Spring Break Singletrack Trek, The Sequel, Part 3: Little Ride at Little Creek and Riding the Broken Mesa

Miniskibum enjoys the slickrock playground that sits atop Little Creek Mountain
Miniskibum enjoys the slickrock playground that sits atop Little Creek Mountain

Day Three of the Second Annual Spring Break Singletrack Trek would be the one which we chose to ride a trail which would be a repeat, at least for Mntbikedude and I; Miniskibum had yet to experience the wonders of  Little Creek Mountain.  On previous trips to St George, I had multiple runs, one with Miniskibum, on Little Creek’s sister mesa, Gooseberry, a ride I had often thought of as my all-time favorite for its uniqueness and astonishingly high fun-to-work ratio.

Little Creek looks much like Gooseberry at first, but once on the mesa and making the rounds, one finds it has a character all its own.  Like Gooseberry, there’s plenty of slickrock to play on.  Unlike Gooseberry, though, this slickrock is a bit more ledgy.  Like the Goose, Little Creek has singletrack skirting the edge of the mesa, hundreds of feet above the valley below, and jaw-dropping views of Zion National Park.  Like the Goose, Little Creek has plenty of big rock rollers, but it also has plenty of rock ledges, meaning you can huck as well as roll.   Also, in addition to the greater variety of slickrock, Little Creek serves up stretches of top-quality singletrack between the rock stunts.

The author hits one of many step ups early in the Little Creek Mesa ride.
The author hits one of many step ups early in the Little Creek Mesa ride.

There are two things a first timer to Little Creek Mesa should bear in mind.  First, the road from the valley to the trailhead on the mesa can be very rough, and a high clearance vehicle is a good thing to have.  Second, while signage on Little Creek Mesa has improved, it’s still not the easiest place to navigate.  Some route finding will be required, and there are a couple critical junctions where it’s easy to make a wrong turn.  A map is good, but a GPS and/or a Little Creek veteran is better.

We started out planning to ride the 14-mile outer loop, which combines the large West Loop with the extension loop out to North Point.  After a brief warmup on some quality singletrack bobbing and weaving through the pinions, the trail hits a large slickrock playground which one may choose simply to traverse, or to session some of the various stunts that present themselves along the sides of the route.  We, of course, chose the latter.

This place rocks!
This place rocks!

After the slickrock, it’s back to the singletrack, interspersed at seemingly regular intervals with rock rollers.  This is the perfect trail for an ADD rider like myself—it’s impossible to get bored with any one type of riding because it is constantly changing: bank a corner, duck a tree branch, roll a rock, bank again, huck a ledge and… pause to check out the view.  This never gets old.  As we rounded the far side of the West Loop and began looking for the connection which would take us out the North Point Loop…

The obligatory rim shot on Little Creek Mountain.
The obligatory rim shot on Little Creek Mountain.

Disaster Strikes!

While approaching a sharp climb, Miniskibum went to downshift into his small ring and noticed he couldn’t—his shifter had broken.  While his bike could still ride, he’d be stuck in his middle ring, and we didn’t want to force him through all the coming difficult, technical climbs without being able to downshift, so we took the fork, which would return us to the trailhead, cutting our planned trip to just shy of ten miles.

Mntbikedude rides a rock bridge on the northwest side of Little Creek Mountain.  Unfortunately, we'd cut our ride shortly hereafter.
Mntbikedude rides a rock bridge on the northwest side of Little Creek Mountain. Unfortunately, we’d cut our ride shortly hereafter.

Physical difficulty of our route: 3/5
Technical difficulty of our route: 4/5
Skibum’s grade: 5/5 stars
Miniskibum’s grade: 5/5 stars

When life hands you a broken bike – Get a demo!

