Thursday, May 2, 2013

Snow, Arches & Captain Ahab

Waking up Wednesday morning, well before dawn it was pretty apparent it was a lot colder and the tent was sitting a little heavy. Sure enough, when the light came around there was a fair layer of snow on most things except the ground - from which it melted pretty quickly. Not overly keen to ride in the cold & snow, we finally got to Arches NP - not that I was overly fussed as I'd had a good visit there two years ago (I still haven't got a better camera, oops) & the weather was warmer & sunnier.  I thought the others should at least see a little bit of it, so wasn't too put out to be wandering around in the cool of the morning. Still we briefly enjoyed seeing the desert with a bit of snow on it, once we drove high enough, and wandering around a bit in the spring chill under various arches.

More interesting for the little bushes dusted with snow than catching Finn mid-step.
There I am.
The rest of the structure towering above me - I'm just visible.
With a bit more driving & a little stroll, we saw Delicate Arch from the reverse angle to my last visit.
Jackie had opted for the comforts of town over wandering around rocks - after a cafe lunch, stocking up on delicious gooey raspberry brownie (that proved a fantastic post-ride item earlier in the week - maybe after the mud ride), a quick trip back to camp to load bikes into my car, Megan & I were off to meet Jackie to ride Amasa Back & Captain Ahab in the still overcast, but slowly warming, afternoon.

Jeremy had been raving about Captain Ahab since well before I even got to Utah - & it was this recommendation that saw him reach the highest levels of our esteem.  Amasa Back is in the same area & is a Moab classic ride apparently (I'd never heard of it), so we decided to combine the two - which is completely achievable.  With a nice rocky downhill straight off the road, we crossed the only creek of the week (it was tiny) and were hit by a nice climb with, I think, some nice challenging step-ups even if the gradient wasn't too steep.  I stalled on one particularly optimistic attempt - couldn't move forward & close to losing balancing over backwards; a charitable push got me going again.
It should now be obvious why the new trail is named so.
Even the climbs are enjoyable in this place.
We continued along the wide rocky track past the beginning of Ahab & soon we were skirting around the top of Jackson Hole.  With large cliffs dropping all the way down to said hole, there was plenty to think about even if the trail wasn't particularly hard - having said that, there was one really nasty rocky drop/descent that we all walked for quite a few metres.

There's me & Jackie carefully riding around, & not into, Jackson Hole
That's Jackson Butte sitting in Jackson Hole
It was a bit more climbing up to the lookout, which once again had us on top of a massive cliff overlooking the Colorado River valley.  We were all lying on the edge of the cliff looking down an awful long way - that was, until Jackie started talking about undercut cliff edges cut a little close to the bone & various fears of plummeting to doom.  I'm not sure what happened, perhaps a whole week's worth of excitement reached some sort of zenith as we took in the vast views, cliffs, rocks and celebrated so much excellent riding; whatever it was, general frivolity & hilarity ensued as we had much to be excited about (apparently Bieber can speak French). 
A summit shot for the bikes (Moab is just behind that ridge)
and the bikers.

For such incredible views and vastness, I have disappointingly few photos - there's the Colorado yet again.
Not knowing much about it, except it was there, we decided there was enough time to head out on the Pothole Arch singletrack to close to the end of the mesa (or whatever it was).  Unfortunately, it was perhaps the worst marked trail we'd seen all week - eventually we found the faint red line to follow.  The riding was fun, even if we were going down too much & would need to climb back to the main trail - but the red line just sort of stopped and we weren't too sure if we even found Pothole Arch.  But there was enough time to tape (the most use my first aid kit had all week, mercifully) up Jackie's brake hose away from the rear spoke, again, and turn to head back to Ahab.

When Jeremy first mentioned Ahab, I looked it up online & thought it was a bit big for me - I'm not one to wear body armour or go on trails that need such excesses.  This sign didn't really help, but Jeremy had assured it us that it was no harder than Porcupine Rim.  There was a fair bit of riding around the top of more exposed cliffs, and maybe more climbing than we expected - but we were well used to all that by that stage of the trip, so it wasn't too bad.

There were some nice little drops to ride.
In the sun - we spent a fair bit of the ride wondering if the dark clouds to the east & the west were going to rain, or even snow, on our merry ride.
Every so often one feels obliged to stop & look at the view/rest.
The whole trail was most fun and is extremely well designed & built.  I can't remember too many details, but there were some steep little descents and pinch climbs - all the descents were rollable, I think, one just had to have the confidence (& skill I suppose, as the sign suggests) to do so.  I remember only one obstacle that I couldn't clear -  a series of three consecutive ~foot-high step-ups, on which Jackie tried her best to acquaint herself with her steerer tube & then saw stars briefly.

For the final mile to two kilometres of the trail before it rejoined the main track back down, there was a sudden & marked change in the riding.  Most importantly, from a self-preservation side of things - we were back right on the top of a very large cliff; the difference this time being that we were riding downhill and therefore much faster, if anything should go pear-shaped it would be a very large pear-shaped thing indeed.  Also, the trail got quite a bit smoother and was just good fun - even if the sign warning that precise bike skills were needed on one really exposed corner was a little worrying.

Yes, that's a fall to certain extinction a metre to Jackie's right.
All too soon, we were barrelling down the big wide trail back to the stream, grunting up the last little bit to the road and celebrating  with beers & brownie a successful ride (on a day that started so snowy too) that easily ranked as high as the blast I'd had on Porcupine Rim a few days prior for best ride of the trip.  Somehow we managed to persuade ourselves that we deserved a second large Mexican meal in as many dinners - I think we were right. 

This is worth watching if you're interested in trail-building or just riding:

Captain Ahab Trail from Tyson Swasey on Vimeo.


  1. A charitable push? I saved your life! I'd forgotten about that. And I'd already forgotten that Jackie was a Belieber.

    1. Next you'll be saying I was in great peril, Lancelot.