I recently got back out on the Palm Canyon Epic after a couple year hiatus. I have took the RV out to Palm Desert and setup basecamp for the weekend. My wife took us up to the top and it was quite nice to not a “commute” to do after the ride. It was a great day out of the bike.
A couple of weekends ago, my good MTB Buds Bill and Jeff joined me for an excursion on The Palm Canyon Epic. SoCal was in the middle of some Grade A crappy weather and it was raining nearly the entire way out to Palm Springs. As we expected shortly before we peeled off of Interstate 10 onto highway 111, the sun came out as the San Jacinto Mountains blocked the storms from heading further east.
We decided to start from Pinyon Flats. It had been many moons since I had started from here and I managed to get slightly turned around at the beginning. It was readily apparent early on that we were being treated to some fantastic conditions. The trail had enough moisture to have great traction but fast. We could see the could spilling over the top of the mountains to the west and dissipating or breaking up into puffy clouds without the menacing look of rain.
Where the Pinyon Flats trail connected to the Palm Canyon trail there was plenty of running water in the wash which is not a particularly common sight. The “hero” dirt got pretty amazing beyond this point. Places where you would have to watch your speed due to loose corners were of little concern on this day. The classic desert flow had us simply giddy.
The weather really sucks on the other side of those mountains. Nothing but smiles on this side of the mountain. We were not trying to be in a hurry, but we found ourselves making really good time. We took note of the signage reflecting no bikes on the Indian Potrero. I bet that trail is in really great shape right now.
Once at the bottom of the Dry Wash we grabbed some snacks and prepared ourselves for what can be a brutal loose climb up to Dunn Road. No one should have to do that climb completely sober. We were prepared.
Turns out the climb was by far the “easiest” climb of the wash I have ever done. Typically you have to contend with long stretches of loose sand that can be both taxing and demoralizing. That was not the case today. While it was a climb, it was pretty well packed and made for consistent spin all the way up.
Jeff working the climb.
At the top of the Hahn Trail. Much downhill awesomeness occurred after this point.
After the Hahn trail we climbed the Cathedral Canyon trail and then worked our way over the Fern Canyon/Clare Burgess/Wild Horse Saddle. We then took the Wildhorse trail down into the Goat Trails and then onward to the trailhead where tasty beers were waiting.
I spent this past weekend out in Palm Springs with my girlfriend and got in one of Southern California’s Classic Epic rides, Palm Canyon. I have done this ride quite a few times but the plan was to do a different variation on the route for this outing. All of the logistics has been carefully worked out a day or so before the ride which meant that would be not be how things would actually go down.
Everyone pretty much arrived on time and after some introductions and early morning chit chat while jostling bikes between vehicles we were on our way out of Palm Springs and up the mountain to the upper trailhead. We met up with most of the San Diego crew at the top and were soon off and rolling through the Pinyon Pines trails which is the most commonly taken variation on the classic route. It was really good rolling up and down singletrack goodess before getting serious about dropping into Palm Canyon.
Lance, Matt and Ben were the rabbits of the group and they were being mighty zippy with the pace. I should have known better than to chase those guys but I’m a slow learner. After a few miles I found myself in cardio distress hanging over the handlebars whezzing like a 90 year old chain smoker with screaming quads and the only coherent thought I could hear in my melon over the sound of blood pounding through my temples was “What The F$%k!”.
After regaining some composer I was back on the peddles and was able to notice what a glorious day it was now that I was back in my proper place in the whole age/weight/fitness lineup. The thought did not escape me that we connoisseurs of tasty malted and hopped beverages seemed to be pushing similar paces.
Palm Canyon is known for finding weaknesses in your gear and exploiting them. Steve had one of his pedals strip out of the crankarm. We tried a variety of McGuyver options to keep him rolling but as the ride progressed the pedal got worse and worse and worse. He ultimately ended up have to do at least 6 miles of one legged pedaling, hiking and coasting across the desert before you was able to hit a bail out point and head downhill towards civilization.
