July 3, 2017

CT Bikepack via Hermosa Creek

All aboard!! Six of us boarded the Durango-Silverton narrow gauge railroad with our bikepacking rigs, set on adventure. Our original plan was to bikepack the Colorado Trail (CT) back to Durango, but recent forest fires forced us to devise a Plan B, or C...or D. In the end we chose a route that took us as far south as Hotel Draw, then down to Hermosa Creek (A very popular and highly ranked trail that I had not ridden, so this was a good thing!!) and finally into town. Of course I found a few trails on that section that I was able to link, or so I thought, instead of riding pavement all the way.
Indeed. Adios AZ blast furnace.
I departed Phoenix early on Friday, missing most of the holiday traffic out of town. I arrived in Durango around 5p, just in time for a late afternoon spin. Last time I was here I tried riding over at Twin Buttes, but was thwarted by construction. I figured I'd give it another go before heading over to Audrey & Jack's place. They were kind enough to let a few of us crash their place both before and after the ride.

I readied myself for the ride, then sent Audrey a text letting her know I would be over after my ride. She then informed me that Twin Buttes was CLOSED due to a local fire!! Gah. Sure enough, even though there were cars with bike racks in the trailhead area, there was a large 'closed' sign posted over the trailmap. She said Jack was about to go for a ride and I should join him. Sounded good to me.

We rolled out from their house over to Dalla Mtn. Park for some 'easy flat-ish' trails. I found out real quick what it was like to arrive in Durango at over 6000' coming directly from 1200'. It was brutal. I was sucking wind big time and couldn't keep up. Not even close. How would this fare the next couple of days when our ride would top out at 12,500'?? Hmmm. I was concerned.
Cool rock features on Sailing Hawks.
Finally!! The downhill portion of the ride. Jack dropping in.

Of course I felt great on the downhill!! It was a fun loop either way and our route back into town in a few days would overlap this section. After the ride we went out for some dinner & brew before Jeff & Nancy arrived.

Jason & Jennifer didn't arrive until something like 4:30a!! Ouch. In spite of that, they were at the house early and ready for us to roll down to the train station, after some coffee!!
Had to get the downhill HAB out of the way early!!
Really nice network of bikeways in Durango.
Wake up call. Photo by Jeff.

Downtown was empty on an early Sat. morning.

We made a quick stop at Durango Joe's for coffee & breakfast, Jack manages one of the locations in town. We secured our tickets at the station and began loading our bikes onto the train. I just needed to track down Joe as it was getting close to departure time. I found him inside at the ticket window and soon all six of us were on-board and ready to relax and soak up the sights along the way.
We'll let the train do the early climbing. Photo by Jeff.

Coal fueled, steam powered engine.
Lake of glass.
Out of town and into the forest.
Look, before you stick your head out the side of the car!! Plenty of narrow canyon sections.
This route took some work to build.
One of two stops for water.
Into the sky-scraping mountains.
Saw a few kayakers and rafters enjoying the mighty Animas River.

We arrived in Silverton around 11:30a after a 3 1/2 hour ride on the rails. We all enjoyed the ride and scenery along the way. Great way to kick off our adventure.
First leg of the weekend complete.
Lunch stop at Avalanche Brewing in Silverton.
The secondary Main St. in Silverton is dirt. Photo by Jeff.

We were rolling out of town around 1pm. 7 mile paved climb to the CT.
Silvertion, CO.
The grade wasn't too bad on the loaded bike and there was a bit of a shoulder too. There was one short construction zone we had to navigate, but it was uneventful.
Molas Lake.
This was just beyond the CT split, but we had to bag the pass.

As we were getting set to put our tires on the CT, my friend, Amanda, and Paul showed up. They were originally going to ride with us, but decided for a longer loop instead.
Amanda & Paul starting their big ride.
Excitement was high.

We soon ran into Ian, who pedaled up from Durango, and were on the lookout for Ben. His wife, Kimberly, decided to pass on the ride, but would meet us along the way where she had vehicle access. We found Ben at the Little Molas Lake trailhead.
Joe rounding the bend near Little Molas Lake.
It's still strange to me seeing Nancy on a geared bike.
Full crew for the weekend. L-R: Joe, Me, Nancy, Jennifer, Jeff, Jason, Ben & Ian. Photo by Kimberly.

Up we go. The trail rides really well and isn't overly steep heading out of the trailhead.
I could get used to this.
A couple miles in and we encounter our first bit of creeping snow & mud.
Chugging through the thin air. Photo by Jeff.

