Thursday, October 16, 2014

Heckletooth Trail, OR (9.27.14)


Starting to feel strong after finally getting in some time on my mountain bike for a few months, I was hoping to jump on the Oakridge epic, “Bunchgrass”. I had done it many years back and remembered it being a spectacular but exhausting adventure ride, complete with amazing views, technical riding, and of course some hike-a-bike (both up & down). Unfortunately, Derrick (at Willamette Mercantile) informed me that the top half of Bunchgrass had an excessive amount of downed trees and that it probably wasn’t worth the effort, unless of course you’re into that type of thing. As much as I enjoy putting myself into situations that often turn into misadventures, I don’t get overly enthusiastic about jumping into something I already know is going to turn into one. Although Bunchgrass, as a whole, had lots of blow-down, he also said that from Lower Bunchgrass down was in decent shape and definitely worth doing. With this beta and a new plan in mind, I went to work, trying to find anyone else that might be interested.

With about half of the normal crew heading to Bend for the weekend and most of the others unavailable due to other plans, there were only 3 of us that would be doing the ride – Emily (my wife), my buddy Scott, and of course myself. The plan was to shuttle to the bottom of “Derrick’s Deadly Switchbacks” and ride from there back into Oakridge. The reason we weren’t planning to shuttle to the top of the switchbacks was due to the additional driving that would required to get there. This would give us about 5 miles worth of trail, before we transitioned onto the standard Heckletooth section of trail, which is much more commonly ridden.

Even though we cut out some of the shuttle by starting at the lower trailhead, it still took quite a while to get there, after we had dropped off Scott’s car, near the Salmon Creek fish hatchery in Oakridge. Furthermore, the trailhead was fairly obscure, and it took us some effort (with help from our GPS) to actually find it. Once we had geared up, we rode the small spur trail that connected the road to the main trail, directly at the bottom of the Deadly Switchbacks.

I think the trailhead is around here somewhere...

Once we reached the bottom of the switchbacks, Emily suggested that we hike our bikes up to the first downed log(s), and then ride down from there. Before I had time to even respond to this wacky idea, she began pushing her bike up the steep/winding trail – of course, I had no other option but to follow… At first the trail started climbing at a reasonable pitch and we continued on and around a few switchbacks, with no signs of blow-down. As the trail started to steepen, our pace slowed, and I found myself huddled over my bike more and more, in an effort to catch my breath. About halfway up, we reached the first series of logs, where we had a decision to make. Since, apparently, we had not tortured ourselves enough, we decided to push on. Eventually we did make it to where the gradient let up at the top of the ridge, although we still had about a ½ mile before we could truly say that we had reached Little Bunchgrass. Not wanting to stop our mission at 90%, we rode up the remainder of trail, until we reached the large Beargrass meadow, which ended up being well worth the additional effort.

Startin' off the ride

Scott, somewhere on the short section of trail between the road and Deadly Switchbacks

You actually have to take another spur trail from the ridge onto the meadow, which may or may not be worth taking your bike, since it’s pretty short -- Scott had decided to ride while both Em and I decided to walk it. Just a little ways down the trail we found a knoll off to our right, where we left the trail and hiked the short distance to the top, hoping to get a nice view over the trees. Although partially obstructed, it was still a great view, especially with the low clouds that had moved in. Once were done taking it in, we headed back to our bikes and prepared to descend the Deadly Switchbacks.

Scott riding the spur trail at Little Bunchgrass

Emily, taking in the view, while the clouds roll in.

Leaving the meadow

After a 1/2 mile or so of uneventful downhill, we reached the switchbacks. I had jumped out ahead so I could setup for some photos in strategic locations. I actually took a pretty good header around one of the lefthanders, which provided both a wakeup call and a convenient opportunity to pull out my camera and wait for the others. Before long Emily came down and setup for the tight lefty, making it about 90% around before having to drop a foot. As we continued down, we attempted and cleaned more than a few of the switchbacks, but there were a few that were just a tad too steep/tight for me to wrap my wheel around. I can certainly imagine cleaning them, but you'll really need to be on your game and warmed up -- Having the nose wheelie and/or pogo method in your arsenal would also be helpful. Even though we weren't able to make them all, we certainly had a great time and a few laughs attempting them!

