Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Road Trip 2011 Moab

October 17, 2011 – Road Trip Moab 
Set off from Canmore early Monday morning and took highwood pass (K Country).  Beautiful drive, in the space of the first hour and a half saw 3 black bears, 3 elk including a big bull, 2 moose that I had to brake for, 2 white tailed deer and a coyote walking down the highway (that didn’t pay any attention to me).   Hit the border about noon and managed to make it to Idaho Falls (1250 km) in just over 11 hours.  I actually felt pretty good and considered continuing on however it was getting dark and I thought better of it.  Found a motel with wifi and free breakfast and was set.  Next day didn’t get that early a start, about 8:30 and the driving was pretty dull until ducked into highway 6 just past Salt Lake City after lunch.  Neat two lane road and made it to Moab at 3:30 pm.  The folks down at the visitor’s information were very helpful – in no time figured out where the grocery store, laundromat, rec centre (showers), liquor store and good camping were.  Got myself sorted out and found a great camping spot in sand flats up very close to the Slickrock ride.  No water or wood, but great views of the desert and a fantastic sunset, even have the howling of coyotes to send me off to dream land.  Deanna lent me her tent as I forgot mine in Edmonton with the words that it won’t nearly be big enough, it is.

It got colder than I expected Tuesday night, had the sleeping bag zipped up tight and froze the trace of water I left in a pot.  Got up in the middle of the night and a ¼ moon was shining very brightly.  Didn’t get up until 8, just about the time the warming rays of the sun hit the tent.  After breakfast the temperature got up to 13 in the shade (was 18 in the sun!) so I thought it was time to go for a ride just after 9 am.  Darcy and I had ridden Slickrock a year and a half before and it was just like I remembered it.  Very, very fun.  Lot’s of steep ups and downs however in the middle section got a bit of a rhythm going and it felt great.  It’s mostly a loop and last time Darcy and I did it the hard way without knowing, this time I did it the other way – can’t say I noticed any difference.  It’s pretty amazing, not much in the way of trees, just rock and very sticky rock at that.  Amazing what you can climb (and what I had to walk).  Managed to break a chain in the middle, however had all the gear to fix it so no big deal.  Only met 6 people on the trail until just near the end and then started to get a little busier but the parking lot was only half full when I was done.  Roughly 2 ½ hours from my campsite return and had a big grin, however it did take a little out of me. 

After a quick lunch headed out on highway 279 west of Moab to check out the rock climbing on Wall Street and hike up to the Corona Arch.  The rock climbing isn’t that far out of town and scouted a lot of hard looking routes, however did meet Peter and George who gave me a bit of a low down on climbing on sandstone and in Utah.  Watched for a bit and then carried on.  Later on put my name up on a bulletin board in town looking for climbing partners but nothing materialized.  The Corona Arch trail was pretty straight forward however through some very interesting canyons.  A couple of areas where they had literally made bucket steps out of the sandstone along with a hand line and a ladder in one place kept it interesting.   At the top met Jason and Katie hanging out had sat for awhile and talked about road tripping.  Both were doing their level best to keep from being drawn into the work a day world.  Just past the arch itself there were some more bucket steps carved out of the sandstone however no hand line and got a little sketchy.  I backed off and Jason mentioned that friends of his climb up with ropes and walk across the arch and rappel down the other side, neat idea.  Back at the car after an hour and a half and made my way back to the campsite.  Found out that the sun goes down at 6:30 and the temperature goes down with it.  Having said that it got to over 20 during the day and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky.

