11.03.2017

Bloodbath on Montana Mtn.

The AES Picketpost Punisher event was rapidly approaching and I hadn't heard anything about the trail conditions up on Montana Mtn. That section of trail tends to get wildly overgrown with catclaw after the monsoon season. I decided to make a trek over there, clippers/loppers in hand, to survey the trail.

I left the trailhead around 9a and immediately noticed a set of fresh tire tracks. Was someone else out here today? It's not a very popular ride and I wondered if we'd cross paths. I assumed whoever it was was pre-riding one of the routes.

The first two miles of trail weren't too bad, only some minor clipping out to Hewitt Station Rd. Now the dirt road climbing began on FR8 and then FR650. It had been a few years since I last rode 650 and I was feeling good, ready to climb away.
Snack break at the first saddle.

4x4 train. I had never seen so many OHV out on this road, must've seen at least 20 which I thought was a bit odd for a Friday.

The climbing kicked up, but my legs didn't.

The 650 serpentine had a tight grasp on me this morning.

As I rose higher, seemingly in constant HAB mode, it became clear to me: I lost a lot of fitness since the Colorado Trail Race a few months back. Too many short, social paced rides had taken their toll, not that I regret any of them.

After the main climb subsides, 650 wraps around the north side of the mountain exposing the rugged Wilderness to the north.

Picketpost Mtn. is the dark shawdowy flat-top in the background. The foreground shows the drainage the AZT follows.

Passing by one of the Wilderness trails.

At long last, the AZT. Took me over 4 hours to get up here. Bleh.
As soon as I was on singletrack the clippers came out. The catclaw up here wasn't too bad, it was the thorn bushes that were out of control!! The task was painfully slow, but as I looked back I could now see the tread. Progress was being made. A group of hikers came up the trail, part of the AZT Expeditions. Most of the group were young teenagers and they looked whooped!! Most had run out of water to my surprise, but thankfully a van was meeting them at the road with supplies. They informed me of a second group who was having more difficulty a bit farther back. They also told me about another biker who was a bit ahead of me. Aha!! That rider must've come up FR172 on the west side of Montana Mtn, pre-riding the B route. I felt sorry for them knowing how much I had trimmed. I wished the group luck on their journey and continued to cut away.
Westerly view into the Superstition Mtns.

A rare bit of clear trail as I begin the descent down Montana Mtn.

99.9% of all the green in this picture has thorns.
I found the second group of hikers taking a break in the shade. One of the kids had an Achilles flare up and was having a tough time with the hike. A few others had shed their packs for a later pick up. Seems like this hike was a bit above the groups threshold.

I kept my slow pace going and noticed it was now after 3p. It had taken me a little over 2 hours to trim about a 1/2 mile of trail!!! I still had 12 - 13 miles to go, time to get moving. That meant riding through the catclaw for the next 4 miles or so until the trail crossed 650, at which case I could bail.

The good news? I was finally able to ride down the upper switchbacks for the first time since they were reworked over a year ago. That was a nice improvement. Strand by strand the catclaw grabbed at, poked, sliced and diced my legs and hands. My left leg in particular was so raw from the constant scraping, I couldn't wait to get off the trail. I still had a couple miles to reach 650 and decided I should reroute the B option this year to avoid this mess. It's a huge trimming project and not enough time to get it done.
There were a few spots I had to trim on my way down.

Mud Spring looking a wee bit dry.

While I did make progress on the upper reaches of Montana Mtn, the AZT took the overall win today.
In the past week or so, a few more hearty souls have gone out there and done a bunch of trimming. Passage 18 is almost ready for some winter riding. It's a beautiful stretch of Arizona Trail, check it out sometime.


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