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.

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