Saturday, June 27, 2009

El Prieto Canyon

El Prieto Canyon is perhaps the best 2.5 miles of downhill singletrack I've ever experienced in my life (which includes many miles of trails around SLC, Moab, and Northern NM). It is also, conveniently, the closest good mountain biking to my house. It's 8.5 miles of pavement to the Rose Bowl, and then another 4 miles of singletrack to the trailhead (with 1,000ft of climbing in that approach). I could drive my bike to the trailhead, but it's a reasonably pleasant ride and I hate driving places to bike. It really saves me almost no time anyway, since it's a 20 minute drive to the parking lot, 10 minutes wrangling the bike, and another 10 minutes' ride from the parking lot to the trailhead, whereas it only takes me 50 minutes to ride there.

From the trailhead it's a 3 mile, 1,000ft vertical ride up Brown Mountain fireroad with next to no shade. I should mention that it was really hot today (90F). From there it's a little bit of fireroad before the drop in to El Prieto Canyon.

Once in El Prieto Canyon, it's a white-knuckle descent over rock gardens, around tight switchbacks, and through stream crossings. I have never cleared all of this trail, and doubt I ever will. There are a couple of rock-garden switchbacks that are just crazier than I care to be. Still, I continue to clear more and more of it every time I ride it, and today I only had to dab in three places. I did two laps of this as well as a 6 mile fireroad detour up to Brown Mountain, just for a little extra training.

View from Brown Mountain

Depending on the time of year, there are anywhere between 5 and 9 stream crossings (some of them dry up in summer). This is probably the tamest one; most involve rocky downhills and drops into the water. They're refreshing on hot days like today.

This is one of the more spacious switchbacks with a calm lead-in. Note the giant babyhead right in the middle of the ideal line through it, though.

I cleared this switchback for the first time today (on both laps!). The trail comes in from the upper left then switches back and drops down off of that rock ledge. It's always nerve-wracking to take a drop in the middle of a very sharp turn.

Alas, these pictures hardly do it justice, since I was enjoying riding it too much to stop and take very many pictures. Some of the best rock gardens are up to 50ft long and involve long drops so it's nearly impossible to stop in the middle to take pictures. Just take my word (and the word of pretty much the entire LA mtbing community) that this trail is nirvanna.

All in all I ended up doing 40 miles today with 4,000ft of climbing today. There's still a ways to go before I'm really ready for the Tahoe-Sierra 100, but the training is coming along nicely. I'm going to slay this race.


  1. That looks great! I'm glad you found a good trail.