Colorado Trail: Copper Mountain to Leadville


Just another day or two on the Colorado Trail.  Still, there’s nothing not to like.  Pushing the final few hundred feet up to Searle Pass, the sun sets in amber brilliance.  Sleeping above treeline ensures an immediately warming morning sun; sleeping in the trees is cool and moist, and the most enticing campsites near water seem to be shaded until noon.  At just over 12,000 ft, we erect the tent as a shield from a cool breeze and frosty, mountain dew.  By morning, only a light layer of ice has fallen.  The early sunlight treats our tent like a greenhouse; growing, glowing, warming until slowly awake.  The final half hour of sleep, cradled in warmth, is the most restful.  We like biking and hiking and eating and sleeping, but this time of year the sleeping is best.  Golden aspen and light snow on high are signs of the season’s change.  We love fall weather, but winter is soon to follow.

A short section of trail from Breckenridge to Copper Mountain climbs and descends at extreme grades, and is said to involve much hiking and pushing.  Theres is a paved 16 mile bike path around the Tenmile Range, which we took in search of the next rideable segment of trail.  Climbing across ski slopes and away from Copper Mountain, Searle Pass finally comes into view.  A final push over the pass leads to our camp, in top-of-the-world brilliance.  Just before cresting the pass, not a single road or building can be seen.  On the other side: a mine, a paved highway, and a few forest service roads are visible, and in the morning several bow hunters crest the ridge.  We’re far away, but not that far.  This is what I like about Colorado.  Alaska allows you to get away, but only through a gauntlet of muskeg, moose and mosquitos, with very few trails and roads for access.  The constant threat of grizzlies adds to the sense of the wild, and lessens my level of comfort.  Alaska is a beautiful idea, but not ideal for comfortable outdoor living.  While we tackle immense challenges, hardship is not part of the design.  Colorado is easy living.

Lael’s bike has seen some improvements recently, including a new tire.  The fast-rolling Maxxis CrossMark was great for smooth hard packed trails and dirt roads, but was short of traction and volume on much of the trail.  Her XXIX has some monster tire clearances, and a 29 x 2.4″ Maxxis Ardent hooks up well.  Descending, the suspension fork and the large tires allow her to pick her way through rocky sections without steering around every pebble.  The bike is finally becoming a familiar extension for her, despite a few mishaps.  No matter how well equipped, a rider must become intimately aware of their bike.  This is why we choose to own and ride only one bike at a time.  Equipment or skill is no match for familiarity.

Lael’s Hooligan has broken the one bike rule, but it is exceedingly fun and practical, and has a future with us.  For anything but real trail riding, including urban riding and touring, she demands to have “Hooli”.  With a 2″ tire, it would be fine on mild unpaved surfaces.  While 4″ tires and 29″ wheels provide much benefit, there is a lot to say of a highly maneuverable, and lightweight bike.  26″ and 20″ wheels have their place.










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Searle Pass is the saddle left of center.  Many trails become quite rocky above treeline.  Gaining the ridge:




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Camp at 12,050 ft.  Over the pass, a large mining operation and a few roads are visible.








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Warming light.  Yoga atop mountains is Lael’s favorite, in lieu of yoga in the park, on the sidewalk, in the backyard, on the beach, in the woods, or inside.  She has done yoga almost everywhere.  Dressed for the cool morning, she practices “Yoga for Ninjas”.


Riding, pushing over Elk Ridge and descending down to Kokomo Pass near 12,000ft.  Descending, descending, down to 9,000ft feet over several miles of trail.  Brakes, kick up dirt, pedal and lean, fly; brake, skid, stop.  Snack.  Soon, 10, 9 thousand feet again and climbing.  Up, to Tennessee.







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We both appreciate the value of a lightly packed bike.  I was carrying a small cooking system and a two-person tent all summer, so Lael only had to show up in Denver with a sleeping bag and pad, as well as some clothing.  She’s packed into a Revelate Vischasa seat bag, Revelate Gas Tank top tube bag, Revelate Mountain Feed Bag, and an eVent Sea-to-Summit compression sack.   A spare tube and tire are strapped to the down tube, out of the way. She’s not carrying a shelter at the moment, but overall, her bike is optimal for this kind of riding.  It is simple, quiet, and light.  The bike rides like a bike.

Every day, I enjoy Lael’s combination of socks and shoes.  Other trail riders must think we are lost, or from another decade.

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I am carrying quite a bit more equipment, but this is exactly what I was carrying all summer.  We carry our own gear in favor of trying to match our paces by re-distributing the load.  Releasing ourselves from the idea of matching paces and necessarily riding together, we are relieved of stress.  It’s simply too much mental work, and is likely to slow one of us down or push the other along.  For such a fun, simple endeavor as walking or riding, there’s no need to complicate the joy of being on the trail.  Sometimes I ride ahead and wait at junctions.  Often, I ride behind allowing Lael to see the trail first, and we talk all day.  Other times, Lael rides ahead, descending with abandon as I stop to take photographs.  We’ve had too many fights about nothing by trying to match paces, so we don’t.

