September 3, 2021

CO: CT (Indian Trail Ridge)

 Reports began to trickle in lately hinting at the change of seasons for the Colorado high country. The holiday weekend was upon us and I managed a hall pass for one last getaway to the San Juans. I was rolling solo and began to ponder my ride options based on the weather forecast, which incidentally looked promising.

Audrey & Jack were in town and let me crash at their place in Durango. This sprung into motion my choice for ride #1: The Colorado Trail over Indian Trail Ridge. I've been wanting to do a day ride up there for years, especially after my Colorado Trail Race experience in '17. I wanted to see it at a more relaxed pace without the threat of a lightning strike!!

I asked Audrey if she'd be willing to drive me back to my car afterwards if I left it at the start. She agreed and my day was set.

I had a good night's sleep since I didn't arrive into town too late, but couldn't really get going early in the morning, lollygagging around for a bit. I stopped in town for a breakfast burrito & coffee, then made my way up to the Hermosa Creek trailhead. By the time I began pedaling it was almost 9:30. It was mostly cloudy, but no real threat of rain, but of course the rain jacket was packed. Temps were in the upper 50's & practically no wind. It was a glorious morning to be out.

The popular Hermosa Creek doubletrack to begin with.

My turnoff: Stagecoach trail.
Stagecoach drops down to Hermosa Creek, pictured above, but no easy way across and it was a little deep-ish. I still tried to ride across, almost making it. Almost. Both feet got wet, not quite fully soaked, but 75%!! Who doesn't like wet footwear to begin a long ride?

Almost looks like a photo trick, but it's not. The early climbing grade was rather pleasant as I crossed over 9,000' into the thick aspen groves.

I walked a few steep pitches, catching my breath often, and eventually topped out here.
I had set a goal of reaching the CT within two hours and made it by 20 minutes. Felt good about that.

Hello, CT. Play nice, ok?

Blue skies are nice, but there's something about puffy clouds with a hint of trouble.

Sections felt like the Pacific Northwest.

Passing by one of the many feeder trails that dive off the CT.
I heard of few distant rumbles of thunder by 11a, but nothing imminent and it was behind me, moving away. That was my weather excitement for the day. It IS possible to not get epic'd by Mother Nature on every ride!! Haha.

Perhaps next year I can check Salt Creek off my 'must ride' list once the Ryman Creek re-route is completed.

There were miles of trail that seemed unfamiliar from memory.

I tried to recall where I camped during the '17 CTR, couldn't really say for certain.

What the??

The miles were ticking off at a good clip over terrain like this.
I was hovering around 10,800' for a while, feeling pretty good, but knew the trail would soon kick up over 11,000' for a while. The first big push came at the Cape of Good Hope. It wasn't super steep, but steep enough for me to walk since the air was now much thinner.

More gradual climbing as the trees begin to thin out. 'Only' 5 miles to Kennebec Pass, then mostly downhill to Junction Creek and the end of the CT. Doesn't sound like much, huh?

Weathered, beaten, but not broken. The sign or the rider? Or both??

The big views were a bit hazy, but stunning nonetheless.

Up, up, up, closing in on 12,000'.

There's something captivating about alpine riding. There's no easy way to get here, maybe that's what draws me here.

I don't know where Indian Trail Ridge officially begins, but this sure looks like a proper starting point.
Indian Trail Ridge is only a few miles long, but it's mostly above treeline, topping out near 12,400'. It's very exposed to the elements and it's not a place you want to be when the bolts start flying. Terrifying would be a gross understatement.

Fun rideable section until the next pile of rocks on the slope ahead.

I could hear the persistent squeaking of the Pika in the rocks, then one curious critter came over to check out the ride.

Striking a pose.

A fairly smooth line through that mess.

Pointing to the sky.

Follow the trail down to the saddle, then switchbacking up the dome through more scree.
The process was repeated. Push up, ride down, push up higher, ride down, then higher yet again.... Each rise seemed a bit more difficult than the previous one due to the elevation gain. I was stopping often to catch my breath and get my heartrate down. Maybe this wasn't the best route choice for my first day in the high country coming from the low deserts of 1200'. Oh well, I was still enjoying the scenery and glad I was there.

I began pushing up the next pitch when a hiker rounded the corner. He saw me and instantly burst into laughter...and wouldn't stop!! It made me laugh and I told him the downhill was coming!! He wished me luck and sped on down the rocks.

Singing: 'I love hike-a-bike, put another foot in front of the other...I love hike-a-bike...' Song credit to Scott Morris, my mentor and (hike-a-) biking hero.

A look back from where I came. That was a fun downhill bit while it lasted.

The pace had slowed considerably. That's ok, I'll gawk.

Nearing the high point at last.

I never take these moments for granted, no matter the effort involved.

The peaks to the west. PeakFinder app.

More scree and another ridgeline approaches.

That IS the trail.

Scree for days.

Abstract art or real life?

