Sunday, April 5, 2015

HyMasa / Rockstacker / Captain Ahab - Moab (UT)

This being my third trip to Moab, I knew enough about the area to determine that Amasa Back was one of my favorite rides there, and since my last visit three years prior, some new singletrack had been added to the Amasa Back network. In fact, between the relatively new climbing trail “HyMasa” and descending trail “Captain Ahab”, you’d actually spend very little time on the ol’ classic namesake jeep road. With these new additions I was even more excited to head back!

Map of the Amasa Back riding area, which can be found at

Since I tend to be the most geeky person on our crew when it comes to trail research and planning, I offered my suggestion of riding up the HyMasa trail, across (and up) the Cliff Hanger jeep road to a sweet overlook, do a short out-n-back to Pothole Arch, and then head down Rockstacker & Captain Ahab to finish the ride. Without much hesitation, everyone in the group was game, except for a few that would start with us but only do about half the ride. With the plan hatched, we loaded up our bikes and headed to the Amasa Back.

Once we reached the parking area, we geared up and rode the ¼ mile worth of road to the start of the ride at “The Stairs” -- a series of natural sandstone steps. In years past we would scout and/or ride the stairs as a warm-up, but since the HyMasa trail started above and navigated around them, we ended up skipping them this time around.

The author rides "The Stairs" during our spring break trip in 2012

The HyMasa trail leaves the road for a short bit as it winds its way down the hill before dumping back onto it, just above a shallow crossing at Kane Springs Creek. Riding through the creek allows you to moisten your chain nicely so all the sand on the other side can stick to it… It seems like every time I've done this ride, this creek crossing has been a major traffic jam and this trip was no exception. Once we had navigated both the creek and around all the other riders, we started the climb up the Amasa Back jeep road until we found the next section of the HyMasa trail.

Danika heads up the Amasa Back jeep road, near the start of the ride

As the new piece of singletrack climbed its way up the red rock setting, I was pleasantly surprised with the quality of the trail's construction – I had enjoyed climbing up the jeep road in the past but this seemed like a much better way to ascend, at least from the perspective of a mountain biker. As we climbed higher and higher, the La Sal mountains came into view and provided a stark and beautiful contrast to the deep red rocks that we were crawling along. From time to time I would have to force myself not to focus too much on the view, as there were plenty of technical rocky pitches to contend with, which required my full attention.

Randy settles in for the climb, on HyMasa

Chris on one of the many small drops that help breakup the climb

Andy gets a nice view of the La Sals 

Tait hams it up for the camera

As usual, I had packed way more camera gear than I needed, and spent a majority of my time leapfrogging the crew as I took photos along the way. Since our group was so large (around a dozen) and we had had a few mechanicals along the way, it wasn’t too hard for me to jump around and get lots of shots off without delaying the ride much. At one point it was just Chris and me out in front, as the rest of the crew re-gathered at one of the trail intersections to make sure everyone had caught up. Once the two of us had reached the intersection with lower Ahab, we stopped for a quick snack and waited for the whole crew to rejoin us.

Lots of fun rock features along the way

Roland nears the intersection with Lower Ahab

Tait, having no fun at all...

Once we were all back together, we continued up HyMasa, where the gradient tapered off a bit and gave our legs a bit of a break. This portion of HyMasa only lasted for about ¾ of a mile before ending at the start of Upper Ahab (to the left) and the Cliff Hanger 4x4 Jeep road (to the right). Since we weren’t ready to turn around just yet, we jumped onto Cliff Hanger, which runs along the edge of Jackson Hole and provides some spectacular views. There are some technical bits & pieces along this jeep road, with one that's a bit nastier than the others, at a broken up ledge right along the edge of the cliff. That said, it’s certainly rideable, which was proven by Chris who cleaned it on verbal beta alone. The rest (including myself) decided to dismount our bikes for this one.

