Thursday, September 17, 2015

Thunder Mountain/Cassidy Loop

Falling way behind on posts for this trip. Maybe when I get back I can catch up on rides at Snow Basin in Ogden, or the rides around Hurricane and Cedar City I've worked in around rain and other activities. Have to post now on one of the rides I was really looking forward to on this trip, Thunder Mountain near Bryce Canyon National Park.

Thunder Mountain has gotten a lot of MTB press over the years, primarily due to its unique scenery. The trail is not long or epic by any standard, but it does allow one to ride through scenery you'll find in Bryce. The singletrack trail is less than 8 miles long. When looped with the paved bike path in Red Canyon and the Coyote Hollow dirt road, a loop of about 16 miles can be had.

Of course, this is not enough for the Hill Junkie to drive 80 minutes to ride. There are also canyon trails on the other side of UT-12 that offer great riding. By adding a climb up Casto Canyon with return on Cassidy Trail, an HJ worthy loop of 40 miles can be put together.

It has rained every day in SW Utah since I came down this way on Saturday. Wednesday was my only chance to ride Thunder Mountain. The forecast was dubious, and radar show bits of precip in the area. I was going to chance it. Driving over the UT-14 pass at nearly 10,000ft, the visibility was zero, temp was 43F, rain going sideways in extreme wind, and a lot of dead trees toppled onto the road.  I almost turned around.

It rained almost all the way to Bryce. The sun partially came out and I decided to wait a while to let things drain a little. The high winds and sun should expedite the drying process, I thought. Photos I remember seeing of the Thunder Mountain loop suggested a gravelly base to the soil. I thought that would be best to hit first, especially since there was several miles of climbing on paved bike path and gravel road to 8000ft elevation.

It was freaking cold and windy at 8000ft. Almost put long layers on. The sky looked threatening too, like it could dump rain any minute. But the singletrack was nice and firm already. Tires were not leaving a track and not picking up clay. The trail contoured around 8000ft for a couple miles before nearing the high point where the scenery dramatically opened to a kaleidoscope of color.

Unfortunately, a large group of equestrians were taking a break there. They had come up from the other side, probably earlier in the morning when the trail was still saturated. This completely pulverized the trail tread, making many uphill bits hike-a-bike. The horses also cut many of the switchbacks, causing severe degradation of side slope. Did the riders even understand the impact their animals were having on the trail? I felt like turning around to talk with them, but I suspected it could have just turned into an ugly confrontation. The sun was quickly turning the post-holed surface into concrete.

The views helped take my mind of how much harder this trail was to ride due to equestrian use. I spent too much time composing photos, that's for sure. Not sure when or if I'll get a chance to ride here again, so I wanted to capture the moment.

After popping out at the lower trail head, I crossed over UT-12 into Casto Canyon. A gravel road is followed the first couple miles, then ATV trail continues up the canyon. You may say ew, ATV trail, why ride that? This wasn't New England quagmire filled ATV trail. This was decent riding. In fact, compared to the chewed up Thunder Mountain, it was mighty fine riding.

Casto Canyon Trail crisscrossed the wash many, many times. There was still a trickle of water flowing. It looked like the wash flashed at some point in last 24hrs. The established ATV route across the wash was obliterated in places. Continuous hoodoos and red rock formations lined both sides of the canyon.

I followed the route Luke Stone took a couple weeks ago by adding a climb up and over a scenic vista. This was the Barney Cove and Hancock trails. I didn't expect it to climb so much though.

Cassidy Trail is picked up at the bottom of Hancock. This was where the fun was supposed to start, all singletrack back to UT-12. The only problem was, cattle had done the same thing to this trail that horses did to Thunder Mountain. It was post-holed to hell when it was wet and now it was setting up that way. The climbs where mostly hike-a-bike affairs due to the chewed up surface. This was now late in the ride and it was becoming increasingly difficult to maintain a positive attitude. 10 miles of this will pummel anybody into a sour mood.

A side excursion off Cassidy on Rich Trail was sweet though. No cows or horses had chewed it up, and there was a spectacular vista from rocky outcropping. More wasted time trying to compose that perfect photo, but hey, at least I wasn't cussing 1200 pound animals. One other positive point to this Cassidy loop was nobody was out here. Hadn't seen anybody in hours. I like that in big rides.

Further down Cassidy, the trail was much less abused by stock and several mountain bikes had been on it within the last few hours, smoothing it out a bit. The last two miles were a pretty nice rip back down to UT-12.  I finished with 40mi, 4800ft in 4.6hrs on the Garmin. A frustrating but somewhat satisfying ride, complicated by uncooperative weather and stock destroying the trail tread.

Hoodoos on Thunder Mountain Trail

Horse post holes setting up like concrete

Do you feel weird walking by manikins? I felt that way riding by these.

A windy ridge on Thunder Mountain Trail

Heading into Casto Canyon on ATV trail

Vibrant colors on Casto Canyon Trail

The wash in bottom of Casto Canyon was crossed a zillion times. Still a trickle
of water flowing. I suspect this was raging torrent in past 24hrs.

Fine riding on Casto Canyon Trail

Barney Cove Trail (I think it keeps name all the way to top).
Highest point of ride at about 8200ft.

Bottom of Hancock Trail, lots of cattle grazing in this basin

Cassidy Trail. Should have been buff rip, but torn to shreds by cattle.

Lot of color variation on Cassidy

Tech bit on Cassidy

Buff bit on Cassidy

Took Rich Trail side loop off Cassidy. This view of Losee Canyon opened up.

Panoram of Losee Canyon

Ledge overlooking Losee Canyon on Rich Trail

Probably still Rich Trail before rejoining chewed up Cassidy Trail

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