The Colorado Trail is an awesome thru-hike route! But I noticed while hiking the CT, that much of the time that the best parts of an area you hike through just aren’t really showcased. The trail just weaves itself along a contour line below treeline, and you miss out on seeing most of the high country just outside your grasp.
Are you an advanced hiker?
If so, spice up your thru-hike by summiting a 14er or two (or all of them!) you can find right off the main trail! Below, I’ll describe all the 14er routes I’ve taken off the Colorado Trail, and some high 13er peaks that are also easily accessible. Most of the routes of the CT are in the Sawatch Range, between Leadville and just outside Salida. One is located in the San Juans outside of Creede, CO (San Luis).
For most of these routes, I would suggest dropping your main packs, and taking only what you realistically need from the out-and-back summit bid (hang your food, etc – of course). I describe the route mileage as one way, rather than RT, unless otherwise noted.
For some of these peaks, I do suggest an alternative loop which will ascend one route, and descend another, if you don’t mind missing a small portion of the Colorado Trail. For those options, bring everything, but realize that this makes the hike to the summit much harder. Make sure to time your hikes to miss the seasonal monsoon/thunderstorm weather (start early), and be mindful you’ve brought enough food for these CT alts. – they’ll take longer than the main trail.
Adventure Cycling‘s Great Divide Mountain Bike Route (GDMBR for short) is one of my favorite off-pavement bike routes in the country. I’ve done two tours of it myself while racing it, and have used segments the route itself quite a bit while doing shorter bikepacking tours. It’s well-designed, lots of beta about accommodations exist, and you’re bound to find like-minded people traveling on the route to bump into.
When I designed my Tour 14er, and later Highest Hundred tour, knowledge of the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route was key in piecing together my own custom route. It’s actually pretty surprising how many 14ers can be accessed without getting too far from the main GDMBR.
Here’s some of the more convenient detours off of the GDMBR to Colorado’s 14ers. Names of mountains will be linked with the appropriate route to the summit from the trailhead my directions give access to.
With another run of the Tour Divide this year, I’m reminded again of this awesome cross-country route and the many great memories I have on it.
The last time I was riding on the GDMBR was on my Tour of the Highest Hundred, where I rode up Marshall Pass after riding the 100 miles from Lake City to summit my first Sawatch of the trip: Mount Ouray.
The route itself was excellent, and provided a relatively quiet and mostly dirt route linking two disparate mountain ranges. The GDMBR barely gets into the San Juans, which is a real shame, as the San Juans are truly one of the crown jewels of Colorado. I’ll explain the route from Salida to Lake City, as this is where you’ll get on it via the GDMBR, then detour off towards Lake City. Once at Lake City, you’ll have to make a choice of where to go, as detouring back to the GDMBR is a trip in of itself and is also, sadly, all on pavement.
Sometimes it’s seems that it’s hard to follow up something like the Tour of the Highest Hundred with the next project. It took years to get myself physically and mentally ready to take something like that on – save nothing for the financial burden of taking so much time off work and the burden of that food bill!
Still, in the heartbeat, I’d do it all again. But the world is a big place, and there’s so many fun and challenging things to do – even so close to where I live. I don’t necessarily like to repeat myself, but I do like to progress in what it is I do, and in doing so: explore different facets of the talents I’ve taken a life to develop.
Anyways, the future! What’s on my mind to do this summer (or next)? Here’s two projects I’d like to try (more coming, later…)
I questioned framing this leg of my Tour of the Highest Hundred as a, “Fastpack from Hell”, as the numbers really don’t compare to the Crestones, Sierra Blanca – let alone the mighty Weminuche. A motivated person, starting early with fine weather, could potentially do this course between sunrise and sundown. Unfortunately, that wasn’t my situation, when I left my bike far above Creede, CO in the summer of 2017.
To make the Tour of the Highest Hundred work, my general strategy was to keep the number of separate trailheads I needed to visit by bike as low as possible, while designing my route on foot to tag as many mountains in an area as possible. Transitioning to/from bike-mode/hike-mode and superfluous riding are big time sucks.
One of the largest puzzles is the Sierra Blancas. Even enthusiastic peak baggers will separate this group of mountains into >= two trips:
Approaching from the east for Mt. Lindsey and “Huerfano Peak” via the Huerfano/Lily Lake Trailhead
Approaching from the west to access Ellingwood Point, Little Bear, and Blanca via Lake Como Road
And well, also approaching from the west for California Peak (if the Centennials are part of your goal), which is accessed from an altogether trail head: Zapata Falls.
Three different trips to three different trailheads is a lot of bike riding for six mountains that sit close together. Visiting the eastern trailhead, then the western ones means either crossing a northern mountain pass (Mosca Pass), or going around the entire southern end of the Sierra Blancas (La Veta Pass) – I was willing and needed to do one, but not both.
Whoo boy, do I like me some optimizations of my routes! Being not the fastest, strongest, or most, uh, endurance-est person in the world, I’ve gotta rely on my brain fat a lot of the times to figure out the most efficient way top get from point A to point B.
The Great Divide Mountain Bike Route is without a doubt one of the preeminent off road touring routes in the US/Canada. Now that I’ve ridden the route essentially twice and have done some extensive touring within Colorado, I can’t help but think how one could enhance it.
Personally, I enjoyed my time more when the route stuck close to the actual Continental Divide, rather than opting to drop down into a relatively easy going valley or basin to gain some mileage towards the end goal (finishing!). I always greatly anticipated gaining the summit of the passes, then rocketing down. Knowing Colorado a little more intimately now, it’s a shame how much of Colorado is missed with the relatively easy path the GDMBR takes.
The GDMBR has many goals, and one of the most important one is to get a heavily laden bicycle and rider (cyclists on a mountain bike, pulling a trailer) eventually to the end of the route. If the route is too long, too hard, and/or with too many Divide crossings, it’s just never going to realistically happen for a good majority of people. If we throw these constraints out of the window, and focus on the goal of staying as close to the Divide as possible, while also keeping the route terrain somewhat similar: gravel roads to 4×4 trails, we start drawing out something a little different.
Below, I’ll be describing a route that takes you off the official GDMBR just before Ute Pass, and rather takes you up and over the Continental Divide at Rollins Pass, parallels the James Peak Wilderness as you travel south to Idaho Springs, then brings you back west to go up and over the Continental Divide again at Argentine Pass, finally depositing you once again onto the official GDMBR in summit county. It circuitous and it’s a whole lot of fun .