Monday, September 10, 2018

BikePacking the Sawatch Part II

A follow up to the "real" story of bikepacking the Sawatch/Collegiate range between Buena Vista, Salida, and Crested Butte.....on one hand I can't believe that I spent an entire post yapping about a trip that I didn't yet actually start, but I seem to be able to yap at too-much-length about pretty-near anything!

Ultimately Fred and I rambled out of his nice place above Boulder and headed for Buena Vista.  BV is a cool little town; I first visited there about 3 eons ago to see if I wanted to be a river guide, and even though I didn't do that (and I'm glad I didn't) it's a great place, and has only improved over the last few years since I've been there:  they put in a nice play wave on the Arkansas river right in town, they are building out the downtown area to take better advantage of the riverfront (ala Salida), and it's got a lot of fun local businesses that seem to be thriving.  And the recreation is top notch, with great kayaking nearby, killer mountain bike trails, and a plethora of hiking opportunities looming high above on the Collegiate 14'ers.

The Colorado Trail is a 500+ mile trail that stretches from Denver to Durango, and 'Rado-ans are quite proud of it, as they should be; linking together "a trail" out of many networks of trails that traverses a huge chunk of a huge chunk of mountains is impressive.  It seems that it's got the most popularity as a take-it-in-chunks hiking route, but the growth of bikepacking in general and the evolution of the bags to carry ever-lighter gear has meant a lot of folks are doing it on bikes.  And of course there's a race:  The Colorado Trail Race (CTR) has been going for the last 10 years and has resulted in some dudes doing it in less than 4 days, which is astounding; the nearby Great Divide route (a little ways to the east) has guys averaging 150 miles/day on mostly-gravel roads; if what we saw is any indication, the Colorado Trail is not only mostly singletrack but much of it is pretty stout singletrack.  Fred's plan was to use the CT as a bit of a conduit to a bunch of great riding that wasn't part of the CT proper, which gave me both an opportunity to nibble a bit on the CT and do some other, more-unusual, and generally higher alpine trails as well.

A trip report can be fun - and I do a lot of them, and try to make them fun - but I've read way too many of them that can get pretty tedious.   "And then we did this!  And then we did that!  Day 2; we woke up to a beautiful sunrise, had another freeze dried breakfast and coffee and tea til it warmed up, then we rode all day, and gosh was it tiring!  But we met some nice people at a cafe along the way and slayed some great singletrack!  And while I didn't know the area before now I do, so I'll go into painful details about our route, in the very off chance that someone out there may want to replicate what we did, because it was so awesome!"  I'm actually tempted to write a parody of the cliche'd Trip Report one of these days.  This trip was great; Fred put together an incredible route that had us riding  - and pushing/carrying - up some long, hard climbs and indeed slaying a ton of great singletrack descents, with fun mix of buffed to medium to really burly singletrack, with some stellar campsites and plenty of water burbling out to keep us hydrated.  But for me to go through a day-by-day synopsis of what we did would be a bit repetitive, so I'm going to keep it simple and do some highlights.

That said, if you are interested, here's the route:  we followed the CT from Cottonwood Pass road, under mounts Princeton and Antero and then up to the Monarch Crest, which sports a big handful of long, technical descents down to valleys on either side.  After 2 days we ended up in Salida, where I was able to get a new headset for my retro-bike (starting to close in on the $$ I might have paid for a new, more-appropriate bike!) and picked up Chad, whose wife MerriLee gave us a ride back up the highway to the Monarch Crest again, we went down the backside towards Gunnison, then did a long back climb up to connect into the famous Alpine Tunnel and an equally-well-known singletrack descent from there, then a painful 5000+ foot climb to the summit of 14er Mt Antero, descended an unmarked trail back down to the east to the Colorado Trail, and went "backwards" on the Colorado Trail to our starting point.  It wasn't a ton of miles, but a lot of vert.

Some highlights:
After we made the final, painful climb to the Monarch Crest:
We met a guy who was on a monthlong solo backpack:

We had avoided going high on our first couple of days because we heard it was going to be windy up there, and asked this guy about it.  He said - in deadpan seriousness - "yeah, it was so windy that I had wind blowing up one nostril and blowing snot out the other!"  We roared in laughter, and he didn't think it was that funny.  As a shoe guy, I'm always checking out people's footwear, and he had an unusual scene going on:
His toe had been sticking out for a few days, but he didn't want to buy another pair because they were too much $$, and even though his mom somehow found out about it and wanted to get him a pair, he "didn't want to be a mooch."

We slayed a bunch of singletrack, from mild to wild:

Fred! Fred!  You'rs supposed to ride ON the trail, not across it!  
and did some free-range riding:

ground up a lot of steep, dramatic climbs, some on the bikes:

and some off the bikes:
25% grades, dust, and babyheads....

It's not often that you get heel blisters on a bike ride, but this wasn't an average "ride"

We rode as far as we could on Mount Antero, then did the final 800' or so hike to the summit.  I utilized my tried and true ride-to-hike bicycle security technique:
hang the shorts shammy-side out to dry; it has never failed in keeping the bike safe from wannabe bikepack thieves!  
Coloradans love their 14-ers;
and being a Coloradan, Chad celebrated appropriately:

Of course, we had to share the "roads" with some of the burlyboyz in their internal combustion rigs:

But we saw evidence that simpler machines can prevail
a pussymobile outing gone awry.
Colorado is somewhat unusual to have such big mountains juxtaposed pretty closely to towns:
awaiting my new headset in Salida
Making friends with the Absolute Bikes shop dog, whilst drinking a shop-supplied beer while they fit me in to fix my bike!  
and we never had to carry more than a day or two's worth of food, and had some pretty civilized meals:

not your typical freeze dried meal....

this bikepacking stuff is tough!  

Tho I did have to do some gnawing for some energy on one of the climbs:
There were some good high-altitude bike-robatics:
and some very lame ones:
it was all I could do to get that wheel off the ground, much less ride it with Chad's prowess!  (he has a good party trick of riding a wheelie around....without a front wheel!)
When these guys stopped to put on their pads:

I knew it was gonna get real:

And I did some hike-a-biking, downhill:
We were able to get in some night riding
this terrible pic is an example of why people like Fred get paid to take photos; his shots of this trail at sunset are incredible. Once he's cleared to share them I'll share as well.  
We toted around a really nice set of lights from Light and Motion and they were partially paying for the trip, so we did a bit of a mid-day siesta and started a long climb in the late afternoon, and ended up at about 12,000 feet with with the wind blowing doing a bunch of night shots, followed by some of the gnarliest trail we saw on the whole trip.  Fun and memorable evening, though.

Did some more pushing:

to some nice big mountain views:

and some more singletrack-slayin'

I stayed committed to the one-pair-of socks thing (and shoes) for the whole trip; I had to dry them out once after a bunch of creek crossings on a 10 mile descent of the Agate Creek trail:

And then we were done, and back to Boulder, where it was great to see Mike with a bit more life in his eyes and a bit more movement in his legs

And for the record, my efforts to bikepack-ize my ancient Fisher Gitchee Gumi turned out to be fruitful.
 As noted, the headset needed replacing but that's just a wear thing that I shoulda done before I left, and was off the back of Fred and Chad when the trail got burly and they simply pointed their enduro bikes through and over the many, many rocks, but for the most part the bike was just fine, and I was glad for the ability to run a frame bag and keep the extra weight off my back.  They say that late adopters are the most enthusiastic, and I gotta say that my eyes have been opened to the possibilities that these simple new bags create for bike-based adventures; I'd say the game-change is comparable to that represented by pack rafts.    We did meet a couple who was doing the whole 2800 mile great divide route on basically the same bike that I was considering buying, but I think they got a little carried away and brought too much stuff:

Thanks again to Fred for a) having the idea for the trip, b) putting in the time to come up with a truly challenging and spectacular route, c) getting the sweet gear for the trip and beyond, d) inviting me, and e) being a great pard for this and any other trip.  And thanks to Chad for also being a great pard, and for both of them for taking a few of the (better!) pictures shown here.
I'm looking forward to another trip, and hopefully Mike will be able to join on that one!

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