So Many Trails, So Much Fun: A Crested Butte Trip Report

Over Labor Day weekend 2012, Steph and I headed to Crested Butte with a group of friends for 4 days of riding, relaxing, and general not-being-in-the-city activities. What follows is a trip report I have adapted from her personal blog over at Fear of Bananas with a bit of my own wordsmithery thrown in. Please give her blog a visit if you please, there’s plenty of good stuff over there.

Alright, onward with the trip report:

Steph absolutely LOVES Crested Butte, with how much amazing mountain biking there is to do and how many miles of trail there are. Hit those links for moar posts from her about riding and racing in CB. While she’s done a lot of cross-country riding in Crested Butte, I am usually there for the Mountain States Cup DH race, doing my best attempt at CAT 2 domination. This year I got 4th, by the way.

So while I have only ridden a few trails, most of our friends hadn’t ridden anything in the Butte. The options seemed endless, and I was on a mission to get our unsuspecting cohorts out on a fairly big endeavor. The week prior to leaving I poured over map, read guidebooks, consulted a good buddy who had just ridden in CB, and spent veritable minutes staring blankly at the Crested Butte Mountain Bike Guide on, in awe at all of our options. We decided on a couple of rides that were high on our “to-do” list and finally forced ourselves to put the map away.

Totally irrelevant to all of the biking we did in CB, but awesome still, there were tons of open range cattle on the way and on every trail we rode. It’s no secret that Steph loves open range cattle an unreasonable amount, and with our friends threatening to chase a heifer down and slap it on the arse, there was a bit of hilarity to be had.

While she did not to get to cuddle any or slap any on the ass, it wasn’t for a lack of trying. It is unfortunate for sure, but likely for the best.

Anyhow, when we got to CB on Friday we settled in then hit the Alpineer to say hey to “the wife of a good friend of a couple of good friends” who works there, for some trail beta. While Steph wasn’t sure how we could need more trail beta after all of the map-looking and internettering we had done the week/night before, it (as always) turned out to be extremely valuable. Local bike shop knowledge is always the best source of trail beta, I’m not sure why she doubted it for even a millisecond. Further, our Latitude 40 Map of Crested Butte and Taylor Park was spot on in mileage and elevation for every ride, and all of trails in the area are extremely well signed. So, I’m not going to give TOO detailed of trail descriptions… just the goods. Go to a shop, talk to the locals, get a map, read signs, pedal your ass off, repeat.

Day 1, Our “short” and “easy” ride: Green Lake Trail

At the suggestion of a good buddy who had just ridden in CB, we decided to mission the Green Lake Trail on Friday afternoon. Roughly a 4.5 mile out and back, the trail was really pretty and for the most part fairly smooth, climbing gradually out of the CB Nordic Center. There were some suffer-steep sections, and the upper section of the trail got quite a bit rockier, but those were fairly short sections. On the way down we noticed that the leaves were starting to change and it made for some gorgeous views on all of our rides and some colorful trail decorations as well.

We took our time knowing that we had a lot more riding ahead of us, but that didn’t stop us from zooming on the descent. It was a blast with great dirt, fun rocks and roots, plenty of flowy turns, and definitely a great way to start the weekend. The whole ride covered around 9 miles and took us probably just shy of 2 hours.

Post ride we had a hankering for margaritas. Despite a local whispering “Don’t do it!” as he walked past us, we wandered into Mexicali Grill plenty thirsty. Turns out, they have Beermargs on the menu! Well, they called them River Margs, but we prefer Beermarg or Cervesarita. Cheap beer + cheap tequila + limeade = surprisingly delicious. We agree.

Day 2, The Big Ride: Reno/Flag/Bear/Doctor’s

Yea, shuttle logistics can be a major pain in the dick. Steph hates, nay… ABHORS shuttling, but has made an exception for this ride not once, but twice now and swears she would do it again in a heartbeat. This combination of trails ranks as one of my top most favoritest rides in all of Colorado for the everything about it, and after this weekend it might even be in the numero uno slot—even if just temporarily. We remembered the Doctor’s descent being life-changingly fantastic, but didn’t remember how insanely fun the descents before Doctor’s were too.

Even though this was a “shuttle assisted” ride, we didn’t shuttle up the first climb like we have done in the past. The climb up Reno Divide Road isn’t super fun, but totally tolerable and doable and most likely takes less time than shuttling to the top once you’re all said and done. Don’t drive it. Just ride it.

