Friday, September 3, 2010

Deer Creek/Teocalli Ridge Super Loop

Distance: 37.6 miles
Climbing: 5340 feet
Riding Time: 5:06 hours
Min to Max: 8800 to 11,300 feet

Guide books talk about the Deer Creek Trail being one of the classic Crested Butte rides. It can be shuttled, but any honest XC rider will ride it as a loop. It circumnavigates Mt Crested Butte. I've read the scenery is nice, but sometimes the cows can chop it up in late summer. The trail passes through many expansive open meadows that are used by free-range ranchers.

Guide books also speak highly of the Teocalli Ridge loop. It too can be partially shuttled, but the climbing finishes on a grunt and a half singletrack gradient. I had no idea how good the views would be from this portion of the ride. They were spectacular.

My plan was to link both of these classics up into a single loop on Thursday. My legs were wrecked from 6.4 hours of riding on Wednesday. If needed, I could always bail after finishing the Deer Creek portion of the ride. The temperature was expected to be ideal again, so I was hoping a single 100oz Camelbak would get me through the ride.

I parked at the visitor center in CB again. This time I rode up the paved bike path that meanders away from the main road through pasture land. It rejoins the road in the ski village of Mt Crested Butte. About half way up, I hear heavy breathing behind me. It was a small woman on 29er MTB hauling-A. I was going fully aerobic, but she passed me at 2x speed differential. The bike dominated her, looking like a 10yr old on full size mountain bike. My comment yesterday held true: at altitude everybody is faster than me. She did look like the hard core competitive type though.  I picked up the pace a bit (no ego involved...). I did start to gain on her towards the top of the 500ft climb. At the top, she stopped and turned around. I guess she was doing intervals. Glad that was over with. Now I could resume my sorry pace.

The road turns to dirt above Mt Crested Butte. A few miles of gravel through early morning illuminated mountains brought me to the Deer Creek trail head. I had it in my head that all of the climbing was done now, and there was nothing but contour singletrack through grazing land. Boy was I wrong. Horribly wrong. The climbing only began. It came in fits, often at grades exceeding 20%. Above 10,000ft with trashed legs, I was no match for these punchy bitches. I had to do the walk of shame. As the trail climbed, the open grasslands displayed an ever increasing expanse of mountains. That helped take my mind off the suffering. Two guys passed me from the opposite direction. I gathered I was was riding this in the wrong direction, from Gothic Rd to Brush Creek Rd, as anything I was going down seemed to be imminently rideable going up in the other direction.

I learned cows are prolific poopers. The skinny ribbon of singletrack often masked fresh deposits. These stick to tires just long enough to be flung onto bike and body. I thought a dusty chain was my biggest concern with the epic weather I was experiencing. But nope. Poop plastered bike was. One particularly nasty flap manage to fling up and fall into the mesh part of my Camelbak. It had the consistency of brownie mix, so there was no hope in extracting it cleanly. Good thing I grew up in Michigan, where cow pie fights were a form of fun. I do not get readily weirded out by cow poop like some city slickers do. Not until I take a drink from my Camelbak only to find there was a piece of poop on the bite valve...

Mid way on Deer Creek was this black talus washout. It was massive.  The trail went up the mountain fall line to get around it. This turned into a mother of a push-a-bike. I was so regretting riding the trail in this direction at this point. Until the trail started going down. It went down with such a vengeance that I would never have been able to ride all the way up that side either. Sucks for a sea level dweller like myself. I did enjoy the trail though. It was my first time on it. It was in good shape too, only a few minor sections were chopped up by cows. I'd do it again.

Deer Creek terminates on a doubletrack, which goes down to West Brush Creek Rd. I was hoping to maintain that elevation so I wouldn't have to make it up when climbing to the top of Teocalli Ridge. No such luck. I lost a lot of vertical on doubletrack. This was decision time. I could continue down West Brush Creek back to CB or head up. Water was still good. I was riding really slow, but holding steady energy-wise. I decided to turn up.

Climbing on West Brush Creek is gradual at first. I began to fear that all of the vertical would hit me at once near the end, a justified fear. Towards the upper end of West Brush Creek, expansive views of high peaks opened up. This took my mind off the suffering again. West Brush Creek Rd terminates at the wilderness boundary. Teocalli Mountain Trail is taken for about a mile and a half to reach Teocalli Ridge Trail. It hugs the wilderness boundary.  I thought this would top out around 10,700ft for some reason or another. I was totally wrong. Grades held at 15-20+% on this skinny benchcut singletrack. The views were stunning, but I was too hypoxic to appreciate them. A pattern was forming on this ride. A large percentage of vertical gain was at grades too steep for me to ride. I'll have to do the math sometime, but I bet 2.5mph at 20% grade on loose soil requires well over 300 Watts. I cannot sustain this at 11,000ft. I believe performance takes about 30% hit at this altitude for non-acclimated athletes.

