Trip Report - Bikepacking the Colorado Trail from Molas Pass to Durango (pic heavy)
I got into bikepacking just over a year ago. One of the things that inspired me towards it was seeing some amazing bike pack reports from the Colorado high country, awesome stuff. I was able to ride some great high country trails during my CO/UT trip a year ago but didn't have anywhere near the experience then to attempt an overnighter. A CO bikepack has always seemed to me to be the ultimate in bikepacking challenge and reward. Braving the difficult terrain, the long climbs, the thin air, the unpredictable weather, and the remoteness will reward you with amazing views, awesome singletrack, and all the solitude you can handle. When it came time to plan this year's CO trip I made sure that a bikepack would be part of it. There are so many possible routes to choose from, but knowing I'd be spending some time in Durango the Colorado Trail from Molas Pass to Durango was an obvious choice.
After waiting out a few days of stormy weather I hitched a ride up to Molas Pass with Hermosa Tours. Requisite photo to start the ride
Checking out the views
I had ridden the CT from Molas Pass to Engineer Mtn a few days before, so knew what to expect.
Little Molas Lake
I bought a gorrillapod before the trip so I could get some action shots rather than just scenery (not that there was anything wrong with the scenery around here)
It was interesting to see how the bike handled differently unloaded a few days ago vs loaded today. Up to Engineer Mtn Tr I was able to make it up everything I had ridden unloaded, plus a few sections I had not made before. There was nothing I walked due to steepness, just rocky step ups that had exposure off to the side. From Engineer Mtn up and over Rolling Pass and beyond, I did much more HAB.
Pano looking south, and west to the Wemanuche Wilderness
The trail soon turns north and then contours for some miles below the mountains you see in the distance
As you climb the views get better and better
Oops! Does this mean the end of self-timer mania?
Nope...the gorillapod lives on, two-legged
Getting a bit into the trees for a while
And soon enough, you are above treeline for good
The snow from a few days ago is gone from the trail
Nothing but barren wood posts mark the trail in many sections
Looking back from where I came
Desolate lake below Jura Knob
At the turnoff, heading for Rolling Pass. New dirt for me.
Maybe it was just the elevation but the climbs seemed to get a lot tougher approaching Rolling Pass, even if they did not really seem steeper
Looking back and forward from Rolling Pass
Dropping in, some welcome descent
Water flowing from the weeks precipitation
Heading back south
There were some nice and incredibly fun sections of forest singletrack through here. Very diverse trail!
Looking over to Engineer Mtn
The trail turns again north for a little toward Sliderock Ridge
View of distant Lizardhead Pk
Destination for day 1, Celebration Lake
The lake is over 11k feet, so I wanted to make sure I got here well before dark to get a fire going. It was a bit windy so I backtracked 1/4mi into the trees where I had seen a good camp spot, with a fire ring and stockpile of wood ready to go. Wood was still a bit damp so it took some time to get a fire going, but it was sure nice to have.
Camp for the night
Stats for day 1: 20mi, 3,767 climbing, 3,600 descent. Elev range 10,800 to 12,500.
After a cold night I woke to find I had visitors. Perhaps I should have been less worried about the tracks we saw nearby a few days earlier
and paid more attention to these thieves waiting for me to leave my food unattended for just a split second.
I had ridden the first part of today's section already, around to Corral Draw. The weather and views were definitely better today, however.
Today would be another tough one, climbing over Section Point, Blackhawk Pass, and Indian Trail Ridge, all around 12,000ft or higher.
Passing Section Point
Soon after I am traversing toward Blackhawk Pass
Despite being right below the pass, there is still a ways to go up a number of switchbacks
Final painful switchback
Looking ahead and back from the Blackhawk Pass
Some really fun descending off the top
For much of the day there is an awesome view into the colorful Hermosa Creek drainage
Only a few miles to go. All I had heard of Indian Trail Ridge were: shale rock, hike a bike, takes forever, long and brutal.
My map seemed to show it being only 1.9mi long which didn't seem too bad even if it were brutal. But then I flipped the map over and saw Indian Trail Ridge continue for an additional 4mi. Oh well....gotta get over it regardless!
In reality it didn't seem that bad since I am used to doing lots of HAB. A cold wind was the worst part. And after hearing all the descriptions, it was a lot more rideable than I expected.
Climbing pure chunky shale, not rideable
I hopped on the bike where ever I could
This was a sketchy descent on a fully loaded bike
The ridge is a series of false summits, which is probably why it seems so long.
Being up there at sunset was pretty cool
I wasn't planning on camping this high, so a few more miles to go for me. And more false summits...
