12.16.2018

Mt. Lemmon: CDO Shuttle

There are some trails that get put on the 'Must Ride' list, then seem to grow roots there. They're always on the radar, but for one reason or another they remain on the list. The CaƱada del Oro trail, CDO, was that trail. It's often billed as the most rideable backcountry trail down the north side of Mt. Lemmon. The catch? It's a huge ride to do as a loop with a ton of climbing, not that I'm against that!! Or something like 4+ hours of driving if doing it as a shuttle drop with friends. Most people opt to pay a few bucks for a shuttle company to do the driving. This really is the wisest choice.

I saw a posting by Nate, from Blue Dog Bicycles, in Tucson about having a few openings on his birthday shuttle down CDO. This was my chance. Finally. I had only 'known' Nate online, so it would be a cool opportunity to meet him in person. My buddy, Igor, was also down for the ride.

We met the shuttle near the Catalina State Park entrance where Vernie was driving us to the top in a Homegrown Shuttles van. Our group of 9 settled in and made the hour+ drive around and up the Lemmon.
Good group for a classic backcountry ride.
We had to get dropped at Ski Valley due to the upper road being closed. What that meant was we had some climbing to do...on snow covered trails!!

Mt. Lemmon Ski Valley, one of these days I'll ski here for the novelty of it.

Skiing in the desert? Yes!! Mt. Lemmon rises over 9,000'.
We departed the parking lot for a quick downhill, then the snowy singletrack began. It was old snow, only a couple inches deep. It was somewhat rideable, steeper stuff - no so much.
Katie assuming the position on the slippery trail.
Altitude + HAB = Oof!! Photo by Igor.

Not what I normally ride.
They had wider tires!! Or maybe, stronger riders?? Hmmm. Photo by Nate.

The top of Aspen Draw and the lift was running. Why didn't we take that??

Igor's beautiful Binary Bicycles Molotok

I stopped to chat with a couple of the seasonal visitors.
Not in hike-a-bike mode!! Photo by Igor.

Here's a series of labeled pics panning across our view. Amazing.


My house is near SanTan Mtn.

Brown's Peak is the tallest of the Four Peaks.

Igor heads down the snow-free trail.

Bryce had some insane bike handling skills, ex-trials rider, 'nuff said.

The birthday guy, Nate.

Definitely had a big mountain feel.

A riding action shot!! Photo by Nate.
The upper section had some steep bits that I was uncomfortable riding, most of the group did ride those bits.

Here we go, CDO!!
Fast XC type of downhill here. Photo by Igor.

Bryce tried sessioning this step-up a bunch of times, coming oh-so-close to cleaning it.

John getting his game face on before his first attempt.

Such a tricky move. No dice.

Bryce blasting off once more.

Lunging forward, but alas, not quite enough.

Lunch break after some fun XC type of trail.
There may have been margaritas... Photo by Igor.
The trail crisscrosses CDO Creek at least 20 times, some rideable, some not. Each time I was able to stay dry though. There were many technical sections with large boulders in awkward positions. I was able to ride some, but most I had to dismount.

One of the many creek crossings, this one near the bottom.
Splashdown!! Photo by Igor.

The group makes our way off the singletrack.
 I did notice the lack of down trees, the local riders do a wonderful job keeping this remote trail as rideable as possible.

The singletrack dumped out on to Charouleau Gap Rd. A notorious climb to end the CDO ride that I had heard about. It's a typical rugged AZ jeep road, but rideable. I almost made it to the top, but the last few rises got me off the bike. Oof.
We're going up there...somewhere.

Looking back down the main climb.

Topped out!! Time for a break.
The day was getting long and I needed to wrap things up, preferably before darkness fell. Igor and I started down Charouleau Gap Rd. ahead of the group. There was a vague unmarked turnoff to what appeared to be a game trail that Igor knew about. Sure glad he did, I would've blown right passed it.
Yep, that's the trail.

Deer sighting!!

We did end up on real-looking trail...and some slickrock slabs.

Then we spotted this spooky old tree and had to grab some pics.
 Right after the tree we turned left and began to climb. It was kinda slow going then the dirt road we were on seemed to dead end. Igor was certain there was another vague trail that looped around to where we wanted to go, I wasn't so sure about his confidence!! He began poking around the desert looking for clues while I backtracked a bit and assessed my time. I didn't have time to bushwhack through unknown terrain for an unknown distance. Igor was set on finding a way through, so I yelled down to him that I was turning around and finding trails back to the car.
This was more like it.

Shoot the gap!!

Cowboy Slickrock trail was super cool, but a bit hard to navigate solo for the first time, but I figured it out.
I ended up catching up to the rest of the group at the end of Cowboy Slickrock, but we only rode a bit together as they were about to take a break. I peeled off determined to get to the car in daylight, but I wasn't sure how many miles lie ahead. Spoiler alert: A lot!!
I knew I wouldn't make it when the light show began. I just had to stop and get some pics.

Easily my favorite from the waning light. Yowza!!
 The trail kicked up a few times and got super rubbly, not what I was hoping for. I did some quick HAB before the final downhill to the park exit. Lights were now needed.
The slow sunset was icing on the cake.
By the time I reached my car, the others had already come & gone. I found out later they exited to the road and wrapped things up about 30 minutes ahead of me!! Igor was still out there, hopefully not wandering around. He ended up finishing about 15 minutes after I did and was slashed by catclaw. Glad I skipped it.

Thanks again Nate for opening up the invites for this ride. CDO is checked off the list!! I'd love to do it again on an all-mountain type bike, something a little more geared for the terrain. I'd even consider doing it as a loop next time. Hmmm. Good meeting everyone else too, lots of great riders in these parts.


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