I wanted to capture the overwhelming afterglow of Crested Butte while it was still fresh. While I could still close my eyes and hear the Slate River rushing past our camp, easily conjure images of the breathtaking display of delicate and colorful wildflowers. Unfortunately that task was too much and just didn't happen with work and daily life. I left off with our arrival in Crested Butte but the crescendo for this piece was still a few days out.
Day 8 Wednesday July 20, 2011
After filling our bellies with such treats as Izzy's and Camp 4 we set about finding a campsite. I think when you return to a place after having a really great time you sort of try to "re-live" that experience so Allison and I had our hearts sort of set on camping on the other side of Gothic. Waking to the sunrise as it illuminates the granite formations that frame that glacial valley is an image that I have clung to since our last stay there. For some reason I remembered the road being much better than it was. I quickly found that the road came uncomfortably close to exceeding the off road performance envelope of our heavily laden TDI.
Some road weary frustration surfaced as we found the only available campsite in Gothic to be one that the TDI was not capable of getting in and out of. I was worried that with the condition of the road, however few, trips to town and back would possibly be an insurmountable challenge for the car if we got some rain. Let me tell you now, we expected rain. I don't think we had previously spent a day in CB that it didn't rain. We had factored this into our decision. Rain would not deter us, but we didn't have the truck.
Allison set to work on her beloved iPhone to search for more camping while the little diesel clattered back towards town with it's tail between its legs. The fruit of her labor, though we didn't at first realize it, was a discovery the magnitude of which is only paralleled by things like the invention of Maple Syrup. Slate River supposedly had some campsites. This road is in much better condition, though unfortunately a bit more heavily traveled, and we found what turned out to be a stellar camp site about 7 miles up the valley.
After setting up camp Allison coerced me into riding. My fatigue level put me somewhere around the "Princess Bride" status of "mostly dead" but that didn't stop us and we rode Snodgrass from Washington Gulch up and back.
Can you feel the magic of this place by looking at this photo too?
I purchased a hammock at the local outfitter to take our camping experience to the next level. Allison doubted it would get used as my frenetic pace rarely has me spend more than a few seconds at rest. She was kind enough to test out my setup for me.
Once nestled into our little stand of pine trees above the rocky gorge of the Slate River we settled into what I would consider the ultimate rythm, EAT SLEEP RIDE, the passage of days is marked not by days of the week but by trail names.
Day 9 Deer Creek Summer 2011
We hadn't previously ridden this route because Allison feared it was too big. After having done the route I can assure you that the 403-401 route we had done previously felt bigger. In any case we started the day with Allison's oats and then rode down Slate River Rd, climbed up towards the ski resort, jumped onto Upper Trail, continued onto Upper Upper dropping onto Brush Creek Rd. A left at this point took us out to the start of Deer Creek Trail and from there climbed and then descended on typically outstanding high alpine Crested Butte single track and finally popped out in the Rocky Mountain Laboratory of Gothic. A left on Gothic Rd. and we dropped back into Crested Butte.
That summary is so sterile! It doesn't capture any of the amazing views, the explosion of color that the wildflowers spread in every direction, the slight technical challenge when Allison's shifter fell off her bike, or my once typical flat tire experience. It is futile though, text and pictures cannot really submerge one in the experience, flying down narrow one track through tight growths of aspens and then the assault of light and color as you burst from the trees into alpine meadows with fast flowing perfect trail lined by wild flowers. Still images are like a drop of dew to satisfy the thirst of a desert wanderer... brutally insufficient.
One happy Mann.
After the ride we stopped in at the local grocer for some camp supplies.
I felt the pain of our little TDI as my rear suspension was strained heavily by the ride back to camp.
Day 10 401 Summer 2011
There was discussion of making this day an "easier" day. Funny how things change over the years, this trail has gone from the very limit of what we could possibly do in a day to what would equate to a rest day now. 401 is however one of the iconic trails in Crested Butte and I am glad to say that we have ridden it every time we have visited. The combination of altitude, perfect high alpine single track, vistas of Gothic below and the Maroon Bells, collaborate together in a symphony of the most beautiful kind.
We started the day with a feast of an egg scramble complete with BACON and because we wanted to shower afterwards at the hostel we parked the car at the Snodgrass Trailhead above Crested Butte. The ride was magnificent.
Our hunger for mountains and trails was satisfied for the day and we dined at the Teocalli Tamale, brewed at Brick Oven Pizza, and desserted at Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory. Rest day success? I don't really know if that is the case, but I can assure you it was a day for the memory banks!
Day 11 Tony's Trail Upper Upper 409B 405 406? Reno Divide Flag Creek Bear Creek Deadman's Gulch Summer 2011
I am not sure we need to go past the title of this day to convey the overwhelming nature. It was to be our last day in Crested Butte. If history tells us anything we may not return for several years. When confronted with an impending famine I think we try to compensate by gorging ourselves. Everything about this day resonates this theme, from breakfast all the way through the route selection, and then post ride activity, right up to our reluctant departure.
After rising early and packing camp we headed to Izzy's for one last delish breakfast. It was epic.
I would soon regret my over-indulgence. I have not experienced climbing quite as labored as the first few climbs this day in a long, long time. Climbing was certainly the theme though as we went straight up 409B. I think Allison celebrated a little when she climbed past me on multiple occasions, take it when you can get it! 409B would make a really fun descent, it was a tortuous ascent. We had some navigational issues though and after a bit of high alpine riding we dropped toward Cement Creek far earlier than planned on trails that had us both off our bikes multiple times.
Steeper and harder than it looks with major penalty for error...
We got back on track though as we climbed up to Reno Divide.
Then we feasted on what is some of the best stuff there is.
There are no pictures of the Deadman's Gulch descent. There are reasons for this!
We ran out of water at the top of the last climb. Our internal fuel tanks were also on empty, but they don't get filled quite as easily as filling bottles and hydration bladders at Cement Creek Campground. The headwind on the ride back to town was taxing.
Once back we feasted yet again. The Last Steep tried to fill our bellies but didn't keep us from one last trip to Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory before hitting the road.
We bid farewell to our beloved Butte and began the all too long journey home.
We made it as far as Green River, crashed (figuratively speaking) for the night, then finished the drive home. Suddenly days of the week mattered again. We finished the drive home late on Sunday. The pain of going back to the grind of daily life accompanied the return of days being called by days of the week instead of trail names...
Till our next adventure. Be well. See you on the trails!