Moab MTB: A Whole New World
With my son living in Denver, I took the opportunity to fly out to see him and head down to Moab for a week of biking. Here’s the lowdown on some totally different kind mountain biking. I’ve only been MTBing for three years so I’m relatively new to the sport and my skills are intermediate, at best. And all of my riding has been on the east coast, either through the woods of central NC or up in Pisgah. Needless to say, biking in Moab was a whole new world.
I pinged a bunch of friends about Moab and the consensus was Slickrock and as much of the Whole Enchilada (Porcupine Rim + upper sections) as possible were the two must sees. For bike rentals, the two shops recommended were Poison Spider and Chili Pepper. For lodging, we found a nice place, Moab Flats, just a few blocks from the main drag. These recently renovated units have one bedroom with a queen bed, single bed in a nook (great for kids) and a pull down, out of the wall, bed, both just off the living room area. The building (8 units) has a nice courtyard in the back with a hot tub, fire pit, couches, and picnic tables. For the bikers, it has a separate, locked, bike storage shed, a work stand, and a hose for washing the bike off after a hard day of riding (I’d recommend an upper unit, on the east side, away from the recycling operation next door).
We flew into Denver to get up with my son and drove to Moab (~6h). It was a nice drive, especially the drive from Cisco (ghost town) to Moab along the Colorado River canyon. Most folks fly into Salt Lake City, only ~3h away.
Day 1: Slickrock
My son and I picked up our bikes (I rented a Niner WFO) and headed over to Slickrock for a warm up. This is a “trail” that runs up and down sandstone rock formations, just outside of town (“trail” in the since there is not real trail, just series of white blazes painted on the rock). Slickrock is like nothing you’ve ever experienced.
The whole ride is like riding on Mars or the moon, a barren landscape of red, tan, rust, and beige. The rock formations range from super smooth to bumpy to swirls of layers. The trail is not that long (~10 mi) and I’d recommend the starter loop that goes off to the right at the beginning. There are a bunch of punchy climbs that push you up into the anaerobic zone. And then then there are the descents. This is where you have to trust your tires and that they will grip the sandpaper-like surface of the rock. Some of the descents are super steep requiring “butt-back” positioning.
The consensus is that Slickrock is a must-ride, given the unique nature of the terrain and it’s history in Moab MTB, but not worth riding more than once.
Pro Tip: On the map, it looks like an easy ride over to the trail but it’s an uphill slog
Pro Tip: The trial is a lollipop. After riding the stem, take the loop in the CW direction.
Day 2: Arches + Amasa/Ahab
We were greeted in the morning with rain showers. Instead of hitting the trails, we went over to Arches National Park. What an amazing place. Great rock formations and scenery. We stopped at the Windows Section for a short hike.
After lunch, we headed out to the Amasa Back region for some more biking. Amasa Back is the jeep trail running through this section and has been the primary MTB trail for climbing up to Captain Ahab. Now HyMasa is the new MTB-only trail. The HyMasa/Ahab combo is a hard-riding ascent (HyMasa) and lots of drops and technical features coming back down on Captain Ahab (♦♦). The variety of riding was diverse, everything from slickrock to singletrack. Some of the trail was really close to the edge, making for an adrenalin-filled ride. We rode conservatively, walking down five or six big drops. The problem is when you stop, you really need to go back up the trail to get some speed for navigating the drop.
As mentioned, this trail shares the Amasa Back jeep. When we were climbing up the trail, we came upon a bunch of four-wheelers trying to right one of their rigs with winch and cable. Clearly, this was what four-wheelin’ is all about.
We rode back into town which gave our legs a chance to spin but we were toast after that (I was still getting used to the altitude change).
Pro Tip: Ride up HyMasa to the Captain Ahab cut-off. Going up the entire HyMasa gives you some rewarding views (similar to Porcupine Rim) but the upper Ahab descent is not as good as lower Ahab. This also gives you the option of coming up Amasa Back jeep trail and descending HyMasa.
Day 3: Porcupine Rim
We had booked a shuttle up to Porcupine Rim, part of the Whole Enchilada, the Cadillac of Moab riding.
However, during May, the upper portions of WE (Hazard County and Burro Pass) are closed off because of snow (opening in late June). Because of the rain from the day before, the road up to Kokopelli, the intermediate section, was all mud so we were dropped off at the Porcupine Rim trailhead, proper, much further down from where we had wanted to go 😦 This meant we had a long, arduous, mostly HAB up to where lower porcupine section (LPS) merges with PR.
From there the descent started. It was slow at first, through a maze of rocks and rubble but then it turned into nice sections of deep red clay followed by sections of rocks and drops. Some of the trail is double track that’s shared with 4×4’s so it pretty bumpy and bone rattling in places. They’ve established some single track which is nice. This lower section hugs the rim and requires careful attention to body and bike positioning. Overall, this an epic ride, but it is very tough on the body and you’ve got to be able to navigate what are essentially boulder fields at high speeds.
Day 4: Rest Day + Arches NP
We took a day off from MTBing to rest our legs and go explore Arches NP some more (the $25 admission lets you in for a week). The Sand Dune Arch and the Broken Arch were nice and the hike around those was easy. The hike to Delicate Arch was long (~2h) so we opted for the hike to view it instead (not worth it, the arch is too far away).
