March 19, 2016

Slate Creek Divide

Mt. Ord. It calls to me every time I drive by heading to the pines. I've been meaning to ride to the top for a few years now, but never seem to make the time. It's just a dirt road climb after all. I knew the views up top would be amazing since you can see the peak from so many vantage points near and far.

Then it occurred to me, I wonder if I can link up FR201 & Goldridge trail to Mt. Ord from the bottom, the old way up? I think what initially held up my plans to concoct a route was I thought riding on the shoulder of AZ87 was the only option. It's not. I poked around on the topo maps & satellite imagery and was able to draft a plan that would be a 53 mile loop with two climbs. Two big climbs.

I lobbed the necessary bait with just enough detail to sucker in Jeff & Nancy. They are great riding friends, probably putting way too much faith in my routing abilities. It usually works out just fine, but that's how all adventure routes should be, just the right mix of WTF and amazing riding.

We called an audible re: start time based on the warm forecast, which turned out to be a really wise decision. The forecast may have been for warm temps, but it was downright frigid for these desert dwellers at the start.
The last thing we wanted to do was get our feet wet barely 10 minutes into the ride.
We began on a short lava rock section of passage 21 along the Arizona Trail (AZT).
We transitioned under AZ87 onto passage 22 and I warned Jeff & Nancy, while most of the next 5 miles were good, there was some crap. The AZT held true to form, heck we still managed to blow by a couple of turns even with a GPS track and prior trail knowledge!! D'oh.
Vintage trail sticker. 'Border to Border' Yeah, I think I'll do that.
Hey! Get on the trail!!
Last time through here, someone strung a hammock across the trail!! When trees are available, use them.
More from the AZT time capsule.
A mere 7 miles from the halfway point of the AZT.
Brake check!!
Beautiful trail under a creek-side canopy.
Is it mandatory that every string of wild horses have a white one?
We popped out on the Old Beeline Hwy, done with singletrack for a bit, as we were about to embark up FR201. This dirt road is also known as the Slate Creek Divide as it's essentially the boundary between Maricopa & Gila Counties. It's well maintained, has a few grunt pitches and gains a little over 2000' up to the pines. It is here where we'd return to singletrack on a mostly downhill roll along the Goldridge Trail (#47). I had warned Jeff about bringing loppers for this section, he didn't believe me. I had a pair loaded in my pack, but as the day was already growing long and the trail in need of much more than I could provide, we plowed through.
Our second climb of the day staring us down. We'd be climbing Mt. Ord in a bit, from way down off-photo to the left.
FR201 throwing us a bone.
Amazing. Simply amazing.
Almost to the top, that last switchback ahead signals the arrival of the big trees.
The temps were cozy at the top, the scent of pine was everywhere. There was only one camper up top as we took a snack break at the Goldridge trailhead. It's not really a trailhead so-to-speak, but there's a sign!
Cool striated outcroppings.
Goldridge Trail #47 borders the Mazatzal Wilderness.
Down we go. Let the games begin. The upper 1/3 of the trail is really nice, with an occasional piece of deadfall, but most we were able to ride around. A few short uphills keep you honest. Slowly but surely the Manzanita choked down our right of way on the trail. At first just nipping at the handlebars, then poking your hands/legs and finally it got so overgrown it literally stopped me in my tracks on a few occasions.
A fast wide open section up top.
One thing was constant the entire way down: incredible scenery.
Vegetation creeping...
...and now full-on choke hold!!
A wave of Manzanita attempts to drown my friends!!
Ahh, there's the pose I was hoping for.
The trail opened up a bit and was really fun dropping down the ridgelines.
Roosevelt Lake way off in the distance.
The next bit became very steep and loose, a winning combo for downhill HAB.
Not all of the steep stuff was super sketchy, a bunch of it was downright fun.
Nearing the bottom, things finally mellowed out for some fast carving.
Ooh, so much greenery.
We dropped into Deer Creek trailhead a bit after noon. A few miles on the shoulder of AZ87 led us to a dirt road I had scouted out via satellite. These are the ones that can throw a monkey wrench into your plans. There was one section I knew we'd have to scramble through, but it looked very short. I just hoped it was manageable and not a cliff!!
Wide shoulder, hooray! Mt. Ord looming with our dirt turnoff quickly approaching on the right.
FR177 was in surprisingly good condition. Here topping out on a saddle.
Mt. Ord inching closer as we hit a speedy section of dirt.
The washed out section of wasn't too horrible, but did require some bike hand-downs & hand-ups.
Safely across, the riding surface remained good.
Our portal under the Beeline Hwy and what's that? Super secret singletrack connector?!? YES!!
Messin' with Sasquatch.
We were more than ready for a lunch break as we crossed the arid Slate Creek, nary a drop of water to be seen. It was around 2:30p when we rose from our shaded rest stop at the bottom of the old road up Mt. Ord. I think we were all a bit leery at what lie ahead. How steep was the road? Was it in good condition? Only one way to find out.
Shade and grass at the bottom.
The first two miles were really nice, mellow grade and good riding surface.
The road ticked up just enough to make you work.
We marveled at how quickly we rose from AZ87.
Jeff & I ended up leapfrogging each other for a while during our extended HAB efforts. Meanwhile, Nancy mashed out the pedal strokes and left us both in the dust per usual.
A small tribute at the top of the old road.
Confluence of dirt.
During one of the many rubbly HAB bits we could see plumes of dust kicked up by vehicles on the newer upper access road. I knew we weren't far from getting better riding conditions, just had to get there.

Nancy was waiting at the road junction while Jeff had dropped back a bit. He was running a gear a smidge too hearty for this climb on his singlespeed. As is typical, he stuck with it and we all began the final ascent towards the summit.
Smoother road, but still a kicker.
Roosevelt Lake and Four Peaks off in the distance.
Are we allowed up top or not?
We reached a gate with plenty of singage, but it was unclear if it was ok to proceed. One sign listed hours, which we were well within, while others indicated only authorized vehicles. There were a few cars parked next to the gate, but no one was around. We debated on what to do and checked out the sights from our perch below Ord's summit.
We can almost see our starting point of the day here, Bartlett Lake as well.
Layers upon layers of mountains.
Goldridge trail is over there somewhere.
By now a few hikers had returned to their vehicles. We inquired about the summit and were told nobody was up there. With that bit of information we knew we were going up to finish this thing off.
Closing in on the summit.
Forest of towers crowding the peak.
Jeff providing a sense of scale.
Prime location for a lookout tower.
Nancy on auto pilot.
It's difficult to describe the feeling up here, as if we could see the entire state.
We hung out up top for 10 minutes or so, then Jeff announced how much daylight we had left. Time to boogie. The good news? The remainder of the ride was 99% downhill. Go!
We rode down the upper access road at breakneck speeds!!
A great reward for putting in the work.
It seemed like only 5 minutes ago we were up there!
Nearing AZ87 and the top of the Old Beeline Hwy.
We had seen a high number of 4x4 vehicles during the day, now we know why.
The Old Beeline Hwy doesn't go through any longer, they wanted to make sure of that. This was one of FOUR such barricades.
Made it back to our cars in Sunflower with a little daylight to spare.
Wow, what a ride!! Maybe sometime soon there will be a trailwork day to trim back the Goldridge trail, otherwise it's a tough, but very rewarding route. C'mon, it's only two climbs!! I don't think this one will keep Jeff & Nancy from joining me on future adventures, fun times out there. Psst: I have another route from Sunflower to try....

Check out Jeff's recap as well, all different pics for a slightly altered perspective. Well done!

Here's the route:

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