by Dan Garrison
Pass Mountain is the largest feature in Usery Park, and offers the most challenging riding of all the Park’s trails. Pass Mountain also offers one of the more popular hiking destinations, Wind Cave. As the name suggests, Pass Mountain Trail circumnavigates Pass Mountain, and can be ridden clockwise or counterclockwise. It is moderately aerobic and technical, and suited to riders with intermediate or better skills. Access to the trailhead can be accomplished in a number of ways. The easiest is to park at the Wind Cave trailhead parking lot and ride the hundred or so yards to the Pass Mountain Trail, which forks to the left if you are planning a clockwise loop. Another popular option is to park at the Horse Staging area and ride Blevins to Cats Peak to Pass Mountian. This 1.5-2 mile stage is a perfect warmup for the ride. Finally, you can ride into the Park from Crismon Road (remembering, of course, to feed the “Iron Ranger” the $1 access fee), and ride one or more of the many trails (NoSo, Levee, County Line) into Blevins, and then to Pass Mountain as detailed above.
Pass Mountain itself, as alluded above, can be ridden clockwise or counterclockwise. Either way has you primarily climbing the first half of the ride and primarily descending the last half, as the half way point on the ride is its highest point. One of the main differences in riding clockwise versus counterclockwise involves a steep face of sandstone adjacent to the saddle that is the highest point of the ride. A clockwise ride has you descending this face, while counterclockwise has you climbing it. Either way, a fair portion of riders hike some or all of this section. For what it’s worth, I think that some fairly hairy rock gardens on the back side of the mountain are more easily navigated in a clockwise direction, as they will be slightly downhill. Overall, I believe that clockwise is slightly easier.
Don’t be fooled by the relatively short distance listed for this ride. An expert level friend of mine (read: bike shop owner, expert-level XC racer and solo 24-hour craziness) did this loop in just a few minutes shy of an hour. The rest of us humans generally take about an hour-and-a-half or even more. Park rangers are told to estimate it at 2 hours. Overall, this ride is moderately demanding, both aerobically and technically. Even intermediate riders will find themselves hiking short sections, and beginners may find themselves sampling the trail with their faces if they don’t walk several sections.
The views on this trail are outstanding. There is just enough elevation that you will encounter hundreds of saguaros, and have some really panoramic vistas to reward your sweat. The trail is all singletrack, and varies from rutted clay, to buffed, to loose scree, to the aforementioned sandstone and rock gardens. There are some “don’t think about them too hard” drop-offs along the trail, too-so be prepared to swallow hard and pedal smoothly. Once you head around the mountain past the point that you can see and hear the gun range to the west, you will feel as though you are miles from civilization. Make sure to take plenty of water and whatever you will need to address common trailside repairs.
Also, be sure to respect the other trail users. Near the Wind Cave trail, you will see many sightseeing hikers. All the way around, you will encounter trail joggers and equestrians. In some of the downhill sections, it’s all too easy to bomb around a corner and scare the living crap out of a jogger or (potentially worse for you) a horse. A word to the wise . . . .
Overall, this is a really fun ride to break up the monotony of riding Hawes every weekend if you’re an East Valley rider.
Type: Singletrack Loop
Season: Fall, Winter, Spring