Friday, July 29, 2011

Scary riding

This past weekend, in preperation for MFSL, I took on some healthy mileage. Saturday my friend Arza and I took the gondola on up to Mountain Village and began a solid loop out to Alta Lakes, down Sunshine Tr and into Illium, then on up the Galloping Goose trail and on back through the valley floor to T-ride. More climbing than anticipated, but going down Sunshine made up for it. 20 or so smooth, tight, switchbacks through high grass and aspens. I wish I had a Go Pro to film it.

The next day wasn't as pleasant. There have been few, if any, rides that have caused me to fear for my life. Last Sunday was such a ride. I planned out a solo ride that seemed reasonable enough, minus maybe the fact that it went up to 13,000'. Bridal Veil Rd to Wasatch Trail, up over a pass then down into Bear Creek and back to town. I rode to the end of town, up Bridal Veil Falls Rd to the top of the falls (tallest waterfall in CO). There I began to climb up through a high mountain valley, with pitches getting gnarlier and gnarlier. Dark clouds off in the distance and not a soul in sight. I kept pushing on up. Luckily I came across a very friendly hiker that gave me some info about what was ahead. Not sure when I'd attempt this loop again, I opted to finish it out. Several times afterwards I had to re-assess how risky I wanted to be.

I was completely out in the open up there and though I had a wind-shirt, did not want to be caught in a high elevation t-storm. More snow needed to be crossed the further I went up as well, some cuts had snow towering ten-twelve feet above. Yep, in July. I was only able to ride short stretches at this point, hiking the rest. To add insult to...looming possibility of injury, the route wasn't marked at all. There was a cairn here and there, but I had no certainity I was heading towards the right pass. Of course, I forgot my map.

I dug deep and kept moving forward, against perhaps my best judgement. Towards the top I encountered the beginning of a series of treacherous, heart-in-throat obstacles. First was a snow slide laying out across the bench-cut trail. Slowly and methodically kicking in and forming steps I made my way across, trying not to look down the 100 or so feet I could've very easily slid down, bike in tow. I looked back and for the first of many times thought "what the hell am I doing?". I just wanted to get to the top. I was confident that I could descend the other side. Ah, hubris.

Downward began easy enough. Bench-cut double track with sharp, loose blocks to dart around. Several switches later I lost the trail. It narrowed and got covered by overgrown high-alt. shrubbery. After an exploratory climb up to an abandoned mine looking for trail, I saw where it continued down across the massive scree field below. From this point there was absolutely no attempt to ride, at least not for a good while. The trail was too narrow, the pitches too steep, the ground too loose, and holy shit would I be screwed if I went down.

After the scree field came the sketchiest obstacle of my riding career. There before me layed a massive chasm cut down the mountain, still filled with hollowed out rotten snow shelves, and I soon found out, loose dirt and boulders. Cairns on the other side told me I had to cross it. Sliding in on my ass, bike ahead of me for balance, I learned just how loose it was. Twenty pound stones came sliding in with me, to the bottom, ten to fifteen feet below. There I saw no easy exit. Five attempts later, after boulders half my size slid away with me, I inched my way out. At this point, it's fair to say that I was on the verge of panicing. I avoid the threat of bad weather but could not get over how dangerous the descent was turning out.

Soon after, I was low enough to be in trees, but still with scary drop-offs. Even when it became rideable again the switchbacks were hairpin-sharp and sketchy to roll around. It finally dumped me out into a massive wash of baby-head rocks strewn throughout the trees. The remnants of flooded Bear Creek and next to impossible to navigate. Somehow I managed to find a fallen tree to cross the now modest creek and onto the most beautiful, well traveled, wide and safe trail home I ever saw.

No comments: