September 16, 2018

Mt. Lemmon: Epic'd on Butterfly

It had been some time since our last #LocoRides board meeting. Shannon, Beto & I finally settled on a date and met up on Mt. Lemmon for a two part ride. The first part would be to scout a possible change to the AZT300 route near the top of the mountain. The backend would be new trail for us, completing a loop on the AZT alternate route coming off the Control Rd.

I pulled into the Bigelow TH and gathered up my stuff. This is the coveted spigot location on the Catalina Hwy. climb. No one else was around, then I received a text from Shannon. They were a short distance up the road. I started climbing the pavement and met up with them and Beto's buddy, Cris, at Whitetail Rd. I think it was Cris's first time riding on Mt. Lemmon and I was fairly certain he was promised a nice leisurely ride...

This was the junction for the AZT300 change and we'd leave the pavement for a short climb up dirt on Mt. Bigelow Rd. At the top we began a blazin' fast descent on the dirt road then hopped on 1918 trail.
Cris dropping into 1918.

Downhill singletrack is calling us to Summerhaven.

Beto cleans this techy section with ease.

Looks a bit beefier from this direction.

Yeah, there's some of this, but Cris doesn't seem to mind.

I know Beto loves it!!

A little bit of boulder hopping and trail riding brought us to the Marshall Gulch TH where we'd officially rejoin the Arizona Trail as it heads a short way up the pavement through the center of Summerhaven. This short route change puts all the resupply options on the AZT300/750 route.
We stopped for a couple of minutes at the Ski Valley turnoff to discuss our route for the rest of the day. We briefly toyed with the idea of heading up to Aspen Draw before dropping down to Crystal Spring trail. We decided to play it smart and make our way down the Control Rd.
Obligatory photo op at the Oracle Ridge trailhead.

Looking north towards the Gila Canyons.

Beto cruising down the miles of Control Rd.

Shannon dropping into the unknown on Crystal Spring Trail.

The AZT alternate to the Pusch Ridge Wilderness.

Mountains, trails & friends = smiles for everyone!!

So far, Crystal Spring was a blast. Shannon approves.

Cris was diggin' it too.

It's amazing how far you can see up here.

The trail had some hike-a-bike, but each time came a reward. Some cool routing had all of us in agreement: this trail was fun!!
We felt a few raindrops here & there, but didn't think too much about it. We could see blue sky all around us and there hadn't been rain in the forecast. Once again, the mountain calls the shots. The cloud(s) kept building and soon a light rain was upon us. At first it was nice, but it persisted. It was somewhere around the Butterfly trail junction when this ride began to turn into a classic #locoride. None of us had rain jackets, didn't even cross our minds. We waited out a steady rain under some trees without much success and eventually decided to keep moving, we were wet anyway. There was a brief discussion on which way to go at the Butterfly trail junction. We knew it was shorter to go right, but almost guaranteed 100% hike-a-bike, HAB. My car was parked near the end of the trail leading to the left, so that was my preference. The trail was unknown and we figured if it was similar to Crystal Spring we'd be fine. I mean, what could possibly go wrong?
A stout push near the end of Crystal Spring.

Butterfly didn't look too bad.

Shannon displays some early riding on Butterfly.

Then things got steep.

Assume the position!!

Cris was still all smiles!! Gotta love the enthusiasm.

The rain intensified and I managed to find a rideable section of trail. I came upon two older hikers heading the opposite direction and they couldn't believe I was out on this trail in the rain. After I received a parental speech about being careful I made my way down one of the last remaining downhill sections on the day.

Looks nice off in the distance, still raining....

Dry, barren desert meet lush, wet sky island.
I was ahead of the group and found a cool rock outcropping to take shelter under. It was the perfect spot to regroup, have a snack and get out of the rain for a few minutes.
Didn't look like much of a trail here either.

Great day to take your bike for a walk.

How do you know a trail is rough? Beto is walking, that's how.
I gradually pulled away from the group. Cris was feeling the effects of the extended steep HAB sections. I was already way behind schedule to get home, so I pushed on.

The Control Rd. cuts along the far mountainside. Somewhere over there we joined Crystal Spring.

Old burn area provides a stunning viewpoint.

A few of the sub-mountains within Mt. Lemmon.

Every so often I'd see signs of trailwork. Fresh dirt, bench cut, but short.

Autumn was in the air.

The trail was a little overgrown.
I was still in full HAB mode as I rounded a rocky switchback. I planted my left foot and as I shifted my weight to it...whoosh!! It gave way on the slippery rock face and I firmly drove my left elbow & right knee into the solid rock. Ouch. I sat there on my side for a moment, partly in pain and partly from the comedy of it all. An uphill HAB crash that drew blood? Yep. There I was lying on my side, under my bike on the wet rocks wishing this ride was over. I was done with the crappy conditions and oh so close to the top too.

The towers on Mt. Bigelow are tantalizingly close.

Near the summit the rain finally relents.

Saddle attained!!! I let out a holler to let the others know they were close, but I had to boogie.

The trail dumps out near the Palisades Ranger Station.

That was a long, hard 4 miles to get here.
I felt bad about not hanging around for the others to finish, but I was over 2 hours late. Gah!! 7 hours 10 minutes to go 17.7 miles. Oof. Once again. Have I mentioned how awesome and understanding my wife is?? She's the best.

We found out a day or so later that the route is best done coming down the Butterfly trail from the side we skipped, then going up Crystal Spring to the Control Rd. Sounds like a redo is in order.

The Butterfly trail is indeed scheduled for much needed trailwork. Not sure how rideable it will be, but it should at least be a better hiking trail when the work is completed.


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