Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The Bigger the Better

Having climbed Mt Hopkins as an out-and-back three times now, I sought something a little different for this trip. Perusing satellite imagery in Google maps, I found a track that diverged from the Mt Hopkins Rd and swooped to the south before rejoining the road closer to the top. This looked very interesting. Part of the route was Forest Service route 143. The upper portion of this mystery track was labeled as “impassible by vehicle” on a map I have. It was shown as a MTB route, so I assumed it was a viable alternative to the gravel auto road all the way to the summit. The max grade did concern me a tad. Sections hit 30% with an average around 20% for a couple miles. Firm surface - no problem. Loose ATV chunk - hike-a-bike.

It was a pristine day for our first ride of the trip. We turned off onto FS-143. It was slightly bony doubletrack, but great climbing. There were some big vertical losses along the way. Each one, a little voice in the back of your mind would chime in and say “you gotta re-climb that vertical again!”

Alex on FS143

The grade got progressively steeper as the miles accrued. I mentioned to Alex that we hadn’t gotten to “The Wall” yet. Feeling fresh and cocky at the beginning of a trip, he replied “The bigger the Better!” I though oh no, he just doomed our ride. I had no idea on the rideability of the steep section.

Beginning of suckfest. Alex didn't make it far.

We first blew by the turn-off from the doubletrack for the ATV trail that cuts across and up to the auto road. It was a barely there trail. Not a good sign. Hike-a-biking ensured almost immediately. A few morsels of rideable trail strung us out on a false hope that we might be riding more than walking. It wasn’t to be.

Hill Junkie near top of suckfest.

The surface was loose baby heads. We stumbled our way up like drunken sailors. Sometimes you’d take one step up and roll three back on loose rocks. The wheels would not turn on this crap either. We nearly had to carry our heavy full suspension MTBs. They have no open main triangles, else we would have shouldered our bikes. At one point, the grade max’d out at 60%. It was barely hikeable. My ankles got bloodied up on both sides from rolling off or in between loose rocks. I did not wear my ankle brace. I feel much more solid on my feet now after running for many weeks.

Alex was so glad to see the road he kissed it.

The vertical accumulated painfully slowly. I knew approximately what elevation we had to pop out at, and I was hesitant to tell Alex how much further we had to go. Eventually we gained the ridgeline and were able to ride our bikes again. We hiked up 1600ft of vertical on loose baby head rocks. It took over 45 minutes. That was the mother of all hike-a-bikes for me. I was surprised Alex was even willing to ride with me again the next day after dragging him though that torture fest.

Switchback near summit.

The remaining 1500ft to the summit of Mt Hopkins was a breeze. That last stretch is paved, presumably to keep dust low around the telescopes. It was the warmest ever up top, and it was the first time I didn’t have to put long layers on for the descent. Normally the dirt auto road takes about 2.4hrs to climb. This round about way took 3.7hrs. I had blisters on my feet from walking so long in carbon fiber soled shoes, and Alex’s hip went FUBAR on him. Only five more days to go!

Descent from summit.

Interestingly, Alex ate nothing except half a bottle of Perpetuum during this 4.75hr ride. He is a slow-twitch/fat burning freak of nature. I could have eaten my Camelbak by the end of this ride. We rode 44.6mi with 6620ft vert.  We hit up El Charro for dinner late on Monday night and had to wait to get in. The Carne Seca was out of this world.

Update: Strava link to ride. Forgot to mention, behind on posting due to COX internet outage for two+ days.

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