The route starts at the base of the Pikes Peak toll road at 7400ft ($15 fee, bikes can ride anytime now), climbs to 12,000ft to pick up Elk Park trail, drops to Barr trail for just a bit, then closing the loop on Heizer trail. Maps show these trails as "expert" level trails. I'm learning that expert MTB trail or Class 3 hiking trail in CO means something completely different than in New England! What was I getting into?
Was windy and 55F driving up US-24 to Cascade. I brought only thermal base layer and Gortex shell with me. There was pretty good chance for storms later in day. I was barely poking above tree line, so not a big risk, right?
I got to toll booths 3 minutes after they opened at 7:30am and there was a long queue there. Took 8-10min to pay. I felt decent climbing despite a punishing ride the day before. The air was super hazy. I wondered if it was moisture that would feed certain storms after noon. Later I learned it is smoke from far away forest fires. I toyed with the idea of going all the way to the summit first before hitting the dirt. Would play it by ear when I got to the 12,000ft trailhead.
The trailhead came and went without even a bobble in my front wheel. Funny how my bike wants to just go up, up, up! Surprisingly, there was almost no wind above treeline and temp was perfect for climbing. Starting around 9600ft, there is 3000+ft of 9-10% continuous grade. Last time I rode up Pikes in the race this section was still mostly gravel. The toll road is now 100% paved. Still not easy, especially on a 28# bike with 2.35" knobby tires!
Around 13,000ft, the road levels out and even dips a couple times. Nooooo! I don't like PUDS hiking, I don't like PUDS (pointless ups and downs) biking. That last 1000ft took me at least twice as long as the first 1000ft. I was cooked, about 6800ft of total ascent to the top. I was getting a tad worried too, as the lenticular cloud above the peak was getting bigger and darker by the minute. It was still only 10:30am or so. My summit stop was going to have to be quick. Donuts! That was half the reason to come up here, the famous right out of the fryer Pikes Peak donuts. Had to wait in line. I wolfed two down with a cup of water and split.
Interestingly, no other riders passed me on this holiday. Maybe locals didn't want to deal with the traffic. There was a lot, but it didn't bother me. Nobody buzzed me. I did pass one roadie walking up near the summit. Guess he was cooked. Many vans full of bikes and people were doing the touristy thing of follow the leader down from the summit like they do on Haleakala on Maui.
Elk Park was a great trail. Starts above tree line, then drops precariously before contouring some more. That initial plummet and a large boulder slide area were a bit much for my equipment and skill level, so there were a couple hike-a-bike bits. But overall, very nice riding with almost no people.
Trail pops out on the Barr Trail just above where Paul and I turned off it yesterday. Now I'd get to see the mid point Barr Camp lodge. Only a few people there, surprising for such a nice holiday day. Continue a bit further down Barr, overlapping slightly with section we rode yesterday, Heizer trail is picked up. My first reaction was wow, this doesn't see much traffic, hope I can follow it. Then it basically goes all fall line over the side of the mountain and was way more than I could ride, or even safely hike-a-bike for that matter. What was Paul getting me into? Trail was not built to sustainable standards and was terribly eroded, like 2ft deep V-groove trench filled with cantaloupes.
A bog area full of blow-downs is crossed that filled my shoes with mud. Then more hike-a-bike up. But then the redeeming qualities of this trail started to show. The next several miles was barely there 8" ribbon with occasional views of Pikes Peak and other surrounding peaks. Life was good again.
I quickly learned that every time I crossed a brook, a hike-a-bike immediately ensued. My legs were torched, and I should've paid more attention to what Paul said about Heizer being not all down. In fact, there was a huge amount of up. The grades weren't that onerous, it's just that my legs were saying FU to anymore climbing on the bike.
With a few miles to go, there was a steep 500ft climb. Why?! Why couldn't the trail just keep following the drainage down? But no, it had to go over yet another ridge. The initial drop from that ridge was just as sketchy as the initial drop from Barr Trail. Hundreds of feet dropped on foot again. It's one thing to have to hoof it up, but it adds insult to injury to have to hoof it down the other side too. Good think Paul didn't make it, he would have been waiting at the car for an eternity for me.
Eventually the grade between switchbacks slackens to something less than 30% and I felt safe riding on the marbles again. Still couldn't clean a lot of the switchbacks. I hadn't seen any people in like two hours until almost back to the car. So Heizer trail had that going for it.
I finished with 40 miles, 8200ft of climbing, in 6hrs moving time. Have to throw out any preconceived notions of average speed riding out here. Another 200+ft per mile ride. Just crazy.
Looking at temp profile coming back from summit, it is interesting to note that temp went from 45F at the summit to over 80F back at the bottom. Surprised I didn't freeze eating my donuts!
Forecast is looking poopy for the foreseeable future. Monsoon pattern returns, have to be back below treeline by noon(ish) to be safe. That puts serious damper on many of my planned activities. Tuesday will have to be a non-bike day and I may drive out the way from my next stop of the trip to hike some peeks with less risk of lightning.
|Smoky air starting out, from about 8200ft|
|Pikes over Crystal Lake at 9200ft|
|Glenn Cove around 11,400ft|
|One of the "W" switchbacks|
|The "W". About 3000ft of climbing in this image.|
|Would not want to overcook any of these turns coming down.|
|Around 13,000ft. Summit is taking forever to get closer. Didn't like the darkening of clouds either. Had a long day ahead of me after dropping off summit.|
|How did I find myself up here?! Third time riding bike up Pikes Peak|
|Oh, that's right, it was a donut shop ride!|
|Another angle of the "W" with different lighting|
|Start of Elk Park Trail|
|Elk Park chunder. Pea gravel to 2ft boulders.|
|Elk Park with Pikes ridge|
|Lots to like about Elk Park trail|
|Not so much this section. Maybe doable by me, but not solo 2nd day into trip.|
|An Elk Park meadow further down|
|Steep bench cut on Elk Park|
|Elk Park pops out on the Barr Trail at the camp|
|Barr Camp. I expected it to be crowded, but this is about the sum total of people when I got here.|
|Heizer Trail after the heinous drop-in|
|Heizer with Pikes|
|Heizer with smoky view of Pikes Peak now shrinking in the distance. Parts were no more than 8" wide.|
|Town of Cascade where I parked and US-24 almost straight down. I think it was less than 2mi to car but had to drop something like 2000ft. Insane.|
|One of about five million switchbacks on finale of Heizer descent. I could ride most of these, but some were just way to sketchy.|