't have the final stats yet (see GPS pics from earlier in the post), but I'm guessing we rode somewhere between 75-80 miles over the two days. I'm still a bikepacking newb, but each time out I'm gaining valuable lessons. Thanks to Chad for putting the route together and waiting for me on day2. Hopefully next time I'll handle the second day better.

2 comments:

  1. Five years later, I read the whole thing too AND watched the slide show! Thanks, good write up!

    ReplyDelete