Emily attempts a tough lefty

And makes a righty

One of the stepper/tighter ones. I actually went up and over
the rock that's blocking the exit, which worked well.

Emily, enjoying the ride!

Rounding one of the last ones

Now at the bottom of the switchbacks, we started the ride that we had originally planned on. The trail headed off in a northwesterly direction as it gradually climbed up toward the top of the ridge. Apparently my memory isn't very good, since I hadn't remembered this section as being much of a climb. It soon became apparent that pushing my bike up 1,200' earlier in the day was going to hamper my pace. It ended up climbing about 500' in a little less than 2 miles, and although it did put a little bit of a hurtin' on me, the old-growth forest that it cut through helped dull the pain -- it was really cool to see large trees like this that had somehow stayed hidden from the logging operations that this area of the country was known for.

Starting off the planned ride

Scott finds his way through the brilliant foliage 


Emily enters one of the more beautiful sections of the trail

Some bigger trees in this area

A 500 year old tree that had been cleared from the trail, after it had fallen.

"500 years old"

Sea of green

more climbing...

Eventually the trail flattened out for a short bit, before dropping into a much anticipated descent. This section of the trail was awesome, with some great technical pitches, including one that dropped down a few rocky switchbacks. Before giving it a go, I scouted out my line, which went about as good as I could have planned for. All too soon we reached the road crossing (NF 5871), which also happened to be the start of the Heckletooth section, where most people choose to begin this ride.

The author inches his way around a fun series of technical switchbacks
(photo by Emily Pfeifer)

Once we had regrouped and downed a snack, we dropped on the Heckletooth Trail, which started with a nice short descent, before starting to climb once again. The climb itself was broken into two parts, with the second being a little tougher as it led to the summit of Heckletooth Mountain. The last pitch to the top is super steep and will force all but the most hardy to dismount and push their bikes up the trail -- of course, I found myself pushing. The view from the top was well worth the effort, especially knowing that we had a great descent ahead of us, which would last all the way back into Oakridge, ~7 miles away (including the road).

What the hell happened to that tree!

Emily finds one of the rare bridges on this trail

More beautiful forest 

Scott, climbing toward Heckletooth Mountain

Great views straight off the trail, thanks to a fire that ripped through here

Scott, with one eye on the view and one on the trail

The view from Heckletooth Mountain makes it a worthy pit stop, and also allows you to catch your breath. If it hadn't taken so long to get to this point, I would have liked to relax for a while and eat a snack, but daylight was burnin' and we needed to continue on.

Looking southeast from Heckletooth Mountain

Looking west, toward Oadridge

From the summit, the trail descends in a hurry, zig-zagging down the hill through a series of tight and loose switchbacks, which all of us walked. Once past the initial pitch, the trail continued down and finally reached some much more manageable switchbacks. Although not as steep as some of the Deadly Switchbacks, there were a few that provided a nice challenge, including one lefthander that dropped down a rocky pitch with a narrow exit -- great stuff! Along with the great riding, there were also some spectacular views in this section, especially with the sun low on the horizon, which draped the hillside in a blanket of warm light. By this time, both Em and Scott were getting tired of being my photography subjects, but I just couldn't help myself. The trail did flatten out for a mile or so before making its final plunge down towards Oakridge, which provided some more great downhill.

Emily starts the descent down from Heckletooth

Scott, in hot pursuit

Typical scenery on the Heckletooth descent

The author on one of the tougher switchbacks on the Heckletooth descent
(photo by Emily Pfeifer) 

Roundin' another one

The author drops another fun techie pitch

Emily, between descents

More exposed side-hill

Emily starts up a short climb

Follow the light

Great lighting and views!

