Sunday, August 2, 2015

Mountain Biking Marshall Pass and Starvation Creek

While I have hit the trails on my bike the last month, I haven't ridden anywhere new since I rode Hartman Rocks in Gunnison well over a month ago.  I have never been to the Marshall Pass area of the Continental Divide and was interested in checking it out.  There are many riding opportunities in the area, ranging from easy dirt roads to more difficult singletrack.  Salida's most renowned ride, the Monarch Crest passes over Marshall Pass as well.  I didn't have time to ride the Crest, so I sought out another ride in the Marshall Pass area.  After a quick glance at a map, I settled on a loop that climbed the Marshall Pass Road and returned on the Starvation Creek Trail.

My ride began at the Shirley Site trailhead at 8700' in elevation.  From the trailhead, the route to the Continental Divide at Marshall Pass follows FS Road 200.  This dirt road travels over 12 miles and climbs more than 2000 feet before reaching Marshall Pass.  Despite the elevation gain, the riding is pretty tame along FS 200.  The road was at one time an old railroad grade on the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad.  In the days of steam powered trains, the grades couldn't be to steep.  As a result the route to Marshall Pass climbs at a gradual 3% grade.  Not only is the climbing gradual, but the road is well maintained and generally pretty smooth.  Any passenger car can make the climb without worry of  ground clearance.  I made the climb to the pass in under 90 minutes, spinning casually up the dirt road without too much exertion.

The northern Sangre de Cristos come
into view early on the ride
O'Haver Lake with Antora Peak and Sheep Mtn in the distance
O'Haver Lake
Even though the entire route stays below treeline, there is plenty of opportunity to enjoy the scenery.  Not too far from the start, the road passes through clearings and meadows that open up the views.  There are several chances to look across the valley to the long spine of the Sangre de Cristo Range.  Numerous other alpine peaks stand just to the south with 13er Antora Peak being the most prominent.  The most dominating view from the road is of 13,971' Mt. Ouray.  Much of the ride up to the pass, Mt Ouray looms just ahead.  From the road, you travel directly toward Ouray's giant cirque referred to as the Devil's Armchair.  Where the road travels through the woods, much of the route is lined with large groves of aspens much of the way.

Easy riding on Marshall Pass Road with
Mt. Ouray in the distance
Mt Ouray and the Devil's Armchair
Plenty of aspens along the way to Marshall Pass
Clouds closing in on Mt Ouray
Grazing cattle near Marshall Pass
At Marshall Pass, the road reaches a parking area and joins the Continental Divide Trail.  I didn't stay on the CDT long before turning onto the four wheel drive Poncha Creek Road.  I stayed on the Poncha Creek Road only a short distance before turning onto the Starvation Creek Trail.

Start of Starvation Creek Trail
The Starvation Creek Trail begins climbing on a doubletrack jeep road.  It follows the doubletrack for nearly 1.5 miles before turning off the jeep road onto singletrack.  It's along this jeep road that my ride reached its high point at 11,189'.  At the start of the jeep road, the route enters deeper woods that clearly sees less travel than my route up to that point.  The road doesn't stay in the woods too long though before reaching meadows with good views toward the Sangre de Cristos and southern reaches of the Sawatch Range.

Startvation Creek Road doesn't stay smooth very long
Antora Peak and Sheep Mtn.
Clouds starting obscure the Sangres
I initially missed the turn off to the singletrack section of the Starvation Creek Trail.  The jeep road ended at a vista on a small knob.  I could see the trail below however.  I backtracked a short distance when I came across another rider.  We consulted a map and could see that we missed our turn.  I could see a signpost not to far ahead.  At the signpost, there wasn't any tread, but the trail was visible just ahead.   The signpost didn't have a sign on it, but it was clear that this was the Starvation Creek Trail.

The Starvation Creek singletrack is  just below in the meadow
One last look at Mt Ouray
This singletrack portion of the Starvation Creek Trail was the start of the most fun riding.  The singletrack section runs less than 5 miles but drops around 2000 vertical feet.  The initial drop from the jeep road travels through a grassy meadow but quickly enters the woods.  The trail is primitive at times and travels through thick forest giving the feel of wilderness.  The trail is well defined, but sections are tight with vegetation encroaching the trail.  Much of the trail travels through a steep sidecut with very narrow tread.  It's easy to gain speed and there is little room for error through the sidecut.  Veering just slightly off your line can lead to trouble.  The trail flows quite nicely much of the way despite narrow sections.  At times the creek is just a couple feet beside the trail.  There are a couple of easy crossings of the creek as well. While the riding is only moderately technical for the most part, there are some sections with roots and rocks and one stretch through a rough patch of talus.  My only complaint is that I wish the trail was longer.

Dropping into the singletrack on the Starvation Creek Trail
Reentering the forest on nice singletrack
Overgrown section of trail
At times the trail was just a few feet from the Creek
Crossing a stretch of talus
Cruising through the aspens

The Starvation Creek Valley is visible here
Riding through a meadow near the end
of the Starvation Creek Trail
At the lower end of the trail, I popped back out on the Poncha Creek Road.  Once on the road, it was just 3 miles of quick, downhill back to the trailhead on mostly four wheel drive road.

This route is accessible from the Monarch Crest, one of the most popular rides in Colorado.  There are several descents from the Continental Divide and the Monarch Crest that are more popular than Starvation Creek.  I haven't ridden them yet, so I can't compare them to Starvation Creek.  I do know Starvation Creek see quite a bit less traffic than many of the other routes.  I have to say that Starvation Creek was a blast to ride.  I will definitely check out the other trails at some point and give a comparison.

Although the weather became more dreary as I rode, I never saw any rain.  The clouds were low enough to obscure the summit of 13,971' Mt Ouray.  The cloud cover helped keep the long climb up Marshall Pass from getting too hot.  Not too long after my ride, showers and thunder storms moved through the area.

Antora Peak and its neighbors from the upper
part of the Starvation Creek Trail
For a relatively quick ride in the area, I would recommend this route.  The ride covered 23 miles and took about 2.5 hours total of riding time.  The Marshall Pass Road can get busy at times, particularly on weekends, but I don't think the Starvation Creek Trail sees much traffic.  I only saw a few vehicles along the road on my Monday morning ride. The ride offered a good mix of fairly easy climbing with a fun downhill singletrack and most importantly I had a good time.  Despite a fair amount of elevation change, the ride wasn't overly tiring.  This ride seems like it would be nice in the fall with the abundance of aspens along the route, particularly the Marshall Pass Road.

Nice stretch of singtrack through the forest
Another fine stretch of trail



  1. This is a fantastic post. This is called beauty of nature and it is very good to enjoy this beauty of nature and backpacking in this place is a beautiful experience.
    your picture is very nice.

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