Bikepacking The Colorado Trail With Sam Skidmore

I'd been itching to go on a self-supported bike trip for quite some time, and being so in love with mountain biking made something like the Colorado Trail seem perfect. Having worked a big block of spring and summer, and with COVID-19 altering the year, early fall seemed the perfect time to try. As soon as I started kicking around plans for a trip, my friend Adam was on board. He’s a motivated rider, enjoys trails like I do, and is much more experienced when it comes to multiday trips and being in the backcountry, so I felt like it was a prime opportunity.

Practice Run

Earlier this year, I tested out my bike and gear on a four-day, self-supported group MTB trip around our hometown. The riding had everything from smooth, big pieces of singletrack to some seriously technical rocks. Our home-based trip was epic with some of the hardest backcountry riding Virginia has to offer, and it made me feel confident going out for a trip like the Colorado Trail.

From our trip through the George Washington National Forest...

The riding here in VA is incredible, especially in the spring and fall seasons. We have a great mix of terrain and plenty of hard trails...

The Trip Begins

The first step of the tour was getting to Colorado. We loaded the van full of bikes, camping, and fishing gear and left Harrisonburg. A day and a half later we were in the Durango, CO area, where we spent two days before the trip hanging out, hiking, and getting the last of our stuff together. We dropped the van at Lindsey's uncle's house in Durango, then rented a car to get to Denver. We slept in a buddy’s yard that night outside of Golden—a good way to test our sleeping setup.  

We dropped the rental car off and then had to ride 25 miles to Waterton Canyon, the start of the Colorado Trail. As we rode, we noticed that it was getting hot and the smoke from the recent wildfires was a big concern. It wasn’t so bad on our lungs but it was visually daunting.

Adam was on a Surly Krampus...

My Spearfish setup...

We finally made it to Waterton Canyon by midmorning. After so much time getting ready and planning, and then a few hours of warmup pedaling, It felt good being at the trail and knowing our car was on the other end, more than 500 miles away.

We made our way up the busy canyon, passing multiple Bighorn Sheep, until we finally reached the singletrack. The day was hot and I fought dehydration—it was my fault for not being prepared enough and not taking the time to stop and make sure I drank. After that first day I was much more on top of water and nutrition. After the Lost Creek wilderness detour, we rolled into the Stagestop Saloon where we had a good early dinner and resupplied, and the staff were kind enough to let us charge our devices.

On the third day we dropped in off of Tennessee Pass and worked our way towards Breckenridge. We approached town thinking about how much we wanted food (particularly pizza and soda) but how little we wanted to pedal from the trailhead into Dillon or Breckenridge to get it. I called around until I found a pizza place that delivered and had them bring it right to the trailhead. Genius!

Neither of us eat out much. This was an awesome move. Greasy pizza and some soda...

After stuffing our faces, we headed up the mountain on Miners Creek to reach the top of the Tenmile Range just before sunset. This was one of the best moments on the trip: sitting there and watching the sunset, then dropping in at dusk to one of the best descents ever. We stopped to make camp just before we reached to the bottom. I had started the trip with worn rear brake pads, so I made sure to replace them before we started the next day.

We woke up Saturday morning and rolled into Copper for the best and most expensive breakfast of my life. A breakfast burrito, pancakes, and too many cups of coffee later, our friend Marty rolled up to ride with us for a day. Marty is a VA buddy who moved to CO a while ago, though we still see each other about once a year. He rode with us out of the resort and over Searle Pass to Kokomo Pass, where he then had to turn around to head home. He carried a bottle of fresh beet juice and some homemade pastries to give to us before we parted ways. Marty is an Incredible rider and genuine human, and we were buzzing from his presence for the rest of the day, as it was nice to ride with an extra friend.

The trail from Copper to Searle Pass was a highlight on the northern half of the trail...

Kokomo Pass with Adam and special guest Marty...

Next we were headed for Leadville. After a quick store stop late in the afternoon, we rolled out of town to wrap around Mount Elbert, the highest mountain in CO. At this point it was getting late and we needed to find a good place to camp. We descended through sage brush and ended up camping on a beach at Twin Lakes Reservoir at the foot of the mountain.

Camped on a beach...

Rolling through an old railroad tunnel on the way into Buena Vista...

We awoke with a small push to get to Buena Vista by midmorning, where we stopped in at a coffee shop for coffee and snacks, charged our devices, and made a final plan for the next big stretch. At the grocery store, we packed three days’ worth of food onto our bikes and then rolled out to Mt. Princeton Hot Springs. There we bought a few more snacks, ate a quick dinner, and set off for three days of riding without a resupply. We had heard how hard the next few days would be, so we left with determination, a heavy load, and a little more fatigue than we realized.

Aspens usually means there is water. Filtering water was a daily routine...

About midmorning on day six, we made it to Fooses Creek. We had a big climb up to Monarch ahead and we were already dipping into our snacks more than we wanted to. Getting on top of the mountains felt good but we could tell we didn't have much pep left. From Monarch through Sargent's Mesa ended up being really tough, not so much the riding but keeping our morale and energy high while traversing big chunks of moto trail and many high-elevation cow pastures. The water was sparse and even though we had a filter, filling up on water from a cow pond is not very pleasant. It felt great getting out of the Cochetopa Hills, and even though we were on double track I enjoyed the roads that took us around La Garita Wilderness and back to Spring Creek Pass.

Fooses Creek was a long steady climb until the top where it's difficult to even push a bike up the final pitch...

Afternoon storm pushing us towards Spring Creek Pass...

At the pass we met Justin, who was supporting his dad’s CTD hike. Justin gave us Sprites, which we crushed on the spot and then got out of the parking lot just before a strong afternoon storm hit. We set up camp not far from the pass early that evening and it poured for most of the night.

We woke up the next morning faced with about 45 miles of alpine to get to Silverton. It was slow going. Some sections had nice rock and took energy to ride smooth. It was the type of terrain and landscape we were looking forward to the whole time. We were tired and hungry but this was the most remarkable section for us. Lots of short but steep, hard climbs led us to some really nice descents. The trail was absolutely incredible—we were in alpine terrain all day as we worked towards Stoney Pass.

Getting to Stoney was a huge relief and the road in was one of the craziest roads I've been on. As we descended into Silverton, we saw all the abandoned mining wreckage and I was blown away by the amount of damage left. Once we arrived in town, our first stop was the Handlebar Saloon for massive amounts of food. We ended up getting a room in town as rain was in the forecast most of that night and next morning. Plus, we were crushed at this point. 

Riding from Spring Creek Pass to Stony Pass was the type of terrain we were hoping for from the start...

The next day we woke up, had a pile of food and lots of crappy coffee in town, then hit the grocery store and stalled on their porch until the rain cleared. It was very tough to leave town while it was wet, so we didn’t depart until midday. We got up on Molas Pass as the sky was clearing and found that the trail was beautiful and very fun to ride, with the occasional tough move. All of a sudden, the sky got dark and it started raining and hailing very hard. We were under-dressed at that moment and decided to keep moving. After a brief, crushing storm we were soaked but moving toward clear skies.

A steady rain finally moved out so we started up Molas Pass...

Just after one proper hail storm in the San Juans to remind us we are fragile beings...

By the time we got to camp we were mostly dry and ready for one more night on the trail. That day ended up being our shortest of the trip. On our final morning the rain came in and kept us in our sleeping bags for a small delay. It was refreshing to wake up knowing that all we had to do was make it do Durango, about 50 miles and 10,000 feet of descending/6,000 feet of climbing away. The alpine trail leading up to the end of the CT was very scenic and had some incredible technical ridge riding before dropping way down off the mountain. I was really impressed with the riding leading up to Kennebec Pass, and the final descents were so rewarding. As we got close to town and the rain pushed us downhill, Adam smashed into a rock with his rear wheel, which forced him to throw a tube in his tire. It’s amazing that after so many days of riding, the only mechanical was at the end of it all. Arriving at the Junction Creek Trailhead, we celebrated briefly in the parking lot before rolling to town for tacos and margaritas.

Reflection

The Colorado Trail was a heck of a trip and a big accomplishment. The trail was consistently harder than we expected, but we approached the tour the same way that both of us normally ride or work. Put in a solid day, do what you can, and wake up to do it again the next day. We didn't crush the pace, and some storms affected our riding, but we kept it steady considering it was our vacation, and we finished in 10 days. The trip was well worth it and only added to my desire to do more trips like this in the future.

Setup

My Spearfish bike setup was perfect for the Colorado Trail. I had enough room for everything and would be able to add extra food and clothing if needed, yet the bike still rode very well for being loaded. The only issue I ran into was my handlebar bag slightly affecting shift quality, as it rested up against my shifter. I also needed to replace my shift cable and housing before we even started the route, which didn't help things. 

Bike: Salsa Spearfish with Industry Nine Trail 280 carbon wheels

Bags: Salsa Full Sus Frame Bag, Salsa Top Tube Bag, Revelate Designs Cutthroat handlebar bag, Revelate Designs Vole seat bag

This post filed under topics: Bikepacking Mountain Biking Sam Skidmore Spearfish Split Pivot Sponsored Riders

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