The trail conditions were pretty good despite it being a fairly dry winter in these parts. None of the stream/creek crossing had water in them.
Here are Steve, Michael and Evan heading out on the Indian Poterro trail. I managed miss every catcus gauntlet on and along the entire trail but I managed to step into a cholla while getting setup for this shot. I plucked out a good dozen spines and I’m sure I will pluck another dozen out of my leg over the next few weeks as my body works to push out the ones that broke off flush or under the skin.
Michael had a couple of the evil chollas jump out and attack his tires over the course of the day. Evan was kind enough to donate a Slime tube after the second flat.
One of the variations on the route involves not going up the 3 mile wash climb and the follow on descent of the Hahn Buena Vista trail which represents a big cost followed by a big reward section of this route. Instead we only climbed about 10 percent of the 3 mile Dry Wash and the hung a left onto the East Fork trail where we did some rolling ups and downs over to the Vandeventer trail before settling in for a climb along the fern canyon trail up to the saddle of the upper end of Wildhorse and the Clara Burgess trail. The next variation that was being thrown in on this day involved taking the Clara Burgess trail up and over Murray Hill and down into the bottom of Goat Trails with a follow on climb that would take us back up near the top of the Goat Trails again. I have gone over Murray Hill in the opposite direction and I knew it was going to be a real beater. After taking stock of what I had left in the tank, I along with three others opted to forgo this section and meet at the next variation point along the Garstin trail. Above are some of the manly mens group heading up the Clara Burgess trail.
Dave and Michael making their way to the top of the Garstin trail.
The peak to the left is Murray Hill and saddle were the manly men started from is off to the right side of the frame. If you play a little “Where is Waldo” you can see them working their way up to the Garstin trail. One of the manly men had to bail after Murray Hill from being completely bonked to the point of being sick. We ladies of the shortcut crew had spent every bit of an hour changing our feminine napkins, snacking and napping. Did I mention what a glorious day it was?
The final variation on the traditional route today had us dropping the Shannon and Henderson trail out of the Goat Trails. Above is the top part of the Shannon trail before it gets really steep with a series of hella tight switchbacks. It was a really cool section of trail but not for those who get a freaked out when exposure is involved. Blowing some of those switch backs to the outside would not make you a happy camper and could net you an appearance on “When Vacations Attack”, “Worlds Most Amazing…” or any one of those other “Awh Shit” shows.
As a bit of coolness bonus along this trail you go by Bob Hope’s house. Its the big domed pad on the right hand side of the picture. The Shannon and the Henderson trails dump you out on surface streets that we took back over the traditional bottom of the Palm Canyon route in Von’s Rimrock Shopping Center. Tasty beverages were soon being had along with post-ride chit chat before more bike jostling ensued before we made our way over to Rancho Mirage for dinner at Babe’s BBQ and Brewhouse. I helped shuttle folks back up to top before rolling back down to the hill to finish out the weekend in Palm Springs with my girlfriend.
Last Sunday the weatherman was calling for rain in the San Diego and Los Angles area. It sounded like a good time to hit up the Palm Canyon Epic out near Palm Springs. The group for this ride dwindled at the last minute and it ended up with Steve and I coming in from San Diego and John coming over from Burbank. Smaller is generally better on this ride as you cover a lot of ground that has a reputation for being unforgiving to bikes and riders alike.
After leaving a vehicle in Palm Springs we drove up to pretty much to the base of Santa Rosa Mountain to start the 30 mile adventure for the day. We started from the traditional Palm Canyon trailhead vice the more commonly used Pinyon Flats trailhead. I love the first section of the Palm Canyon trail with it’s ribbon then singletrack etched into steep sidehills. Sorry for no pictures of the section, there was way too much grinnage to stop and pull out the camera.
Here is shot taken shortly after finishing off the first section. Any questions?
There was lots of greenage out along the the trail
The Indian Portero Trail option was taken
John riding a pretty interesting section of rock
Steve and his camera case racing through the rocks. The camera case won that heat.
