Friday, July 7, 2017

Silverton to Durango

So John had this idea, like he does. Since he is planning to do CTR this year he wanted to check out some of the Colorado Trail - sort of see what he was getting himself into. The July 4th weekend seemed like a good time and to get some of us to come along he promoted it as a bikepacking weekend at a relaxed pace.

The thought of getting out of the AZ furnace for a long weekend appealed to a number of us, so the fish were hooked. The plan was to take the narrow gauge rail from Durango to Silverton on Saturday, get lunch in Silverton and head out to the Colorado Trail. It was "only" 70 or so miles to Durango.

A couple of weeks before things started changing. There were reports of LOTS of snow up high. But then we were looking at unusually warm temps the next couple of weeks - so should be fine. Then there was a fire near the CT. That shut down the final section of the trail into Durango. We discovered that we could descend off the CT to the top of the Hermosa Creek Trail, and take that into Durango. Nancy had been telling me for years we needed to ride that trail, so this would actually work out. After about 4 iterations we had a final track with a general idea where we would spend the two nights on the trail.

One last detail was lodging the night before and after in Durango. Being the "high" season, hotels were stupid expensive. John secured floor space (Nancy and I actually got a bed) from a co-worker's daughter and her boyfriend who live in Durango. Thank you so much Audrey and Jack!!

So, we rolled out Friday afternoon for a 9pm-ish arrival in Durango. Saturday morning we were up early and part of the crew started to assemble at the house.

Jason and Jennifer - ready to roll

John figuring out how to get to the coffee shop

Of course we stared with a downhill hike-a-bike (HAB)

Durango has a really nice trail system

Where is that coffee shop?

Time to power up

Heading through Durango to the train

Jason, Jennifer, and Nancy on board

And away we go, smoking up the town

Coal power

When they said, "don't stick your arms out," they were not kidding.

Lots of "look at that" moments

The river looked excellent for a skilled kayaker

Joe taking a picture of me taking a picture. So meta.

The engine blowing off steam

Look closely for the guy zip lining along side the train

They had to stop a couple of times to take on water - steam engine

I'll need to do this next trip

Mining country

The train took about 4 hours to get to Silverton. You could do it faster on a road bike. But the scenery was well worth it. Definitely the right way to go. On the train were John, Jason, Jennifer, Joe, Nancy and myself. We would meet up with Ben and Ian at Molas Pass.

The initial crew arrives in Silverton


Heading out of town

Of course the only way to go is UP

And more up

The start of riding on dirt

What a way to spend a weekend

More climbing, of course

We met up with Ben and Ian. Kim (Ben's wife) would be a sort of sag wagon during the trip

Hmm, a little snow in the trail. No big deal.

That cloud looks like a pony

How can you not love being up here

John did say that the pace would be casual.

Oh, and HAB - that is assumed

Not sure if it was the box or the contents that were free

So much green

Water, water everywhere. A bit of a change from the desert

Lots of little water crossings

Ben showing how it is done with NO suspension

Water also meant a bit of mud

As we rolled ever upward toward the pass near Rolling Mountain we started to see more snow patches. When we had gotten early reports of patches of snow up there I had envisioned something about 40 feet across that you could pretty much ride over. Instead we started seeing bigger and bigger fields of snow covering the trail. sometimes they were easy to skirt. Sometimes not. the were deeply scalloped from melting and were soft and slippery. So crossing them was wet and tricky - especially as the slopes got steeper.

Hmmm. The snow is becoming a little more annoying. 

As soon as John decided he was going to ride this I knew that was a photo op.

You can see Nancy and Ben struggling with the crossing 

Unlike in AZ we had constant access to water

As we approached the pass near Rolling Mountain it was later than we had expected. The snow and elevation were making for slow progress. We flatlanders were getting schooled by the CT. We rested for a bit where the trail split off to Engineer Mountain. From there we had about a mile and 500 feet of climbing to the pass, then we'd camp somewhere on the other side. How hard could it be...

Gotta get up there - through a lot of snow

That last mile and 500 feet of climbing took an hour. It became mostly snow fields and some of them were quite steep. This section really had me concerned. It was getting late and we didn't want to spend the night up that high. I wasn't sure we'd make it over before dark.

The final ascent was, of course, through a VERY steep field of snow. Joe was first to attempt - he ended up sliding down the snow and found an alternate path on dirt. The rest of us formed a "bike hand up line" on the last (very steep) section and worked as a team to get everyone up. That was actually rather cool. Unfortunately we were all working the line - so no pics. However, we made the top with daylight to spare. Thank goodness for the late Colorado days.

So down the other side we went to find the spot that John thought there might be a place to camp. It was pretty muddy from all the melting snow, but on we went. Unfortunately, where we thought was a good camp spot didn't look so good. So we kept rolling, looking for a flat spot. Each now possibility did not pan out when we got close. Finally, I saw what looked to be some flat ground below. We rolled down and found an excellent spot. YAY!. Day one, done.

