Sunday, August 31, 2014

Mountain Biking the Silver Creek-Rainbow Trail Loop

Last weekend's ride of the Triple Rainbow Route was my first serious mountain bike ride since I moved to Colorado.  It was such a nice ride that I was eager get back on the trails with my bike.  I browsed through my local bike guide and found a ride called the Silver Creek Loop just south of Poncha Springs.  Like the Triple Rainbow, a good part of this ride featured the Rainbow Trail.  I enjoyed the Rainbow Trail's singletrack on the last ride, so this route seemed like a good option.

The ride started just below the summit Poncha Pass along US 285, just a couple tenths of a mile from County Road 200.  Starting with CR 200 and eventually FS 201, the next 8 miles would follow dirt roads.  The first 4.5 miles were well maintained and graded dirt before the road narrowed and became somewhat rougher.  From the start the route climbed for 8 miles.  The climbing was very gradual however and an easy spin in the middle chainring most of the way.  The roads followed Silver Creek the entire way often along meadows.  Even though most of the route was wooded, there were several spots where I could enjoy views of the surrounding peaks with Antora Peak being the most prominent mountain in view.  After spinning 8 miles, I reached the Silver Creek trailhead and the Rainbow Trail.

Riding along FS 201 in the woods

Antora Peak

Start of the Rainbow Trail Section

On the Rainbow Trail, the real fun began.  The first 8 miles were a nice warm up for the Rainbow Trail's singletrack.  The very beginning of the Rainbow started out a little rocky and rooty.  This was short lived and the trail smoothed out into some great singletrack.  The trail flowed nicely with plenty of climbs and descents but none that lasted too long.  The trail cruised along through the forest dropping in and out of small drainages and then would pop out into a meadow.  The trail had occasional sections of rocks and small stream crossings.  This section of the Rainbow Trail offered about 11 miles of singletrack fun before dropping steeply back to US 285.

Riding the Rainbow through the woods

A small stream crossing

Riding through aspens

Looking back at a 
meadow I just rode through

Entering a meadow with views
toward Mt Ouray

The final descent to the trailhead was the most technical part of the ride.  The trail was quite steep and fairly narrow with a steep drop along the trail.  The route was rocky enough to keep me on my toes.  Several sharp switchbacks prevented me from letting my speed get to crazy.

Not only was the riding a blast, the scenery was also enjoyable.  As the trail popped out of the woods into meadows, the views opened.  The view of Mt. Ouray was the most impressive.  At one point the trail entered an open area with a nice look at the Sangre de Cristos.  Toward the end of the ride, the meadows opened up to views toward 14er Mt Shavano and its neighbors.  The Rainbow Trail paralleled the dirt roads at the start of the loop but traveled higher.  At spots, I could look down and see the early part of my ride.

Sangre de Cristo Range

Looking toward Mt Shavano and its neighbors

Mt Ouray

Overall the ride was fairly easy compared to the Triple Rainbow ride I posted about last time.  The loop was about 19 miles long and took about 2 hours to ride.  The elevations were between 8400 and 9500 feet.  This loop is listed as an intermediate ride in the local cycling guidebook and that seems like a fair rating.  I had a lot of fun on this ride without feeling too tired at the end.  This ride is worth checking out if you have an extra day in the Salida area and are looking for an easier ride.

 To see the Map and elevation profile click here.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Mountain Biking the Triple Rainbow Route

Since moving to Colorado, I have been eager to take a serious mountain bike ride.  I have ridden over 150 miles in the past two months but most were easy rides on dirt roads just to stay in shape.  After hearing about potential riding on the Rainbow Trail, I attempted a couple rides on it but chose less than desirable sections that were miles of rock gardens.

Now that I live closer to Salida, I'm closer to better sections of the Rainbow Trail.  I picked up a local cycling guide that recommended sections of the trail to ride.  I also picked up a Salida Mountain Trails map at a local bike shop.  I originally planned on riding Rainbow Trail from Bear Creek to Methodist Mountain as an out-and-back but a rainy Friday postponed the ride.  After looking at a couple of maps I saw a potential loop linking the Rainbow Trail with trails in the Methodist Mountain Trail System.  There were a couple of options so I wasn't sure on my exact plans or route would be when I left Sunday morning for my ride.

I started my ride at the trailhead on County Road 101/49 about 3 miles off of US 50.  The ride started at about 7900 feet in elevation and climbed Forest Service Road 101 for more about 2.5 miles and gained more than 1000 feet.  The climb was steady but never too steep or too rocky.  There were occasional views along the way of the surrounding mountains.  The road followed Bear Creek along the way.  There was at least one short but easily rideable crossing of the creek.

