The Surly ECR

Surly Bikes have been exceedingly generous in providing me with a Surly ECR to run amok in Colorado. It’s turning out to the perfect Search and Destroy recon. vehicle for the Highest Hundred. I’m anxiously awaiting the next weather window to take ‘er back on the road… or trail, singletrack, clearing in the woods, ice over lake – you get the idea. Hopefully this time for a nice long while. Below are some reviews and stories:

Surly ECR and the Surly 24-Pack Rack: Initial Impressions

Surly ECR and the Surly 24-Pack Rack: Enter The Mud Season

Thank you Surly!

Bikepacking Route Optimization: Lake City to: Aspen, or to Salida?

Whoo boy, do I like me some optimizations of my routes! Being not the fastest, strongest, or most, uh, endurance-est person in the world, I’ve gotta rely on my brain fat a lot of the times to figure out the most efficient way top get from point A to point B. I love working on projects like the Highest Hundred, since optimizing the route can have seriously awesome outcomes, like saving a few days, or a few hundred miles by finding a shorter path to the mountains I want to visit.

But, that’s not the only thing I’m optimizing for. I could be out there pedaling my slowly melting-away butt at most any hour of the day or night, so I want a route that’s somewhat safe. I’ll also have a mountain bike in between my legs, so if there’s a dirt route, I’d rather take that, instead of pavement. And if the route’s a classic, well all the better.

Colorado has it made for classic offroad bike routes, as people have been riding bikes on dirt in Colorado for a while now, and there’s two long-distant routes that cross through most of the mountainous regions of the state that are ripe for the plunder: The Great Divide Mountain Bike Route, and the Colorado Trail.

I use these two routes generously to advise where I should go – I know the routes well-enough, and I know they’ve been well-vetted and see a bit two-wheel, fat-tired traffic.

While planning out my route of the San Juans from Lake City, I traced a route ,similar to my Tour 14er route:

Taking the paved Highway 149 to north out to Gunnison, up Highway 135 to Crested Butte for a quick cup of coffee, and then taking the rocky four wheel drive track over Pearl Pass to summit Castle/Cunnundrum. Continuing this road north takes you to Aspen to grab the rest of the Elk 14ers, while going west.

Afterwards, grab Frying Pan Road east out of Basalt which goes up and over Hagerman Pass into Leadville and move in a generally southern direction, bagging the Sawatch.

In the Tour 14er, the southernmost 14er is Shavano, and Buena Vista was the southernmost town you really needed to get to, to head back north to the Mosquito/Tenmile (and eventually Front Range) via paved (and somewhat busy) Highway 285.

The Highest Hundred will require me to go slightly more south to grab Mt. Ouray, and I might as well make a quick trip to Salida to get my bike worked on by expert mechanics, then take the Great Divide Mountain Bike route up and over Ute Pass into South Park, past Hartsel and access Alma to start the Mosquito/Tenmile that way:

This is all well and good, but as soon as I mapped this all out, I realized the long slog on pavement is really obvious from Lake City to just outside of Crested Butte. Ugh! On my Tour 14er, I started on this pretty early in the morning, and the route is quiet enough where I didn’t feel I was in any real danger – I even saw a lot of road bike touring enthusiasts going the opposite direction! The payoff of all this boring pavement is the chance to go up and over Pearl Pass, which is cemented in local mountain bike culture as one of the first mountain bike rallies (most likely, after a bar bet that it couldn’t be done!).

If you look just to the east of this route on the map, you’ll also notice that you pass a good majority of the Sawatch, on your race to get to Aspen. Wouldn’t it be wiser instead to go to the most southern Sawatch Centennial, Mt. Ouray, make your way north to Independence Pass just south of Mt. Elbert, take that into Aspen, summit the Elks, take the same route back from Basalt to Leadville, finish up the Sawatch, go up and over Mosquito or Weston Pass, and enter into the Mosquito/Ten Mile that way? It would look like this:

Without measuring, that seems like a major distance/time savings. It cuts out the paved highway slog to Crested Butte, and replaces it with a gravel ride on the Colorado Trail’s La Garita Wilderness Detour, until it meets up with the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route (more gravel), which crests ,right at the trailhead for Mt. Ouray at Marshall Pass. Salida is still close enough to visit for TLC, but you won’t need to go up and over Ute Pass to take the GDMBR to Hartsel,  then Alma  which I have to admit maps out to a bit of slog with no peak bagging for a long stretch, since you will be following the Highway 24/Colorado Trail tagging Sawatch Peaks until Independence Pass. Indy Pass is paved, but it’s somewhat of a classic road ride, and strangely something I’ve never taken myself before. Then to to get to Mosquito/Tenmile, you’d have to take Mosquito/Weston Pass –  both classics for this tour.

So what’s the bad news about this route alternative? Although it looks shorter, mapping it out and measuring the distance, it actually comes out marginally longer, with a bit more elevation gain. Surprising! I believe there’s more out and back going on that’s hidden from the mapped out routes. Also surprisingly, the distance from Lake City to the TH for Castle is almost exactly the same as the distance from Lake City to the TH to Ouray – about 100 miles. The same long slog going across to a different range just cannot be fully removed.

All in all: it’s quite a toss up, and wasn’t the major optimization I was thinking it may have been. Still, I’m seriously considering it for my Tour. Weather is beyond fickle, so having these options available could prove invaluable. Good weather is essential in the Elks, and maybe waiting a few weeks for that good weather will mean the difference between a fast tour and a sort of fast tour.

What Are the Most Difficult/Technical Parts of The Highest Hundred?

One of the main attributes that differentiates The Highest Hundred from other ultra-endurance FKTs is the technical nature of some parts of the route.

For example, the Appalachian Trail is indeed longer, and has more elevation gain than The Highest Hundred (many of the stats of the AT may surprise you), but I think it’s comparable to this challenge in a, “how much blood/sweat/tears will you go through” if done as a self-supported FKT. As I write this, the FKT is held by Heather “Anish” Anderson at 54 days, 7 hours, so the time to finish is similar to what I expect to do to set a self-supported FKT.

But, how can the AT –  a longer track, with more elevation gain be done quicker than the Highest Hundred, where the majority of the mileage in the HH is done by pedaling a bike?!

One big reason is that the AT is on a well-established trail for its entirety  and much of the Highest Hundred has large sections that are trail-less, where one is going to face Class 3, Class 4, and even Class 5 mountaineering routes.  On the AT – except for one, one-mile section (Mahoosuc Notch), you’re simply hiking, following white blazes. Whatever scrambly bits there are, there are 10x more Class 2 sections on the Highest Hundred to keep you busy. I’m not saying sections like Mount Washington are easy, I’m saying that sections like Mount Washington are par for the course in the HH.  The Highest Hundred requires knowledge of rock scrambling and rock climbing techniques/experience.

That’s what I’m going to focus on in this post.

And yeah, there are also some gnarly cycling sections if one elects to take them, but it’s easy enough to bypass riding those sections, by merely walking your bike across them. The on-foot (and on-hands, I guess) technical sections I may not have any workaround: you are required to do them to summit – or at least summit efficiently.

So let’s take stock of some of the big ones:

Dallas Peak, 13,809′, 5.3

Dallas Peak has a reputation of being one the hardest Centennials with legitimate technical climbing – the last pitch goes at 5.3 and usually a rappel is done from the summit to avoid downclimbing the last pitch. To just get to that last pitch takes some devious route finding on loose rock and many more Class 4 sections on the approach.

For my entire trip, I’m not planning on taking any rock climbing-specific gear at all with me: no rope, no pro, no shoes – and certainly no partner;  so the technical pitches will be done simply in a pair of burly trailrunners, then downclimbed. For Dallas, usually, a rappel is done from the summit to avoid downclimbing the last pitch. I’ll have to safely downclimb that, as well.

This last pitch is mandatory, as there really isn’t any easier route up the mountain in summer conditions. The rock that makes up Dallas can be of questionable quality and reports of finding dinner plate rocks stacked on top of each other waiting to topple are the norm when trying to ascend Dallas from it’s connecting ridges.

Little Bear/Little Bear – Blanca Traverse/Gash Ridge to Lindsey

The Sierra Blanca in general poses a huge puzzle on how to negotiate all the peaks quickly – I still don’t know if I got it right, or what I’ve got is reasonable! If you do everything by their standard routes, this section could take many days to a week, and be done from at least two trailheads. The routes I plan to take are not going to be the easiest ones, and this line is a prime example of taking more technical routes to improve efficiency.

