After much debate on what to do on the last big holiday of the year we finally settled on a local tour through the Uinta Mountains, the only major East West mountain range in the US. Since we got started Saturday night, it turns out to be an excellent 2 and a half day tour. You could leave after work on Friday night and finish the late afternoon of Sunday. Assuming you don't get buried in snow, rain, mud or hail.
We started out parking our car at the grocery store in Kamas, after asking permission to leave it over night (or two). Up mirror lake highway for 20 miles to a random campsite on the upper Provo river. If I would change anything, I would probably go for 25 miles on the first day to make day two a little easier. Due to our ability to camp almost anywhere, we didn't have a single neighbor, not like the 2 thousand other campers in the Uintas. Just us, our little fire, and the river.
After some warm oat meal and hot tea we got a good alpine start of 1100am. The first big grind starts today as you turn steeply up the hill towards Trial lake and then towards Baldy and Reids. I'm not sure what the grade is but at time it stressed our legs on the over loaded touring bikes at a speedy 3.8 mph. A nice lunch break with made yesterday hummus and chips at Lilly lake was the last stop before the Bald Mountain Pass at 10,700ft.
After dawning coats we descended the rolling terrain for about 18 miles to Whitney Road, then left up the wide dirt road for the next 7 miles to Whitney lake. After already crossing Bald Mountain Pass, and the extra mileage, this 7 miles could have been 25 miles of climbing. The road, although great for internal combustion engines, was lose and rough for a 26X1.5 road slick with 80 psi: Not to mention the 30 trucks and 15 four wheelers and 10 of those in-between truck/4 wheeler things. Normally I am a hater of the rat tail big truck, loud toy group, and there where a few that I wanted to throw rocks at, but in general 98 percent of them where very nice and would slow down enough to not envelope us in a cloud. I was impressed, I guess I shouldn't complain so much.
As we transitioned over one of the many, many ridges on our way to the lake we all of the sudden came to a noticeable different terrain. In the high Uinta's you see lots of rock, tree line, and then rock pile summits. All of the sudden the lots of rock became, a little rock. And the summits turned to real, green summits with not just pine, but also Aspen. It was a welcome change for some reason and gave me the boost needed to power through the last few hills to the campsite. When we arrived at our camp site we where both spent. In fact I couldn't even take in much food or water, which isn't usual for me. So we ended up throwing away about half of dinner. We hit the sack for 12 hours of tossing and turning.
The next day I woke up with a hangover from yesterdays ride. We where out of water and I need to trudge the 150 yards down the steep trail to the lake. When I reached the lake I looked with dismay at the millions of little algae floating in the water. After checking a few different places and hoping it was just the scum end of the lake I gave in and slurped up the water and algae for purifying. After 12 hours we where still not filling super hungry and I only did the standard oat meal with tea. Up until this point the route was pretty cut and dry. Go here here and then here. From the lake it could go a number of ways. We hoped to be able to take a 4x4 road to Moffit Pass, then catch another, closed road through 1000 peaks ranch to the Weber Canyon. But the 1000 peaks trail only showed up on 1 of 3 topo's so we didn't know how real it was. If the trail didn't exist, or was too difficult for 70 lb touring bikes, then we would have to bail back to the North end of the lake and take another 4x4 road out to chalk creek for a detour of 30 more miles, which in the back roads, high altitude mountain touring means another day in the mountains. We did however have a backup shuttle just in case this happened, or worse yet we couldn't get out any of the roads and had to go out via Evanston WY.
The road to Mofit Pass was definitely a 4 wheel drive road, and very steep. The pass is about 10,000ft but still is more of a Wasatch Pass, as apposed to your normal Uinta pass: which is good since we couldn't get our bikes though very many of the the Passes just South of our position. When we reached the pass I quickly noticed a completely overgrown road with a road closed sign off in the weeds. I was worried so I left the bike a took a walk down the road. Thankfully it was just an old connecter to the 1000 peaks ranch road, which was rough lose, and very steep... but travel-able.
We started riding down and instantly realized that Tectro Cantilever brakes do not have the stopping power to deal with a 79 lb bike and 160 lb rider on steep descents. Lucky for me the last week I had spent riding a friends old mountain bike that had Linear pull brakes which I of course complained about the whole time. My hands also hurt for days after each ride since I've been spoiled with hydraulic disk brakes for the last 5 or more years. I also developed a 4 finger brake technique for roadie levers (silly I know) so I could use all 4 of my phalanges to help arrest my rate of descent. My wife on the other hand went into full drop bar position to get the most leverage on the brake. Either way, most steep descent ended in out of control stops in the weeds or hill side to keep us from disaster.
We where descending very rapidly and went had an excellent diverse tree selection with entire groups of Aspens, Pines, and Grass. Between this and the fact that we saw no-one, this was one of the more enjoyable sections of trail... Even though the most difficult technically. After what seemed forever we finally reach 1 lane dirt road that felt like assphault to us. Then on to the main road, a creosote covered dirt road that runs the length of Weber Canyon until reaching the pavement at the confluence with Smith and Morehouse. From here the road was slightly descending and we got into a pace line (yes it was as funny looking as it sounds) for a good 8-10 miles of 20 mph riding before turning off towards Kamas just outside of Oakley. A short 6 miles brought us back to the car.
Speaking of mountain bikes, I took a good crash a week before the ride and injured one of my ribs which had yet to heal. When I got on the bike in the beginning it was clear that it was going to hurt, most of the time. However something about being on the bike I actually helped reduce the pain, and increase range of motion. I would assume it was a catalyst to the healing process. The only thing I can think of was that because I was in the same position for a good 6-10 hours a day gave it time to heal, that and the rib cage was expanded for most of the trip. On day three it still hurt to get on the bike, but I could get my water bottle without wincing in pain, I could yawn (don't laugh, yawns are important!), I could even almost do a proper snot rocket.
All in all, an excellent tour. I wouldn't change much except maybe run a tire in about a 2.3 semi slick to make the rocks less painful and the traction a bit better. I would also try and do 25 miles the first day to ease the pain of day 2. Stats are below.
Total Mileage: 87
Day 1: 20 miles
Day 2: 37 miles
Day 3: 30 miles
Estimated elevation: 7,000ft
Average Altitude 9,500ft
Highest elevation: 10,759ft
Number of Major Passes: 2
Off road Miles: about 35
Technical Off road: about 15
Best Time of year: Late summer, too much rain will make the climb over Mofit Pass very, very hard.