The 401 Trail

Last night I spent quite a lot of time lying awake, trying to decide whether to go back to C.B. the way I had come, or to take the long way around, over McClure and Kebler Passes. The latter would take longer, but be easier (i.e., more riding, less walking). But then I checked the weather report, and the weather is supposed to deteriorate later in the day. The fastest way back, even considering walking quite a bit of it, is back through Crystal and over Schofield, so I decided to get out early and go hard.

A half-mile into the ride, I hit the bottom of the crazy fast descent at the end of yesterday. The locals call this Daniels Hill. According to google maps, it is 570 feet of elevataion gain in 0.7 miles — that’s a 16% grade! Walking it was a good way to warm up and stretch out my piano-wire calves.

Going up Daniels Hill

Going up Daniels Hill

Heading up, I was treated to some views that I hadn’t seen coming the other way the day before.

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I was able to ride most of the road to Marble — I actually prefer to go uphill on rocky terrain to going downhill, because it’s easier to stay on your line. Shortly after Marble I came to the area just below the Devil’s Punchbowl.

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See that section of the trail right in the middle of the picture? I had trouble even walking up that. According to my cycle computer/altimeter, it was a 20% grade.

Right after the steep uphill the road heads back down to the bridge at the base of the Punchbowl. I saw this extreme offroad vehicle going the other way at about 2 mph. This terrain is way more technical than it looks in the pictures!

Extreme Rock Crawling

Extreme Rock Crawling

Then it was time to push back up the Punchbowl trail, which wasn’t as bad as it sounds — maybe about 20 leisurely minutes. Here’s a picture that illustrates what the trail surface is like — refer back to yesterday’s description.

Bedrock trail

Off-camber bedrock trail surface

Almost at the top!

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The rest of the ride to the pass was pretty easy — the two stream crossings that I knew were coming, the flat cruise through Schofield Park, and a bit of climbing from there to the Pass. The really amazing thing was, although it took me 2:30 yesterday to get from the “4×4 only” sign at the west end of the Park down to Marble, it took only 3:15 to go the other way — despite the fact that there is 2500′ of elevation loss/gain! Think about what that says about the trail — it takes almost as long to ride/walk down 2500 feet as it does to ride/walk up.

So in hindsight, I was really glad that I made the choice to return this way, because this means I get to ride the famous 401! At the Pass, the 401 trail starts off going uphill. It actually goes uphill for quite some distance — a good fraction of a mile — and I had to walk a lot of it because I was so tired.

Climbing up the start of the 401

Climbing up the start of the 401

The wildflowers are incredible.

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Eventually you get to the top and the views are incredible.

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And then you come to the really iconic section of the trail that runs along the side of a ridge with huge views of the valley below. According to the locals, the wildflowers were even better than usual this year because of all the rain. They were so tall it was like riding through a cornfield!IMG_20150810_1325144_rewind

Eventually the cruise with the big views comes to an end, and the trail starts to switch-back down the hill. The wildflowers are still incredible though.

Wildflowers on the 401

Wildflowers on the 401

I thought it would be all downhill back to town, but it turns out that there’s quite a bit of gradual uphill to Mt. Crested Butte. When I got back to the Grand Lodge, I came up with a great idea. I went to the front desk and the same lady who had checked me in two days ago and given me a parking permit to let me park for an extra day was working there. I asked her if I could use the poolside shower, and she said sure, she remembered me. So she made me a key card that let me into the pool area, and I was able to shower and change into my civvies for the drive home.

Schofield Pass to Marble

(I have lots of pictures today but all I have is a satellite internet connection so I will not post them until tomorrow. I’ll attempt to post one or two.)

This morning I left C.B. and climbed Gothic Road to Schofield Pass. Amazingly, I ran into two of my neighbors from Boulder at the Snodgrass trailhead just a few miles outside of town. Small world!

Here are some pics of the ride up to Schofield Pass.

Heading for Schofield Pass

Heading for Schofield Pass

One of many parking areas, all crowded

One of many parking areas, all crowded

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The 401 trailhead was a mob scene of other riders.

Schofield Pass and the 401 trailhead

Schofield Pass and the 401 trailhead

From this point I was the only mountain biker I saw for the next day and a half, but there were plenty of SUVs, ATVs, and dirt bikers. Shortly after the pass you enter a rather open area called Schofield Park that is really beautiful.

Schofield Park

Schofield Park

There is a trail here that leads up the backside of the Maroon Bells, and there were about 50 SUVs parked at the trailhead. There are even a few private cabins up here. Gorgeous spot, but I’m sure summer-only.

