Sunday, October 3, 2010

Pole Line Pass, Part II: Retribution

Part I: I get beat down hard

A few years ago I figured I would venture beyond my 'comfort zone' trails up AF Canyon (SFLDC, Salamander Flat, south section of Ridge 157) and check out what the north had to offer. Since riding Ridge Trail 157 in the 'northern-ly' direction is a lot of hike-a-bike (re: not fun), I figured I'd take the dirt road up to Pole Line Pass then come down Ridge, and end up at Tibble Fork. It was in the Fall (late September-ish) and I was actually going to be meeting some friends at "Hell's Cave" that evening--why not get in a ride first?!?. (Hell's Cave is a little rock climbing area just a mile or so past the Timpanogos Cave visitor's center up the canyon.)

I started my ride at Tibble Fork and began the arduous journey up the North Fork AF dirt road (it is only a road in the loosest sense of the word). As my climb continued, the temperature began to drop rapidly and the clouds began to move in. "No worries," I thought to myself. "I'll make it to the top here in a bit and bomb quickly down to my car!" Curse my bike-related hubris!

Never in my mind would have I thought that the torrential rain that began to fall upon me as I passed Dutchman Flat would turn to--yes, wait for it--snow. It was only late September for crying out loud. Interesting aside: the entire climb, I came across one other person who was driving a truck up to Dutchman--it was this solitude that made me realize that climbing my bike during an early snowstorm at 8000+ elevation in nothing but my Nancy-boy lycra shorts and jersey could turn into a serious problem.

The one thing I knew then was I didn't make it up to Pole Line Pass. What I didn't know, though, was WHERE I'd made it. The snow sent me back down the road faster than an old man sending back soup in a deli (analogy lifted without permission from Seinfeld).

As the snow / sleet / rain / wrath of God pounded me on the descent, the only thing I could think of was getting back to my trusty WRX and eat whatever food I had left in the car. Another interesting aside: riding through heavy rain and snow going downhill without glasses becomes increasingly difficult as your eyes somehow cease functioning. What fun!

At long last, I made it back to Tibble Fork--freezing, miserable, and completely soaked through. I chucked my trusted Enduro onto the roof rack, jumped in the car and wrapped myself in a towel that for some reason I had put in the car (first time I'd ever been prepared for something).

If I recall correctly, I had a banana and a Clif Bar (don't remember which kind, though they all taste like cardboard anyway) and wolfed those down while blasting the heat in my car. I dried off as much as possible, changed into non-cycling clothes and proceeded down the canyon a ways to meet up with my friends for a 'fun filled' evening at Hell's Cave (remember, it had rained / snowed earlier?!?!).

What drives me to do such reckless biking? Pole Line Pass: 1. Me: 0.

Part II: Retribution

Having recalled that painful memory now brings me to the present day: I wanted to try the climb to Pole Line Pass again and redeem myself. Let's also not forget the fact that it is Fall here in Utah and the colors and riding conditions of AF Canyon are spectacular.

Thus, I set out from Tibble Fork on my bike (now on a Specialized Epic as I have put my Enduro in semi-retirement) and began the climb up to Pole Line Pass. The conditions, surprisingly, were somewhat warm for this time of year, due in part to the fact that I had started my ride around noon. Regardless, I was definitely enjoying the climb--not too steep, somewhat technical in places, and not too many motorists were zipping by me. Oh, did I mention the colors?

Starting my ride at Tibble Fork. Literally 15 minutes from my front door to the lake. Yes, I made a conscious decision where I would live.

This is on the road up to PLP right after the fork in the road that I would have taken me to Mineral Basin (I'll be heading up that way some time in the future)

Pleasant weather, beautiful views, solitude up the canyon--rough, I know

After riding for about an hour and 15 minutes, I reached Pole Line Pass. To be honest, it was somewhat anticlimactic seeing as it really isn't THAT difficult of a climb and it's just a spot in the AF Canyon network. But the views were still nice. Oh, and it wasn't snowing this time. Bonus! Pole Line Pass: 1. Me: 1.


Look, a TREE!

Not wanting to end my climb there, I continued on to Ant Knolls. A very nice rolling climb that eventually terminates at a fork where I could drop down to Midway (it's amazing to me where mountain biking takes me to). The views from Ant Knolls were awesome, the trail was in great shape and I was having a blast. I'm definitely glad my first ride to Pole Line Pass didn't sour my whole opinion of the area because this type of riding is simply epic.