Ian & Ben liking the early grade. Photo by Joe.

Jason will be taking on the Colorado Trail Race with me later in July.
Jennifer arrives at the first mini high point.

If it's free, I'll take three!! Not sure what this was all about.
Columbines were blooming all around.
Each bend in the trail brought another stunning view.
This section is going to be a blast riding down.
We started to see more runoff from snowmelt.

Jeff is but a speck in this landscape.
Dueling waterfalls.
Splashdown!! Photo by Jeff.
Tight sloppy quarters for HAB. Photo by Jeff.

Photo by Ben.

Ben sloshing through a stream.
Time to deviate from the trail. Photo by Jeff.
It really looked rideable...for a split second. Photo by Jeff.

Somewhere around 11,500' we came across our first snowfield.
Jeff perfecting the art of snowfield trekking. Photo by Joe.

Fast melting snow means there's water everywhere.
The snow was soft, but very slippery on the slopes.
Find the best way forward.
Sun-cupped or scalloped snowfiled.
Taking in the views by an alpine lake. Photo by Ben.
I could be wrong, but I think Nancy is enjoying having gears!! Photo by Joe.
Behind the scenes for the above snap!! Photo by Jeff.

Engineer Mtn trail split. 'Only' 500' more feet to climb. How hard could it be? (This became a theme)

We were now at 12,000' feet and nearing Rolling Mtn. Pass. The snowfields began to increase in frequency & size. The hardest part about crossing the snow, was both the footing and having to lift the front end of the bike over the snow ribs. My shoulders got quite a workout!
Take the path of least resistance.
We just have to get up there. Easy, right?

Joe & Ben on the final approach. Moments later, Joe lost his footing and took a slide!! He then took a more roundabout route to the saddle.
Joe's about to go for a slide. Photo by Ben.
Joe cresting Rolling Mtn. Pass. Photo by Ben.

I tried to follow in Ben's footsteps up the final steep, sketchy pitch. I almost took a slide as well, but managed to save it. It was very slow going. One baby step at a time, digging your feet into the soft snow to establish some sort of foothold. I was only a few feet from the top, but was having a difficult time holding the bike and making progress. Ben was able to come down and grab the bike. We then decided it would be easiest for everyone to hand the bikes up our human chain and be free to climb the final feet to the pass. Teamwork!!
Rolling Mtn. Pass attained!! Whew.
It was now getting late in the day, we were at the high point of the ride at 12,500' and Jason & Jennifer had fallen quite a ways back. We needed to find a campsite somewhere down in the trees. I had marked a waypoint as best I could using the CT Databook, but as we neared where I thought the location would be good, it clearly wasn't. Keep riding. A few more downhill miles later we spotted a flat looking clearing the trees below us. The CT wound around and right through this area after crossing a small trickle of water. Perfect. This will do.
The dry side of the pass.
Rolling Mtn. Pass.
So green and lush. Photo by Jeff.

Plenty of room and daylight for our group.

Earlier in the ride I had been asked a few times why we were 'only' riding 20, 30 & 30 mile days. Why so short they wanted to know. Well, after arriving in camp 20 miles into our day (7 of which were the paved climb out of Silverton) it became clear. This was slow, tough riding at elevation. Everyone was pretty whooped. I had been getting a bit of grief about my advertising a 'casual pace', that doesn't mean easy riding per se, just slow. Our pace for the day was somewhere in the 2.5 mph range!! Very casual if you ask me!! Ha!

We all were hoping Jason & Jennifer would either stop before Rolling Mtn. or magically appear before dark. That didn't happen, but they did make it to camp sometime after 10p. Jennifer was really feeling the elevation and I'm sure the super late arrival and lack of sleep the night before didn't help any.

Our campsite was somewhere around 11,300' and temps dipped into the 40's, but that was good sleeping weather in my book. I was never cold and got a decent nights rest.

We were in no rush to get going the next morning, practically waiting for the sunrays to shine on our campsite. The chatter this morning was: How far to Blackhawk Pass, how high was it and would there be less snow than Rolling Mtn.? All very good questions. I guess we'll find out soon enough.
Water crossings continued and I somehow kept my feet dry.
Ben, Jennifer & Jason soaking up the rays. Jennifer still wasn't feeling so hot, so she & Jason eventually found a trail off the mountain and took a quick route back to Durango.
I was on a short bit of familiar trail. I rode this section the other direction back in September.
Cascade Creek crossing.
This guy will be ready for the CTR!! Photo by Jennifer.

