Closing out the alpine season — with a binge and a bang.

The view from my ‘office’ was superb. Gold aspens, blue sky. Trails from the door. Easy access to the alpine. A cozy place to stay.

Why leave such paradise? Why jump back in the van and sleep in a tent for two weeks, working from campsites and libraries, constantly on the lookout for wifi, power, and spigots to fill up on water?

Here’s why.

Mt. Princeton segment of the CT

Because there are other gold and orange leaves to seek out, each configuration unique and beautiful in its own way.

Because sometimes you win — big time — and find a free hippy hot spring just as the rumor on ‘the trail’ (CT) had said.

Because friends come to visit. J-bake declared the Monarch Endarno [sic] to be the “best race ever.” Despite great endarno fatigue, he joined us for a loop on North Backbone in Salida, shredding it with more gusto that we ever do!

Because you don’t experience sunsets like this from indoors. Camping on the mesas above Salida can be sublime.

we go up there!

From there, Mt. Shavano towers over you, calling with its siren song. Climb me! Climb me! You can’t spend weeks camping here, looking at me, without joining me for a day in the sky.

I love fall. We took a lazy morning at camp — reading a little, working a little, sipping coffee. “Is it about time to go climb a 14er?” “Yes, I suppose so.”

First we had to explore the CT a little. Besides Shavano, we’d been staring at all the color we knew was bisected by the Colorado Trail.

We ditched bikes and began the ascent in earnest. We found yellow leaves as high as 13,000 feet, carried by the wind above treeline, and even further above aspen-line.

Shavano really stands out on its own.

Leading to vertigo-inducing views.

I had a bike up here once, and can confirm this qualifies as ‘dream riding’ at 13,000 feet.

I was happy to not have one though. Riding Shavano was one of the best descents of my life, but perhaps the only time I’ll attempt it, too.

Bikes were waiting, for a little CT, a lot of color, and an easy coast back to camp for dinner.

Dinner and a sunset.

The banana belt loop was our ‘recovery’ ride.

Trails paved in gold! If you stop and admire the leaves, that makes it a recovery ride, right?

Swoop swoop! Banana belt features the Rainbow — a Salida classic. A recovery ride, it is not, though.

We met Chad and Kendall in town for pizza, then led the way to our campsite. In the morning we were obliged to show them some of what fall has to offer in Colorado.

I shot for a hike that might combine changing colors *and* high altitude revelry. We were skunked on leaves up by Monarch, but once we got up on the Divide, on high and lonely trail, there was no disappointment.

let me show you the proper way to use those hiking poles….

The CDT. I can’t believe we bikepacked this section, what with its copious hike-a-bike and all. The views and far-dreaming make up for it, I suppose.

“Look, there’s where we dropped off the divide to the first clump of trees we could tie the tarp to, and where we spent one of the most beautiful and most lacking of sleep nights of the CDT.”

Look, there’s a 32 degree glacial lake, in October. Beautiful. Maybe I should jump in?

Yes! Gotta love my hippy lover.

A campfire and sunset shared with good friends.

Shovani, chobani!

In the morning, colors were sought out, and found. Naps were taken. We ran in terror from blizzards of falling leaves. Just a lazy day spent exploring the woods, perfect.

Friends headed back to Tucson, we started scheming for a big day in the mountains. One that was a little terrifying, to me, and one that Eszter had been hoping on all season.

High pressure was strong for a few more days, so we schemed for a few adventures to do on the way. First our sights were on Mt. Princeton. I must admit that it was partly on the list due to the fact that we could hit up the hippy spring twice while camping by it. But it’s also a mountain we are always looking at, and one that I failed to summit with my bicycle some years ago.

So there was a bit of unfinished business. First we rode up to the ‘Chalet’ at treeline, just to check it out. Pretty cool structure up so high.

Then we ditched bikes at the last clump of trees, switching to non-poofy running shoes.

The non-poofy ones are good because you need a lot of control and traction on this “trail.”

It’s not so much a trail as a pile of rocks. Back when I was young and dumb (arguably I am still both, especially the latter) I took my bike all too far on the ‘trail’ hoping it would get semi-rideable, even if only briefly. Eventually I yielded. After hiking it, I can confirm that it is pretty much entirely unrideable. Hats off to those that took a bike up it anyway. It’s a slow hike, even without a bike.

I called my Dad for his birthday, from the bikes, then we loaded up for a tiny bit of ‘dream riding’ before hitting the main event: the road descent.

You see, the descent is littered with erosion diversions that make *perfect* Scott-sized jumps. Once you pop, you can’t stop. Pop, pop, pop!

After a rejuvenating soak, we camped on the Vapor Trail course again, with sunrise views of the “Cliffs of Insanity” (Chalk Creek Cliffs). Then we took the minivan over Cottonwood Pass, stopping for a favorite but hard-to-access loop.

Texas Creek, back on the CDT!

This would have been pretty OK a week or two ago, when erupting with yellow.

