It had been on my dream list for awhile, to bikepack the Colorado Trail in one long thru ride start to finish. On the 18th of August, I loaded the bike on top of my little Corolla and drove to Durango to start what was going to be a fantastic and truly challenging adventure. The 18th also happened to be my 31st birthday and what better way to celebrate than embark on a 2-week solo trip through the mountains.
The plan was to drive to Durango and leave the Corolla at my friend Richard’s house and then take a rental car from there to Denver. This way I would be riding back to my car in Durango, which would make logistics easier once I finished, and more or less force me to finish the route. I had to be back at work on September 1st, which only gave me 11 full days of riding.
After dropping the rental car off in Littleton Co, a suburb of Denver, I got on my bike and rode for about 20 minutes before a massive downpour forced me to take cover in a little league dugout. After downing rain gear and waiting for the worst to pass I continued on via a somewhat confusing network of urban trails and back roads. Ultimately I made it to the Waterton Canyon trailhead, the start of the Colorado Trail, just as it got dark. First camp of the trip, under a picnic table cover about a mile up Waterton Canyon.
Day 1, as I’m calling it, started with being woken up by these nutty Denver joggers that like to go up Waterton Canyon in droves before the sun even comes up. I decided that the bast plan was to go big and get as far away from Denver as I could in a hard days ride. The trails once up and out of Waterton were quite good and I enjoyed many fast flowing descents, although overall there was a lot of elevation gain–8,000 feet on the first day–coming up out the front range into the high country. I made it part way around the Lost Creek wilderness bypass and camped at dusk after a full 12 hours of riding.
Day 2: Lost Creek/Tarryall to Kenosha Pass with a nice leisurely lunch break at the Jefferson town store. The 75-mile detour on roads was an ass kicker (another 8,000ft of climbing), the Kona Hei Hei was not ideal for all those road miles, especially the pavement (though she made up for it later). Also, my shammies proved under-prepared for the trip as they started to wear through by the end of the day, a theme that would plague me for the rest of the trip. There are no resupply points between Denver and Jefferson so by the time I got there I was pretty hungry. Turns out I had underestimated how quickly my metabolism was going to explode into a nuclear furnace of calorie consumption.
There are no resupply points between Denver and Jefferson so by the time I got to the Jefferson store I was pretty hungry. Turns out I had underestimated how quickly my metabolism was going to explode into a nuclear furnace of calorie consumption.
After gorging myself on sandwiches and soda pop I was about to leave when the owner offered me a cheese burger so, of course, I had to eat that as well. I barely made the 4mi peddle up to Kenosha Pass, I was so bloated, a good feeling though.
Day 3: Kenosha Pass to Gold Hill outside of Breckenridge. Georgia Pass was the days highlight, it was the first taste of alpine on the route, a good preview for what was to come. The trails leading into Brek were fantastic as well and made me glad I was on a trail bike and kept my dropper post.
Day 4: Gold Hill to Leadville. This was a fantastic day, starting with the “10mile” climb over to Copper Mountain Resort, and after that, the Kokomo Pass section was a truly spectacular section. Perhaps the steepest climb and descent of the trip was going up and over 10mile (called that because it’s a ten-mile climb).
There were sections gong up that I was grabbing onto trees to pull myself up. It was more like “drag-a-bike”, not “hike-a-bike”. Coming down the back side, into Copper Mt, was exhilarating and a little terrifying. A white-knuckle brake burner for sure! Without the dropper post, I wouldn’t have been able to ride the whole thing.
Copper Mt gas station/coffee shop has great breakfast burritos and fresh donuts!!! So needless to say I was there for a while… After stuffing my face and guzzling coffee for an hour I started out on the section to Leadville, up over Kokomo pass. This turned into my longest day of the trip, over 13hrs, although I only went 45miles. Four 12,ooo ft passes in a day is a lot, and near the top of Tennessee Pass it started dumping freezing rain. By the time I got to Leadville it was past dark, 38 degrees and pouring icy rain. I was utterly exhausted and a little hypothermic and checked myself into the first Hotel I came to, the Silver King. Which turned out to be a great place, with all you could eat breakfast (and I could eat a lot!) and they gave me a discounted rate (55$) for doing the Colorado Trail, or maybe for looking like I was going to die in their lobby, not sure.
