May 19, 2024

AZT: Cedar Ranch to South Rim

 I needed to keep the bikepacking theme going in preparation for the New Mexico Divide route coming up next month. I wanted a route with a fair amount of dirt roads, generally non-technical singletrack and cooler temps. Flagstaff to the Grand Canyon came to mind and it had been a while since I last rode that route. I put out a call to see if anyone else could join. Once again, Jeff & Nancy were all in. Nancy did the legwork and secured a camping permit via cancellation at Mather CG at the South Rim. We also decided to stage our route near Cedar Ranch where the singletrack resumes heading into Babbitt Ranch on the north side of Humphrey's Peak.

By staging there it would eliminate a huge final climb to end the ride up near Snowbowl even though the downhill from there to start with would have been a blast. It did shorten the days to around 60-65 instead of 85 miles.

Our plan would be to ride the Arizona Trail Arizona Trail, AZT, north to Mather CG, then return mostly via forest service roads for a quicker return.

Jeff & Nancy spent the night in Flagstaff while I rose early for the long drive north. We grabbed a bite to eat in town then made our way out to Cedar Ranch. I think we got rolling a bit after 9a.

Let's go!!

A ranch gate greeted us after a short bit of 2-track, then the singletrack began.

Nancy on the newest piece of singletrack on Babbitt Ranch with snow still clinging to Kendrick Peak.

Jeff rolls through with Humphrey's Peak towering.

Feels like the Great Basin out here. Nowhere to hide.

The end of the new section and some bushes begin to appear. It was really good riding on a well packed in trail.

We stopped to chat with a southbound through hiker here, he's going to have some very hot days ahead. We were also enjoying a fairly stiff tailwind, yet the windmills on the horizon were still.

Singletrack winds through the scrubland.

This gravel road is new since my last time here, guessing it's for the windmills which were also new.

We hit a stretch about a mile or two long that had 6-7 down trees.

End of the Babbitt Ranch portion and into the Kaibab Nat'l Forest.

We had been slightly gaining elevation and with it came bigger trees.

Open meadow near the Moqui Stage Station. Humphrey's Peak now seems so distant.

Fast 2-track for a few miles.

The famed NOT Russell Tank, tank.

The real Russell Tank was a couple miles later and had plenty of water.

The Coconino Rim Passage contours a 500' rim above a high alpine valley, culminating at the Grandview Lookout Tower.

Every so often you get a glimpse of the valley below.

Odd sign at the end of the bike detour skirting a steep AZT drainage.

Jeff & Nancy taking off after one of the many gates.

This is the first point along the trail where you can see the Grand Canyon.
I was a little ways behind when I heard a strange rattling coming from my bike. As I stopped, I heard something fall to the ground. Hmmm. I was checking out the front of the bike, nada. Then, when I picked up the rear end, my saddle lifted. Rut-roh. The nose came completely off the rails. It's a leather Brooks B-17 saddle. Super comfy and built for the long-haul rides. All the internal guts were missing. I found the bracket lying on the ground then paced up & down the trail looking for the tension screw. Nothing. Drat. The saddle was still affixed to the rails, but as you can imagine, when I sat on it, it bowed like a hammock. I was at mile 38 in the middle of nowhere.

It's not supposed to do that.
I accepted the lack of tension on the saddle and found a fairly comfortable position for it. After a few minutes I settled in and it really wasn't too bad.

I caught up with Jeff & Nancy at the Grandview Lookout Tower and told them what happened. It seemed stable enough, so I planned to finish the ride on it. Not really much else to do with it.

Canyon view from up in the Grandview Tower.

Decent view with the muted sky.

Looking back south towards Flagstaff.

This map was on the trailhead kiosk and I figured it would come in handy for the return ride.

One of the many cool AZT signs.

Grandview Lookout Tower.
Jeff was trying to make a case for riding the park road from Grandview over to our camp at Mather CG. I didn't want to do that since I was planning on riding it the next day to get back here. Plus, the AZT from Grandview to Tusayan is mostly downhill, only a handful of short climbs along the way. He didn't take too much convincing, off we went.

Lots of really good trail up here.

The forest road sections were generally fast too, except the uphills of course!!
Again, I fell behind and rode the final few miles to Tusayan solo. We met back up where there's an option to leave the trail and head straight into the Grand Canyon gateway town. We opted for that and a quick stop at the general store - chocolate milk was calling. I also stocked up on drinks for the next day. We bypassed the next bit of AZT and went straight for the paved multiuse path that links Tusayan to the Grand Canyon Village. Mather CG is right off the pathway.

Grand Canyon NP boundary.

Would you look at that, arrived at camp, all setup and the sun is still shining.
We were all pretty spent from the 63 mile ride to get here, hungry too. We skipped going to the Canyon's rim in favor of a delicious burger & brew at the Tavern. We can look at the Canyon tomorrow morning. It was the right call as the Tavern was crowded when we arrived and more crowded when we left.

