Monday, July 14, 2014

Waldrop / Sourdough North: Cannonball Run

A black Lamborghini Countach racing down a California highway at break neck speeds; what impressionable young man can ever forget that opening scene?  So I’m standing at the trailhead just off the Brainard Rec Area parking lot contemplating the Waldrop or N. Sourdough trail.  According to most trail guides I’m in for a black diamond run whichever route I choose and at first I feel like Burt Reynolds but soon I’ll feel like Dom DeLuise.

Right out of the gate and past the 814/835 split the tread is absolutely amazing – a superb mix of moist Dirt, pine needles and fine Rocky Mountain gravel.  Waldrop (trail 814) slopes gradually on tight single-track before the cannonballs make their first appearance.  The insanity continues as the descent progresses, sometimes steeply, over boulders that would give any would-be Cannonballer pause.

A rider with supreme rock hopping abilities cold probably make it down on two wheels but for an intermediate rider like myself, with a mortgage, I thought it wise to avoid Dr. Nikolas Van Helsing and dismounted where appropriate.  Your sense of smell will be overcome with the aromas of pine forest, rain and moist Dirt kept ripe by the abundant shade; will surely take your mind off the treacherous terrain.

At 1.68 miles you reach a trail junction with the Brainard Snowshoe trail.  Clouds were building and I didn’t have much time for exploring more unfamiliar terrain so I stuck to the main trail to the right.  Here it got a little wet but the black clay mud stuck to the ground which made for nice traction, for mud anyway.  You’ll roll along a couple of raised platforms to keep you above the really soggy stuff – they’re about 6 to 8 inches wide and will test your balance – before reaching a sweet bridge over the South Saint Vrain creek at 1.84 miles.  The rushing water was quite a sight and flows west in case you lose your bearings – also a nice boardwalk at 2 miles.

From here it is a short climb to another trail split at 2.17 miles with South Saint Vrain trail No. 909; I chose to stay right toward Sourdough Trail 835.  The trail in this direction starts flowing nicely but the rocks reappear with a familiar vengeance.  You reach another split at 4.05 miles and here’s where I made my first mistake.  Having caught up with some other riders I decided to head in their same direction or left on Sourdough 835; that worked out about as well as a couple of priests in a red Ferrari trying to win a date.  In hindsight I probably should have gone right toward the Red Rock trailhead but I was riding solo and if I had any trouble out here in the wilderness I thought it would be safer to be near other trail users.

This section of Sourdough was gnarly (see opening paragraph pic) I found myself dismounting often to avoid any pain and suffering.  I soon lost track of my comrades and after about half a mile I finally spilled out onto an isolated forest road tucked away within a canopy of pine trees now simmering in the cool mist of cloud cover.  The trail sign pointed left so naturally I went all Bradshaw/Tillis and headed right to a dead end at the private and secluded Duncan Park.  After the short detour I was back on track, so I thought.  Having passed a few feeder roads and missing the trail along the way I was relieved to catch up with a firewood delivery truck and followed them out to Hwy 72.  From here it was one long climb back to the Brainard Rec Area parking lot.

Turning around and retracing my route would have meant more hike-a-bike and could have felt longer than sitting through Cannonball Run 2.  You’ll quickly find that Black Diamond up here in the Rockies means boulders and the Waldrop/Sourdough tandem is full of ‘em.  I wouldn’t recommend riding alone out here but if you do make sure you stick close to other trail users.  I had the wherewithal to bring along my Garmin handheld but thankfully I didn’t need to use it. 

You can find the route profile at Waldrop Sourdough North; this was one heck of a ride and one I won’t soon forget.  Thanks for clicking in and hope to see you on the trail.

Dirt Life

Friday, June 20, 2014

Centennial Cone | The Ultimate Multi

“We got 4:11 Positrac outback, 750 double pumper, Edelbrock intake, bored over 30, 11 to 1 pop up pistons, turbo-jet 390 power.”  What do you call a ride that has got everything?  David Wooderson calls it a Chevelle, I call it Centennial Cone.  The sweet mounds down in JeffCo have got the good stuff and last weekend I thought I’d give the 16 mile loop a try and what I found was pure Colorado mountain biking.

