|A summer thunderstorm rolls over the San Rafael Swell. I'll never tire of the drive across the Swell on I-70.|
I was really hoping to name this post The Whole Enchilada, With Extra Sour Cream and Guac on Top. I didn't quite pull it off, but I still feel at peace placing this adventure squarely in the "success" column.
I hatched this plan a few months ago after a family trip to Moab. There remained two big adventures on my Moab bucket list: (1) a loop-ride of the Whole Enchilada mountain bike trail from town and (2) a climb of Mount Peale of the La Sal Mountains--second highest Utah mountain next to the Uintahs. After some cursory planning, it became obvious that I could knock both off the list at the same time.
With an empty schedule and a favorable weather forecast over the 24th of July weekend, I loaded up the mini-van and headed to Moab. Rolling into town after dark, I pulled into the first available campground along the Colorado River and tried to get some sleep. Surprisingly, it took three or four tries until I found a campground that had an open spot.
Camping along the river was a pretty awful experience. 90-degree heat at 11:00 pm with plague-like swarms of bugs--I just can't figure out why all the river-side campgrounds are so full in the middle of summer.
After sleeping in my sweat all night, I was thrilled to hear my alarm go off at 5 am so I could get moving. I drove a mile or so down the road and parked at the Negro Bill trailhead (elevation 3970'). The early pre-dawn glow from the sun reflected off the Colorado as I started down the bike bath toward town at 6 am. I knew this was going to be a long day and it was doubtful I'd make it back before nightfall...
|A new day dawns over the Colorado River near Moab.|
|A sun-lit Moab Rim serves as a scenic backdrop as I head up La Sal Loop Road.|
|Out of the desert and into the mountains. This is about 24 miles and 3500 feet up from my starting point on the Colorado River. My goal for the day--Mt. Peale--is behind Mt. Tukuhnikivatz (highest peak on right) and just out of view.|
|The turn-off for Geyser Pass Road at about 8000 feet. My shoe retention system looks pretty ridiculous, but it performed flawlessly.|
|Gravel grinder up Geyser Pass Road. Mt Tuk at 12,482 feet looms overhead.|
|Canyon country bakes in summer heat below.|
|My first good look at the north face of Mt. Tuk.|
|A small herd of Rocky Mountain goats graze in upper Gold Basin. Despite some opposition, the goats, which are not native to Utah, were transplanted from an established herd in the Tushar Mountains in late 2013.|
|Ridge-running high above Gold Basin.|
|Angle of repose. Carefully picking my way through talus on the south side of peak 12,271.|
|The cirque just below Mt. Peale. Lingering snow drifts allowed me to keep a constant, cold supply of water in my hydration pack.|
|View from Mt. Peale to the northeast into Colorado. I shared the peak with one other fellow that came up the opposite side.|
|This friendly marmot was pretty determined to get into my pack. These guys must be pretty tough and resourceful to survive at this altitude.|
|A little BBQ outside the Geyser Pass yurt.|
|Flying down the first mile of the Whole Enchilada. Mt. Mellenthin (elevation 12,645') towers in the distance.|
|Purple lupine fill the Geyser Creek meadow below Mt. Tomasaki (12,239') in the high La Sals.|
Burro Pass broke my heart. The trail climbing up to the pass is not long, but it is very steep. Anything faster than a slow walk, would send my heart rate soaring. Normally, the climb to Burro Pass would take maybe 20-30 minutes tops. Somehow, it took almost 2 hours to crawl up there on this day. Now about 5 pm, and moving slowly, I knew there was no way I was going to beat the sunset.
Totally exhausted, running behind schedule, and now with a broken camera, my spirits were getting down. To add insult to injury, as I came flying around the next corner, I ran into a wall of cows and there crap. I had already chugged a half liter of water, so I just kept drinking (never did get sick).
After cruising by an amazing scene at Warner Lake, I felt like I'd better just get back to my car the fastest and easiest way possible. As dark clouds began to gather to the west, and the sun sank lower on the horizon, I knew I just didn't have it in me to finish the Whole Enchilada. I decided to at least hit Hazard County, but then just bail on La Sal Loop Road.
Even though I was running on fumes and feeling pretty miserable, the playful twists and turns of Hazard County Trail put some pep in my pedal. As I hit pavement and started the long coast down into Castle Valley, the wind and rain started whipping up and I could see that Porcupine Rim was getting hammered by rain and lightning. That made my decision to bail much more palatable.
I finally rolled back to my car at the Negro Bill trailhead at 9 pm feeling somewhat bittersweet. No, I couldn't pull off the Whole Enchilada, but at the end of the day, I'd biked 73 miles and hiked another 8, climbing nearly 12,000 feet along the way to knock off the second highest range in Utah in a way that few (if any??) have before.