Heading back into the forest

All too soon, the trail turned to double-track and traveled a short distance too the paved road, bringing an end to the awesome singletrack descent. Before riding the remaining two miles of pavement back to the car, we were treated to a small herd of elk, who were hanging out in the yard of a nearby house. We watched them for a few minutes and then rode past, sending them off into the woods and out of sight. By the time we got back to the car, the sun had almost set, and did so by the time we had driven up to retrieve my car. Usually we would have stopped somewhere in Oakridge to grab a bite to eat, but we had been on the trail longer than anticipated and needed to get back home.


Parting thoughts:
I can't believe I don't ride Heckletooth more often, it's such a great trail and offers a technical challenge that most of the rides in this area lack. Combined with some amazing views, this one is really a gem! I think the reason that I don't ride it more often is that I typcially switch over to mountain biking (from kayaking) a little later in the season than most people want to ride it, since it tends to get blown-out/dusty once it dries out. Luckily for us, the trail was in great shape, which I'm sure was due to the recent rain event.

As for the section between the Deadly Switchbacks and typical starting point for Heckletooth, I would say that the trail quality isn't nearly as good, but it really depends on what you're looking for. It does cut through a beautiful section of old growth forest, which was worth the price of admission by itself. Even though we shuttled to the start of it, it still provided plenty of climbing, making it so we didn't feel too guilty.

Putting it all together, it was a great day on the trail with Scott and Emily -- part adventure riding and part classic trail shreddin'. just how I like it!

Tracks from our ride:

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Top of The World / Khyber Pass -- Whistler, BC (8.26.2014)

For the last 7 years, Emily and I have been spending our wedding anniversary in SW British Columbia, riding our bikes on some of the best trails in the world that are created by the hands & imagination of other mountain bikers. Since we are cross-country riders, we've tended to shy away from the lift-serve trails, opting instead for the hundreds of free trails, found in Squamish, Whistler, Pemberton, and the "North Shore" of Vancouver. Even though we've had plenty to keep us busy, a few trails on Whistler Mountain, which are best accessed by the lift, had my interest for some time. One in particular was Khyber Pass, mainly for the high alpine views. It was also publicized as an adventure ride, which after finishing required you to ride either gravel roads and/or double-black trail(s) down to the valley floor. Of course I'm always up for an adventure, even if it means hiking my bike for most of it, but I wasn't sure I wanted to subject my marriage to such an undertaking.

Between those early days and now, a few things have changed. 1) Emily has become an extremely strong rider, 2) A single-ride lift pass was now available, and 3) a new trail leading into Khyber Pass, called "Top of The World", had been built. ToTW is now considered one of Whistler's showpiece trails, giving riders an opportunity to experience high alpine riding above the tree line. Apparently it wasn't supposed to be overly difficult, other than some rocky pitches at the start; after that it was noted as more of a XC style of trail. At first Emily was a bit hesitant about the idea, since she knows about the adventures I tend to get myself into, but as our trip came nearer, she started to warm up to the idea of my planned descent of Whistler Mountain.

Since we'd planned to stay the night at my sister's house (near Seattle) on the way up to BC, we left after work on a Friday night. It wasn't until Saturday evening that we finally reached Squamish, our new home for the next 8 days. On both Sunday and Monday we reacquainted ourselves to the more slow-going technical riding in the area, which is quite contrary to the riding in our home state of Oregon, where high-speed singletrack is the norm. Squamish is one of my favorite places to ride and once again it didn't disappoint, as we rode some of our go-to trails like Credit Line, Half Nelson, and Somewhere Over There, as well as some new / instant classic trails, like Rupert, Man Boobs, and Section 57.

Takin' my Man Boobs to the air
(photo by Emily Pfeifer)

Interesting trail marker...

Fun rock drops on Rupert
(photo by Emily Pfeifer)

Psycho bridge crossing on Rupert as well

Emily gets ready to drop into a meat line on Rupert

A sweet switchback on Rupert

Emily takes a detour on Credit Line

Startin' it off on Crouching Squirrel - Hidden Monkey

Emily finds a nice log ride on Crouching Squirrel - Hidden Monkey

And some technical sections too

The author midway through a great slab drop on
Crouching Squirrel - Hidden Monkey
(photo by Emily Pfeifer)

Emily near the start of Somewhere Over There

Emily gets ready to drop yet another granite pitch,
this time on Somewhere Over There.

The author opts for the fun rock/bridge drop on Somewhere Over There
(photo by Emily Pfeifer)

When Tuesday finally arrived, we loaded up our biking gear and headed to Whistler, a mere 35 miles to the north. Since I had already reserved our ToTW tickets, all we had to do was head to the ticket counter to pick them up. Speaking of reserved tickets, they only allow 150 riders a day on the ToTW trail, so if you want to ensure you make it to the top, I suggest doing the same. It actually requires two tickets, one for the Whistler Express Gondola and one for the Peak Chair Express, which cost a total of $32 for a onetime ride.

Tickets acquired! 

Once we had our tickets in hand, we pushed our bikes up to the gondola loading area and waited for instructions on how to get on. This actually ended up being a tad tricky, requiring us to walk our bikes in vertically while rolling on the back wheel. Even though there was just the two of us, it felt pretty cramped and took us a few minutes to settle in for the 30 minute ride to the top. Riding up in our little capsule, we were provided with some pretty nice views of the surrounding area, as well as some cyclists cruising along the trails below us. I tried to take some photos from within the cabin, but with little elbow room and the dusty windows it was hard to fully capture the moment. After passing a few false summits and past the mid-mountain drop-off point, we finally caught a glimpse of where the Whistler Gondola express ended. Of course this was only the first leg of the journey and we still had one more lift we needed to take before we’d be at the Top of The World.

Emily settles in for a long ride to the Top

A bit cramped in the gondola 

After exiting the gondola, we took the bike specific trail that led to the loading area for the Peak Chair Express. This manner of getting up the hill was much less foreign to me; since I’d ridden many chairlifts during my days as an impassioned snowboarder. The sketchiest part of this ride was watching your bike hang precariously from the meat hook that was attached to the chair(s) in front of us; I was really glad that my bike had a thru-axle and that the winds were calm… As we walked off the landing dock at the top of the lift, we truly understood what was going to make this trail so special – the views!!! Being a clear day, you could see for 100+ miles in all directions, and we took a few minutes to take it in while we did our final gear preparation for the ride. I was actually a bit anxious to get on the trail, since the lift serves many user groups and it was a bit of a tourist trap around the facilities at the top of the mountain.

Emily takes in the view, between lifts

A view of the Top

A little more comfortable on this one!

Hmm... I hope the wind doesn't kick up

We made it -- Top of The World!

Great views of the Black Tusk, and more!

I think we go that way...

Once we had gotten our bearings and figured out where the trailhead actually was, we headed down the short bit of gravel road to where the singletrack began. Besides us, there were a couple other groups of bikers, preparing to drop in. A few were peering down the first bits of the trail, probably to determine what the heck they were in for. I knew from the write-ups that beginning had some steep/technical pitches but that it mellowed out after a bit -- From what I could see it looked like a hell of a good time!

Emily, well dressed for the occasion

Just as it had looked, the start of the trail provided a sweet technical descent and my all-mountain/XC bike felt right at home. After the great entrance, the trail did indeed mellow out a bit, alternating between rocky traverses and switchbacks. One thing that remained constant were the amazing and unobstructed views in every direction. One of the dominant landmarks was the iconic Black Tusk, which was easily identifiable given it's name. I couldn't name any other specific features amongst the grand landscape, but it was truly that, a prominent granite mountain range as far as the eye could see. Our immediate surroundings also provided an amazing setting, with interwoven fields of granite scree, grass meadows, and narrow stands of conifers. I couldn't say for certain, but I'm guessing this must be similar to what it feels like to bike high up in the Swiss Alps -- truly spectacular!

