Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Lung busting climbs and jaw dropping views

The 401 Trail
It's amazing how one view can make you forget that awful lung-coming-out-of-your-mouth feeling. That's exactly what happens when you reach the summit of the famed 401 trail in Crested Butte. Driving out on the Gothic road you pass the tiny research "town" of Gothic and head higher up the rutted jeep road into the forest. Camp grounds and bikers dot the roadside. If you have the opportunity, running a shuttle is probably the best idea for your first 401 ride. Park a car at the end (located at the hard-to-miss sign indicating Rustler's Gulch or something like that) and then drive on up to a tiny patch of a somewhat flat parking area on the right side of the road. Even the view from here is enough to make you curious about the ride:

From here it's a bit of a climb on a jeep road up to Schofield Pass. If there is a bright side to this climb, it's that it's not technical and it does give you a bit of a chance to acclimate and warm up your legs. You can pedal slowly and concentrate on sucking in what little oxygen is available while also checking out some amazing views. Take a break at the pass before heading off on the single track on the right side of the road (appropriately labeled "401 trail"). I'm not gonna lie, the next part of the climb (which some books claim is only about a mile) is hellacious for us low landers. Literally I just have to try to make it to the next flat spot. Most of the trail is rideable, it's just a lot of climbing without much oxygen. Still, once you reach the meadow you get this view, and you're almost done!

The next time you take a break you get this view and you're really, I promise, almost at the top of the climb.

What comes next is a mix of mind blowing downhill fun mixed with a few terrifying moments of portages, steep exposed hillsides and narrow switchbacks. Oh, and more amazing views...the singletrack really isn't any more narrow than any other singletrack, but it does traverse a steep mountain hill. So while there aren't cliffs, per se, the right side does slope down pretty steeply and if the flowers aren't blooming on that side...well...it can be a little intimidating.

Still, soon enough you've reached lower ground and you can cruise around wooded switchbacks with ease, hands cramping from holding the brakes, back screaming from you standing for several miles...mouth in a wide grin the whole time! When you hit the double track you can continue even further down the 401 through some bogs and mosquito laden territories, or turn right, head down the hill and cross the creek. If you've shuttled, your car and beer will be waiting. If you haven't, bribe the strongest person into riding back up the road to get the car while you stand around saying, "Man that was awesome!" to anyone who will listen.

The Snodgrass Trail
If you're feeling especially spunky after your 401 ride, you can add the 3.5 mile Snodgrass trail later in the afternoon. Again, it's best to have a shuttle so you can park one car down on Washington Gulch road. Otherwise some poor soul is going to have to climb back up the paved road to get your car. However, if you're staying in condos out on that end of town, this isn't really an issue. The Snodgrass trail parking is right where the Gothic road turns from pavement at the edge of town to dirt. You'll see a parking area on the left with a gate, sign, and ladder thingy over the fence.

Here's the thing: The Snodgrass trail requires about another mile of climbing...so if you aren't ready for that after your 401 trek, save this for another day. After the initial climb, you come to another trail head and sign. Head down, not right. You'll climb a little more, cross a creek (if you're daring you'll do it on the bike), and finally come to a little lookout point before heading down for about 2.5 miles through the woods.

It's tight quarters in here, but man is it fun! Keep those hands at the edge of your handbars though...trees will snatch them if you aren't careful.

There are tons of other rides to do in the area including the Upper Loop, Strand Hill and Strand Hill bonus (formerly Farris Creek) and still others that I've never done like Reno/Flag Bear and Doctor's Park. Crested Butte is a mountain biker's dream...at least until 2:30 or 3:00 p.m. when the rains start!

We stayed about half an hour away, camping on the Taylor Reservoir road. If you're into camping, you really can't beat this area. You can take the Jack's Cabin cutoff road and save yourself some drive time each day. There are probably 10 different camp sites on this road, most of which take reservations at .

Check out the Brick Oven pizza place in town for some awesome pizza or the Wooden Nickel for dinner. Just remember to always always have a raincoat!

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