Big mid-ride smiles
This past weekend, I went to Crested Butte for the long July 4 weekend and made sure to squeeze in as much Crested Butte-ness as possibly. Mainly, getting into the mountains. Yes, of course, we have mountains near Golden, but it’s just not the same. They’re less colorful, less remote, oftentimes, less big. And the trails and crags are packed with people! That last part is perhaps the biggest problem, the most significant detractor from calling Golden home.
You ride a trail and end up pulling over every 100 feet for a group of hikers, bikers going in the other direction, or if you’re slow like me, bikers passing you. You try to take your dog for a hike and find that everyone else and their pooch had the same idea. The result is that rather than taking your dog for a walk, your large, must-say-hi-to-every-animal dog ends up towing you through the dust. You aim for a nice afternoon of climbing, and ascend the face shoulder-to-shoulder with parties on either side, occasionally even waiting in line for a popular climb. Hello, urban outdoor living.
Sure there are boatloads of tourists pouring into Crested Butte from Texas and other southern states in summer and winter, but the land is sprawling and the tourists aren’t in large enough numbers to pack every recreational opportunity afoot. Many aren’t willing to venture far from town or the most popular trails either.
So, on day 1, my sister Daniela and I rode Trail 401 during the 4th of July Parade, when we suspected the crowds would be kept at bay. It was my second time on this CB classic, and Daniela’s first. The beginning is a grunt up the unrelenting twisting hills of Gothic Road. The worst part was the poor condition of the unpaved road. At times, so dusty that the surface is almost like soft sand you might find at the beach–the kind that your tires sink into, and makes the journey upward even more challenging. To boot, every passing car leaves you in a temporary fog of orange dust that coats your eyeballs, makes you sneeze and leaves an unpleasant film on your teeth. When the road dips, between hills, large territories of muddy water collect. I made the poor decision of skirting one by hopping through a grassy patch to the side, which was deceptively just as muddy, leaving my bike shoes a solid brown and drenched.
There are reprieves, however. The elation that comes with the conquer of each hill. A sparkling, bright green Emerald Lake that reminds you why you’re enduring aerobic suffering. And a fun wide snow bank that you walk your bike over while cooling off and reminiscing about winter.
At the top of the road, you veer right on a singletrack uphill through the trees. We rode 401 against the advice of several who noted that this section was unridable–it was. Every 50 feet at least, we encountered snow banks or sinking mud. After awhile, getting back on the bike for the short patches of dry trail became futile, and we hiked our bikes up the whole mile.
At last, the trees grow sparse and you’re flashing through a field of green grass, often almost falling due to the distracting views of mountaintops and high alpine waterfalls surrounding you. Down precipitous switchbacks, you zig zag through corn lillies and the first blossoming wildflowers–Indian paintbrush, some lupines.
All was well until we bottomed out at Rustler’s Gulch, got our feet wet again in a creek crossing, and realized that the trail was headed uphill once more. The first time I rode 401, Casey and I skipped this section. And the first time you ride a trail, a second unexpected bout of uphill like this can leave you pretty hangry. We hadn’t taken enough rests, we hadn’t eaten enough food, and we were tired. We put our heads down and took each hill with a grain of sugar–Bee Stinger energy chews sugar to be precise. When we finally reached the last short bit of downhill, and rode our brakes down Copper Creek Road to the car, we were psyched. Four hours later, covered in mud, no serious injuries between us, and we’d done it.
The next day was climbing at Spring Creek. One of the best things about Spring Creek is that the nasty approaches keep the crowds at bay. Trails are just about nonexistent here, so instead, you hike up loose dirt filled with rocks small and large alike. The bigs ones might look sturdy and it’s tempting to claw onto them for balance as you go up or come down, but they’re loose too and will slide or tumble down faster than you can say “Move!” Then there are the thorny plants and the many bugs. But the climbing is well worth it. We did a blocky 5.9 arete, then a 5.9 that had some slab and a fun roof. Next up was a 5.11+ that I did not actually climb. I awkwardly stumbled my way up move by move, veering off route, and hanging on the rope between each pathetically small advance. My belayer had to more or less pull me to the top. Finally, I did a 5.10 that I realized I’d done years before. Straightforward, perfect amount of challenge, and toward-the-upper-end of my leading ability.
Day 3 was another mountain bike ride–a shortie since I was leaving early. I felt bad because Daniela was clearly exhausted and I had made her rise at the appallingly early hour of 8am after we’d gone out the night before. We rode an easy gorgeous little singletrack called Lupine Trail and connected it to the lower loop. As I waited for Daniela after a stretch of trail, it seemed that she was taking a particularly long time. Then, three runners crested a small hill and informed me she’d fallen but was okay. I biked back to her and found that she’d taken quite the spill! Blood spilled down her leg and one elbow had been skinned. She was clearly mad at me and nothing I could say would change that. And that’s what you get for pushing your sister too hard.