20 miles yesterday, 60 or so today. So it goes on the CDT.
From our buggy camp the trail continued in rough condition, on par with what came before. Deadfall everywhere, a forgotten road.
We reached the divide and transitioned from grassy meadow with no trace of trail to a beaten in 2-track. It was a happy sight.
It’s not just the bikepackers that are happy to see roads. Memento had commented to us that he would ‘kill for some dirt roads.’
We weren’t that desperate, but after two hard days on nearly all trail, it was a relief when the CDT itself jumped on roads.
The actual divide along the rest of the Rabbit Ears range is littered with private property, so for now the trail follows roads that improve from 2-track to graded to state highway to US highway.
We coasted and smiled endlessly, especially on the twisty gradual stuff, winding through goregous groves of aspens. Our bikes were finally coming to good use.
Still, we couldn’t believe we weren’t catching Medic and Walker, who we thought were just ahead of us. First we caught a couple section hikers who were utterly confused when we asked their trail names. One admitted he had packed too much food. We knew a place where that excess food could come to good effect — our bellies!
Even though it was a classic Powerbar that was offered, I was quite happy to eat it. Brought me back to mountain biking as a teenager in the 90′s.
Medic and Walker were sitting at the end of the dirt, contemplating the highway walk ahead. Couple of very cool thru-hikers. Fast, too.
The highway went quickly and mercifully it had a light headwind to keep us cool. Then US40 was hotter, steeper and under construction.
As soon as we ducked off the highway onto a grassed over dirt road we found some shade for lunch and were immediately swarmed by mosquitoes. So we ate our burritos ‘on the go’ walking from shade spot to shade spot.
I think I had my expectations a bit too high for the Rabbit Ears portion of the CDT. People shuttle it from Steamboat, but I don’t actually know anyone who has ridden it.
It’s good trail, and absolutely bursting with wildflowers. The miles don’t really go quickly and with the mud, mosquitoes and deadfall, I can see why it doesn’t have a reputation as one of the best trails in the state. It’s either not very popular or no one in Steamboat knows what a chainsaw is.
We were pretty relieved to turn off it and onto the Fish Creek Falls trail. Downhill into Steamboat and a trail Wilderness detour. Wahoo!
Right? Super cool meadowy trail with pockets of tech. Then we reached the actual drop into the city and things got serious. First few turns were awesome ledgy chunk. We stopped and cooled off in the creek in the absence of mosquitoes.
I wish I had more energy and a sharper mindset for the trail. It’s full of rock — most technical trail in Steamboat. I guess I was expecting it to be more rideable. After 3 days filled with hike-a-bike, carefully stepping down through awkward rocks wasn’t really what we were looking for. A nice cruise on well ridden trail would have been more our speed.
But it was very cool to see the trail, and some impressive construction. With a big bike and a clear head, it would be wickedly fun. While bikepacking rolling into town with a handful of calories left…. well, it wasn’t what it could be.
There may be a better route for CDT riders to take into town, but this worked out just fine for us. It was very cool to come out at the bottom view of the falls, which was a total surprise for us (we though the top one was the falls). There were people all over, cameras blazing away and a super wide gravely trail. I half expected to see a ‘closed to bikes’ sign.
We blasted down the road into town, bought supplies at Natual Grocers then headed to Becky and Dan’s place. It’s great to be hosted by people who get bikepacking and have done it themselves. We’re resting up here and re-upping for the next leg.
Next leg features another hot spring — on route! A recovery ride of sorts will take us there, then it’s on to Wyoming!
5:45pm – this is the earliest we have stopped all summer. We had just waited out a thunderstorm near treeline and threatening skies had pushed us through the last miles of Poison Ridge. We had escaped into the lower trees. A glance ahead on the GPS revealed we were set to climb right back to 11,500′.
Neither of us wanted to risk it. We’d seen some glimpses of the radar while waiting out the first storm under the tarp. Lots of moisture, statewide.
So we camped early. I think we both needed a few minutes to be ‘ok’ with stopping so early. Relaxing around the fire and watching it lightly drizzle made it easy to ‘deal.’
I think this might be our lowest mileage day yet. All entirely on the CDT, and all pretty dang burly. Only the first couple miles of Poison Ridge were well constructed and ‘easy’ to ride. The rest was a challenge.
It all started with Parkview Mountain. A mere 3000′ push to the summit. It’s the highest point around, by far, and well worth the effort. But there isn’t much you can ride. We snuck in little pieces of pedaling here or there, but otherwise it was a nice hike.
At the summit a danky and bug filled old lookout and a very curious mountain goat waited. It was neat to watch him pop his head over from the top to check us out. He was OK with sharing the summit, keeping a short distance from us and snacking on anything that looked green.
The brits and uncle Gary joined us at the summit. They camped lower and were gaining on us near the top. We headed down first, to the tune of no trail and mostly tundra. We walked at first, then threw our weight back and slowly bounced down the mountain.
It is so cool that this trail is open to bikes, though few would ever want to ride it.
A couples miles of trail-less riding along the divide led us to a descent of sorts. There was a light hint of a trail — just enough to ride. In the trees it got good, very good. But in the meadows — barely a trail. Even the descent was hard work and we were feeling it.
Water was running thing as we went to ‘contour’ around Haystack Mountain. The bountiful water sources of central/southern Colorado have run out. We have to be more careful now. Eventually we did find a creek on the side of Haystack, but we were both nearly dry by the time we got there.
Haystack’s trail was tough work. On paper it looks nice — trending downhill. But the trail throws all sorts of steep gut punches at you, and is narrow/primitive.
At Troublesome Pass (aptly named) we sat and ate lunch. What a relief.
Trail conditinons improved as we actually rode extended sections of climbing. Eszter was pulling off some nice steepies, just like yesterday.
We reached another pass that informed us some volunteers built the trail in 1990. They did an excellent job. Whoever was in charge decided to break rank and file from standard CDT procedure — the trail didn’t feel the need to tag each and every high point along the divide. Brilliant climbing — we can see why some small number of people have actually ridden it.
About the time the trail transitioned to fall line and minor summit tagging, we started noticing the clouds building in the valley. It wasn’t long before we heard thunder. Under Sheep Mountain we hunkered down in some trees, well off the divide but still pretty high. When it rained we ducked under the tarp. My phone worked, so we watched the radar, ate snacks and waited for it to pass.
The following miles were tenuous at best. Steep climbing, hike-a-biking and some fun descending. It was really hard to tell what the weather was doing, but we didn’t want to get caught up high.
We sighed in relief as we hit the downhill, which was very well done and super fun to ride. A super campsite presented itself, which we both skipped and brushed off. Then I looked at the maps/GPS, and we changed our tune pretty quick.
The only downside of stopping early is that we have limited calories. It’ll be light making it into Steamboat tomorrow, but we have some roads, so in theory it should go much, much faster than today!
Overall, a hard but very rewarding day on the CDT. The mountains of Colorado aren’t done dishing out the challenge, or the beauty. More please!
If not for the mosquitoes, this is a perfect camp. The trail here is right along the divide, and we are camped just off if, next to small outcropping. The view is huge. We can see Longs Peak, Wolverine Ridge and all of the terrain of the last half a day of riding.
We can also see our next big goal — Parkview Mountain with a small lookout house on top of it. It looks pretty intimidating, especially given that we know very little about the trail or lack thereof, on the climb.
But that’s a project for tomorrow. Today’s ride started out with some dead-ends. I hadn’t paid much attention to the connection between Grand Lake and Supply Creek road, figuring it would be straightforward. I had much bigger fish to fry from my TopoFusion seat.
There might be a straightforward way for bikes to get onto the road, but there was risk of running into the RMNP entrance booth, where we might be asked to part with a cool ten spot each. Considering we were doing nothing in the park — not even riding the park road, that seemed pretty ridiculous.
Eventually we did find a little neighborhood trail / snowmobile route that took us from our many dead-ends onto the right road.
That road turned steep and gnarly just as we met a group of ATVers and moto-ers. We’d run into numerous other groups as the day went on, but for being a beautiful Saturday, it was pretty quiet.
Supply Creek took us steeply to a rather full trailhead for the Never Summer Wilderness. Everyone was hiking into the Wilderness and we had eyes towards a non-motorized singletrack bypass.
Sound familiar? Yeah, we didn’t have our hopes up too high. I could find little reference to anyone using the Wolverine Bypass trail, and wasn’t even sure where it started.
But after pushing to the ridge above 11,000, we found sweet trail along the ridge and a beautiful contour descent! The trail exists! It’s good, and doesn’t even seem to have much deadfall.
Gamble enough times, eventually you’ll win.
Some of the drop was fall-line and steep, but quite rideable and quite awesome. We popped out onto the Lost Lake road earlier than expected.
A short road ride took us to our two choices for regaining the CDT and the divide. One started from the back of a closed private ranch and was non-moto. The other was an ATV trail that joined at a lower spot.
It was a pretty easy choice. Given all the beetle kill in this area we knew that the ATV trail would be clear of trees. The Bill Creek trail? Unlikely to have much use or trail clearing. And it climbed more.
It was a good choice. The ATV trail was a lot of work but it felt like your work went to good effect. Eszter was digging deep and cranking out some impressive steep stuff. She earns the Hotshot trail name for today.
We ate lunch where we hit the CDT, which continued as a moto singletrack. For a while we leapfrogged with a moto-couple, then we started climbing steeply with recent evidence of hikers.
It was the brits, stopped at a creek. Cool to see them again!
The CDT turned off the moto trail and almost instantly became narrow, quiet and full of downed timber. Oof.
We crossed Willow Creek, somehow jumped in front of two other hikers that camped early, and slowly made our way onto the lower slopes of Parkview. We’ve got a good 2000 feet to gain and not much hope that any of it is going to be rideable.
Something’s going to happen!
Back on the trail! Despite five or so days off, and only one day ride, it was the smoothest transition back yet. We might be getting a few things dialed in, or it might just be that for once we weren’t facing 4000 or more feet of climbing out of the gate. 4000+ has been the norm for all the extended breaks we’ve taken so far.
Today’s terrain was much friendlier. At least on paper.
