I am a self-identified “new trail junkie.” There’s a reason I have the longest list of trails ridden here on Singletracks: I’m just a short attention span kind of guy. Given the option, I’ll often choose a trail I’ve never ridden, even one I know is likely to be less impressive, than one I’ve already done. As long as there’s a new trail option, that’s likely where I’m headed. There’s nothing wrong with going down the Kessel Run for the 1,000th time, but the new and undiscovered—that’s where the real fun is.

This desire to explore and experience new dirt in new locations is what inspired me to write the original “Other Trail” article. Having lived in the same location for three years now (as well as having lived in this same location for three years a few years back), riding new trails is getting harder and harder. They keep getting further and further away, and it keeps getting more and more difficult to justify the expense, in both time and money, of traveling to them when I have the greatest potpourri of trails available right from my doorstep.

Monarch Crest Trail. Photo: mtbgreg1.

Fortunately, it’s a mere two-hour journey from my driveway to the High Valley Shuttle, which runs dozens of riders each day up to the summit of Monarch Pass, start of the great Monarch Crest Trail. In my opinion, the 20 clams you’ll drop on a shuttle to the top is quite possibly the best return you will ever get on your entertainment dollar. The mighty Monarch Crest sits at #2 here on Singletracks, right behind the 18 Road Complex in Fruita. You will find it also sits at (or above) that ranking pretty much anywhere else you look, and for good reason: the combination of scenery, remoteness, epic length, and mega-downhill make this one an unbeatable classic.

Riders on the Crest. Photo: mtbgreg1.

Completing the serendipity of my present situation is the fact that there are a number of different routes off the top of the Crest to choose from. So, for this year’s pilgrimage, and my first with Miniskibum in tow, I chose to take “the other trail,” a lesser known route off the Crest than the classic Silver Creek/Rainbow Trail epic. This “new” route was hiding in plain sight, so to speak. It’s well marked on most maps, appears in local guidebooks, and really has no reason to be so less known and appreciated than the more famous classic route. Taking this little Green’s Creek detour was completely obvious once I thought about it.

Miniskibum would ride than pose, but the view from this saddle was a mandatory stop

This alternative route shortens the ride from 35 to 21 miles, which is why I think most of the hardcore hammerheads never make the early left turn off the Crest. It’s also known as the most technical route off the crest, which also spooks a good number of riders.

What do you get in exchange for your distance sacrifice? For one, you don’t have all that climbing late in the ride. The Rainbow Trail finish to the classic route throws an additional 1,700 vertical feet of climbing at you after you’ve already put in over 20 miles at high altitude. This is supposed to be a shuttle ride, isn’t it? Well, with the Greens Creek option, it is. Once you turn your knobbies downhill, it’s all downhill.

This is the start of the Green's Creek Trail--after that lip, it drops quick

This route follows the Monarch Crest for the first five miles, so you still get the best of the Crest with its million-mile views as you traverse the high alpine tundra. Miniskibum, who hasn’t developed much appreciation for scenery and only cares about what’s under his knobbies, stopped at one point to say “I usually don’t get distracted by scenery, but this is awesome!”

The first rock garden was an easy one

You still have to suffer on the first climb from 11,300 to 12,000 feet, but when the Crest turns down, it’s all gravy. After the first drop from the tundra into the trees, which is screaming good fun itself, you’ll reach a low point before the crest climbs again. The point of departure lies here, and is easily identified by a shelter just off to the east side of the trail. The Green’s Creek Trail departs the Crest at this point, five miles from Monarch Pass. From here, you will face seven miles of continuously steep (dropping over 3,000 feet) rocky, rooty, narrow, twisty singletrack. This would be a good place to check your brakes and, if you don’t have a dropper seatpost, lower it for the coming shred. If you’re not running tubeless, be sure to have a spare tube (or two) as the gnar below has been known to claim many a tube via pinch flats.

Hitting one of the faster sections

As Miniskibum and I began the descent, we were greeted with a series of well-placed waterbars, providing the perfect rhythm for small, but fast, air after air after air. While this was quite amusing, it was hardly challenging in a technical sense, and I began to fear the claims of the technicality of this route were badly inflated. Well, those fears would soon be dashed as the trail became progressively more varied and difficult.

Aside from the waterbars, the first thing we noted was how quickly we had transitioned from wide-open, high-alpine to a narrow, deep dark drainage. The trail quickly became narrower and quite twisty. It had been about 24 hours since the last rain, but the area really held moisture and the parts of the trail that weren’t rocky were slick with black mud. While the trail maintains a very consistent grade in the macro sense, it was frequently punctuated with sudden, sharp dips which, when slick, are more than a little sketchy.

Black mud and steeps ahead--be careful with those brakes!

The first couple miles after departing the crest had a few obstacles here and there, but provided enough smooth spots to allow one to regain one’s wits, take a breath, and prepare for the next obstacle. After that, however, the trail becomes nothing short of relentless. It’s a serious onslaught of vicious rock gardens and drainage crossings, each one requiring the rider to be fully engaged (and skilled). Although the temperature was only in the sixties, and I was going downhill, I worked up quite a sweat throwing my rig around in a sometimes vain attempt to stay in a flowable line.

Steep, rocky, twisty--all the ingredients for a great ride!

Just when you think your arms are going to fall off and you can’t handle any more gnar, the rock gardens abate and the trail opens up a bit. The next couple miles are fast—really fast. There’s still some tech, but it’s all easily absorbed and the woods will become little more than a blur, like entering hyperspace,. After completing this section, Miniskibum decided this was either his favorite trail or at least tied for that honor. I couldn’t disagree. Shortly before this point, I came to the conclusion this was the most endless descent I’d ever encountered. I can think of no word other than “euphoria,” and even that doesn’t begin to describe the feeling of ripping down this trail.

