Monarchist

Published by Steve Dorsey on

Monarchist

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I was headed to Bentonville, Arkansas when a storm re-routed me to Salida, Colorado. I adjusted the schedule and made the drive. Now I had 2 days to ride at altitude before I needed to be in Crested Butte. This was the perfect opportunity to train for my impending 10,000’+ elevation rides that lay ahead.

Coming in fresh from my four days in Brevard, North Carolina (and after three days of driving), I was ready to ride. As luck would have it Amanda, a friend from the Red Wolf Tours trip in NC, lived nearby and jumped at the opportunity to explore the Salida highlands with me! She is a great rider and knows her way around a trail or two.

We shuttled to the top of Monarch Pass thanks to High Valley Bike Shuttle. They brought us to the top of the ridge and we started our 35 mile adventure into the unknown.

Aside from the bark beetle damage, this place is astounding!

At the start we immediately sensed the lack of oxygen. At over 11,000 feet of elevation (often above 12,000), the air was noticeably thinner and it was far too easy to find oneself gasping for a breath after what seemed like a minor climb.

Riding the ridge was easy enough. Fairly mellow climbs punctuated with quick descents were the standard for the first half of the ride. The views were spectacular, and the weather was a cool and sunny 75º (23.9ºc). Perfect conditions for the day, and far better than hot and humid North Carolina.

We approached the Foose’s Creek pass and stopped at the edge of the trail drop to admire the view. As we rested, we saw two figures pushing bikes up an incredibly steep and brutal trail towards us. When they arrived at our location, we learned that they were on a multi-day ride from Denver to Durango along parts of the Great Divide Trail.

Learning of their adventure brought me down to earth. I realized my ride, as incredible as it was (to me), paled in comparison to their amazing trek. 

Continuing along the Monarch Crest Trail, we arrived at Marshall Pass. This area consists of a parking area and restroom where several trails come together. This is a popular location for back-country hikers and “bike-packers” to make a pit stop and pick up supplies that might be left for them by organizers. 

Continuing south along Marshall Pass, we eventually arrived at the Silver Creek Trailhead. We turned east and began our descent towards civilization. 

Silver creek’s upper section is an 1,800 ft descent into a canyon that is filled with aspens, firs, and wild grasses. The beauty is difficult to convey. Riding along the creek while listening to the sounds of my freewheel and the wind in the trees, I didn’t feel worthy of being in such a place. It is paradise.

Still riding above the tree line.

The trail was fast. It ran over rocks and around trees, One side of the hill took up half of our view and the other half dropped into oblivion. Riding along the side of this steep grade was mesmerizing but required our full focus. Rocky drop-offs and tight switchbacks regularly threatened to throw us off our bikes.

At the bottom of the Silver Creek singletrack, we met up with the Silver Creek Lakes road. We bypassed the Rainbow trail (the singletrack that is commonly used to take riders from this spot to the highway) because it involved a fairly major climb. We were at the end of our energy stores for the day. 

We cut over to the Rainbow trail on a side road and re-joined it to ride the last bit of dirt down to Highway 285. There was more climbing than I had hoped for, but it was nice to get one last bit of trail in before the hard and fast road into town and back to the 4Runner. 

It was a tired end to an amazing day. We grabbed some food and I passed out early. The ride was definitely one for the books, but I had to be up early to drive into Crested Butte the next morning for a whole new set of adventures. 

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