51.2 miles, 43mi on dirt
7240ft vertical (baro alt), 11,850ft (topo, way high)
6hrs, 4min moving time, 6:50 total time
With a 30% chance of T-storms this afternoon, I decided to play it safe and start early right from the hotel in Durango. One of the lower tier rides I had planned for this trip was a Junction Creek loop. It basically consisted of riding many miles up dirt Junction Creek Rd, then ride as many miles back on Junction Creek Trail. This ride would capture the last 20 miles of the Colorado Trail (CT), as the CT terminates in Durango.
I was on the bike shortly after 8am. Just a few high clouds around, mainly to the north. Temp was 46F, very chilly in shorts and short sleeves. But in just a few minutes, I would begin climbing. Expected highs were mid 80's. Don't know if that is hot for Durango this time of year or not. It feels more like mid 70's back home, as the humidity is much lower here.
Ridden counter-clockwise, Durango in lower right.
Out of town, Junction Creek Rd starts paved, then becomes gravel in four miles. The average grade kicks up to 6% and stays there for the next 12 miles. I climbed an hour before I saw another car. Crisp air, great occasional views, what more could you ask for?
Somehow I missed the turn-off for Animas Overlook. Bummed me out. Don't think it was signed. I wasn't about to give back hundreds of earned vertical feet to find it. I pressed on. Junction Creek Rd starts around 6600ft in town. Around 10,000ft, it levels off and undulates a little. My climbing rate was pathetic, something like 2000ft per hour. I can do 4500ft per hour on Mt Washington. But here, the air is thin, my legs were utterly trashed from the 5hr ride they day before, and I was carrying about 40 pounds with me. That's right. 25 lb bike, 8 lbs of water, then another 7 lbs of extra layers, pump, tube, tools, etc. I travel much more lightly on Mt Washington and on fresh legs where there is air to breath. I dearly hoped a 100 oz Camelbak and 28 oz bottle on the frame would get me through this ride. I do not carry iodine tablets or filter.
Climbing on Junction Creek Rd. Destination in background.
I get near where I have to turn off Junction Creek Rd to intercept the CT and turn on GPS navigation. To my horror, I wasn't anywhere near the track I downloaded from Motion Based. I new I hadn't passed it yet. Or did I? I try to match my track with detailed topo map I carried. I matched up that I was indeed still on Junction Creek Rd and my left was coming up. With no details to follow on the GPS, I took the next left. It was a brutal 12+% grade 4WD track. I go in about a half a mile or so and hit gate with all kinds of threatening signs on it. They shoot people for trespassing in some parts of the country. Best turn around and try again. Apparently I turned left too soon. What a waste of kilojoules that was. I found the right cutoff and was now back on my downloaded track. Have no idea where that track came from. It was just wrong.
Flowers on Slide Rock Trail.
When I enquired about going up to Kennebec Pass yesterday at Durango Mountain Bike Specialists, they said some hike-a-bike would be involved. I was mentally prepared this time. When I intercepted the CT, I was pleasantly surprised to find very finely groomed singletrack that switchbacked up a wicked steep bank at manageable 12% grade. 12% was barely doable for me at this point above 10,000ft and getting tired. The CT switchbacked a few times, mostly in trees, but openings afforded nice views of vertical progress. I couldn't afford to look around while riding. The narrow 8" ribbon I was riding gave no margin for bobbles. You would surely go for a long, long slide or tumble if you slipped off the 8" shelf. Spooked a huge deer through here. Or did it spook me?
The scree field on Slide Rock Trail.
This portion of the Colorado Trail is also called the Slide Rock Trail. I soon learned why. As I popped out above treeline, I set eyes on a giant scree field. Not only was the trail benchcut into a slope that was easily 100% grade, the trail gained at 20% or more grade. This is where the hike-a-bike began. I could see the pass just above the scree field. Thus the suffering was a known quantity.
Looking up Slide Rock Trail towards Kennebec Pass.
Pushing your bike up 20-25% grade in loose rocks at 11,000ft ain't no picnic. I had to stop a few times to catch my breath. I thought prospects of riding down this stuff were slim too, at least being out here alone and on a hardtail. A little suspension and some beefy tires, I'd consider it. Not today though. I get through about 0.3mi of scree and regain buff singletrack. It was still 20+% grade though, so no dice riding up it. I'll have to wait until the return to ride this section. The guy at the bike shop said I should consider getting a shuttle ride to the other side so I could ride down all this stuff. I didn't want to explain to him that I don't shuttle rides. He also said I would more than have my hands full just doing the Junction Creek loop without the Kennebec Pass extension. I had to make this a high country ride though, even if just the last mile or two dipped into treeless high country.
North view from Kennebec Pass.
