Whenever someone asks me what my favorite trail in Phoenix is, it doesn’t take too long before Pass Mountain falls from my lips. It’s always in the top three, once we come to terms on what the definition of “trail” actually is… Are you talking about my favorite climb? Favorite downhill, or cross-country trail? Singlespeed trail? Destination trail… I have a ton of favorite trails, one to suite every riding mood. But Pass Mountain, is near the top of every category. Why? Because it rocks. Figuratively and literally.
I think part of it has to do with the warning sign at the trail head. “Not recommended for bikes.” But I do understand why that sign is there. Pass Mountain has sadly claimed riders in the past and injures just about everyone who dares approach it. If you are a casual rider, Pass on Pass Mountain. If you are up for a hefty set of challenges, aerobic, tech, drops, all the while avoiding exposure… clip in and ride this 7 mile loop (but make sure you can clip out fast too).
So you can imagine my surprise when I looked back at my ride log and found that I had not yet ridden Pass Mountain this year. How do I go a full year without riding my favorite trail? Simple. I have no idea. Maybe I was to excited to explore new trails this year that I forgot about my favorites. So for lunch yesterday, I set out to rediscover an old friend.
I usually start at Crismon and McKellips to tack on a few warm up and warm down miles, but since lunch is only so long, I parked inside Usery and made the traditional clockwise loop from the Wind Cave trailhead. I’ve always wanted to ride up Wind Cave (a hike-only trail… I guess I should hike it first to see if it would even be worth the punishment.) They’ve made some waterbar improvements since last year. New logs and rock bars to wheelie over. The west side of the trail is so scenic I catch myself admiring all the Saguaros instead of focusing on the trail.
It’s a steady climb all the while dropping into washes and back out until you get to the north lookout. At this point you leave the sun behind rolling into the cool shade of the mountain. This section of trail twists and turns, as you climb east to the saddle. There is one spot here, wait, no, two spots. OK, three that I haven’t nailed yet. One of them I call big gnarly (only because there is a little gnarly in Flag already). It is a relentless and rocky climb that bucks me in the same spot every time. At least I have three reasons to return.
At the saddle I like to chill, refuel, and occasionally make some phone calls. I once had a business call that came up on a day I had a planned ride. Instead of cancel the ride, I was speedy and made it to the saddle by call in time. No one ever knew how “out of the office” I really was. After the break at the saddle, I psyche myself up for the sweet mind clearing descent ahead.
The sign of a great trails is one where I start talking to myself out loud while descending. It starts with just a few woooo whoooos and ends up being a full on conversation with the trail. This unavoidably happens on Milagrosa, parts of National, and on sweet sections of the Highline. I start talking to Pass Mountain about 100 feet over the saddle as soon as I start to pick my line on the slickrock that stripes the mountain.
Yesterday I got caught conversing with the trail by a couple of hikers. …Crazy mountain biker… is what they probably said to themselves.
When it’s all said and done, the XC climb back to the Blevins lot is where I like to kick it into speed demon. It’s a great workout finishing off the ride pedaling hard. The first few times I rode Pass Mountain (years ago) I was too worked to do anything but finish the ride. Since then I’ve spent the past few years building up an immunity to the mountain.
When it comes down to it, if Pass Mountain were the only trail left in the valley, I would still be a happy rider.