Saturday, October 31, 2015

Back to Utah- part three of the US trip

I had a few big days on the bike getting from the Maroon Bells over to Moab. Highlights included soaking in the Penny hotsprings, the apples and cider near CedarEdge, a longer than expected climb up Grand Mesa and one confusing evening as I sat munching on another rice filled tortilla and noticed the moon was looking pretty strange and by the time I was on to my desert burrito it was totally eclipsed. I found out a few days later that this "blood moon" as the media were calling it was a major news item. Seeing it without any sort of expectation was pretty amazing, even if I was temporarily wondering if my eyes were playing up or the world was about to end.

Morning coffee on Grand Mesa.

Cycling in the desert required some strategy in terms of water access. I remember seeing people cycle across the Nullarbor Plain in Australia about ten years ago and thinking that they were masochists for riding somewhere so inhospitable and couldn't fathom the logistics and effort of having to carry so much water. Whilst cycling the Nullarbor still holds no appeal to me, the idea of carrying extra water to travel through such remarkable landscape now seems like a very small price to pay. The most I ended up carrying at any one time was 9 litres.

The ride through Castle Valley was particularly beautiful:

The Colorado River and Castle Valley.

Castle Valley

Castle Valley

I had a nice sunrise trail run around the Fisher Towers

Getting close to Moab, their was even a designated bike path.

 I had a few uneventful days around Moab and then rode up to Green River where I met Tom who'd driven down from SLC that same morning. We met at a food truck and chowed down on delicious mexican food before taking apart my bike and putting it in Tom's car for the drive to the Henry Mountains. This small range in southern central Utah holds special significance to me, after having seen it from the back seat of a Jeep whilst on the Burr Trail about ten years ago and having promised myself that one day I would return and spend some time in those remote peaks on the horizon. They were the last mountain range in the lower 48 to be surveyed. And their location sandwiched between the low elevation Canyonlands NP and Capitol Reef NP belies their impressive prominence, with Mt. Ellen Peak rising 1800m above the surrounding area.

 I was mistakenly under the impression that the access roads were extremely rough and that simply getting to the trailhead was going to be a serious undertaking in itself. However between Tom's rally skills and what turned out to be an incredible spiderweb of BLM roads, we soon found ourselves parked at 10,500 feet. The run to the summit of Mt. Ellen was a short one on a trail the whole way, reaching the peak was somehow anti-climatic after imagining the range as being so remote. Back at the car we didn't waste much time in deciding that we should definitely drive around to the southern end of the range and tag the summit of Pennel- the second highest in the range.

Looking East from the summit of Mt. Ellen

The route we took up Pennel's north ridge proved to be much more interesting than Ellen. The views across the desert were immense, and a fire which went through a few years back has cleared alot of the vegetation and left some really beautiful char black trees. Talk immediately switched to how great the skiing would no doubt be on the NE face. It's a bit of a journey to get there from Norway, but I'm sure Tom & co will get some amazing skiing there in the not too distant future.

On Mt. Pennel, looking over towards Hillers, Holmes and Ellsworth

Running back to the car on Pennel's north ridge

We drove back to SLC that night ( after a brief stop in Green River for another mexican food truck feast) arriving around 1am. The following day after an enjoyably lazy morning we went for another run along a route which Tom had been wanting to do for a while, and apparently now was the time to do it because the rattlesnakes which like to hang out on the ridge should be gone, I really hoped Tom was right about this last bit...

We started out at the crack of 1pm and went up Grandeur, down the other side and then up Desolation Trail, once we gained the Wild Cat Ridge we followed it over Triangle and onwards to Olympus. The section along Wild Cat was particularly fun, lots of class 3 terrain and a bit of route selection in order to find the best line over/around all the minor highpoints. By the time we reached Olympus the sun was just setting and we tried to descend quickly, not having any headlamps and knowing that our pace was going to be forced to slow to a walk in the impending darkness. Thankfully Dom was able to pick us up from the Olympus TH, thus avoiding the run back to the car. It was a great run, and satisfying to get some first hand experience on these peaks which I'm so familiar with from reading blogposts.

On the Wild Cat Ridge, excited to see a dusting of snow on what I think is the Broads Fork Twins

A bit of route scouting was called for at times, but there was always a simple way around.

I've said it before and I'll say it again: SLC has some amazing mountains right next to suburbia.
And we didn't see any rattlesnakes.

Another post or two coming about an aborted attempt at the TransZion and a successful attempt at the R2R2R.

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