Segment 25 of the Colorado Trail in Mid-August
Our adventure began with Snowcatcher and I heading to southwest Colorado for some mountain biking. This is our favorite mountainous area to visit as well. Originally we planned to ride the steep jeep road high above the mountain hamlet of Ouray into Yankee Boy Basin to a small 12,000-foot tarn below 14,150-foot Mount Sneffels. However, the road was so busy with jeeps, SUVs, ATVs and motorcycles that we gave up after a mile's worth of dust accumulation under heavy breathing.
We decided to seek some trail riding and headed further into the San Juans to ride segment 25 of the Colorado Trail (CT) as an out-and-back. The CT is a 500-mile trail system linking Denver with Durango. As the crow flies, segment 25 is about 40 miles north of Durango. As the mountain bike rolls, we were 74 miles from Durango in arguably the most scenic region of the sprawling San Juan Mountains. Getting low on time, we had a quick out-and-back from Little Molas Lake Trailhead.
Little Molas Lake is suspended in the sky at 10,905 feet. Camping is allowed, and we've enjoyed the lake and surrounds in the past. To the south, Snowdon Peak rises to 13,077 feet. Snowdon Peak is located in the Weminuche Wilderness area of the West Needle Mountains, a subset range of the San Juan Mountains. It's difficult to describe this incredibly scenic location. You have to visit it. Nonetheless, following is a small sample of goodness. The mountain gods have done well here.
Singletrack is bliss – pure and simple! There are 28 segments to the CT. Bicycles are not allowed on all of them. Wilderness areas must be rerouted because bikes are not allowed in wilderness areas – they're a mechanical means and not permitted.
Me, myself and I
The wilderness areas closed to bicycles are the Lost Creek Wilderness (segments 4 and 5), Holy Cross and Mount Massive Wilderness (segments 9 and 10), the Collegiate Peaks Wilderness (segment 12 and part of segment 13), La Garita Wilderness (segments 19 through 21) and the Weminuche Wilderness (segment 24). Even with the reroutes, 60,000 feet of vertical climbing remain, with 60 percent singletrack over the entire route. But what excites the senses most is the unending views along the route, such as 12,968-foot Engineer Mountain.
The view west across the Lime Creek drainage toward 13,693-foot Rolling Mountain (right center) is a sea of green tundra. This is the view not long after starting our ride.
Back to the east, tower the high and wild peaks of the Needle Range. They are yet another subset of the San Juan Mountains. The higher peaks to the right of the photo are northern members of the Weminuche Wilderness.
Not quite to treeline yet, the few trees and stumps dotting the lower half of the previous and next photo are the result of a forest fire in 1879. As can be seen 137 years later, it takes a while to grow back when you're constrained to a two-month growing season.
A drainage away towers 12,987-foot Bear Mountain. Older USGS 7.5-minute maps show a pack trail down Bear Creek to US Highway 550 just south of the Mineral Creek turnoff. Newer maps don't list the trail. This hidden treasure may be fun digging into sometime.
I'm still in the burn area. However, you can pick out treeline by looking at the vegetation. Known as the Krummholz, the transition zone between subalpine forest, low shrubs/willows and alpine tundra is easily seen. The Krummholz is one of my favorite ecosystems.
Our ride was shorter than planned; however, we'll be back. It's hard to stay away from this region for too long.
I'm not sure what's on the docket yet. I'll come up with something, I'm sure.
Thanks for reading!