The start of the trail -- Super fun stuff!

Mellowing out a bit

Emily does her best to keep her eyes on the trail

A typical section of Top of The World

Nice swoopy turns

Amazing views to the north!

Emily heads down a typical rocky pitch

Getting into the trees

Way too soon the trail dropped down onto a catwalk, which would be the conclusion of Top of The World, at least for us. There are actually a few more shorter sections of this trail, but we'd be diverting onto Khyber Pass before reaching them. I had actually expected the Khyber Pass trail to be signed (like most trails in this area), but our only indication was an "out of bounds" sign, which warned us that we'd be on our own -- ah, just how I like it! I was actually quite glad that I had my phone with the Whistler Trail Map (app) installed, which I used to verify exactly where the trail started, since it was a bit obscure. Speaking of this app, you can get it for both Android phones and iPhones and it proved invaluable during our trip. If you are visiting this area for some biking, trust me when I say that you won't regret forking out the ~$10 to get it on your phone (their website can be found here).

Update - 3/16/2015:
I just became aware that we had entered Khyber Pass using the old trail. Apparently, there is a new entrance that is much more manageable/cleaner down the really steep stuff.  Here is a couple screen shots showing our tracks, followed by the tracks using the new entrance:

Our Tracks (old entrance)

New entrance -- for more info, go here.

Khyber pass started off innocently enough, riding along a thin band of singletrack through green meadows, with more epic vistas over our left shoulder to the north. At one of the switchbacks we came across a small ski shack, which we briefly inspected before pushing on. It wasn't very far past the shelter that the bottom of the trail dropped out from below us, and headed down through a series of loose/rocky gullies. This was the point in our journey where I started feeling like my Styrofoam helmet, lycra shorts, and SPD pedals were a little out of their element, at least with me in the saddle. Don't get me wrong, I love steeps as much as the next person, but this was extremely loose, with rocks as large as soccer balls, just waiting to get kicked loose and join you during the descent. I'm not sure if this is typical for this trail or if it had more to do with the time of year (dry) and the amount of traffic it had seen lately. Whatever the case, both Emily and I ended up walking a good portion of this section, which lasted for about a 1/2 mile and dropped about 600 vertical feet! I was able to ride a few of the sections, but I was certainly hiking more than biking...

An amazing start to Khyber Pass

A loose drop with some nice singletrack run out 

Starting to get a little rough (looking back up the trail from below)

Emily in the middle of a long/steep hike-a-bike

As the trail entered a thicker section of forest, the gradient dropped in half, making for a much more enjoyable riding experience. We actually encountered a couple small climbs and even got to ride past a small alpine lake. There were some more technical drops mixed in here and there, but nothing like we had just come down. Eventually the trail ended at a dirt road, ~1.75 miles from the start of the trail.

Finally on smoother ground

Down low, the trail goes though a beautiful forest setting

Some more descending near the end of the trail,
this time it was much more ridable.

From the end of Khyber Pass, we climbed up the dirt road a short distance (toward the CNRail Microwave Tower) before dropping onto Upper Babylon. Just as with Khyber Pass, the trail started out fairly mellow as it climbed up and around the backside of the tower, before starting its descent. At one point the trail bends around a left hand corner with an open vista to the north. After taking in the view for a few moments we saddled back up and dropped into the woods. It was in this section that we found a fun rock drop and other various natural features.

Granite slickrock near the start of Upper Babylon
(photo by Emily Pfeifer)

A rare overlook on Upper Babylon

Just about the time I was gaining some optimism that Upper Babylon was going to provide lots of rideable entertainment, we reached the crux section. It started off with a tricky/loose S-turn switchback, which ended up being pretty fun but took me two times to get a clean line. Immediately below this we came to the notorious rock-drop, with the walk around fitted with ropes to help you get down. After spending a few minutes peering over the cliff and wondering who would be crazy enough to ride it, we came up with a game plan to get our bikes (and ourselves) safely below. Basically, I went down about halfway, where I was able to find “good enough” footing, and had Emily hand the bikes down to me. Once I had the bikes stabilized against some roots, I climbed down the rest of the way while she took my place and we repeated the process.

