Editor’s Note: “Over a Beer” is a regular column written by Greg Heil. While Greg is the Editor in Chief for Singletracks.com, any opinions expressed in this column are his alone and do not necessarily represent the opinions of Singletracks.com.
I like all types of mountain bike trails: forested trails, exposed trails. Dry desert trails, loamy, damp trails. Trails snaking through narrow strips of urban trees in between hobo camps and drug dens, and singletrack in the middle of the wilderness without another soul around. I like rooty trails and rocky trails, and smooth and flowy trails. Trails that require hiking, and those that don’t. I like narrow trails and I like wide…
Okay, no, I don’t like wide trails. You got me there.
And while I love all kinds of trails, there’s one type that I love the most: high alpine singletrack.
I think I’ve been in love with high alpine mountain biking since the first time I sampled it. It was love at first sight. But as time has gone on, my addiction has only gotten worse. My lust for thin air has reached the point that when the high alpine is open and riding well, that no other type of riding will ever really satisfy.
The name of the game in the summer is to go as high as possible, as often as possible. The higher, the better–all the way up to the tops of the 14,000-foot peaks soaring above my home in Colorado, if possible.
But why this drive to get so high? Here are 5 reasons:
One of the main reasons that rides in the alpine tundra are so special is because the window of time to access those trails is so very small–at least, when they’re dry and not covered in snow. As I write this article, it’s the beginning of July, and our high alpine trails in Colorado are still not fully melted out.
And then, guess what? Three months from now, at the beginning of October, it will be snowing up there again. As they say, absence makes the heart grow fonder.
Generally the higher up the mountain you get, the more difficult the trails get. This doesn’t always hold true, as occaisonally you’ll find a sweet section of flowy trail way above treeline, but in most places the trails get scree-filled, or can be more accurately defined as a boulder field with a suggestion of a route. I do love me some flow trails, but my favorite type of riding, bar none, is high-speed rocky descending. Bring it!
One of the main reasons I ride my bike is for the feeling of solitude. To get away from the crowds of people, the squawking I-devices, the noise of cars and traffic.
Riding high-alpine singletrack–most of the time–is the definition of solitude. Generally the trails are more technical, which scares the average joe away, but not only that, they’re simply harder to reach because they are literally at the tops of the mountains. These aren’t your easy after-work loops that you can pedal from your back door. It might take hours of driving, coupled with hours of pedaling, to simply access some of these trails, much less ride them! This added difficulty usually thins the crowds out, meaning that it’s just you, the mountains, and the bighorn sheep.
Who doesn’t love a good view? Once you’re above treeline, it’s views all around you, as far as the eye can see! Half the reason I strive to pedal high up into the mountains is to look out and drink in the beauty of the planet around and below me… and for a killer photo for Instagram. 😉
The Top-of-the-World Feeling
The beautiful views and the solitude play into this, but personally, I think there’s something so special about simply being in a place that provides the unique top-of-the-world feeling. The rides that take me to the top of something (like a mountain), or along the top of something (like a ridge) are always my favorite. I tend to feel cheated when I ride a trail that climbs and descends a ton, yet never reaches the high point of the surrounding topography.
I think there’s something engrained deeply in human nature that prompts us to get to the tops of things. We experience an urge to conquer the challenges in front of us. To see what there is to see from the top of the next mountain.
It’s the same urge that drives children to climb up the outside of the jungle gym at the playground, to the very top of the roof, to get as high as they can possibly go. And it’s the same urge that drives people to climb Mount Everest, to reach the absolute pinnacle of the entire world.
And reaching that top-of-the-world feeling on your bike? Priceless.
While I do like all types of trails, there are none that I like quite so much as high alpine singletrack. These are just 5 reasons why I think the high alpine trumps all other types of riding, but there are many, many more. If you’ve never had a chance to experience above-treeline trails before, I encourage you to give it a try, and experience it for yourself!
Just don’t ride the same trail that I’m on. 🙂