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.
Here we go:
- 32 miles
- 10,000’+ elevation
- 1 day, 2hr, 30min
Three Centennials Summited:
- “Phoenix Peak”
- San Luis
- Stewart Peak
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.
Miracles of Miracles, I managed to complete my Big Project for the year: The Tour of the Highest Hundred! There’s many projects that I’ll be branching off from this summer’s trip, but below are some articles/interviews covering the Tour – I’ll update if/when others are published:
REI Co-op Journal: Justin Simoni Summits Colorado’s Highest Hundred Peaks. By Bike.
Bikepacking.com: Interview With The Long Ranger
Disclaimer right away: much of the gear I’m showing has been provided by me from the companies that produce them, and many of the links to their product pages to purchase the gear are affiliate links.
To my surprise, people seem curious in the gear I use that comprises my sleep system. I’ll be describing my current setup that I’ll be using for the Tour of the Highest Hundred, a two-month bikepacking and peak bagging adventure. Like everything, it’s a constantly evolving kit, that changes depending on weather, seasons, geographic location/environment, and conditions. There’s no One True Sleep System. My own sleep system is constrained by some pretty crazy requirements:
I’ll be out from ~July 15th to ~September 15th, mostly in the Colorado high country and sleeping at an elevation from around 6,000′ above sea level to well, let’s say 12,000′ if I’m feeling frisky. I’m expecting temperatures at night from around 50 degrees F to well below freezing and foul weather including wind, rain, sleet, snow, grauple, and everything in between. Mostly though, I’ll be hoping for clear, calm nights, and the occasional monster thunderstorm. My sleep system has to protect me 100% from precipitation of all the forms listed. Even one night exposed to a freezing rain could be dangerous.
For the most part, I’ll be sleeping at trailheads of the Centennials, around 6,000′ – 10,000′, well below treeline in the subalpine forest. I’ll have ample opportunity to find enough flat ground to at least put my sleeping bag down. In rarer circumstances, I’ll be camping above treeline, around 12,000′, so I’ll need a system that doesn’t rely on using something like a tree to set up my shelter.
For lack of a better term, my sleep system really just needs to keep me sheltered from any weather and to be warm enough – it’s not going to be a basecamp for weeks on end as I lay siege on a mountain, or a place to whoo a ladyfriend – or even to play an extended game of cards well into the night. I need it to be easy to set up and take down without a lot of fuss, and flexible enough to work in different environments. I don’t want to take a lot of time to find the perfect spot – I want to get there, set things up within minutes, throw some food in my mouth, and pass out underneath it.
The Fundamental Parts: Tarp/Bivy/Bag/Pad
My sleep system is comprised of these four parts that, when put together, can keep me relatively comfortable in all the extreme cases I can think of. What’s even better, is that each one is really optional, so I can make decisions on just what I want to set up, given my current circumstances.
My time in Salida on tour soon came to an end, after a little time at the hostel with an honest to goodness shower. Time for me to travel north! Out of Salida, there’s some pretty awful highway riding to get directly to the next town, Buena Vista, and the day I set off saw me face a stiff headwind, that only got worse as I got closer and as a storm cell was moving from west to east. Frustrating!
I made it to Buena Vista, which I was going to only use as a top-off spot for food, etc – but my Brother was in town for Paddlefest, so I decided to linger a bit. After another partial day of rest, the weather turned much nicer, and I continued my ride to Chaffee County 390. The road out of BV North is dirt, and follows an old railroad line complete with tunneled out sections of the hillside, making things quite fun. TONS of people were out for Paddlefest – or just the good weather – I’ve honestly never seen it so packed.
6/12/13 – 6/17/13
The trip’s itinerary was to hit up most all the 14ers in the path between Denver, CO and Alma, CO, taking the I-70 corridor to Breckenridge, and then HW 9 to Alma. Ambitious, as the routes picked weren’t the easiest, or shortest: Bierdtstat from the East Ridge, then over the Sawtooth to Evans, Torreys via Kelso Ridge – and then to Grays, Quandary via the West Ridge – and then a final push to do Democrat, Lincoln, and Bross. All in five days – all ridden to on a bicycle.
Waking up at 2:00am on the Sunday of the weekend St. Patrick’s Day festivities in a drinkin’ city seemed a strange way to begin a trip. I needed to go from the North side of Denver, through the South side, without incident. And then far beyond.
Plan: ride the bicycle from the back door to the Barr Trailhead ~90 miles away in Manitou Springs, CO and immediately begin the 13 miles hike up to the summit of Pikes Peak, for a winter ascent of a Colorado 14er, before it ain’t winter no more (mere days away). And of course carry all the gear that’s probably going to be needed. Which is really unrealistic, so just take what’s absolutely necessary. Which probably means, a different pair of shoes.
Then, take a few winks and ride back home, in perhaps a bit more scenic (read: more difficult, mountainous, less boring) route.