October 10, 2017

Ripsey: Catclaw Killa

My employer had arranged for a Day of Caring, a day where employees could give back to the community instead of coming to work. Some coworkers went as groups to the animal shelters, food banks, etc. All fabulous ways to give back. Being an outdoor enthusiast I wanted to give back in that regard. The Arizona Trail was an obvious choice. Each year the trail gets choked with catclaw in the desert lowlands, so why not spend the day out on the trail trimming back this pest so other trail users may enjoy it more?

Which section to work on? So many choices. I preferred a loop and something nearby. The Ripsey segment came to mind. There are a few notoriously overgrow sections and a bunch of loose rubble on the main climb. I wanted to do some light tread work as well.

Being a Tuesday, I wasn't able to wrangle any other friends out there. I set off around 8a from the Kelvin trailhead, loppers stuffed in my pack and plenty of cold drinks for the long day ahead.
My Osprey Escapist 20 has seen better days!!

I was surprised to see a new bridge being constructed over the Gila River in Kelvin.

Best trail in the land.

The only traffic I encountered were 3 cement trucks and the construction foreman in a pickup.

Beehives in the desert??

The bustling Tecolote Ranch Rd. I wouldn't see another person the rest of the day.

Vague area connecting the jeep road to the AZT.

A little over 2 hours into the ride, I arrived at the AZT.
First order of business was to get the AZT carsonites vertical again. Both sign posts had been knocked over probably due to wind.

The first 1/4 mile or so is on jeep road, no trimming needed there. Almost as soon as I entered the singletrack the catclaw encroached. For the next two miles or so I'd ride about 50 feet, stop, take off my pack, get out the loppers and trim back the catclaw, put the pack back on and ride another 50-100 feet and repeat. It was slow going, but I vowed to stop anytime this pest was close to the trail. It was a lot!!

Here's a before/after shot of some fairly typical terrain out there.

No more scratches here!! At least for a little while. I then came to one of the trouble spots. The trail crosses a large wash and has a bunch of vegetation. It was so bad I couldn't see through the trail corridor.
This took 45 minutes to clear 50 feet of trail.
I was averaging about 1 mph with all the trimming!! I eventually dumped out onto the jeep road section and made my way over to the descent into Ripsey wash. I was expecting the worst over there.
One of Rob B's masterpieces.

The infamous green gate of Ripsey that was never green!! Note the El Freako & AES stickers!!

There were only a few random plants on the way down.

Then there was this section, yikes!! All clear now.

The tree on the left had overgrown so much the trail was obscured causing me to ride straight to a dead end. I made a trail barrier with the clippings. 
It was now 4:30p and I still had 9 miles to go!! I decided to end my day and push through the remaining catclaw so I could finish around sunset. I'd like to get back out there to finish the job soon. There is plenty left to eradicate.
Not sure why the hose was pulled out of the tank, maybe to clean the tank?? Hose was still dripping and plenty of bees were enjoying it.

The Big Hill inching closer.
One of my other goals for the day was to brush the trail of loose, baseball sized rock on the initial switchbacks of The Big Hill. There were plenty of rocks to sweep, hopefully it's a better experience. It'll still be tough, no doubt.

Mount Lemmon from the flanks of the Big Hill.

Ripsey ridgeline in golden hour & gusty winds...FUN!!

I love the raw ruggedness of this area.

Racing fading daylight to the switchback attack section.
I wasn't fully on my A-game going down the attack section, dabbing on 3 or 4 turns, but I did get to the bottom before darkness settled in. I flicked on my lights for the final couple miles back to the trailhead. I then cleaned out the cache box of empty containers and dropped 10 gallons of water for public use. It felt really good to get out there for the sole purpose of making the trail experience better. I'd love to incorporate more trail days into my schedule as they are always in need of work.


As a side bonus, I decided that this area really needs to become part of the Arizona Endurance Series. It would be the perfect way to get new riders out to this remote stretch of prime desert. The route I rode on this day would become the short version while a longer version will include more dirt roads and a spin on the Boulders segment of the AZT.

Here's the down & dirty on the new AES Ripsey ride. Come on out in early March!!


  1. Nice! You will have made lots of people happy. :)

  2. Thanks for the work..I hate catclaw..so evil..

  3. Good work sir! May the Trail Karma gods smile upon you.

  4. I'm not liking how the sharp end of those trimmer-claws are right at the back of your neck. Yikes!!

    1. Jeez, I guess I never really noticed that!! Better take the bigger pack next time, they fit inside.