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.
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.
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.
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 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!”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!