February 11, 2014

South Mountain: Sawtooth 70

Ever since I started riding the AES routes I've had a different perspective when putting routes together. Why stop the route here? I really shouldn't skip that tough part over there because it connects to a super fun isolated spot over here!! And so it goes.

I think I started to bounce around the idea of an AES type route for South Mountain (SoMo) three years ago. I picked up some really great maps from Global Bikes locally and began the fun route making process. The goal was to incorporate as many of the main park trails as possible with minimal double-tracking. Certain trails at SoMo are so much more enjoyable in a particular direction, but a few concessions had to be made.

Steve and I made an initial attempt back in May '12 during a 'cool snap'. Fail #1. Then I gave it another go, solo, the following December, but that try ended before it really got going. Fail #2.

Fast forward to this past Tuesday. I really wanted another crack at this before things heated up. I was going to take a vacation day on the 18th, but I saw the 10-day forecast calling for temps in the upper 80's!! That's nice and all, for April, not February!! I noticed the 11th was going to be around 75ยบ & asked for that day off instead. I was given the green light, GO TIME.

4a came quickly, but I finally slid out of bed, gathered my things and made my way over to the Pima Canyon trailhead. The gate opens at 5a and I was there twenty minutes later. I was also testing out my new handlebar mounted light for the first time and it performed flawlessly. Under the cover of darkness I rolled out at 5:40a.

It was a cool, but pleasant morning. I started on the dirt access road towards Beverly Canyon, then jumped off onto the East Loop trails to the 46th St TH where the park ranger was checking on things. My pace for the day was to simply keep moving, not worrying too much about cleaning technical obstacles like my shorter mid-week rides. Energy conservation would rule the day. The first hint of daylight approached on my climb up Javelina.
Top of Javelina, looking back towards the big city.
By the time I crested the steep Mormon Loop climb the lights were no longer necessary, sunrays still absent. My legs seemed to warm up to the ride almost instantly, which was very different from the last few big rides. Somewhere up near the Waterfall a fellow mountain biker was already coming down the trail. I was a bit surprised to see someone else out so early, but he may have been one of the few other vehicles at Pima out for a pre-work spin. I made my way up to the National trail saddle where the early morning rays filled the rock strewn valleys.
National saddle.
Downtown view near Buena Vista parking lot.
After a quick snack, I changed into daylight mode I was off onto the next section of National. This often overlooked piece of trail is one of my favorites as it winds across then down to Telegraph Pass. Plenty of rideable rock features to keep things highly entertaining all the while enjoying the views of downtown.
National trail gets oh-so-close to this Phoenix landmark.
I was cruising along, made the turn towards Telegraph Pass, when I started up & over a small rock feature. I'm not sure if my front tire slipped off the line or my rear tire spun out, either way I was off my bike bouncing my left arm into the cliffside!! Ouch. Kind of a weird spot to have a mishap, but all was good and it would be my only scuffle on the day.

Down at Telegraph there were a few hikers coming up from Ahwatukee as I prepared for the upcoming HAB to post #33 on National. Up on the ridgeline I noticed a little bit of trail work had been done on one of the notoriously loose chute-like S-turns. A few ups & downs and I was crossing over the top of Ranger trail, I'll be back here in a few hours I thought. National trail past Ranger is again highly underrated. Spectacular ridgeline views and fast non-techy trail, uncommon to the popular east end portion.
Nicely contoured lines up here.
Look closely, Alta trail climbs the middle hump.
The start of the west end freefall down National.
I was nearing the brake test area of National where the trail seems to drop off the face of the Earth. There's one short section that I always walk down, just too loose/steep/twisty for my liking. After that it was mostly clean sailing around the west end of SoMo to the junction with Bajada.
Bottom of the freefall.
I'm fairly certain Bajada is Spanish for suckfest, but I could be mistaken. When describing this trail one word is never used: flowy. I was at a point in the route where I was making a loop: Bajada-Alta-National back to this junction. I also figured it would be the biggest mental/physical test of the day. I wasn't sure how long it would take. Mark and I rode this loop a few months prior on fresh legs and it took us almost 3 hours to complete. I took a peek at my time when I pushed onto Bajada: 4:04 (Elapsed time). It was one of those mornings where I felt good and nothing was going to change that, not even Bajada. I could hear the guns popping over at the Phoenix Police Academy just over the hill. 40 minutes later I was at the start of Alta.

