South Mt. Elbert trail from the paved parking lot
Distance: 12 mi
Elevation gain: 4,900'
Gear: bikes (all about 4-5" cross country bikes to encourage climbing)
Yesterday three friends and I attempted to ride both up and down Mt. Elbert via the South Mt. Elbert trail. I had heard that this trail was rideable all of the way to the summit. Maybe when people said by rideable to the summit they actually meant rideable FROM the summit.
The bikes ridden were two Specialized Epics (one 29er), a FS Specialized Stumpjumper Expert and a nice Titus Racer X. All of these bikes are cross country type bikes made for versatility. We had a range of rider skill-levels on the ride from the weekend warrior to everyday riders and xc racer. From the paved parking lot, the fireroad to the juction of the singletrack CO trail was a nice steady climb and of course all rideable. The short section of singletrack CO trail before you hit the South Mt. Elbert trail junction is beautiful relatively flat singletrack through aspen groves, but this is just about where the rideable trail ended on the way up.
We made the turn onto the Mt. Elbert trail and were almost immediately greeted by a very steep and technical slope that we could not ride. From the junction of the CO trail and the Mt. Elbert trail, I'd say about 85-90% of the route to the summit is unrideable going up. I knew by the basic trail stats that the route was going to be steep. The grade of the trail as well as technical aspects below treeline and loose rock towards the summit all contributed to the difficulties. We were able to ride some of the techy stuff for sure, but in my opinion, even a pro rider would not be able to ride up the vast majority of the South Mt. Elbert trail past the CO trail junction. That said, we were still having fun and certainly gave the technical trail a shot on two wheels.
The aspens had for the most part passed their prime colors, but were surely still looking nice.
We did not meet any people along the trail that had a big problem with us being on bikes. I think most of the people we passed probably just thought we were stupid for pushing our bikes so far. Haha. We of course tried to be as courteous to passing hikers as possible going both us and down.
Finally we made it to the crowded summit of Mount Elbert. Of course the obligatory summit shots were taken and some others even took pictures of us with our bikes on the summit. We didn't spend too much time up top salivating over the 4,900' descent ahead of us
This is what a 4,900' downhill looks like!!!!!! awesome.
I was able to ride all of the way from the true summit and the upper portion of the descent was certainly very rocky and loose.
After negotiating some tricky switchbacks and steep terrain up high, the trail returned to the east ridge and smoothed out a little. There were certainly still technical sections, but the trail surface was hard packed dirt rather than baby skulls and scree. Our brakes certainly weren't getting much rest on such steep terrain and my 4" of travel front and back was definitely getting worked!
On the way back i rode right up to a group of ptarmigans halfway between summer and winter color. Unbelievable camouflage! Can you find all three birds in this picture? I promise they are there.
We finally got down to treeline I was glad to see some shade again and I took a short break to let the hydraulics in my rear brake to recover after overheating a little. The woods offered no reprieve from steep rocky and now rooty terrain, but gave me flashbacks of some of the bigger descents I used to ride growing up on the east coast. This is where one of my friends and I made our best attempts at flying, but unfortunately neither of us succeeded
Were certainly a bit relieved when we got back down to the CO trail junction. Our arms and quads were able to take a little break. We cruised out along the CO trail and back onto the fireroad back to the parking lot. Even along the fireroad the aspens were gorgeous.
What a day. In summary, it was a very interesting trip to say the least. I am glad that I went, as were all of my buddies. Guaranteed that I am the only one of my friends that can say they rode a bike from the summit of the second highest mountain in the lower 48 8) Even though I had a nice day, this is not a trip that I would ever do again… ever.
Maybe I saw some of you all on the trail and I hope we didn't bother anyone on this wild escapade. Hopefully this will shed light on the route for others thinking about the trip. Peace.