Little Bear

Little Bear itself is known to have one of the most dangerous standard routes of any Colorado 14er: The Hourglass Couloir. There are easier ways to ascend the peak, but but none of them are available without getting permission from  private landowners (good luck), and none really work well with connecting large routes together, like I would want to.

In 2014, when I ascended the Hourglass Couloir in my Tour 14er, I woke up to a light hail with accumulation on the ground, and a dripping wet Hourglass shrouded in fog.

Not ideal. The center of the couloir was a running waterfall, and the slabs to the side were slick and not so wealthy in the Holds Department. You may be able to make out a rope in the photo above – many who climb Little Bear then descend the Hourglass using these ropes left by other parties. I think this is a terrible idea (fixed rope left by anonymous parties in general is in my opinion poor form, and a bad idea to trust with your life!) – but I won’t be descending the hourglass – I may not even ascend it, but rather take an alternative Class 4 route called The Northwest Face.

The Northwest Face is a little harder than the standard route at Class 4, but has less traffic, so less of a chance of getting rocks rained on me from parties above. It also features ever so slightly less mileage. I may/may not have time to recon this route before going for it on this tour.

Little Bear – Blanca Traverse

The Little Bear – Blanca Traverse is one of the four great 14er traverses, as described by Roach, and it’s an awesome way to link these two mountains together. Taking this route would save a ton of mileage, time, and elevation loss if you were to do it – so we’re doing it.

The traverse is rated at Class 5.0, and is about a mile long. There are few bailout points on the ridge, and it’s not a very good place to be in an electrical storm. I did this traverse during my Tour 14er, right after summiting Little Bear via the Hourglass Couloir. The weather was still cloudy, and I did almost the entire traverse with a visibility of only a few dozen feet:

I’m hoping for better conditions next time around!

Gash Ridge to Lindsey

Gash Ridge from Blanca is the key to accessing the Huerfano Valley from the West. Blanca and Ellingwood’s North Faces are true Nordwands with very steep and loose technical climbing of dubious quality. Gash Ridge is rated ~ 5.4 and will “only” have to be down climbed.  Once in the Huerfano Valley, one 14er and one 13er will be summited,  then the other side of the mountain range will be re-accessed via a ridgeline far to the north of Ellingwood Point.

Jagged Mountain

Jagged Mountain’s standard route is rated 5.2, but it’s its remoteness that really makes it a standout. One has to be completely committed to climb this technical peak solo. I’m actually more stoked than scared of this leg of the tour – all I can really think of is the intense beauty of the peak, and what the view must be like from the summit.

Wham Ridge, Vestal Peak

This is absolutely extra credit, but does highlight another strategy in making a successful tour: keep the stoke high by doing interesting things – what’s the point of climbing 100 mountains if it’s just a big grind?

Vestal Peak by its standard route is merely rated Class 3, but it’s impossible to look at the mountain without noticing it’s incredible north face, where the Wham Ridge, 5.4 route is found. I would be totally nuts to pass the opportunity to climb this route for my tick of this mountain, and look forward to it being one of the many, many highlights of the trip.

Ring the Bells/Thunder Pyramid

The Maroon Bells Traverse goes at ~ 5.6, making it one of the most technical routes I’ll be doing on my tour. I’ve done the traverse before, so I’m not so worried about doing it a second time.

What I am worried about is descending the route afterwards. On my Tour 14er, I had a particularly nasty spill going down a small gully, where a rock shaped like an ironing board gave way when a put pressure on it with my foot, leading me to fall down the gully itself. Time slowed down, as my life flashed before my eyes. Once I hit the sloping talus, I immediately checked my body for grave injuries. I was expecting at least a broken leg – my hands were a bloodied mess.  A broken leg usually means at the very least a night out in the open as Search and Rescue – at the very best estimates, would have to wait till the next day to be able to reach you.

To my incredible surprise, most of the blood was coming from superficial cuts from my hands and a small one from my knee. My groin had a slight pull but… I was ultimately fine. I’d like to not recreate this incident again.

