Wednesday, July 30, 2008

South Boundary Trail

I still have Colorado on my mind. I'm noticing today that my left knee hurts more now than it did riding 5hrs a day in Colorado. Dave commented that I'm just now coming down from the buzz that a week of riding there induces. So all those aches and pains that have been suppressed are rising to awareness.

Two years ago when we did a Colorado trip, we crossed paths with three guys on the Trail 403/401 loop in Crested Butte. They were puffing a J. When I commented that the 403/401 was my favorite loop on the planet at the time, they said there was one better in New Mexico. It was the South Boundary trail. These guys were about our age and from different parts, two from Texas I believe. After the trip, I did a little research, and indeed there was a trail called South Boundary that followed a ridge line. Various references gave it high ratings. I made a note to ride this trail some day, having only ridden once in New Mexico.

Fast forward to our recent trip. After riding the Monarch Crest trail on Sunday, we continued down highway 285 to Taos, NM. The South Boundary trail is another one of those loops that riders typically shuttle, but you will probably have to earn at least some of the vertical here.

We were able to ride right from the hotel, going through town, then heading east up highway 64. This climbed very gradually for about 10 miles. We then hit a dirt road, flat at first, but then began climbing in earnest. I lost track of how many switchbacks we went through. We climbed fast enough that we could sense temperature drop. I used my Garmin Edge 705 for navigation on this ride, the first time ever using it this way (risky). We were vitally dependent on it telling us the way, as there are no good maps for the route, and most references say to bring a human guide along. We soon learned why. We got off the dirt road and continued climbing rugged ATV track. The ATV track contained many monsoon filled puddles. Some grades were barely doable, and approaching 10,000ft, the air was getting thin.

The ATV trail finally terminates at 9800ft Osha Pass, and a marker indicates the beginning of Trail 164, the South Boundary Trail. I thought surely the climbing was done now, and we'd be rolling along prestine ridgeline on singletrack. No such luck. The single track, short-lived, kept climbing. What's worse, the peak we saw looming way yonder and well above us - we had to climb it. There were at least 10 trail junction decision points per mile. Cow trails, ATV trails, double-tracks, you name it. It was a maze of wrong ways up here. Only twice did we start down a wrong path though, the GPS quickly correcting us. I was a little dissapointed in how much rutted out, brutally bumpy ATV track we were riding. Having already logged about 10hrs in the saddle in 2 days, the monkey butt demon was going to be tough to battle this trip.

After a particularly heinous grade, we caught up to two kids, probably high-school age, riding the loop. One had no helmet with him, and later we would learn how stupid this was when we encountered the descent. The kids confirmed we were now at the highest point of the ride, just over 10,700ft. This was a 3600ft net gain, but numerous drops along the way had us climb much more than this. The climb took 2.7 hours.

Finally, we got into the secton of the ride that everybody rants about. The singletrack was sweet. Buff, perfectly bench cut at a grade that didn't require excessive braking. But this lasted for less than 5 miles before we began climbing again, but this time not for long and not much vertical. The singletrack descent resumed. Then it turned down. I mean really down. Not like Flight of Icarus in Fruita, but one section scared both of us off our bikes. I rode stuff I wouldn't tell my wife about. I was shaking after flying through a couple nasty bits. About 3/4 of the way down, there was a very nice vista of Taos. The trail tamed a bit the rest of the way down.

This turned into a very long ride, 50 miles, 5.2hrs riding time. No way does it compare to the 403/401 loop in Crested Butte. If you value rugged terrain and hairy descents instead of buff singletrack and views to die for, perhaps South Boundary is your bag. I was glad to ride and experience it, but South Boundary alone would not warrant another trip to Taos. The GPS performed flawlessly in guiding us to the finish, but later in the trip I would experience the dreaded 705 screen-lock that Garmin has yet to figure out. Thunderstorms started shortly after we ended our ride, a theme that would be repeated daily.

We spent at least an hour climbing steep grades of this crud

Singletrack at last

Much of Trail 164, aka South Boundary Trail, was benchcut

Much of the final plummet to Taos looked like this

The Rio Grande river from Highway 64 on the way to Durango

Looking back at Taos from Hwy 64 at the Rio Grande - the down pour and freqent lightning we narrowly escaped on this ride.


Eric Meyer said...

gpx file?

Hill Junkie said...

Eric - I pulled my GPX off of There are many routes/distances to choose from there. Here is track I used in my GPS. It is not my own recorded track, as I had to modify MB track to get it to download to my 705. This track guided us well. Right click link to save locally.

South Boundary