October 4, 2013

Best of the Worst at South Mountain: Alta/Bajada

Recently Mark and I have been able to coordinate our Friday schedules to do some riding. We've been looking at routes that are a bit out of the norm as we both seem to have this need to try any route that can be thrown together. While it was still furnace hot here in Phoenix we talked about doing an Alta/Bajada loop at South Mountain. Neither one of us had been on Alta, mostly because we heard the stories about how unrideable it was, the exposure factor and the fact that it would need to be looped in with the flow sucking Bajada trail.

October is a wonderful time in Phoenix, the humidity brought in by the monsoon is gone, the triple digit temps fade away and the mere thought of perfect riding conditions for the next 8 months dominate the mind. It was time for a little Fear & Loathing in South Mountain!
This is an older picture of Alta zig-zagging up the mountain.
We knew this would be a slow moving loop, so we packed lights this time. We left the Ranger trailhead around 3:30p making our way up to the Bajada split. A couple short HAB sections led us to a rather fun mile+ piece of dirt all the way down to the junction with Alta. From there, we crossed the park road and began the climb.

Almost immediately we were met with a steep loose rubbly ascent, here we go, start the HAB we thought. Going into this ride, we figured if we rode at least 50% of Alta, we'd be happy. The grade eased up as did the riding surface at the top of the short HAB. The trail was a nice width and firmly packed rock. We kept pedaling, this wasn't so bad. Could it continue?
Mark on one of the steeper sections.
The 'Maid' cleaned it all!
My turn. You can see the summit road in the background winding up towards Telegraph Pass.
This was more indicative of the riding surface for the climb.
 Yes, it can!! We stopped a few times in awe at both the views and shear rideability of the climb. In short, it was awesome!! The toughest part of the climb were the tight switchbacks every once in a while. I only managed to clean a few of them, I really need to practice those kind of moves.
Mark at it again.
Fantastic views of downtown, Piestewa Peak & Camelback Mtn.
We didn't realize there was another small ridgeline to the northwest.
On top of the ridge.
The setting sun illuminates the ridgeline we're about to traverse.
San Juan rd is barely visible in the valley below, Bajada trail parallels this road on the far side.
The Max Delta mine ruins.
Clear view of the Bradshaw Mtns to the northwest.
We estimated that we rode 95% of the climb, we were ready for more. Onto the ridgeline for more stunning singletrack. Then we finally started to see some of the bigger chunk moves. A bunch of dismounts and some walking here and there we reached the second summit marking the start of the final descent.
Some chunk & sketchy sections during a short descent & subsequent climb to the second summit.
Mark starting down the final descent.
Switchback attack! over the first 1/4 mile.
Ocotillos aglow in the waning daylight.
The upper portion was really nice.
Riding on rocks is fun.
Big views of the Estrella Mtns.
After Mark's photo shoot on the descent, I'm ready to take off.
We dropped down a good portion of the mountain before things got hairy once more. We had to navigate down the 'Switchback of Doom', which is a large rutted piece of rock expertly placed at a tight lefthand turn on the trail. It's also very steep! Time to walk. The chunkiness continued all the way to the San Juan parking lot, but most of it was rideable. We figured over the entire Alta trail we rode 80%. We were pleasantly surprised by that and vowed a return visit soon.

The San Juan lot is the western terminus for the National trail, so we jumped on that for a couple of miles to the Bajada junction. It's not much to write home about, kind of like riding on scree.

I didn't take any pictures on Bajada as it was starting to get dark. Lights went on and we plugged away as best we could over the rocky terrain. Bajada actually wasn't too bad, some of the washes were their usual HAB self, but most of the trail was surprisingly ok.

An hour later we were back at the car still amazed at how fun the loop was. Worst trails at South Mountain? If so, I'll take some more please. Alta is highly underrated. If you like a good climb, go there.

I put my bike up on my rack and noticed my rear tire had 3 substantial slices down to the core!! Never lost air, but the Specialized Captain GRID's life finally came to an end.
2000.9 hard desert miles on this tire. After the Grand Canyon ride, I was overdue!!

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