Before you go make sure to check your calendar because mountain bikes are only allowed on even numbered days on the weekends, during the week it’s a free for all.

So I began at the Mayhem Gulch trailhead off the GAR (Grand Army of the Republic Hwy) or Hwy 6 out of Golden Colorado.  The climbing starts immediately at a moderate grade.  The trail is super smooth with very few obstacles and the climb is continuous through the first 2 miles.  The trail splits at the 1.51 mile mark; to the left is the Juniper trail and Mayhem Gulch continues to the right, which is the route I took this day.

Continue climbing for ¾ miles to the first downhill section at mile mark 2.22.  For the next half mile you will need a hammer and chisel to wipe the smile off your face.  At 2.31 miles you reach a second split this time with the Travois trail; go right.  The trail narrows a bit and in some areas the steep drop-offs coupled with loose tread make this section a thrilling yet precarious part of the ride – off to the right you’ll have fantastic views of Clear Creek.  At 2.77 miles the next climb begins.  You’ll reach another short downhill section at 3.68 miles so catch your breath because another climb awaits at 4.16 miles.  This climb is relatively short and feels tough after all the climbing you’ve done so far.

At 4.59 miles at an elevation of 7800 feet “you stand at the threshold to the magical world of sensual delights that most men dare not dream of.”  Hold on over the next 1.85 miles for one of the most enjoyable things you’ll ever do on a mountain bike.  The trail will traverse through dense forest on clear tacky single-track with some challenging switchbacks.  You can catch some insane speeds through this section but be extremely careful because trees and rock line the trail all the way to Elk Creek.  The shade is a bonus since most of the trail to this point has been under full exposure.  At the 6.44 mile mark you reach the bottom and you’re now standing on a well-constructed pedestrian bridge over Elk Creek – stop and enjoy a few moments because your longest climb comes next.

For the next 2.28 miles you’ll climb through tranquil forest on smooth single-track.  This climb is at a lower grade than the climbs before but fatigue will not make it seem so.  The final quarter mile of this climb gets steep and very technical, only the studliest rider will make it on two wheels.  You’ll reach another peak at 8.80 miles followed by 0.85 miles of downhill bliss.  You’ll see a bit more rocks here but nothing larger than softball size.  At 9.43 miles you reach another trail split, this time with the Sunset Trail – go right to continue on the Travois trail.

The trail starts to open up around here exchanging pine trees for wild flowers and open meadows.  You meet back up with the Sunset trail at about the 10 mile mark.  At 10.64 miles you’ll come to a small trailhead parking area and also the end of single-track for the time being.  There’s a lot of sun on this leg of the ride so hopefully you lathered up with some SPF.

The wide double-track Dirt road winds through open fields and private ranch lands so be respectful and close all the gates behind you.  It seems like a lot of climbing at first but hang in there because the end is near.  You finally reach the highest point (7958 feet in elevation) of the ride at 12.22 miles and it is literally all downhill from here.  You’ll catch the Juniper trail at another trailhead at around the 13.72 mile mark.  Enjoy all your hard work; barring any mishaps you’ve all but finished this epic ride.  You’ll come across the split with Mayhem Gulch at 14.84 miles for the final slide home.  The tread gets loose so watch your speed and slow down around every blind corner because chances are there is someone coming up.

I’m not kidding when I say this was the best trail I’ve ever ridden, and that says a lot given the extensive trail systems in and around Boulder County.  This trail has everything and I believe anyone can do it although a beginner or someone from lower elevation may not be able to finish it their first time out.  If I were to make a suggestion, for the part-time enthusiast or visitor ride up 4.59 miles and stop just before the descent and turn around.  The climb out from Elk Creek is a bear and will be a bit much for someone who’s not used to this kind of a workout.

You can find the trail profile at Centennial Cone and try clicking on the player tab for a larger view and to watch the route play out.  Thanks for clicking in and I hope to see you on the trail.

