Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Getting High in Durango

Hermosa Park Rd/Colorado Trail/Corral Draw loop
No, we didn't burn a doobie. We're talking about riding the Colorado Trail to nearly 12,000ft. Today's ride was supposed to be "easy," at only 28.6 miles. But when you factor in most of the riding was above 10,000ft, the climbs nasty steep, and the descents exposed to to very steep drops, the ride was anything but easy.

Hermosa Park Rd climb

I expected the ride to take 3.5-4hrs, but saddle time went out to 4:40hrs. The mileage was higher than expected too at 31.5 miles. I used my Garmin Edge 705 for navigation. It appears the track file I downloaded from Motion Based didn't capture the numerous switchbacks on the climbs and descents.

The ride began at just below 9000ft, climbing 8 miles on a rough Jeep road. This was a middle ring affair until the last mile, which was nasty steep. Maybe 25% around the switchbacks, and at 11,000ft, the thin air didn't allow anything more than a pace short of falling over. The road went to Bolam Pass, where we picked up the Colorado Trail (CT). Climbing continued, often exposed with scary steep drops to the left. The view of the Hermosa valley below was surreal.

The CT wrapped around Hermosa Peak with views fit for expensive glossy calenders. The elevation held constant around 11,500ft altitude. Very easy to get dizzy picking your way through rock gardens here. The trail rolls on the north side of the ridgeline and eventually drops after passing Section Point. I thought maybe that was Blackhawk Pass, but it was a false crossing over the ridgeline. The CT popped over the ridge several times. Eventually, we start climbing in earnest again. Then the Blackhawk Pass comes into view. The sight struck fear in me, as I was beginning to bonk, and the pass loomed as a formidable wall above me. At first, you can't figure out how a trail goes over the thing. It does, but not without some lengthy hike-a-bike sections for us low-landers.

We encountered some back packers in this area. The sky was looking ever more threatening, and afternoon thunderstorms were in the forecast. It was chilly up top at 11,970ft. Dave put on his wind shell. The descent was pure bliss. We encountered our third and final snow portage, but nothing like the ones on the Monarch Crest Trail a couple days earlier.

I believe that is Chimney Rock in distance with very threatening clouds moving in

After much descending, we hit the top of Hotel Draw forest road. This was our escape route back had the weather turned on us. It seemed dicy, but Dave commented he might never get to ride here again and wished to continue on with the planned route, which had us continue on the CT to the Corral Draw singletrack trail back down. I knew this had some more climbing in it, but wasn't sure how much. We also heard our first clap of thunder in the distance too. That adds strong motivation to keep moving. The CT moved nicely here, but then the climbing started. I went deep into bonk mode, as I only had two Clif bars left to take on the ride and the going was much slower than anticipated. Dave just bolted on me.

Dave on final assault of Blackhawk Pass

Dave approaching Blackhawk Pass

Blackhawk Pass

When I reached Corral Draw, Dave was already gone. I waited a moment and heard the strangest thunder ever. It startled me. It might have been very close lightning, but it was not loud. It was more like a very high pitched hissing sound that snapped and crackled a bit. No booming or echos. Maybe that's just how thunder sounds at 11,000+ feet on top of a mountain. It totally freaked me out.

Corral Draw trail near the bottom

The descent was hairy. All switchbacks, alternating between open meadows and dense forest. The open areas were large and exposed to lightning. The thunder became more frequent, but no rain. Rain would have been a disaster, as the soil has a clay base to it. The trail was no more than 6" wide in places and a bit overgrown. The switchbacks were tight and a bit much for a bonked rider with pounding altitude headache. Dave was no where in sight and left me for dead. The cool thing about Corral Draw was that it was all rideable and nearly monotonically descending. Miles and miles of it, much of it exposed on extremely steep slopes.

Hermosa Creek Trail

I finally reached Hermosa Creek where Dave was waiting, probably a long time. I was so relieved to reach this point without being struck dead by lightning or deluged by rain. It was only a few miles back to car from here along an ATV rutted widetrack up hill. Perhaps the best view of the ride was when the car came into view. The trail here was juicy. It had rained at the car while we were high.

Wednesday is probably going to be a recovery day. Averaging over five hours rolling time per day three days in a row takes a toll. These aren't like rides back home either. The approximately 7000ft we did today was our easiest day. We commented after the ride that a mile here is equal to two miles of riding back east. So our 31.5 mile ride today would be like doing 63 dirt miles back home. The altitude, duration and steepness of the climbs makes it so much more challenging.

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