Thursday, September 2, 2010

Wednesday Double Header

Paradise Divide/Trail 401 Loop
Distance: 36.4 miles
Climbing: 4620 feet
Riding Time: 4:19 hours
Min to Max: 8800-11,400 feet

There was heavy frost on everything when I left for Crested Butte. There wasn't a cloud in the sky, and there was zero percent chance for rain. Riding conditions were expected to be flawless by midday.

I parked at the visitor center in Crested Butte, just 30 minutes from Gunnison where I'm staying. Dozens of great rides can start right from town. I had a Trail 401 variant planned for this morning. Trail 401 has been rated the best trail in the country by various magazines over the years. It really is that good. This isn't just from the drop-dead views and buff surface. It can also be shuttled for the gravity challenged, or for the XC weenies, the vertical is easily earned on dirt road.  I've ridden Trail 401 twice before, as a trail 403/401 loop. I wanted something a little different today.

Five minutes out of Crested Butte you can be riding on this.

I headed out of CB early, with frost still on the ground. In five minutes, I was on Lower Loop singletrack. With the sun partially to my back, the lighting was superb. I got goosebumps, not because it was cold out, but because I was riding in such a cool place.  Lower Loop pops out on Slate River Rd, which becomes a single lane jeep road over Paradise Divide. I had never ridden all the way up this. I speculated that anything that goes over a 11,000ft pass must look pretty cool. It did not disappoint. The views of the surrounding peaks were crack for the eyes. I could never get weary of riding in terrain like this.

Climbing Slate River Rd is not for the weak legged, weak of mind, or altitude challenged. It climbs steeply and persistently. I nearly failed to make it through a few loose spots.

Slate River Rd. 20% grade at beginning of steep stuff.

A small convoy of ATVs passed me as I reached the summit. They were seeking the same thing I was, although I think powering one's self up to such heights make the views all that much more rewarding. In my GPS track, I marked a spur trail out to Yule Pass. It climbs to above 12,000ft as it wraps around Cinnamon Mtn. Wilderness starts at the pass, so this would be just a 4mi round trip out and back for me. I didn't get far. There was a major rock slide. I managed to get my bike down into the crevasse, but then didn't dare climb up the other side. The crevasse was nearly vertical, and it was all loose talus. A fall could easily have been fatal. I struggled mightily just to get my bike out. I had to kick new toe holds into the packed talus to climb my way out. I was trembling I was so scared. Oh well. I'll save those kilojoules for an evening ride.

Looking down Paradise Basin towards Schofield Pass.

Bombing down Paradise Basin was sweet. Nice double track, crazy speed, more crack for the eyes along the way. Slate River Rd terminates on Gothic Rd at Schofield Pass. This is where Trail 401 is picked up. Those that shuttle still have to negotiate 500ft vertical of steep switchbacks. My legs were feeling pretty wimpy already, and climbing at 11,000ft doesn't help. But the rest is pure bliss. Miles and miles of buttery smooth, foot wide singletrack that flows gently down hill. The whole time you are looking down the East River Valley with Mt Crested Butte at the far end. The mountain never seems to get any closer even though you are just ripping through singletrack.

Trail 401. Mt Crested Butte at far end of valley.

Eventually you reach the Rustlers Gulch trail end and the bliss comes to an end. To continue on Trail 401, you have to climb a bunch. The next segment is not nearly as scenic or flowy as the first. It pops out at the base of Gothic Mtn. Gothic Rd is taken back to town.

Even though this loop cuts out the Trail 403 section, I think I much prefer it. It adds more distance and gives greater diversity in scenery. This 4.3hr ride took a lot out of me. It was still early, and I hoped to squeeze one more ride in. To refuel, I walked a couple blocks up Elk Ave in Crested Butte to Teocalli Tomali's. A tiny little place, but they make the best burritos around. I topped that off with a large malt from Sonic in Gunnison. That outta sit nice when I jump back in the saddle.

Hartman Rocks
Distance: 18.9 miles
Climbing: 2160 feet
Riding Time: 2:05 hours
Min to Max: 7700-8400 feet

I've ridden at Hartman Rocks once before. It is a massive playground for dirt bikes and mountain bikes. There's slickrock, trialsy stuff, climbs, but mostly just buff, flowy, screaming fast singletrack. There are all kinds of race events here.

From Beck's trail with Gunnison in distance.

With such a dense maze of trails, I didn't have any plan. I just went out and winged it, heading out for an hour then back for an hour. The sun was still brilliant, even low in the sky, and the temperature was perfect around 70F. There were many other riders out here, with a few motos. I'm amazed how skilled some of the singlespeed riders were. One thing I notice at altitude is everybody is faster than me. Old guys with guts, kids with saddles dropped down to the rear wheel, and small girls. I'm sucking wind when they ride past talking. Its not fair.

Self portrait in Hartman Rocks.

I parked at the main parking area. This meant a brutal 250ft climb to get over the wall into the riding area. This also meant I could take Collarbone Alley back down to the car when I was done. This is the closest thing to NEK's Sidewinder trail.

I got back to the car with over 2hrs riding time. 55 miles in 6.4hrs trail riding made for a long day. I had to eat massive calories all over again. It was one of my best trail riding days ever.


Anonymous said...


I noticed you don't seem to be riding your Fisher 29'er much. I am a roadie and thinking of upgrading my older fs steed. Considering a nice 29'er hard tail or a racer X (26") (or possibly a sc blur). I won't race it and am just looking for something that can do 80% non technical off road (w/ alot of climbing) variety to my training. Could you give some pros and cons based on your experience?

Great week for the blog. I am lusting over your CO trip.


Hill Junkie said...

Brad, I built up the 29er with a purpose in mind. I planned to use it for the Leadville 100 this summer, until a fractured ankle changed my plans. Perhaps subconsciously, I'm not riding it much because that was the bike I was riding when I broke my ankle. Good chance I'll use the Superfly for the Ironcross race in October. I podiumed on my 'cross bike there last year. There were some young guys on MTBs that finished faster than me, so I'd like to compare.

The 29er does have some handling peculiarities. I will dedicate a post to it sometime. In really tight, slow stuff, a 29er does take a bit more work to handle. But on fast roots and baby head rocks, it provides more float than a 26" bike does. I find the Gary Fisher 29er geometry does not impede climbing at all. In fact, on very steep rough fire roads, it climbs better than small wheels. For the kind of riding I do, I think a 29er full suspension would be overkill. The Superfly hardtail is a very stiff frame, so it will beat you up on rough terrain. If you are doing mostly non-tech riding with lots of climbing, I'd stay with a hardtail. A carbon 29er is a light way to go.