September 4, 2016

Kaibab: AZT Final 4

I had been tinkering with my Kaibab Plateau tracks for some time. I wanted to do a bikepacking loop that incorporated all the good Arizona Trail (AZT) passages heading north to Utah from near the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. I also wanted to keep it a reasonable length, preferably a 2-day ride.

In order to do that I had to make a couple of concessions. This route would not have the Rainbow Rim trail or a visit to the actual North Rim of the Canyon on route. I think that would require at least a 4-day route to do it semi-comfortably. But, first things first. I also wanted this route to be as rideable as possible, meaning there would be no Navajo Trail HAB up to the Plateau. I had hoped the climb up Winter Rd. would be much more biker friendly.

As luck would have it, Scott & Eszter were camped out for a few weeks this past spring and pre-rode a large segment of my unknown portions of the route. Winter Rd. came back as a 'thumbs up' as did most of the other forest roads I chose, so I was feeling really good about the route.

I also incorporated a few resupply stops along the way. The Jacob Lake Inn could be utilized on both days around the halfway point of each day. The North Rim country store was only a few miles before we'd make camp for the night.
Rain loomed all around as I drove north. I drove in to Stateline from the south, which ended up being a really good idea. Google sent most folks in via Utah, but there was a bit of a drop-off entering a wash that made things sketchy. In the end, everyone made it to camp, but all had stories to tell about it.
A call for riders went out and by the time we were ready to head south out of Stateline Campground we were 13 strong! That's a solid group for a 6+ hour drive to the start.
An evening overview of Stateline CG looking north into Utah.
The campground was empty when we arrived, a bunch of us rolled in within a few minutes of each other. It was a nice night to hang out and talk bikes.

Sometime in the wee hours of the morning I heard the metallic pitter-patter of raindrops on the ramada rooftops. What? Last time I checked the forecast, it was 0-10% chance of rain. No bueno. I realized I had left my car window open, so I made a bit of an effort to head over to close it. There was one huge dark cloud hovering over us - straight out of a cartoon. At least it would pass by quickly.
Nice group!! *Shannon & Rhino got a head start & missed the photo op.
Time to roll! A few miles south on House Rock Valley rd got everyone warmed up. We even caught up to Shannon!! I was curious to see how Winter rd would go. Turns out, not too bad. It was a bit tough for the singlespeeders in our group, well except for powerhouse Nancy. The main climb rounded out relatively shortly and we regrouped after a few minutes at the AZT junction. This particular spot happens to be where Passage 42 & 43 meet.
The final AZT sign heading north at the beginning of Buckskin Mtn.
The clear morning skies had now given way to dark skies to the southwest. It wasn't looking too promising for us.
Distant rumblings could be heard.
I warned the group about the upcoming trail, if the skies opened up we'd peel off the AZT at the Navajo Trail linking up to a forest road on our route a mile or two early. The AZT between the Navajo trail and Government Reservoir does not ride well when wet, i.e. Death Mud!!! Avoid at all costs.

A few miles into the singletrack it began to rain, so much for the 0-10% chance today!! Everyone in the group had packed smart and brought a rain jacket, well, everyone except ME!! Forgot mine at home, but I did have my emergency poncho handy!! It saved my butt back in April and it was called into duty once again.
Ian looking pretty excited about the rain!!
Soggy bikepacking train.
Regroup and bail off the AZT.
Plenty of new signage up on the Kaibab replacing the old weathered ones.

The rest of the day the riding surface toggled from bone dry to fully saturated.
Plenty of good riding through the pines towards Jacob Lake, just watch out for the mud puddles!

No, I did not know.
The Jacob Lake Inn is such a great stop, good food, incredible bakery and near the halfway point of the day.

Scott had fed me some intel on an unknown bit of singletrack behind the Inn, so I spliced it into the route. Let's go have a look.

We were all outside finalizing our post lunch gear and noticed a rather ominous dark cloud approaching. About the time I pulled up the local radar it began dumping buckets!! We opted to chill for a bit under the Inn's overhang. Good call.
Sure was glad we didn't depart 10 minutes earlier.
The rain subsided soon enough and we resumed our southern trek. Scott's secret singletrack was easily found and a nice addition to get us going again.
Our bikepacking train taking advantage of bonus singletrack behind the Inn.
The trails weren't exactly a secret since they were signed.
The actual Jacob Lake was quite a disappointment to most.
The ranger station was a cool sighting.
The theme for the rest of the day was steady climbing.
We took a few moments here to regroup, rest and do some impromptu yoga.
The graded forest roads gave way to grassy 2-track for a few miles.
Our group began to split as the miles stacked up later in the afternoon.
A few splashes of color reminded us that summer's end was near.
I was excited to revisit the North Rim Country store after it saved my butt in April.
A few of us arrived at the store first. I went in and didn't see the owners at the counter. I asked if they were around and sure enough Betsy & Tyler were in the back visiting with family. I asked if they remembered me from that snowy afternoon in April and almost immediately their faces lit up. I said 'I brought friends with me today!' and we had a chuckle over our encounter a few months prior. Their son was there and and they noted that 'this is the guy we were telling you about'. Ha! I filled them in on how my race finished up then picked up some drinks for the next portion of our ride.