Cabin in Schofield Park

Cabin in Schofield Park

At the west end of Schofield Park you come to the first sign that really sounds like it means business. All the signs up to this point say things like “high clearance recommended” but this one is much more direct that you had better know what you are doing to go past this point.

Beginning of descent to Marble

Beginning of descent to Marble

This is the end of the line for most SUVs (the ones driven by sane people); only ATVs, dirt bikers, hikers, and yours truly dare to tread here. Immediately the road turns to rock and there is a creek crossing. Once again I love my Keens cycling shoes as I simply took off my socks and put the shoes back on to walk through the water.

Stream crossing

Stream crossing

I figured I’d go sockless for awhile and sure enough, not long after I came to an even deeper crossing that required carrying the bike to keep the drive train out of the water.

Then I reached an area they call the Devil’s Punchbowl. I believe it gets its name from the series of pools that the river cascades down. The river is in a narrow gorge and drops quite quickly here. There is a trail on the left side about 7-8 feet wide which was probably dynamited out of the rock face. Here’s a view from the bottom (which I haven’t gotten to yet) that gives you the idea; the trail is on the upper right.

Looking back up - trail is on upper right

Looking back up – trail is on upper right

Here’s what it looks like from the top looking down:

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At this point there were no more SUVs and my only company was ATVs and an occasional dirt bike. I saw this guy almost roll his ATV right in front of me! His front right wheel lifted off the ground and he had to post his left leg to keep from rolling down that slide on his left!

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Now let me try to describe the trail surface. From the photos it looks like random loose rock, but in fact the surface of the trail is mostly immobile bedrock that is part of the mountain to the left. The face of the mountain is of course made of layers (they are visible behind the ATV rider), and these layers have been thrust upward to make the mountain. So imagine a stack of books that are offset slightly to create a sort of staircase. Now tilt the stack so that the edges of the stairs are fairly level — that sawtooth profile is what the trail surface is like. Now imagine the sawtooth is set at a 45 degree angle to your direction of travel. Last, but not least, put it on a 15% downgrade, which, combined with the 45-degree angle of the sawtooth, makes it extremely easy to catch the front wheel and high-side over the handlebars! On a surface like this, falling is simply not an option — the best you could hope for would be some broken bones on the edges of the sawtooth rocks; the worst would be what almost happened to the guy in the photo above. So, I walked down it.

At the bottom of this descent there was a “bridge” across the creek (a slab of steel reinforced concrete that they dropped there) and then the trail starts to go back up, and then down again. Here’s a shot looking back. This gives you an idea of the narrowness and steepness of the trail as well as the incredible scenery. Keep in mind that this section of the trail is much smoother than the Punchbowl.

Below Devils Punchbowl still some snow

Below Devils Punchbowl still some snow

So except for the occasional rockslide, from this point it’s mostly rideable — downhill — but I doubt I could ride up very much of it. So I’m starting to have second thoughts about doing this in the reverse direction tomorrow!

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Eventually I reached the town of Crystal, where there are a few homes and a gift shop. I learned that living in Crystal is summer-only. A bit later I found out why: even though it’s only 5 miles from Marble to Crystal, it takes an hour to drive it.

I passed the famous Crystal Mill and took the same picture everyone else does.

Crystal Mill

Crystal Mill

Anyway, the”road”from Crystal to Marble it’s unbelievably rocky. I passed an SUV right after leaving town and even though I made several stops to take pictures, remove clothing (it was really warning up), etc, he still never caught me.

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Lizard Lake

Lizard Lake

The last mile or two is smoother but so steep that I had to stop 3 times to let my brakes cool down. The rotors were sizzling hot.

Right after passing Beaver Lake, which was mobbed with paddle boards and canoes, I saw my B&B on the hill above the lake.

Beaver Lake Retreat

Beaver Lake Retreat

It was only 2:30 and I was hungry, so I rode into town to go to the BBQ joint. It was packed even in the middle of the afternoon. Of course, there are no other restaurants for 20+ miles! Tip: do not get the ribs, they are scrawny. Then I stopped across the street at the tourist office (which they call the Marble Hub) to get an ice cream bar..

I rode up to the B&B, which was deserted and not even locked – sign on the door says to come right in.

Looking down at Beaver Lake from the Retreat

Looking down at Beaver Lake from the Retreat

Shortly after I arrived, the owner, Vince, drive up. He is an interesting character. PhD in psychology, and he mainly rents out the entire place to a group for workshops. He got his degree back in the 70s I think, and he doesn’t take it too seriously:

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Anyway, I have the entire place to myself tonight, because Vince is going back to his house in Aspen (rough life, right?) There’s not much to do here, but there is a piano and a hot tub, both of which I intend to make use of.

