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:

1 comment:

  1. Whether you are hiking, bike, riding, horseback riding, driving or riding a Segway Sedona is the place to do it. Sedona green.