We beat a retreat back to the town of Hurricane and stopped at Over the Edge, hoping they’d have a shifter and could execute repairs.  I figured we’d leave the bike at OTE for the next day and give Miniskibum a break from his 36-pound tank. In typical OTE fashion (I’ve stopped there on three trips to St George/Hurricane and received exceptional service each time), Quentin said he could turn the bike around overnight, so we wouldn’t be forced to rent a bike.  Nonetheless, I still saw this as a good excuse to let Miniskibum start exploring other bikes so he’d know what he wants when we get to the point of replacing the small frame he’s already pretty much outgrown.  So we left there with a beautiful baby blue Knolly Chilcothin, which would serve as Miniskibum’s steed for the next day.

The Black Mamba, Big Ibis and Boy Blue all ready for the Broken Mesa Rim

The next day was another opportunity to hit one of the areas’ “alternate” rides.  While not necessarily a fan favorite, the Broken Mesa Rim is highly regarded among many locals and hardcore technical riders.  To do the Broken Mesa Rim as a loop requires a long, dusty dirt road climb, so in the interest of saving time for a second ride and our legs for another three days of consecutive riding, we shuttled the road.

However, this didn’t save us from all the climbing.  From the trailhead, the trail climbs 600 vertical feet in the first mile to gain the rim.   The climb is loose, rocky, loaded with very tight switchbacks, and positively relentless in its demands.  As we neared the top, we were thrilled when we finally saw the open meadow that tops the mesa.

Hey, I though shuttling meant we didn’t have to climb!

Once again, we were treated to magnificent views of the variety of geology which surrounds the area.  We were also treated to another kind of geology–lava, and lots of it.  There’s a reason this trail isn’t on everybody’s wish list despite the awesome views and its position right on the edge of town, all while being easily shuttleable.  In addition to the hateful initial climb, once one gets to the “easy” part, one is faced with endless fields of scattered, jagged, black lava rock.  This isn’t rock that’s easily rolled.  This trail is hard on both bike and rider.

Despite going downhill, the trail still requires significant energy input and constant vigilance.  The tail is taxing both mentally and physically.  Some of the trail has deteriorated into ruts so deep and narrow, it’s impossible to pedal without banging cranks on the sides of the rut—that is, if you can stay upright in the difficult combination of loose, soft dirt and unstable baby heads.  While my shorter-travel bike performed well, this trail had me lamenting the fact that I’d broken my long-travel bike on day one of the trip.

If you're looking for buff, look elsewhere.
If you’re looking for buff, look elsewhere.

We had hoped to explore our way up the adjoining Ice House trail, but by the time we reached the junction, we had consumed more time than planned, and we needed to save time for our second ride of the day while getting the demo back before OTE’s closing, so we skipped the Ice House exploration and continued our descent.

Most of the descent is gradual, requiring the rider to constantly battle with the lava rock and difficult ruts.  Then, you reach the end of the mesa, and the trail positively plummets!  It’s still technical and it’s still loose and rutted.  But now, it’s really steep!  Many people get to this point and choose to walk it, but Miniskibum and I refused to have done all that work just to end up walking the best part, so down we went.  While I took some of it rather tentatively, Miniskibum effortlessly floated over all the obstacles as if partially levitating.

Having survived the descent, we had ear-to-ear grins, which would be promptly be wiped off our faces by the two miles of fire road required to get back to our lower shuttle, the last quarter mile of which was heinously steep – uphill.  That was a real kick in the gut way to finish the ride.  In the end, I put this trail in the “Glad I did it, but I’m in no real hurry to do it again” category.

The author starts the rocky descent off the Broken Mesa.
The author starts the rocky descent off the Broken Mesa.

Physical difficulty of our route: 3/5
Technical difficulty of our route: 4.5/5
Skibum’s grade: 3.5/5 stars
Miniskibum’s grade: 4/5 stars

While Miniskibum didn’t really take to the Knolly at first, by the end of the ride he was quite pleased, and looking forward to the afternoon ride.  We headed into town to refuel and get prepped for the second ride of the day.  In the next installment: eating Holy Guacamole and showing Suicidal Tendencies.

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