TandemHearts

Sothern Utah by Mountain Bike

September 26th, 2005

  • The clouds threatened all day. It didn't start raining until we were almost done riding for the day.

We took a 6 day mountain biking tour of Utah with Escape Adventures. This tour included Brian Head Peak, at 11,307 feet above sea level, and trails near Bryce and Zion National parks. There is no off road mountain biking in National Parks, so in the parks we hiked or cruised down the pavement. This wasn’t a point-to-point trip. Instead, we rode for a short way in the van on a couple of days to link the areas. This allowed us to cherry pick great riding and skip some dull time on ATV or jeep trails.

This trip was great. The terrain was constantly changing. Overall, the trip was a solid intermediate level – both in terms of physical ability and technical ability. Two riders who were physically fit enough for the ride really improved their technical abilities. Two other riders found the physical demands more than they were comfortable with. This brings me to the only criticism of the ride: the advertised difficulty level. The tour company says this is an “All levels” ride. I’m not sure that any ride can be all levels; any ride that a beginner would enjoy would probably not interest an advanced rider. This ride is not for people who are not fit. It is a hard ride, at 7,000 – 9,000 feet above sea level. It is a great ride, but not for beginners.

Once again, the tour guides were real gems. They cooked great meals for us, kept everyone on track, fixed broken bikes and offered encouragement and technique advice. When someone had a request for a specific beverage, it magically appeared the next day. The life of a professional mountain bike tour guide may sound sweet – riding some of the best trails in the country for pay – but it is a lot of work. Don’t forget to tip your guide – they earn it.

  • The view from our hotel in Las Vegas, the day before the tour started.
We flew into Las Vegas and instantly wished we were somewhere else. It was hot (105+), crowded and noisy. We don’t understand the attraction of gambling and didn’t feel like going to a show. That certainly limits what one can do in Vegas. After a night at the Bellagio, with a view of the water show, we joined the tour and took the van to St George, UT and on to Brian Head. From 11,000 it should be all down hill to anywhere, but it never works out that way.

Except for the last 36 hours, the entire trip was about 7,000. Much of it was closer 8,000 or 9,000 where the air gets a little thin, making the riding even more challenging. Most of the trip was on technical single track, with short sections of jeep trail and bike path linking some of the rides. We did all the days’ rides, skipping one bonus climb. We rented fully suspended bikes from the tour company, rather than deal with flying with our bikes. The bikes where fine, and the disk brakes were essential in the wet conditions. We still have mixed feelings on fully suspended bikes. On the couple of occasions that we had to push the bikes uphill, we were wishing that we had our bikes, which are a couple of pounds lighter. Since we don’t do jumps and rarely ride on extremely rocky terrain at home, we are not running out to get fully suspended bikes.

While the trip was mostly in dry, near desert areas, we got a lot of rain. We had a light rain for the last hour of one day’s riding. It drizzled all afternoon and that night it rained hard for a couple of hours. Two nights later a thunder storm came through at midnight and really hammered us. Between the elevation and the cloud cover, most days had temperatures in the low 70s, with only the days in Zion National Park actually hot. Despite getting a lot of rain, most of it came down while we were snug in our tent. The outside of the tent was still wet when we packed it, but it dried quickly when we got home.

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Day 1 – Shuttle in the van from Vegas to St George. Pick up some more guests. Shuttle to Brian Head, UT. Look at the view from 11,000 feet. Ride the Sydney Peaks trail to the Right Fork of the Bunker Creek Trail to Panguich Lake. Moderately technical at first – lots of rocky sections, then a fast section of double track. Early in the ride, one of the better riders in the group comes flying past me to go over a jump I avoided. He hits the trail, loses it and slides into a tree. He’s OK and is up riding again. The first of many crashes this week. No serious injuries, but lots of bruises. Camp at Panguitch Lake. 12 miles.

Day 2 – Shuttle to Red Canyon, near Bryce Canyon. Jeep trail climb to Casto Canyon. At this elevation, approx 7,000 feet, even the gradual climb to Casto Canyon is taxing. Once we crest, it is down onto a trail that crosses a nearly dry stream bed 3 dozen times. At times, I can’t see where the trail exits the stream bed and just ride in 3 inches of water down stream. Eventually the trail reappears and I ride out of the water. After lunch, Losee Canyon tortures us for a 3 mile, lung busting grind. At the end, we walk up a couple of hundred feet to get through a section that I would have thought was unrideable. The advanced riders tackle a few parts, but everyone walks some part of it. It starts raining as we start down Cassidy Trail, which just keeps getting better all the way to the road. Camp at Red Canyon. 21 miles, with maybe 3 of them jeep roads.

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Day 3 – Ride the bike trail and a jeep trail to the Thunder Mountain Trail. This is the best ride of the week. Just the right balance of physical and technical difficulty for us. The trail goes through terrain very much like Bryce Canyon, with the famous hoodoos. Since there is no riding in the National Park, this is as good as it gets. Up to 8,400 feet, for some great views, before the trail starts down. Cross some ridges along the spine, then rip down some fast single and double track to the road. After lunch, we shuttle to spend a little time hiking Bryce Canyon. Camp at Red Canyon. 16 miles, with maybe 5 miles of jeep road.

  • One end of Navajo lake has recent lava flows. Recent in geological terms - hundreds of years old.

Day 4 – Shuttle to Cascade Falls Trail. Hike out to the falls, which are fed from water that percolates under Navajo Lake. Start the ride on the Virgin River Rim Trail, with a brutal, vicious 1 mile climb up 500 feet. I feel pretty good for having made it all but the last 200 feet. Regroup and continue to the crest. Rocky terrain, with a couple of short steep sections. Then it is a rolling trail for a couple of miles and a fast, clean 2 mile single track descent into Te-ah Campground at Navajo Lake. After lunch, we ride the Navajo Lake Loop, a nice, easy ride for a change. The far end of the lake has a trail through some “recent” lava flows. Flash backs of Hawaii, except for the numerous Aspen trees. Camp at Te-ah Campground. 20 miles – all single track.

Day 5 – Heavy rain last night turns the planned ride into a mud pit, so we skip it. We shuttle to the edge of Zion National Park. We ride the road through the park, stopping often for photos. The van carries us through tunnel and we remount for a fast drop into the valley. Veronica and I do a two person pace line into town to the hotel. After lunch we decide it is too hot to ride the optional single track loop. Veronica picks up some pink gloves and a dusty rose helmet at the local bike store. Stay at Bumbleberry Hotel. 15 miles, all on pavement.

  • Tandemhearts' photo
Day 6 – Take the free shuttle into the heart of Zion National Park. We walk up the Virgin River Narrows. Because of the recent heavy rains, the water level (which should have been ankle deep) was mid-thigh high to start and mid-chest at our limit. The water wasn’t too cold and we waded as far up stream as we had time for. Then it was back to town and shuttle to Las Vegas. Fly home the next day.

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