Wednesday, September 8, 2010

biking the sawatch

view east off the CT/CDT
journey begins
 I guess this tale begins, as most of ours do, with a road trip.  

I've been reading more often lately about biking those trails high up in Colorado's backcountry.  The descriptions, glimpses you read online just seem to grab hold of you, you know?  Traversing ridgetops  high above timberline, swooping thru green mountain meadows, bombing down rocky runs on a wing and a prayer...sounds about right!

Those are some of the very attributes I love so much about fly fishing- the gorgeous places, many times completely remote, untrammeled save by the lucky few.  What with snows still choking the high country until late June, and mountain monsoon season being what it is, it just never seemed like the time to try to head up and get some of that sweet riding done.   What we needed was a nice 3-4 day weekend opportunity after the monsoon season broke  heading into Fall.  

Say like Labor Day, hmmmm...

Team Roughrider seemed up to the challenge, jumped at it even, when I mentioned Salida, CO and the renowned singletrack traversing the Sangres and Sawatch ranges around town.  And for all the trails- Rainbow, Silver Creek, Fooses, one seemed to stand out above the rest:  Monarch Crest.


Now for the uninitiated, such as yours truly, Monarch Crest would seem to push the limits of a moderately average 40-something mountain biker.  Break out some maps, cruise the interweb tubes, you'll soon find the 30-some mile epic ride they grin about can be broken down into 3 roughly 10-mile component trail sections, each with a trailhead accessible by car.   Just finding those bail options mitigates a considerable amount of risk for the first-timer, esp given the youngest members of Team Roughrider are 10 and 8!
So I figured to recon the trail by section, see if there resulted anything I'd be comfortable to take the larger Team on. 

To wit, Friday afternoon found me 10,800ft high in the Sawatch Range, Marshall Pass to be exact, gearing up for the unknowns that awaited on the Colorado and Silver Creek trails.  My route planning had me intersecting the end of the Monarch Trail proper at Marshall Pass, and heading down  up up up the Colorado/CDT 4miles to the intersection of the Silver Creek Trail.  Thereupon, a turn downhill  6 miles would lead to the next trailhead at the Rainbow Trail intersection.  Once on Rainbow Trail, another 10 miles has you back down onto US285 outside of Poncha Springs, back where you started your shuttle up to Marshall Pass.

One last breath, hearty thanks to my shuttle (thx again Erik!), and I'm off.  4 mile ascent up CT/CDT to the Silver Creek Trail was a grunt at times, the altitude sucking the wind and energy right out of you.  The  stellar views west and east off the ridge made for perfect excuses to catch your breath.  The CT/CDT tread proved an even mix of double and single track, more duffy spruce and lodgepole riding really, than ridge riding. 

top of silver creek
The CT/CDT intersects the top of Silver Creek Trail on a stunning saddle with 360d views bracketed by Sheep Mountain and Windy Peaks.

Silver Creek itself begins with an immediate plunging switchback that had my brakes fading well before reaching the green meadow below.  Had to stop a bit just to enjoy the sizzle of camelback water drizzled onto searing rotors- ha!  Sideshow done, time to get back after it!

plunge into silver creek

Silver Creek offered some of the funnest singletrack I've ridden: lush, flowy meadows in the upper reaches transitioning to broken scree hair-raisers in the middle reaches, back to mix of meadow and forest as you approach Rainbow Trail.  

sweet upper meadow track

silver creek chunk

All 6 miles pure, undistilled downhill singletrack- fast, flowy, fun!

Rainbow Trail now, proved a horse of a different color.  Here you really had to work it, as the tread changes from baby heads, to rock gardens, to exposed slopes, back to forest constantly.  
approaching US285
 Just as constantly, it will cut down into drainages, facing you with yet another grind back out.   
looking back where you started: Mount Ouray in background, Marshall Pass sits on its left shoulder
another grunt

The last couple miles were a bit of a chore- energy depleted, adrenaline boost just a distant memory, 2 miles still before US285, I had to hikeabike more than a few times, whew!  

Just when you start hating life, Rainbow seems to make nice with a final searing swithback drop down to US285.  18.7 miles by my bike computer, now that's a ride!

rainbow bisects a twisted grove

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