The Colorado trail by fatbike
Currently doing the Colorado trail with friends, a mixed bunch with normal bikes but also 7 fatbikes - which prove to be a hoot on the trail.
We do the CT "light" version, shuttling all the wilderness detours and without thru-bike luggage. Which allows us to do it in 10 days, which in turn allows us to grab a few extra days of biking near Cortez, Moab and Grand Junction before heading back home.
Today was day 6, we ventured off the CT to bike the Monarch Crest trail.
I'll add more pics and a kind of trip report in the days to come. So far zilch mechanical problems with all bikes, apart from today: a torn Husker Du, the folding version - a pointy rock or stick went straight through the casing while going pretty fast. Not on the sidewall but in the middle. We put in a patch made from a road bike tire and continued on our merry way.
What surprises us is how few people we encounter on the trail, nary a soul...
Here I am, enjoying a sandwich on the trail near Leadville, comfy beneath a thick pine tree. The white specks you see around the bike are hail stones...
I was just there last week riding a sectIon of the trail near Buena Vista where we were staying (Rainbow Lake Resort). I'd love to do a multi-day ride but getting other family members convinced to do it would be nearly impossible so I'll probably have to stick with doing out and back rides from trailheads. Have fun and I'll look forward to reading about the entire trip in your ride report.
THe pictures look great! I'll definitely be looking forward to more updates. How are you liking your sandman? I have always wanted one
The trails around Durango are great on a Fatty. Check out Phil's World, Horse Gulch and Sand Canyon. Even better in the snow!
Craig, Durango CO
"Lighten up PAL" ... King Cage
Ok, here goes. A few years ago I first got wind of the Colorado trail. It seemed too good to be true, lots & lots of singletrack miles through the Rockies. I started preparing the itinerary, ordered the trailbook & maps, searched the internet and quickly found out that portions of the trail are wilderness area and thus off limits to bikers.
The mandatory detours are mostly over dirtroads, so the decision was quickly made to shuttle those portions and thus get extra days to explore other must-do trails in the general vicinity.
I also found out about good trials that intersect or are next to the CT. So after much planning and making choices I had it boiled down to this: 10 days on the CT trail, including a detour on the Buffalo Creek trail system and the Monarch Crest trail. No thru-biking, shuttle for the detours, luggage transport and a bed at night - go ahead, call me a wimp .
After the CT we'll spend one day at Phil's World, two days at Moab and one day at Fruita and/or Grand Junction before heading back to Denver and the flight home.
Temperatures near Cortez & Moab won't be ideal for biking, starting real early will have to do.
Friends and friends of friends got wind of it and at the end we left with 15 eager Belgian biker, 7 of which on a fat Sandman.
Day one, the trailhead near Denver...
The first biker we came across was kind of a culture shock for us: not because his "basic" bike and his attire, but because of the gun he was packing on his belt .
He turned out to be a real nice fellow, carrying the gun because he was followed by a really big bear the day before - he had returned to Denver to get his gun.
With the Platte river valley in the background.
The first day was supposed to be a quiet ride, but we kind of misjudged the effect the altitude was having on us, in combination with a jet lag (having arrived the evening before). We all arrived pretty knackered near Bailey...
We took an good look at the track profile for the next day and decided to reverse the direction for the stretch near the Buffalo Creek trails: we rode the CT in the other direction, then diverted to the Buffalo Creek trails and ended down Sandy Wash trail and the road leading to Pine - nice !
The next day saw us starting at Kenosha pass to Breckenridge, a really nice trail with wide views at first.
Gasp, a few days ago we were still living at sea level...
Then plunging down into the woods, here the trail is still perfectly maintained - sometimes a bit too much groomed for our taste.
We spent the night in Frisco and the strongest of our bunch backtracked direction Breckenridge to follow the CT from there, all the way to Tennessee pass north of Leadville - respect...
Us wimps hooked up with the trail at Copper Mountain. 't Was a swell day, lots of rodent wildlife above the treeline: chipmunks, these fat fellows (marmot, groundhog... ?), a kind of fat & long hamster and something that looked like a cross between a mouse and a rabbit.
We by then realised that we were just missing the Breck Epic and the Leadville100 - as it was we hardly meet a soul.
Here it's time to stock up on some water. I hate heavy backpacks, so I was carrying 3.5 liter (almost a gallon) on my bike. I had mounted a rear rack with the idea of packing everything on the bike, but it'd put the center of gravity too high on these trails - especially downhill .
I'd have to take the rack off, but it doens't bother me and I'm basically a bit lazy so it's stays on for the moment.
The next trails segment(s) we biked was from Buena Vista onwards, to end near Poncha Springs. Nice undulating trails, with some sharp climbs. A succesion of pine, aspen & birch forests.
