Thursday, July 18, 2013

Monarch Crest to Silver Creek to Rainbow Trail, Colorado

The Monarch Crest trail is supposedly one of the most iconic in all of Colorado, so it was a must do for Aaron and I.  After talking to numerous bikers around Salida, picking up a detailed map of the area with all trail options, and reading a bit online, we still could not decide which route to take after the Monarch trail section.  

You can pay $20 a person to take a shuttle from Poncha Springs (4 miles from Salida), where they will drive you and your bike to the top of Monarch pass and let you ride the almost 40 miles back to your vehicle in town. (  Or you can drive your own vehicle to the top, ride one of the many trails down, and hitchhike back to your car.

We decided to drive ourselves to the top.  Reading again our choices on the way up the pass, we finally decided to do an out and back, almost 20 miles total.  That way, we could avoid the whole hitchhiking scenario.

It was a little chilly at the top.  Aaron wore his sleeves and I put on my rain jacket.  And off we went.
The first 10 miles is the Monarch trail, and it mostly glides up and down along the top, or crest, of the mountain.  Hence the views that go on for miles.



 The trail is part of the Continental Divide Trail, or CDT.

After some climbing but more descending, Aaron and I got to the point where the guide book said to turn around (if you were doing the out and back option).  The scenery was awesome, but the thought of turning around and climbing back up wasn't as appealing as continuing down and seeing 30 miles of new Colorado.  We had heard Silver Creek was a bit sketchy and loose, but knowing it is the traditional route down that is part of the "must do" sequence, we changed our minds (we do this a lot) on the fly and decided to keep heading down.  The price would be having to find a way back up to our car.  The payoff:  more downhill and fresh single track.

Here's the profile.

Although the profile of the route is downward, and the day starts at over 12,000 feet and ends at less than 8,000 feet, there was some significant climbing.  For us, anyways.  We ended up climbing about 3,000 feet before it was all said and done.  Here I am, moving so slowly my wheel is going sideways.

Silver Creek was (I'm running out of words for beautiful, gorgeous, awesome, breathtaking).  It was all of those.  I realized what the locals were saying about the loose and technical parts.  A few sections you are literally riding on a trail made of rocks, like the ones you can see in the background of this picture.  There are also a few fairly steep switchbacks on loose dirt.  But there are also fields of wild flowers.  And moose. 

I have wondered before how much cool stuff I miss when riding.  When you are careening down, focused on picking the right line and self-preservation, I'm sure somewhere a bear pauses from it's daydreaming to watch you fly by.  Or a colorful bird flies unnoticed overhead.  But sometimes you get lucky.  Aaron and I had gone down a particularly long section that had been taxing on the arms and hands.  I was in the lead and decided to pull over for a quick respite.  And I wanted to look at the water that had pooled up from Silver Creek.  Even though I was stopped, I would have missed this guy.  Aaron spotted the tops of his antlers in the brush.  Soon enough, the moose was out far enough we could watch him for a little while.  (My family loves moose, so this was particularly a momentous experience).  Aaron was sneaking up closer to get a good shot, telling me aloud his plan of escape should the moose attack.  Good thing he had the camera with the zoom and didn't have to get off the trail to snap the shots.

The last section we hit, after Monarch Crest and Silver Creek, was the Rainbow Trail.  It goes on and on, so this was just a short section of it.  The mountain in the background is the one we started the day on (on the backside of it).

Over 30 miles and 4 hours of amazing Colorado single track, we made it to highway 285 which would take us back into Poncha Springs.  Below is the sign at the highway.  Whoever rides the trail in that direction is quite psycho. Or maybe just a native who's up for a challenge.

We had been told that it's not a big deal to catch a ride back up the pass to our truck.  Aaron and I pulled into a gas station, where I was going to sit with our bikes and Aaron would thumb a ride.  He took off walking up the highway, and I decided to snack on a coke and chips while sitting in the shade.  A few minutes later, Aaron walked back to the gas station and said he wasn't having any luck.  Cars weren't lining up to open a door to a 6'6" guy with a goatee.

I  walked over to a guy pumping gas into his maroon jeep and asked him if he was heading north on Hwy 50.  "Yes, to Maysville anyways."  I then asked if he would be willing to give someone a ride that far.  "Sure" he said.  "Ok, my husband is going to go with you if that's ok."  The kind gentleman took Aaron all the way to Monarch pass, even though it was out of his way.

So we had survived and thoroughly enjoyed the day.  We topped it off with a pizza and salad at Amica's.  I love this state.

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