Plenty of water running through here. It was snow yesterday so you can bet it was mighty cold.
As a matter of fact I can assure it was mighty cold!
More water filled wash crossing fun.
There was some time allocated for a bit of playing on the rocks.
John ferreting out a line.
The 3-mile Dry Wash climb was in pretty descent shape but it was still a freaking beater.
Once we got up the wash and headed over to Mike Dunn’s Desert Oasis (AKA the dozer) Steve felt the need for some dozer hucking. File this under Stupid Human Tricks.
After a short bit of singletrack climbing it was time to head down in earnest on the Hahn Trail. OMG OMFG LOL insert you favorite texting shorthand here that expresses singletrack bliss. The Hahn Trail is an amazing trail, narrow, fast and etched into the mountainside.
I selfishily keep my camera in the pack but Steve bit the bullet and got a shot of John and I rolling on Hahn. Way Good Stuff.
After the massive grinfest of the Hahn descent we took a series of trails that got us to the Wild Horse trail which would drop us into the Goat Trails of Palm Springs which was the final segment of the route. The legs were feeling plenty worked at this point.
The final section of the Wildhorse trail is steep with some tight switchback which are always a lot fun to try and clean. After Wildhorse we mostly used “The Swartz” to connect together a series of singletracks back down to my truck. We have a few flats over the day and one broken chain but made pretty good time. It always seems like such an accomplishment to finish this ride with plenty of daylight left. There were some tasty beverages and grub consumed afterwards over conversations about all that goes into to making this an epic ride. The parts beats the body, the parts beats the bike and the continual string of parts that nutures the soul. Once again it was a wonderful day to be on a bike out with Mother Nature.
What exactly makes an Epic? Wither it is online or recounting the days adventure at the trailhead, the question comes up quite routinely. Difficultly, length, scenery, conditions, the variables in the equation are numerous and subjective. The Palm Canyon trail fits just about everyone’s definition of an epic. It is a big classic desert ride than can be brutal for the ill-prepared or in the wrong conditions. I’ve done this ride a whole bunch of times and have the checklist of extra stuff to bring pretty much tattooed on my brain. There is something about the misery from forgetting this kind of stuff in the past that files that stuff in a mentally easy spot to find.
That ready file was opened up Monday afternoon on the drive back home from our Christmas travels when the phone rang. “Hey Bill, what do you think about doing Palm Canyon tomorrow? Hold on a second…. Hey Honey, do you mind if I do an all-dayer tomorrow? …..Dude, I’m down, how does 7:30am at the Von’s parking lot sound? … Sweet! See you then.” That was all the planning involved for this ride. Both Bill O’Neil and I have been on enough rides and trips together to know the drill. Now lets get to that checklist.
O-Dark:30 came O’Damnearly and I was headed towards Palm Springs much earlier than my body would have liked. There was sugar and caffiene in ample supply on the drive. I was taking the “country” route which took me past the upper trailhead near Pinyon Crest on Highway 74. It was a mighty brisk 37 degrees when I went by there. A made a mental note to give the “fellows” a break and change into the bike gear at the bottom. Neither Bill or I were able to rustle up any of the usual suspects for the ride on short notice so it was just Bill and I headed back up the mountain after shuffling stuff around between trucks. It had been two years since either one of us had done this ride so I was stoked. Bill had never done the Pinyon Flats trail and it had nearly been five years since I had last done that trail so we opted to start from Pinyon Flats vice the Palm Canyon trailhead proper.
It addition to being brisk, there was a biting breeze but it was otherwise an exceptionally pretty day. Layered up we set out. I had nearly forgotten how flowy and swoopy Pinyon Flats is in most spots. I was having so much fun, I did not even pull the camera out. Once we met up with the Palm Canyon trail, one thing became blissfully obvious. The trail conditions were simply the best I have ever seen. The rains had packed the soil and enough moisture remained to provide both great traction with no additional drag on the tires. Mother Nature had served up some downright sexy dirt.