And this is where the true danger in some of these routes are found: not in the technical level of climbing – I can train for that; rather, it’s in the loose and sketchy  nature of some of the rock on the routes themselves, regardless of grade. This is where my worry exists in large doses, and I think I’m justified in at least giving these routes the respect they deserve.

If the Bells are chossy, loose, and dangerous, Thunder Pyramid is Crazy Town. I am not looking forward at all for climbing Thunder Pyramid, and would rather just get it done quickly.  The standard route clocks in at only Class 4, but it’s loose, and very, very dangerous.

I won’t be descending the standard route on Thunder Pyramid, but will be traversing to the 14er, Pyramid instead. This traverse should make the Bells Traverse look like child’s play, and will be the very next item on my, “not looking forward to” list. This is a traverse I’ll only do if feeling up for it, and will happily do Thunder Pyramid and Pyramid separately if I do not feel 100% up to the task. This doesn’t make things much easier, as the amount of loose rock I’ll have to face will be greater doing these two peaks separately. It’s damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

Ice Mountain

Completely out of style with the rest of the Sawatch, Ice Mountain has a reputation for being loose and dangerous – much like the Elks I just described. Ice is a bit more remote as well, leading to a bit more anxiety that could be felt while doing the route. I’ll most likely be taking the Northeast Ridge, as the Refrigerator Couloir will sadly be out of condition by August. This will be an easier mountain to recon, which gives me some piece of mind – if I do, in fact, manage to recon it!

Atlantic Peak to Fletcher Peak Traverse

Finally, I’ll try to cover the Atlantic Peak to Fletcher Peak Traverse, but there’s quite a bit of unknowns about it for me – some trip reports call the finger crack crux at up to 5.7 (perhaps I’m wrong about this?). This may be a bit too futuristic for me to reasonably take on, during the last leg of my tour, so I may have to recon the route to find a sneak around this, or bail on my idea of enchaining all the Centennials in the area together.

And that’s about it for, “hardest part of a really hard adventure”! I may have spaced a few mountains – I purposely skipped over the Crestone Traverse – the climbing is exhilarating and the real threat is afternoon thunderstorms like much of the rest of the mountains.  I have also skipped over Longs, as Longs is my backyard mountain and I am deeply entrenched in a long-term relationship with it. I look forward to many challenges it presents to me. I skipped over some optional routes like the Harvard/Columbia traverse, which goes at 5.7. I don’t know yet if doing the high traverse is worth doing, rather than the standard – and much easier lower traverse.

 

 

 

 

 

Glacier Gorge and the Trough!

No rest for the weary! My buddy David perhaps jokingly asked me if I wanted to go for Longs, via the Trough on Sunday (“Those Centennials ain’t gonna climb themselves!”) and I naturally went for the bait, on the condition that I’d probably be lagging behind given the climbing on my legs already for week, after Everesting Green Mountain.

We arrived at the TH at around 7:30am, and were off. I felt just like I thought: pretty hammered, but as the morning grew, so did my strength, and the altitude really didn’t seem to affect me. The Trough showed some pretty scary signs of a lot of wet slide activity and a few intrepid boot and even snowshoe prints, so we went for it.

Slow going! We were sinking past our knees on most every step. I see why others opted for snowshoes, but man: are those things ever annoying to use on steep slopes. We made it to the top of the Loft before deciding to call it. David wasn’t feeling his best, and the Narrows looked slightly sketch, so down we went, plunge-stepping the whole way. I was a bit nervous as it was after 1:30pm, and didn’t want to cause a wetslide myself! Tried to glissade a few portions, but the snow was so deep and wet enough that I wasn’t going to fast or far.

I seemed to have completely recovered by the time we hit somewhat packed trail, and found myself running back to the trailhead with heavy pack in tow. Good sensations! Even though we didn’t make the summit. Ending the week with something like 37,650’+ (11475 meters) of elevation gained, which is a massive number for me. My usual goal is somewhere around 20,000′, so I’m happy to see that I can survive almost double without injuring myself!

Is the Highest Hundred Trainable?

Fair enough question, and I’ve wondered myself. Physically, there may not be a “best” training plan to guarantee great results, like you could with a marathon.

Strange things happen in ultra endurance distances and this challenge makes a Hard Rock, or a UTMB look quaint.

But mentally: yeah, you can get yourself pretty ready.