I really like this climb, it's long, but mostly rideable, with some tough tight switchbacks that I need to practice. Did I mention the views?
Climbing Alta: Summit rd, Max Delta Mine & Telegraph Pass all shown.
Looking west along the Alta ridgeline towards Maricopa Peak.
Nice view on a relatively clear day.
Alta is known for it's super chunky technical hair-raising lines, but before all that happens is a really fun trail skirting the upper reaches of the Ma Ha Tauk Range. I knew I'd be HAB'ing soon enough, so I enjoyed it while it lasted.
Steepness rarely shows well in a photo, but I was taking no chances riding solo.
Alta dips in the middle before reaching a second summit. What follows is a wild ride down to the San Juan parking lot.
Looking west, Alta trail cuts into the mountainside while the San Juan lot sits far below.
The Switchback of Doom!! It's hard enough to walk down!!
I think I was more relieved than anything when I arrived at the San Juan lot. I was still in one piece and so was my bike, this day was looking good!! There were only a couple of miles of uninteresting trail on National back to the Bajada split to complete the mini-loop. I made it back with an elapsed loop time of 2:35, a bit faster than Mark & I had done, I was really pleased with that and turned my attention towards lunchtime. It was now 12:15p with one more up & over on Bursera trail before my scheduled food break.

I tracked back on National to the mini saddle on the far west end of the park. I jumped on the social trail connecting National to Bursera/Gila trails, but it's well established and easy to find.
Climbing Bursera, aka Bees Knees, high above the Gila trail.
At the top of Bursera I sent Bev a text to see if she wanted to meet up for lunch at Quizno's. She was free and I was only 15-20 minutes out. I really enjoyed the downhill into the flats. Every couple of minutes I couldn't help but look up and see the Pyramid trail towering above me, seemingly mocking me - 'You think you're going to ride up this?' it asked. I knew better, it was going to be a slog at best, but at least it was after lunch. I'll deal with you later.
Silly mountain biker thinks he's riding up that!!
A short detour onto the paved streets of Chandler took me to lunch. 8 hours elapsed on the dot. Bev was waiting with high-5's and I promptly downed a foot long tuna, some chips & a couple of fountain drinks. Oh so good. Then it was time for a 8" meatball sub to-go and a fresh Gatorade for the next leg of the ride. The middle portion would take me all the way back to my car at Pima where my cooler was stocked with cold drinks for the final push.
Re-freshed, re-fueled and ready for some HAB!!
I bid adieu to Bev and started back up Desert Foothills Parkway. I was a couple of miles into my return to dirt and it hit me....I forgot to top off my water!!! Drat. A quick call to Bev to help save the day as I really didn't want to backtrack down to Quizno's. She met me where the trails peels off & filled me up. I was down to less than 20oz and no way would have had enough to reach Pima. Thanks Bev!!

Oh yeah, Pyramid is waiting. Taunting. I made it up to the first hard left step-up, then started walking. There were only a couple short-lived sections I was able to ride. I couple of hikers asked if I was going to ride back down...not today.
A hiker approaches in this fisheye-esque view.
One of the few rideable sections.
I reached the summit, noticed the rather large cairn was gone again, and knew the subsequent ridge connector to National wasn't a piece of cake either. I managed to clean the entire stretch reaching the familiar post # 33 from earlier in the day. I started to feel like I was really on my way back towards Pima.