Killer trail conditions and an exceptionally clear day with the temperatures somewhere between cool and mild is what continued to develop as the day went on. With just the two of us, we were not burning any daylight on regroups and other delays that typically scale up with the group size. We were not really hammering, just flowing along taking advantage of the wonderful conditions. Before long we were at the bottom of Dry Wash. A three-mile sandy climb awaited us. While chilling here it was nice to realize that barring some misadventure we had a huge daylight buffer now. The ride up until now had been so awesome that I could have cared less if I had to walk nearly all of the next three miles if the sand sucked.
The sand did not suck. The dry wash was also in the best shape I had ever seen it and for the most part completely rideable. You still had to look for the firm lines in the sand but the wash was not in its usual death march form. After the wash it was time for the Hahn Buena Vista trail after a break at the dozer. Once again the trail conditions were incredible. The camera remained packed away as nearly all things must yield to the sirens song of tires holding their line through flowy downhill goodness.
After the giggling like school boys descent we payed back some elevation up the Catherdral Canyon and then over to the saddle at the Wildhorse and Claire Burgess trail junction. There was a good dose of fatigue set in at this point and the breaks came a little more often. It was all good as there are far worse things to do than stopping and smelling the flowers around here.
I love the Wildhorse trail, the plummeting elevation drop on either side the ridge top section this trail make for some splendid views. There is also a mental boost of seeing your destination below. It is much better seen in person than described.
The ubiquitous trusty steed shot from the peak on Wildhorse with San Gorgorino is in the distance. It had been sometime since the Spider had seen some trail love so it was called into action today. It was certainly the correct weapon of choice today. Man I love this bike, such a wonderful XC machine.
After dropping the steep switch back section of Wildhorse we worked our way through the Goat Trails and soon rolled back down to the lower trail. What exactly makes an epic? There was no debating that question this afternoon, all the variables of that equation were scattered across the 30 miles of awesomeness countryside that lay behind us. There was nothing do now but celebrate the Palm Canyon Epic.
Palm Canyon is one of my all-time favorite epics in Southern California. I ride it at least two to three times a year. This ride can be a deadly furnace ride in the summer so the winter months are generally the season to get out here. I generally organize a sizable group ride at least once a year here, but I prefer to do this ride in really small groups. This my first ride of the season and it was sort of a scouting trip for the large group ride to be done later. Rich (Taffy15), Bill (MrMountainHop), Steve (Aquaholic) and I were on the trail just before 9AM and were treated to a day of excellent conditions.
There was some moisture in the ground that made for excellent traction. The trail overall is in good shape. The three-mile dry wash climb was as good as I have ever seen it but it was still a pain in the butt. The Hahn Buena Vista trail was as awesome as always. The unmarked trail that connects Dunn Road to Fern Canyon trail is also in good shape and is much more defined than in past years.
We made excellent time today. We were not trying to hammer but finished in under six hours. We had no mechanicals or flats which for those who have done this ride, you know this is nearly magical.
There were a couple of things that ruffled my feathers on this ride. The descent off the meadow on the Indian Poterro Trails has been heavily sanitized and the final bit of singletrack going down by the water tanks in the Goat Trails has also been sanitized with a bunch of cheater rocks below the drops.
I don’t suspect this is the case, but if this “trailwork” was officially sanctioned then those people should be ashamed of themselves. Most likely this is caused by riders whose skill levels are less than their ego levels. If you can not ride this stuff — WALK IT! – DON’T MODIFY OR DESTORY IT! You do not get credit for “cleaning” the trail if you had to dumb it down to do so. If you want to be a better rider, try, try and try again until you either get it or have to walk it. The Goat Trail section really pisses me off because it is a totally optional trail. If you can’t ride it, take the fireroad down. If you want to do trailwork then get with your local Mountain Biking advocacy group for a legititmate trailwork day.
Ranting aside – Tis the season for Palm Canyon!