Sunday, November 24, 2013

Slim Shady / Highline / Baldwin / Templeton (Sedona, AZ)

Coming off an amazing day of riding with the crew in Sedona (ride report found here), we were itching to hit the trails again the following day. Of course this was bittersweet, as the only reason we’d be partaking in another day of riding was because we were still waiting for Congress to reopen the government. When this would happen, we could go on our Grand Canyon river trip, which I had won a permit for and that we’d been planning for a year and a half… Determined to make the best out of a bad situation, we planned to get in as much riding as possible while our trip was being held hostage. After riding “The Hogs” and loving it, we really wanted to do a trail with similar difficulty/prestige, so we planned to do "Highline", which we understood to be another one of Sedona's flagship trails.

As we left the same parking lot as the previous day (at Bike & Bean), we also rode Slim Shady for the first mile and a half, which is essentially a climb up to Highline. Since we really didn’t stop on this section, I wasn’t able to get any photos on this day; however, here are a few pics from when Emily and I had ridden it about a week prior:

The start of Slim Shady

Emily somewhere on the climb up Slim Shady

Nearing the top of the climb, and the Highline trailhead

After turning onto the Highline Trail, we still had some climbing left to do, and it was the really steep stuff. There were certainly spots I had to walk, either because of difficulty, exposure, or the combination of the two. Luckily the climb was relatively short, and before long we found ourselves riding along a benched in trail, with sustained exposure to our right. Even though falling off the trail would probably end badly, I didn’t feel that the trail surface encouraged it to happen, and any part that was out of your comfort zone was easily walked. One guy in our crew, who has ridden the Portal Trail (in Moab), felt that this one was probably more technically difficult, but also less dangerous.

Highline starts off with some technical rock climbing

Sandra, making her way up to the Highline

Since I had stopped to take photos in a few spots, I started to fall a bit behind, until I was basically riding by myself. I’m used to doing solo rides, but with the exposure I was definitely riding cautiously. Eventually I was able to catch up to the crew, who had stopped at a small viewpoint to wait for me, which was much appreciated.

A typical section of trail on the first half of Highline

Now back as a group, we continued on, with more exposed traverses in front of us. Before long the trail cut through a pass between hills, bringing us to a sweet vista, where we ran into some other riders and stopped to take in the view. After exchanging pleasantries and helping to take group photos for each other, we bid them a good ride and then saddled back up for ours.

Jeremiah rides the line

A rare, non-exposed, section

Sandra trying to keep her eyes on the trail

The Highline crew!

Now at the start of the downhill section of Highline, we were in for a treat! It started off with a few switchbacks, before dropping down into a section of open desert, where we were able to open it up a bit, blasting through a mix of smooth and technical stretches.

Jeremiah rails the first switchie, just down from the overlook

Mark, keeping it friendly with the hikers

Sweet desert views!

Sandra, loving this section!

Opening it up

The dirt singletrack soon gave way to red slickrock, with options for either the typical line or some improvisation off to the sides. Before long we came to a really steep down, with Mark, who was in front, shouting out the line. Unfortunately, I misinterpreted his beta and missed the line. I ended up paying the price a bit, taking a hit to my man parts, as I was transitioning on to the flat. Some cursing/mild whining ensued, as I spent the next few minutes walking it off...

Mark leads the charge down some sweet slickrock

One of the "make your own trail" sections of Highline

Below the pitch of pain, the trail descended in earnest, providing some of the best riding I've experienced in Sedona. Confronted with numerous steep technical puzzles, I was feeling pretty good and riding well, especially considering my recent incident. Being the group's camera guy often puts me in the back of the pack, which actually worked out in my favor this time, since I was able to get verbal beta from the others, which allowed me to stay on the pedals as I picked my way down the hill. I did stop in a few convenient spots to return the favor as well as take some action shots of the others coming down.

Mark enters a chute on the first part of the descent.
This photo does a good job of showing how steep this section was.

Sandra shows us how it's done on a steep/techie pitch

Emily follows it up with a nice line

Where's the trail?! This section was sweet!

