Monday, March 22, 2010

Tour of TMP

Our journey to singletrack snobbery is complete. The bikes are packed, boarding passes are printed. Monday will seem empty without a ride.

Sunday's ride entailed a tour of the mountains west of the city, in and around Tucson Mountain Park (TMP). It has been over ten years since I last rode in this area, and many new trails have been built since. We planned to hit many of them.

We parked at the new trailhead parking area near Hidden Canyon trail. This one was so new that I could not find maps or GPS tracks of it. A few locals raved about it, one review said it was a hiking trail, a Fred I thought. Turns out Dave and I must be Freds too, as this trail degenerated into a hike-a-bike. We rode it counter-clockwise. Perhaps it is easier to ride the other way, but our descent was a handful too.

We picked up another trail that headed north out of TMP towards the recently built Sweetwater trail system.  Scott Morris has said many good things about these trails. I found good GPS data for the system and put a loop together that encompassed most of the trails with minimal repeating.

A bit of road brought us to Sweetwater. The trails did not disappoint. It had just the right mix of climbing and chunkiness. Some parts flowed with considerable speed, others required focus to avoid tangling with cacti. I expected heavy traffic at Sweetwater, but we encountered only one large group.

The Brown Mountain loop was next. It was getting warm, well into the 70's, and a single Camelbak was probably going to fall short if we committed to Brown Mtn without a refill. Fortunately, there was a local park with water along the way. We planned to ride up paved Gates Pass Rd, then bomb down the other side on dirt. Midday, there were a lot of roadies coming over this small mountain pass. We summitted, only to find the dirt descent to resemble a cliff plummet. Neither of us were in the mood for that, so we bombed the paved switchbacks on the west side to resume the dirt route further down. I've driven over this before, but never ridden it.

The lower Brown Mtn loop was typical Tucson fare, just nicely doable. It gained a good portion of the altitude needed to reach the ridgeline. Some stiff switchbacks brought us to the first peak. The ridge trail crested many peaks, each offering great views in all directions. A few steep switchbacks forced dismounts. After a mile or two of ridge riding, we reach the last peak on the south end and began dropping down an insane series of switchbacks. Dave handled these much better than I did, cleaning nearly all of them. At least neither of us crashed. The rocks here are like dagers poking up out of the ground. All sharp, all the time. And if the rocks didn't get you, the cacti surely would.

Leaving Brown Mtn to the south, we went through a camping area. There was more water there, so we topped off again, even though our plan was swing back past the car by this point to get more fuel. For some wierd reason or another, I was going strong today. It is not like me to ride many hours with minimal calorie intake without bonking. At the campground, Dave noticed I had a piece of plant growing out of my arm. A thorn embedded deeply, taking part of the plant with it. I pulled hard on the thorn. It failed to pull out, breaking off instead. They are barbed, designed to not pull out easily. That is going to give me trouble later I'm sure.

I had now logged four hours riding time, and it seemed hitting new material called Robles was looking iffy. It meant at least another 90 minute commitment. Dave was fading, and we had bike to pack up before it got dark. We decided to work our way back to the car through TMP instead, randomly hitting bits of singletrack in the maze that makes up TMP. We rode the length of the Yetman wash, which most avoid, but downhill it is not too bad. I swiped a prickly pear, and a thorn pierced my shoe and skewered one of my toes. I was able to pull it out through the shoe. Thank goodness this one did not break off. I couldn't believe how much of the thorn was bloody. It went in deep. My legs were a bloody mess at this point. Four hours of riding on the west side of town, sometimes off the main path, will do this.

We finished up with 43.5 miles in 4.5hrs riding time. The vast majority of it was technical singletrack. Beats you up pretty good. For the four days, we rode 192 miles in 19.3 hours with over 20,000ft of climbing. Other than losing my camera yesterday, it was a pefect trip to pack in some serious off-road volume. The weather finally cooperated for this trip. There was too much snow to come up the back side of Mt Lemmon, but Dave and I both agreed Mt Hopkins to the south beats the Mt Lemmon climb any day. I'm already thinking about when I can come back here to ride stuff we didn't get to on this trip.

Brown Mtn ridgeline

Brown Mtn descent

More Brown Mtn ridge

Dave cresting Hidden Canyon ridge

Sweetwater. With very wet winter, the desert floor is green.

Sweetwater buffness

Somewhere in TMP

1 comment:

Scott said...

Wearing jeans and a light, long-sleeve shirt while biking in TMP prevents you from getting scratched all over. Except for when I collided at speed with a "teddy-bear cholla," after losing control while descending Gates Pass trail.

For next time, there are some trails south and east of Oracle (especially AZ trail) that you might want to try. Oracle isn't the inferno Tucson is in the summer. Mt Graham (SW of Safford) would be another very difficult bike ride, but the summit is so high I'm sure the highest elevations are closed all winter to bikes.