Tuesday, May 11, 2010

telegraph trails- durango co

Durango itself is as fine a basecamp for mtb as any mountain town Team Roughrider has run across. [FYI Much the same applies to fly fishing, however that’s a tale for another day… ;-)] Plenty of pub, grub, coffee stops; bike shops; festivals (incl Iron Horse Classic Memorial Day weekend where 500+ crazies race the Durango Silverton narrow gauge the 50 miles to Silverton); a schweet new Rec Center with indoor water park. We’ve found the rec center fits the bill for providing showers and kid fun when camping or biking in the area: they charged me but a single dollar for shower + towel this trip, can’t beat that with a stick! Compare that with say, Aspen, were Team Roughrider spent upwards of $40 just to wash the trail grime away, sheesh, woulda been cheaper to just pour Susuan B’s down the drain!

RE: camping- the nearest USFS campground is a mere 15-20 min drive from downtown Durango, offering equal access to the high country trails to the NW, Durango Joe’s coffee back in town. NE of town, 45 minutes away, lie Lemon and Vallecito reservoirs, offering basecamp options and serving as gateways to the Weminuche Wilderness (wink, wink anglers!).

Durango offers more developed trails for mtb than you could shred in a lifetime of riding. North and West await epic rides in the high country, much above 10,000ft; Molas Pass, Blackhawk Pass, Bolam Pass, Kennebeck Pass all remain the stuff of legend for yours truly- will this be the year I finally make tracks on the Colorado Trail? Southeast of town, Durango offers lower elevation riding, just right for early, late season riding when snow still clogs the high country trails.

Tel trails system lies immediately SE & adjacent to Durango, stretching from the Fort Lewis College mesa, on down to the trailheads opposite Home Depot and Wallyworld off of US 550 on south end of town. This area is literally honeycombed with trails (40+ miles and growing) of varying degrees of roughage, ergo there’s something for most everyone, from gonzo dudes to family rides with the youngsters. Latitude 40 Maps publishes a good map that includes accurate difficulty ratings.

The Byzantine nature of the Telegraph trail system can be a bit intimidating at first. While there are numerous signed intersections that keep you from becoming hopelessly lost, there are just as many unsigned and unmapped (thinking of you, Secret!) to keep things interesting. I’m usually not one to plunge blindly into a solo exploration without having a coupla Plan B-C bail options available in case of a mechanical (2009), or unmitigated exhaustion (2008). So I’ve bitten these trails off in chunks over the last coupla years, aided greatly with the addition of gps to the kit bag last year.

My 2009 explorations had me making tracks all over the frontside Horse Gulch area trails, saving the southside trails beyond Telegraph Ridge for this year, hence the focus of my riding this weekend.

A word about Telegraph Ridge: the ridgeline dominates the skyline as viewed from Horse Gulch, presenting a rather formidable challenge for newcomers. However, the climb itself remains a must-do for any ride in the trail network, to best gauge your stamina, mental fortitude, mtb handling skilz on the ascent + descent against those of the locals, most all of whom seem to have mountain goat as common lineage. I have yet to clean the ascent, the last 40 yards adding bitter insult to injury: a complete mental mind-f*** that caps the grueling climb. I’ve seen guys, gals clean it, albeit maybe 1 in 3, my turn is coming.

Most importantly, Telegraph Ridge also conveniently serves as the jumping off point for all the southward downhills, of which there is a veritable plethora to choose from. Thoughts of blasting the 3-4 mile descents on the backside may prove just enough motivation to make Telgraph’s last frontside steep forgivable, however tough on the legs, lungs. Think Potential Energy here- what goes up, must surely rip it on the downhill, schweet! Oh and the views from on top are simply stellar: the snowcapped San Juans bracket the scene north and east, while more rugged mesa country extends southwards into NM.

Once the Telegraph ridge top is gained, you’re faced with some tough decisions for your descent. Anasazi Run is the most abrupt, back down to the Horse Gulch area, a steeeep, brake-scorching run that threatens to pop your clavicle just eyeballing it from above. If you find Anasazi a bit too short (or hair raising!), continue on Telegraph up to Sidewinder. Sidewinder’s grades are more moderate, while adding in serpentine twists that give the trail its moniker. Cowboy trail intersects in about a mile, now giving you two options for the middle reaches. Cowboy itself intersects Big Canyon and South Rim, therein expanding your downhill options exponentially. Crites Connect is another renowned downhill heading off Telegraph Ridge, the map showing it as a more direct route searing plunge, down to Carbon Junction TH. All told, between Horse Gulch and Telegraph networks, there’s a good three or four solid days of riding different trail combo’s before you’ve mapped them all, figured out your favorite sequences.

This year I also benefited from the girl’s soccer tourney games hosted on the play fields of Fort Lewis College. Negotiating Powerline Trail down to Horse Gulch proved an adventure in navigation unto itself, taking two attempts to work out correctly, don’t ask. Done correctly, FLC to Horse gulch adds a coupla bonus miles to your singletrack fun, with the bonus satisfaction of traversing the entire network North to South, cool.

RE: my favorites thus far:
Horse Gulch:
  • Horse Gulch to Telegraph Ridge, Anasazi down, to Stacy’s to Meadow, up Cuchillo South. Once at the top of the Gulch, opt for either Mike’s Trail (nice name, that) or Cuchillo North back to Meadow back to Horse Gulch. Cuchillo offers some nice jumps and whoopty-do’s at speed for intermediate/expert riders.
  • Cautionary Note: on no account whatsoever upon exiting Anasazi, do not ever take the entrance to Secret Trail uphill to Mike’s. Secret is not on most maps, has a noticeable ‘entrance’ off Anasazi near the tail end of Mike’s, hence seems to offer ‘credible’, if confusing option to the top of the Gulch. Trust me, to enter from below will most likely turn out to be a near-hallucinogenic exercise in pain, suffering being nearly unrideable for mere mortals on the uphill. (Bring chamois butter, nuf said.) It’s best served by riding downhill, a shortish hikeabike straight up from the top of Mike’s. Secret is mostly steep and twisty, with some improved features to jump if so daring. Mike’s offers more flow at speed, has a much smaller potential death-per-turn ratio that appeals to more riders, IMHO.

To date, I have yet to ride Crites Connect to Carbon Junction, understand it’s a hoot and not to be missed. Next trip, believe you me: sooo many trails, soooo little time. That said:
  • Tel Ridge up to Sidewinder, down to Cowboy, to Big Canyon proved the most consistent fun: mixture of exposed slopes, twisty meadows, tight scrub oak runs that’ll impart that particular sense of flight as you meld into the bike. Maybe 4 miles downhill, 90% pure, undistilled singletrack, schweet.
  • Second day I opted for Sidewinder-Cowboy-South Rim, with 2-track interruption in the middle of the mesa that was underwhelming. Studying the maps, I see I could’ve kept on Cowboy a good bit longer before intersecting South Rim. Guess that’s next trip, huh?
next up- vid and trailmaps to follow~


  1. Fantastic trail report, Royal, thanks for posting. I had a chance to help the Telegraph System come to be - most gratifying. You should also roll on The Colorado Trail and, if you need info, don't hesitate to connect.

    Bill Manning, Mg Dir
    The Colorado Trail Foundation

  2. why thank YOU sir and CT Foundation also, for laying some sweet singletrack up there. You keep making em, we'll keep riding em!

    RE: Colorado Trail- remains on my wish list, just might be able to sample it this summer, fingers crossed. Thx for stopping by! Mike