Tait, dropping into another fun pitch

The gals finishing up the descent on Highline

All too soon, the DH extravaganza came to an abrupt end, at an intersection with the Baldwin Trail. Wanting to extend our ride a bit, we decided to continue on with the final 3/4 of a mile of Highline, and we were not disappointed! Eventually it tee'd into another portion of the Baldwin Trail, where we hung a right. All of a sudden I was in familiar territory, as I had done this section many times in the past, when I was growing up in Arizona. Back then, this trail was part of a ride called Cathedral Rock Loop, which I have fond memories of -- in fact, this was one of the first rides I took Emily, my wife, on!

Somewhere on Baldwin

Tait loves rock stairs!

As we headed east on Baldwin Trail, green trees/plants started to make an appearance; this could only mean one thing, we were close to water. Sure enough, Oak Creek soon came into view, and I knew that we were getting close to Buddha Beach, a favorite stop/swimming hole when we used to do this ride back in the day. Unfortunately, this time there was no stopping, not even for a quick break.

Gettin' close to water

Our next challenge came about a quarter mile past Buddha Beach, in the form of a brutal climb, up and out of the canyon. Although it only gained a couple hundred feet, it does it in a fairly short distance, forcing everyone in our group to do some hike-a-bike. Maybe there some folks who could actually ride up the whole thing, but it would be an impressive feat. On the other hand, descending on it looked like it would be sheer bliss.

The brutal climb out of the canyon

Emily enjoys a rideable section of the climb

At the top of the climb we transitioned onto the Templeton Trail. The first half of Templeton travels along the northeast shoulder of Cathedral Rock. This trail was obviously a popular trek for hikers and tourists, with many hanging out on the red rock bench like sun thirsty lizards, while enjoying the great views of Courthouse Butte and Lee Mountain. On the second half of the ride, the trail cut through desert trees and shrubs as it made its way to an intersection with both the Slim Shady and HT Trails.

Sweet red rock scenery on Templeton

Great views of Courthouse Butte, from the Templeton Trail 

Typical Templeton

Now back on Slim Shady, we had another climb ahead of us, which ended up provided a nice challenge of various technical features. We had actually ridden this section of the trail in the opposite direction on the day before, so it was cool to see it in reverse. Gaining around 300 vertical feet in a little over a mile, the climb up the north end of Slim Shady is pretty damn fun, although I was getting pretty tired at this point, so I suffered a little on a few of the pitches.

Once we had made it back to the intersection with the Highline Trail (which we had turned onto near the beginning of the ride) we only had about a mile and a half of riding left, and it was all downhill! Although it was a great way to end the ride, I had expected the final descent to be a little better than it was -- To be honest, I actually felt it was a better section to climb. Don't get me wrong, it was still fun, but I don't think it was as good as the north end descent, when going the other direction on Slim Shady. What I recommend if you're going north to south, is to finish on "Made in the Shade". It does require a tricky climb at the start, and equally tricky route finding near the end, but the descent back into town is well worth it! Here are a few pics from when Emily and I did it the week before:

Emily climbs past a cool rock formation on Made in the Shade

Looking for the trail

Emily in the middle of some route finding

This looks like the trail!

Evening descent

Just like the previous day, after the ride we hung out in the Bike & Bean parking lot, eating snacks and chatting with the friendly staff about our ride. We also checked the news on our phones, to see if there had been any movement in the government shutdown. It looked like the Arizona government was in talks with the National Park Surface (NPS) to front the bill and get the Grand Canyon open, but it didn't look likely that a deal would be struck that night. Unfortunately, with the following day the last one we would be allowed to launch, the prognosis wasn't looking good. With that, we talked about what ride we could do instead, and of course, "Hangover", another supposed classic, was on the top of the list.

When we finally got back to camp that evening, we talked about what we should do, since the whole Grand Canyon trip looked all but doomed. About half of us planned to stay in Flagstaff/Sedona for another week or so to bike, while others planned to find another river to raft. The remainder of the crew planned to just head back home to Oregon at a leisurely pace. About a half hour later, and just when we felt that all hope was lost, we got a call from PRO (our outfitter) asking if we were ready to launch the next morning. Apparently, Jan Brewer (the Arizona Governor) had just reached a deal with the NPS, opening up the Grand Canyon! Exhilarated, and a bit skeptical, we immediately started breaking camp, and drove up to Flagstaff. To make a long story short, (which will be covered in future blog posts) we launched from Lees Ferry the following day, spending 19 amazing days on the river; the trip of a lifetime, really! The only real downside, was that we didn't get to ride Hangover, but that just gives us a reason to make another trip!

