Tuesday, February 17, 2015

A fat bike desert tour....on not-so-fat bikes

With more stellar weather in the southland the last few days we decided that we are opportunists, and as such decided to take the "opportunity" of a nice springly winter weekend in the desert again.  Since we had just been in the Zion area we thought that the Moab area would be a good option, and while generally we are good with heading down there to slay the copious singletrack that has emerged there over the last few years, we knew that the mild weather and holiday weekend would mean that it was going to be pretty crowded on the trails and in the town.  Then Ash surprised me by saying "how about Beef Basin?"

In 2006 we did a bike tour that was planned to go from Moab south to Bluff via Lockhart Basin and Beef Basin, but we got hit by the epic rainstorm that flooded out the 24 hours of Moab race and sent the Escalante river to over 6000 cfs.  The Beef Basin road is notorious for two things:  sand and mud, so for that tour we bypassed that section via pavement for a day or two 'til the dirt dried and it worked out fine, but Beef Basin has since held some appeal for me.  And Ash's interest was piqued long ago by a route described in "Above and Beyond Slickrock" - the mountain biking guidebook published in nineteen hundred and ninety one - that has a 74 mile loop going from the climbing area at Indian Creek up into the base of the east side of the Abajo Mountains and then back around to the Needles District of Canyonlands National Park.    74 miles is a reasonable distance to do in a day (the White Rim is 100, and we've done that many times) but the terrain didn't sound conducive to a day and we wanted to spend the night out anyway, so we packed up the bikes with warm clothes and lots of water and merrily rolled out.

We immediately proved that the guidebook was pretty dated when we dundered around Dugout Ranch looking for the road and the gate that the guidebook described before realizing that in the last 25 years a new road was put in that bypassed the ranch, likely to keep the likes of us from dundering around a private ranch!  

But soon enough we were rolling up a fine graded road up Cottonwood Canyon (how many of those are there in Utah?)

We had been warned that despite the warm temps that we'd likely encounter some snow on the high north slopes of the Abajo Mountains, and sure enough as we climbed patches of snow appeared and started getting more plentiful.

 At one point we were faced with a fork:  to the right lay a "very technical" 5 mile double track that was mostly descending but with a mean last hike-a-bike that was 5 miles, and going straight added three more miles and over 800 feet of elevation.  We didn't care about the climbing, but late in the day the snow was melting fast and the small patches that we had bypassed had created some pretty good mud as it was, and 800 more feet upward was either going to get us into sloppy snow or awful mud, neither of which was very appealing.  So we headed right.

It was pretty clear that even in an area that has a lot of intrepid motorized adventurers, our chosen route has not seen much/any traffic in the last 25 years.  The route down was steep, rocky, ledgy shaded and featured some high quality water ice, which made for exciting walking, much less riding.
the really good stuff was back a ways....
Ash pointed out that we very well might have to walk most of the 5 mile section, and....sure enough, we mostly did.  Between steep climbs, gnarly descents, baby heads and the last climb that necessitated one trip with the bikes and one with the gear it took us a few hours to do the "short cut".  

Upon meeting the Beef Basin road again we were not too surprised to see that there were no tire tracks; it was clear that no one had been on this road for a long time.  Generally this is a good thing:  "oh, we are so intrepid, so tough, so cool" but this time we were hoping to see at least a tire track that would have beaten down the sand we knew loomed ahead.  But there were no tire tracks, just cow tracks that pockmarked the sand, so it was soft, but at least it was bouncy!  And thus began more pushing.
Not sure if that's a smile or a grimace! 
There were sections that had some nice riding:
the views were sublime
and some fairly gnarly riding:
Baby head capitol!
Until we stopped for the night.  We "rode" most of the day and had done less than 30 miles!  And were pretty whupped.

We got a bit more riding the next morn,

and found a pretty big Anastazi ruin:
On one hand these are impressive, on the other they were "built" about the same time as the great cathedrals of Europe were also being built.....but a different set of resources, for sure.  
and then we had....more pushing

But finally we got into the park, the riding improved a bit, and the scenery went off the charts:

And soon enough we ground over the infamous Elephant Hill and hit the road for the 20 mile spin back to the car
First time in a while that I've been happy to hit pavement
which we hit just at dark and as our toes and fingers were going numb with the cold front moving in.  

