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Valhalla Trail

The Valhalla Trail extends from the southwestern Utah town of Toothless to the saddle of El Gordo Peak. Starting in dry hot desert at 2250 feet, the trail will climb 9130 vertical feet on this loop ride of 72 miles. It's best for strong expert riders, because in addition to high-altitude alpine lung-burning torture, it features dangerous sandstone. There's also an excruciating long portage that's certain to blister your heels and ruin your expensive biking shoes. The seemingly endless climbing and the rough, bike breaking descent make this an adventure ride for very experienced but less intelligent riders.

View of El Gordo Peak from Nadfreeze Meadow, 37 miles from the trailhead. Photos and ride review by Bruce on April 1st, 2016.

As you enter town from the north, the trailhead for the Valhalla Trail is found on Ezekiel's Road 1/4 mile south of Ned's Pawn and Second-hand Bike Store, across from The Boltcutter specialty hardware store. If you reach the mosquito-abatement building on the southern outskirts of Toothless, you've gone too far.

Overnight camping at the trailhead is discouraged.

Looking past Zeke's Grocery in Toothless at the trailhead area. The ATV parking is to the right, as campers come to town to restock their beer coolers.

To start the loop ride, pedal uphill on the old mining road eastbound from the trailhead. Ignore the frequent "Trespassers will be shot" signs, because Jedediah violated his probation and will be locked up until early 2016. The dry hot doubletrack will go on for a few hours. Keep up a steady pace so you can be higher on the mountain before the horse flies get worse.

Starting out from town, with mile after mile of dirt and sage brush passing by our bike tires.

Teenagers on ATVs will crowd the mine road after mid-morning, kicking up clouds of toxic mine-tailing dust. Try not to breathe too much of the lead-contaminated powder, which has been associated with neurological damage among the town's citizens.

(Lead dust can be a potent neurotoxin. Because of Utah's extensive mining history, many mountain bikers have unknowingly suffered some degree of brain cell injury, which explains why you're pedaling this 7000 vertical foot climb rather than driving a shuttle.)

View up Plumbum Road higher on the mountain during a stop to apply more insect repellant.

The average pitch on Plumbum Road is 15%, made a bit harder by stiff headwinds coming off El Gordo Peak and by a local gravitational anomaly related to the igneous intrusion that formed these mountains 27 million years ago. Pass the time as you climb by arguing with your biking companions about whether the rock should be called diorite, gabbro, pegmatite, peridotite, or just granite damn it.

Because some locals oppose mountain bikes and regularly seed the road with roofing nails, carry plenty of patches and glue.

Reaching the ridgeline after the 7000 vertical foot climb. The trail descends through the crack in the right-side foreground.

As you reach Nosebleed Pass, the trail traverses the remnant of Schneescheiss Glacier. If you lose sight of the riding line due to snowmelt, don't worry. The long snowbank is steep enough that no rider has ever made it across, and you can resume your ride at the bottom. This is a handy spot to stop and make repairs. Chances are, you'll be able to replace your damaged bike parts with something from the many broken bikes in the boulder pile below the glacier.

Entering the glacier area from Nosebleed Pass.

Descending Empinado Mountain Canyon, there are several creek crossings. Until August, meltwater maintains high stream flow. This works out well, because the deeper water keeps your butt from banging on the boulders as you wash downhill towards the next spot where the trail crosses the creek.

Keep your mouth firmly closed, as the waters of Giardia Creek tend to be contaminated with microorganisms during summer months.

In some areas, the trail is rugged and you'll make better time by heading straight down the creek.

Just above Horsefly Flat the descent slows. This area is a paradise for nature lovers. Among the trailside flowers you'll see owl droppings containing bits of gopher bone and meadow vole fur. And occasionally, bits of biker jersey in wolf scat.

The trip through the meadow is best done with tights and long sleeves. In the 1990s, the meadow was used by marijuana growers who confused stinging nettle seeds with cannabis. The fertilizer they used still grows nettles that reach well over your head and crowd densely into the trail.