Mather CG is one of the most popular in the entire park and is always in high demand. Yet, the site next to us was a no-show and it was noticeably quiet all night. Perfect. I slept great and was expecting a cold morning, but it never came. No complaints here.

I packed up my camp and wished Jeff & Nancy fun on their extra tourist day. I planned to do a little sightseeing myself as I rode along the paved park road. First up was the paved path along the rim between Mather Pt. and the South Kaibab Trailhead. I left camp at 7:30a and was hoping for an early afternoon finish since I had planned to avoid driving home on I-17, instead going through Pine/Payson.

Mather Pt. If you've never been, what are you waiting for? It's such an awe inspiring view and feeling when you get to the rim.

The aqua color of the Colorado River.

The trees are along Bright Angel Creek in Phantom Ranch.

Early morning tourists taking in the views.

Exchanged photos with another couple here.

Had to snap one bike photo without a fence in the background.

Ooh Ahh point along the S. Kaibab Trail.

Wide angle of the above photo.

S. Kaibab Trailhead.

The dizzying upper switchbacks on the S. Kaibab Trail.
I was heading out from the trailhead and saw another bikepacker sorting through her gear by a nearby table. I rode over and asked if she was getting ready to hike across. She hesitated then said she and her boyfriend attempted it the previous day. Made it to Phantom Ranch and she knew she couldn't go on. Said it was the toughest day of her life. I'm assuming they had camping permits for Bright Angel as they tried to sleep down there, but couldn't. They hatched a plan to have her boyfriend hike her bike back out to the S. Kaibab trailhead while she hiked out. He was now on his way back down to get his bike. Oof.

She asked if I had done it and I told her yes, back in 2016 during the AZTR. We chatted for a while about not beating herself up about it, it's not easy for anyone. She couldn't believe that I now oversee things for the AZTR and I may end up seeing her boyfriend on the 800 start line. Maybe she'll try the 300. Anyway, it was a cool encounter and I think she felt a bit more relieved when I told her I was really glad she didn't attempt to go on and put her further at risk of needed rescue.
Traffic wasn't too bad along the park road, AZ64, at least there's a bit of a shoulder and the riding was fairly quick.

Whoa!! That's a big fella.

Slight detour to the Grandview Vista. Last Canyon stop for the day.

The Coconino Rim Rd. appeared quickly and I was back at the lookout tower in short order.

Fast forest roads in the Kaibab Nat'l Forest were waiting.

Fantastic riding above 7000', beginning to trend downhill.
I reached a tee in the road and instinctively went left, east. I should have gone west briefly here in hindsight. That's what I get for not loading a track. I didn't want to get dropped out on the open expanse of Babbitt Ranch, not with the forecasted 20mph winds coming out of the southwest. Read: Headwind.

Back on the AZT for a couple of miles.

I hopped off the AZT at the Moqui Stage Station.

A snow capped Humphrey's Peak coming into view.

This was the old AZT alignment, the faint trail by the lone white rocks.
I could've swore there was a righthand turn coming up that would take me back to the AZT about where I wanted to join it, but I never saw it. I just kept riding...and riding. The miles were ticking by and I was getting farther away from the AZT and closer to the openness of Babbitt Ranch.

I spotted this vague 2-track heading off in the direction I needed to go. I immediately hopped on.
It gently climbed for a mile or so, then a short hike-a-bike brought me to the top of a ridge. I was now only a mile from the AZT. Cool.

The 2-track was fast riding, but kept bending away from the AZT. Drat.
Where was this thing taking me? I kept going. I was now at a point of no return, stay on it until it ends. I came to the end of the ridge and began a rocky descent which only meant one thing: Babbitt Ranch. Ugh. The wind was already kicking up as predicted. Oh well, just keep pedaling.

Imagine a 20mph headwind here and for the next 12 miles. Nowhere to hide. Gave me flashbacks to the Great Basin of Wyoming during the 2019 Tour Divide 2019 Tour Divide, only that was 3 straight days of 30+ mph headwinds. This was a piece of cake in comparison.

It was nice to see a fair amount of snow still on the mountain this late into the season.

Huge Bull snake getting some rays in the road. I coaxed him back into the bushes.

Cedar Ranch trailhead!! Almost done, only a few more miles along FS417.
Of course those miles were uphill and still into the wind. I eventually made it back to my car around 2:45p. Not too bad, but I really didn't save many miles on this day, only 4, due to my navigation mishap. I guess I'll load a track next time.

The AZT up here is really nice, just don't ride it when wet, it's horrible. I should have used the route Mike and I rode a couple years ago, that would have been perfect.

I know I'll be back soon, riding and camping at the South Rim is really cool. It's something every local bikepacker should do at least once.

*NOTE: The seat held up and I found a YouTube hack for the fix. A simple M8x20 bolt & nut. $3 solution. Score.

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