The Emilys continue the climb up Hymasa

Emily (x2) and Sarah dig in for more steep slickrock

Relaxing on one of the flatter/mellower stretches

Justin finds some techie stuff on Cliff Hanger

For a short distance after the big drop, the road mellows out a bit before starting to climb once again, this time up some steep slickrock, which eventually leads to a really nice vista/lunch stop that once again looks out over Jackson Hole. The only downside to the observation point on this day was the wind gusts, which forced us to seek shelter up against a rock slab and be mindful of our sandwich bags as they tried to blow away.

Randy starts off one of the fun & challenging climbs 

The author makes a rare appearance
(photo by Danika Williams)

A well earned lunch break, overlooking Jackson Hole

After everyone had a chance to fuel up and take in the view, we saddled up and got back to our ride. From this point the navigation became a bit tricky, with no clear path and only scattered cairns to guide us along the way. Eventually, Roland jumped out in front and led us by using the trails on his GPS, which worked really well but required us to slow down enough so that we didn't outpace our technology. Soon enough we reconnected with a more established trail that put us back on course and headed towards the Rockstacker trailhead.

Chris does some route finding after lunch

Roland leads the charge down a fast piece of slickrock

Upon reaching the Rockstacker TH, we had a choice, start heading down that trail now or add a quick out-n-back to Pothole Arch. Taking a quick poll it appeared that the group was fairly ambivalent, so when a couple others and I pushed for the addition of Pothole Arch, we didn’t get much pushback. The out-n-back trail itself didn’t provide any real technical challenges, however the surreal slickrock terrain proved entertaining enough and also provided the most fascinating landscape of the ride, at least in my opinion.

Amazing scenery on the Pothole Arch section

After about a mile, we reached the arch, where we found a couple of other riding groups who had also made the choice to visit it. While Pothole was small in stature it certainly made up for it in character. The opening was only large enough for one or two people to crawl through at a time. On the other side of the Hobbit door was a cool bowl-shaped room, which presumably is what gives the arch its name. There was also a small shrub tree growing up from the floor which added to the tranquility of the place. I'm not sure why I didn’t take a photo of the room but I guess it just gives me a reason to come back on the next trip. Once everyone had a chance to check it out and get their photo taken, we headed back towards the start of Rockstacker.

Hangin' out at Pothole Arch

Sandra colors outside the lines on the way back to Rockstacker

Takin' it in!

Immediately after turning onto Rockstacker we reached our first obstacle, which had a couple of different line options -- The hero line down through a crack on the right, and a tough to get to steep rock pitch on the left. Not liking either line, I decided to hike my bike down the drop and scout out the next one, just a few yards down the trail. This second drop was much more straightforward but I was glad I had taken a quick look to scout my line and give verbal beta to the rest of the crew.

Roland works off of verbal beta to clean the second drop on Rockstacker

The third drop, which was just around the corner from the second, was also a good one to take a look at. Basically, the trail dropped steeply down some slickrock and exited through one of two dirt chutes. Although it had a few moves that you needed to make, it was the type of drop I feel comfortable with and was confident I could clean. With that, I hiked back to my bike, saddled up, and dropped in. All went as planned and I was pretty happy with my line, finishing down the right chute.

The author, partway down the third drop
(photo by Chris Arnold)

Exit stage right
(photo by Chris Arnold)

Below the initial three drops, the trail mellowed out as it traversed the hillside and provided nice views of the Colorado River off to our left. About a half mile in we reached another steep pitch, which worked its way down a tough set of switchbacks with unpleasant consequences for a missed line. No one in our crew felt good about either the line or the consequences, so we all shouldered our bikes down to the bottom.

Great view of the Colorado on Rockstacker

Hedging our bets on the steep switchbacks

Halfway though the nasty bits

Back on our bikes, we continued traversing high above the Colorado, with the trail providing some fun technical features along the way, none of which were overly difficult. That said, we did have a bit of carnage in this section, which left the rider with a goose egg below their eye and a pinch flat to add insult to injury. It’s times like this when you’re glad you have a couple of trained nurses in the group, with Randy patching up the rider nicely before we continued on. Before long, Rockstacker climbed up one last pitch before connecting back into the Cliff Hanger jeep road, which we would follow back to the start of Captain Ahab.