Miniskibum negotiated one of the many rollers

After seven miles of the most varied, challenging, fun, relentless descent imaginable, the trail spits you out on a dirt road. A little over three miles of this and the road hits a ‘T,’ where a right turn will deliver you to Highway 50, and another right will take you back to your car at the shuttle stop. You’ll be back home or at your hotel/campground long before the grin starts to fade from your face.

The trail is undergoing some work, which may change its character slightly, but having seen the parts that have already been reworked, I have every confidence this will remain a stellar ride and my favorite route off the mighty Crest. If you’ve ridden the classic route (or even if you haven’t), I give this my highest recommendation for your next trip to Salida!

# Comments

  • jeff

    That trail looks seriously gnarly! I like a good tech section here and there but I would probably feel gypped if I ended up going this route and walking half of it. 🙂

    • skibum

      No worries, there’s no reason for a solid technical rider to walk anything. There were a couple dismounts, but they were on spots what were currently under construction.

      What makes the trail so gnarly is how it’s relentlessly just a bit sketchy. I didn’t need to walk anything, but I did stop a couple times just to regain my composure. A few deep breaths, a wipe of the forehead, and back at it. I would like to have the endurance, as much as mental as physical in this case, to rip that whole seven mile section nonstop!

  • mtbgreg1

    That looks like an incredible trail! I know what I’m doing this weekend 🙂 I’m now fortunate enough to live a mere 23 miles from the top of Monarch Pass, meaning my wife can easily run my up there, drop me off, and let me do a shuttle run easily before lunch! 😀

    I actually just rode another “other trail” up there this past weekend: Starvation Creek. Starvation didn’t have as much singletrack as other options off the Crest, but it doesn’t get very much traffic and is steep, narrow, loamy, and FAST! Probably one of the smoother descents off the crest, but there are still some rocks thrown in to keep things interesting. http://www.singletracks.com/bike-trails/starvation-creek.html

    Sorry I couldn’t make the ride work out the other weekend, but be sure to keep me posted next time you plan to head this way!

    • skibum

      When we talked to some of the other riders back at the shuttle parking lot in Poncha Springs, they raved about Starvation Creek. I may have to add that to my to-do list!

  • delphinide

    Greg…IF the shuttles are still running after the last storm ran through, let me know and I will go with you. I live in Denver and have not ridden the MCT this year…and would LOVE to ride this alternate trail…and be back home earlier! I am free on Sat and Sun! —Paul

    • mtbgreg1

      Hey Paul, I just sent you a message.

    • mtbgreg1

      Via the forum PM feature.

  • GTXC4

    Quote: “There’s a reason I have the longest list of trails ridden here on Singletracks:”

    I’d have to answer this with two things; Time and Opportunity. Respectfully speaking, I’d be right there with you if I could. We share the same addiction, I just don’t have the time and opportunity. 🙂 lol The photos are great and I appreciate your input. Am I jealous? Absolutely! But not of you, just that I’m not shredding it up out there myself. Glad you’re having fun. Place looks like a huge blast. I definitely have plans to visit my brother out in Colorado and do some serious riding when I get the time. Take care, stay safe, and ride your heart out! Thanks again for the post!


    • skibum

      You’re right about the opportunity part (I make the time, or at least I used to–slowing down now).

      I started riding in 2000 and I’ve lived in 6 states since then (again, settled down now, so that’s done). Of course, North Dakota and Ohio didn’t provide me a lot of inspiration to rack up my trail count!

    • mtbgreg1

      In my experience, and granted I am still quite young in the grand scheme of things, Time and Opportunities don’t just present themselves to you. Rather, you must MAKE the time and SEIZE the opportunities… it doesn’t happen by accident.

      I think skibum has made the time and created/seized the opportunities to ride all of these trails. Just look at all of these cross country road trips that he takes, stopping along the way to ride. Heck, when I get on the road and I’m going long distance, I just want to get to my destination as quickly as possible. But skibum? No, he’ll stop at random parks all across the nation, just to put tires to dirt he’s never ridden before! I say kudos to you, skibum.

    • GTXC4

      Oh, definitely kudos. I wasn’t attempting to be pessimistic in any way. I’m still active duty, so can’t make the time…yet. 🙂 I suppose a respectful envy of your opportunities might have been a better statement for others? You get what I mean, it was all friendly. Take care.


    • skibum

      No offense taken here.

      BTW, a big part of my ability to ride so many trails was being on active duty. Moving every two years meant I got a whole new set of trails to ride. Also, when moving from one duty station to the next, I’d hit whatever trails I could along the way. When I’d go TDY, I’d take leave en route and either bring my bike or rent one at my temporary duty location. Military service provided me a great deal of opportunity to ride many great trails. As I mentioned earlier some places (Minot ND, Dayton Oh, Pentagon) didn’t offer a lot of great trails, but others (Colorado Springs, Cheyenne WY, Great Falls, MT) did. the bike also went with me on all my vacations–bless my family for indulging me a few hours each day to get out and ride! Now that I’m fully settled down, such opportunities have disappeared.

      Moral of the story–make the most of your active duty time!

    • GTXC4

      Oh I do. Unfortunately, I’m one of those that doesn’t get to get away much. I’ll get my time when I retire. 😉 Have a good one!


  • Tr0gd0r

    That’s my old stompin’ ground, grew up riding that trail! Green’s creek is the best way down off the crest 🙂

  • Doomed

    It really looks like the trails of New England from the pics that are posted. Very cool.

    • skibum

      Yeah, the narrow, rocky and damp had a much more Eastern feel than the typical Colorado ride. Think of it as 3 or 4 New Englands stacked on top of each other!

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