Big Fat Tire: Summit’s best MTB descents and an ode to Gudy Gaskill, mother of the Colorado Trail
Summit’s best descents
A couple weeks ago I wrote about my favorite climbs. This week, I’d like to talk about some of my favorite descents. (What goes up, must come down.) A lot of components make for a good descent, and different people like different things. Personally, I’ve always liked fast rollercoaster rides on natural trails. Using that criteria, it’s tough to beat some of the sections of the Colorado Trail that go through Summit County.
West Ridge and the CT, Breck
Coming down the West Ridge section of the CT heading west is usually at the top of a lot of peoples list, mine included. It’s not the most technical trail — it’s just fun. It’s a great combination of swooping turns, dips and all-around, grin-inducing MTB bliss. Heading west on the CT from the top of Georgia Pass or the top of the Hippo trail toward the RV park also deserve mentions.
Wheeler Trail, Breck to Copper
The Wheeler Trail from the top of Wheeler Pass is another favorite. It is definitely more technical than the above-mentioned sections of the CT, but it never gets too crazy. There is just something about being in the high alpine — the long grunt up the Peak 9 Jeep road, the singletrack riding through wildflower meadows on the Pass — that makes the long, 3,000 feet of descent to Copper Mountain that much sweeter.
Miners Creek descent, Breck to Frisco
If you feel like even more climbing for a truly epic and technical descent, hang a right from Wheeler Trail at the intersection with the CT (Miners Creek) and climb to the crest of the Tenmile Range (expect plenty of pushing). The trail takes you from Peak 6 to Peak 4, where you will begin one of the most brake-burning, forearm-pumping, pucker-inducing, suspension-testing descents in Summit County. I’m not sure if this is among my favorites — I usually get to the Peaks Trail intersection with less skin than I had at the start in need of Vitamin I. But, even if it’s not my favorite, it’s one of the most challenging and satisfying to do well.
Lenawee Trail, A-Basin to Montezuma
The last on my list is another high-alpine trail, the Lenawee Trail. Like most descents worth doing, it requires a long climb up Aarapahoe Basin, but it rewards you with one of the most spectacular above-tree line descents anywhere. Lenawee isn’t quite as steep as Wheeler, but it traverses along at 12,000-vertical feet, which means you get more time above tree line. There are plenty of technical challenges, including a few rock gardens some ride and others walk. As you get below tree line, the cool, moist, shady forest closes in as you bounce from rock to rock. Finally, it spits you out onto Peru Creek Road and a fast dirt descent into Montezuma.
As I type I’m watching the monsoon clouds build. It’s time to sign off, get into my bike clothes and hop on my bike (hopefully) before I get poured on.
Rain gear? Check. Warm layers? Check. As you probably know, we don’t get warm, refreshing showers here in the High Country.
Want more? Read on for Mike’s favorite Summit County mountain-bike climbs.
Well, it looks like the monsoon has returned. I was starting to wonder — I always cringe a bit when I read something that uses the word “normal” when it comes to weather. There’s no such thing as “normal” with weather. Long-term statistical averages, yes, but weather varies so much from year to year that normal has nothing to do with it.
That said, I was starting to wonder if we were going to have one of those extreme statistical abnormalities. Hey man, this dry weather ain’t normal! Much to most of our relief, especially the fire crews and folks with property vulnerable to wildland fire, the rain (along with some serious hail in some places) has come.
When we talk about things like wildland fire fed by tinder-dry forest, trails don’t seem that important. But, since I’m supposed to focus on things like trails, I’ll report that I’m happy to see tacky dirt and suppressed dust as a byproduct of the recent rain.
As long as a trail is properly constructed and maintained, rain won’t cause much damage. I remember a few years ago when we had some truly torrential rains — real Noah stuff — which blew out a few bridges and culverts and did some real damage to trails that were not built to a sustainable standard. Some of those types of trails became deeply rutted. The well-built trails, however, weathered the torrent with little or no impacts.
I know there are some folks in the mountain bike world who want steep, fall-line trails, and they find what are commonly referred to “sustainable trails” boring. The problem is that these steeper, fall-line trails tend to turn into gullies after a few gully washers like we had in the Breckenridge area Wednesday afternoon. (I can report, though, that the Summit Fat Tire Society is working with the U.S. Forest Service and IMBA to create one of those steeper and more technically challenging trails. It will be well thought out and constructed. Stay tuned on that one.)
Mother of the CT
I am somewhat saddened to report the passing last week of Gudy Gaskill at age 86, known to many as the “mother of the Colorado Trail.” (She led a full and productive life that made a difference in the lives of others, and so I can’t be completely saddened.) If you’ve ever ridden a bike or hiked the CT, it’s not too much of an exaggeration to say you owe it all to Gudy. From the late ‘70s, when the trail was still only an idea, until the trail started to gain momentum in the ‘80s, Gudy kept the vision on track through determination, grit and a lot of hard work,.
I first met Gudy in the early ‘90s, when the West Ridge section leading to the CT was being constructed. The Summit Fat Tire Society was young and we rounded up some volunteers to work with the CT crews. Gudy was there to oversee the camp for each weeklong crew, so that crews could keep working instead of doing camp chores.
We talked quite a bit about MTB and the CT: about how the sport was growing (this was the early ‘90s), about how the MTB community needed to be involved with the stewardship of the trail. Gudy certainly was no mountain biker and I always got the feeling that she was uneasy about the sport — the CT was envisioned and planned primarily as a hiking and backpacking route before MTB was really on the horizon — but she was never judgmental and had an open mind, especially for those who supported and contributed to the cause.
I’m willing to assume that most of the people reading these words have been on at least one portion of the CT. I’d like to suggest that, in keeping with Gudy’s spirit, you either volunteer some time to a trail crew, or contribute to the CT Foundation.
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