Porcupine Rim has a great reputation as a great downhill ride however you need a lift back up from town.  However my attention was caught by the guide book mentioning that “or if your Freakin’ Superman ride up from town.  Game on, after all the numbers were a 50 km round trip with a 3,000’ elevation gain – couldn’t be that hard.  Left the campsite at about 9:30 for the 10 km ride to the trail head and quite quickly realized that it was mostly up hill.  Having said that it was along a gravel road with great views of the desert and not much traffic.  Made the trail head in an hour just as three people from Colorado were leaving their vehicle with the bad news that there was 900 more feet of climbing coming up.  It kind of sucked to start the technical uphill bagged but it was still great fun.  Mostly a jeep road however Jeep roads in Moab aren’t what they are in Alberta.  It was mostly rock and more than a few technical bits.  Some I made it through, some I walked over and a few I fell over (what’s a mountain bike ride with a little blood!).  After about another hour made it to a lookout that was just fantastic, a several thousand foot drop off to the valley.  At the same time met a few people just coming down having taken a shuttle to an abbreviated part of the “whole enchilada” and they had already been down hilling for a couple of hours.  Met Lee and Brian from Jasper and rode a fair amount of the descent with them.  The downhill was absolutely fantastic.  Some very quick, some very technical – finally got jumping down and had a lot of practice.  The jeep track slowly turns to single track lower down however I frankly didn’t see a lot of difference.  Great, great fun however did use a whole lot of energy.  Glad to be riding clipless however did crash lightly a couple of times.  Broke my chain once again as shifting down for a climb (there were a lot) however didn’t have to take out any links so all was good.  Near the end some very exposed bits, walked around most of them however did help out a Kiwi girl who took a 15 foot tumble into a pile of rocks.  Looked like she had a concussion a broken collarbone and wrist, but all things considered was darned lucky.  I loved her Australian boyfriend who basically helped her to her feet and told us to carry on and don’t ruin our ride for a bit of a tumble.  Watched her until I was certain that the knock to the head wasn’t overly serious and then carried on as too many people trying to help.  At the end you hit highway 128 and it’s a 10 km ride back into town.  Good thing it was downhill as I was pretty shagged.  Got into town at the 5 hour mark and was bonking big time, the buns I was planning on making lunch with were so stale they resembled hockey pucks so all I had to eat was an apple, a snickers bar and a cliff bar.  Only 5 km left to ride however all uphill back to the campsite, 900 feet of elevation gain to be precise.  Fortunately, just on the edge of Moab on the way up is an old style hamburger joint called Milt’s.  I stopped in for a double cheese burger and fries.  Funny when I was about half way through enjoying it (and I did) I started to add up what kind of food I was eating and how likely, or unlikely, it was going to help getting me up the hill.  Probably the most useful thing would have been a coke that I passed up for water.  In any event, the climb up wasn’t as bad as I expected.  A hot grind for sure and burping up the hamburger all the way wasn’t overly taxing.  Made it back to the campsite just after 4 pm, after 5:45 hours of riding time and pretty much shattered.  Grabbed a pepsi out of the cooler and laid on the picnic table using the cutting board as a head rest for some time.  Eventually made it back to town for a shower at the rec centre and bought a few groceries.  Managed to find the liquor store (only one in town and quite hidden).  Bit of a bizarre set up but who can complain when a bottle of Gin can be had for 8 bucks!  Fortunately, Utah repealed the really draconian bits of its liquor laws however still a little weird.  Only liquor store I’ve ever been in that prices beer by the bottle!

