Friday, July 19, 2013

Nederland to Crested Butte - Day 4

As with day 3 we started day 4 well ahead of where we'd initially planned. Rather then camp near Aspen, we had made it up to 11,300 feet in altitude along Pearl Pass. This made for a cold, crisp camping experience but a very nice outlook for out final day. Just 1,400 more feet of climbing to top the pass, then we're home free! Little did we know that what climbing remained was the toughest of the trip, and the first few miles of downhill on the other side was about as bad.

But first, I really enjoyed our last night of camping and we had a great spot, so I wanted to document it. We woke to some low lying clouds that obscured the pass we're about to cross. We'll actually be above these clouds looking down on top of them in a few hours:

We had a pretty good rainfall overnight starting at about 4:30 AM. I stayed warm and dry but not so my Waltworks. She's not complaining though:

Food first; tuna, a double-shot, and gel are all part of a complete breakfast:

Here's a representative example of what remained of our climb to Pearl Pass. Very slick, I actually got my only injury here while pushing the bike, I slipped and bashed my left knee and elbow. The bloodstains on my arm warmers weren't even visible through the filth  accumulated over the last few days without a shower or laundry service:

Once above 12,000 we're in the clouds we saw from camp:

The wild flowers up here were amazing, this picture does not do them justice. The wild flower festival people in CB won't be seeing these:

And finally, our highest point for the whole trip, Pearl Pass. Note there's a Left Hand Brewery sticker here, which is from my home town of Longmont. Pretty cool! Also note we're looking down on the clouds here:

The downhill to CB had some sections that had to be walked, softball to basket ball sized scree just can't be ridden safely, at least not when fatigued. Here's a section that we could ride, surfing on top of the rocks as much as rolling over them:

Once we got below tree line the trail really began to flow and we started to enjoy ourselves. There were several stream crossings, and we wisely decided early on to re-equip our Gortex socks. This allowed us to just tromp through water almost calf deep, no need to pick and choose where we stepped, and our feet stayed dry and warm:

Once we started seeing aspens we know we're close. Almost done, the first shower in 4 days is within reach!

Here's the wild flowers along Cement Creek Road everyone makes such a fuss about in July in Crested Butte:

We know we're in Crested Butte when we see this dad hauling his kid into town in a trailer along some of the ghetto single track near town. He was moving fast and the trailer was bouncing hard, but the kid clearly loved it:

We arrived in town at 12:30, just in time for lunch. We had a well-deserved lunch and beer (no pictures of this, dang it!), then we rode up to Mt. Crested Butte in the rain. Rob and I both had reservations at the resort, and our families were driving in later in the day. We checked in and got cleaned up so we could hug the family when they arrived.

And here's the final picture of the trip, the bike at the top of the final climb; the second floor of the Grand Lodge in Mt. Crested Butte. Good job, bike!

Nederland to Crested Butte - Day 3

On day 3 we started a bit ahead of schedule, thanks to our extra effort the previous night to push ahead up Hagerman Pass. Today the goal was to make Aspen and find a place to camp outside of town, hopefully up Castle Creek Road towards Pearl Pass.

This morning I finally got a decent shot of my new tent. The area we camped in was completey saturated and very humid, so the tent walls were quite wet by morning, but it's roomy enough that with a little care I and my sleeping bag stayed dry. It also has a vestibule big enough for shoes, helmet, and a few clothes (don't worry, I picked up the trash you see on the ground):

However, my shoes were completely wet from yesterday's rain and hadn't dried out at all. I had dry socks (I carry two pairs and make sure to get the pair I'm not wearing dry during the day), but that's no good if your shoes are wet. If we weren't so high, it wouldn't be a big deal, but we are, so it is. The solution? Gortex over socks! These were a new item for me, and as it turns out, worth every penny. I put them on over my dry wool socks and under my shoes. My feet stayed dry and warm. They are also great for stream crossings, I'll have pictures of them later when Rob and I both used them for this purpose on the other side of Pearl Pass.

Breakfast consisted of leftover pizza and a stop gap coffee alternative:

Pizza monster! (I stink at self-portraits...)

After a cold breakfast, we resumed the climb up Hagerman Pass. We didn't have a good sense of how far we'd come the previous night and were surprised how quickly we hit tree line (no wonder last night was so cold):

More snow:

And here we have the obligatory pictures of each of us at our final divide crossing of the trip at Hagerman Pass at 11,900 ft. We're permanently on the Pacific side of the continent from this point on:

From the top of Hagerman it was a long downhill towards Ruedi Reservoir. Apart from one tricky stream crossing it was pretty non-technical. We ended up dropping surprisingly low, down to 6600 ft. just before the reservior, quite a drop from 11,900 ft. Needless to say, it was quite warm and the fact that the route changed to asphalt just before the reservior (another surprise) didn't help. However, it made for fast going as we climbed back up around the res, then decended again into Basalt around lunch time.

Here's a view of the reservoir with lots of sail boats. Apparently this is what the wealthy residents in the Aspen valley do during the summer:

Entering Basalt was a bit of a trip. As per usual procedure we immediately began scoping out restaurants on the main drag. We pulled up to one likely place with outdoor seating, started looking at the menu, then immediately notices the stares. Prior to this point, we'd gotten entirely positive attention; people asked about the bikes, what we were doing, and were surprised and impressed when we explained. Here it was totally different, the looks from the washed and pressed people on the main street were clearly disapproving. While we were standing on the sidewalk in front of this restaurant, we got two different people tell us to leave our bikes at a rack down the street.

Lamenting the lack of the dirtbag vibe we enjoyed in the other towns we rolled through previously, we backtracked to a deli that was light on business, and found the proprietor reasonably happy to serve us. We loaded up on coke, gatorade, sandwiches, chips, ice cream, you name it, and found a nice patio area next door. Partly out of necessity, and perhaps partly out of resentment, we decided to get all our wet gear dried out. We had tents and clothes scattered all over the place (maybe we should have put out a cup, made a sign and asked for spare change?), and it all dried quickly in the heat.

We found a bathroom, cleaned up a bit, and I soaked the clothes I was wearing to stay cool, then we set off south towards Aspen. The route was all bike path, which made for boring riding, but we enjoyed seeing all the incredible homes along the way (which one does Lance Armstrong live in, I wonder?). We also saw a few private jets fly overhead on their way to the Aspen airport. Clearly we were in the land of the 1% here.

A typical stretch of the bike path headed towards Aspen:

Once in Aspen, we decided to skip a proper dinner (lesson learned in Basalt, perhaps?), but to hit up a grocery store instead and stock up, eating dinner at or on the way to our next camping spot. We went by the local bike shop too, and asked about camping opportunities up the road towards Pearl Pass. We were assured there was plenty of public land along the way, and that there shouldn't be a need to pull a Rambo on some overzealous local sheriff.

Loaded down with food and water, we headed south along Castle Creek road. The mountains ahead of us will be the last pass we climb, Crested Butte is about 40 miles ahead on the other side:

Again, we surprised ourselves with how far we were able to go before crashing. As I joked to Rob "it's amazing what the body can do if you just ask nicely". More correctly, it's amazing what the body can do if you make an effort to keep your heart rate as low as possible throughout the trip and if you eat enough to keep up with the calorie burn. (I guess sufficient fitness and experience fits in there somewhere too... ;)

After perhaps two hours of gradual climbing up the asphalt road, we hit the beginning of Pearl Pass road:

As with the previous night, we just kept going and going. We considered stopping to eat, but we didn't even do that, we were just too stubborn. As is typical on a jeep trail climb, the road got worse and worse, with more and more hike-a-bike sections (notice the brake dust on my fork on the right, we've been burning lots of brake pad):

Finally, around sunset, we ran into a hiker who had scouted ahead on the road and mentioned seeing a good camping spot a few hundred feet above us. Excited and hungry, we continued on and found the promised spot, which was reasonably dry, reasonably flat, and had some nice views. We immediately tore into some food, and alternated between consuming mass quantities and setting up camp. Dinner for me was a large turkey sandwich with horseradish mayo, lemonade, salt and vinegar chips, and Justin's peanut butter cups.

I wanted to take pictures of camp, but it was too dark. I'll do it in the morning! Continue reading, day 4.

Nederland to Crested Butte - Day 2

Day 2 was quite different than Day 1; less than half the mileage, but with 3 passes to climb instead of 1, and (here's the best part) with 20+ miles of single track. The route started from Copper on segment 8 of the Colorado trail, and ended with another night of camping well west of Leadville, most of the way up Hagerman Pass.

First though, we had to load up with food and water for the day by backtracking to the convenience store at the I-70 exit near Copper, which didn't open until 7 AM. We didn't get the early start we wanted, but sleeping in has it's advantages:

The morning resupply turned out to be a blessing in disguise. We were able to score hot burritos and coffee for breakfast, which was very welcome. Rob even got two burritos and carried one with him. The convenience story had a real coffee shop next door, which we didn't realize until we had already settled for convenience store coffee. Oh well, it was hot, that's the main thing.

Loaded up with food and water, we headed back to the Colorado Trail trail head and commenced the long climb to the first pass of the day, Searle Pass. The trail climbs through the Copper ski area, under a few of the lifts:

At some point the morning chill dissipated, the muscles got warm, and I called out a stop to remove leg warmers and jacket, and apply sunscreen. Rob took the opportunity to make some business calls as we still had cell phone signal from Copper. For Rob, this was a working vacation in more ways than one:

The climb started out nice but as we got higher we saw more and more steep sections which, with tired legs, heavy bikes, and many miles still to go, warranted getting off and pushing:

At some point, I noticed my rear tire (the one I flatted and repaired on Day 1) was soft, so I began to ride more attentively, and noticed the occasional hiss of escaping air.  Taking a look, it was clear I had punctured again right at the same place I cut my tire the previous day. The leak was slow, it appeared the residual Stans in the tire from my previous tubeless installation was trying to seal the puncture in the tube, so I elected to just add some air and keep going, delaying more drastic action until absolutely necessary.

At the top of Searle Pass at 12,000 ft. we ran into some company. These guys were fun to talk to (and share Twizzlers with), they were Specialized bike industry guys from Europe, specifically Portugal, Italy, and Poland. As part of their job, they were staying at Copper trying out 2014 model year bikes for Specialized. Unlike us, they were just out for a day ride and turned around here at Searle Pass to go back to Copper and (presumably) drink beer. Beats my desk job! They asked what the altitude was here, and we had a bit of fun trying to convert feet to meters:

Another view from Searle Pass, looking west in our direction of travel. Our next supply opportunity, Leadville, is somewhere beyond the horizon, and my bike is urging me on:

Past Searle, the next milestones are Elk Ridge and then Kokomo Pass. Kokomo Pass is the same altitude as Searle, at 12,000 ft. but Elk Ridge is actually the high point at 12,300 ft. From Searle we were forced to drop a bit before climbing again to Elk Ridge. Here Rob crosses one of many streams as we approach the high point:

I love this picture, the trail climbs relentlessly up to the ridge:

And here's Elk Ridge, the high point of the day at 12,300 ft. At this point, it's a long technical downhill through Kokomo Pass towards HW 24 leading to Leadville. My rear tire had been continuing to leak slowly and was too soft to ride the downhill without damaging the rim, so I elected to put in another tube at this point. Thankfully the weather held here above tree line while I worked, again with Rob's help:

One of the easier parts of the downhill just past Kokomo (which is why I was able to get the camera out):

After a long decent (during which my wounded tire held together, thankfully) we paused to rest the hands after some aggressive braking and realized we were both low on water. We found a stream, filtered about 40 oz. of water apiece, and continued on. After more downhill, we bottomed out at the old Camp Hale barracks where the 10th Mountain Division lived and trained during WWII. An interesting side note, camping is not allowed here due to the risk of unexploded ordinance:

While the Colorado trail continues on, roughly parallel to HW 24 towards Leadville, we elected to bail to the highway early, partly to save energy, partly due to my tire, and partly due to what appeared to be weather moving in.  Once on pavement it was a long haul south, initially up to Tennessee Pass, then a long slight downhill with rollers into Leadville.  Here's Tennessee Pass, the second divide crossing which put us back on the Atlantic side of the continent:

We saw some pretty good rain just past Tennessee Pass, during the next hour or so it took to get into Leadville. All rain gear got used, including jacket, pants, and in my case, water-proof over-gloves.

Finally, we rolled into Leadville, stopped immediately for a Gatorade and did the usual smart phone research. I decided not to chance my rear tire any further, so we needed a bike shop to do the work, followed by food. The local bike shop on the far south end of town got a new tire installed for me, set up tubeless, and the friendly folks there recommended a pizza place just down the street called High Mountain Pies. Man it was good! Rob and I got a 14" pizza apiece and proceeded to get to work:

With full bellies and improved morale, we packed up what little pizza we had left over, headed back north through town, loaded up with food and water at a grocery store, then set off west towards Turquoise Lake to find a place to camp:

We saw a nice sunset starting just past the Turquoise Lake dam:

Out initial plan was to camp in this area, near Turqouise Lake. However, perhaps due to the excellent pizza, we were feeling pretty decent and decided to keep rolling. We rode a good hour past sunset and made good progress up the next climb, Hagerman Pass. Unfortunately, the price of our ambition was we passed up all the good camp sites, so we had to settle for a spot near a drainage right beside the road. However, given it was jeep trail at this point, no one came by overnight to bother us.

Tomorrow - our final divide crossing at Hagerman Pass, to Basalt, then Aspen. Continue reading, day 3.

Nederland to Crested Butte - Day 1

Big mile day! The route for day 1 took us from camp near Rollinsville all the way to Copper Mountain, about 102 miles for the day. It started with the climb up and over Rollins Pass to Winter Park, which Rob and I had done many times. However, once we started heading west out of Frasier, I was in all new territory (Rob was too, for the most part).

Here we are headed west on Tolland Road with nice long shadows from the rising sun:

Right as the sun was finally starting to warm us up, I caught some elk on the run:

Here we're about to start up a jeep trail, Rollins Pass Road:

This is a really cool area with a fascinating history. Down Moffat Rd is the east end of the Moffat Tunnel, which goes underground more than 6 miles, crossing the divide. Before this tunnel was built, the old railroad climbed up and over the divide via a long indirect route full of switchbacks. The tracks are long gone, but the old railroad bed is now a jeep trail. Jeeps can't get all the way over the divide this way through, due to a few collapses along the route, but an ambitious MTBer can.

Here's Rob turning up one of the many switch backs up Rollins Pass road:

A quick stop for a proper (relatively speaking) breakfast:

Yankee Doodle Lake:

A bit of snow prior to the Needle Eye tunnel:

Nice view ahead to the Needle Eye tunnel, you can see the light at the end of the tunnel (literally, but definitely not metaphorically, we still have 250 miles to go). The old railroad used to go though this tunnel, but it's partly collapsed now:

Another blockage prior to the tunnel, gotta get off the bike:

Looking back at Rob as we both approach the tunnel. Above tree line here:

And the tunnel. Gotta scramble over and through the scree and alpine tundra. Having everything on the bike and no backpack is great 95% of the time, the other 5% being hike-a-bike sections like this:

Past the tunnel are some old trestle bridges:

Approching Rolllins Pass now, it's just past this snow field. It will be our first divide crossing of the trip and our high point for the day at 11,700 ft:

On the Pacific side of the divide now, that's the Winter Park ski area way ahead:

Crossing one more trestle bridge. This one is even more inadvisable to use, it's poor condition is obvious. I realize now I crossed right behind Rob, I really should have spaced out more to minimize total weight on the bridge. Oh well, we made it:

For fun, here's a picture of this trestle from below when it was operational:

Lunch at Winter Park. A big sandwich, a double-helping of cole slaw, and a brownie. Rob got a Coke, I was jealous:
Next we went north to Frasier (nice bike path for this stretch) then started a very long haul west towards highway 9. This route was half forest service road, half pavement. It didn't get very high, so it was pretty hot. Here's a representative view of the FS road:

Just before the road changed from dirt to pavement, I flatted. As per usual procedure, once I heard the hissing of escaping air, I jumped off the bike and turned the rear wheel to put the puncture on bottom, and waited for Stans to seal the puncture, but no luck; I just got a nice white puddle of sealant on the ground. Turns out, I had a nice 1/4" cut in the tire, not sure what caused it, but hey, it happens. Rob pitched in (partly because he's a nice guy and partly because he was the one carrying flat repair stuff), and when he pulled out his can of air, it was dead. We were stuck with his mini-pump, which is probably the smallest pump ever. Regardless, we got the tire booted, a tube in place, inflated (quite the upper body workout, let me tell you), and kept rolling.

At some point during the paved road section (did I say it was hot?), we got a good view of the East Branch Reservoir. Not that impressive really:

Finally, a view that gave us a sense of progress. The valley ahead is HW 9, you can just make out the cars:

After a fast and breezy decent to the valley, we struck south on HW 9 towards Silverthorne.  After almost an hour of spinning next to traffic, we arrived in town:

Once in town, Rob looked up the closest bike shop on his smart phone, which was in Dillon across I-70. We walked in, the main reason being to replace Rob's can of air. While here, I decided to do something about the fact that I was rapidly exhausting the supply of chamois cream I brought with me. I'll spare you details, but suffice to say that saddle issues have been my weakness in the past. I started this trip with brand new shorts and what I thought would be an adequate supply of chamois cream, but I had calculated wrong. I ended up buying a full size 8 oz tube of Paceline Chamois Butter, and I carried it the entire trip. It was annoying to make space for it (I had very little to spare), but this turned out to be a life saver. By the end of the trip, the tube was 2/3 empty but I remained happy and comfortable. If the butt ain't happy, ain't nobody happy.

After leaving the bike shop, we connected into Frisco via the Dillon Reserior Dam and a scenic stretch of bike path that I hadn't ridden before. Climbing up to the dam:

Along the dam:

Connecting to Frisco:

Once in Frisco we looked for a place to eat dinner. Throughout this trip, our criteria for where we ate were simple. The food had to be good, the quantities large, the cachet non-snooty (some places in Basalt and Aspen failed this test), and outdoor seating was preferred, so we could keep an eye on the bikes. We found a place called The Lost Cajun, run by a Hurricane Katrina refugee from Louisiana, so the food was authentic and really good. Unfortunately the large order of beignets we got for dessert didn't make the picture, but my etoufee with fried catfish on top did:

After dinner, next on the agenda was loading up with supplies for tomorrow and finding a place to camp. We figured the best place to camp would be the beginning of segment 8 of the Colorado Trail, which was our route for tomorrow. This starts right by Copper Mountain, about 5 miles or so SW of Frisco. We had resupply opportunities in Frisco, but we knew there was a convenience store next to Copper, so we decided to hold out, carrying less weight for the slight climb to Copper. We saw some geese on the way, a rather mundane wildlife sighting for a back country trip like this:

Just ahead is the Copper Mountain ski area, the convenience store is close as well. However, it was closed! The current time was 8:30 PM, the store closed at 8. Odd hours for a convenience store... As a last resort we continued on into the Copper Village area, but it was shuttered up tight too:

After some discussion, we decided we had to abandon our plan of a early start on the Colorado Trail, but instead hit up the convenience store when it opened at 7 AM. As long as we moved with a purpose on day 2, we figured we could still get through the high country before the afternoon storms rolled in. So, we went south a mile or two on HW 91 to the Colorado Trail trail head and found a place to camp, right off the trail and near a partially finished outbuilding:

Tomorrow - some sweet single track and triple pass action! Continue reading, day 2.