Vince gave me a ride back to town on his way out, so I’m back at the BBQ joint. I ordered a la carte, a half pound of brisket and a half pound of sausage. (I’m planning to have the sausage for breakfast.) The brisket is average, it’s moist but only average flavor, however the sausage is outstanding. They get it from a local farm near here, so I guess I won’t be seeing it at the grocery store ant time soon. Also, the “skillet corn” side dish is the bomb. Definitely recommended if you ever eat here.

Rest Day in Crested Butte

Rest day today. Did my laundry at the hotel, booked my accomodations for the next couple of days, got a massage. Later I might go to the local movie theater to see the new M.I. flick.

Stopped at the bike shop to get some advice about the Schofield Pass / 401 ride. Ended up buying a Latitude 40 map of the local trails, which might come in handy when I return from Marble. The guy at the shop recommended a multi-trail linkup of Snodgrass, Lupine, and Lower Loop that I might do when I return from Marble.

C.B. is definitely cruiser capital of Colorado:

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I am staying at the insanely posh Grand Lodge at Mt. Crested Butte tonight because all of the accomodations in town are full. Not exactly what you would call bikepacking:

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However, there are quite a few advantages to staying here. First of all, the alternative would be to drive 30 minutes to Gunnison tonight and then back tomorrow morning, which would make it hard to get an early start. Second, they are 3 miles further up Gothic Road than C.B. itself, that’s 3 fewer miles to climb tomorrow! Third, they are letting me leave my car in their lot tomorrow night when I’m not here. And fourth, I got a free one-ride lift ticket, which I might use to check out the resort’s bike park when I get back.

I have a room reserved at the Beaver Lake Retreat in Marble tomorrow night. Should be pretty nice because he had a big group that was going to rent the entire place postpone their trip by a day.

I will be completely out of contact for the next two days, riding to Marble and back. The plan tomorrow is to ride over Schofield Pass to the town of Crystal (location of the famous Crystal Mill — supposedly the most-photographed site in the entire state), check out the Crystal ghost town, maybe a waterfall, then continue into Marble where I hope to see some of those gigantic slabs of the stone. And there’s a BBQ joint in Marble, of all places, that was recommended to me by a guy I work with.

Then on Monday I’ll ride back up the Crystal River road to Schofield Pass (which I’m told is going to require some walking because it’s steep and rocky in places), but then instead of returning on the Gothic Road I’ll hang a left onto the famous 401 trail, supposedly the best singletrack in the entire state (seeing a pattern here yet?).

I’m told these roads/trails are quite busy with jeeps, ATVs, hikers, and bikers so I don’t think I’ll ever really get lonely out there. I will bring along my satellite tracker “just in case”.

Ohio Pass

(Posting a day late due to internet down in C.B. last night)

This morning I left the campsite at Blue Mesa at about 8:30. I didn’t eat more than a granola bar because I figured if I got going I could get a late breakfast in Gunnison.

US 50 had hardly any traffic at that time of the morning and it was actually kind of pleasant. It was kind of an overcast day, though, so I couldn’t get any really good pictures. Here’s a view of the Marina where I camped the night before from the opposite side of the res:

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I got sprinkled on just a tiny bit but no biggie.

Around 9:30 traffic picked up quite substantially, with a lot of commercial trucks. My guess is that all of the deliveries to the Gunnison area leave Grand Junction at the same time every morning and eventually they catch up to you. US50 has a nice shoulder but I was still glad to have my Portland Design Works Danger Zone taillight. That thing is so freaking bright, and the peculiar way it flashes makes motorists notice it from a looooong way off.

I think I had a slight tailwind, and I pulled into Gunnison at about 10:45. I stopped the the W Cafe for breakfast. I was hoping to find a place that would still serve breakfast, they serve it all day long! And it was packed. Obviously the right choice. Sausage and cheese omelet, and a truly gigantic portion of hash browns.

So after a stop at the grocery store I’m feeling pretty good pulling out of Gunnison at 12:30. It’s still overcast but the clouds don’t look like thunder-type clouds. Also, the clouds were keeping everything cool, which was a nice change. Heading north towards C.B., I swear there was more traffic on that road than there was on US50! A few miles out of town, Ohio Creek road forks to the left. This is a beautiful, flat, paved road through a very scenic valley. It looked like there’d be some good weather up ahead:IMG_20150807_1245454_rewindIMG_20150807_1347211_rewind

After about 20 miles of pavement the road turns to gravel. The sky was getting uglier although still not looking severe. The road was nicely graded. After a mile or two I came to a parking area for horse trailers with an outhouse. It was starting to rain so I took shelter under the outhouse overhang for awhile. I probably should have kept riding because when I finally did start again, I got caught out in much harder rain. It was all aspen forest, which doesn’t block much rain. Eventually I found a nice cluster of fir trees to take shelter under.

