A Whole Different Enchilada
A TWIST ON A MOAB CLASSIC WITH JOSH DIRKSEN & ADAM CRAIG
Photos: Paris Gore Video: Justin Olsen
Looking out over Castle Valley along the LPS segment of the Whole Enchilada trail is an awe-inspiring experience for all who lay their eyes upon the monuments, mesas and expanse of red rock for the very first time. From the peaks of the La Sal Mountains to the valley floor some 7,000’ below, the rugged beauty and sheer scale of the landscape leaves you feeling insignificant in the grand scheme of things. To the residents of Moab or those that make an annual pilgrimage, it’s something they never tire of.
Southern Utah is a hub for outdoor recreation of all types: rock climbing, hiking, 4×4 rock crawling, camping, archaeology & paleontology, backcountry skiing and splitboarding and of course mountain biking. The latter two brought the duo of evo ambassadors to the La Sals and Moab for 3 days of spring ski touring, splitboarding and biking.
Same, Same, but Different
For those in the know, the name Josh Dirksen conjures up the vision of a perfect heelside turn, one that is unmatched in the snowboard world. Josh’s film segments are timeless, and in recent years his snowboarding adventures have taken him backcountry camping with his splitboard on Central Oregon’s volcanos. After a long, deep winter, Josh, a solid biker, was keen for a trip that wasn’t just about snowboarding.
“I think we picked the perfect time of year to come out here when everything is available and everything is an opportunity.” – Josh Dirksen
Quite possibly one of the most decorated American cyclists, Bend, Oregon’s Adam Craig has numerous national titles to his name that date back to his time as a junior cross-country racer. With XC, CX and enduro wins under his belt over the past 20+ years, Adam has stepped away from racing into more of a development role with his sponsor, Giant, freeing him up to spend time on projects and chasing his second passion, backcountry skiing.
“You come around every turn and your senses are assaulted by what’s in front of you on the trail.” – Adam Craig
During Bend’s summer months, it’s not uncommon to see Josh’s mini ramp become a gathering place for some of Bend’s prominent snowboarders. Just down the hill, in Adam’s backyard, riders come over to BBQ and session his pumptrack late into the evening. You could quite literally throw a rock from Josh’s deck down to Adam’s property, so it was wild to learn that this pair of influential community members had never met prior to the calls, emails and texts to plan this trip.
This kind of crossover between cyclists, skiers and snowboarders is becoming more and more common. Equipment advances in both biking and winter backcountry gear have seen participation carry over from one to the other as riders search for adventure all year long. The feeling of climbing to the top followed by a ripping, ear to ear grin filled descent is the same regardless of method. One’s entire day can be consumed by the ups and downs with good friends stopping for food, water and recalling that last section while taking in the views.
A Whole Different Enchilada
Those experiences are what memories are made off. Moab was the place to combine the two into one insane spring adventure. The original plan was to stay closer to home and use the volcanos and singletrack of Central Oregon, but after one of the snowiest winters on record we were left with long approaches and a plan that wouldn’t materialize until later in the spring. Adam mentioned Moab and the relatively unsung La Sal Mountains, a trip he’s wanted to tick off his own list for some time and the sort of trip Josh might be up for. Texts to Paris and Justin were followed up by definitive a “YES!” from both. After some digging and calls to local connections, things started to line up. I booked our yurt and Josh and Paris booked their plane tickets into Salt Lake City where we’d pick up Justin before making the 3.5 hour drive south. Adam was in the midst of a four week road trip and would meet us in Moab with Evan Clapper, our local resource on all things Moab. Suddenly, Josh and Adam’s maiden Moab trip was a go.
After arriving in Moab and wrangling the crew, anticipation grew as the snow covered La Sals got closer and closer. We pulled into the winter trailhead, locked up bikes and unloaded our snow stuff before hauling it the four or so miles into our yurt at Geyser Pass. Situated between Haystack Mountain and Mt Mellenthin at 10,500 feet above sea level, Geyser Pass is the highest shuttle drop of the Whole Enchilada Trail system during the summer months. During our stay, there was still up to 4 feet of snow in places.
