Schofield Pass: Marble to Crested Butte

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From Carbondale, there are several ways to reach Crested Butte– none of them are paved the entire way.  Several routes from Aspen to CB are enticing, including the famed Pearl Pass route, but snow above 10,700 ft excludes them this time of year.  Pearl Pass is over 12,700 ft, and Star and Taylor passes are nearly as high, and include some singletrack.  McClure Pass is paved, but connecting Kebler Pass to Crested Butte is technically unpaved, although improved and in great condition.  The paved road from Carbondale to Marble connects to a dirt route through the town of Crystal and over Schofield Pass.  At 10,705 ft, Schofield was clear of snow.  On the other side of the pass awaits the famous Trailriders 401 trail down to the town of Gothic.  The ride over Schofield is the most direct, and holds the allure of the “401”.

The road from Marble begins with Daniel’s Climb, a lung-busting grade to Crystal.  Thereafter, the aspen are electric, and the road turns to a rough 4×4 track which is unrideable at times.  The Devil’s Punchbowl is a steep, narrow feature that is largely unrideable, but is a fun challenge on fat tires.  The Pugsley is a stellar slow speed rock crawler, but even a momentary loss of momentum is enough unseat me.  Cresting Schofield Pass, pockets of snow lurk in the shadows.

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The mill in Crystal is one of the most photographed sites in Colorado, drawing leaf-peepers from all over.

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Downtown Crystal.

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Turn left to complete the Lead King Loop back to Marble; stay right to Crested Butte.

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The road turns up, and degrades to a narrow 4×4 track.  Unimaginable, this was once a wagon route.  The other riders are friends of Joe Cruz.  In fact, Joe was Anna’s professor and they share a love of cycling.  She is now entrenched in a 6-year philosophy program, but has found time for some winter endurance racing including the Susitna 100 and the White Mountains 100.  That’s 100 miles, in the snow.  I’m working hard towards a PhD in bicycle touring.  Push.

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Wet feet.

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Rocky road.

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Finally.  Another world awaits on the other side.  From the top of the pass, turn up onto the 401 Trail to climb above 11,000 ft.  An epic descent awaits.

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The 401.  With a light cover of wet snow, the Pugsley has come full circle.  From snow to snow, this bike has been everywhere between an Anchorage winter and high mountain passes in Colorado.  The tread on my Larry tires is worn, and doesn’t hold well in soft terrain.  I’m dreaming of the Nate tire at times.  Lael’s Maxxis Ardent holds the trail well.

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Before cresting the ridge, an alpine park has views in all directions.  In the distance, the backside of the Maroon Bells.

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Going down.  Bundle up.  The soil on the other side is rich with organic matter, making for a lot of mud.  A gorgeous, but not so epic descent.

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Walking, to reduce our impact on this heavily trafficked trail.  A fine coagulation of cow shit and mud temporarily clogs our wheels.  Cass would be in heaven.  Raised on English mud, he loves this stuff.  Grateful to have a fender, I came out looking a lot like a human, rather than the mud-encrusted primates seen in cyclocross and gravel races.  Platform pedals always do their job, even clogged in mud.

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Rideable.  Coated in mud, the chains operate smoothly and silently.  Deore: +1.

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As promised (finally), a rideable descent and some memorable trail at the end of the day.

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No need to filter this water.  It comes directly from the heavens.  At least, it comes from a cow-free wilderness above.

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Camp.  Awake to clear skies, the frozen morning rapidly thaws into a t-shirt day.  The spoils of a frozen night are ideal lighting and a heavy layer of frost.  If only Lael had a camera, she could document me running around the frosty meadow in my long underwear with my camera.

Breaking the seal of our small frosty tent, I’m always excited to see how the world has changed.

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One of the nicest campsites of the entire summer.  Heat some water for tea, and ride into town.  Crested Butte is one historic home of mountain biking, and claims the Mountain Bike Hall of Fame and Museum.

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Gothic, seemingly named for the gothic arches encased in the mountainside.

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And a bike path into town.  Mt. Crested Butte looms overhead.

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Carbondale, and the road ahead

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I’ve got a friend in Carbondale.  That’s enough of a reason to go out of my way.  Jane and I don’t really know each other all that well, but our paths crossed last summer as we were both running away from home on bikes.  Even adults run away from home sometimes.  She rolled into Whitefish, MT at 10PM.  Stopped at a traffic light in town, I pounced.  “Bike tour?”  Yup.  “Cool.  Need a place to stay?”  

I had met some friendly locals with a roof only hours before, and I wasn’t going to leave a cyclist in the dark.  Come with me.    

Neither of us had planned on fighting tourists alone, so we hatched a plan to ride through Glacier National Park and spent three days riding together.  Then we parted ways.  We talk and write occasionally, and she calls me Glacier Buddy.  It’s possible Jane has forgotten my real name.

Lael and I spent several days in Carbondale exploring local trails and planning for the road ahead.  Above, some riding above Carbondale as snow falls on Mt. Sopris.  It’s that time of year and it’s time to make a move.  New Mexico is calling, so Utah and Arizona will have to wait.  At our exploratory pace, it’s too much for one season.  Instead, we’ve got our eyes set on Santa Fe next week to meet up with Cass and Joe for a few days of riding in the hills.  After that?  Maybe a quick trip to Pie Town, then Albuquerque for the winter.

Riding the Red Hill and Mushroom Rock trails as snow falls in the mountains.

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Bike paths everywhere.

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Riding to Penny Hot Springs.

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Leaving town, near Redstone, CO.

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And on to Marble.  From Marble, we’re headed over Schofield Pass to Crested Butte to visit the Mountain Bike Hall of Fame and Museum.

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Note: All plans subject to change.  You probably already knew that.