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Five Miles of Hell

Five Miles of Hell is the real name of this trail. But the name is not completely accurate. There's really 7 miles of Hell (gnarly, sick, and abusive technical riding), 2 miles of Purgatory (advanced-tech singletrack), and 11 miles of Limbo (doubletrack with tire-sinking soft surface and some rough rock). This trail is extreme, trials-level technical. Don't come to Hell unless you're Damned -- damned good at tech riding, that is.

This is the trail -- rough and tricky, but fairly easy to follow. White stripes painted on the sandstone mark the trail. Photo November 13, 2002 by Bruce.

The loop described here is 20.6 miles. Peak altitude is 6700, bottom 6000, but with constant up-and-down riding, your climbing will be around 2000 vertical feet. The loop starts with 3 miles of doubletrack, then a mile on the upper-intermediate Red Trail. After 7 vicious miles on Five Miles of Hell, there's 1 intermediate-tech mile to trail's end. Then you grind back on doubletrack to complete the loop. Allow at least 5 hours.

The Coconino Sandstone on the Five Miles of Hell Trail erodes into fins, ledges, and steep washes. Gut check. Bruce rolls a steep section.

To envision how tough this trail is, imagine the toughest, trickiest 50 feet of Gooseberry Mesa. Add a tricky steep spot from The Portal. Add that same Portal section again, but make it uphill. Repeat over and over again for 7 miles. Throw in the deepest sand pits from Slickrock, but make them longer, softer, and deeper. Add a few of Poison Spider's worst sand-to-wall, wall-to-sand transitions. Get the idea?

Mike throws his wheel up over a ledge during an uphill attack. A trials maneuver, or just showing off for the camera?


This trail is best in spring and fall, when the temperatures are moderate. This is a rough, long trail that demands a lot of work. In mid-summer, you'll find it difficult to haul enough water to complete this trail safely.

Looking over a wash about 2 miles into the ride. We're going to work down those rock ledges to the bottom, then up the other side!

The riding surface is Coconino sandstone (deposited near the ocean shoreline during the Permian Period, about 250 million years ago). Although a tad smoother in grain than the Navajo sandstone of Slickrock, Coconino has cross-hatching "ribs" that create lots of ledges and rough spots. For more info, see our page on the geology of the San Rafael.

The UMB riders (front to back) Matt, Mike, Chad, and Dom work along 5MOH. There are no "sit back and roll" sections. This trail is unrelenting!

I recommend a freeride bike for this trail. (You can ride it on a light cross-country bike -- I did -- or even a hardtail -- I did, after I ruptured a seal and lost all the air out of the rear shock.) Soft-rubber, low-pressure tires will help. Many climbs are extremely difficult, intended for trials motocross.

Chad prepares to post a turn as he works up the sandstone.

There's a lot of fun here. But expect to walk your bike a little. (If you think you're an "advanced technical rider" because you rode Slickrock once on a rented bike... Well, bring comfortable hiking shoes, and a bike that's easy to carry.) To ride the whole loop is exhausting. The bailouts give the option of a shorter ride. Consider this.

Here's Bruce coming down, as rock fins point up against the front tire. Ready to endo?

With the right muscles, endurance, and nerve, this trail offers a lot of fun.

Which brings us to: Trail Sanity. Be sure you have patches, spare tube, pump, tool kit, and plenty of food and water. And don't ride this trail alone. (OK, I rode alone when I explored this trail. But I'm deranged, and have lots of life insurance.) In Five Miles of Hell, you're miles from the Middle of Nowhere. In a visit to 5MOH in fall of 2002, no human or machine had disturbed my tire tracks from 10 days earlier. That's a long time to wait for rescue.

Trail notes:
0.0   Head east on DT
        N 38 47.340' W 110 42.583'
0.5   Keep straight (L)
1.4   Fork R (L = return)
        N 38 47.232' W 110 41.513'  alt=6700'
3.0   DT ends, sign-in trail box
        N 38 46.200' W 110 40.865'
        Straight S on ST, follow red dashes
4.0   Fork hard L (white dashes) at sign
        N 38 45.780' W 110 40.190'
        4.5 sand dig, 5.2 sand dig
5.7   Drop through deep canyon (sand dig)
5.9   Bailout at ridge ("Out" and arrow on rock)
        N 38 46.409' W 110 39.689' alt=6500
        R to continue
6.9   Small slot canyon, sand dig
7.2   Bailout at ridge ("Out" and arrow on rock)
        N 38 45.942' W 110 39.399'
        R to continue
8.1   Southernmost tip, start going north
8.7   Bailout in wash ("Out" and arrow on rock)
        N 38 45.783' W 110 38.996' alt=6300
        R (east) down wash to continue
8.8   Ravine, sand. Again at 9.6 and 10.5
12.1 ST drops to rock-bottom wash, trail box
        N 38 45.208' W 110 36.951' alt=6000
        L up wash 100 feet
        Climb out on R (cairns) to ATV trail
19.3 At fork (see 1.4), keep straight
20.6 Back at vehicle
Getting there:  On US-6 approaching Green River, turn right (westbound) on I-70. Drive 25 miles and exit at Ranch Exit 131 (formerly known as 129 -- the numbering has changed). If you're going eastbound, the exit is 75 miles east of Salina. Turn left under the freeway, then veer right with the road. Keep straight at all intersections. Note a first cattle guard at mile 3.2. After crossing a second cattle guard at 6.7, descend and turn left on a small road at mile 7.6. Park on the left 0.1 miles down the road, just before the wash, N 38 47.340' W 110 42.583'. Begin the ride by continuing on the road.
Riding resources:
Printable one-page guide to this trail
GPS track files (right-click and "Save as..."):
    Garmin     GPX  (Short loop, waypoints for longer rides)
Topo map for printing:   View
Lodging, camping, shops:   Links to Price and San Rafael area resources

Copyright 2002 Mad Scientist Software Inc