Joe pushing. He said a few days earlier this waterfall was flowing over the trail!!
Whoa!! Front tire got caught in the soft shoulder and the bike almost went for a tumble.
I think this was more what we expected to see in regards to snow.
Old & new CT blazes.
Great singletrack through the forest.
Heck yeah!! More climbing!!
Small saddle before the trek up to Blackhawk Pass.
Ben cruising into the downhill meadow with Lizard Head Peak visible on the right of the distant range.
Ian diggin' it.
Specks in a sea of green.
The singletrack dumped out onto a short dirt road leading down to Bolam Pass rd. Kimberly was there waiting for us with some snacks & cold drinks. We made plans to meet her later in the day down at Hermosa Creek trailhead.
Catch basin at Bolam Pass.
Back to singletrack.
Hermosa Peak and some two-track riding.
Good place for a break after some climbing. This was the final saddle before Blackhawk Pass.
Beautiful section of trail.

There it is: Blackhawk Pass. Hmmm, looks like the trail cuts through some snow...
Yep, sure does.
I was running low on water, find the melting snow runoff and drink away. (I still filtered it, you just never know)
So strange to see my desert rig caked with snow...in July.
As we entered the upper bowl of Blackhawk, it seemed like each one of us took a different path to gain the pass. There were a couple of good sized snowfields we had to navigate, then things got steep, real steep. Of course, what little bit of the CT we could see, the grade looked fairly tame.
I kept seeing these tufts of fur all over the snow.
Once again, the camera failed to capture Joe's second slide. Photo by Jeff.

I was trying to get to that sliver of dry ground. This pic shows the steepness well. That's Joe & Jeff way up there.
This fella was amused by my bike pushing skills.
Ian followed my route.
Ben took a wider approach using a bit more of the CT.
The ground was soft and steep. I was good for about 10 steps at a time.
Blackhawk Pass attained!!

One by one we reached the pass and took a nice break enjoying the incredible view in all directions. A friendly chipmunk stole the show while we sat and laughed. It licked our handgrips and the back of my jersey pockets!! Mmmm, salty.
Ben on the final approach.

360ยบ pano.
Joe had to climb this short hill to reach 12,000'. Blackhawk Pass falls a few feet short.
Joe's pic from the 12,000' foot hill.

Definitely not afraid of us.
Nancy got a head start down. Photo by Jeff.

Joe bombing down the dry(er) side of the pass.
On the way down there was a small snowbank in a left-hand turn, looked rideable. So, I went for it. I was 2/3 across it when my tires flew out from under me and my right shin paid the price for riding flat pedals. Ouch!! First time in over a year of riding flats that I gouged myself. Thankfully, it looked worse than it was, 'tis just a flesh wound.
Jeff captured me, post wipeout.

Luckily, it wasn't deep.
On the long downhill towards Hotel Draw I kept thinking how hard this will be going up in a few weeks!!

Nice campsite near Hotel Draw rd.
End of Segment 26 and our time on the CT. Edit: Segment 27 opened one week after our ride.
Jeff & Ben flying down Hotel Draw.

Merging with Bolam Pass rd near the bottom.
Long shallow crossing of Hermosa Creek.

One more creek crossing at the trailhead, this one finally got my feet wet!!
Not a bad option for our ride.

We were a bit surprised to not see Kimberly at the trailhead. She arrived about 30 minutes later with a tale of her own. While we were up on the trail past Bolam Pass, we saw a couple of singlespeeders. One of the guys was having cleat issues when we last saw them. Apparently one of the guys had a bad wreck and needed a lift to the emergency room. Kimberly found their friend who had shuttled them and relayed the message. Hope the guy was ok.
Hanging out at the trailhead. Photo by Jeff.
There was a bunch of commotion near the trailhead and we wanted peace & quiet for our campsite. We also wanted Kimberly to join us, so we needed a place fairly close. We took off in search of one while she made a beer run into town.

Nancy flagged down a local rider and asked about any camping spots in the area. He directed us to a place about a half mile down trail. We found it with ease and it was perfect!!
Turns out, thoste pine trees at the top of the 'S' curve in the river would be our camp spot.
Entry fee.
This will work.
Believe it or not, but the bugs weren't an issue.
We did get serenaded by this Marmot for about 30 minutes. I think he was staking his claim.