One way I’ve done this is the Tour 14er, which is essentially half of what I propose for the Tour of the Highest Hundred. It’s taken me about three years to feel like I’ve honestly recovered from that tour, but now that I have, I’m mentally starving – ravenous, to go at it again… but this time for much, much longer.

But still, how do you chickity-check yo self before you wreck yo self on a challenge like this?! I’ve crashed and burned before trying what I thought were much easier ultra endurance events, only to see myself pull out of the race mere hours after they’ve started. It’s a giant piece of humble pie.

So, I looked at the hardest part of the the Tour of the Highest Hundred – the part where, when I mapped everything out, I still thought, “there’s just literally no way I can do this“:

The Weminuche Throwdown

Nine mountains, almost 50 miles in length, with a, “the Hell with that” 33,000 feet of elevation gain – to keep on target to hit my 60 day (or less!) goal, I would have to complete this section in less than five days.

The math to pull this off is tight.

It became clear that I had to give myself a physical test. This week was the week of my birthday, so how about a Birthday Challenge? Something to closely match the length and elevation gain of the Weminuche..

Let’s “Everest” the local hill, Green Mountain!

And long story short (a complete writeup is in the works, as I recover!), that’s exactly what I did. In 27 hours, I gained around 31,000 feet in 56 miles by doing 13 laps up and down the local hill. See it yourself on Strava:

https://www.strava.com/activities/949786262

My optimism to do a similar feat with well over four times the clock time is now stratospheric. What first seemed impossible still seems, well: difficult, but at least seems realistic, so long as I continue to train my body intelligently.

I have about 90 days to continue sharpening my knives.

I am excited.

Bikepacking Route to Leadville!

One of the things that makes this project so amazing to work on (and eventually complete!) is the dual (at least!) nature of the adventure: you have to ride some challenging terrain, and once you’re in that rhythm you’ll have to stop as it’s time to change things up and go for a backpack.

Mapping out the cycling part of this is a challenge in itself – so many places to visit (about a 100 let’s say!)

I’ve mapped out the bikepacking route ’til Leadville plus visiting Mt. of the Holy Cross/Holy Cross Ridge + Sherman, but after that, the Sawatch are composed of so many different mountains needed to be summited and many (the majority?), of those mountains are ones I’ve never even thought about before.

Even with my experience of doing the Tour 14er and recon’ing for Nolans, I’m at a little bit of a loss on how exactly to start.

Should be a wonderful challenge!

(click the image below for a larger-sized map):

Mapping Out The San Juans

The San Juans hold almost a third of the entire Centennials to be visited on the Tour of the Highest Hundred. The mountain range itself is spread out in a massive area, where roads are few, and approach is time-consuming.

Going into the San Juans with a plan will help ensure success in this range. Here’s my draft on my tour notes:

San Luis/Stewart/Phoenix


https://www.strava.com/routes/8124190

 

The San Juans are approached from the east, and are visited after completing the Sangres. The first town you’ll travel to, after the relatively mellow ride across the San Luis Valley will be Del Norte at the edge of the range, then Alpine, then Creede. Any of these would work well for a resupply, but Creede is closest to the trailhead(s) we’ll need, as the Centennials to visit are north/northeast of town.

My itinerary for this group is to try to do them in one trip starting from the West Willow Creek trailhead. San Luis/Stewart are obvious linkups, but “Phoenix” is somewhat an outlier in the group. My plan is to drop back to the CDT, then keep going south, following the ridgeline until I hit the bump that is, “Phoenix”. I’m hoping that this ridgeline will go, but I doubt I’ll have time to do any proper recon beforehand. The other option is to do “Phoenix” separately, using a more standard route for the peak, beginning at Phoenix Park Trail.  I’ve mapped out the route, and it’s less mileage to link it up with San Luis surprisingly – even without adding in the time to ride out from West Willow Creek trailhead, then ride to Phoenix Peak Trail. Given the mileage of all this, I may bivy near the CDT after San Luis/Stewart, then going for “Phoenix” the next day. I remember on my 14er tour getting be-nighted on San Luis, with a beautiful sunset on the summit itself.

The hiking alone on this route is almost 30 miles, 11,500′ of elevation gain, so it’s quite the trip for three peaks, even if the terrain is relatively benign. Rocketing down to Creede to eat everything in sight is a nice thing to look forward to.

