Thursday, January 31, 2013

Velo course: Up and Down in Sawpit Canyon...

Let that post title up there be your guide. Lets get this straight right away - if you are not into climbing, this may not be the ride for you. Along the 5.39 miles between the residential neighborhood just outside the park and White Saddle you will gain nearly 3,000 feet in elevation. The biggest jumps come at the beginning and end of that stretch, with the steepest section being the slog up to the top of Sawpit Dam. I was determined to check the grade readings as near to continuously as I could, and as if the pain in my legs were not proof enough, that there are some seriously ferocious pitches. At the easy end, those readings showed 8 to 9 percent. At the worst they were 19 to 22 percent. At one point I saw 31%, but I figured that was one of those fluke readings I get on occasion and discounted it outright.

spillway of Sawpit Dam

I have done this ride, or various derivations, maybe four or five times in the past, the last time being at least that many years ago. The passing of time never did add a sugar coating to my  memory of it, so I knew what was in store. Once you get past the dam, you can kind of settle into a nice rhythm for a distance as you ride along the south side of the canyon. Grades settle down to 4 and 6 percent. The canyon walls and many trees keep this section nice and cool, even in the heat of summer. A little further along than the half way point (to White Saddle) things change - the trail switches to the north wall of the canyon, there are fewer trees and more sun, and the gradient stiffens up again. Six, 8, 10 percent - those kind of numbers will stay with you the rest of the way up. The road surface also deteriorates a little, but that is not really saying much - it is still pretty good given the location. 

road split at Trask

pretty typical of the conditions

now that is what i call slippery

big views of the Los Angeles basin - the smog layer distinct but thin

i am not sure how White Saddle got its name, but i think it is fairly obvious

At White Saddle you have two options: You can turn right onto the Van Tassel Truck Trail, which will ultimately take you back down to the city far below (and leaving you to figure out how to get back to the start point). The other option is to go left onto the Sawpit Truck Trail and keep climbing for another 3.1 miles to reach the Rincon - Red Box Road (RRB Road). The RRB Road sits high up above the West Fork of the San Gabriel River, and after additional miles, will take you either to Rincon Station or Cogswell Dam, both of which feature into the Velo course: West Fork Extra. It also, as its name suggests, will take you all the way to Red Box and Mt. Wilson. Yes, you are correct; that would be a long ride. 

In the past, on two occasions, I have opted to go right and soon after, a left onto Silver Fish Road. The fact that this route goes past some place named Stone Cabin Flat, and ultimately comes out in San Gabriel Canyon, has long intrigued me. Unfortunately the road becomes progressively worse, with fallen trees and wash outs creating obstacles. It ultimately narrows to a single track trail before virtually disappearing into a thicket of ceanothus with inch long thorns. It is frustrating because you can see the cut of the trail on the distant slopes, but you can not get to it without looking like you were on the loosing end of a rumble against a gang of porcupines. This link will take you to a ride report from the first time (2009) I rode along the Silver Fish, and posted at STR.

Anyway, I tried that way twice, so this time out I was going left. At White Saddle there were signs warning of construction work taking place along the new transmission lines going up and over the mountains. I could hear heavy machinery rumbling along in the distance somewhere and I began to have doubts I would be able to make my destination. I passed a couple work crews on the upslope side of the road, and was passed once by a pickup. No one said I shouldn't be there (though there were plenty of signs warning all to check in with the on-site supervisor before proceeding). All these signs were facing up or down slope, rather than facing someone moving along the roadway, so I figured as long as I kept to the road I would be good. Eventually, and a little more than a mile short of my destination, I came around a turn and looked across this little side canyon to where a big old Cat was grading away at the roadway. I knew there was another big ol' digger rumbling up the road behind me (but going much slower); though I might have been able to draw the attention of the driver in the grader to get around him (somehow - he had to have been road edge to road edge in that thing), I figured work would be even busier coming back down and opted to turn around at that point. A little disappointing, but no real worries, it was still a good day out. Anytime you can get that much climbing in such a short distance is a good day.

Silver Fish Canyon down below in the foreground, Mt. Baldy in the distance. can you spot the cut of Silver Fish Trail? it is just about dead center

bike and bike shadow

transmission tower - how the heck to they string that wire in places like this

unfolding the topo - old school wayfinding, a good skill to know up here

This edition of the Velo course starts at Monrovia Canyon Park, where there is a five dollar parking fee. Most people seem to park just outside the park and walk or ride in. If you decide to park in the Park, bring exact change. I did not this most recent visit, so ended having to park further away. The route starts out paved as far as Trask Boy Scout Camp (above Sawpit Dam) before turning to dirt. From Canyon Park to White Saddle it is 4.8 miles, and to Rincon-Red Box Road another 3.1 miles. The route is literally all up, then all down. The Park is popular with bikers, hikers, walkers and trail runners, so can be quite busy. Foot traffic tends to peter out the further along you go, and once past White Saddle you may see few, or no one else. Being on dirt this is ostensibly a mountain bike ride, but I dare say, since it is a dirt road, it could also be done on a cross bike.

Monrovia Canyon Park to White Saddle

White Saddle to Rincon-Red Box Road

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