Day 5: Mag 7
We hit the trails again today, joined by my daughter’s boyfriend, another obsessed MTB rider, and headed west over to Mag 7, a network of trails that are some of the newer trails in the area. The original plan was to shuttle up to Bull Run and take it all the way down via Gold Rim and Portal (link here). But dropping off a car at the end did not line up with the shuttle company’s normal drop off and the Gold Bar and Gold Bar Rim trails looked very technical and sketchy (check out this video of Gold Bar Rim if you like sweaty palms). So instead, we rode Bull Run down to Gemini Bridges Road (gravel) and rode that back up to where we started and rode Getaway back down.
Both of these are sweet rides. Getaway is a flowy, easy sandy singletrack through scrub occasionally punctuated with rock sections. Bull Run was more rock, slickrock with occasional sandy singletrack. After Getaway, we took Great Escape, another great ride, up to Little Canyon. We took that over to Gemini Bridges Road. For about 1/2 mile, we slogged through deep sand, mostly walking. The we had a big climb out of the valley, down to 191, and then under the tunnel to the bike path. We jumped over to the Moab Brands trails. These are even newer trials, smooth and flowy and arranged in loops so you can get alot of riding in. It was nice sandy/gravelly singletrack. Lots of fun! Sidewinder dumped us back onto the bike path for a short downhill ride back to the car (just past Arches NP). 33 miles total. Quite a day!
Pro Tip: If you have car, drive up to the Bull Run/Getaway trailhead and do some loops: Down Bull Run, up Gemini Bridges, down Getaway, Great Escape, looping back on Little Canyon, back up Gemini to the Horsethief trails (Mustang, Whirlwind, Wildcat, etc)
Day 6: Porcupine (Round 2)
Since we did not make it very far up a few days ago and since Bailey really wanted to ride as much of the “whole enchilada” as possible, we took a shuttle up to Kokopelli Trail, now that things had dried out. Note: the use of the word “trail” can mean anything from singletrack to double track jeep road. Kokopelli was the latter. It was a screaming fast road with a few climbs and several sections of rock. As it bottomed out, we took a right onto UPS (upper porcupine section, or something like that). This was great single track than went from flowy, sandy, and smooth to sections of technical rock, not much drop since you were riding along the rim of the canyon (Castle Valley).
Speaking of which, if you afraid of heights (like me) or afraid of falling 1000 feet to your death (like me), then don’t look to your right on this trail. Keep your eyes on the trail!. We transitioned into LPS (Lower PS) which had more of the same but with several big drops, some of which we had to walk, and some sections of slickrock. Eventually, we were spit out at the intersection of LPS and Porcupine Rim Trail (the point we had climbed to a few days ago). We stopped here and had some lunch.
From here, the real descending starts. As before, there are large sections of rubble and rocks that you fly across, trying to keep your teeth from falling out of your head. I had the good fortune of having one of several crashes on this section, my first of the trip (different bike? last-day effect? Friday the 13th?) I came up to big drop, got timid and tried to roll off the edge. With no speed and too much drop, I endoed and landed on my side. A little banged up and maybe dazed, I succeeded in endoing again at the next drop. Luckily, I was able to bail, land on my feet, with the bike crashing behind me (another reason to ride flats!). My final mishap was later down the trail on a section of rough singletrack. I had my butt way back when I hit a bump which caused my rear end to hit the tire, sucking my baggy shorts into the tire, pulling them down. Then another bump and somehow my foot came off the pedal and the pedal pins dug into my shin. My first Moab tattoo (–>).
The last section of singletrack is nice but difficult from a combination of drops, narrow gaps, sharp turns, and that pesky, threatening drop off to the right. We walked a few of these, given the risk of poor execution (some guy bit it hard, cracked his helmet, and was unconscious for a bit; he eventually made it down). Needless to say, our bodies were worn out after we got off the trail (the trail drops you onto one of several Moab paved bike paths that bring you back to town; in this case about 5.5 miles back to town from the PR terminus).
Pro Tip: You can avoid a lot of pain and bounce if you keep your weight way back and take the rubble sections as fast as possible.
Bikes: Given rocky nature of the trails, no carbon bikes are rented. A dropper post is must. The KS dropper post actuator is still the best, compared to RockShox. If you don’t use a dropper post much, take some time to get used to using a dropper on the fly. Make your reservations early!
Maps: The local shops, at least Chili Pepper, sells great paper maps ($2 ea that goes to trailbuilding). They are usually up to date and detailed. Although signage is excellent, it’s good to know the bailout points and where trails loop and intersect. I’ve created scanned copies of some of the maps (here).
Hydration: I averaged 1.5 to 2 liters of water each day. I used a Osprey Raptor 10 which was perfect in terms of storage and size.
Shuttles: Coyote and Porcupine are the two major shuttle companies, the former picking up at Chile Pepper, the latter at Poison Spider.
Weather: It seems like early to mid May is ideal, weather-wise. We had a little bit of rain but high temps ranged from the low 60’s to upper 80s while we were there. Once you get into June and July, it’s blast furnace weather. I suspect fall will be equally nice.
Sunscreen: Use it!
Next Time: We’d probably do Porcupine again and maybe add Jimmy Keen (6.5 mi). But to be honest, I’d spend time back on Mag 7 and associated trails (Horsethief, 7-Up). The other trails worth exploring are Moab Brands, Klondike Bluff, and Pipe Dream.