Rio Grande Pyramid

https://www.strava.com/routes/8208965

Once the Creede group is finished, it’s an easy highway riding to the Thirty Mile Campground TH of Rio Grande Pyramid – this trip should be a nice recovery from the last three peaks. Hiking: ~8.5 miles, ~5,200′ elevation gain.

Lake City to Silverton

More (boring) highway riding the Lake City, but that’s soon to be replaced by the Alpine Loop: chunky, loose, dusty, crowded, and filled with 4WD drive enthusiasts. Stressful riding, and any hope to recover on the bike will be dashed, as the mountain passes that one has to cross over on the route exceed 12,000 – and sometimes 13,000 feet.

There’s many entrance points into the Alpine Loop system from Lake City, and two we’ll be using on this route: Lake City to Silverton, or Lake City to Ouray. It’s even possible to start on one, then cross over to the other halfway through, but in this walkthrough, I’ll keep it simple, and just describe going from Lake City to Silverton, then going from Ouray back to Lake City (then out of the San Juans, finally, into the Elks).

This will tour the San Juans in a general clockwise direction – mostly to visit the Weminuche sooner rather than later – but there is some flexibility, just in case the weather looks dire.

The first two mountains to be visited will be Half Peak and Jones, both from the Cuba Gulch “TH”. Then, it’s up the road for a peak bagging marathon: UN 13,832/UN 13,811/Redcloud/Sunshine and then on the other side of the road: Handies. I’m visiting Handies from this side, rather than on the American Basin side, as I may make it a requirement to follow the 3,000 Foot Rule (or some sort of modification of that rule, and the America Basin TH is just too high. The 3,000 Foot Rule isn’t realistic to enforce for the Centennials (start 3,000 feet below the summit of the peak when hiking) – but perhaps changing it to, “You must start at a trailhead/spot 11,000′ feet or lower” makes more sense. Or not. I haven’t collected the data of elevation points of all these trailheads to make a great opinion about the matter yet.

Weminuche

https://www.strava.com/routes/8165806

Then, down Cinnamon Pass to Silverton. A quick “rest” and it’s down to the Weminuche, which I’ve described a bit in detail on my last post, Taming the The Weminuche Throwdown.

It can’t be understated just how hard this section will be: 9 peaks (Vestal/Jagged/Pigeon/Turret/North Eolus/Eolus/Sunlight/Windom/Jupiter), 49+ miles, 33,000’+ elevation gain, over many days. This will be the longest, hardest, and most remote part of the whole tour in an already challenging range that’s itself only a chunk of the entire parcours. Onwards!

Wilson Group

https://www.strava.com/routes/8194604

After a short reprieve in Silverton and a quick bop to Vermillion Peak right outside of town, it’s a nice ride to the Wilson Group via Ophir Pass. The Wilsons comprise four peaks, three 14ers (El Diente, Mt. Wilson, Wilson Peak) and a 13er (Gladstone). The rock is horribly loose, but with an early start, this group should go relatively easy, barring any monsoon storm.

Dallas/Tealkettle/Sneffels

From the Wilson Group, it’s time to ride into Telluride. Dallas Peak can be accessed right from town, then it’s a huge traverse over Imogene Pass (13,000’+) to access Teakettle and Sneffels. Dallas is only 2 miles from Sneffels, and although I would like to access the peak from the same trailhead, it doesn’t seem that that’s a reasonable option.

Wetterhorn/Uncompahgre

https://www.strava.com/routes/8208247

Once the preceding mountains are cleared, it’s time to visit Ouray, then back on the Alpine Loop towards Engineer Pass and to summit Wetterhorn/Uncompahgre. In my draft of the hiking route, I’ve made a shortcut back to the TH by going up and over Broken Hill. I haven’t scouted this, but it cuts down a few miles, while also only adding a few hundred feet of elevation gain. May be worth it. From the summit of Uncompahgre, the proposed shortcut does not look very inviting.

Done!

And if you can believe it, that finishes off the San Juan Centennials, back at Lake City, and now the adventurer is most likely completely disorientated from the circular route. To keep with the aggressive schedule of finishing the entire tour in less than 60 days, this section has to be completed in 15 – 18 days.