Tightly packed away is MacBook Air and an Olympus E-PM1, as well as a gaggle of accessories, chargers and cables.  Maps, a water filter, tools, a tent, and a cook system are stowed away along with food, clothing and shelter.  It’s tidy and it rides well, if a little heavy.  A framebag is a key component of any lightweight touring system and is the single greatest step to leaving racks and panniers at home, unless you are Lael and don’t even need a framebag.  In many cases, more important than the weight of equipment, is the ride.  My bike is quiet and comfortable, and the tires cloud the rocky disturbances of the trail.  I’m finally finding the optimal tire pressure for these trails, and it is much lower than I initially estimated.




Up and over Tennessee Pass, and on to Leadville.  We heart Leadville.  Good living at 10,200ft.  Without a ski resort, Colorado towns such as Salida and Leadville avoid the glut of condos and t-shirt shops that plague other mountain towns.  Leadville and Salida are both beautiful communities in the mountains.  Fourteen thousand foot peaks, everywhere.







The beauty of this part of the state is that it’s not a simple destination for tourists, but finding transportation out of town has been a challenge.  We’ve finally secured a ride to Interbike.  Some writing obligations and planning will take some time away from riding this week, but we’ll be back at it in a few days.  Thereafter we will transport to a galaxy far away from the CT, awash in the glitz of Las Vegas.  Whatever it brings, Interbike and Vegas will be an experience.

9 thoughts on “Colorado Trail: Copper Mountain to Leadville

  1. I love the ninja yoga!! What beautiful views tranquil feelings and comforting skys..keep treking on, I hope to do this one day and so I will, in the meantime school wrapped in me.

    • Colorado has been a real treat, and is a real beauty. Of all the places I’ve toured, the mountainous west has some of the best climates for riding and living outside. I hope you find the opportunity to do some riding someday, after school. Thanks for checking in.

    • Hmmm, I’ve never considered it. I admit the blog looks a little like a Flickr album sometimes, as I have a hard time selecting photos. Rides like these inspire me to spend a lot of time behind the camera, and with such vivid memories, they are like children to me.

      I’ve been scaling the photos to fit the wordpress theme, but I’ve considered linking to larger image files from the thumbs on the main site.

      Any suggestions?

      • Well, I’ve been liking flickr. And yep, you can put rather large photos up. Most of mine are 4000×3000 pixels. Be forewarned that you only get a certain amount of free memory a month, after that you have to pay. Flickr is also good for sharing photos, and you can add photos to groups.

      • I might be curious about a place to store photos online at some point, but free or very cheap would be a requirement. I like the control of publishing images on the blog for now. Let me know if you ever want a particular photo in the original size. I would be happy to share.

      • Flickr Pro (the paid account for more room) is $7 for three months and I think $20/year. Not super cheap but not really expensive at the same time.

        Thanks for the offer of an original sized photo!

  2. Sublime. So much to agree on – we do much the same as you – the only time our ‘ride with an awareness of the other’ but not always on each others wheel didn’t work was a prolonged cold ever-drenched climb in ecuador when I couldn’t go slow enough and still keep warm. S mostly beats me on the downhills, especially the technical ones :-).

    Camp site reckoning with a view to optimal morning sun was also quickly learnt ;-). After too many ‘deep dark dells’.

    Enjoy the side trip and say hello to Cass for us.

    • Tom, I’m glad others have learned the lessons of riding together, without always riding “together”. While Lael is carrying less gear than me at this point, none of it is particularly chivalrous or even by design, it’s simply that I’ve been hefting this equipment all summer. I would not expressly carry Lael’s stuff, as some do. It still wouldn’t match our paces all of the time and this way, we both have the awareness that we’ve done it on our own.

      As well, those curious types outside the grocery stores, etc. would be more than willing to point out that “she’s not doing her share”, which would infuriate both of us. I hope I’m not really a magnet of negativity, but many folks like to approach me with the most serious tone, insisting, “It must be hard to ride that bike?”. And then, when I explain all the things that it can do, they insist that it must be “terrible to ride around town”. Nope, a fine grocery getter as well. These conversations kill me. I can only imagine how obnoxious it would be to ride a fat-tired long tail bike with a bunch of gear.

      On a positive note, a group of aggressive “scootering” kids (like in the skate park) were immediately drawn to the bike and had nothing but awe for it, rather than the spite of their elder peers. It seems as people age, awe turns to spite.

      Remain in awe!


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