Spring has sprung, and so has the appetite to explore! Taking the girls to visit the grandparents and the Grand Canyon was the perfect excuse to slip in an all day adventure at the last minute. The Black Canyon Trail (BCT) is a 75ish mile / 6k climbing, almost all skinny singletrack, point-to-point trail spanning from Mayer, AZ to near Phoenix, AZ. There are many different segments which are great for shorter rides (check out my previous blogs here and here), or a great point-to-point mega ride / 2-3 night bikepacking route. It is an IMBA Epic after all…
Gratuitous Grand Canyon poser shot
Most of my riding gear was at home in Mammoth, but luckily, a co-worker gave me a gift certificate to REI, so I was able to grab what I needed to set myself up for success.
My REI shopping cart – chain lube, water purification tabs, sunscreen, batteries for my Spot Tracker, a bladder for my frame bag, chamois cream, and Sun Legs – which I wish I had on the Tour Divide!
The big wide open, just a couple miles after the start near Big Bug Trailhead
So frickin good! Every section was a beautiful chapter of a book you don’t wanna put down and just binge read from cover to cover. You don’t even wanna take your eyes away from the page to eat food or take a sip of water. The tread ranges from smooth and buff to rugged and rocky. Views flip flop between open vistas to cacti strewn valleys and switchbacks. The terrain always warrants your attention – the second you gain speed and flow, you’re on the brakes navigating a series of tight turns.
There aren’t many extended periods of high speed “free” miles. With that, the 75 miles feels more like 100, and the short, techy climbs sprinkled between flowy grade reversals are definitely more taxing than the sustained gradual breed – although there were a few of those too… climbing out of the river crossings were the toughest. Don’t forget the cacti and cat claw are always lurking if you lose your line… throw all of these ingredients into the pot and you’ve got one stellar day of riding!!
The flowing singletrack on Little Pan is a definite highlight of the BCT
I saw lots of cattle, a roadrunner, a snake, a turtle (yes a turtle), lotsa birds, blooming wildflowers, cacti, four humans, and more cacti. Luckily, only one cholla reached out and touched me. Lotsa chatter about the “river crossings”. Obviously, the water levels are constantly changing, so check levels before you ride. The deepest I encountered was up to my shins. I just walked through the water. Didn’t bother taking shoes off. I’ve had enough experience with wet feet so no biggie. Merino wool = all good.
Shell shocked! I almost ran over this poor little guy near Black Canyon City
I didn’t bring a fro pick, but luckily nothing dug in too deep. Pulled my legging away from the skin, and the pricklies disengaged. Whoosh.
One of the easy river crossings. I don’t even think I got wet on this one.
I decided to start at the northern “traditional” Big Bug Trailhead (Highway 69 / Mayer) and ride south to Bob Bently Trailhead (Carefree Highway). As of a few years ago, the trail now extends farther north than Big Bug to Orme Rd / Russian Wells. I would’ve started there, to get every inch of trail possible, but that TH is more remote and takes much more drive time to reach. My wife was generous enough to drop me off early in the AM, and I didn’t want to “exploit” her more than necessary – so the Orme Rd / Russian Wells TH was out of the question. I’ll save that and the newer Copper Mountain singletrack for another ride 🙂
Don’t bother going to Bumble Bee – nothing doing.
With a 2 mile out and back to the ghost town of Bumble Bee, the 3.2 miles out and back to Rock Springs, and the “getting lost bonus miles”, my ride wound up being about 75 miles with close to 6k climbing according to Strava. Riding north to south (as most do – since it descends more that way, and has you finishing closer to civilization), is how I’d recommend tackling this one.
PS – The most southern 7 miles, from Emery Henderson Trailhead to Carefree Highway, is rarely ridden anymore. And for good reason. It’s pretty mundane and unmaintained compared to what you just experienced. Some sketchy route finding before you pass a prison and reach the “official” end of the trail aka being dumped out on the highway. Not sure why they even call it Bob Bently? Anyhoo… you’re better off finishing at Emery Henderson TH which has bathrooms, parking lot, etc and is a much more appropriate spot to revel in your achievements and crack a coldie, just sayin.
I heard this is spring water, just before you cross Crown King / Bumble Bee Rd – Glad it was there, even though I didn’t need it.
I pity the foo that don’t close the gate
The trail is mostly well signed with confidence markers at most major intersections. There are a few areas where you come off singletrack to doubletrack (and vice versa) that can get confusing. Also, at the major Agua Fria river crossings (I had four, I think) there could be some head scratching. No garmin with me, so relied on GAIA / iPhone which I pulled out of my pocket when I wasn’t sure. Anyhoo, just carry gps and keep your life easy.
One of the easier Agua Fria River crossings
I carried 2L water in my frame bag, and had 3 water bottles (2-20oz, 1-24oz) on the bike. From Big Bug to Rock Springs Cafe, I only went through the 3 bottles, and didn’t touch the bladder. From Rock Springs to the end, I only drank 2 bottles (although I drank a pepsi and a few glasses of water at Rock Springs Cafe). Hindsight = definitely should have guzzled more water throughout, as I was pretty dehydrated by the end. I also had great weather (50ish at the start, and high around 78). If it was much hotter, I’m sure I would’ve used the full 2L in the bladder. I was also prepared to treat water from the river, or by the Crown King source, or stop in Bumble Bee Ranch and ask to use their spigot in an emergency. If you’re prepared, water shouldn’t be an issue.
I ate trail mix (Trader Joes – cashews, almonds, and chocolate), a couple tangerines, gummy worms, a luna bar, a peanut butter and honey sandwich, and grabbed a burger and fries at the Rock Springs Cafe. BTW, the pie is fantastic at Rock Springs, but I wasn’t “craving” any on this ride. If it’s your first time to Rock Springs Cafe, definitely grab some pie!! The burger was what my belly was yelling for this time.
I used Dolphina, my full squish Niner RKT9 RDO. I went with the 27.5+ wheelset and 2.8 tires. Happy with the setup although regular 29er wheels with beefy tires would be fine too. No mechanicals. Super happy with my custom Rogue Panda framebag which maximizes the small space, and my new Bedrock Tapeats feedbag which is HUGE!
Best. Urinals. Ever. Reason enough to visit the saloon at Rock Springs
Where the ride should have ended.
I’m sick of writing. Go get some. Check out the links below to recon your adventure!
Watch this video of bikepacking the BCT from Rocky Mountain – https://vimeo.com/122393611
Bikepacking.com – http://www.bikepacking.com/routes/black-canyon-trail/
Bikepacker.com – http://bikepacker.com/black-canyon-trail-2/
Brian Lucido blog – https://www.brianlucido.com/bikepacking-arizonas-black-canyon-trail/
John Schilling blog – http://schillingsworth.blogspot.com/2017/02/bct-orme-to-emery-henderson.html