Handlebar view of a small clearing as we approach Wolf Meadows amid poisonous plants and nettles.

Dropping from Wolfbite Pass, you enter an area of red sandstone escarpments. These cliffs are formed from the Meinkampfi Formation of the Yourassic Era. The sandstone was originally white before mountain bikers started falling frequently down the rock slopes.

Biting flies can be a problem again here. Soaking your clothing in 100% DEET is recommended but doesn't help. But luckily, on many days the smoke from nearby forest fires keeps the flies and gnats from finding you.

The Meinkampfi Formation lies below cliffs of Woundgreat Sandstone, with the Kneescratcher Sandstone in the foreground. The vertical mark is a chainring-hit from my ride.

Veer left and downhill along the cliff-top, stopping frequently to look over the edge. After exactly 0.645 miles from the third old dead tree -- after subtracting the mileage you spent going around the frequent stands of Horrendi cactus -- spot the root protruding from the crack in the rock about 4 feet below the cliff edge. This is your transition point to the lower trail in Rockslide Ravine.

Looking for the critical spot where the trail transitions from non-rideable clifftop to non-rideable washbottom.

Slide yourself down until you get a foot on the root, then pull your bike from the cliff edge and lower it with your emergency rope to the wash bottom, being careful to avoid the hornet nest. Shinny down the root then jump for the dead lodgepole pine and climb down. Do not use any indentation on the rock cliff as a handhold, because one of the openings is an over-wintering den for Great Basin rattlesnakes. (Sorry I can't recall which one. My notes were burned in the lightning strike.)

Apparent view of the lower wash retrieved from a lost camera found among human bones in the wash bottom.

Now descend the deadly sides of the ravine toward the bottom of Dead Goat Wash, holding your bike high over your head to avoid scratching the paint on the constant waist-high boulders. This five-mile portage is a great thigh workout. You'll be glad to get back on your bike in Dead Goat Wash and enter the Badderthan Badlands.

Picture writing on sandstone in Dead Goat Wash, thought to be a message from a lost native to his wife before dying in this miserable godforsaken boulder pile.

The trail through the badlands fades in the sand of the infamous Doodah Dunes. From here you should be able to see the smoke from trash fires in town -- to your left -- as the trail becomes harder to follow for the next few miles. Just keep heading exactly southwest and consult your cell phone's GPS frequently, assuming a cell tower has been built by the time you read this.

The last miles into town are a good calf workout.

Back in town, the Sheriff's Office is at 169 West Main. If you made an early start for the ride, it should give you enough time to report any items stolen from your car through the broken window.

Overall, this ride is a fabulous adventure, showing off beautiful scenery while providing you a great workout. I give it my highest recommendation.

The road to the town of Toothless can wash out after rainstorms, so it's best to come prepared to stay until the weather dries.

 A ride on the fictional Valhalla Trail!

 If the above video does not appear on your browser/device, you can watch it on YouTube by clicking here.

Getting there:
From Salt Lake City, take I-80 eastbound to US 6 in Vernal. From there, drive south along the Green River until you reach Highway 191 north of Moab. Connect to I-15 in Blanding and drive north to State Road 243 north of Hicksville, then west on US 50 to Lost Bearings Creek. At 5th South, turn west to the Nevada border. Just after crossing the state line back into Utah, turn left on the smaller gravel road and proceed southeast 15 miles to Toothless. When you spot the large used-bike store, go another 1/4 mile. The trailhead is the unmarked area rutted by ATV tracks to the left of Zeke's Grocery.

Bathrooms:  Dig your own.
Water:  Creek. Metronidazole for Giardia recommended if you can't boil the water.
Camping:  Drunk Creek ATV and Mufflerless Motorcycle Campground near Suckville.
Bike services:  Ned's has used parts from many bike brands.