The Flag descent starts traversy and fast, with whooped out sections from the motos. Me and my buddy JWB were leading the charge, taking turns out front and trying to out-do each other as we gapped moto whoops, root-balls, sparse rocky sections, and anything else we could find. Once you hit the woods it’s game-MF-on, tons of turns and root-balls everywhere, all the way to a creek crossing that begins your climb up Bear Creek. This descent was way more fun than I remembered, and the group seemed to love every second of it.

Mostly the climb up Bear Creek is pretty “bear”-able (see what I did there?) but there are a few rocky, rooty, steep sections to negotiate. Most it is just beautiful rolling singletrack, and more high-country cows made it basically awesome for Steph. Yes, she not only loves cows, but climbing as well.

The weather was crazy on us. The saying “if you don’t like the weather, wait five minutes” could not have been more true this weekend. Coat on, coat off. Long sleeves on, long sleeves off. I think that means fall is in the air. Also, those fiery yellow aspen trees are a pretty strong sign of impending autumn.

We pedaled and smiled and pedaled some more. Even with a big group we were moving right along and everyone was riding super strong.

The fun-factor on the descents of this ride builds with each new descent. Flag Creek is a hoot, and Bear Creek takes it up a notch. It traverses for a bit then heads into the woods and lets loose into fast fun trail on the edge of a gully with a few rocky sections, a few sections of root-balls, and a whole lot of fast fast FAST corners. JWB and I again taking point, again trying to kill each other as we switched off the lead. Super pumped for Steph as well, as fast as we were pushing it she was never far behind us. The others in the group rode at their various comfort levels, with a couple of the guys doing their best to keep the pace. We kept everyone going at a pretty decent clip.

I remembered the climb up Doctor’s Gulch to Doctor’s Park being the worst climb ever. Basically a soul-crushing, life-sucking death march. Simply put: I was not looking forward to it, especially 20 or so miles in. Amazingly, it wasn’t that awful. It was steep and seemed long, but it was totally manageable. I’m not sure if my expectations were better or if I was riding stronger. Either way, it was worth every struggle of a pedal stroke.

The Doctor’s descent starts out rocky, rooty, loose, and steep, but turns into the most perfect singletrack on the most perfect pitch with the most perfect turns through the most perfect aspen trees. Seriously, it’s so good that I won’t even TRY to give you a description. Well, I’ll say this: it’s the closest thing to actually Jedi-pinning a stolen Imperial speeder bike on the forest moon of Endor this planet has to offer.

How do they make it so fun? I don’t think it could get any better.

Day 3, The Classic Ride: 401

We had some Crested Butte newbies in our group so the 401 was a must. The first time Steph and I rode the 401, it was enjoyable but not really a stand-out ride. This time, much more impressed. We climbed the road. Not full-on local “from town” style, but from the lower trail head. The climbing itself wasn’t that awful, but the cars and sheer amount of traffic on the road sucked pretty bad.

The views. Those didn’t suck.

We more than took our time on the road climb and enjoyed the outstanding vistas.

Once we hit the trail head we rested, fueled up and made the final push up the singletrack climb. All twelve or fifteen or however many switchbacks. We agreed, they were much easier than we had remembered—steep, but nothing technical. My tired legs managed to get me up the hill pretty okay though.

The day was clear and at the top of the climb the back of the Maroon Bells was in view. We hadn’t realized they were visible from the 401, so that was pretty cool to see.

The beginning of the descent isn’t my favorite, with long side-hilled traverses, but the singletrack is narrow and mostly smooth. There are some ripping sections for sure. This time around the early turns and switch backs had a lot of brake bumps. Like I said, “mostly smooth”. Not too bad, but not that awesome. The views from the traverse are really beautiful, but it’s fairly exposed so if you wanna channel your inner gaper you should just stop for a bit, lest you go rolling off down the hillside.

Once the trail isn’t so exposed and the descent through the aspens begins, it starts to get really good. I do not remember that at all from the last time we rode it, possibly because I had taken a bad spill up earlier in a gully crossing and was nursing a banged up elbow. No crashing this time, and we stayed pretty pinned to the bottom of the upper half. There were a couple of near misses, though… we came around a switchback in the aspens to see a fella fully-clad in kitted-out spandex climbing up 401. If you’re not familiar with 401, although it’s not a “directional” trail per se, every description on every map, in every guidebook, and every local I have ever talked to, says to ride up Gothic Road and down the singletrack. We had plenty of time to stop, let him by, and exchange a friendly smile. As he passed us, he said something like “It climbs really good this way, really low angle!” in a kind of snide way. Part of me was thinking, “Yeah buddy, it descends this way even better!” but I kept it to myself. If that guy has to climb 401 on the arguably busiest weekend of the year to prove some kind of point, that’s his deal not mine.

