Thursday, April 17, 2014

The Incomparable Bearclaw Poppy Trail

St George, Utah is home to one of the universe's greatest pleasure centers. There are few places that offer as much variety and intensity of biker bliss anywhere. There is something for sickos who crave pain from anaerobic exertion, downhill speed demons, animals who ache for air time, newbies, intermediates even children. Seriously, I have rarely watched a person come off the trail not smiling ear to ear.



The guys at Utahmountainbiking.com created this little video.

There are two ways to ride Bear Claw: top to bottom to top or bottom to top to bottom. If you are lazy and have a kind friend or an awesome mom, you can skip the up hill and shuttle the ride several times. The ride either begins in Bloomington if you start at the bottom and west of the Green Valley Resort if you start from the top. Don't make the mistake of riding this as a loop as some books and websites suggest. Ride it as an out and back if you do not shuttle. I prefer to start in Bloomington and do an out and back a few times.

Riding from the bottom is boring by comparison with the exception of three spots. Clavicle Hill, aptly named for the body part that breaks if you misjudge the obstacle, is the first seriously difficult climb. I have never seen anyone climb it, and I have gone with some great riders. Utahmountainbiking.com claims it can be done. I believe them.  Fortunately, there are always work-arounds and bailouts. Instead of going straight up clavicle, you can take the bailout to the right. It is still difficult to climb, but doable by an intermediate rider with a large enough anaerobic engine.

Jared Hill climbed the last acid drop and now relaxes at the pool. 


The second obstacle set is the acid drops. I can ride up all but the last one. Jared Hill is the only rider of many that I have seen ride up the last drop, and he had to finish it by bouncing his bike to the top. If the last drop were the first, it would not be as difficult, but you are tired from climbing the previous four drops and the runway for the last drop is short. Maybe someday. Again, there is a bailout trail to the right that is upper-intermediate but definitely doable. After a little more riding you come to the wash that is slightly downhill as you go north. The wash ends at the bottom of the fingers of death. Most people opt for the pinkie of death (described later) or walk up some of the more difficult fingers.



Now the rip roaring fun begins! there is an immediate downhill section that lasts for about 100 yards and flattens out. The downhill is intermediate to intermediate-advanced depending on the route you take. A difference of two feet can turn a fairly straight-forward downhill segment into a launch pad. At the flat, there is a bailout route that avoids the fingers of death. My kids call the bailout, the pinkie of death. Sounds more fearsome that way I suppose.

Using the modest launch pad instead of the easy way


There are three fingers of death with some variations. They grow in difficulty from left to right. It is possible to descend each without your tires leaving dirt, but it is not advisable. If you let your bike roll with little to no brake, the downhill is silky smooth. Your time in the air is hardly noticeable because the transition is so perfect, and for heaven's sake, don't even tap your front break or you will endo. Just go with it. After biking through a wash and going down a few fun dips you are back at the awesome acid drops. The acid drops look frightening and discourage less confident riders, but there is always a bailout.

Utahmountainbiking.com explains the easy to hard routes on the fingers of death

Another view

A view from the bottom. This guy is taking one of the yikes routes on the fingers


My good friend Jonathan who is one of the best downhillers I have ever seen, attacks the acid drops with reckless abandon. He and a group of skilled riders were descending the trail through the wash casually when they were asked to get out of the way by a couple roadies in full kits and freshly washed carbon mountain bikes who were riding the trail like they were on some pro team in a stage race and taking all the fun out of the ride. It is blasphemy to ride this trail with anything but fun and adrenalin as your purpose, yet I digress. The two riders stopped at the top of the acid drops wondering if they could muster enough courage to go down. Jonathan picked a line between them and at full speed launched into space. The great thing about the drops is that they have killer transitions. There is almost no way to not land softly even if it is on your body and not on your bike.

Although not one of the acid drops officially, this is a great ride

A view of the acid drops from the bottom.

Happy for smooth transitions and still smiling

A great view of a typical acid drop descent

The best way to take them is with some space between tires and dirt

Clavicle Hill is a serious matter. The only really safe way to take it is to launch it due to an annoying lip that can cause your rear tire to pitch up and forward if you take it too tentatively. You will have to commit. I took a friend down a slightly easier section of it and warned him not to touch his brakes until he had both tires safely on the ground on a less steep grade. Instead, he panicked, tapped his front brake, flew over his handle bars, landed on his knee and head at about the same time and ended up with a shattered helmet and trip to the emergency room.

With a full faced helmet and a DH bike, yes. Otherwise, maybe avoid the tail whip.

Joe opted for the bailout route which is still a little treacherous. Knocked him out cold for a few seconds.

The remaining half of the ride is the roller coaster section. It makes for some of the funnest real estate in the solar system. There are several route options that will increase or decrease the fun/difficulty. The routes are normally well marked. We have spent hours stopped at some of the better jumps to see just how far and high we can launch. 

Dangerous Dan the Rock Licka coming off one of the jumps

This is a classic, not-to-be-missed ride. Due to the various trail options, it can be ridden by all skill levels. Joe's crash was due less to the trail and more to a sharply increased confidence level that out grew his judgement. He has since taken the same route several times with no mishap. 

The area around the designated trail is fragile and not to be touched. Please respect the signage. Do not adventure off trail. The area is habitat for endangered species including the Dwarf Bearclaw Poppy, the trail's namesake. If the trail is abused, it will get shut down, so don't be a scrub. 




Finally, do not ride the trail when muddy! About every other year some bikers that can't seem to wait ride it in poor conditions. The grooves created by the tires and mud harden and take an entire summer to smooth out. As I write this, the trail on the roller coaster section is quite bumpy and far less fun than it will be in the fall when things thousands of riders have been on it. 

Here are some links to some reviews of the trail...

http://www.bikepirate.com/dh-trails/bear-claw-poppy/
http://www.trailtrainer.net/trails/bearclaw-poppy/
http://www.utahmountainbiking.com/trails/bearclaw.htm
http://www.bogley.com/forum/showthread.php?41323-Bad-Crash-on-Bear-Claw-Poppy-Trail/page2

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