December 21, 2014

Highline Hijinx

There had been some recent chatter about the Highline and accompanying trails getting a makeover the past few weeks. I really wanted to head north to check it out, but the ride schedule was fairly full. I had an open weekend right before Christmas and hoped the weather would hold off.
Full HIghline trail and surrounding spur trails.
A light storm rolled through mid-week and the weekend forecast was looking favorable, so we waited an extra day before making the trek north towards Payson. We figured we see a few patches of snow and some spotty soft spots based on the radar during the storm. The plan was to drop a vehicle at the Pine trailhead, then self-shuttle up to the 260 trailhead. We'd then ride about 50 miles back to Pine via the Highline, Derrick, Horton Springs trails and the graded Control rd. I also wanted an excuse to try out my cold weather riding gear.
We found snow and a chlly start, but it wasn't frigid.
Shiny new trail signage.
A few early large ruts gave way to primo trail.
The first 6 miles to See Canyon started off a bit rough, some deep trenches near the 260 trailhead could use some repair. Most likely caused by the extensive monsoon storms. Most of the trail through here was pretty good, some short snowy sections that were a hoot to ride, some damp sections that were a little muddy, but all in all the trail held up fine to See Canyon.
Plenty of foot traffic had passed through since the storm.
Some HAB sections due to the conditions. Photo by Arturo.
For the most part, the snow was fine to ride on. Quite fun actually. Photo by Arturo.
Definitely more snow than we thought we'd see, but it sure was a blast!
Only a few deadfall crossings.
Manzanita creeping in.
Arturo cleaning a nice sized logroll on blind faith - I was yelling at him to do it!!
Christopher Creek.
The section after Christopher Creek (See Canyon) was what I was really curious about. Last time through here was a complete struggle with bikepacking gear. So much so, we ended up hitchhiking out!!

Immediately I noticed a huge change, the heinous HAB that induced immense suffering last time had been replaced with a series of rideable switchbacks - all the way to the top!! We did begin to encounter more mud however, not the death mud sticky variety, just a tad soupy.
Not too bad...yet.
More lovely switchbacks!!
Swoopy section along the Highline.
Every so often a huge vista presented itself.
Nice dry piece of trail.
Four Peaks on the far left, Mt. Ord on the right.
Brand spanking new re-route around a steep eroded hill section.
Time to hang a left onto the Derrick trail.
We arrived at the Derrick trail a little muddier than we had hoped. The section of the Highline trail from this point heading west has still not been completed as far as re-routing goes. The good news for us, both the Derrick and Horton Creek trails have received work. Plus, as we found out, were considerably drier as we dropped in elevation.

The Derrick trail was still fairly rocky, but nothing like it was a few years ago. There were a couple of noticeable re-routes, namely at the bottom where a series of switchbacks have been carved into the mountainside. It was a wild 3 mile teeth rattling descent, but I enjoyed it.

Down at the trailhead we took a much needed lunch break. A few minutes later a road rider came up and quizzically asked what we were up to. He was a local who happened to mountain bike too and line up for a couple AES events. I guess he knew better than us about the potential for mud up on the Highline. He wished us luck and sped off up towards the fish hatchery.
4 mile climb back up to the Highline trail.
The first few miles started out fantastic, good grade, well contoured, overlooking the creek and dry!! The last mile started to see the rocks increase as with the pitch making things a bit more difficult. As I approached the junction with the Highline trail the ground became soft once again, not necessarily muddy, but I had a feeling more of that was coming.

I made it to the top before Arturo, so I did some quick exploring on foot looking for the spring. I found it a few hundred feet to the east pouring out of the hillside.
Good techy fun.
Horton Creek overlook.
Smooth sailing here.
Looking a little ratty.
Idyllic scene near the spring.
It's a gusher!!
We only had 3 1/2 miles to go before reaching the fish hatchery. Little did we know about halfway there the mud would be the worst. It was death mud, sticky and deep, rutted and post-holed from animals & hikers alike. We did our best to avoid the muck, but some sections just couldn't be navigated without stepping in the slop.
Not what we expected on this day. Photo by Arturo.
Scraping sticks were a welcomed find to clean the wheels & drivetrain. Photo by Arturo.
Arturo was able to witness firsthand one of the more frustrating moments of the day. Body & bike were caked with mud as I tried to walk up a short steep slope on the trail. The mud was so slippery I kept sliding back down the hillside with each step. Gah!! I finally made it up the hill and my chain was just hanging limp on my frame. We were almost to the final downhill into the hatchery so I just climbed aboard and coasted. The mud began to fall away and soon I was able to pedal once more. The slight drop in elevation improved the trail conditions immensely and before long we had reached Tonto Creek and the hatchery.
Easy crossing of Tonto Creek.
Finally off of the Highline trail.
We hoped to find water here.....
...but alas, our slow 3.5 mph pace through the mud changed things a bit.
It was sometime after 4:30p and light was fading quickly, our bikes were a mess and we still had 30 miles until reaching Pine. We started up the hatchery road to see if we'd stumble across a water spigot to clean our bikes. We passed by a couple of homes and a guy came out and asked if we needed anything. Why, yes, yes we do. I asked if he had a garden hose and sure enough there was one ready to go in the front yard.

We removed the vast majority of the gunk and thanked the fella for the use of the hose. I'm pretty sure Arturo was done with the ride by this point, but I really wanted to finish it out. Our decision was made easy when we turned onto Roberts Mesa rd and almost instantly the graded dirt road showed signs of mud. Time for our exit strategy. Two thumbs up down at hwy260 wasn't being too successful.
Waiting on a friend.
As luck would have it a local was pulling out from the road we were perched on and a nice lady offered to give Arturo a lift back to the 260 trailhead. I gathered up all our stuff and Instagram'd our ride away while I waited for the pickup. In spite of the mud, it was a good day.

A few things I took away from this ride:

  • My winter gear is pretty solid, just need to pick up some toe covers. The lobster mitts, base layer and down jacket kept me comfortable all day.
  • When dry, this is going to be a fantastic high country route.
  • Speaking of dry, I guess more than 3 days is needed for the ground to dry out. Moreso when heavier than anticipated snowfall has occurred.
I'm counting on my third attempt to ride the Control rd. to be successful, so far both attempts led to hitchhiking back to the car!!

Thanks for tagging along Arturo, hopefully your bike didn't suffer too much from the conditions!!

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