Thursday, May 24, 2007

Moab Utah = Desert Rock Climbing & World Class Mountain Biking

I’ve spent many trips away from home in the wonderful area of Moab, Utah. My primary focus has been the incredible desert sandstone for the many opportunities involving climbing. Recently, I spent my winter guides earnings on a Cannondale Rush full suspension mountain bike with a Lefty front fork. What does this mean to those unfamiliar to the mountain biking world? I’ve now opened up possibilities for technical two wheel climbs, speedy downhills, and the potential to walk away with the first broken bone my body has ever seen (knock on wood).

A few weeks ago along with one of Backcountry.com's product reps Rob Stanley and two of Nike ACG's adventure racers, Jenn Kuhlmann and Chad Markle, I had a disappointing failed attempt to complete the well known multi-day White Rim trail in a period of 12 hours. We started, making our way nine miles of the 108 before turning around due to the near freezing temperatures, snow, rain, and eight inches of mud that covered our drive trains. It was a pretty epic experience. Our hike and bike back to camp was long and frustrating. We ended up making the best out of the weekend by spending the rest of the day taking a weather day which included a couple hours in the Moab bakery, touring a for sale bike, eating dinner at the Moab brewery, and watching Spiderman 3 at the local movie theatre.

The next day Rob, Jenn and I headed over to the well known Slickrock trail for a near perfect conditions ride. It was slightly overcast, with the rock still wet enough that our bikes tires stuck like traveling on sandpaper.

This past weekend, I headed back down to try some other mountain bike rides and show some friends two fairly known towers in Arches National Park, Owl Rock and Off-Balanced Rock.

Our first ride of Klondike Bluffs was a good reminder of the different features involved when biking in Moab. Also, it set the stage for how much water we were going to need for an all day ride. The heat is back!

The next day, my two housemates, Tyler and Brannon, and I got dropped off at Slickrock trailhead with extra water to stash for a later ride via the world known Porcupine Rim Trail. Our other friend, Claire decided she wanted to spend the day enjoying a road bike ride into Arches. This worked well as the Porcupine Rim trail lets out 14.5 miles away from its trailhead, making it beneficial for someone to run a shuttle. Thanks Claire!!

Slick Rock was amazing as usual. Unfortunately, we were on it in the middle of the day, causing some of the climbing sections to be a little sanded out and hard to complete. It was the first time for Tyler and Brannon. We all finished with smiles on our face, not sure of what to expect for the rest of the afternoon.

We topped off our water, put on the CamelBaks and made our way up the dirt road that connects the Slick Rock trailhead with the Porcupine Rim trailhead. With the temperature at about 90 degrees and lack of cloud cover, the “short” seven-mile commute didn’t feel so short.

I had heard about Porcupine Rim as this incredible mountain biking trail that had to be ridden. I failed to read up on how technical some sections were and what it actually took to complete this ride. We went into it knowing there was some continued climbing. This climbing ended up being some of the more technical riding I’ve done. This was followed by some downhill with more climbing, then some back breaking downhill, and a deadly single track that included a lot of hike and bike sections through fallen boulders, 5+ foot drop portages, and exposure usually experienced on technical climbing routes. Another factor working against us was that even with two water bottles and a 100 oz bladder each, we ran out of water a few miles short from the let out onto River Road.

The ride was worth the experience, but I warn anyone considering this challenge, to read up in a guidebook, on the internet, or by stopping in to a local bike shop. Ask lots of questions and be prepared. Also, if you can tolerate the weight on your back, carry lots of water. Like I said, 125 oz wasn’t enough when we rode it.

The next day, we all went into Arches National Park and climbed on Off Balanced Rock and Owl Rock. These are two great rock climbs for anyone wanting an introduction to tower climbing but still maintaining a difficulty in the 5.7 to 5.8 range.

Off Balanced Rock provides a fun 5.7 crack with a few traverses for the first pitch. The second pitch takes you into a squeeze chimney with sections small enough that you can’t turn around in them. You climb out of the chimney with a finger to hand sized crack between your legs that takes beautiful protection. Don’t be fooled by the different guide books as this route has recently been worked on with the installation of new chains that allow for a much easier pull of the rope after a double rappel with one rope or single when using two ropes.

Owl rock is a very distinctive route that follows a beautiful 5.8 crack that varies from hands to off widthy arms. Some sections provide a jug haul while others follow a tricky sequence that needs to be thought out before making your move. Due to the strictly enforced rule of no white chalk in the park (thanks to a well known professional climber for his stunts on delicate arch, this rule and others have been enforced now to greater extremes), many sections are fairly greasy. The top of this single pitch route is just shy of the summit. From the well placed bolts, stay on belay to the summit for an opportunity to impress the tourists that provide the occasional yell of, “That’s crazy.”

Our trip was quick, but as always, super fun. I look forward to many more experiences in Moab. Ride and climb safely.

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