Bike-Packing The Elk Mountain Range

Here is the rig all done up with Defiant Pack (https://defiantpack.com/) frame and seat bags and a dry bag strapped up to the Defiant Pack front harness. The bags are custom made from bomber materials right here in Carbondale, CO by our friends Geoff, Kevin, and Megan.

 

In the rear seat bag I have a Big Agnes sleeping pad with a light pyramid style shelter, and a pair of fleece pants. In the frame bag I have bike maintenance stuff, water, a raincoat, and a little food. Cupholder/feed bag have phone, snacks, water. The dry bag attached to the front harness has a pair of socks, sleeping bag, and a fleece hoody. Last but not least my favorite bag of the moment, the front bag has hygiene stuff, sunblock, a hat, tent stakes, first aid, safety kit, water purification drops, and all the little loose ends. Ahh! And, I have to carry these lightweight trekking poles to pitch the pyramid style tent because its the lightest setup I can come up with as of the moment. I’d say the bikes total weight is 50lbs… maybe less.

 

I woke up in my van in Geoff’s driveway in Carbondale to the sound of loud thunder in the distance. I rolled over in bed and looked up the weather on my phone. A couple  of huge storms were supposed to be rolling through that morning, but blowing over by 10 a.m., so I rolled over and went back to sleep. Eventually, I heard Geoff rustling with his gear and I figured I better wake up and get our plan together.

 

We decide that a late departure into stormy skies was a good idea, so around 10 a.m. we slowly started packing the bikes and eating breakfast. After lots of caffeine and a huge thunderstorm we took off up Hwy 133  towards Marble (our first destination).

 

 

We rode semi slowly toward the South hoping the storms would continue to blow over and we could dodge the little rain that was left over from the big storm.

 

 

It worked! Then more storms began to thunder in the distance.

 

 

Here we are at Slow Groovin’ in Marble, CO. We stopped in to see our friend Katelyn and get some grub. The best part about bikepacking and going super light on food. You stop, eat, and drink beer at restaurants a lot this way. It helps you bike farther in the long run, I promise. The lack of food keeps you starving to rush to town to eat and drink. It also keeps your bike lighter, which allows you to ride more terrain (moy faster!)

 

 

Leaving Marble and heading up to Crystal this is always such a site to see. Here we are passing the Crystal Mill and entering the town of Crystal.

 

 

 

Up up and away on Schofield Pass, this pass is mostly ride-able to the town of Crystal and then it ramps up in steepness and chossy-ness. You would have to be the man or woman to ride this uphill with bags on your bike. One of my favorite parts of bikepacking is accepting whatever is going on as it comes, and not getting locked into thinking you have to ride your bike the whole time. Pushing is fun, right?!

 

 

 

 

On your way up Schofield you pass the Devil’s Punchbowl, it is 1.5 miles from the top of the Pass and there are good campsites a little ways above this at another little waterfall where the road flattens out.

 

 

 

Here are some monkeys jumping into the punchbowl,

 

 

The road flattens out, and right after these pics we saw a huge black bear. Stood 8 ft tall and 5 feet wide! Just kidding, it was pretty normal sized, but I yelled at it while riding at it and it turned to square up to me. I almost pooped my pants, but I kept it together and the bear eventually ran off. Exciting!

 

 

The top of Schofield Pass and the start of Trail 401 into Crested Butte, CO. We reached this point at about 5:30 p.m. and we were tired boss, dog tired. We knew the glory was only another 800ft in elevation up and we started riding and pushing up the trail.  Don’t let this next photo fool you, we pushed a lot.

 

 

We got to the top and hung out until the glory light of the evening came through. We were so stoked about the blue skies. All day we had been getting sprinkled on, and now with the skies glassing off. We stood and enjoyed the moment for a good while.

 

 

Riding the 401 super tired and with heavy bikes was about as fun as it gets! We bombed down the trail with no one else on it. It’s very rare to get this one to yourself, and we enjoyed every minute of it.

 

 

We rolled down half of the 401 and camped at a nice road/creek crossing. So tired; we boiled watered and started soaking our gourmet dehydrated meals. They tasted delicious at the time. Finally, we passed out for the night. Stats for the day were around 45 miles, and 5000 ft elevation gain.

 

 

The next morning we woke up and rode the rest of the 401 down to Gothic, and then down into Crested Butte, CO, here we grabbed breakfast, more food, fuel, beer, and began to ride out of town.

 

 

We took off on Tony’s Trail out of town and then the Upper Upper trail. This rolls around the resort to the South, heading for Brush Creek Rd. This is the Grand Traverse ski/bike/running route heading to Aspen, CO.

 

Here is Geoff attempting to ride the gnar, right after this photo he dismounted his bike. It was a funny moment following one of our rest stops.

 

 

Riding up Brush Creek Rd. You can see the Elk Mountains to the left.