The author rounds the second turn on a loose switchback
(photo by Emily Pfeifer) 

Happy to still be on my bike!
(photo by Emily Pfeifer)

Looking over the edge

Looks like we;ll be hiking down here...

Emily, halfway through the rope assist scramble

As a side note, I had actually known about this spot from reading a few write-ups. Knowing it was there, I ended up packing in an appropriate length of climbing robe and some carabineers, just in case. In hindsight this was fairly unnecessary, and even if the ropes that were pre-setup hadn’t been there, I feel like we could have gotten down safely, it just would have taken a little more time.

Below the cliff band, the trail headed down through more loose/steep singletrack, which like Khyber Pass, had us on and off our bikes as we continued to lose elevation. That said, and as I recall, it offered a higher percentage of riding to hiking. There were a few really fun rock slabs & drops that were challenging but also very rideable.

Before long, we reached a clear-cut area (with heavy regrowth), where the trail descended in earnest down a series of steep switchbacks, complete with small rock-drops and miscellaneous wood features. I’m sure this section would be great with the proper gear and a healthy dose of “not givin’ a shit”, but it was a bit over my ability level and I once again found myself doing more hiking. If nothing else, it was cool to see places that can push beyond what you’re capable of (both mentally & physically) and imaging what it would be like for riders that are capable. Just below the steeps, the trail tee’d into an old road, which for all intents and purposes, had faded into singletrack over time. From here we made a left, following the sign to Babylon.

The start of the gnarly final descent down to
the gravel road at the end of the trail 

Before starting the next leg of the journey, we stopped for a quick lunch at a spot that had some nice rocks and logs to rest our weary bums. It was here that we saw the first people since crossing out of bounds from Top of The World. I was actually a bit taken aback that none of them had CamelBaks, even with being so far off the beaten path – we would later discover this as a trend in Southwest BC. After finishing our sandwiches and regaining some energy, we pushed on.

Looking back up at Top of The World, from our lunch spot

The first part of Babylon by Bike (lower Babylon) ended up being fun technical singletrack, but all too soon turned into a wide high-speed affair that was more doubletrack in nature. We did pass by one trail junction for "Seeing Colors of Puke", and although I was tempted to head down that, it’s considered more of a climbing trail, so we opted to stay on BbB. Although it wasn’t quite “classic” singletrack, there were some fun jumps scattered throughout and it was nice to actually be on our bikes & making good time. Eventually the trail ended at another dirt road where we turned left and headed down a ways, where we’d need to make another decision on which trail we'd next descend -- our two options were "Tunnel Vision" and “It’s Business Time” (aka Duncan’s Trail). Since I didn’t know much about either, I simply read the descriptions via the map app. We ended up deciding to try Duncan’s, since it sounded a bit more intriguing, with passages such as “an instant classic”, “one of the best new trails”, and “a must do”! With that, we passed by Tunnel Vision and headed down the gravel road until we reached the trailhead for Duncan’s.

Railing down Babylon by Bike

Emily taking in the view (of the Black Tusk)

The trail started off with a short, nicely-graded climb, which led to some granite rock slabs and the location of a memorial. We guessed that the large portrait photo that was placed there was Duncan, who had recently passed. I would later research this and I now know that this was in fact a memorial for Duncan MacKenzie, the builder who both envisioned and started this trail, and who later lost his life in an avalanche while skiing (in 2012).