Dirt Life

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Chapman Drive | Get Away

Making your way in the world today
Takes everything you’ve got
Taking a break from all your worries
Sure would help a lot.  Wouldn’t you like to get away?

The characters down at Cheers sure knew how to take a break but for some of us sometimes a little sweat and strain goes down better than a mug of tasty suds.

Find the Red Lion Restaurant and you find the Chapman Drive trailhead.  The trail is actually a closed road featuring a continuous 2.6 mile climb from Boulder Canyon Drive to Realization Point and Flagstaff Road.  It’s a 7% grade climb which means the climb slopes 7 feet for every 100 feet of length – not particularly difficult by Colorado standards but those from lower elevations may find it strenuous at times.  The tread is fine gravel Dirt road and often loose with fantastic views and if that isn’t enough to pull you off the bar stool you’ll cheer over the refreshing aromas especially after a little rain.

The heavy rains from last year have made their own bas-relief impressions on the trail and some sections get mighty narrow so check your balance because some of the trenches are deep.  Rocks are few but they just so happen to be concentrated around all the eroded parts of the trail so watch your speed.

This is a multi-use trail so be mindful of other trail users and always yield to hikers although most are happy to let you by.  Climbers always get the right of way and since part of the trail gets narrow it’s important to follow trail etiquette.

Most Boulderites ride Chapman Drive as part of a larger loop and if you don’t mind riding the majority of the loop on pavement alongside local Boulder traffic then this loop ride is well worth the effort.  Click here for the trail profile and if you should ever find yourself in need of a little cheer, hop on the bike and give Chapman Drive a try.

Thanks for clicking in and I hope to see you on the trail. 

Dirt Life

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Hobbit Trails | Return to Splendor

Trailhead coordinates: N39°56.795’ W105°31.054’

The Shire is not as Frodo left it before his quest for Mordor.  The vibrant forest that once engulfed the area has suffered from the chain of a saw but not for selfish plight but rather to preserve the forest for generations of Hobbits to come.  Part of the forest may be gone from this once thriving location but the spirit of Middle-Earth remains in some of the finest single-track you’re likely to find in Nederland Colorado.   

West Magnolia and the Hobbit Trails used to lie beneath an abundant pine forest but in recent months deforestation has taken place to rid the area of any fire danger so the first 1.3 miles is fully exposed but the trail is as clear as I remember and still a blast to ride. Temperatures run 10 to 15 degrees cooler up here so even on bright sunny days you'll find the full exposure tolerable.

The first mile or so takes you on ride along meandering single-track over supreme Rocky Mountain terrain.  This section will leave you breathless; without the trees you’re able to enter the turns much faster but be careful because the trail gets loose and the protruding tree stumps litter the area.  At 1.3 miles you’re back in Middle Earth underneath a canopy of towering pine trees.  The trail climbs and descends gently and you’re sure to find all the tight turns intoxicating. 

The tread is rocky but nothing larger than baseball or softball size.  Under the trees the Dirt is what your tires crave; a perfect mix of fine gravel and light soil seasoned with pine needles and the occasional water crossing.  There are short technical climbs that could give you problems if you’re not used to rolling over rocks and roots, just keep your legs moving and you should be fine.  There are a few very wet spots along the way and it’s tough to know if they will dry out over time.  If not, be prepared for mud but don’t sweat it because the trail is relatively short and you’ll be back at the trailhead in no time.

For those who remember it’s tough to see such a pristine trail system disrupted but we all understand that some single-track is better than nothing at all.  Click here for the trail profile and after your ride do yourself a huge favor and check out the Very Nice Brewing Company in Nederland for a flight of tasty suds - you have to try the Petrichor ESB; if a campfire had a flavor, this would be it.  One tip in the event you find yourself at a trailhead without a map; designated trails have maps at the trailhead and if you have a camera handy snap a photo of the map before you depart and zoom in if you get sidetracked.  Thanks for clicking in and I hope to see you on the trail.