Ash's steed is a cross bike, with wide 'cross tires, but they aren't even mountain bike width, much less "fat".  Mine are standard 26" mountain bike tires, and neither did well in the sand.  I've not had much use for a fat bike, but given this progress, I am starting to think twice if we continue to do these trips! That said, we knew what we were getting into, and we knew we'd be hiking a lot, and "hiking" is actually nice in and of itself, but we just did it with our bikes along!  

Here we are after a section that involved more riding than pushing:

And indeed, it was another fine adventure in pretty remote and awesome country.  

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Trading sticks for stones....and wheels

Usually I'm quite optimistic about skiing; my most common refrain when people ask me how the skiing was/has been I answer "It's a lot better than than you'd think it'd be", and I've come to not only appreciate but like challenging snow conditions, because a) it's a good challenge, b) skiing it makes one a better skier, c) it's usually safer, which means fewer opps for avalanches and more opps for skiing steeps, and d) there aren't many people out!  But an unprecedented midwinter heat wave....that makes it a bit less appealing, and the desert starts to loom pretty large.  So after a Friday night dinner with 7 week old Stevie Ray:
Black puppies don't photograph that well, but be assured he's about as cute as cute gets
And I think Mike Brehm was there too....We fairly spontaneously loaded up and headed south.

First stop was St. George.  While Gooseberry Mesa and the Hurricane/JEM/Gould trails are the marquee rides in the southwest corner of the state, there's a lot more awesome singletrack to be had, and St. George is the center.  We hit up the Barrel Roll/Rim Rock area and within just a few square miles were able to slay 26 miles of great singletrack with 3000 feet of climbing, with amazing views of the desert hills rolling up into the Pine Valley mountains and the cliffs of Zion off in the distance.
swapping skin tracks for single tracks. not a bad trade.  
The next day we headed for Zion, where we climbed Lady Mountain.  Lady Mountain lies right across the street from the Zion Lodge, and it is cool in a couple of different ways.  Even though you can practically throw a rock off the top and hit the Virgin river 2700 feet below, it's more really steep hike than climb, and amazingly it was one of the first trails in Zion.  They built it in the 20's and put in a copious amount of cables, steps, and ladders, and it lasted 50 years until the Park Service grew weary of rescuing freaked out hikers and hauling bodies off of it, so it was dismantled and 'closed" in the late 60's/early 70's.  However, the "trail" still exists, and the durable paint that they used back then is still around to show the way:
the directional paint ranges from the very obvious.....

to the very subtle
and some old chopped steel that held cables
The route is super cool and it's easy to be impressed by the original builders:  they basically exploited a series of weaknesses that ascends a near-vertical "wall" on a macro level, and on a micro level they used great traverses, rock bands, and natural staircases to work up the weaknesses.  There's a little bit of easy climbing:

some fun "stairs":
a bit of 3rd/4th class:
happy to have that Stealth rubber!

Ash wore her fleece pants (as always) and as such was able to successfully tussle with the yucca:
But I had to claw my way up and around that obstacle!
As with every place Zion, the views from up high were sublime
Despite a dork being there
note the cars at the lodge in the lower right corner; as the condor flies it's not very far there, but a long ways down
We brought a rope to climb/rappel the two short 5th class sections; this is a pretty cool old anchor:
We saw a few folks; we saw this guy at the rappel, and he used the rope to haul himself up:
I then hurried away, since I figured I was aiding and abetting a rescue-in-the-making!

We also saw a couple of ladies that made for some interesting thoughts/conversation:  Cathy and Catherine were from SLC, and they were about halfway up when we saw them on our descent.  Cathy was not very athletic, not a climber, and was tired/sore from a relatively easy hike the day before, yet Catherine (a runner) apparently was determined to drag her up Lady Mt to....show her a good time?  Despite Catherine having been up there twice before she did not bring a rope for her friend, and while Cathy was game enough to climb up the two 5th class sections the only option was to downclimb them as well, which is considerably harder/scarier for someone who's not comfortable climbing.  We let Cathy use our rope and a harness to descend the two raps, and then we boogied out of there because we were so annoyed at watching Catherine totally sandbag her "friend".

Lady Mountain is an overlooked (winter/shoulder season) gem, probably because it's within spittin' distance of Zion's world-famous climbs (Moonlight Buttress), runs (Zion Crossing), slot canyons (Heaps) and hikes (Angel's Landing) but it combines a bit of all of those in one very-cool, medium-length outing.

and then we came back to some good powder in a few-inch refresher storm!

But back to spring this weekend again, so the desert is tempting us to make another drive south....