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After about 20 minutes the rain stopped and I was able to continue. I started to see big views.
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I had to walk a couple of 10-11% grades which I didn’t mind too much because it helps to stretch out my calves. The pass was not marked but the road started going down and in less than a mile I was back at the junction with Kebler Pass road that I had been at 3 days earlier.
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Unfortunately this road was really wet and muddy and everything was a mess after a 7 mile downhill. But the hotel has a hose outside for washing bikes. And a hot tub for me!

Aside: this has nothing to do with the trip, but when returning from dinner in downtown C.B. Last night, I spotted this classic Schwinn:
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Look at that stem clamp! Can you believe we used to ride crap like that?! And the juxtaposition with the modern aluminum OnOne handlebars is just too much.

Crawford to Blue Mesa

Well,I wasn’t sure I’d be able to ride at all today. Last night I awoke with a cramp in my calf that was so vicious, it actually pulled the muscle! I was limping around this morning. I took it on faith that riding would stretch it out and make it better instead of worse.

Luckily, SH 92 is a very gentle climb. The grade rarely exceeds 4%, which was lucky, because I was carrying an extra 4 liters of water–that’s about 9 pounds–because I was pretty sure there was no water anywhere on the route. (Which turned out to be true.) So I just took it easy and spun along in a low gear. The climb went on for about 20 miles, 3600 feet total. It seemed like it would never end, but at least I was able to do it.

Also, the road had close to zero traffic; in over 4 hours of riding, I was passed by around 50 cars. (I counted them to pass the time.) The pavement is great. All in all,a road biker’s dream road.

Here are some pictures. The mountain range in the background is the San Juans:

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When I got to lake view campground, I discovered there were showers here. So even though it was only 2:30 I decided to stop. I’m basically killing time here with nothing to do, but I’ll turn in early and get a super early start tomorrow for the push back to CB.

Warning: Extreme Vertigo!

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The above is a picture of what is called “The Narrows”. Man, it is hard to stand there without feeling like you are falling forward. And there’s no guard rail either.
Further on, some viewpoints give a view of the river itself.

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I have a lot more pictures, but I can’t tell which ones are good looking at my phone screen, so I’ll wait until I can look at them on my laptop before posting any more.

So it was a really hot ride, uphill into a headwind, and I was worried about running our of water. I saw a family at one of the viewpoints (I was nearly the only one out there) and asked them if they had any water to spare. The guy said sure, and pulled a cooler our of his truck. When he made to undo the drain plug, I asked him what he had in the cooler. “Nothing but ice and water ” he assured me, and he opened it to show me some soda cans floating in ice water. Okay, I figured, the water might have some dirt from the outside of the cans but basically should be okay.  What a mistake! The water had an odd taste that I couldn’t quite place. I said to him, “this tastes like food, maybe lettuce or something but with a hint of garlic.” He acted bewildered. When I caught up with them at the next viewpoint, I asked the guy again what he might have had in there. “Oh, yeah, we had some sandwiches in there that got wet.” About 20 more minutes of drinking this crappy water, it finally hit me: dill pickles. (Note how close my original impression was, before I knew about the sandwiches; maybe I have a future as a wine sommelier.) I also began to notice that my mouth was really dry, and that drinking the water did not help. In fact the more I drank, the drier my mouth got. This was probably due to the vinegar.
I was pretty pissed off about it, especially since the return trip was so fast, I probably wouldn’t have run out of water anyway!
Lesson learned: never trust anyone not to be a complete idiot. Reminds me of a plaque one of my housemates a long long time ago had hanging above the door to his room:

    Love many
    Trust few
    Always paddle your own canoe.

I should never have let that guy touch my paddle!

On the way back I noticed that you can see Needle Rock from just about anywhere out here. Can you spot it?
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I even have a view of it from outside my room at the B&B. In fact I have a view of just about everything!
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The Old Mad Dog

Rode to Crawford this morning. Crawford road was boring so I turned out on Cottonwood Creek Rd because it looked more scenic. It was a lot of climbing, but if I hadn’t gone that way I wouldn’t have seen Needle Rock:

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Now having pulled pork for lunch at Joe Cocker’s former restaurant. After lunch I’m going to drop my bags at the hotel and ride out to the north rim. Stay tuned for more pics later today.

BTW tomorrow I’ll be on SH 92 all the way to US50 so I will have satellite traking turned off to conserve battery.