Simmons Peak above FS 101

At the end of FS 101 I reached the Rainbow Trail and the fun began.  My book said that this section was smooth singletrack.  I was a little nervous after riding the treacherous rocky section of the Rainbow in the past but the book didn't lie.  The next 9+ miles followed beautiful singletrack.  The trail generally stayed between 8700 and 9000 feet in elevation with no big climbs or drops.  There were plenty of short elevation changes though as the trail weaved in and out of drainages.  Most of the trail was in the woods but it crossed through a couple meadows with fine views of the mountains surrounding Salida and even views of Salida. The singletrack often ran on a sidecut trail with a steep drop into the trees below. After the trail crossed the road to Methodist Mountain, there was a mile to mile and a half of loose, rocky trail that was tough to travel through but otherwise the entire section rode wonderfully.

Crossing a meadow looking toward Methodist Mountain

Smooth singletrack

Looking back toward Simmons Peak

View into Salida

14ers across the valley

Narrow sidecut trail

Looking into Sand Gulch

The next stretch of trail was the most difficult.  I descended down Sand Gulch on a rocky and rutted jeep road marked as FS 124 on my map.  This trail dropped roughly 1000 feet in about 2 miles on a jarring descent with plenty of loose rocks and washed out sections.  To keep me on my toes, I would cross through loose, sandy sections that would throw my bike around.  Since it was almost all downhill, this section ended soon enough.

The next 9 miles brought me onto the Methodist Mountain Trail System maintained by Salida Mountain Trails.  The entire 9 miles were on singletrack trails.  I started out on the Double Rainbow Trail.  Having lost quite a bit of elevation, I was no longer in the forest but in a semiarid high desert.  The scenery changed to scrubby trees and desert vegetation with cactus, yucca, and scraggly trees.  Double Rainbow travels on sandy singletrack with lots of sharp turns, short climbs, and descents as it travels in and out of drainages.  I had a minor spill when I took a sandy hairpin turn too quickly.

Semiarid landscape in the valley

Yucca along the trail

After 2.6 miles, the Double Rainbow ends at a trailhead and the Little Rainbow begins.  The Little Rainbow is a more mellow version of the Double Rainbow.  The climbs and descents aren't quite as steep and the turns aren't as sharp.  The biggest challenge on the Little Rainbow was avoiding cactus along the trail.  The Little Rainbow traveled fairly quickly for nearly 5 miles.

The last leg of singletrack was on a trail called Race Track.  The majority of Race Track is downhill.  It was easy to build speed on Race Track which was tricky because there were quite a few washouts along it.  It also seemed sandier which made for loose traction.  The highlight of this section is riding along Castle Gardens.  Castle Gardens is a desert landscape with interesting formations.  Several hoodoos are visible along Race Track.  The end of Race Track dumps you onto US 50 about a mile east of Salida.

Castle Gardens

Hoodoos in Castle Gardens

Less than 2 miles of riding on US 50 brought me back to County Road 101 and the low point of the ride at about 6900 feet along the Arkansas River.  I was feeling pretty good up until this point.  I had covered about 25 miles and was feeling it but not too exhausted.  I now had in front of me 3 miles and 1000 feet of climbing.  The last 3 miles is on a smooth dirt road but it is all up hill.  Even though it isn't too steep, it really wore me out at the end of my ride.  I probably should of ate a quick snack but just pushed through to the end.  According to my bike computer, I had ridden 28 miles.  It took me exactly 4 hours.

After the ride, I found that this route is called the Triple Rainbow.  It gets this name because it travels on the Rainbow Trail, Little Rainbow Trail, and Double Rainbow.  The version of the ride I found online is 23 miles and follows the Columbine Trail instead of climbing to the top of FS 101.  That ride is listed at 3100 feet of elevation gain.  It appears my route may have gained a little bit more than that.  Click on to see the route. (My route didn't follow Columbine Trail but climbed FS 101 and added extra miles on Rainbow Trail)

This was one of the best rides I've done in a long time.  About 18 miles of the ride was on singletrack and less than 2 rode on the pavement.  Having lived in Maine the past eight years, there wasn't a lot of singletrack riding so this was a wonderful change from mostly logging roads in New England.  If I rode this ride again, I wouldn't save the climb up 101 until the end.  For a nice Sunday afternoon, I was surprised at how few people I saw, especially since this ride is accessible from Salida without a car.