Timberline is full of rowdy good fun, and a fair bit of hiking.

But it gets you to this: Texas Ridge Trail, closed to motos.

Dream riding of a different sort — pine needled, soft, well-graded. It makes me miss the ponderosa pine riding of AZ and NM, badly.

The trail is a rare find in Colorado. We’re stoked that we were able to squeeze this one in.

Whether or not it was a good idea, is another issue entirely. We were both feeling it towards the end of the ride, and tomorrow was the big day. We organized everything in the sun next to Taylor Res. Bikes were loaded with shoes. Packs filled with water, food and warm clothes. Batteries swapped out. Water filters found. Maps studied, briefly.

We’d grab a burrito in Crested Butte, head to camp, and hit it at Oh-dawn O’clock.

“There’s nothing romantic about alpine starts,” says Ez.

There’s nothing warm about them either. I fought with my hands all the way up the pass, finally succumbing to the ‘screaming barfies’ as they rejoined me climbing singletrack on trail 401.

A stupid early start was the only way we were going to pull this off, given that it’s mid-October and daylight is a scarce commodity. It’s been a while since we’ve had such a start. It’s been a while since I’ve attempted something that scared me a little. We aren’t hikers, but we wanted to hike somewhere between 28 and 32 miles, in a day. That’s routine for thru-hikers (on a good day) or ultra-runners. But neither of us have approached that distance in a single day. And it was almost all above treeline, with four big climbs.

The Four Pass Loop (usually done without bikes and from the Aspen side, not the CB side).

I have to admit that watching the world slowly turn into the sun’s influence, from the seat of a bike and from my feet, was an experience that I do miss about bikepack racing. So many sunrises. So many slow turns of awareness and extreme gratitude for the sun’s presence and warmth.

Ez gets her first taste of sunlight for the day — finally!

We didn’t actually get any direct sun until well into the morning, when we crested the first pass — West Maroon. It was hard to regulate temperature until then.

Down toward Maroon Lake, we started seeing people, and all sorts of signs of over-use. It’s a beautiful place, and frequently visited. Once over the next pass, it was empty again, other than a handful of people backpacking the Four Pass loop (which is arguably the smarter approach than what we were doing).

I can certainly see why the Maroon Bells, and this loop, are so ‘popular.’

It’s a place that defies description. And we got to spend all day immersed in it — sunrise to sunset.

We kept the pace steady, with minimal stops and determined movement. Marching speed on flats, occasional coasting downhill. Oh yeah, the downhill — my shins made their sore presence known on the first descent. I remember thinking, “this can’t be good, at the start of a 30 mile day.”

even a little fall color to go along with the high revelry

There’s a beautiful simplicity to walking all day. I’ve experienced similar feelings with focused riding, but it’s a little different on foot. It feels more like a ‘migration’, even though we were actually hiking a loop. It feels like our bodies were meant to do this, occasionally, to move great distances when required. Even when your muscles are already sore, sleep is minimal, and you’re tired. You just keep walking.

“Retired from suffering, my ass!”

Ez likes to claim she is retired from suffering (along with racing). But I called her on it as we crested Frigid Air Pass, our fourth and final one. Legs were still moving, but definitely lacking pizzazz. Suffering, perhaps, but well worth it, of course.

We still had five or so miles to go, and the sun was nearly gone (damn short days!). The out/back portion from the CB side is pretty long and has its own 500′ climb up to the Wilderness boundary. It pushed us to a full 30 miles of hiking. Then we had to find our bikes in the trees, put on every stitch of clothing we had, and start riding in the frigid and pitch dark night. It was fun. And not all that cold. A tent with warm sleeping bags awaited down by Gothic.

What a day. It was the perfect way to put the nail in the coffin on our spectacular fall alpine season. We were almost hoping that the forecasted snow and general arrival of winter would actually pan out, and soon.

be Hippy, be Happy, and the view from S Mtn in Salida

The snow didn’t arrive immediately, but cold temperatures did. We thought we’d go for another recovery ride on the ‘other’ section of Rainbow Trail. But we woke up to ice on the van and a very slow and grumpy morning as the sun rose and didn’t hold much strength.

We opted for a day in the relative warmth of Salida, then a pathetic spin on North Backbone. It gave concrete confirmation to what we should have already known: we were worked. Stick a fork in us, we’re done. In the best possible way. Lucky us. Time to rest up and pray for snow. Or something like that.

3 comments to Closing out the alpine season — with a binge and a bang.

  • Jolene

    What an awesome adventure season you two have had. Apparently saving the best for last. Thanks for taking us all along for the ride (and hike, and hikeabike).

    • Scott

      You’re welcome! Thanks for following along. It’s been one heck of a ‘season.’ Luckily what’s next is likely a desert binge or three. Soon!

  • Joe in Durango

    We have also camped on the mesas east of the Sawatch, enjoyed the population density (almost no one). Love the shot of Snowmass and Capitol, never seen the knife edge from that perspective.

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