Highline is another Sedona classic -- exposure, technical challenges, sick descent, and of course, amazing views! Combined with Slim Shady, Baldwin, and Templeton, you can't go wrong with this ride. That said, Highline is not a place for timid riders, the exposure could cause mild vertigo and the descent is challenging (steep/technical); however, if these two things just peak your interest even more, don't miss it if you're in the area.

After riding in Flagstaff/Sedona once again, I can certainly recommend it as a legitimate mountain biking destination. I have ridden in some great places, including highly regarded ones like Moab/Fruita (UT) and Whistler/Squamish (BC), and I can honestly say that the quality is right up there with those places. This doesn't even include the other riding in AZ, found in Prescott, Phoenix, Black Canyon City, and Tucson. Surprisingly, I never rode in those areas while living in Flagstaff (for 25 years), and I'm now kicking myself for not doing so...

The tracks from our ride:

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Slim Shady / Little Horse / Broken Arrow / The Hogs / Llama (Sedona, AZ)

With Congress still in gridlock, and holding our Grand Canyon river trip hostage, we decided to head down to Sedona (from Flagstaff) to find warmer weather while we waited it out. Most of our crew had brought their mountain bikes down from Oregon, just in case we weren't able to get on the Grand, so we knew we'd have plenty to do while we were staged down there. Unfortunately, a couple of cars (in our group) got into a bit of a fender bender on the way there, so we weren't able to ride that day, but we set up camp west of town and looked forward to hitting the trails the following day. While in camp, a storm moved in, turning the sky almost black. Since desert storms tend to move through pretty quickly, we weren't too worried, and just enjoyed the beauty of it.

Base camp

Makin' the best of it!


Ride planning

The calm before the storm

Emily and I, who had ridden some of the Sedona trails a few days prior, put together what we felt would be a great ride for the crew. Last time we had ridden Slim Shady -> HT -> Little Horse -> Llama -> Bell Rock, and this time we suggested adding Broken Arrow and The Hogs to the agenda. Everybody in the group agreed with the plan, so the next day we headed to Bike & Bean, in the Village of Oak Creek, to start our ride. Noah, who had not brought a bike, decided to rent one so he could join us, and once he was set up, we headed out.

From Bike & Bean (a great shop BTW!) we rode along a short section of road before jumping onto the start of Slim Shady. We were 13 riders strong and getting out of the gate proved a little difficult, with a couple of flat tires and some other mechanical issues. Once things finally got sorted out, we lost five of our riders, who had to do some maintenance before heading out on a different ride. Even though we were now down to eight in our crew, it still took a lot to keep track of everyone. Per usual, I was mostly riding by myself as I jumped out ahead to take photos at any chance I got.

Back to the ride, we would be starting Slim Shady with a climb, although it was a fairly benign one, with lots of short ups and downs as it made its way up the hill. There were also lots of technical bits mixed in, which provided a nice set of challenges along the way. The trail also made its way along bright red slickrock that's very reminiscent of Moab riding. The climb lasted for about a mile and a half, before we reached an intersection with the famed Highline Trail. Since we weren't planning to ride it on this day, we continued north on Slim Shady.

Arthur and Tait start it off on Slim Shady

Emily, dressed for the weather

Brian, first time riding in the desert!

Views around every corner

Still climbing on Slim Shady

Now heading downhill on Slim Shady, the trail only got better, with similar technical challenges, but this time, with gravity on our side. Once again, I was out ahead to take photos and got to see the excitement on everyone's faces as they cruised past. My favorite part of the downhill was where the trail followed along a wash, full of obstacles to test yourself with. More slickrock and rocky pitches continued before we hit the 'HT" (Harry Templeton) Trail.

