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All my bike rides end up on mountain tops

On top of Grays Peak. 


This weeks plan was to ride to the Summer Trailhead of Grays/Torreys, hike up both, and ride back, all in one fell swoop. I mean, why not? It’s ~55 miles and 9,000 feet of elevation to the Winter Trailhead, 3 miles of hike-a-biking on the dirt road to the Summer Trailhead and 8 1/4 miles of hiking to both peaks and back – and then that 55 miles back home.

OK, fairly ambitious, I admit – I brought along my sleep kit, just in case.

The major challenge in doing something like this is – what to bring? The answer is usually, “Not much”, as any extra gear means extra weight, and extra weight slows you down, especially on the bike and most especially while climbing up on that bike  Realistically, you need to bring enough to do a bike ride, a hike and an overnight safely and relatively comfortably, the last point being somewhat subjective. I’ve needed a trailer packed full on previous excursions in to the mountains, but I’ve been working to ultra-minimize what I need.

Camping part is easy, as my sleep kit is already well-established: sleeping bag, liner, bivvy and pad. Cycling is also fairly well managed: bib shorts, jersey, cycling gloves, silly cycling hat, tiny socks, cycling shoes. The hiking part is where things become troublesome, as the weather in the mountains – most especially in spring, can wildly and dramatically change with little warning. Skimping on too many things is a bad idea, most especially if there isn’t a warm car waiting for you at the end, holding clothes to change into and the means to easily whisk you away to where pizza and beer are eagerly awaiting. I ended up with bringing a raincoat, synthetic down vest, long underwear, winter gloves, winter hat, beat-up running shoes, running gaitors, micro-spikes, and –

and an ice axe, which I affixed to the top tube of my bicycle, using some velcro straps,



Nothin’ but blue sky

Why an ice axe? Other than keeping up my reputation of being a complete bad-ass – I mean, what’s more bad-ass than taking on a 45+ mile mountain route with a fixed-gear bike, other than taking such a mountain route on a fixed gear with an ice axe?! But, there’s also snow on the mountains, even with our paltry snowpack this year, and ice axes can save oneself from a very long unintentional glissade. And maybe I’d take a snow route and keeping with the minimal thread – it’s either an ice axe, or trekking poles – not both, so ice axe it was.

Left around 6:15am and got to the Summer Trailhead at around 1:00pm, leaving quickly for the hiking part of this exercise. Decided to take a little, “shortcut” straight up Grays, using one of the snowfields still lingering, which was neither faster, nor easier, but a little funner, than the mindless switchbacks that usually make up this Class 1 route. Was contemplating doing something a bit more fancier, like the Dead Dog Couloir, but being already so pre-fatigued for the ride – and alone, it didn’t seem reasonable.


Shortcut through the snow

It’s not a named route, or anything, so I dubbed it, the, “Dumb Tourist Couloir” and left it at that. Grays was much like the last time I visited in November, although I was soon joined by a visitor, munching on the local flora,

Mountain Goat!

which, is always a treat.

At this point, I started experiencing the onset of an altitude-related headache – similar to Mt. Evans, the week prior, which was a bummer – I was eating correctly, drinking a-plenty, the only thing wrong was I hadn’t gotten much sleep the night before and I had seriously put in a good effort doing all the moving and shaking to get up here.  I knew it wasn’t going to go away, until after I got down to a much, much lower elevation, but I pushed on the Torreys and then down.

Got back to the Summer Traihead around 8:00pm, fairly whipped. Decided then and there a bivvy was in order, as bumping down that dirt road in the failing light with my headache, just wasn’t going to happen. Night was somewhat surreal, as the moon was basically full, my head pounding, and the only relief came from non-sequitar dreams that I would wake up from, thinking my headache was gone (as it was, in my dreams), only to have the headache come back, with a vengeance. Every time I woke up, I thought that maybe I could sneak off back home – I had a goal of finishing all this up in a 24 hour period – but no, the headache kept me grounded. Sometime in the middle of the night, I ran out of water, and I still knew that getting down even more would help greatly. For whatever reason, my ultra-light kit neglected bringing something as simple as pills for the headache. Next time.

Woke up in the morning at around 5:30 am and rocketed back to Denver, an almost complete downhill trajectory. Back home by almost exactly 11:00 am and downing an entire half gallon of orange juice, my head felt quite a bit better.

Overall, felt strong on the ride up to the Winter Trailhead, even with the added load with all the gear and felt alright on the hike itself, although taking 6 1/2-odd hours to hike these two summits seems somewhat slow . If I didn’t get that headache and felt a little more precocious and masochistic, I’m sure riding back home would have been possible, without the snooze, since the route contains 9,000+ feet of elevation loss. But alas, it wasn’t to be this time. 

But, I did succeed in bringing just enough equipment and nothing more and not getting into any dangerous situations because of something I left behind. I certainly came close in some places, but that’s the rub when going ultra-light. I also benefited from one of the most incredible days one could ever hope for in the mountains – mild weather, cloudless sky, light breeze, no drastic weather change. 

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11 years ago

GOt balls doing this by yourself. Out of all the times I’ve been on hikes in CO I have yet to see a mountain goat, somehow! Awesome picture.
Do you use some type of electrolyte replacement? I noticed you haven’t mentioned it. I assume you probably do, but if not, I bet it would help with the incredible amount of energy you need for these treks.
Mike J.

11 years ago

Balls in my pants or rocks in my head! 🙂
Usually on smaller trips, I don’t bring any electrolyte tablets or Gatorade, but will get a lot of salt from food I eat – sometimes the body craves things like potato chips, so I’ll grab some of those – or that pizza hat pepperoni on it, which does a body right.
Once over a few days, though, it’s not a bad idea. Next time I’m in NM, I’ll be carefully watching out for that sort of stuff. Slow and steady though, is the way to continue at this type of pace. It gets difficult at altitude though – like on this trip, if you have a lack of sleep, lack of food, lack of something, you hurt pretty hard and it’s hard to bounce back, without going basically as far down as you can.