Back in the trees, I thought surely the top must be here, as I was already above 10,700ft. At 11,000ft, I was pushing my bike again on a heinously steep grade. My Garmin showed 34% at one point. I can't even maintain 1.5mph walking speed on this. My frustration resulted in verbal expletives. I finally reached the sign for Teocalli Ridge Trail. I stopped to eat, then thought I was all set to bomb back down. Nope again. There were more steep hike-a-bikes along the ridge line. One gained nearly 200ft at sliding and stumbling steep grades. These trails are open to dirt bikes, so they get chewed up.

Eventually the descent ensues. I freaked. It was the gnarliest 2000 feet I've ever ridden down. I dismounted several times, wondering how I'll get down that without going for a slide. There was one stretch further down that was in a 1-2ft deep rut of powdery soil. The average grade had to be at least 30-40%. I could not ride it without both tires skidding almost continuously. This was totally insane, being out here all by myself. I never saw another person on the Teocalli loop.

Garmin data. Note many sections of 2-3mph climbing speed.
Hairball descents weren't much faster. One of my hardest
trail rides ever.
Teocalli Ridge finally pops out into a meadow with huge, sweeping switchbacks that can be ridden at insane speed. It terminated on the jeep road that I believe goes over Pearl Pass. I was trembling by the time I got to the bottom. I can't believe my brakes didn't fade. That was the most extreme braking for the longest time I've ever done by a huge factor. Maybe a full DH run at Killington or Mt Snow comes close. Nothing I've ridden though. I'd have to think real hard about doing this trail again.

Heading back on Brush Creek Rd, I thought maybe I could avoid riding along Hwy 135 back into Crested Butte by taking the Upper Upper Loop that flanks Mt Crested Butte. I didn't have this in my GPS track I was following. My Latitude 40 map suggested it contoured, not climbed Mt Crested Butte. I was not in the mood for more steep push-a-bike, but that is what I got. There were some 15+% sections, gaining at least a few hundred feet. Once on contour, I found the trail to be quite technical. It was just like riding back east, non-stop chunky talus. It was all rideable, but in my tired state I had to be very careful I didn't make a sloppy mistake. I hadn't crashed yet on this trip. This trail wraps right around the bottom of the rock face of Mt Crested Butte. Some glimpses through the aspens were quite spectacular. Eventually my drop back to the car was reached, Tony's Trail. I had come down this from the opposite direction on a prior trip, so I knew to expect giant, sweeping switchbacks on buff trail. Although brief, it was a nice note to finish such a long ride.

After changing and cleaning up at the visitor center, I walked up Elk Ave to eat at Teocalli Tamale again. I sat on a bench for a good while after eating to soak up CB atmosphere during the brilliant 70F afternoon. I really dig this town. Here are a few observations:
  • The locals all look really fit. Only tourists were fat.
  • Everybody gets around town on a cruiser bike, one speed, fenders, and giant basket.
  • There is a bike rack about every 100ft on both sides of the road. They were full of bikes. None were locked.
  • Many women zip around town on cruisers with dogs in tow.
Durango's size seems to wash out some of the grassroots vibe that Crested Butte still posses. It would be really cool to live here, but I'm years from retirement and the field I specialize in doesn't exactly locate in places like CB. Probably a good thing, because then CB would be just like any other city.

After 11.5hrs of hard riding in the last two days, riding plans for Friday weren't even on my mind. The capstone ride for the trip, a triple pass ride between Crested Butte and Aspen, wasn't going to happen. My fear was I'd get over the 4000ft climb and wouldn't be able to make it back. Something much easier would have to be the plan. I'll leave you with a little eye crack from this ride.

Deer Creek Trail with Gothic Mountain in background

Poopers on Deer Creek Trail

High point of Deer Creek Trail with Maroon Bells Snowmass
Wilderness in background

Climbing West Brush Creek Rd

Looking down uber steep Teocalli Mtn Trail. West Brush
Creek Rd visible in lower left.

Teocalli Ridge just before the plummet begins

View from Teocalli Ridge into the Maroon Bells Snowmass
Wilderness. Pearl Pass Rd thousands of feet below is visible.
Pearl Pass is just to the right of Crystal Peak (a 14er) in upper
right of photo.

Looking up at Mt Crested Butte from Tony's Trail

Teocalli Tamale is tiny side building with yellow sign above door

No comments: