Feeling Small in Big Places: Jarosa Mesa > Cataract Ridge > West Pole Creek

So I have this friend who likes to make poor decisions and recently I decided to join him and some of his mates for a big high alpine adventure ride that we’d all been eyeballing for a while, and that several people I know have been weathered off of. Breathtaking scenery and rugged, primitive terrain highlight this ride, which includes the highest point of the Colorado Trail at 13,200′. Nearly the entire route is above timberline, starting at Spring Creek Pass (elevation 10,900′), climbing up to Jarosa Mesa, and then traversing from one high alpine basin to the next across Cataract Ridge and eventually descending a “barely there” trail called West Pole Creek. Difficult, rocky, steep hike-a-bike sections are punctuated with technical descents the entire way. You will get rained on. You will push, carry, or drag your bike up and through boulder fields. You will come away with a certain sense of pride and accomplishment, the kind that also comes with a feeling of zero regrets, and even less desire to move. This is the sort of ride that rewards the hearty rider seeking a true backcountry experience.

With the shuttle vehicle staged the night prior some 40 miles from our camp near Spring Creek Pass at 10,900′ we began our journey by pedaling westward on the Colorado Trail at the crack of day. What follows is a visual conspectus of 12-1/2 difficult, amazing, heart-stopping, ridiculous hours riding bikes in the mountains with good friends.

The milky way was in rare form, as seen from our campsite. Photo by Michael Hirsch.

Prepping for the day’s adventure involved packing everything we had, and then more. Water filter, emergency shelter, warm clothes, maps, half a pizza, and more were stuffed in to our packs. Left to right is the Goat, Bobby, and Hirsch.

Bobby on the climb shortly after leaving the 2-track and headed up on to Jarosa Mesa.

The first of several pictures of my bike leaning against a Colorado Trail cairn. Jarosa Mesa.

A short climb (the first of many) wandering through a pine forest, featuring Hirsch.

The Goat, still on top of Jarosa Mesa, heading towards Cataract Ridge.

Me as captured by the lens of Hirsch, on the gas down a little pedally descent.

After a screaming fast descent, in the beginning of a long slog up a drainage that would bring us to the top of Lost Trail, we decided to filter some water out of a small stream crossing. Bobby, Watz, Hirsch, and others pictures here.

Another gratuitous shot of my bike leaning on a cairn, with a spectacular view of an unnamed peak. Weather rolling in.

We’d been on the bike for over 5 hours at this point, and 4-1/2 of them were above treeline. Elevation does funny things, let me tell you. Here is Hirsch totally agreeing with me.

Same Hirsch framed by same unnamed peak. At least, I couldn’t find the name of it.

In a saddle at the junction of Lost Trail, it was decision time. We’d been at it for around 6 hours, and several of us were tired and struggling. A few turned down towards the waiting shuttle vehicle. About half of us pressed on after consulting with our map.

Looking down on Cataract Lake, I believe. Or at least a lake near it.

In yet another high alpine saddle, just before another high alpine descent, just before yet another high alpine hike-a-bike filled climb. Probably my favorite picture of the day that I took, something about it captures the essence of this ride: feeling small in big places.

Did I mention amazing views and hike-a-bike? Bobby and Watz find plenty of both.

Last shot before the camera got put away. This is our group, hunkered down somewhere around 13,000′ feet, while the second storm we weathered that day rolled over us. We were extremely fortunate with the weather, and Mother Nature was kind to us by only sending two short squalls our way. Neither had lightning or really heavy rain, and we were only delayed by 20-30 minutes for each one.

After descending the narrow, primitive, rock-addled trail that is West Pole Creek and rejoining with Pole Creek Trail, we found ourselves facing what could possibly be a 10-mile dirt road exit with substantial climbing. We were just under 12 hours in to the ride, that pizza was history, and Watz and I were tapping in to emergency sugar rations—Clif Shots.

We lumbered up a few road climbs, celebrating the day but ready to be done. Fortunately for us, the folks that had peeled off drive the vehicles several miles up our exit road and cut off 6-7 miles of anguish. Eternally grateful, beers were cracked, laughs were laughed, we cleaned up in the creek loaded gear and high-tailed for Creede to shove whatever food was available in to our faces.

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