Climbing: 3050 feet
Riding Time: 2:50 hours
Min to Max: 8300 to 11,100 feet
Friday needed to be a wind-down day for me. The spirit was willing, but the body was wrecked. Heinously steep climbs to high altitude were out of the plan. Uber technical descents didn't seem very attractive either. I read there is another popular loop not far from Gunnison. It is called Doctor's Park. The loop is known for its fast, flowy descent through aspens. The ride can be shuttled, but the climbing was supposedly easy, all on gravel or forest service roads.
Being a short ride day, I started the day later. I parked on Taylor River Rd near the junction with Spring Creek Rd. Spring Creek Rd follows the creek all the way up at mostly 3-5% grades. There was a 12% section up top, but a granny gear on good surface meant I didn't have to push very hard on that. A little over half the climbing was gained in about 9 miles of gravel road. That meant the other climbing half would be gained in many fewer miles.
Spring Creek Rd passes near the popular Reno/Flag/Bear/Deadman loop that I've done a couple times. Shortly after this, forest service road #554 is taken the rest of the way up. This is little more than an ATV trail in a gully initially, and much of it climbs at 10% or steeper grades. There were a gang of mountain bikers camping out at the base of this road in the open valley. Spring Creek had to be crossed. A guide book says not to attempt it in spring, it can be too deep and too fast to be safe. It has rained a lot recently in these parts, and all the streams and rivers were really flowing. It was completely safe to cross, but it meant wet feet. I can't believe I actually cleaned the 50ft wide crossing, rotors submerged, with a very rocky bottom. With an audience, I had to give it my best shot. There was still frost on the ground in the shadows further up. Needless to say, my feet froze.
Being a short loop to begin with, I decided to add a small extension to the loop, a piece of the Gunnison Spur of the Colorado Trail (GSCT). Views were claimed to be nice. I reached the top of the GSCT at 10,950ft. I thought I've ridden above 11,000ft three days in a row now, so was there any way to squeeze 50 ft more out of this? I continued a bit further on FS554, and sure enough, it climbed to an open knob at 11,080ft. I was surprised the guide book I have doesn't mention this. This knob offered about a 300 degree view of surrounding wilderness areas. I hung out a while up there. There was no wind, and the temp was in the 60's. This spot offered supreme tranquility.
The climbing to the high point held true to the description. It was 100% rideable by a tired, sea level dweller like me. Dropping back down a bit, contouring singletrack of the GSCT is picked up. This alternated between open meadows and forest. There were bits of climbing, but nothing strenuous. This trail had a lot of the same vibe Trail 401 and Deer Creek have. Many flowy, big sky sections benchcut into steep slopes.
The GSCT merges back into the Doctor's Park trail descent. Doctor's Park, as most trails in this area, are open to motos. The upper portion was very steep, rutted, and very technical. It was not what I expected, but rideable. The guide book said I would be giggling going so fast through aspen forest. Instead, my sphincter was getting a workout from fear of going over the bars. Despite the roughness, the trail was heavily armored around the numerous hairpin switchbacks. It was the concrete blocks on edge, metal staked into the trail tread type armor, to sustain dirt bike abuse. If it hadn't been armored this way, I think many of the switchbacks would have been unrideable.
I stopped once the initial rough stuff leveled out to take a photo. To my surprise, another rider came flying down behind me. He was with a group of four others, all from Florida. Henry was on a Titus 6" dualie, and he rubbed it in that his 50% more travel had considerable value over my Titus 4" travel XC bike in this terrain. I couldn't argue with that. I wouldn't want to pedal his bike all the way up though. Henry also has a Titus Racer-X just like mine back home he races on. I was surprised by the skill level of these guys, being from Florida. They were at the end of a 10 day tour of Colorado and Utah.
I hung with this group the rest of the way down. Except for Henry, they seemed to be a bit gravity challenged. Henry did complain about the altitude effects. We got into the middle flowy part the guide book said would have me giggling. It was good, scare yourself silly fast. The prospects of meeting up with an aspen at 20-25mph gave me pause though. I had no idea what the lower portion of the trail would bring. This was some of the most extreme stuff yet for the trip. We basically came down a near vertical giant boulder slide, that somehow trail designers managed to benchcut a trail through. The switchbacks folded straight back. They were armored with blocks. Some had a 20ft near straight drop-off to the outside, and the rideable tread was only 2ft wide. Riding in the middle of this group, I took more risk than I would have riding alone. I cleaned most of the switchbacks, dabbed on a couple, and dismounted and walked two. Henry cleaned all of it.
After about a dozen of these extreme switchbacks, the trail terminates near a campground off Taylor River Rd. While waiting for the others, Henry commented that the ride was too short. Turns out he and his gang shuttled the trail. Not just to the top of Spring Creek Rd, but all the way to 11,000ft. I commented the ride isn't short at all if you start from the bottom. The whole ride took me nearly three hours. We agreed the trail was a real hoot. I'd do it again in a heartbeat, but I'd try to make an epic out of it by including Matchless Trail or some of the other singletracks in the Taylor Reservoir Basin. It was fun to descend with other riders for a change, as I didn't have to obsess over safety. It was a mile or so back to my car. The day was still young, but I wanted to get my bike packed up, shipped, and relax.
Having gone through airport screening twice now, I'm surprised my new ankle hardware didn't trip any alarms. In Boston, I was randomly picked to go through the new body scan machine. I know a little bit about that technology and can understand why it would not detect titanium in my ankle. However, coming back through Denver security, I deliberately picked a lane that did not have one of the new body scan machines. The kid in front of me kept tripping the metal detector. He stripped almost everything off. He said he had two screws in his foot. He got pulled aside for a body rub-down. Then I go through. Nothing. I have a plate, six screws and two pins. Maybe the kid's screws are a different alloy? Go figure. I'm sure the stuff is really in my ankle. I can feel the hardware on both sides.
It's always a downer heading home after a trip like this. I feel the most alive when I am unplugged on the trail - no cell phone, no music device, no noise of modern human activity at all. I never turned on the TV in my room either. I did blog and check email though. Next week it is back to work where I sit in front an array of LCD displays pushing polygons around. Time to start thinking about the next trip. In the mean time, here are a few select photos from Friday's ride.
Looking down 12% section of Spring Creek Road
Spring Creek Rd where it levels off. Deadman Gulch is to right
where road curves to left
FS554 about mile up from Spring Creek
Top of FS554 at 11,080 feet. Windless and mild. I did not
want to leave this spot.
GSCT just below 11,000ft
GSCT just before merging with Doctor's Park Trail.
Doctor's Park Trail, one of the open chunky spots
Bottom trail head of Doctor's Park Trail. There is a rider in this photo,
but you'll probably never be able to pick him out at the resolution I posted.
Cliche, but this is way steeper than it looks here.