Game = back on.

A bunch more roots, rocks, and turns later we came flying around a corner into a much bigger adversary: a heifer. She was straddling the trail broadside, with her front hooves on rider’s left of the trail and rear hooves on the right. I came within 12-16′ of her, I’d guess, and am thankful as H3LL to the new XT stoppers on my bike for not slamming in to her. She spooked pretty good and went a-runnin’.

We had a sizable group again, and this time it included a couple of VERY beginner friends. They were doing awesome, but this made our progress much slower with quite a few more stops to wait for people to catch up. This, and the fact that we were on Day 3 of high country riding, made the second climb pretty brutal on our legs. It was also covered in cow poo and eventually we were too. Once at the “top” of the second climb, we mobbed through the descent to the Copper TH, and it seemed to be over way too quickly.

Day 4, The new ride: 409.5

We were both exhausted on Sunday. I was hungover. Steph wasn’t going to ride. Well, she wasn’t going to do a big ride, but somehow I convinced her it was imperative to mission something fairly long. Something with some suffering. Something with a good descent. And as always, (she informs me) she’s glad she did.

This was a new ride for the four of us (myself, girlfriend, JWB, and his gal as well) that set-out on it. We “didn’t want to shuttle” (i.e. the vehicles were all packed and we didn’t have room for all four bikes and bodies in either car) so we had to run this sordie quasi “local style”, which meant we had a lot of road to ride. More than we really thought. From what the map showed, there were several ways to ride to the 409.5 trail, but from what we heard most were gruesome climbs, and by climbs I mean hike-a-bikes. Against a good buddy who had just ridden in CB’s directions we opted for the “longer approach with a lower suffer factor” option.

We parked on Brush Creek Road, zipped out to the highway and down to Cement Creek Road, up that for a bit, up Walrod trail to 412, then to 402.5A which is also a segment of Doubletop, then to 405 (I think I have this all correct). It was about a 6 mile climb from the road, much of which was traversy. The traversing nature of the majority of this route also meant there were some steep climbs that were a bitch on the legs after four days of riding. Where Walrod narrows down to singletrack was by far the worst. It was about 350 feet of vert over around 1/4 mile, and it was loose and rocky. I’m told even the burliest of locals walk this pitch. After some more tough climbing and an amazing traverse around a valley, we made it to our destination—409.5.

It wasn’t my favorite descent, but it sure was good. There were more roots and rocks on this than any of our other descents, which I love, and also some fun little jumps mixed in. JWB got his fill of frog-hopping root-balls, and I got my fill of roosting loamy corners and generally asshauling whenever possible.

Top of 409.5:
JWB: “You want it?”
Me: “Nah man, you lead. I don’t think I’ve got an A-game right now.”

Bottom of 409.5:
JWB: “I thought you didn’t have any A-game left? You were right on my tail and I was pinned!”
Me: “Meh. You weren’t going very fast.”

Overall the descent was a blast, but the ascent-to-descent ratio was a little off for my taste and the fun-factor of the trail wasn’t quite high enough to make up for it. I’m thinking a quick shuttle, the shorter ascent (with moar hike-a-bike) up 409 past the caves from Cement Creek, plus throwing in the short climb up Strand Hill Road to descend Strand after the 409.5 descent, would make this ride fully worth it. It was tempting even as tired as we were, but the time of day lured us back to the truck to begin our drive homeward.

We finished the ride at nearly 21 miles and 100% spent.

The trip by the numbers:

Because I’m a huge dork, you know I’ve got stats for the weekend. Yeah buddy, I’m that guy. But I take my dorkitude to the next level. The Nth debgree if you will, and I will. Cheggit:

MILES: 72.41
TIME ON TRAIL: 15:57:40
COWS: Probably 1,000s.
COW SH!T: Too much.
SCENIC VISTAS: Dozens of the best ever.
CREEK CROSSINGS: Possibly hundreds.

After feeling like we haven’t been on our bikes much, four amazing days and nearly 75 miles of riding has us itching for more high-country rides this fall and has made us a tiny bit less eager to ski… at least for now.

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