Ben rode up to meet Kimberly and fetch refreshments. It was nice to relax by the river and shoot the breeze for a few hours before darkness set in. This casual pace bikepacking is ok in my book.

Our campsite was noticeably colder at 8800' than it was up at 11,300' probably due to the proximity of the river and being in a valley.
Breakfast beer anyone? Photo by Nancy.
The Sun took its time shining on camp the next morning, but it was turning into a beautiful day. Time to see what Hermosa Creek trail had to offer.
A few miles of two-track next to the creek led things off.
There were a few chunky bits along the way, perhaps more than anticipated, but fun.
Creek crossing.
Water was coming from all directions.
Now on singletrack, Joe, Ian & Ben roll out.
Nancy & Jeff fly through a fast section of trail
We desert dwellers can't get enough water shots.
The trail kept going down, down, down. It was blazin' fast in sections more XC in others, but really fun all around. We only saw a few other riders, two in the uphill direction. I guess early morning isn't bad for that. Much later and it could be a dangerous situation. For those of us new to this trail, we had been warned about the final climb out of the creek drainage. It didn't disappoint. A good solid HAB to start, then a lung busting climb to top out. There were still a few miles of fast downhill trail before the end of the line.
Nancy cruising.
One of the few open views along the way.
All done. Yeah, that was as fun as advertised.

We met up with Kimberly again before setting out on the final, mostly unknown, leg of our ride.
First option: skip US550 in favor of CR203.
 Ben and I were riding together down CR203 and noticed a car stopped in the middle of the road up ahead in the opposite lane. As we passed by, the driver had his window down and he pointed across the road. We both turn to our right and watch an adolescent black bear stroll across someone's driveway!! The next door neighbor's trash can had also been tipped over. Sounds like the fur-ball knew when trash collection day was!!
Mash those pedals!!. Photo by Jeff.

Animas Valley.
This was the flat-ish portion of Red Ridge rd.
By the top of the climb, Jeff was ready to kick me in the shins!!

Thankfully, there was reward for our efforts!!
Wildflowers were popping from the high alpine to the warm lowlands.
A bit of climbing thrown in...but those views!!
The trail made a fast cut through the forest.
A bit difficult to follow in the tall grass. In hindsight, if we stayed to the right here, we could have avoided the upcoming HAB.
This HAB was so steep, Nancy kept walking out of her shoe!! She was a tad frustrated by the difficulty of foot placement.
Ian & Ben slogging up the hillside.
Tired group of HAB'ers. Photo by Nancy.
The HAB eventually ended. I'm sure it was much shorter than it felt, but man, that was some steep, crazy fall-line garbage. Once again, we hoped our efforts would be rewarded.
They were!!
There were a few social trail splits, but we all found the same way down.
Morphing into vagueness.
Biker train. Photo by Joe.

The trail cut through a large open grassy meadow and put us on CR205. From there it was a nice paved spin around a lake to Junction Creek rd. We'd hop on the Sailing Hawks trail at Dalla Mtn. Park to finish things out. Of course there were bits of HAB to make sure our ride didn't coast into town.
Near the end of Sailing Hawk trail. Photo by Jeff.

We packed 'em in tight. Photo by Ben.
We made a pitstop at the first gas station we saw. Mmmm, chocolate milk!! Then we saw a Mexican restaurant right next door. It didn't take much arm twisting to know we'd be chowing down there.
Bikeways took us through town back to Audrey & Jack's.

What a fun, tough and amazing weekend riding through the San Juan Mtns. Such a beautiful place. Hard to believe with such a large group, no mechanicals. Thanks to everyone for coming out and making it a most memorable trip.

Full photo album


Joe had his camper in tow, so he went off to find a new camp location for the night. The rest of us crashed out at the house. Jeff, Nancy and I had plans for a Phil's World spin early the next day on our drive back to AZ.
Hard to believe, but it was their first time here!!
Cool trail routing. Photo by Jeff.

Ute Mtn backdrop.
Time to throw down a Ribcage lap.
Do you ever catch some sweet air?? Nancy does. Photo by Jeff.

Even this guy was smiling after Ribcage!! Let's do another lap.
Tree decoration.

Phil's World was a blast per usual. We only rode for 1 1/2 hours since we still had the long drive home, but it's always worth a stop when passing through Cortez.

Phil's World flyover


Until next time Colorado, see ya!!