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

One more passive event, and another "skimo" race

In my last post I totally forgot to include what actually sort of prompted me to write about the passive events that I saw last week: "The Way Of The Rain".  This was a "show" that was performed in downtown SLC as part of the Sundance Film Festival that was not a film, but a strange amalgamation of part 70's variety show, part Laser Floyd show, part Swan Lake (as if I've ever seen any ballet, much less Swan Lake!), part Trans-Siberian Orchestra, and part Georgia O'Keeffe paintings.  

The stage was round with seating all the way around, and dangling from the ceiling were probably 50 cool drapes of colorful, yet mostly transparent fabric, and it immediately became clear that the lasers and lights that they made some super cool effects on these drape/flag things in a crazy kaleidoscope of colors.  The lights and lasers were synched with live musicians on instruments ranging from a lonesome cello to a full-on rock show drumset and electric guitar, and this was all the backdrop for ballet dancers to prance, preen, and race around the stage, whirling the drapes as they did their toe spins and ballet-ish leaps.  

Apparently Robert Redford's wife Sibylle Szaggars Redford is an artist who  -at one of their homes in beautiful mountain scenes, this time above Sante Fe  - paints watercolors.  She once was painting a nice scene as a monsoon rainstorm came rolling in, and she had the inspiration to simply put pigment on a piece of paper and let the rain itself create the "paint" and the subsequent design. Some people would think that was cool and make a few paintings with their new idea; but if you're part of the namesake of a hugely popular film festival you spend a million dollars to get a venue, 20 dancers, a band, lasers, choreographers, key grips, and whatever else is needed to REALLY showcase rain falling on pigment!  

The SL Tribune called it a "flood of creativity": here, and I suppose if you can indeed come up with an hour's worth of lights, lasers, music, and dancers to celebrate rain falling on pigment, that is indeed a lot of creativity.  Interestingly, there were no words other than those done by Bob Redford himself, resplendent in a pure white suit, who doddered around to a few podiums around the perimeter of the stage to do provocative "spoken word" (I think that's artspeak for wannabe singers who can't sing?) pieces about the importance of protecting the environment; how those corresponded to the rest of the show I didn't really understand, but I would never profess myself to be overtopping the dam of  creativity.  

A bit weird, but worthy of the free tickets.....

And then back to the mountains!  A brilliant Saturday morning found a big handful of skinny folks on skinny skis near Beaver Mountain ready to charge up into the hills in the annual Crowbar skimo race (Cache Regional Overland Winter BAckcountry ski Race - an impressive acronym!)  in the Bear River range of Northern Utah. The Crowbar actually comes a bit closer to the concept of "ski mountaineering" because it's the only race that does indeed take place entirely in the backcountry (albeit all within site of the Beaver Mountain ski resort).  They put together a nice course with 4 notable climbs  -including the first and almost-last being nearly 2000 ft - and fun, mostly untracked (??!!?!) descents.  The start found soon-to-the-world championships Meredith Edwards leading the charge followed by Josh Anderson, to which I pointed out that it was the smallest and biggest competitors driving the bus.  
The start.  I'm lunging along behind Josh on the left.  
Once we started climbing in earnest I moved over to the alternate skin track to keep myself from being compelled to match Josh's long strides which would crush my quads, and soon enough found myself at the front and having to pay close attention to the course markings because I was in the rare position of having no one to follow.    Time passed, I marched upwards, transitioned, skied down, then repeated, and finally hit the finish line.  
Apparently I need to haul that gold crowbar around the course in my pack next year?
It was fun to win, but not as much fun as racing hard nearly side by side with your friends the way I've had over a few other recent races with the likes of Chad, Elliot, Noah, Ben, Jason, etc pushing and being pushed.  And it was a bit of a tainted win knowing that not only were those lads not there, but there was the notable absence of the world championships-bound flying Dorais bros, Teague Holmes, and Tom Goth, not to mention worlds-qualifier Lars K and previous Crowbar champeens Nick Francis and SLC Samurai Jared Inyoue (who needs to formally change his moniker to SLC Kamikaze after yet another ferocious crash in last night's Tue night World Cup skimo race trying to blow by someone on a descent and cut his knee to the bone!).    

But watch out boyz; I finally got myself a cool racing zoot suit from Hagan, so I'm far more aerodynamic on those 2mph ascents!  It is mostly white, which I learned long ago is a poor color choice for the likes of me......so maybe I'll go back to my running tights and cycling jersey.....