Looking off the side to the south east you can see Kennebec Pass
No sooner had the sun disappeared than an almost full moon popped up
Just a bit more tough hike a bike
And then a fun, moon-lit descent down to Taylor Lake. It was pretty frigid up there so I opted to continue on past Kennebec Pass and descend to the first road crossing where I figured there would be a campsite (there was, fire ring and all) that would be a warmer more sheltered place to camp.
Stats on the day: 36.5mi, 7,641 climbing and 9,455 descent. Elev range: 10,350 to 12,320, dropping from highest point to 9,243 in final miles.
Moonlight descent was priceless
The final day would turn out to be my least favorite on the trail as it did not offer that much in the way of views, and as alpine riding had already yielded to thick forest which would soon turn to a mix of oak, scrub and aspen.
Trail sign near camp
Despite the lower elevation it was cold in the canyon, and I found myself stopping often to warm hands. Some cool rock features were as good a place as any to stop
Dropping down into the aspens
A lot of people catch a shuttle to the top of Kennebec and ride down. But there is a tough 1,000ft climb in the middle of your descent which must really mess with their flow
There is a side loop off the CT called Dry Fork I'd been wanting to check out, so I did. Pretty fun, but heavily travelled and not much nice scenery compared to what I'd grown used to. Worth doing though if you need to ride from town.
Looking south toward Durango
Bottom of the trail I stopped for a snack and watched these trout cruise around for a while. They were not fazed at all when hikers dogs jumped in the water to cool off.
Rock cairn city
I was camped at the Hermosa campground 9mi N of town so I still had some miles to go. I hit a few trails through Dalla Mountain Park and then cruised through town to pick up the East Animas River Rd rather than Hwy 550.
Up Hermosa Creek Rd I picked up a trail shown on the map as Seth's trail for a mile or so, which seemed little used and eventually led straight into a cattle pen just below the campground. I ducked back on the road since the beers in my cooler weren't going to get any colder.
Stats on the day: 41.4mi, 6,148 climbing, 7,669 descent. Elev range 6,530 to 9,608.
Total for the trip: 98.1mi, 17,700 climbing, 20,870 descent.
And by the way, that 1,000ft climb shows on my GPS as having 1,550 of incidental descending in it so you are actually climbing 2,550 in 4mi. That is why the gain/loss numbers seem high for the day overall. (Dry fork loop adds another 1,000). So much for Kennebec being a shuttle....
Overall this was a pretty incredible ride that met all my expectations. Its challenging in so many ways, but totally doable if you are willing to put in the effort. I ran into only a few people on the first couple days. Many more on day 3, close to town. I would definitely put the CT as a must do for any biker. The views and the experience of riding it are simply incredible. Definitely one of my favorite rides, ever!
Killer scenery, great pictures, and interresting writeup- good job, Evdog
Hope you file lots more reports!
good work, inspiring stuff :-)
I'm new to this forum and I already dislike a fellow forum member. evdog, it's you! Incredible scenery, excellent photos and a great trip report. Thanks for taking us along. Oh yeah, nice bike too.
inspiring. What was your loaded weight? That backpack looks fierce.
Awesome pics! Looks like one heckuva great journey
"Ride what you love, love what you ride"
Originally Posted by rodar y rodar
I rode 34 days straight so have lots to post, will try to put all the interesting stuff up
adinpapa, not sure what the loaded weight was, probably around 45lb. The bike seems foreign to ride at first but after a couple of days you don't really notice the extra weight.
The backpack wasn't that bad either, the bulk of the space was mostly clothing. It was heavier than I'd like, but I don't have room for a frame bag on the Ibis where I would usually keep a reservoir. The hardtail I normally use bikepacking lets me keep some of the water off my back, but I only brought one bike on this trip and it wasn't going to be a fully rigid!
With that in mind I tried not to carry much water except on day 2 because there were plenty of streams flowing to filter from. Day 2 had a long dry stretch. The extra side pockets were for extra clothing layers which kept me warm in the mornings and at night, and I needed all the space in the pack during the day when layers came off. The nalgene was empty, just used for filtering (steri-pen)
Wow, thanks so much for the post. I am a bikepacking wannabe and info like this will get me there! Thanks again!
Great pictures, well worth the time you must've put in to get them. I daydream about riding Colorado singletrack, too many hours reading the US bike mags when I was younger - really enjoyed this post. A definate top-3 wishlist destination.
So awesome, that is what I want to do very soon. I am going to practice with some of the sections closer to me right now. Thanks for the super stoke!
Looks like you had a great time. I am both envious and happy for you.
"I think im gonna go to walmart and look at the mountain bikes and see if i can salvage the rear frame."- Nick_Knipp 3/21/12
absolutely awesome, I keep coming back just to look at those pics. Thanks for posting
Wow! Looks like an absolutely amazing trip. I am inspired! Need to bump this thing back up to the top so I don't have to keep digging through threads to find these incredible pics! lol. Major props on doing such a good write-up/photo documentary!