Good riding and scenery

Close up of Salida from Rainbow Trail with
Tenderfoot "S" Mountain in background

Endless singletrack on the
Rainbow Trail

Monday, August 4, 2014

Climbing the Peaks of Cloverdale Basin

Since I moved to Colorado, I have been staring at the Sangre de Cristo Range from my house.  Eagle Peak is the closest mountain in the range to the house and is framed when looking out the windows.  Just to the right of Eagle in the background is Cottonwood Peak.  These peaks with a few others surround a high alpine basin called Cloverdale Basin.  After staring at these peaks for the past 6 weeks, I decided it was time to take a trip to the summits.

I attempted a hike to Cottonwood Peak a couple of week ago but encountered thunder and lightning.  Rather than tempt fate in a storm above treeline, I turned around and left the trip for another day.  Before heading back, I did a little research and found a route to explore multiple peaks in the area.

After a week of dreary weather with the summits socked in by clouds, the skies cleared up for Sunday, August 3rd.  I got up early and was on the trail at 610AM, just in time to see the sunrise.  My hike started from Forest Road 198 just past the Rainbow Trail Lutheran Camp.  Because FS 198 is extremely rocky, I can't take my Outback very far up it.  From there it is an unexciting walk up the loose rocky road.  The road isn't steep, but ankle twisting rock is common along its length which makes the hike along it drag on.  Despite the temperature not quite being 50, I warmed up quickly as I traveled along the road.  After a few miles I reached Rainbow Lake.

Rough section of FS 198


Mule Deer early in the hike

First look at the mountains from the trail

Small waterfall along FS 198

View across Rainbow Lake, Eagle Peak's ridge
is on left and Cottonwood is in distance

I left FS 198 at Rainbow Lake and began my climb toward Eagle Peak.  On the south side of the lake a steep slope of rock rises above the water.  I began climbing up the slope as close to the woods as possible trying to follow more stable rock.  Although it was loose at places, reaching the ridge wasn't too difficult.  At the top of the slope, I was back into the trees and on the long ridge of Eagle.  To my surprise, there was a nice trail with occasional blazing that led to treeline.  This trail was not shown on my map but was in better shape than some of the mapped trails.

Rocky slope above Rainbow Lake

Looking back toward Rainbow Lake

I wasn't in the trees very long before reaching treeline.  The trail ended at treeline with a few cairns.  Ahead of me was the long grassy ridge of Eagle.  The slope was very gentle and the walking pleasant after traveling the rocky road for several miles.  The skies were clear in most directions with a few clouds lingering over the northern most Sangre de Cristo peaks.  Just before the summit the grass gave way to a rocky surface.  The climbing was never too steep.  A short section of narrower ridge was encountered a couple hundred yards before the summit proper.  From the summit I had fine 360 degree views.  I took a short break to have a bagel while studying my route before me.

First look near treeline

Reaching the tundra

Looking back down Eagle's ridge near the summit

Last section of ridge before summit

My next destination was Thirsty Peak.  From Eagle Peak I could see most of my route.  After a few rocks to start, the travel from Eagle was pretty easy going as I was able to travel on fairly flat tundra.  To my right I had a fine view of Cloverdale Basin including my route all the way to Cottonwood Peak.  Despite the mild terrain on which I was traveling, most of the terrain was steep and full of cliffs to my right above the basin.

Looking toward Thirsty

Easy walking in the grass

Marmot enjoying the view


View back to Eagle

The smooth travel didn't last as I approached Point 12907.  From the Eagle Peak side, Point 12907 looks like a small bump in the ridge.  Once I got over the bump, the terrain got a little nasty.  The Thirsty Peak side of Point 12907 dropped quite steeply and the ridge became quite narrow.  The rock became quite crumbly as well.  I traveled along the peak of the ridge until it became too crumbly.  I then dropped to the Cloverdale Basin side of the ridge several feet below the crest to travel on slightly more stable ground.  This comprised of loose talus, so footing was only marginally better, though I was able to use my hands more efficiently.
The travel wasn't much worse than class 3 terrain but the crumbling rock kept me on my toes.  The worst of the narrow ridge and crumbling rock ended and I regained the peak of the ridge to gain the final climb of Thirsty Peak.

Ridge becomes narrower

Starts to get rockier

Not much better below the ridge

The view below into Cloverdale Basin

I didn't notice it while on the narrow ridge as I was focusing on my footing but as I was traveling, clouds rose up from the west and started to obscure the nearby summits along my route.  The clouds weren't threatening, mostly just upslope fog rising along the ridge.  Most of the route from Thirsty Peak to Cottonwood Peak was obscured.

Clouds moving in fast

The last pitch to Thirsty's summit was steep but grassy.  I reached the partially obscured summit and had a snack.  Looking ahead, I could see most of the ridge leading to Point 13123, my next summit.  Only the top of the summit was partially obscured.  Mostly the fog clung to the western side of the ridge.  Cottonwood's summit was in and out of the clouds.  Everything to the east was completely clear with the exception of the occasional cumulus cloud floating by.

A nice section of grass before Thirsty's summit

Looking back toward Eagle

Brush Creek Lakes

The view across the basin from Thirsty

The descent from Thirsty Peak was less than stellar.  The fog that occasionally passed over the ridge made the rocks a little slick.  The ridge was mostly narrow and jagged rock so the slick conditions kept me on my toes.

Clouds lowering visibility

By the time I reached the saddle between Thirsty and 13123, the fog shifted to the west to keep me in the clear.  The climb up 13123 from the saddle took only about 15-20 minutes and the rock was mellow compared to anything on Thirsty.  I didn't linger on 13123 long before heading to Cottonwood.
Looking back to Thirsty

Thirsty from the summit of 13123

Looking toward Cottonwood

The climb up Cottonwood Peak was similar to 13123 but longer.  I had been hiking for about 5 hours and was ready for a break but was determined to have lunch on the summit of Cottonwood, which was now mostly free of the clouds.  A false summit taunted me as I climbed as I needed a bite to eat.  The actual summit was only a short distance further and about 1120AM I reached the top of Cottonwood.  At 13588 feet, Cottonwood was the high point of the trip.  Although the summit was free of clouds, most of the terrain to the west and north was still socked in so the views were limited in those directions.  I could see Thirsty Peak occasionally as it popped in and out of the fog.  The views across Cloverdale Basin toward Eagle Peak showed me my route all the way back to Rainbow Lake which now was in sight again.  I took a longer break on the summit to refuel before descending back into the valley.

View into basin from saddle between
Cottonwood and 13123

Fog obscuring Thirsty

Looking across basin toward Eagle

Closer shot of Eagle, you can see
Rainbow Lake below it to the left

Wulsten Baldy

Clouds closing in quickly on Wulsten Baldy

Looking across the basin at my route from Eagle Peak 
heading to the right toward Thirsty

I descended from Cottonwood almost directly to Silver Lake below.  Although steep, the footing was decent as it covered a mix of grass and solid rock.  I had to make a short bushwack through an alpine meadow before reaching the trail that led back to FS 198.  With the exception of a couple tenths of a mile below Eagle Peak, I had traveled about 5 hours off trail.

Heading down Cottonwood 

Getting close to Silver Lake

Passing through alpine meadow

Clicking on the picture to enlarge it you
can see some of the wildflowers

Looking back toward Cottonwood

View across basin

One last view into basin

The long haul down FS 198 was broken up briefly as I passed through the Cloverdale Mine site.  There are a few old cabins still standing as well as the mine entrance building.  The cabins are somewhat rundown but still an interesting sight to see.

Mine remains from Eagle

Old cabin

Another cabin

Mine entrance

The remaining hike was on FS 198.  It was a Sunday afternoon so it was quite busy with ATVs and a few SUVs.  When the road wasn't too rocky, I jogged stretches to make up time on the never ending road.  With fatigue setting in, I didn't take my chances running on the rocky stretches.  Around 3PM it started to thunder but it never got too close or threatening.  About 340PM I reached my car, about 9.5 hours after I began.

Remains from Duckett Fire in 2011

Accessing these peaks isn't very hard if you have an SUV or truck.  Forest Service Road 198 leads right up to Cloverdale Basin.  The problem is that FS 198 is extremely rough and rocky at places.  High clearance, four wheel drive vehicles or ATVs are needed to pass the road.  I drive a Subaru Outback with not so high clearance. That means I have to walk FS 198 which adds many miles to my trip.  The road ends just over a mile from Cottonwood Peak.  However by foot, this is a walk of 6 or so miles one way.  You can drive right up to Rainbow Lake, the start of my scramble to Eagle Peak, with a high clearance vehicle.  I had to walk in at least three miles.  In total I added about 6-8 miles of walking to an already 10 or more miles of hiking.

More rocks on FS 198

This hike covers long stretches, particularly on Thirsty Peak and Point 12907, of jagged rock.  Traveling on this proved tiring.  The added bonus miles on FS 198's less than smooth surface is also tiring, especially since the scenery isn't that great along it.  I don't have an exact distance but my hike was in the upper teens for mileage I would guess  The long periods of time above treeline following ridges make this trip quite scenic.  Even though the clouds blocked some of my scenery, it also added a neat visual to the hike.