 

 

That afternoon we got chased by thunderstorms again, and managed to out run them for a bit on our way up Star Pass. They eventually caught up to us and we pushed the last 4 or 5 miles in the sprinkling rain. We were wet, tired, and cold and managed to get the tent up right before it started raining really hard.

 

 

We sat in the tent, getting all of our sleeping stuff out, and sitting in our sleeping bags for a minute. Both of our bags were a little damp, so it helps to get in it before dark and use your body heat plus some advanced techniques (slapping the bag) to dry out some of the down feathers.

 

This was entertaining enough until it stopped raining, and then it was time for gourmet dinner number two, dehydrated shepherd’s pie… yum! It is worth mentioning that we have been eating bars, gummies, and Gu packets all day. That stuff is lightweight and somehow still bearable for me to stay fueled.

 

Our second day total was approximately 36 miles, and 3500 ft elevation gain.

 

 

We woke up the next morning soggy and without direct sunlight to dry in. We packed up our stuff wet (10x the original weight) and headed up Star Pass. We knew from looking at our phones the day before that the weather wasn’t going to be good.

 

We had 3 long miles to the top of Star Pass and the another 18 to Aspen, not to mention the 30 or so miles of bike path to loop back to Carbondale. I wrote those last 30 miles off as a gimme just to make the day seem more feasible. I’d always recommend it best to stay delusionally optimistic

 

We pushed almost all the way to the top of Star Pass and scored some glory riding to the summit. The back side of Star Pass is gnarly and chewed up, so we hiked down a bit and then rode heinous trails to Taylor Divide road.

 

 

Our plan was to get to Richmond Ridge and ride that across and down into Aspen, with rain and thunder we decide to head down Express Creek into Ashcroft and to take Castle Creek Road into Aspen. Here we are at the top of Taylor Pass.

 

 

Express Creek is a fast, steep jeep road that makes for a wild descent. We hit Castle Creek Road and had a high speed paved descent into town. We caught the Rio Grande bike path and rolled over to the Woody Creek Tavern, to celebrate the ride and Geoff’s twenty eighth birthday. Woot woot! After a few drinks we hopped back on our horses and rode off into the sunset to Carbondale.

 

That last sunset part didn’t happen but in my mind that’s how it felt. Glorious. We made it back to Carbondale around 2 p.m., and cleaned up all of our stuff.

 

Our third daily total was about 50 miles, 3000 ft elevation gain and lots of descending.

 

Immediately we started scheming up our next adventure. House to house bike touring is pretty amazing. A low impact adventure in our own backyard. And, the possibilities are endless!

 

To clarify the route we took was Hwy 133 from Carbondale, CO to Marble, CO. Then we rode/pushed up to Crystal and over Schofield Pass. We rode down the 401 Trail into Crested Butte, CO and resupplied. We left town on Tony’s Trail to Upper Upper leaving Crested Butte on Brush Creek Rd. to Star Pass. Finally onto Taylor Divide Rd, and down Express Creek to Ashcroft, CO. Then looped on the Rio Grande bike path from Aspen back to Carbondale.

 

Hindsight being 20/20, this loop may ride better in reverse!

 

Happy trails!

Written By Tyler Vaughan

Hikes we Like: Thomas Lakes

thomas lakes

The Nutshell

The round-trip 7.2 mile trek is a relatively light day-hike that’s both easily accessible and well marked. The trail is prime for munchkins, pets, and bikes alike. Just remember, leashes are a must- well, for the pets at least. Bring the whole family along, give your dog a chance to stretch its legs, get in a quick mountain bike ride, or push yourself and turn it into a jog. Regardless of how you do it, definitely check it out. The hike is a steady climb  (1,700 ft elevation gain) with few tricks along the way, but do expect to be surprised by the killer views throughout. Multiple lookouts and patches of wildflowers dot the trail as it weaves among trees, through meadows, and finally up to the Thomas Lakes themselves. A quarter mile apart, the Thomas Lakes are subalpine tarns that sit at the foot of Mt. Sopris. In other words, they’re sick lakes with crazy awesome views. As if a a couple of subalpine tarns aren’t enough to make us giddy, the entire hike offers an unbeatable look at Sopris- the mountain that owns the local landscape at 12, 966 feet. You’ll get especially up close and personal with Sopris as the trail joins the lakes and comes to an end at the 10,200 ft high Sopris base. Sound too good to be true, doesn’t it?  It definitely is rare to get such a hefty reward from this level of a hike, so get out there!

If you’re feeling something more challenging, consider hiking the remaining 4  steep miles to the top of Sopris. Just be sure to do some research so you are fully prepared for the trip.

Tip: A trail with these kind of views is popular. Try and make time on a weekday to avoid the weekend rush.

Getting There

If you don’t have a GPS or you  just don’t trust Apple maps, follow these directions from Carbondale to the trail head:

From Carbondale travel south on Hwy. 133 for approximately 1.4 miles. Make a left turn on Prince Creek Road and go about 6 miles to the fork in the road. Take a right at the fork and follow it for 2 miles. The trail head is 1/4 mile before Dinkle Lake.