I made the 11,700ft pass and was nearly blown off my bike. Had no idea it was that windy out, being sheltered by the pass and all. The view to the north was incredible. I'll have to stitch a panoram together of it. It took me three hours of moving time to get here, 25 miles out from town, and nearly a vertical mile above town. What a climb! The water supply was still looking good. I figured it was only two hours back. Wrong!
I rode all but the scariest part of the scree field back down. I met a woman hiker coming up. She biked the same part of the CT I rode yesterday with her daughter. I do recall seeing two women near Engineer Mtn. She said it about killed her. I guess she was 50. So I'm walking down this scree BS and she tells me something like "my daughter would ride this, she lacks that gene that makes people fear stuff." What can I say, I'm a wuss. A fall here could result in death though. It was uber loose, sketchy stuff just to walk on. I get back to the switchbacks in the trees and just rip. Life was good.
Falls on Junction Creek Trail.
I cross the road that intercepts the CT and continue my singletrack plummet. This part of the CT is also called the Junction Creek Trail. You can easily shuttle this section, about 22 miles up from town. It was a little more rutted out from downhill traffic I think. I was taking a non-stop pounding on my hardtail. I can say one thing. I will probably come back next time with my daulie.
Junction Creek Trail cris-crosses a stream many times. Some crossings were quite technical. I dabbed on a couple. Where the trail paralleled the stream, vegetation was dense, and it was hard to see the drops and other perils. Always steep, and always heavy on the brakes.
Eventually the trail cross Junction Creek itself on a real bridge. There was another solo female hiker here. I remember reading that when you cross this bridge, get ready to climb. Whatever.
By now it was getting quite warm. And it didn't take long before I realized this climb was a ball buster. In my tired state, I was forced to get off my bike again. It was getting easier and easier to capitulate like that. I think I had to climb 1000ft. The deal was, you gain a couple hundred, then give a bunch back crossing another gulch. This went on forever. Much of the trail was highly exposed, although it was not immediately perceived this way due to vegetation. In a few places I dared look down, it dropped precipitously. It would be certain death if you went over the edge in the wrong places. I tried not to fixate on it and rode what I could.
My GPS told me I had gained over 1000ft since the bridge, so that means the descent should resume. It did, picking up what looked like an old road grade. It was screaming fast. There were free range cattle here, and I took more than a few splatters of processed organic matter. I slowed only once to wait for cows to get out of my way.
My water was scary low. I hit a bit more climbing, thinking I must surely be getting close to the bottom again at Junction Creek. I zoomed out on my GPS and freaked. I was at least 10 fricken miles from the end of the singletrack and I didn't know how much more climbing there was. I had about 8 oz of water left, and it was extremely hot here. Even though I was descending mostly, I was sweating profusely for the first time in the ride.
At 5.3hrs into the ride, I met my first other rider on the ride. I asked how much more climbing, he said very little, and some wicked sweet stuff was coming up. That's what I wanted to hear. He was waiting for his buddy to come up to this point. He thought it was odd I pedalled up Junction Creek Rd and was coming down the singletrack. He hates grinding up all those road miles. I told him I hate wasting all that vertical on a boring road. We both laughed. Funny how different people can be. This loop is a textbook Hill Junkie ride - monster dirt road climb, all singletrack descent.
Switchbacks below Gudy's Rest. Look-out is just below the Google slider in upper left.
I carried on. After some more insanely fast descending, I came to Gudy's Rest, a cliff overlook of the Junction Creek Valley. The road I climbed on was still way, way below me. I also knew there was a huge set of switchbacks that hugged the cliff wall below me to get back down to the road. If guys ride up them, I figured I could ride down them. In a word, this part of the ride was killer! The entire descent was meticulously maintained with many sustainability features built in. I saw a lot more hikers, so I knew I was getting close to the road. This was good. My water was gone. I crossed the second bridge over Junction Creek to get back on same side the road is on. A bit more climbing on the last mile of the Colorado Trail brought me up to the trail head parking lot. Now it was just four miles of mostly downhill road back to hotel.
View from Gudy's Rest.
For a "lower tier" ride, this loop packed a boat load of everything. Views up top, fear of death, techy stuff, screaming fast buff sections. Excluding the hike-a-bike section up top, most of the rest of the loop is rideable. I would definitely do this loop again. It is a local favorite.
It was very hot in Durango, some signs showing upper 80's. It was time to hit Sonic and Starbucks to begin the recharge process. I consumed only one Clif Blok and one Clif Bar during the ride with my Gatorade. That is practically nothing for being out on the trail for nearly 7hrs. Pace was such that I must have burned predominantly fat. This is good, and exactly the type of training value I hope to garner from some of these rides in preparation for the SM100. The off-bike parts should have value for the Iron Cross race in October too.
Not sure what is in store for Wednesday. Me thinks body needs rest. Might do one or two short rides close to town, such as Horse Gulch, or maybe even head down to Aztec, NM to ride the mostly flat Alien Run trail.