Looking over to Mineral Basin--you can see Snowbird's lifts up on the ridge line in the middle of the picture

I know, I know, it IS rough riding up in the pines with perfect weather

Looking down into Midway from the end of Ant Knolls

After a quick downhill back to PLP from Ant Knolls, I knocked down my PB&J and some craisins. I was ready to roll! After my miles and miles of climbing, I was ready to enjoy the fruits of my labor! Little did I know, I was sorely mistaken as I still had plenty more climbing to get out of the way first. Bah!

I understood Pole Line Pass to be essentially the apex of my climb. Pole Line my butt. More like, 'You're-Up-High, But-Not-High-Enough Pass.' So my climb up Ridge Trail 157 to Forest Lake ensued.

Now, don't get me wrong, I love climbing, but this next section is chock full of hike a bike sections--loose, torn up trail, boulders, UBER steep climbs, etc. I was still enjoying the ride, but was definitely looking forward to getting to the top of the climb so I could enjoy some much deserved downhill. At one point, I crossed paths with a moto and he told me that up ahead were a couple other mountain bikers. (Somewhat interesting as not too many bikes actually venture out to this section of AF Canyon.)

As I kept pushing along to the trail above Forest Lake, I eventually came upon the two mountain bikers (a husband and wife, presumably). I had actually passed these two just a few minutes outside of Tibble Fork on the climb up the North Fork AF Canyon road. They had passed me at the Ant Knolls detour because they went straight from Pole Line Pass to Ridge 157. They started their ride in the Cascade Springs area--definitely an epic ride. Anyhow, we chatted for a bit as we were pushing our bikes up to the top pass area above Forest Lake and once reaching there, I bid them adieu and took off down Ridge. (Well, I took off for 50 yards, then stopped because the trail forked and I wasn't sure which part was Ridge 157--thankfully the guy pointed me in the right direction and I was back on my way. Thanks dood!)
Panoramic view above Forest Lake

I thought about taking a dip in the lake, but realized that I'd have to climb back out of the valley--no thanks!

The next section of Ridge Trail is VERY loose, VERY rocky, and VERY steep. Impossible to climb on a mountain bike and just as painful to descend. I simply threw my butt off the back of my seat, lightly feathered my brakes, and tried to choose lines that wouldn't have me launching over my handlebars. Although the Epic is a full suspension bike, it is XC at its core--both in geometry as well as travel. So I was definitely happy to make it to Mill Canyon springs as my hands were aching and my back was definitely feeling the bumps.

At Mill Canyon Springs, the grade of Ridge Trail becomes much more reasonable and the trail isn't nearly as technical; read: cruising downhill with great flow. As I continued on Ridge, I was seriously questioning whether I'd throw in a SFLDC loop to my ride since I was feeling tired by this point and I'd been out for ~3 hours. Once I made it to the 4 way (Ridge Trail, SFLDC, and Tibble Fork), I made an executive decision to add a bit of the Mud Springs Loop onto my ride and fore-go the SFLDC loop (don't worry my favorite trail, I'd be back!).

I must confess: I wasn't really looking forward to the Tibble Fork downhill. I had taken it once before several months ago and actually STOPPED half way down and climbed up Mud Springs because I wasn't having fun. I don't mind technical, steep downhill, but I just wasn't enjoying it. But I was willing to give it another chance.

After climbing up Mud Springs I began my descent which eventually hooks up with Tibble. As I continued my descent I realized a couple things: 1. I was having a blast. 2. I missed the best part of the descent when I turned around last time. I immediately prayed to the mountain biking gods to forgive me my trespasses against them and continued down to my car. It. Was. Awesome. Tibble Fork is top notch in the Fall with the leaves changing. Don't believe me? Look.

Crap-your-pants delicious trail riding; I now love Tibble Fork

I made it to the car exhausted, but thoroughly happy with my day. I had conquered Pole Line Pass and had a great ride, exploring several trails I had never ridden before. Definitely a great day.

Ride statistics: Riding time - 3:31; Distance - ~26 miles; Climbing - ~4200. Fun factor - extreme.

I'll definitely be doing these trails again.

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