A quick repeat of National out to Ranger and I was headed downhill. Ranger passed in a blur as did the Los Lomitas trail. Next up was the 50/50 Kiwanis trail. 50% on the bike, 50% off the bike. Doesn't matter if you're going up Kiwanis or down Kiwanis, it's 50/50. At least it's relatively short. Twenty minutes later I was again back up at Telegraph Pass resting my shoulders from carrying my bike up the large stair steps to the Summit rd.
Ahwatukee from Telegraph Pass.
The shadows were beginning to grow long and I wanted to be done with Geronimo before putting my lights back on. Leaving Telegraph Pass was a nice graded paved climb up the Summit road for a mile or two. A quick jaunt on the Upper Holbert trail brought me back to National once more. A quick rip down National into the Buena Vista parking lot I saw a few downhillers gearing up for a Go-Pro ride down either Geronimo or National. I didn't stop as the sun was dropping rapidly.

I can ride the upper 2/3 of Geronimo with a fair amount of confidence, then it gets dicey. Steep, rutted, loose, just not my kind of riding. I had stopped to walk down a sketchy drop in the trail when I heard the DH'ers coming. I moved out of the way as one by one they simply blasted by me. It was rather impressive. Big bikes, full body armor and tons of confidence, i.e. balls, will get you down Geronimo blazing fast. These guys were flyin'. Meanwhile, I walked most of the bottom third of the trail.
Racing the sun down Geronimo.
Nice part of lower Geronimo.
Glowing Camelback Mtn.
A nice sunset albeit blurry.
I made it off Geronimo without needing lights and saw the DH'ers, who had probably been down for 20 minutes. A short neighborhood connection brought me over to the 24th St trailhead. One last tough climb, then it's mostly easy riding. I actually ate a Clif Bar, finished off my Gatorade, put on my lights and started another mostly HAB push up the Mormon trail.

The coyotes were starting to stir again, it's really cool to be riding a city park to the howls of the desert dogs.

At the top of Mormon I was getting stoked to be riding down National in the dark. I rode almost everything I ride during the day, but I did skip one or two features.

I think it was about 7:30p when I rolled up to my car, only a handful of other vehicles were still in the lot. I was able to gather a consensus that the exit gate would be open all night, so I didn't move my car. Time for dinner! I downed a chilled chocolate milk first, so refreshing!! Then 1/2 the meatball sub & a Pepsi as a few riders completed their nighttime spin on Desert Classic (DC) trail. By the time I was ready to head back out, my car was the last one in the lot.

I took off onto DC around 8p and about 2 miles out my chain got sucked into my cassette...twice! Jeez, not now. I made it through all the tough stuff and this crap is going to happen now?? Instead of taking the time to mess with it, I just figured it would be easiest to not use my low gear. Problem solved.

I tried to keep a steady pace going out to the Helipad split, stopping a couple of times to listen to the coyotes howling nearby. I'm surprised I didn't see any, the first pack I heard couldn't have been more than 20 feet away!!
Taking 5 at the DC Bus stop. Lights from the SoMo antennas up on the hill.
At the Helipad saddle I dropped over the backside to the Degoba Loop (aka The Swamp), there's a rare spring on this trail and I didn't realize there would be standing water on the trail! I sloshed through the puddles twice being extra cautious not to wipe out in the water. The trail had some unexpected loose climbs and my legs were just now starting to feel a bit tired. So I walked a bit.

Same could be said for the Helipad climb, it's a 0.7 mile 400 foot climb with a few techy bits to navigate. I wasn't having much of any of it, walking more than I thought I would. I took a few extra minutes at the top, taking in the pitch black views of the DC alley.

I left the Helipad knowing I was now on my way back to the car to finish this beast. Down the Goat trail to DC once more then a series of easy loops, Lower Corona de Loma, Warpaint & Secret led me back to the water tank. As I neared the tank a rider came up behind me to pass, it must've been 11:10p and I had only seen a few riders all day, I thought it was funny I'd see one now!

After the tank I took the flat fast track by the homes into the final push. I rolled back into Pima at 11:30p almost 18 hours after first setting out. Surprisingly, I felt pretty good, I wan't shattered just tired from the long day. What a great way to spend a vacation day. Not sure if I'll do this one again though, may move on to some other ludicrous route. Never say never.
This map can be purchased at Global Bikes on two pages for $2 ea.

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