Arthur and Tait drop into the descent on Slim Shady

Typical ride surface on Slim Shady

Noah drops into the wash 

Justin finds some sweet slickrock

Emily drops down a fun techie bit...

With Sandra in hot pursuit

Tait, same drop

Noah charges another fun down

After the crew had regrouped, we took HT under Hwy 179, so we could hit some of the trails on the east side. After going through the tunnel, the trail headed up a riverbed, where it got a little tricky to follow. Following a short climb out of the wash, we hit the Bell Rock Pathway, probably the most populated trail in the area. Luckily, we only had to take the path for a short bit before we reached the next section of singletrack, "Little Horse".

Little Horse ended up providing some of the most challenging climbs of the ride, with at least one requiring a short hike-a-bike. From one section of the trail you could see the Chapel of the Holy Cross, built into the red cliff wall in the distance. I would have loved to take the side trail to this iconic Sedona landmark, but we still had most of our ride to go and wanted to make sure we got back to the cars before dark. With that, we shredded on.

Emily cleans one of the techie ups on Little Horse
(photo taken a few days earlier) 

Quasi trials riding
(photo taken a few days earlier) 

Another challenging up

Chapel of the Holy Cross

Typical Sedona rock formations

As the trail reached the base of Twin Buttes, it wrapped around to the east, where wild rock formations presented themselves, complete with hoodoos and layered/free-form rock sculptures. This area was heavily populated with not only hikers but also jeep tours, stuffed with folks wanting to enjoy the landscape in a more relaxed fashion. This epicenter of red rock enthusiasts is also known as "Chicken Point", and had it not been so overrun with tourists, it would make a good place for a snack break. With the lack of solitude, we quickly moved along and prepared to tackle our next trail, "Broken Arrow".

Near the base of Twin Buttes 

Awesome geology in this section!

Tait, on the climb up to Chicken Point


Last push to Chicken Point

Chicken Point

Movin' on

From the Broken Arrow Trail, the views to the east and north looked into the Munds Mountain Wilderness, and were amazing. The riding here mostly followed a benched-in section of red slickrock, with periods of open rock that encouraged you to experiment with line options. We soon reached the unmarked "High on the Hog" trail, which we ended up taking. A short distance up the trail, we stopped for a quick lunch, while taking in the view of the surreal landscape.

The start of Broken Arrow

Lots of great views...

...and slickrock!

I think the trail goes this way...

Emily, keeping her eye on the trail

Lots of benched-in slickrock on this section

Lunch time!

After our lunch break, we got back on our bikes and prepared to see what the first Hog was all about. Almost immediately we were confronted with a super steep pitch, that certainly had me questioning whether I wanted to ride or walk it -- apparently when they rate a trail double-black here, they mean it. It was this drop that convinced about half the crew to head back down to Broken Arrow, continuing along that trail instead. After scouting out my line for a bit, I decided to give it a go. The first attempt ended abruptly at the steep right hand turn; luckily I was able to stop myself from doing a Superman over the bars. On my second go, I got back a little further in the cockpit, where I could actually feel my rear tire rubbing against my backside. This time I was able to make the turn and ride the rest of it out without too much difficulty. I was definitely gripped the whole time, but also really stoked with the line I was able to put together!

The author drops in for a second attempt. Get that butt back!

Makin' the turn

Finishing up!

As High on the Hog traversed along the north side of Twin Buttes it eventually transitioned into "Hog Heaven", an appropriate name based on how sweet the descent was. At the bottom of the down we hit "Hog Wash", which we would use to get back to Broken Arrow, where we planned to meet back up with the other half of our crew that had ridden that trail instead. The Hogs, as a whole, were amazing -- putting together tough technical challenges and awesome views. Since we were trying to make good time, I didn't take a whole lot of photos of these trails, but here are a few.

More challenges on High on the Hog

Follow the slickrock

Sweet strip of red slickrock

Arthur at the start of Hog Heaven - This section had some steep switchbacks!

