This is a continuation of Neil’s Colorado Trail bikepacking trip report. Get caught up by reading about Days 4-6 here.
This was by far the coldest morning and neither of us wanted to get out of our sleeping bags. It was also one of earliest starts, as we woke up at 4:45 because we wanted to make it over some exposed spots in the San Juan mountains. My watch said it was 32 degrees in the tent and it had to be a few degrees colder outside. We slowly got our things together and hoped daylight would come soon. We got on our bikes and climbed toward the sun.
Once we reached a sunny spot both of us got off our bikes and just soaked it in, as our toes and fingers were numb. Back in the saddle, we got to the top of Pinos Pass and started a decent in the shade. After that we warmed up with a prolonged climb to Highway 149 and then up to Spring Creek Pass.
While riding on the highway, I was passing a parked RV while a man was getting refreshments (beer) from his cooler on the outside of the RV. We chatted and he offered Mike and myself some cold sodas! We both had one and chatted about our travels–the RVers came from Seattle and were heading to Creed. They gave us a Sprite for the road and we parted ways. I’m usually not a soda drinker, but on this trip a soda is an instant energy boost so I never declined one.
We asked some other folks at the trailhead about the weather after noticing high clouds starting to build. Mike and I were nervous since we were going to be at or above tree line and would reach the highest point on the Colorado trail soon at 13,271 feet. Luckily the folks said the next two days would be rain-free. This was the best news we had heard in a long time! Not dealing with rain on exposed ridges was ok with us.
We tugged along up and down saddles, gradually making our way. At Spring Creek we decided not to fill up on water, which we would regret–all the other creeks the guidebook suggested were dried up. Were we really going to go above 13,000 feet without water? It seemed that way until Mike noticed a small, high alpine pond down about 200 feet from the trail. We were relieved and we hiked down to the pond and filled up on water. While tackling two more climbs I kept thinking how surreal it was to be riding a bike at 13,000 feet.
The views were spectacular–we were on top of the world! We descended down to Segment 23 where we would camp down beside a beautiful lake at 12,250 feet. We had a small little fire, saw a very large porcupine, and biked 58 miles on the day. Tomorrow, Silverton!
We started in good spirits since we knew we were going to make it to Silverton around early afternoon. My achilles tendon started to become very sore and the hike-a-bike sections really started to hurt my body. Luckily the segment was not all that difficult and it turned into one of my favorite parts of the trail. Not a tree in sight, it felt like Mars.
Stony Pass was a very welcoming sight as cars and tourist were out walking around. Here we started our fifth and final detour. Weminuche Wilderness detour would bring us down to Silverton. We started our long and very steep decent into Howardsville and eventually into Silverton, passing historic mining areas. It was a crazy sight to see mines on the sides of the steep San Juan mountains.
We arrived in Silverton and asked a local where we could get a good burger and she suggested The Black Bear. We grabbed a burger and fries and planned the rest of our trip. We figured we would be in Durango in a day and a half and we started to really get excited. After a visit to the gear and grocery store and a horrible milkshake later, we started our scary climb up Molas Pass on Hwy 550.
There is absolutely no shoulder on either side of Molas Pass and Hwy 550 in general. So we raced up the pass as fast as we could and said goodbye to our last Wilderness detour as we reached Little Molas Lake and the beginning of Segment 25, Molas Pass. The beginning was more like desert riding, climbing our way into high alpine riding, a great mix. Once we reached the saddle the sun was going down and we had a few miles of downhill.
On the way down my tire got punctured which left me a little frustrated. Luckily the Stans filled the puncture and we kept riding down to Cascade Creek where we would camp for the night. Another productive day with another 43 miles accomplished!
We woke up at 7am but we weren’t on our bikes till 9am. Nice and slow, we knew our pick-up would not be in Durango until Friday around noon so we really had no rush. We took it easy the first part of the day, which was good on my aching Achilles tendon!
