Saturday, December 12, 2009

Elephant Head MTB Trail Recon

Another piece of the Santa Rita Showdown puzzle falls into place. Parked at the end of the Greaterville Road and biked through Box Canyon to Madera Canyon and around the Elephant Head bike trail to Chino Basin. Roundtrip total of 45 miles with 5500 feet of climbing. The EH trail is slow going; very rocky, particularly near the trailhead and the Chino end. Everytrail track.

Trip Log. I parked at the end of pavement on the Greaterville Road and pedaled along unpaved Box Canyon Road to Madera Canyon. If there's a Hall of Fame for washboard, Box Canyon is in it. Normally I avoid the worst of it by riding the extreme shoulder of the road, but the corrugations somehow extend edge-to-edge on this one. I resorted to scanning for strips of very loose sand or very hard-packed clay and riding those. Fortunately, light traffic on the road allowed me to weave with impunity.

It's mostly downhill from Box Canyon to the paved Madera turnoff, so I made decent time to the trailhead. Easy travel ended soon after the Elephant Head trail began, however. The singletrack portion of the trail is loose and rocky, looser and rockier where it crosses a series of washes. It's also somewhat overgrown, with catclaw branches hanging across the trail to snag sleeves and handlebars.

Shortly after the trail turns south, it widens as it joins a 4WD road. This short passage is sandy, flat and relatively fast. Then the rocks return with a vengeance as the trail enters Chino Basin. At noon, I stopped for lunch at the site of the Elephant Head Mill and then headed back. I would have liked to tag the Mount Hopkins road, but as things turned out, I'm glad I didn't take the additional time.

About a mile from the trailhead, I got a rear-tire flat. Tried pumping it up, hoping to make the fix at a trailhead picnic table, but it wouldn't hold air, so I sat on a trailside rock and swapped in a spare tube. When I got going again and reached the paved Madera Road, I turned south into the canyon in search of water. I had forgotten to pack my bike bottles, and the two-liter Camelbak was almost dry. Fortunately, after a half-mile or so of uphill pedaling, I spotted a water fountain in a picnic area. Unfortunately, the water was turned off. I continued on to the Santa Rita Lodge, where I bought three bottles of water and a can of Coke.

Between the Coke surging through my system and and the windchill of coasting down Madera Canyon, I was shivering by the time I reached bumpy Box Canyon Road. The effort of grinding uphill to regain the 1500 feet I'd lost in the morning warmed me up again, though.

As I get a feel for the various passages of the Showdown route, I'm pretty sure that counterclockwise is the way to go. I'd be going downhill through the worst of the rocky stuff and climbing the relatively smooth passages. Either direction the elevation gain/loss is the same, but it's easier to climb where there's traction.

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