Thursday night didn’t feel as cold as previous, even took my toque off for a while.  Got up pretty early Friday and took my bike into get the chained checked.  Sure enough, time for a new one so got one installed and headed out to Amasa Back.  Great ride, got the parking lot screwed up so rode an additional km or so up a gravel road however the ride was a little more mellow than the day before but fantastic in its own way.  Didn’t start riding until 10 and messed up the initial downhill to the stream crossing and then started uphill to find a line of roughly a dozen jeeps.  They were climbing it and taking turns up a particular nasty bit.  Great folks and let me and a couple of others go first.  Then we carried on climbing with the additional push of staying ahead of the jeeps.  It is an out and return ride with about 500 m of climbing and great to check out the descent on the way up, theoretically as I seem to forget everything as soon I turn around.  It’s just the right slope to be able to ride most of the uphill however a couple of very technical bits that I either came off or walked around.  I’m starting to get the hang of watching the tire tracks and picking the best line.  Probably half a dozen of us making our way up but half way ran into a couple more jeeps and 6 motorcycles attempting to climb a very technical bit, unsuccessfully, all very friendly.  Good thing I was following a guy from Salt Lake City and his three boys as I would have missed a couple of important turn offs, one right had up and over a small cliff band where a small trail goes straight and just at the last sign it is important to go hard left.  The last portion was slickrock and a bit of a huff up.  Made it to the top and had great views and a snack break.  Found out later that you can carry on to a plaque in the rock for another 10 minutes.  Turned it around and headed downhill.  Some places where you could really rock and some technical bits however nothing like the day before.  Good fun, only walked around a couple of spots and no train wrecks.  Not even a broken chain!  2 hours up and one down, met a couple of girls from Washington and Colorado at the end and finished up with them while watching a jeep have a hard time of the last section.  Lunch in the car, filled up my water jug in town and headed to the campsite.  

I had read about the Fisher Towers and thought it sounded worth checking out, a friend had mentioned that one of her favorite climbs in the area was Corkscrew, a 5.8 A0 and I thought I’d check it out.  Drove out of town on 128 for about half an hour, picked up a guy hitch hiking from Minnesota freshly moved to Salt Lake City.  Didn’t make the parking lot until 4 so puffed my way up some absolutely fantastic scenery.  It was a fantastic hike in just a breath taking environment.  You skirt your way around the base of a lot of the towers and then out onto an outcrop and a great, great view.  There was an older man from Idaho hanging out at the top with his tripod waiting for the light to get just so.  We chatted for a bit and then I headed on down.  2 hours of great fun, some of it a bit scrambly on interesting rock and enough route finding challenges to keep things interesting.  I got back to camp just after the sun went down and mixed up the one pot wonders with potatoes and sausages.  Not very enticing but filled the cavity in my gut, moving forward I think I’ll just drown everything in spaghetti sauce. 

The next day had a bit of a relaxing morning, both my stove and bike needed a little TLC and it felt good to hang out in the sun.   One of the neighbours in the campground suggest Pipe Dream as a good technical ride and finally got off my butt and gave it a go later in the afternoon.  Good thing as it was pretty much shaded which helped.  It’s a very technical single track that follows the side of the canyon, roughly 16 km out and back.  Great fun, although I’m told the locals attempt to do it without dabbing their feet along the way.  I lasted about 15 feet before needing to take a foot out or falling over and seemed to repeat this every 15 feet for the first half an hour.  Very technical and a lot of fun, it is fully of little ups and downs and really doesn’t gain or lose any elevation.  Every little dip you have to hit with just the right amount of speed and there is usually a surprise if you have too much.  That and it is a little precipicy at times and you really wouldn’t want to come off the track.  I attempted to come back on the gravel road at the base however ended up on the highway.  Should have just rode the trail back, all in all it took two hours and I felt like I was in a technical mountain bike school.

My time in Moab happened to coincide with a four day school holiday and is the last really busy time of the year before it slows down over winter.  Over the last couple of days it definitely started to take on a bit of a zoo like atmosphere with trailer after trailer coming through after dark looking for camping spots. 
On Sunday, I wanted to make up for my lazy day and got up early and attempting to find a ride called Sovereign Classic Loop.  It’s a 25 km loop north of Moab that has been put in pretty recently.  It took me awhile to find the start and it involved some four wheel driving in the Audi, always a scary thing.  I finally thought I found the parking lot about 10 am however it felt a bit weird being the only car there.  Started off, found the trail and it turned out to be great fun.  You ride Sovereign track out and Saltwash track back and both had a lot of climbing, technical riding and the occasional bit of letting ‘er rip.  Great fun and did add to my mounting scab collection.  It took me about 3 hours and I was happy to be off the trail early as it was 25 above and there was no shade.   After that cleaned the bike, myself and the laundry – it’s time to move on and I’m looking forward to checking out Yosemite.