I convinced Eszter to take Idlewild trails instead of Rollins Pass. Even though we expected a 400 foot hike-a-bike to gain the Aqueduct Road, she agreed it was better than railroad grade climbing. We rolled through easy trails first, remarking that this was the correct way to restart ‘the trail.’
Someone had built switchbacks where the hike-a-bike is! That was a pleasant surprise, especially since the GPX I had was from when I rode the trail just last August. Win!
Dirt roads took us to the High Lonesome Trail. It’s a pleasantly bikepack techy trail. Roots, rocks, bridges, bogs, meadows with big views. Just perfect. Demanding enough that we both were a little relieved when it was over.
The crux of our route was next — the Caribou Trail. I had a track, but it had been described as a ‘bushwhack.’ Just our kind of caper!
Initial signs were good. Actual trail, evidence of trail work and even an ‘adopt-a-trail’ sign at the top. Eszter reminded us not to judge a trail by its first mile.
Very sage advice. By the middle we were just making our way across bogs and bushwhacking since the trail was nearly impossible to follow and not that much of a help even when on it.
I love it how these Wilderness detours work out sometimes. We had just passed a parking lot full of vehicles, all for the Indian Peaks Wilderness. Heavily used trails abound. Then right nearby, a non-motorized route tries to follow a drainage, and is littered with down trees, barely followable and with very little sign that anyone ever uses it.
It’s one of the great ironies of bikepacking long distance trails: detouring around Wilderness and finding places more wild and forgotten than you can find in the Wilderness.
At some point along the trail I called it. “This isn’t going to make the cut for a CDTbike route.” But then it got a little better. A few extended sections free of trees and boasting some actual tread.
We did eventually get to the Strawberry Creek trail where conditions improved to primitive but followable. Caribou can be skipped… but the jury is out on whether it should be a part of the bike route or not.
Strawberry took us to the Doe trail, which started on the wrong foot — by forcing us onto our feet for a stout 500 foot hike-a-bike. All was forgiven when the descent was reached. Beautiful singletrack — both followable and rideable.
That popped us out on the first of the big lakes. It was 14 miles of dirt and pavement to Grand Lake (the town) from there. A simple ride, a scenic ride, an easy ride. The CDT itself skirts with the Wilderness on the other side of the lake and is reportedly full of downed trees. We’d had our share of those and didn’t feel like we were missing out on much.
The last lake has trail on the east side that the Park Service (Rocky Mountain National Park) is thinking about opening to bikes. There was a public comment period this winter. I don’t know the outcome, but even the suggestion of a few miles of CDT currently closed to bikes being opened warms my heart. It would have been a nice change from the busy highway into town (though it does have a big shoulder).
We pizza’d up in town, ran into Sailor/Alfredo/Friendly and then hoofed it up the cliff to the hostel. This place is incredible. Just when we thought we had found the best trail town, new contenders keep coming in. Huge views of the lake, a roaring creek, alpine scenery, food close by. The only downside might be the big hill to get here. But as anyone on the trail knows, you have to earn your views.
We’re gearing up for the next leg out of Winter Park. Familiarity is running out. Wyoming is coming.
It’s been great to watch it rain from indoors, and great to rest some, too. Days off end up being pretty chaotic, too, trying to catch up with emails, trackers and whatever else is going on in the non-trail world.
Looks like I’m going to stay ahead of the game photo wise. Here are some images from the last few days on the trail.
But I like unknown objects!
Thanks, Wild Bill! We didn’t need any diet cokes, though.
Baaah! Time for some visitors on the trail.
The illustrious Cjell Money! Selling it on a snow drift.
Pushing his big tires (this was a rare sight).
Flower power pushing.
Flower power riding.
Snow drifts were welcome… it meant we spent more time up there.
Curious marmot. Did not get skewered by the Georgia boy CT hiker, despite threats.
Cjell go boom. Wait for the adrenaline to subside a little.
Dan on the bike path. Have fun on 10 mile, CTR racers. The storm up there made it even easier to skip.
Building mud cakes on our shoes. Logging reroute, ugh. Look out, CTR racers…
Bike paths and rainbows in Summit.
Old mining trails and hike-a-bike in Summit.
The reds are coming out! Flowers in full swing.
Dance par-tay! I stepped through the stones, Ez chose a faster and more fun mode of travel.
With haste. Dark clouds are strategizing.
Yep, those ones.
Argentine was a rare descent that had almost no detectable climbing. Good for running for the trees!
Don’t let the following photos of alpine bliss (completely) fool you. Herman Gulch on up to Jones Pass… full of roots, and we got spanked by a number of day hikers.
Ok, now be fooled by such blissitude.
Yep, like that. Go ride that trail.
I highly recommend believing in something, anything. Especially if it takes you to places like this.
A hidden gem of the CDT (bike).
Lifts taking bikes to high places. Sure looked tempting.
Baby fox, trying to wake up from his nap in the sun. Sorry for disturbing you, little guy!
Wyoming, here we come! Though first, High Lonesome, Grand Lake, Wolverine Trail, Poison Ridge, Rabbit Ears, Steamboat and more!