Excursion

J.R. Jenkins pedals across Phillips Ridge on Teton Pass.

After a summer of putting a lot of miles on my mountain bike, I felt ready to embark on a longer adventure than usual, linking up some of Teton Pass’ most iconic trails for what I like to call “The Crazy Eight.”

I began the ride at 8 a.m. to give plenty of time for mechanical errors and fatigue. Equipped with plenty of water and food, a friend and I took off from the Phillips trailhead on Fish Creek Road. From here we began our ascent of Phillips Ridge. Many who have never climbed the ridge scoff at the prospect of going up a trail they consider a downhill route; but the ridge maintains a mellow grade for its entirety and meanders up the hill in a way that makes it feel easier than climbing Ferrins despite the greater elevation gain.

About 45 minutes in we took a break at a lookout with vistas north over Shooting Star at Teton Village and beyond. We took leisurely breaks as we pedaled, saving our energy for what was to come. We continued on to the next lookout just after the section of Phillips Ridge I refer to as the “rock garden,” for no reason other than the trail navigates a scree field without feeling overly bumpy.

After this lookout we continued up the ridge itself. This portion of trail, while it doesn’t gain much elevation, feels harder than the preceding section due to its bumpiness. At times it’s challenging to get a good cadence and stay in the saddle. Luckily, this was a short stretch on the trail as a whole.

We broke again at the junction of Phillips Ridge and Snotel Trail before continuing out Phillips Ridge toward the Arrow Trail. This short, fast downhill section was a nice respite after an hour and a half of climbing. It felt good to get my weight off my bike seat and feel some wind on my soaked body. Cruising out the Arrow Trail felt a little bit like swimming upstream on a Saturday morning as the bulk of the traffic was heading the other way, but we welcomed the regular stops as an excuse to rest a bit before the next slog.

Once out Arrow, we followed the Forest Service road out to Teton Pass and crossed the highway before dropping down to Phillips Connector — a short, singletrack trail next to Jimmy’s Mom that links over to Old Pass Road. Then came the hot, grueling climb up the paved Old Pass Road to the top of Teton Pass. We took a long break at the parking lot at the top, looking out over the valley and eating lunch before getting back on our bikes to ride out the Black Canyon Trail.

After the short, punchy climb to the top of Mount Elly we finally had our first long descent, which felt well-earned after 3,500 feet of climbing. The top part of Blacks was characteristically dry, loose and rutted, so we kept our speed in check, particularly around the steep switchbacks. Once we got into the woods midway down the trail we were able to open up and cruise down the fast, technical downhill. The fun was over way too quickly before we turned left on the Crater Trail, which runs parallel to Old Pass Road to the south.

The Crater Trail, though only 1.5 miles long, isn’t designed as a bike trail and it is steep and punchy. This was the most challenging section of the whole ride both mentally and physically, and we had to focus fixedly on the trail while going up a steeper pitch than we had thus far.

We popped out on Old Pass Road once again, but instead of continuing our climb, we decided to hop in Crater Lake and cool off. The water was frigid and did the trick. I felt thoroughly refreshed until I had to put my sweaty bike clothes back on. From there we could see the light at the end of the tunnel, though.

A short climb up Old Pass Road and we were back on Phillips Connector, heading the opposite direction this time toward Arrow Trail on the other side of the highway. The climb up Arrow, while much easier than the Crater Trail and Old Pass Road that we had just ascended, seemed never-ending to a point, then the last few hundred feet of climbing were interspersed with bursts of downhill to make things more enjoyable.

At the end of Arrow we stopped at the junction of Phillips Pass and Phillips Canyon with big grins on our faces. The hard part was over and it was all downhill (almost) from there. After hours of climbing I had to keep my wits about me to balance my bike on the technical downhill of Phillips Canyon. The first rocky section woke me up and I sped down toward the car, thinking about a hot meal and a beverage as I careened down the playful surface of Phillips Canyon.

Park Dunn-Morrison is excited to get this ride out of the way for the season and check it off the list.

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