By the time the four of us were getting ready to head out to camp, the others trickled in. We all agreed to cut out a few miles to the south in favor of a more direct route over to the East Rim overlook and our preferred campsite for the night. Rhino had pressed on and we never did see him the rest of the ride. He was the only one who knocked out the full route. Way to go!!
We passed by this connector trail on our way towards camp. It links in to the AZT just south of the overlook.
Kimberly had some fun of her own while we trekked south. Plenty of mud back by Stateline CG.
East Rim overlook trailhead.
This happened a few moments after arriving at camp. Chalk this up as a bikepacking win.
The sky painters desperately trying to match Shannon's color scheme.
 One by one everyone arrived at camp, all making it before dark. A few of the riders were contemplating their options. Omar & Paul had a friend scheduled to pick them up in the morning. Marie's knee was bugging her, but would see how it went the next day.

Sunrise over the East Rim lived up to the hype. Camp began to stir and slowly we began our trek northbound on the AZT.
It's going to be a good day.
Some of the famed meadow singletrack of the Kaibab.
Shannon & Marie enjoying a slice of dirt.

Marie's knee started acting up again, so they opted for the road into Jacob Lake.
I managed to clean this hill for the first time, much to Scott's chagrin. He kept cranking too and made the top.

The trail was almost overgrown by grass.
Telephone Hill = More HAB.

Scott practicing for the barrel roll 750!!
Remnants of the burn area and a huge view of the Vermilion Cliffs & Navajo Mtn.

One more HAB push before the long downhill into Jacob Lake.
Out of the burn area the trail returns to forested singletrack.
Scott and I bailed off the AZT a couple of miles east of Jacob Lake and connected back over to the Inn where the others were getting set for lunch. Marie was done riding and was able to work out a shuttle drop with Kimberly and had just enough gas in Shannon's car to reach the station at Jacob Lake!! The adventures never seem to stop with my friends!!

Hardly anyone else in the group had ridden the final two passages north of US89A. I was excited to show them the way. I love passage 42, even more when totally dried out!! On our way back to the AZT from the Inn I had spotted a trail paralleling the forest road on my last visit. I noted it again on our way to the Inn. Sure enough there was a small trailhead for it, most likely used by the nearby stable. Would the Ceballos trail be any good?
Slightly downhill contouring singletrack!! It was real good!! Just short.
The group split again while some of us rode the final miles of passage 41 out to US89A.

Opening & closing AZT gates makes Ben thirsty.
We barely stopped through the level to downhill forest section, popping out here near Government Reservoir.
This was the section of trail we skipped a day earlier in fear of death mud conditions. The sun was out and dried out the ground nicely for us. We reached the Navajo Trail junction in short order.

All systems go on this day!! The pic below is the same location in April...
Sure glad we weren't dealing with this!!! Yuck.
Joe, Ian & Scott set a swift pace through Passage 42.
Jeff must've been through here...
The beginning of Passage 43, 10 miles to Stateline and I decided to slow things up and enjoy this segment.
Soon enough a glimpse of the red cliffs appear.
This is one of the few extremely distinct geological changes along the route. Sage brush one moment, solid red/orange rock the next.
Ben beginning the final descent to Stateline CG.
Late afternoon was the perfect time to ride through.
The turnoff from House Rock Valley rd. into Stateline can be seen here. I took a few moments to reflect on April's passage into the finish. I could've sat up here until the sun went down.
The final miles are a hoot!! One last little hill into Stateline up ahead.
AZTR750 Class of '15 & '16. Cheers buddy!!

Ben had been getting a bit rowdy on the flat section leading to the final hill and flatted his fatty!! The others were already partaking in post ride festivities. It was really cool to finish up a big ride like this and have everyone hang out for another night of camping and sharing stories.
Nice way to spend a weekend.
I wanted to hit the road early the next morning for the long drive home. I originally wanted to hike a nearby slot canyon, but figured that could wait until K was with me. I really wanted to check out House Rock Valley rd north into Utah, but the road still had that large step-up due to the recent weather and it was a safer bet to head south towards US89A. This also meant no side trip to Page to ride a short loop above Lake Powell.
Southbound on US89 closing in on Humphrey's Peak.
I still wanted to sneak in a quick ride on my way home, but where? I opted for Flagstaff. There was a cool route I wanted to check out over by Shultz Pass, but as I drove into town the wildflowers of fall were going nuts. I switched up my route and hit the AZT over by Campbell Mesa. I knew what spot I needed to get to and it delivered.
Exactly what I was hoping for.
San Francisco Peaks devoid of snow.
Snack break near Walnut Canyon.
This was just the ride I was looking for, fast, flowy singletrack to shake out the legs.

A quick rip through Campbell Mesa put a wrap on the weekend. Such a great time riding with old friends and making new ones. The Kaibab should be on everyone's ride list. Perhaps the next bikepacking outing up there will include all of the AZT plus the Rainbow Rim trail over 5 days. Why not??

Photo Album:

Kaibab - Final 4


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