 

Taming the The Weminuche Throwdown

For me, the Weminuche Centennials will be the crux of the entire route,

The statistics give me some pause:  9 peaks, 52 miles, 28,000 of elevation gain: 

https://www.strava.com/routes/4479280

Starting at Highway 550 on top of Molas Pass, follow the Colorado Trail for a few miles east, before turning south into Elk Creek Drainage to climb the first of nine peaks, Vestal (via Wham Ridge). Then, onward south to Jagged Mountain, west to Pigeon/Turrent, then south again collecting the Chicago Basin 14ers and lone 13er: Jupiter. For peaks: you’re done. Now it’s just a hike back on much more easier ground, following the trail out of Chicago Basin to the Animas River, than North on the Animas to your starting point. From Chicago Basin, that alone is 18 miles of mostly relatively easy, flat hiking.

The majority of this route is off-trail, there’s some technical climbing, and no matter how you slice things, it’s going to be a multi-day effort. To fit into my goal of finishing the tour in less than 60 days, I’ll have to get through this entire section in five.

I’m not even sure how I’m going to be able to bring along that much food + sleep system in the UL gear I’m bringing (a Ultimate Direction PB Adventure Vest most likely).  I may have to opt for a UD Fastpack, instead,

 

The more efficient the route, the less food I need to take, the faster I can hike through this all. To add to this, weather usually deteriorates in the afternoon, so even if I wanted to pull an all-nighter or two, that may not be possible, as I’ll be stuck up high in an electrical storm.

But wait, there’s actually an even bigger problem: once you’ve hiked out onto the Animas River, the hiking trail only goes a little ways farther to the Needleton stop of the D&S Railroad – then it’s all train tracks for almost 10 miles until you’re back at the Colorado Trail! That poses a huge problem since the railroad has right-of-way of the tracks and the land immediately surrounding it.  It would actually be trespassing on railroad property to hike the railroad tracks.

Since I’m going for an FKT of the challenge, this part of route (follow the train tracks!) doesn’t seem to me to be appropriate, as it would violate one of the major rules I’ve given myself: Don’t break the law, follow all backcountry rules and regulations.  This rule is put in place to keep the challenge open to all and sustainable for others to do – what’s the point of an FKT challenge if there’s a good chance to get caught breaking the law and fined?!

There’s tons of other, legal resources to leverage, I’ll have to work around the railroad’s right-of-way.

Playing around with building another route, one idea is to make this an out-in-back:

https://www.strava.com/routes/8165806

Surprisingly, this route may have some advantages:

Less mileage. Roughly, this route is actually ~3 miles shorter than walking out of the Chicago Basin west, then north following the Animas. Since there’s no trail on the Animas, you’re not actually trading trail for off-trail, but there is a considerable amount of elevation gain difference making this an out-in-back – around 5,000′ more. Yikes! That’s going to sting.

More flexibility. There are so many peaks to summit and so many unknowns in terms of weather, timing, how I’ll feel, etc. One of the bigger stresses I will have to deal with in general is needing to take on a peak tired, with deteriorating weather, not really feeling comfortable with doing something technical, miles away from the next human being.

If I get rest and wait it out, I may run out of food (because I’m bringing only what’s necessary), which will hurt me later on in this section. So the urge is to push things a bit. It’s a speed run.

With the original loop route, you only have one chance to go for it – you won’t see the mountain, again!

With the out and back, you do have some flexibility. Say, you hike into the CO Trail, and in a couple of miles, you’re in the middle of a hail storm? Let’s skip Wham Ridge and keep hiking on towards Jagged Mountain – maybe the weather will improve the next day? You could do this for the entire trip into Chicago Basin, if needed!

A day or two of rain showers isn’t ideal, but it may mean two days of avoided downtime if you play your cards right. You could also leave food caches to pick up on the way back – a few pounds off your back can make a big difference! You could even drop your main “pack” on the other side of Twin Thumbs and do the entire Chicago Basin unimpeded – that could save hours of lugging up and down gear.

So, even if hiking the train tracks is OK-ish, this may be the way to go. The only other major option would be to break this trip up into two trips: one just for Vestal/Wham Ridge, and one for everything else. You would approach Vestal via Molas Pass, and the rest from Purgatory TH. The hike in from Purgatory is not short, and the total mileage of breaking this up into two trips would be considerably greater.