Day 5-6: The rain continued overnight and into the next day, lots of snow appeared in the high country. Fortunately for me the next 2 days of “trail” were along the Collegiate range and mostly stay lower with lots of road detours around wilderness areas. I got another hotel in Buena Vista and made it to Monarch Pass the day after.
Day 7: The Monarch Crest trail was another highlight of the trip. Unfortunately, I was unable to buy any real food, because they only carry snacks at the Monarch Crest Store, so for the next 2.5 days I ate trail mix, jerky, and snickers bars. I know sounds great at first, but overall the calories were not sufficient for the cold weather.
Day 8-9: Midway through the Sargents Mesa section I camped at Baldy Lake and met a solo thru-hiker who was happy to have some company. I don’t think either of us had seen many other humans over the last few days. I must have looked skinny because she insisted on giving me a bag of protein powder. This was for me the most remote and challenging section. Many miles of baby heads, mud pits, and steep hike-a-bike sections. After which there is a 60-mile dirt road detour, around the La Garita wilderness. My goal had been to do this in 2 really big days and get to Lake City to resupply, which might have been possible if the 60 miles of dirt roads had not turned to mucky sticky mud.
It rained a lot and at times I had to push my bike along the side of the road because the mud was binding up my wheels. So to make a long wet muddy story short I didn’t make it to Lake City in the 2 days I had planned. I ended up just camping on the side of the road as another wave of rain rolled in and the sun set. This was the crux of the trip in many ways, I was physically exhausted, mentally drained, soaking wet and covered in mud head to toe, and desperately trying to keep the muck from destroying my bike. I didn’t feel my feet much for two days, they were too cold and wet, which as a former NOLS instructor I know is a bad thing, a good way to get immersion foot.
Day 10: Made it to Lake City mid-afternoon feeling like a shell of my former self, cold, hungry and covered in mud (I had eaten the last of my food for breakfast). The first thing I did was stumble into the Highcountry Marken and buy a quart of chocolate milk and 2 huge sinkerdudle cookies and pound them on the spot.
After that and a hot shower at the Ravens Rest Hostel, I was feeling much more alive and spent must of the day sitting on the Hostel couch eating and chatting it up with all the thru-hikers staying there.
Day 11: At this point in the trip, it was becoming apparent that I wasn’t going to have time to finish the last segment. I decided to ride the Cataract Lake section to Stony Pass and Silverton than finish up the last day by riding into Durango on Hiway 550.
Sounded easy enough but the weather was continuing to be wet and this was the highest “bikeable” section of the Colorado Trail.
It’s hard to describe the magic of being inside of the clouds with snow flurries spinning by in the wind, and then to have weather lift and be looking out at the most fantastic alpine wonderland dusted in snow, shrouded in mist. Such extreme beauty must be paralleled by extreme conditions that require extraordinary efforts, by that I mean I had the most awe inspiring day on a bike of my life, and also the most physically demanding. Breathing that icy air at 13,000ft while trying to pedal was so hard, not to mention the trail was covered in snow, and slushy, making even riding downhill hard.
I rolled into Silverton at dark in the rain, which was pretty standard for me at this point, and got a bunk and the Blear Street hostel. The store in Silverton was closed, but the lady running the hostel offered me a pot of home made chilly that needed to be finished, so that worked out well!
Next day I took my time packing up, it was the last day of the trip and I didn’t want it to be over, thoughts of work obligations and unfinished house projects kept popping into my head. I was fine with skipping the last section from Molas Pass, I felt I had an epic enough adventure as it stood, but still I was reluctant to start that final pedal back to Durango.
550 miles and 66,000ft of climbing in all