Dirt Life

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Marshall Mesa | Doudy Draw

One of the best things about living in Boulder County are the abundance of riches in terms of mountain bike trials and most only a song or two away from home.  South Boulder is one area where stress goes to die.  Marshall Mesa and Doudy Draw have a number of routes to choose from that are sure to satisfy the most discerning tastes.  For example, you can begin at the Greenbelt Plateau trailhead and traverse the high plains for that single-track craving or pedal out of the Flatirons Vista trailhead for a more intimate setting.  The Doudy Draw trailhead gives you access to the whole area including the Spring Brook loop or if you’re more daring you can test your climbing skills up Rattlesnake Gulch up in Eldorado Canyon which is just a short ride up Eldorado Springs Drive.  For me, this stormy afternoon I chose the Coalton trailhead off McCaslin Blvd and Coalton Road (trailhead) as my starting point to add a little distance to my ride.

From here the ride begins on very wide double track with one short climb.  For beginners or those from lower altitudes this climb could be a little taxing but stick with it because it gets so much better.  The double track continues to the 2.84 mile mark before turning west on some very cool single-track.  The trail gets narrow at times which is great for testing your balance and when you add rolling downhill’s it makes for one heck of a ride.  You’re fully exposed here and the rain and the wind this afternoon luckily was void of any lightning otherwise it would have been a really short ride.  This whole area hosts a number of cattle so please remember to close the cattle gates behind you.

Once through I crossed highway 93 at the Greenbelt Plateau trailhead and onto Doudy Draw.  At the 6.78 mile mark is another highlight of this ride and although it’s short it is a favorite for many mountain bikers with a gentle slope as you thread down a ridge overlooking the Boulder Flatirons.  Here you’ll encounter the only real climb, in the opposite direction, but don’t worry because it’s short and can be a little tricky on the way down because there are rocks along the way so be careful.

I hooked up with the Spring Brook loop and chose to go left.  Thinking back I should have gone right since I have yet to map this section in that direction.  Oh well, good thing this whole area is only minutes from my house.  The tread is mostly hard packed Dirt and Flatirons Vista has it's fair share of gravel and rock so be prepared you hard tails.

The afternoon was cold and wet but as long as you’re prepared (rain jacket) there isn’t much that can ruin a day of mountain biking in Boulder County.  Click here for the trail profile and feel free to leave a comment on this trail or any other for those who haven’t yet had the pleasure.  Thanks for clicking in and I hope to see you out on the trail.

Dirt Life

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Pennsylvania Gulch | Sublime Punishment

Trailhead coordinates: N40°02.138’ W105°28.144’

Back In Time
Driving down Wall Street in the Boulder foothills is like driving through a scene in Butcher Holler.  A light rain showered the area all day filling a thousand little puddles along the Dirt road, giant jagged rock walls blooming with blue spruce and aspen trees, the occasional Detroit relic on one side, a flowing stream on the other sharing the scene with propane tanks and woodsheds nestled within towering pine.  Looking for a challenge I settled on Pennsylvania Gulch with a starting point at the town site of Sunset.

Private road; oops
This is perhaps the most difficult route for this ride, one reserved for the advanced and slightly insane.  I parked at the top of the south Switzerland Trail and made my way down to the town site of Sunset.  This was my first attempt at Penn Gulch so my first hurdle was to locate the trailhead.  Making my way around the town site of Sunset I stumbled upon what I can only describe as the Paris, CO hideout.  A trail running along a stream, you finally come to a rather spacious cave opening, all that was missing in this scene were a couple of dueling banjos.  Figuring I had missed the trail earlier I backtracked and found myself in a ridge hiking along an eroded waterway in deep woods and scat I couldn’t identify; hardly a trail, I concluded I was way off track and turned around.

Rideable but loose
Finally back at the Switzerland Trail a fellow biker steered me in the right direction and I was on the trail in no time.  The trail climbs immediately on very loose Dirt and gravel.  The gravel slowly turns to rock and the rocks seem to get bigger the higher you go.  If this isn’t enough to give you pause, add in the steep grade and what you have is an afternoon of sublime punishment.  It would take a well conditioned athlete with superior skill to make this climb without dismounting and I’m not too proud to say I possess neither, apparently!