Looking back down the trail from the top of the first climb on Duncan's Trail

A somber memorial for Duncan Mackenzie --RIP

Duncan’s was indeed a playground, with a nice variety of man-made and natural features. The trail also offered lots of ups & downs, which proved to be quite challenging due to our low energy reserves. I was really wishing we hadn’t ended our day’s ride on this trail, as I could see it being a real gem with a fresh set of legs and lungs. Regardless, we still had a great time, and it was quite a refreshing change from the ruggedness of Khyber and Babylon. I also wish now that I had taken more time with my camera, to document the amazing construction of this trail; unfortunately I was too tired and both Emily and I just wanted to be back to Whistler Village, where we could grab some food and a beer. With our gas tanks nearing empty, we eventually reached the end of the trail, which dropped conveniently onto the paved Whistler Valley Path, which is essentially a freeway system for bikers and pedestrians. Unfortunately, we were about 6 miles west of the village, so we still had a bit of path riding to do.

Back to the views

Bridge crossing

The more interesting line at one of the trail splits

Great trail surface throughout!

The author drops one of the steeper rock drops on Duncan's
(photo by Emily Pfeifer)

The run-out
(photo by Emily Pfeifer)

A sweet ladder drop toward the bottom!

Emily nears the end of Duncan's 

Once we made it back to the car, we quickly changed into our street clothes before heading into the village to find a bite to eat. I’m always concerned that we'll end up having to pay a small fortune to eat there, but you can find some pretty cheap dining if you look around – we opted for Boom Burger, which felt/tasted almost identical to Five Guys. Once we had filled our bellies, we headed back to the car and drove back to camp, in Squamish.

Top of The World is a great trail and verges on being a “must do” if you came to Whistler to ride. This is especially true for anyone that is planning to ride a day or more in the park, adding only a small price increase for a one time trip to the Top. I wouldn’t say the trail itself is worth the extra money (although I did love the technical stuff at the beginning), but the views and ambiance of the high alpine riding (above the tree line) was worth every penny! You basically have a 360 degree view of Whistler’s surrounding wilderness, which is jaw dropping and forces you to stop riding from time to time just to take it all in. I also like the fact that they limit the number of riders per day (currently 150), which helps with the solitude and will hopefully mitigate erosion from overuse. Bear in mind that we only did ToTW down to the Khyber Pass intersection, so I can’t speak for the section(s) below.

As for Khyber Pass and Babylon, they were definitely an adventure, which is neither good nor bad, depending on your flavor. Personally I love adventure / mini epics – getting away from the pack and having to problem-solve along the way is what feeds my soul. From that aspect I was completely satisfied and it fit the bill perfectly; however, from a trail quality standpoint, these trails are just too beat to shit for me to want to return to them. I wouldn’t mind the steepness, but the surface was extremely loose and rutted out for long portions of trail. I know this statement will probably ruffle the feathers of more DH/Enduro style riders, but from an XC standpoint you’ll definitely feel the limits of your gear and your own commitment level. It also could be that these trails are much nicer earlier in the season, when it’s not so dry and they haven’t seen much prior traffic, but that’s not something I can answer to – please feel free to chime in if you can. Also feel free to comment if your experience on these trails was completely different than mine, as I’m curious to get some other perspectives. As for the lower section of Babylon, it doesn’t really fit into the description above, and it actually felt more like an uneventful connector trail.

It’s Business Time (Duncan’s Trail), on the other hand, is an amazing piece of singletrack – everyone who helped build this classic trail should be proud. It offers a great mix of technical stuff (man-made and natural) which you’ll encounter on both climbs and descents. As I previously stated, I wish we would have been fresh for this one, instead of at the end of our ride with just enough energy to keep us moving.

In the end it was a good day, and I'm really glad we did the trails that are laid out in this write-up; if for nothing else, to satisfy my curiosity. Although we did a lot of walking, I feel that the experience made us stronger riders. I can certainly see myself doing Top of The World again, but would probably skip Khyber and Babylon, taking the bike park trails down instead. It would be a shame to miss Duncan's, and I would like to ride Tunnel Vision, but we could always climb up Colors of Puke to hit those trails.

All that being said, if you're into adventurous rides that are off the beaten path, do it up, you'll probably have a great time!

The tracks from our ride: