I’ve wanted to ride Mt Elbert, the tallest of Colorado’s 14ers, all summer and finally went for it today. Beginning at Half Moon, the first few miles of trail are mostly climbing but with a few downhill sections to keep it fun. From Lilly Ponds the climbing really gets going with a 4000′ uphill to the 14,433′ summit. I wasn’t able to pedal much of that climb and pushed my bike more than I care to remember.
Here’s me on top of Mt Elbert with CO’s second highest peak in the background.
It was all rideable going down but rocky, lose and with plenty of hairpin turns. Dodging loose toaster-sized rocks, it’s clear that the trail isn’t groomed for biking. I managed to stay upright the entire way but my hands needed a few shake-outs when my braking fingers started feeling crampy. The riding was fun in a keep-your-speed-in-check, techy way but the slog up was enough to dissuade me from wanting to repeat it soon.
I happened to cross paths with a coworker on top and she volunteered to snap a photo as I started down. The lakes are 5200′ below.
Five years out, I still miss living a short pedal from Bike Doc.
These are my favorite photos from the past couple weeks spent working the the field.
I first heard of the traverse between Crestone Peak and the Needle from Austin. He had just finished climbing the Needle’s Ellingwood Arrete and was enjoying the summit when a climber asked where the traverse began. Austin pointed him towards the downclimbing that begins the route towards the Peak and was horrified when, seconds later, the soloist tumbled off the 2000′ face.
I decided to give the traverse a try in the opposite direction that the ill-fated climber took so that I’d be going up, not down, the hardest bits. We’d been working on improving sections of the Broken Hand Pass trail with the Rocky Mountain Field Institute and Mark Hesse of RMFI, wrote out a succinct page of beta with just enough info for me to find the route. An adventure was guaranteed by the broad strokes with which he described the route.
It was Friday the 13th and I left camp just as a blood-red sunrise stained the summits. Fittingly, I hustled up the the trail labeled “Friday the 13th Pass” on the OB master maps then out a narrow ridge that leads towards the north couloir of Crestone Peak. The gut of the couloir looked loose and gun-barrelish so I followed Mark’s directions and began climbing a face leading out of the gully. I moved quickly up the large cobblestone holds. Even though it was mid-August, it was below freezing in the shade of the summit and every once in a while I paused to rewarm stiff fingers. Near the top of the N couloir I crossed the loose redrock chute, and moved up a rib into the sunshine and onto the summit of Crestone Peak.
I added a “Fri the 13th” salutation to the summit register then skittered down the south-facing Red Gully before spotting a carin marking the beginning the traverse towards the Needle. Linking grassy benches interspersed with 4th class conglomerate ridges led to the base of the Black Gendarme and the crux of the route. The weakness in the NW face of the Needle consists of a steep funnel of a gully obstructed by fridge-sized chockstones. Instead of following that chimney, I soloed the 5.6 face of the couloir on steep cobblestones and thereby lessened potential for getting conked by round clasts falling from above.
A few hundred feet further up, the final pitch to the summit of Crestone Needle is 5.easy but with 2000′ of air beneath one’s sneakers. That kind of exposure is what understated climbing guides call “attention getting” and so I climbed methodically, checking carefully for loose cobbles before transferring weight to the clast. Back in the sunshine on top, the sky was cloudless and I ate a late-morning lunch and watched climbers grunt to the top of the Ellingwood Arrete. Soon, other peak-baggers began reaching the summit and as I started down I made an effort to stay out of the gully that is the most popular route to the peak. The round clasts, remnants of an Ancestral Rocky Mountains riverbed, are easy to accidentally dislodge and loose upon climbers below.
Headed down Broken Hand Pass, I was glad to be back on a trail and out of the path of falling rocks. The traverse’s exposure and big views had been exhilarating but also risky because a small mistake could have large consequences. Back at camp I began my favorite backcountry celebration sequence: untied shoes, peeled socks, rinsed off grime, and sat in the sunshine making pizza dough.
Sepperated by jobs in different states, Allison and I found time to meet for a quick river trip about half way between Leadville and Park City. The “Wild and Scenic” designation of the drainage seems a bit over-hyped; there wasn’t much “wild” about the river.
The dominant exports of the valley are coal-generated electricity and stuff made from cows. We had front row seats for a coal-burning plant about a mile long that took us a good chunk of the afternoon to drift around. Its high-tension wires radiated outwards, humming softly as we bobbed under them. Cows are omnipresent, and so are cow pies. And that’s ironic because it makes the assertive signage about packing out human waste from this fragile n’ pristine ecosystem seem like, well, a load of shit.
Getting past the fact that the Yampa is heavily impacted by the industries that utilize it, the trip was pleasant. Both Allison and I tend to gravitate towards vacations that make our jobs seem restful and so it was weird to hear myself say “relaxing gettaway” while planning the logistics. Indeed, it was a lazy, slow-moving, dozing-in-the-sunshine jaunt. In the dialect of about everyone I work with, it was suuuper, suuuper nice.
Allison and I woke up on longest day of the year in Crested Butte and decided to celebrate the day with a long ride. We pedaled up Washington gulch to the top of the 403 trail then began a technical descent that soon turned to a technial hike-a-bike through deep snow and over many trees felled by winter storms. Eventually we were back on dry ground for a few miles of dangerously fast singletrack followed by a steep trail section that took us skittering down onto the Schofield Pass road.
Against the advice of a fellow cyclist we pedaled up the road grade to the bottom of the 401 hill climb, where he’d turned around on account of snow the day before. What ensued was something of a suffer-fest as we handed bikes over piles of overlapping downed trees and slipped and slid up mushy snow in our skate shoes.
About 5000′ of climbing into the day, we were poised on top of one of the most glorious singletrack downhills known to mankind. We raced down the winding trails, which were extra fast on account of the wildflowers not yet being high enough to hide the next dip or swoop in the trail. Raising seatposts back up, we climbed up to the top of the second half of the trail but caught our breath as we headed downhill again.
More than two hours of dragging bikes through snow left us feeling more depleted than I’d hoped and linking up with Deer Creek trail seemed unrealistic, so we hopped on Snodgrass for a mellow but flowy four miles back around to Washington gulch. We counted down the time to camp during the last climb; I was totally fixated on the True Blonde Dubbel waiting for us in the cooler. And it was there chilled, and waiting for us.
We spent two weeks on the hoof with a week of beautiful weather followed by a character-building week of rain, t-storms and snow. Here’s the evidence:
Despite a layer of Utah-colored dirt covering the snow, Allison, Anna, Rohan, Kevin, Tyler and I went out for a couple ski tours near Leadville. Skiing down red-brown snow feels kind of how I imagine it might feel to go skiing on a shag-carpet covered mountainside: skis don’t slide especially well but then you cross a patch of clean, white snow and then they suddenly rocket forward. Its a constant battle to stay balanced as you get thrown forwards then backwards then forwards again. Even with weird snow, skiing’s still better than a day spent doing just about anything else.