Monday, April 29, 2013

Edge Loop

For our final day in the Grand Junction, CO area, Dave and I decided to ride another pretty challenging loop. I last rode The Edge loop at the Bookcliffs in 2005. The ride terrified me back then. I foolishly rode is solo. It still terrified me with company this go around.

The Edge Loop hugs the front side of the Book Cliffs heading over to Coal Gulch Rd, a jeep road that climbs to the top of the Book Cliffs from behind the cliffs. The route then plummets back down to the front side of the cliffs, partly through a wash with a 30ft repel down a waterfall that is usually dry. More super steep rolling terrain closes the loop along the bottom of the Book Cliffs.

The temperature was again PERFECT in the morning starting out. About 60, going to 80F. No long layers needed. The dry air raises havoc with my throat though. Heavy breathing during a 2400ft climb on dirt left me raspy.

Western Zippety heading out in morning.

Topping out on Coal Gulch Rd.

After reaching the top of the Book Cliffs, vertical is squandered on stupid steep ATV trail. I bet the grade was >40%. The surface was loose gravel and talus. It weirded both Dave and I out to the point of hoofing a couple chunks of it near the top. I had all I could do to not go sliding down on my ass.

Looking southeast from top of Book Cliffs
Top of Book Cliffs, looking south west
Once we picked up the singletrack, the adrenaline factor kicked up a notch. This was eminently rideable, but scary technical, in that you could carry a lot of speed if you could control the sliding into turns and not let slabs of rock flip up into your wheels or shins. There must have been a hundred turns in a mile or two of this crazy bombing through tight juniper bush squeezes. We failed to clean a couple turns. Eventually this dumped us into the wash.

I knew what was coming up shortly - the infamous waterfall. Dave's reaction was at first disbelief, like uh-no, you don't go down that. Then it was "you went down that by yourself last time?!" Yep, struck fear in me all over again. It looked like the rope was still the same from 7 years ago, frayed and barely held together with knots. You could easily fall 30ft here if you messed up.

Dave peering over the edge of the waterfall

There was a track that went up and away from the waterfall. Looked like maybe it was a hike-a-bike bailout option, but I didn't see how it could possibly rejoin the route we were on. You had to get down the Book Cliffs somehow, and as its name implies, they are cliffs. The wash we were in seemed the most tempered way to get down.

Totally terrified

So we manned up and decide it wouldn't make good blog fodder to chicken out. Silly testosterone.  I went down first. There's a bit of a ledge half way down where Dave could drop bikes down to me. Then once the bikes were there, I could drop down to the bottom and Dave could again drop bikes the rest of the way down to me. Worked pretty well, except I didn't trust myself, the rope or cleated shoes to actually repel down the rock. I slid and got all scraped up. Dave has way more faith in his abilities and a 10 year old frayed rope than I do.

At the bottom looking up at Dave

Once at the bottom and adrenaline worn off, we had another mile of wash to endure before getting back onto the Book Cliffs singletrack at the bottom of the cliffs. I expected plugged up trails, as it was the last day of the Fruita MTB festival. We had seen only two other riders in the first three hours of riding. Nice to get away from masses again and have some total peace and quiet.

Heading out in the wash below the falls

Having climbed upwards of 4000ft already, my legs were crap by the time we hit the Chutes and Ladders trail heading over to the finale of the ride, Zippety-Do-Da. As the name implies, Chutes and Ladders is nothing but barely make it up climbs with too brief plummets on the other side. Repeat every couple minutes.

Zippety-Da-Da is perhaps the crown jewel of Book Cliffs. It is a cascade of near vertical drops with some nearly as steep climbs. Failing to make a few of the climbs would come with severe consequences. You would go for a long slide on rock hard adobe soil. I shot video of a few sections of Zippety, but the internet at our hotel is deplorable, barely dial-up speed. Will have to limit photos too, as each 200kB photo takes 5+ minutes to upload.

We finished the ride with 34miles, nearly 5000ft in 3.9hrs riding time on the Garmin. Nine hours and 10,000ft of extremely punchy climbing in two days left me in tatters. Only six more riding days left...

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