Still, it’s a fallback option.

Bikepacking Route Draft: Boulder -> Silverton

https://www.strava.com/routes/8026802

Route development is a huge part of this project, and optimizing the route to work well with getting to the trailheads of the peaks, for resupply,  to be an interesting route to ride, while also being safe to ride are all important considerations. I’ve started mapping out a logical route.

Some highlights (the entire route is subject to change, feedback welcome!):

Starting from Boulder

I live in Boulder, so starting here makes logistical sense. For the 14er tour, I started in Golden at the footsteps of the American Mountaineering Center which I liked because of the tie-in with the trip itself being a mountaineering challenge. I’m going to move the start to Boulder on this trip to simplify things. I’ll be starting early – very early in the morning, and getting myself and my bike a ride to a different start other than the back door of my house can be a little touch-and-go. The finish is the same as the start in this challenge anyways, so one less issue to deal with at the end.

Once I start, it’s a straight shot south, with a quick stop for Pikes Peak before heading to Culebra/Red. A Culebra visit has to be reserved in advanced – well in advance, and that date has to be hit exactly.

In the 14er tour, I first visited Pikes, then the entire Crestone group, and then even Lindsey, before I planned to go to Culebra. This proved problematic, especially since the Crestone group is complicated – and the Centennials version even more so. The chances of failing at one or some of the peaks is a possibility and then, what do you do? Go back to the Crestones afterwards?

In the 14er tour, I gave myself a ton of extra time before Cuelbra – almost to much, and was hanging around for so long that I bought a ticket for a closer day to speed the trip up just a bit – an expensive optimization.

In this revision, I can gauge how long it will take to ride from Boulder, to Culebra, with a quick stop at Pikes pretty easily, and I don’t think weather would slow me down all that much.

The most convenient choice would be to start at Culebra, but who wants to end there? (Answer: not me).

Once Pikes + Culebra/Red is finished, the tour really begins. The next two mountain groups are in the literal meat of the whole adventure.

Sierra Blanca/Cestone Group

The Sierra Blanca group summits seven different peaks, includes the Little Bear/Blanca Traverse, as well as descending Gash Ridge:

https://www.strava.com/routes/4479171

The Crestone Group is also no slouch, with an enormous route with seven peaks, and a few technical bits – all of which would be bad to bee in the middle of in adverse weather.

https://www.strava.com/routes/8016872

The bikepacking route from Culebra, to the Sierra Blanca and Crestone group is pretty boring – the only interesting bit that may have to be worked out is if I can go through Great Sand Dunes National Park. That may be able to cut some time/distance, rather going around. Seems like there’s plenty of resupply opportunities.

To Creede

After the Crestones, it’s out west to the San Juans, resupply is readily available in Del Norte, Alpine, and Creede. It’s a long haul – over 100 miles, in not very interesting terrain, but what can you do? In the 14er Tour, I decided to approach Alpine via the Platoro and go north via the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route. A great route to take, but that was a huge time expense, and wouldn’t be very practical for this trip, being so north of Platoro after the Crestone Group. I was briefly considering tagging Mt Ouray – the most southern Centennial Sawatch, before heading to the San Juans via the GDMBR/Marshal Pass, but it’s just not working out mileage-wise to go up north, just to go back south.

Once in Creede, there’s one 14er, and two 13ers to hit up (San Luis, Stewart, “Phoenix”), then a huge ride to Lake City, broken up with visit to far-off Rio Grande Pyramid. Between Lake City and Silverton, there are a number of hills needed to hit up on the road up and over Cinnamon Pass:  Half Peak and Jones Peak, which essentially share the same trailhead, then Red Cloud/Sunshine, UN 13,832/UN 13,811 + Handies across the road. It’s a few miles to Silverton for R+R and BBQ.

Boulder to Silverton is a huge push – cycling alone is 610 miles, and 33,000′ of elevation gain. Twenty-six peaks in this project will be visited. To stay on target to finish the project in less than 60 days, Silverton will need to be reached around Day # 16. Being approximately a quarter of the whole adventure, it gives a rough estimate on how long the the entire ride will be:  132,000′ in elevation gain, in 2,440 miles. And again: this is just the cycling!