Camp Eszter

The forecast for Camp Lynda was pretty bleak. It was a long way to drive for questionable conditions. We made the call pretty late to stay in Colorado, and instead of big days in the desert on little bikes, we schemed for overnight clown bike fun.

There wasn’t much time to plan the impromptu overnighter, and we spent a good chunk of that time riding instead. Why plan when you can ride instead?

I got a grand tour of dirt roads of Boulder. Never ending climbs and no cars. There may not be much singletrack in Bouldertucky, but I wish I had some long climbs like these out my door in Tucson.

The highlight, of course, was arriving at the legendary Co-op in Nederland, where the pastries are so tasty they nourish the soul. Unfortunately I never quite warmed up enough at the Co-op, still recovering from inadequate layers for Ez’s super duper steady paced 4000′ climb. I knew I had to get some warmth back before descending Magnolia and back into Boulder. So, I ran next to my bike, and Eszter tried not to laugh. Too hard, at least.

That night we bought one map and called it ‘preparation.’ There was a big network of trails with ski guys, snowmobile icons and groomers all over it. Not everything would be rideable, but surely we could find something!

need more food in belly to ride trail this skinny

It didn’t start out so well. The singletrack from Vail Pass was pretty rideable, but as we approached the huts and tried to ride skin tracks to Shrine Mountain, it seemed unlikely much was going to go.

After several dead ends and failed attempts we flipped back to snowmobile trails, and found marginal conditions. Rideable enough, but very slow.

“I’m sure glad we don’t have to go back up that!”

I had to say it. We descended a steep-diculous hill, somewhat out of control. I turned around and uttered the quote of the day: “I’m sure glad we don’t have to go back up that!” Less than a mile later the trail ended abruptly, without even a few sleds trying to venture further into the powder. We flipped it and clawed our way up ‘my’ hill.

We’d seen another trail going up Shrine Mountain, not on the maps, so we figured that must be the way. It was steeper and harder to push up than ‘my’ hill, but we got up there, one step at a time, and with many breaks.

Now at nearly 12,000 feet, the tracks dispersed and we were left with nothing but deep snow. Deep snow and decreasing visibility. We dropped down the only trail that seemed to have any substance or traffic. It was too steep to ride, but sliding on my boots while holding the brakes was a new experience for me!

really? pushing up this again?

About halfway down I looked at the GPS and realized we were heading directly for the dead-end we had hit an hour ago! “Oh crap!” It was too late to do anything about it. And so we returned to ‘my’ hill, laughing the whole time, and clawed our way up it again. Sometimes I should just keep my optimistic mouth shut.

We pulled out the trail map, and, well, didn’t like what we saw. Confidence in both the map and trail conditions was exceedingly low. There was only one route left to Ptarmigan Pass, but it meant riding all the way back to Vail Pass — where we had started. Back to square one!

Returning via snowmobile trails was a slidey and only semi-rideable affair. The snow picked up as we descended, making it impossible to see. Right as we reached the pass, and square one, it got completely dark. We didn’t even know where the other trail started, and our headlamps could not see far. Fresh snow was falling, making conditions… worse? The car was visible, a 1 minute bike ride away.

Most reasonable people, at this point, would have chalked it up to experience, called it a trip and headed back to Frisco for pizza. But neither of us mentioned it, or even considered it. Either something is very wrong or very right with us. We stood above the pass for a minute, and right then a couple of sleds came from our trail. Ah ha, there it is! Let’s go!

What followed was a glorious night of riding. Once in Wilder Gulch the trail was freshly groomed with an inch or two of powder on top. The two sleds that showed us the trail had churned up some of the path, so there was some challenge in reading the terrain and finding the firm line.

There’s a quiet that falls with darkness, a quiet that falls with new snow. And we were surrounded by it.

“If this isn’t a romantic night, I don’t know what is.”

It was a bit of leap of faith to keep going, especially with bailout so easy and all indications pointing towards terrible conditions and no ‘fun.’ But life is exploration, and you expect dead-ends and sub-par conditions. Usually, if you persevere, the rewards are great.

It snowed all night, but the full moon was too powerful. It blasted through the thick clouds as we were heading to bed, revealing a winter wonderland that looked like complete daylight. It was a cozy night, full of good food, good conversation and gratitude. Does it really get this good?

Right as we were dozing off someone came walking down the trail. It was the groomer, who had gotten his cat stuck on the other side of the pass. We offered him chocolate for his long walk back to civilization, and were stoked to learn that there would be trail tomorrow — if it didn’t snow too much.

Sun’s up, time to GO!

Slowly, and by foot.

Up another five hundred feet to Ptarmagin, as the snow continued in near whiteout conditions. It was, in a word, awesome. I didn’t feed my inner altitude fiend nearly enough this summer in Colorado, and never thought I’d be at nearly 12,000 feet in January!

Based on valiant (ha!) efforts at riding the uphill, we had good hope for rideability on the way down.

At some point the groomer must have passed the sleds. The whole trail became corduroy with fresh inches of snow on it. Oh yeah! We were up early enough to get fresh tracks, meaning the descent was absolutely brilliant. It’s a new sensation for me… gliding silently and effortlessly through fresh snow. Not quite like skiing and not quite like dirt coasting.

As the trail flattened out nearing Pando, having a bike became the best form of transport — skis and shoes would have been slow!

the CT!!!

We rolled south to find the Colorado Trail and the Camp Hale bunkers, which Eszter had never seen on either of her crushing CTR runs. It was great pedaling, with or without sled traffic on the trail.

Pavement ahead, time to air up from the 3-5 PSI we had been running.

Snow bikes really are something else. This loop wouldn’t work on skis, snowmobiles or snowshoes (unless you want to walk ~5 miles downhill on a US highway). With a bike, you coast, pedal some, and gawk at the scenery (which included a sneak view of Mt. Holy Cross, a 14er).

We rolled into the town of Red Cliff with tongues hanging out of our mouths, and sniffers looking for the Mango Mountain Grill. Discovering there was hot food on this loop put it quickly into the “GO” category, and though it looked doubtful we’d ever make it here the day before, our perseverance paid off.

happiness! photo by Eszter Horanyi

And oh did it ever pay off! That divine cookie ice cream sandwich was proceeded by a 16″ pizza and a giant spicy mango taco. Mango Mountain Grill, we love you.

With all the sled traffic at the grill and the warm temps, we didn’t have super high hopes for trail conditions on the 2600′ climb we now faced. We expected to walk and struggle.

But no!

We rode 99% of it, and I somehow found a delightful snow bike climbing rhythm. Another new sensation. It’s a bit slower, no doubt, but has its own special appeal. The crunch of the snow under tire and the steady float. That, and, well, a belly full of good food can go a long way.

Before long we were at Shrine Pass, making our way for singletrack.

Zooming packed trail was the perfect way to end a perfect trip. No, I take that back, downing a giant burrito from Qdoba was the perfect way to end a perfect trip.

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