Where Eagles Dare
No, not the old WWII Burton and Eastwood movie (although that is a movie I enjoy). Rather, Vail Pass (10,666 ft), Colorado, which is suspended just below the Eagles Nest Wilderness Area's south side within the Gore Range. The high country is slowly thawing and beginning to open up for access. Snowcatcher and I recently went road riding in the Vail Pass area.
We began our journey in East Vail, on old U.S. Route 6. This two-lane highway used to be a major east/west route across the state prior to the completion of Interstate-70. As a kid, I remember U.S. 6 taking 6- to 7-hours to drive the 250 miles between Denver and my hometown of Grand Junction. Driving I-70 cuts the time down to 4- to 4.5-hours.
Once through East Vail, Route 6 is closed to vehicular travel at Gore Creek. The old highway now becomes a bike path for several miles, and in several different segments, to the summit of Vail Pass.
Everything is melting out fairly quickly. Black Gore Creek is still entertaining snow a little above the 10,000-foot level. During April and May, powerful spring storms cloaked the high country in heavy, moisture laden snow. The high peaks are still wearing much of this blanket of cohesive snow.
An Icy Black Lake Number Two is slowly thawing at about 10,433-feet in elevation. The background peak is 13,205-foot Jacque Peak (state rank #482).
From Vail Pass, Pacific Peak rises to 13,950 feet (state rank #61) behind the melting ski trails of Copper Mountain.
This cornice-prone alpine ridge will soon lose its wind-sculpted snow. As can be seen, there is a lot of wet slide activity mining below the cornices as well. These are fairly big cornices. It would be a hoot to watch their collapse.
Rising high above Copper Mountain Ski Resort, Jacque Peak (13,205 ft, state rank #482) dominates the view from the summit of Vail Pass. Beyond and below lies some of Copper Mountain's back ski bowls.
12,522-foot Uneva Peak (upper left) is taking a peek toward Vail Pass from within the Eagles Nest Wilderness Area.
The Vail Pass bike path has a nice new surface. The path also succumbs to extreme climatic conditions. Hence, a lot of money is spent on maintaining this path. There are a lot of wood bridges spanning creeks as well. The path gets used a lot, being a very popular ride. The Colorado Department of Transportation even tries to plow it by Memorial Weekend. There is no toll to use this bike path, which is very generous, considering what the cost of maintaining it must be. The views don't disappoint either; rising in the background is the Gore Range.
The Vail Valley is very lush. Lots of meadows are interspersed amongst the trees. Moreover, moose have taken up in the valley and possibly may be initiating a "safety" problem in town. As higher areas melt out, the moose probably will migrate to higher environs. As for cycling, the ride up Vail Pass is through two life-zones or ecosystems. The route begins in the Montane Zone of quaking aspen (quakies) and spruce, transitioning into the Subalpine Zone of primarily Spruce.
Yes, that's Snowcatcher out catching flower flakes along old U.S. Route 6. In classic European fashion, the road was painted the night before a U.S. Pro Cycling Challenge time trial. Painting the names of favorite riders is very common and allowed to remain in most places. Strange? Maybe. Perhaps you have to be a cyclist to get the feel for it.