The high altitude hike-a-biking was taking a toll. Oof.

Always worth it. Always.

The quintessential view of Indian Trail Ridge.

I finally began descending, regaining the trees and closing in on Kennebec Pass.

Kennebec Pass is the dip in the middle of the horizon.

Might as well get some quality downhill hike-a-biking in too!!

Taylor Lake and the La Plata River headwaters.

Ahh, some fun trail to the Kennebec trailhead.

Peaks over Taylor Lake.

A view back up towards Indian Trail Ridge.

Break time, needed a calorie intake.
I left the trailhead with a short climb ahead to gain the pass, right about then I ran out of water. I then saw a couple of bikepackers coming my way. They were touring the entire route and had started earlier in the day. They were two young fellas and they were quite surprised by the nastiness of reaching Kennebec Pass. I wished them luck and told them to not worry, it gets worse!! Ha! They laughed and asked about water, it was totally dry all the way back to Hotel Draw, where I started. The small trickle they had filtered ahead would get me to the finish at Junction Creek.

I sent Audrey a text telling her of my whereabouts. She later asked if I wanted to get picked up at Junction Creek. Yes, please. I was already looking at a nighttime finish as it was now 5:30p at Kennebec Pass. There were still over 18 miles to go and one climb...

Muldoon mine remnants perched high on Cumberland Mtn.

I was stoked to not only be riding, but coasting downhill!!

Entering the slide rock section.

This isn't much fun going up, but coming down was fun & rideable.

Closing in on Champion Venture Rd. a popular shuttle drop for day riders.

Small waterfall makes an appearance.

Lush conditions in the gulch.

Green on top of green!!

Crossing Junction Creek to begin the final climb to High Point.
I had been seeing a steady stream of hikers all day long, at least two dozen. There was a group camped near the Junction Creek bridge as the day was winding down. I didn't really expect to see many others, yet I still had another six or so pass me in the waning daylight. The only bikers I encountered were the two bikepackers up near Kennebec Pass.

This is what I recall most of the final climb to be...

In reality, it was a bunch of steep, rocky trail, slow going and lots of walking. Ugh. My legs were ready to be done.

I was rewarded with the occasional sublime swath of dirt.
I thought the climb was only 2 miles at most, again reality slapped me in the face: 4 miles. I didn't reach High Point until dusk. Calorie time. I switched over to night riding mode and noticed I forgot a key component of my dynamo light system: velcro. I wrap the cable around the fork leg and use a couple of small velcro strips glued to the fork to secure a velcro strap around the cable. I thought it might get by for the final 10-ish miles, but the cable was rubbing the spokes. Rats. How about a zip-tie? Duh. Digging into my backpack...digging...digging...nada. Really? Insert facepalm here. At least I have my helmet light...but that was so wobbly on my new helmet. The spacing for the mount is a bit different than my last helmet and it's difficult to secure. I'll have to figure out a permanent solution for this. Wobbly or not, it's what I had and I hoped it would stay pointed at the trail!!

Off I went, now mostly downhill finally. Don't do anything stupid and watch your speed!! Again, I seemed to have deleted all recollection of the trail conditions on this section. I don't recall so many rocks!! At least I was mostly coasting.

Brake check!!! There was a second down tree a few miles later that kept me on my toes.

I briefly debated going down Dry Fork since it would be a quicker finish, but I really wanted to finish this ride on the CT proper. And I can be stubborn like that.

Gudy's Rest, in honor of Gudy Gaskill, The Mother of the Colorado Trail.
Audrey & Jack met me about a mile up the trail at another trailhead. Jack asked if I wanted to finish out the final mile, of course!! See you at Junction Creek.

All done!! 10p, what a day. I was whooped. Somehow my light beam stayed true the entire way!!

In spite of the massive effort required and fading legs at the end: totally worth it!!

Strava link.
Couple of things were at play at the end. First, I was hungry and I accidentally left my wallet in my car...back at Hermosa Creek. It was now after 10p and none of us wanted to drive back to get my car. Not many options are open late in Durango, so Wendy's it was. At that point, anything would've been great. Seemed everyone was craving a late night drive through as it took us almost 30 minutes to get through!!

I could tell I didn't have what I needed to complete my next two rides, especially the next day having to fetch my car at some point. I opted to sleep in a see how I felt.

In the morning I was still feeling the effects and opted to simply cut the trip short and head home. Yeah, it was a lot of driving for one big ride, but I'm glad I did it. Check that one off the bucket list. I figured I'd take my time getting out of Durango and do an easy ride on the way home. I met up with Adam Haughey for a beer after lunch, then hit the road south to New Mexico.

Thanks again, Audrey & Jack for letting me crash a couple of nights at your place, the post-ride food stop and of course driving me back to Hermosa Creek the next morning. You two rock!!

1 comment:

  1. Looks like an epic day! Glad to see you had a great attitude for the whole day. I'm sure I would not have!