Sunday, March 15, 2015

Kitt Peak the Dirty Way

On our final day of the trip, Isaac and I decided on a double-header day. Actually, it was more of my choosing, but to my detriment later in the day. Kitt Peak is a popular roadie climb that gains about 3700ft in 12 miles less than an hour southwest of Tucson. I've ridden it once before on a hardtail MTB when there was 100mph wind up top, which was also socked in with clouds. It was wicked windy Friday morning in town, so I feared a repeat at the summit, except for the clouds. It was a mint bluebird sky day.

Riding full-sus bikes up big paved climbs ain't all that much fun. I found in the Strava heat map a faint track going up a jeep road to the summit. Same vert in a lot less miles. That looked sweet. Zero cars, more wildlife (there are mountain lion sightings here), and maybe a little more sheltered from the wind.

At the base, I realized I forgot long layers, including a windshell. Crap. With the wind and soaking wet reaching 7000ft, I would freeze in minutes. The last time I came up here in February, there was snow at the summit. What to do... Improvise. I had a wicking VT50 tech t-shirt. Zero wind block, but it was something. I also has a ripped apart Watershed Wahoo cotton t-shirt from about 10 years ago we were using for a chain rag. Nasty dirty, it stunk, but it was something too. It went into the camelbak. I had nothing for the arms.

Isaac cut his ride short the day before, so I suspect he was feeling more chipper than I was. Why was I starting out another long day with almost 4000ft of climbing again? The jeep road gained vertical steeply and persistently. For the first half, you could see how dramatically vertical was gained by looking down on the car. It helped take the mind off suffering. We started at about 3200ft.

At about 5000ft, Isaac lets out the most girlish of squeals and swerves violently into my path. I freaked too. Was it a rattler? No. He almost flattened a Gila monster. It didn't move until he was almost on it, then it moved quickly to defend itself. Second Gila monster of the trip, and I wouldn't expect to see one that high. It was more brilliantly colored than the others I've seen.

We crested a false summit, more like a notch really, to the south facing side of the mountain. Now we could see the observatories up top, still way the heck up there. The road was glorious climbing. It was not gated, but posted emergency use only. Thus no vehicles.

Only when we gained the final few hundred feet did the temperature really begin to plummet. So windy you had to brace yourself too, when standing.  Kitt Peak is a sky island, which are sprinkled all over Arizona. Sky islands are massive mountains that just randomly poke out of the desert floor, not part of any mountain range. I donned my tech t and ragged t for the chilly descent.

The descent was treacherous as we bombed in and out of nooks and crannies. You never could tell which way a random gust was going to hit you. At times the headwind was so strong we were forced to pedal down 8% grade!

That was a great 21 mile loop, one I'd readily do again. With Kitt Peak, we hit the big three in Tucson, which includes Lemmon and Hopkins. This mornings track.  For the afternoon, we hit Tucson Mountain Park (TMP) with a foray into Robles Trails. Isaac dragged me to hell on that loop, which I'll have to share later.

Starting out, summit on right, long benchcut through center

Gila monster at 5000ft

A lot of double-digit grades looking a blue

Cresting the ridge, the summit area 1500ft above comes into view.

View from big dome looking down on paved descent

Hypothermia prevention. I smelled like a grease rag the rest of the day.

From near summit, looking down on upper 1500ft of climbing

The descent is non-stop carving into nooks and crannies.

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