Sunday, July 29, 2012

Not For Whiners

Every now and then, I set out on an exploratory ride, something that many riders might term "epic."  I have a number of off-road loops I hit periodically that net 4-6 hours of riding with little or no repeating terrain. I'm always looking for new possibilities.

When I first moved to New Hampshire 15 years ago (has it been that long already?!), mountain biking opportunities were far more limited than they are today. There were very few purpose built trails. Most riding was on pre-existing hiking trails, logging roads, and moto trails. One place I hit a few times was Crotched Mountain, an abandoned ski area at the time. I'd park at the bottom of Crotched Mtn Rd, ride up the paved road to the rehab center, then continue off-road to the summit. I remembered a bit of hike-a-bike (HAB) near the summit. I'd then take the ski area service road down the other side and loop back around on pavement.

Poking around in Strava recently, I saw a number of recurring tracks showing up in the greater Greenfield area. I wondered what's going on over there. Maybe it was time to put tires to dirt at Crotched after a 12yr Hiatus.

Saturday was a perfect opportunity, as the weather was quite unstable, and a long drive with later start to a more certain destination was too risky. Greenfield is only about 50 minutes away. I downloaded six tracks from Strava, then quickly took snippets from each of them to piece together what should make an interesting 35+ mile ride. I knew only one of the riders I was borrowing track from and had no other intel on trail quality. With my compiled track loaded on the Garmin 705, I headed over to Oak Park, where the Hampshire 100 MTB race starts.

The track had me snaking through Greenfield State Park to start. Lots of random bits of singletrack in there. Route following was extremely difficult because of so many directions to choose from sometimes. Lot of downed trees too. There was strong incentive to keep moving, lest the deerflies suck you dry.

Heading out of GSP, two bushwack segments were encountered. One was between Rt 31 and Crotched Mtn Rd, the other bridging up to Rt 136 shortly after. The later case, there simply was no trail there whatsoever, and I had to wade through shoulder deep vines, flowers, bees and no doubt ticks for about three minutes. I didn't find any ticks, but I was sure I felt them crawling on me for the rest of the ride.

Doubletrack was taken up the lower flanks of Crotched Mtn to the rehab center. A couple sections of this were badly eroded and required brief HABs. Picking up the Shannon Trail above the rehab center, I was finally on a superb piece of trail. Large patches were clear-cut up there, I believe to help bring back blueberries. This opened up fine vistas to big mountains to the west. This was a gem of a trail and nothing like when I came up here 12-15yrs ago. I wondered if it would be this way all the way up.

Shannon's Trail

All good things come to an end. The trail kinked south and proceeded up the fall line. Without a bike, sections were hands and feet climbing. With a 28 lb full suspension MTB and shoe treads worn down to only metal cleat exposed, it was pure hell climbing up this. It was mostly exposed granite at too steep a grade from my shoes to avoid slipping. I didn't remember this from years ago. I must have taken a different way that went only to the lower ski area summit. This half mile took me at least 20 minutes to complete.

View from near Crotched summit

Supposedly I was following another rider's MTB track. No way did anybody ride this. When I double checked this track later at home, I saw this "rider's" speed never deviated much from 2.5mph, even on the road sections. This was a hiking track labeled as MTB Ride in Strava! I need to be more careful.

I made the summit without catastrophe and was relieved to see I could take the com tower service road down. Unfortunately, this took me way off my intended route and onto paved roads.

Switchback coming off Crotched summit

I regained my route south of Rt 136 and encountered amazing singletrack - miles and miles, a large network, with great flow. I deviated from my track again, this time deliberately, following a fine trail that was obviously designed for MTB. It was heavily used. Many of the trails were named. I didn't really know what town I was in at the time, or whether I was on private or public land. How come I hadn't heard of this before? Doing a little research, I couldn't find much, other than speculate these are trails built and maintained by the Greenfield Trails Association. Definitely need to learn more about this.

Miles and miles of this

Eventually I had to move on, get back on my route, and hit Rose Mountain. The sky was becoming increasingly dark. A bit of road brought me to the Rose Mt fireroad. It basically went up and over, north-south. I believe there is a third way that cuts in too, from The Pinnacle. Anyway, it started bony, but completely doable. Further up, the grade goes past 20%, and the surface becomes nothing but slick as snot rock. Humidity was near 100%, and all roots and rocks offered about as much grip as Slick 50 motor oil. Dismounts were required.

Climbing Rose Mt north side

The summit was nice, with limited views of the horizon. It was starting to spit rain. I had already emptied a 100oz Camelbak in the oppressive humidity and getting dehydrated. It was time to head back even though I had a lot of GPS "popcorn trail" still to hit. It would have to wait for another day. The initial descent was mostly exposed ledge, less greasy on this south exposed side. It was quite rideable. Further down, a stream had taken over part of the fireroad and turned it into a 6ft deep crevasse. I didn't dare ride it. Nobody would ever find me out here if I stacked hard.

View from Rose Mtn summit, spitting rain

Heading back on Rt 31 towards Greenfield, I spied a singletrack cutting off the road adjacent to a cemetery. It looked too buff and broken in to pass up. It was another amazing section of trail, very fast. It popped me out close to Greenfield center.

Blue=planned (with error towards end), Red=actual

I finished with 38.7mi, 4600ft of climbing, in 4.4hrs.  The rain started coming down more earnestly just as I finished cleaning up. Riding here has a lot of potential. The route I picked needs a lot of work though. I do not need to revisit the Crotched summit with a bike again anytime soon.  I need to learn more about the status of trails in the area too. Could the Greenfield Trails Association be another Kingdom Trails in its infancy?

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Doug, I ran into some guys last year when I was riding Wynn, Rose and Pinnacle that told me about Greenfield. Seems there is a group that has built a vast network. Agree...need to investigate further