The next day we biked the Monarch Crest trail all the way down to Poncha Springs. Up to that moment mechanical interventions was limited to greasing the chains. But quite near the top of the descent I hit something so hard with my back wheel that it ripped the Husker Du folding bead tire. It not only made a 1/2" gash in the middle of the contact area, but also punched right through a rim hole & the rim strip.
A Park Tool tire patch and some duct tape later and I was rolling again.
I was running more than 1 bar at the moment, to avoid pinch flats but mainly because I find the HD's much more supple. Which isn't always a good thing: I nearly crashed at 30 mph the day before, landing after a jump on a side slope and the front tire folding away sideways... at 1 bar, never had that happen to me with Larry's at lesser pressures...
Today was a tough day, from Marshall pass to hwy 114. The farther we get from Denver, the rougher the CT trail gets. The first few days we thought that the trail was "over groomed", but not any more - you need to pay attention the whole time and there's little room to relax. The fat tires are a real help, rolling over stuff much more comfortable & thus arriving much less beat up by the trail compared to normal bikes.
Tomorrow we reach the highest point(s) on the trail, close to 4000m altitude... I hope they have decent brews in Silverton, where we'll end up.
Finally found the time to finish the TR. When we hit hwy114 about half of us continued around the wilderness area along wide dirt roads with nice views. The others skipped this stretch and we all hooked up again in Lake City, at the bottom of what would prove the hardest stretch yet - the one leading up to Silverton.
The start was easy enough, but the uphills along the crest were getting steeper & rougher.
By the time we hit the 4000 meter altitude mark all of us had been pushing the bikes up the roughest uphill stretches while doing our best goldfish impression - gasping for air (we all live near sea level, remember...).
We arrived in Silverton just after dark, with the sheriff waiting for us . Part of the group had shunted this stretch (the more sensible ones) and had taken the dirtroads to and over Cinammon pass and into Silverton. They'd arrived during daylight, had tired of waiting for us, had inquired at the hotel about the trail conditions and the hotel owner had informed the sheriff that a bunch of foreign bikers were still on the loose at night .
Oh well, better be prepared he must have thought, the sheriff was happy to see us arrive and so were we !
Silverton is one big tourist trap, but they sure have some nice wheels !
When in Rome, do as the Romans. So when in Silverton, behave like a normal tourist . Because of the long day and short night, some of the group decided to take the train to Durango. Here's that high-speed connection warming up .
4 of us continued biking and we suffered a snakebite...
When I put more than one slice of cheese or ham on my sandwich at home I get a scowl from my dear wife, because I'm setting a bad example for the kids . This is what a "normal" sandwich out of a convenience store looks like in the States - I know you guys want to have the biggest of everything, but this here is just exagerating. There's like 50 slices in there !
Here's my bike on the last (and very nice !) stretch of the CT leading into Durango, at Gudy's Bench. Nice bike eh , I'm extremely happy with it. Apart from the massive snakebite at the Monarch crest it behaved flawlessly, zilch problems.
Weird passing by this truck in Durango, branding fat tire ale, from a company named "New Belgium"... when you're from Belgium and riding a fat tired bike from Belgium
Being from our little beer-loving country opened many doors, especially those of a certain micro brewery in Durango which was at the point of closing. We had something to celebrate after all, after 10 days on the CT. Throughout our trip we made a point of not drinking any Belgian beer. The times I've been offered a Stella Artois in the US... I'm actually from the town where that brewery is, so I'm definitely not travelling halfway across the world to drink that again !
Very nice microbeers you guys have, some a bit too hoppy to our taste, but overall a pleasant surprise
But our trip wasn't over yet, on our way to Moab we stopped near Cortez to take a spin on the Phil's World trails. I'd been hearing stuff about the famous "rib cage" section and sure enough, just before arriving at that stretch Barny hurt his... ribcage. The setting for the picture was right there .
Then on to Moab... the plan was to do the Slickrock trail first and then the Whole Enchillada before finishing at Fruita/Grand Junction. Everybody had been warning us about the soaring temperatures of Moab in august so we had looking forward to this with apprehension.
So when we arrived in Moab... it rained... and it kept on raining for the whole day afterwards !!
We weren't too keen on wet slickrock, so we went hiking in Arches Natl park. After a "training" on cryptobiotic stuff we were allowed without a guide into the "Fiery Furnace", a maze of canyons. It didn't live up to it's hot name though...
The following day we switched priorities and went for the Whole Enchillada. Starting all the way on top at the Burro trailhead. Here's the start of the fun stuff at Burro pass.
Being a great fan of Western movies, the lower we biked, the better it became. This looks just like one of those quaint backscreens you saw when cowboys were having a conversation on a rolling wagon.
Unfortunately the Porcupine rim section consists of a lot of old jeeptrail. My bike made short work of it, but it was kind of a let-down after the hundreds of miles of CT we had just done.
But the descent into the Colorado river canyon made up for it. Really, really nice stretch that is !
On our last day in Moab we finally got to do the Slickrock trail. A bit funny really, because about half of our bunch really hated it . They got so fed up with the endless up and down grades that they'd have bailed if they could. I guess I got the best of it because I drove one of our team (who was sick the day before) all the way up to Burro pass so he could do the Whole Enchillada.
When he got down in the afternoon, that left us time to do the training loop of Slickrock plus a reasonable portion of the trail. Just enough to enjoy it, take pictures, play around...
Due to the lost rain day, we had run out of time to go to the Fruita and Grand Junction trail systems. That'll have to wait for another day .
Biking the CT with the fatbikes was very fun. The group was almost perfectly devided between Sandman Hoggars and normal mtbikes. At first, close to Denver, the trails are really well groomed and a fatbike doesn't offer not much of an advantage, apart from higher speed in the turns and ofcourse on the sandy stretches of the Buffalo Creek trails.
But once near Breckenridge and past, they were a real advantage: the normal bikes had a weight advantage on the climbs, but were struggling much more than we did over roots & rocks. On the downhill parts we just blew the skinny tired bikes off their socks .
One advice though for lowland types doing the CT, prepare for the lack of this :
Oxygen, or the lack of, was our biggest problem. No mechanical troubles, on our fatbikes nor on the normal ones, but headaches and mayor power loss due to the height of the trail were our biggest problems. It made relatively easy trails all of a sudden real hard.
That and the fact that I didn't get to see a bear (I'd really wanted to see one...) . Deer, coyote, rodents in all sizes, porcupines, snakes and other critters - but no bear. Must... go... back !
Excellent write up and pics.
Looks like a great time.
Wow! Epic stuff, pics and adventure to dream of, very good!
Awesome photos and stories. Have a new goal to try.
Simply outstanding adventures for the lot of ya's!!
Well done, sirs. Thanks for sharing.
What FUN! So I can plan for my out & back rides next year, where would you suggest the best places are for starting points. Probably looking to ride out 2 hours and back as the rest of the family probably wouldn't do more than that at a single setting.
Ok, I'll do this in a few sittings because it'll be a looong post otherwise (and cost me a few hours to look everything up ). And maybe you don't want to hear my suggestions, I don't like out & back rides, I prefer loops or one way stretches :-). So here goes:
Originally Posted by Chromehorn
Close to Denver I'd start in the opposite direction on the pass where the trail crosses Deckers road (SE of Pine Grove village). Ride down into the South Platte river canyon (really nice undulating trail to begin with followed by nice DH with vistas). If you don't want to do the DH into the river canyon, you can loop back along a dirtroad that runs parallel with the trail.
Once down into the canyon and over the bridge, turn left and loop back to Deckers road over a good gravel road and along the river. When you hit Deckers, let your family turn right and wait at a bar/restaurant a bit up the road while you bike up the pass to retrieve the car .
The next day you can either start at the same point and after a few miles turn right & down into the Buffalo Creek trail system (very nice). Exit at the bottom right away or bike up to the Sandy Wash trail and then back on Deckers, where your family turns left to the same bar and you... you know the drill .
Some wilderness area now so fast forward to Kenosha pass. Here your family can follow you a few miles to the intersection with forest road 37 and then turn back to the road and the car by easy forest roads (and an uphill asfalt climb back up to the pass).
If you'd continue, you're in for a tough climb up to a pass. At the bottom of the descent after the pass you can get off the trail and onto forest road 6, which leads you along scenic Swan river straight into Breckenridge (some interesting mining heritage there, mining barges).
Or you can all together start in Breck, go up FS6 and loop back into the last stretch of the CT back into town.
The segment between Breckenridge I would skip, it's a mostly a 3000ft hike-a-bike climb followed by a fast descent to Copper Mountain. Only for the diehards.
It's tough to do a loop out of Copper Mountain along the CT (that I know of), it's a loooong but beautiful climb up, then a good stretch of more or less at the same altitude and then a really nice downhill before climbing back up to Tenessee pass...
Maybe start at Tenessee pass with the family, bike down the CT in the opposite direction to the East Fork Eagle river and bike up again by the forest road that runs parallel to the trail on the lower part ?
Is this the kind of info you're looking for ?
Last edited by caminoloco; 09-25-2012 at 10:40 AM.
Perfect! Don't go to a bunch of effort though. This gives me some great examples to share with them so they can pick what they think they will like. I'll ride practically anywhere so I'm good no matter what. Just want to get the kids out into nature a bit more than they typically would be doing if left to their own devices (i.e. gaming on ipods, ipads, 3DS, etc...). It may be tough to get them started but once they get rolling, they usually enjoy it.