Andy keepin' the front wheel up on a fun little drop-off

Classic Moab scenery 

A great technical series of drops that was the location of some carnage

Captain Ahab was the trail I had been looking forward to most in our whole Moab trip, due to the many praises I had heard and read about it. I had assumed that it was an all downhill trail, so the first part of it was a bit of an unwelcome surprise, since I hadn’t saved much juice from the previous miles we had just ridden. Undeterred, I continued on, climbing past one false summit after another. Don’t get me wrong, it was a very well-constructed trail and with more energy, I’m sure I would have found it a super fun climb with great views.

Roland and Emily start the climb up Upper Ahab

A few grunts like this along the way...

...mixed in with some fun drops...

...before more ups

Eventually Ahab reached a more pronounced summit, where we regrouped and it looked like we’d be getting into a bit of the descent. It started off with a fun little drop with a loose run out that required some delicate brake work. This was followed-up by some more fun technical drops and slickrock descent before the trail once again started to climb… Luckily, the climb didn’t last too long and we were soon descending once again, at least for a little while.

Chris drops in from the summit. The run-out on this one is pretty loose

Sandra stays focused 

Emily drops some rocks

More fast slickrock

Typical Ahab goodness  

Chris drops into another one

About two miles into the trail, we reached the halfway point, signaling Lower Ahab and that we had completed almost all of the climbing. The lower section certainly proved to be less strenuous, but still had plenty of fun technical riding. Some of the drops were truly entertaining and I was starting to see why this trail received so much praise – everything from fast slickrock descents to slow rock crawling. Eventually we reached a benched in section that followed along Kane Springs Creek, high above its waterline. There is some exposure in this section but nothing that was too sketchy . One short section actually has a sign that tells you to use caution, which I walked the first time due to my exhaustion and not wanting to make a poor decision. The second time I rode it and it proved to be no big deal, just keep your tires to the ground and your eyes on the trail.

Roland drops into Lower Ahab

Follow the leader - In this case Arthur

Tait drops down one of the sweet slickrock sections


Drivin' hard

The ladies showing us how it's done

Danika threads the needle on Lower Ahab

Sandra, in her element

Headed back to civilization

Not far below the caution sign, the trail hooks back into the Amasa Back jeep road, and a short distance from our awaiting cars. We made fairly short work of the Amasa Back section, but after crossing Kane Springs Creek, I struggled to find energy to climb back up the other side. Instead of riding HyMasa up to the paved road, for better or worse, I decided to push my bike up the alternate route, which included The Stairs. I ended up being the only one that chose this route, but in the end we all ended up taking about the same amount of time to crawl out of the small canyon. From the top of The Stairs it was just a fast downhill stretch of road back to the parking lot and the end of our ride.

Although this ride was only ~17.5 miles long it put a bit of a hurtin’ on me, but in a good way. The Amasa Back trail system has really matured and the addition of both HyMasa and Captain Ahab are certainly welcomed by the mountain biking community who love singletrack. The quality of these trails are also first rate and whomever was a part of their construction should be extremely proud of their work. Although I wined a bit about the climbing at the start of Upper Ahab, this was really due to my lack of preparedness and not pacing myself earlier in the ride.

As for Rockstacker and the trail to Pothole Arch, which I had not done before, they were a very pleasant surprise. I had heard that Rockstacker was pretty nasty, and although it had a few tough drops, they were easily walked (if you want to). A majority of the trail was very manageable, even for less advanced riders. The short out-n-back section of trail to Pothole Arch is very family friendly and worth if for the views alone, where the wind has shaped the sandstone slickrock into a surreal martian landscape.

All in all, I would give this ride a “must do” designation, even if you just ride HyMasa & Captain Ahab, which we did the second time, a few day later in the trip.

The tracks from our ride:

And, a few days later, doing only HyMasa and Captain Ahab:

1 comment:

  1. That looks awesome. It's been 9 years since I was in Moab - and that was definitely a favourite trail! I need to get back and try the new ones - especially the out and back.