Saturday, December 02, 2006

Aspen Draw

Tucson, Arizona
I told Aviv not to worry: the top of Mt. Lemmon couldn't be colder than 50 degrees. After all, it had already started warming up down here in Tucson, and Mt. Lemmon was a mere 6000 feet above us.

As we drove 25 miles up the Catalina Highway, Kathy and I showed our out-of-town guests the awesome topography of our craggy mountain -- boulders piled upon boulders leaning precariously over deep ravines and cliff faces. We wound our way from the desert floor through oak forest, finally topping out in the pine and aspen forest that clings to the town Summerhaven like a verdant toupee.

"That's snow!" Aviv said, pointing to the side of the road. I complimented him on his powers of observation, but said not to worry, once we started riding we'd have no problem warming up. The temperature was 40.

After leaving Kathy and Hilary to eat pie and drink hot chocolate at the Summerhaven cafe, I warned Aviv about the faulty shifter and the incessant clicking noise that my hardtail still makes. "Now you tell me," he said.

He pulled up his knee-high socks and cinched up his fleece jacket. The first mile up the mountain is always painful, the air is so thin and dry your lungs hurt as you try to spring over each rocky hill. Our tires crackled over an inch of snow -- just enough to remind us that it was winter -- but not enough to steal our traction. We crossed a frozen stream and pressed our way up to the ski area, where children were laughing and giggling while we were panting and massaging the nubs of our ice-cube fingers.

The climb flattens out as you make it onto the concrete service road, and we crossed patches of icy snow. By the time we made it to the Aspen Draw trailhead the sun bathed the mountain in a tawny glow, and I offered Aviv the opportunity to make "one quick loop" around the Meadow Trail. He declined.

The descent was glorious, fast and smooth, and nearly the whole trail was covered in snow. The faint track of a ghost rider preceded us, but other than that there was no one around. For good reason: by the time we arrived at the cafe, the sun was blocked by the peak and the temperature had dropped to freezing. "You said it would only take an hour," Kathy said, "You've really lost a lot of credibility here." Maybe I have.

How to get there: Take the Catalina Highway to Summerhaven.

Length: 7 miles. 1-2 hours. ~1500 feet of elevation.

Trail Conditions: One inch of snow.

The Map: SDMB provides a nice map and trail description for Aspen Draw, but it differs slightly from my route. Unfortunately, my own GPS ran out of batteries.

The Ride: From the Summerhaven cafe, head up Turkey Run road, which follows the Upper Sabino Canyon. This turns to singletrack and you take it to the ski area. Then, you take the ski area service road up the mountain. At the summit, you'll see a gate and radio towers off to your left. Go through the gate and go down a little dip and just past the chairlift you'll see a small sign for the Aspen Draw Trail. You follow this singletrack for two miles, and it will spit you out back on the singletrack through the Upper Sabino Canyon. Bike down to your car.

Other Options: You can combine this with the Mt. Lemmon / Meadow Trail to make a slightly longer ride. I've also done Aspen Draw as an out-and-back, which was pretty darn tough.

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