The 26 miles of the Porcupine Rim Trail has been a staple of Moab riding for years now, drawing people from all over the world with its technical riding and stunning views from the base of the La Sals down to the Colorado River. In recent years, the US Forest Service opened the Burro Pass and Hazard County sections to bikes. This upper section adds nearly 10 miles and 3,500’ of elevation to the Whole Enchilada. Connecting these new sections now gives riders a maximum sampling of steep and rooty, to sandstone ledges and red clay, and everything in between.
Our days would start off with a 5am wake-up call to check weather and boil snow for the coffee and oatmeal. Once caffeinated, we started the trek up Haystack Mountain with our splitboard and ski touring gear, booting the final stretch. From the summit of Haystack we could see the mountains around Telluride, Colorado to the Southeast and to the Southwest, Bears Ears National Monument. With Porcupine Rim as the backdrop, we rode the 1500 feet down to the dirt before skinning back up to Burro Pass for another run, this time banking turns down through the woods. following the buried bike trail below us.
With the snow portion checked off, biking the open sections of the trail was next. Because we weren’t able to connect the snow and dirt sections directly, we didn’t get riding until the early afternoon, about two hours later than expected. We finally picked up dry trail in the aspen groves of lower Hazard before crossing the road and continuing down the rough Kokopelli road to where the singletrack picked back up. We climbed to the top of UPS (Upper Porcupine Singletrack), sessioning sections to find rhythm within the rolling rocks and square sandstone edges. Once on LPS, Castleton Monument looked close enough to touch while hawks circled below, catching thermals along the rim wall. Further down we were greeted by the Colorado River and more technical trail. Much like Josh arcing a graceful turn on variable snow, watching Adam pump the back of rocks and carry speed through rough terrain showed his skill and years of experience on a bike. As a spectator, it was rewarding to see them both in their professional element but also great to see them having fun being amateurs at the other’s sport.
Mother Nature Always Calls the Shots
It wasn’t all blue skies and high fives though. As cliché as it sounds, we should have known that weather is never a sure thing in the high desert. A forecasted 70’s in town and milder but sunny weather up high quickly turned to 40% chance of snow and subfreezing temps in the alpine. We woke up to new snow every morning and our tours to the surrounding ridges were hampered by hard snow that never softened due to cloud cover and winds. The new snow that fell was often blown away, revealing sun-cupped ice and rocks. Regardless, moral remained high and we carried on, buzzin’ from the novelty of skiing high above the red desert. Down below, on dirt, the sun finally came out, rejuvenating everyone for the ride ahead. We thought we were in the clear only to be reminded that Mother Nature has final say by periods of snow and hail, sending us scrambling for cover to wait out these micro bursts in the junipers and over-hanging rock formations. Eventually, the weather eased and gave way to sun and warmer temps. The rocks dried out and we carried on. By the bottom, the landscape was dusty and desperate for water.
In the end, we missed the good skiing by a couple of days, the marble sized hail stung and we had to wear down jackets while riding bikes in the desert. But therein lies the beauty of the adventure – skiing uncommon peaks, riding bikes on a world-famous trail, finding shelter from the elements under a tree, rock or canvas covered yurt. It’s these moments that have been forever seared into my memory.
If you’re inspired to do a similar trip, mid-April is the perfect time. The weeks before and after our trip were perfect weather-wise, we were simply thrown a curve ball. The temps are moderate, there are still lots of skiing routes and the number of bike riders on the trail is minimal. The yurt we stayed at is operated by Talking Mountain Yurts. We were the only group to book Geyser Pass in April. If you’re looking for backcountry skiing and splitboarding in the winter, you can find up to date snow forecasts through the Utah Avalanche Center or hire Evan and his guide service, EC Adventures. There are lots of shuttle services in town that will get you to the top, but only Kyle Mears and Whole Enchilada Shuttles will offer you the last of their Pabst Blue Ribbon tallboys to help you celebrate the end of your ride.
Talking Mountain Yurts: www.talkingmountainyurts.com
Moab Avalanche Forecasting: https://utahavalanchecenter.org/advisory/moab
EC Adventures firstname.lastname@example.org
Whole Enchilada Shuttle Co. https://www.wholeenchiladashuttles.com/
Soundtrack by Easy Giant – “Sazo” off the new album To The Moon Listen to it on Spotify