Knobby Tired Nomads: Bikepacking the Utah High Country
Four days and 140 miles of unsupported backcountry adventure by mountain bike in Southwestern Utah.
We read stories about Grand View Trail, and they didn’t always end in superlatives of the landscape. Of course there were plenty of grand views, but somehow “Rugged Trail” or “Seldom Used Trail” doesn’t have quite the same romantic appeal. The first five miles of Grand View Trail were deceptively pleasant, especially for a bike loaded with 20 pounds of gear. The trail was cruisy, meandering through high desert terrain rich with the smell juniper trees and sage, flanked to our left by towering red rock cliffs. It was the perfect singletrack for bikepacking, but I’ve been on enough backcountry rides to know the easy going wouldn't last long. Visions of us pushing our bikes up steep, rutted, rocky and hoof-beaten trail soon turned into reality.
But, as they say: “Adventure begins where certainty ends.”
The concept of adventure is lost in the modern world; folks are too focused on their busy lives instead of getting lost in the great outdoors. The excuses range from “I don't have time” to “I can't afford a vacation,” but excuses are like sweaty armpits, especially when your backyard is the state of Utah. So when professional mountain biker Eric Porter asked if I wanted to explore southwestern Utah with him on a four-day bikepacking trip, I said yes before he could even complete the question.
The nice 140-mile loop he selected covered some of the best backcountry terrain Utah has to offer. Navigating both the Markagunt and Paunsaugunt plateaus, the route's literal high point started near Brian Head on Sidney Peaks Trail at a dizzying 11,000 feet elevation. After descending Left Fork Bunker Creek to Panguitch Lake, the route continued to Thunder Mountain, south on Grand View Trail atop the majestic Sunset Cliffs, finishing at Navajo Lake via the iconic Virgin River Rim Trail. At least that was the plan. But since this was a proper adventure, nothing was for certain.