Originally Posted by caminoloco
That's what I keep in mind: the not too tough stretches that have people coming back for more . I'll just continue with the descriptions, it's already been more than a month and if you'd ask me next year it wouldn't be as fresh.
Originally Posted by Chromehorn
Around Leadville there's another wilderness area so we hooked up with the trail again near Buena Vista. Here the trail has a totally different character than the days before: instead of big climbs and high passes, the stretch between here and hwy50 runs along a mountainside about halfway between the crest and the valley floor. You can bike or drive up to the CT on lots of dirtroads or on road 162 a few miles south of Buena Vista. It's a tough but not overly long hike a bike from the Chalk Creek trailhead to the rim and from there on it's all undulating trail until you get tired of it and drop down any dirtroad to the left and back to the 285 between Buena Vista and Poncha Springs.
No "glamorous" CT stretch but I liked it a lot.
We didn't follow the CT the next day but biked the whole of the Monarch Crest trail and down to Poncha Springs. With kids I'd start on the Monarch pass and maybe just follow the trail until Marshall pass. By then you've had the most of the high mountain crest stuff (if I remember correctly...) and the trail takes on a slightly tougher turn from there on and more into the woods.
You can take the Marshall Pass road down to the left/east there, a good dirtroad down the mountain and to hwy 285 (which has a wide shoulder so no danger coasting down to Poncha Springs - I managed 80 km/h without pedalling ).
Or you can take the Marshall pass road to the right, to the west and bike all the way down to Sargents on hwy 50. There's a kind of "trading post thing" there if I recall correctly and you can do the by now familiar drill of biking up to the pass again to retrieve the car .
The next CT stretch from Marshal pass to hwy114 I wouldn't know how to do that with kids..., it's rough & tough biking (a long day for a fit lowland biker) and I didn't see any obvious escape routes that would make a nice loop. I'd let the kids have their ipads back just for one day .
Comes wilderness again, a scenic alternative is the gravel road going from hwy114, over Los Pinos pass and into Lake City. Two pretty tough climbs make the whole stretch maybe a bit too much for kids.
Comes the highest stretch of the CT, starting at Spring Creek Pass SE of Lake City... Two alternatives: one is to take an ATV trail that comes up on the left and goes down to the right. Nobody from our group took it but I know it's there (I saw a few ATV's heading down). It's on a large saddle, maybe 4-5 miles into the trail.
The other option is to continue until you hit Carson's sadlle, like the name says a very wide saddle/pass between a few valleys. The trail parallels a steep jeep-atv road down to the actual sadlle.
Before you get to the saddle you'll have passed the 4000m altitude mark and this (see photo below...). Up to you to decide if your kids would appreciate that. And take in mind that altitude. If you're not used to it it's a killer...
From Carson's saddle you can bike down into the valley along a jeep road and back to Lake City over a wide gravel road.
DO NOT go further along the CT with kids, or once down to the gravel road over Cinnamon pass to reach Silverton. Or they must be from Krypton . Very tough stretch and/or a steep & high pass.
I can't tell anything about the stretch between Molass pass and Bolam pass, after the previous tough day we took to easy jeep trails . But there's definitely opportunity to make a nice loop from what we saw of those dirtroads: there's a a ski village about halfway between Silverton and Durango (forgot the name - Cascade something ?). From there you can drive along good forest roads up and close to the CT. Stop anywhere you want once you get to the desired altitude, start biking further up along the jeep road, follow the CT left or right depending which jeep road you took and you can exit at Hotel Draw Road, Bolam pass road or forest road 579 and back down.
For the last stretch of the CT it's easy to make a very nice loop: follow the Dry Fork trail clockwise to the left until it connects with the CT and follow that into Durango. Some of our group did that and were very happy with it.
One even lost his camera on the Dry Fork trail. I posted a "lost & found" message here on the mtbr Colorado forum and lo and behold: someone found the camera (by the time we were back in Belgium) and that person was so kind as to post the pictures on the internet so the owner could retrieve his pictures and memories of the CT. I hope the guy who found it got the camera working again as his due reward, it had rained in the meantime.
Have fun with your family on the Colorado trail, it's awesome. And do post pictures !
The past 2 years I've rode a bunch of those trails on our annual bike trip, but both times on a skinny bike. Monarch, whole enchilada, slickrock, Phils world....
A fat bike would be awesome out at Amasaback as well. This year I was gonna take the fatty out there, but I used up all my vacation days...oops...
Thanks again, awesome pics & stories!!
Nice wheels and nice pictures - your bike surely stands out ! I wouldn't do have enjoyed it so much without front suspension though, the difference it makes on such trails is pretty big.
I hadn't expected your kids to be so young, take care not getting him in over his head - like I said, that altitude thing changes your abilities a lot if you come from lower regions.
Amazingly kickass/awesome thread!!!
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