Blackhawk Pass was the first highlight of the day; not only was the climb fun and fully rideable but at the top we met some day hikers. They gave us loads of food, which was great because we were kinda running low on snacks. The view from Blackhawk Pass was great as well and we sat there for a while just soaking it all in. The older ladies who gave us the food made me reminisce about all the people we met on the trail and how nice everyone was. It is strange what the trail does for you. Both of us had the final climb on our minds all day, yet we didn’t talk about it. We both knew we would do it, we just needed to keep pushing.
We started the long climb and Mike continued to have issues with his rear tire. It was so bad we could hear air leaking out of the sidewalls–the tire had used up all the Stans. The leak was slow so we just kept chugging along while pumping the tire up every so often. After a few hike-a-bike sections we reached Indian Ridge. Wow, sketchy section! I would not want to do that in the dark. One missed step and you’re dead.
We reached Taylor Lake after a gnarly decent and set up camp. We ate the rest of our food and Mike put a tube in his rear tire. We were almost done with the Colorado Trial and it felt good. That night the wind kept growing stronger and stronger. There was truly no protection anywhere around us as we were still right around the tree line. The wind gusts had to have been 30-40 miles per hour. We had to anchor the tent with large rocks so it wouldn’t fly away.
At around 10pm I got up to go pee and I saw some eyes staring at me from the bushes. I told Mike and I ran back in the tent holding my pee. A few hours later with the wind still whipping over the ridge and down over the lake, I still really had to pee. Still awake from the wind, I got back out of the tent. Those eyes were there again; I shined my headlamp toward the animal and it moved. I didn’t get a real good look at it but the eyes were large and far apart making me think something was stalking us–a mountain lion?
I slept on and off, waking with every heavy gust. Four hours later I get out again to pee and replace a rock on a stake. Again, the same eyes in the bushes were looking right at me. I ran back to the tent and told myself I’m not going outside until the sun rises, because something was watching us. After maybe a total of 4 hours of sleep and thoughts of an animal stalking us, the sky brightens and all I want to do is get the hell out of Taylor Lake!
We packed up quickly as we were both pretty upset about our sleep situation but also very excited that we would be finished with the Colorado Trail in just a few hours. We descended 3,000 feet in about 6 miles. The trail was fast and we just kept moving. The map said we had one more major climb left. As we were climbing all I could think about was the gratification I would have once we reached Junction Creek; I know Mike was thinking the same thing. This was no easy task and we truly had no idea of the trail ahead of us the entire trip. We just kept riding, which was our mantra–just keep riding! After one final quick, steep decent we made it to the parking lot, smiles on our faces, a high five, and a hug. We did it, 500 miles of biking in the books. Now it was time to stuff the face with fried food!
This was one heck of an accomplishment. Not even last year at this time would I think to bike the Colorado Trail. We fell in love with bikepacking during this trip and it would be hard to go back home. Not to take anything away from backpacking but bikepacking is just more efficient if you’re a mountain biker.
Either way, hikers or bikers, it is no easy task to thru-travel the Colorado Trail. We put ourselves in some hairy situations–some situations we have could avoided, others we couldn’t. We had to be tough, wise, and use our common sense to make good decisions. With a little bit of luck and passion, the goal became a reality!
I couldn’t have asked for a better partner in this expedition. Mike was a real pleasure to have on the trip. Sure we had some ups and downs but we pushed through them, which led to a strong friendship. Just thinking about the doing the CTR solo is overwhelming; having a partner through the whole trail took away the whole element of loneliness and excessive thought.
The last thought I have about the whole trip was the timing. As I reflect, I love that we truly enjoyed the trail. Sure some spots were worse then others, but by “enjoy” I mean, we didn’t punish ourselves. We stopped at beautiful vistas, we took our time in the mornings and in towns, we joked and laughed a lot. This was no race and as a first time thru-biker of the Colorado trail we did it right. I can always punish myself at next year’s Colorado Trail Race… we’ll see!