Down we go

Home for the night

Next morning we slept in until the sun hit our tent. Now that's how bikepacking should be. It wasn't quite as cold as I had expected, so that was good too. It was actually a really nice morning. No better place in the world to be.

Ian starting the morning with a descent

Ben gives today a thumbs up

Joe is loving it

Interesting water crossing

And of course some more snow

Good thing this bridge was there. The creek was wide.

Jason and Jennifer

The rocks in this crossing were all gray. Interesting.

Going up once again

The pass BEFORE Bolam pass

The great thing about passes is that there is always a downhill on the other side

Kimberly met us at Bolam pass with some snacks. Nice!

On toward Black Hawk Pass

The snow fields are starting to appear again

We have to go up there

The trail on the final ascent to Black Hawk pass went through two fields of snow. The first was hard, but passable. The second was really steep and treacherous. Joe actually fell on the second one and slid a couple of hundred feet down. He ended up having to find a different way that was very steep - but no snow.

Joe navigates snow field #1. 

After I took this pic and stowed my camera, Joe slid down that slope. it was quite a sight.

Black Hawk pass - acquired

You can see Ben working his way across the final snow field

Ben, John, and Nancy all took different routes up to the pass

this chipmunk was quite friendly

Once we all got to the top of Black Hawk, it was time to rest. We were amused for a while by a chipmunk who was looking for handouts. We knew that from there it was mostly downhill to Hotel Draw road. We had to take the road down to the top of the Hermosa Creek trail since the CT was closed after that point. So, downhill trail, then downhill dirt roads. Some payment for our struggles.

And there goes Nancy

Once again John tried to navigate a snow patch and ended up on the ground.

You know Ian is loving this

Beautiful trails - headed downhill

And down Hotel Draw road

A little moisture on the road

We finally made it to the top of the Hermosa Creek trail where we waited for Kim to arrive. There was a rumor she might be bringing beer...The original plan was to camp somewhere near the trailhead, however decided to get away the many RVs already celebrating the holiday weekend there.

Nancy ended up talking to someone on trail who suggested that there was a good camping spot about a mile away. So we headed down the trail and found another excellent spot and set up camp. As we were setting up camp we kept hearing a loud squeaking noise. There were marmots across the stream from us who were not happy about us being there. This went on long enough for me to entertain the idea of marmot soup, but they did eventually stop.

Ben set up and went back to the trailhead to get Kim and whatever goodies she brought. As promised, they brought back some Colorado brews. We had a fun and relaxing evening.

Next morning we were up not all that early. Oddly, it was colder here at 9,000 ft. than it had been at 11,300 ft.. Probably because we were camped right next to a stream.

Breakfast time!

Anyone want to join me in having a beer with breakfast?

Of course...

After breakfast it was time to hit the trail. This trail has about 2800 feet of descent, but about 2000 feet of climbing. So, it "trends downhill", but there is plenty of climbing to be done.

Hermosa Creek trail

When we got the end of the Hermosa Creek Trail our trail angel, Kimberly, was waiting with sodas and snacks. It almost feels like cheating, but no one said "no".

From here we could take the road, pretty much downhill, into Durango. But no, John planned the route. That meant a couple of detours on unknown singletrack.

The first detour was up Red Ridge road. It was a steep one. And, it turned out, a long one. The day was quite warm by this time and being on a single speed (like Ben) I did not enjoy this climb. I was ready to do harm to John by the time we reached the "top". After some additional climbing on dirt, we did have some pretty good trails...

And there goes Nancy, in her natural habitat


But then we got to this section that went up, at an alarming grade. Topofusion measured it at 45 degrees in some spots, but it felt like 90 degrees. And it wasn't short. This was one of the steepest/longest sections I've pushed my bike up. The pictures just don't do it justice.

Who builds a trail like this?


Like everything else, we survived. We rolled some more trails to the road again.

A little bit down the road we took another side detour to do some trails. Finally we rolled into town and went in to the first restaurant we saw. From there it was back to Audrey and Jack's for showers then into town for dinner.

The next morning everyone was up early. John, Nancy and I decided to do a pit stop in Cortez to sample the Phil's World trails since Nancy and I had never been. We didn't have time to explore everything, but what we saw was great. Fast, fun, with a little tech here and there. Of course we did Rib Cage twice - it is too much fun. This was an excellent finish to an amazing weekend of riding.

I keep seeing these AES stickers...

Is Nancy getting air???

This trip was absolutely fantastic. It turned out to be tougher than expected - despite the "casual pace". However, it was totally worthwhile. I want to go again. I love Arizona, but ColoRADo is pretty damned special too - just in different ways.