It gets worse!
Determined to map this beast, pushing on through the rain, albeit light, and wind I finally reached the plateau in a time just shy of an hour and an elevation gain of approximately 1,300 feet, which is quite a ratio of rise and run.  I can’t recall a time when I walked a climb more than I rode, which should give you an indication of just how difficult this route can be.  Coming down is just as challenging and very precarious given the abundance of rock and the steep grade.  “Step Off” if you possess limited skills or inferior equipment, no peanut butter and jelly sandwich will save you here.

This was the hardest climb since Vail Mountain and Walker Ranch and easily the most dangerous.  I understand that one can perform a loop extending all the way to Nederland and perhaps one day I’ll give it a shot but definitely in the opposite direction.  You can find the trail profile at Pennsylvania Gulch and remember that Pennsylvania Gulch begins around the 6.20 mile mark.

Thanks for clicking in and hope to see you on the trail.

Finally at the top
Dirt Life    

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Teller Farm | Wheatstraw

My grandparents were farmers and my mom often delights us with tales from the farm.  I recall as a kid climbing over farm equipment and walking over scattered hay bales in the summer heat as the southern breeze tossed up the fleeting soil, carrying with it the scent only a farm could produce.  Teller Farm is just minutes from my house and I had been looking forward to mapping this nostalgic trail for quite some time.  I rarely ride with headphones because I love the sound of silence but the whole farming atmosphere needed a soundtrack and visions of Peetie Wheatstraw sitting on a porch behind his trusty dobro called for my best mix of St. Louis blues.

I started off the south trailhead which is tucked away off Arapahoe Avenue amidst some of the grandest trees you’ll find in the area.  One of my favorite attractions of this trail is the free roaming livestock.  It’s so hard to pass the cows without stopping; their large brown eyes focus in on you as you ride by, at times meeting you head on.

The trail itself is very well groomed double-track and mostly hard packed Dirt.  Along the way you’ll breeze by a row of lilac trees and this time of year they are in full bloom, painting the air with broad strokes of purple.  Small irrigation canals follow along before turning north towards a coral of horses and cattle.  Here you’ll get the full aroma of a farm and for some of us it’s not so displeasing.  I’m such a Dirt clod when it comes to terrain and one of my favorite ground cover is hay on loose brown Dirt and you’ll find plenty of it here, even if only for a few yards.  At this point you will have passed 3 cattle gates, which should always be secured behind you, and now you’re at the north Teller Farm trailhead off Valmont Road (you can start from here too if you wish to bypass the farm.)

The trail continues from the northwest corner down a short distance to a road crossing for the next section of your ride.  Here you’ll be bombarded with a taste of honeysuckle and more lilac trees.  The trail become a bit loose and there is a small stream crossing that has been repaired after the last flood with rocks of varying size.  Moving along you’ll cross a well constructed pedestrian bridge set over a slow flowing stream and a great place for a photo.

The first of the climbs comes shortly after the bridge.  It is short and mild for most but those new to mountain biking may find this climb a bit taxing.  You’ll traverse a really cool single-track section after reaching the top before ascending and descending along two barbed wire fences.  The fastest sections to this trail come last just before reaching the East Boulder Trail Gunbarrel trailhead.  This is a popular trail for runners and dog walkers so be on your best behavior and yield when appropriate.

It was overcast with storms threatening but even a short sprinkle could not dampen my mood this afternoon.  Making my way back I stopped on a couple of occasions to visit with the horses and cattle hoping they would allow me to grab a photo up close.  click here for the trail profile and a link to my Garmin page.

It was a great afternoon, for a little while you’ll feel like you’re out riding fences on some old country farm road and what a feeling after dealing with 5 o’clock traffic.  Give this one a shot if you’d like to escape the city life for a while without the long drive.  It’s a very easy trail and the climbs come late in case you choose to skip these sections.  Thanks for clicking in and hope to see you on the trail. 

Dirt Life