Last week was one of those weeks where you start to hear rumblings about the upcoming forecast, words brandied about like “arctic”, “front”, “polar”, and “vortex”. A recent trip back to Buffalo Creek area trails whet my appetite for camping and being out there. Add these two things together, and you gotta get out there while it’s still good.
It’s been a while since I got in an overnight bike packing and with the season wrapping up a bit, I decided to take on the Colorado Trail’s (CT) segment 1 and 2. Initially, I had even thought about riding from my house, potentially leaving on Friday night after work, but I lucked out on not doing that. Waterton Canyon, the first stretch of CT 1, has been closed during the week and it looks like the light rain that came down during Friday night was snow up in some of the north facing slopes of the CT.
Saturday, Waterton was a bit soft but fun cool cruise. There was a bit of headwind, but I just kept the pedaling soft and enjoyed it. In classic fashion for that section of trail, I had a stand off with a Bighorn as it wanted to move down the canyon. Or maybe he just wasn’t sure why I had so much stuff. As you enter the first bit of single track, I could tell the shifting on my bike was definitely not “right” but it seemed to be more noisy than in danger of breaking, so I pressed on.
The CT from Waterton climbs up to Lenny’s Rest, a bench and trail intersection with a trail to connect to Indian Creek trails. Then you bomb into the Bear Creek drainage and back up along this steep, rocky canyon. You hit the first proper hike-a-bike section (yes, people ride it). The climbing is unrelenting until you hit a techy section along the creek. There’s a few forced hikes here too. After climbing to a ridgeline, you get a bit of respite in a more rolling terrain. About 4 miles out you hit one of the best overlooks I’ve seen. As I descended through this section a rider passed me on his way to do 1 and 2 and back all in a day!
Then you get a magical, switchback friendly, descent down to the South Platte River. I stopped here, ate some food, adjusted clothing layers, and started out on segment 2. Segment 2 east-to-west is pretty much a climb the entire way. From the river, I encountered tight switchbacks which eventually gives way to just some steady climbing. At times I hiked through deep, steep graded patches of decomposed granite. Bike packing is more akin to backpacking at times than people may realize! After a wooded section I ran into a group of riders who I had met briefly back in Waterton who were shuttling segments 3 to 1. We chatted a bit about bike packing and it was good to have a bit of company after pedaling for 4+ hours almost alone.
Nearing the top, I ran out of water in my hydration pack and so I knew stopping at the firehouse was going to be in order. At the start of the ride, I’d made my first snafu. Originally I planned for taking my hydration pack (100oz) and two water bottles (64oz), but I figured between the river at 16-odd miles in and the firehouse, I wouldn’t need it. When I got to 126, I rolled down to the firehouse and searched for the water spout. I couldn’t find it. Dejected, I rolled back up to the CT and rode the last few miles to camp. I had 32oz of water to get me through the rest of the day, cooking that night, coffee in the morning, tending a fire, and then back down to the river. I had enough (too much?) other food with me that didn’t require cooking, so I made a plan to skip cooking and coffee to save water. There was an small stream about a mile away that I could filter, but it was downhill from where I was camped (and so it would be back up hill to get to camp), so I just didn’t go. I made my fire, snacked through the night, and read. That night, I slept in my bivy, but my sleeping pad wouldn’t keep air so this made a fitful night of sleep.
In the morning, I tore down camp and headed to the Little Scraggy lot before eating breakfast. As I made breakfast there, a few people came by and chatted. One asked if I needed anything and when I asked if they had any water to spare, I got an extra 32oz of water from them. I now had about 40-odd ounces of water to get me to river which made my day.
As I rolled out towards the start of segment 2, I saw some elk and deer, rolled down one of my favorite portions of singletrack. Crossing Raleigh Peak road, the trail drops down through lots of terrain I had hiked the day before. You hit one steep tough climb and then the rest of the way is almost entirely downhill. Surfing a weighted bike through the decomposed granite was a lot different than riding down without bikepacking gear. My legs felt like bricks, but could handle steady output of power. Any sudden peaks of power were difficult. I reached the river in a little over an hour and half, pulled out my water filter, and got some more water. This was the first time using my filter so it was a bit of learning process … but it went pretty well.
The river is the second major low point of these two sections, so that meant climbing back up. It’s almost 4 miles of climbing up some rocky, power hungry sections. I ended up walking a few places where I just didn’t have the might to get through rocky terrain while climbing. It was a beautiful morning and the sun was finally peaking by the time I got to the top. Then I ripped through a rolling section of single track that really made me feel like I was truly mountain biking, not bike packing. As I worked my way back to Bear Creek, I saw my first person (a trail runner), then a couple groups of mountain bikers. I rode much of the technical features on the way through the section, which was surprising given the weight of my bike. Hitting the climbs back to Lennys was difficult and the shifting was definitely starting to complain. I pushed up to Lenny’s and was finally there. All down hill from there!
All in all, that’s about 56 miles and 7,700 feet of gain in two days. Both sections have really great trail and really difficult trail. There are places that are going to require at least some pushing, even if it is just around tight switchbacks.
- Bike: Spearfish
- Sleeping pad, attached to handlebars
- Saddle bag (Revelate Pika): sleeping bag and bivy, sleeping bag liner, stakes, some extra clothes
- Frame bag (JPaks): tools, tubes, first aid, riding food
- Backpack (Gregory): clothing, stove, one 32oz water bottle, 3L bladder, tarp
The bike bags are nearing maxed out with the loadout they have. Currently my spearfish won’t fit a bar bag, which would get pretty much everything on the bike. I think for overnights, the Spearfish will still work great. They can be loaded out better but I’m looking into a new bike for 2+ night trips, letting the Spearfish still be a general MTB and overnighter when I want it. The backpack load that I had was very manageable (especially when the 3L of water was empty!) so it wasn’t problematic.