Emily, giving chase

Somewhere on Hog Heaven

Sure enough, when we reached Broken Arrow, the other half of our group was waiting for us. They indicated that we had a big climb ahead of us to get back to Chicken Point, which wasn't completely surprising, based on all the elevation we had just lost on The Hogs. The climb was actually not too bad and would only last for around a mile and a half. There was one point that I had to get off of my bike, which was due to the upward pitch being complicated by a long run of technical rock.

The crew on Broken Arrow, just before the climb

Sandra makes her way up on of the first climbs

Arthur leads up Broken Arrow

More Broken Arrow

As I turned around I just couldn't pass on a photo of this!

Now back at Chicken Point, I jumped out ahead so that I could take photos at a set of rock stairs, a spot I had picked out when we were coming up the trail from the other way. It was actually a really fun pitch, requiring a couple of small moves before dropping down the natural stairs at the bottom. Everyone in the crew that chose to ride it had good lines, with only one minor wipeout, which was redeemed on the second attempt.

Arthur drops down to Chicken Point

Emily and Sandra make their way down the rock stairs

Brian, lovin' the technical stuff!

We quickly blazed the short section of Little Horse back to the intersection with Llama, the trail we would use to ride back toward our awaiting vehicles, in the Village of Oak Creek. Llama was quite a bit different from the other trails we had done. It still provided technical challenges here and there, but remained relatively flat and cut through a wide open landscape, presenting great views of Courthouse Butte, Bell Rock, Lee Mountain, and other distant red rock formations like Cathedral Rock. There were a few sections that had man-laid rocks, presumably to help with erosion -- they proved a fun test, but also looked a little out of place. Near the base of Courthouse Butte, at a slickrock section, the trail continues to the right, on the downhill side. It's a little tricky to spot, but if your paying attention you shouldn't have too much trouble picking back up the trail.

Tait, near the start of Llama

Typical Llama

Emily, partway up a really tough climb

Cactus are an ever-present danger in Sedona
(photo taken a few days earlier) 

Lots of fun rocky sections like this on Llama
(photo taken a few days earlier) 

The slickrock where navigation can get a bit tricky
(photo taken a few days earlier) 

Between the slickrock and the Bell Rock Trail, which Llama tees into, route finding proves to be a minor challenge. There are cairns here and there to help guide the way, and as long as you're headed in an easterly direction, you shouldn't have too much trouble. Once you hit the Bell Rock trail system, be prepared for a crowd, as this is probably the most populated area in the vicinity. Weaving in and out of tourists (adorned with zipper pants and hiking poles) can prove to be one of the trickiest parts of the ride, but luckily they have added singletrack bypass trails to help mitigate user conflict.

Emily zeros in on a man-laid rock garden

Cairns prove useful in this section
(photo taken a few days earlier) 

Desert peloton 

Finishing up Llama
(photo taken a few days earlier) 

The Bell Rock Pathway eventually brought us back into the Village of Oak Creek, conveniently, just across the main road from Bike & Bean. Back at the parking lot, we sat around and snacked, not in much of a hurry to get back to camp. We also checked the news, only to find that no progress had been made on Capitol Hill to reopen the Grand Canyon -- bittersweet news, first & foremost we wanted to get on the Grand, but having our bikes in Sedona made it so we weren't suffering all that much!

This ended up being an awesome ride plan, visiting some of Sedona's best trails. The Hogs are total classics and should be on your list if you're up for it. Slim Shady, Little Horse, Broken Arrow, and Llama are great sections to experience Sedona riding without the threat of getting in over your head; that said, there are still plenty of technical challenges on these trails as well.

It's really hard not to compare Sedona to Moab. Both areas bring in mountain bikers and OHV enthusiasts alike, and for good reason, with technical desert riding through a red dirt/rock landscape, and surreal views around every corner. I would say that neither area is better than the other. Moab probably has more jeep trails, but singletrack is pretty comparable at both -- Moab with more vertical and longer trails, Sedona with quicker ups/down and rides created by combining multiple shorter trails. That said, some of the newer trail systems in Moab, like the Brand Trails and stuff around the Klondike Bluffs are similar to Sedona riding. Growing up in Flagstaff, I hold a special place in my heart for Sedona, but in the end you can't go wrong with either area!

The tracks from our ride: