Crested Butte MTB Sept 22
Words by Chris Matthews
Photos by Chris Matthews, Michael Griffin, and Brian Thompson
On Labor Day weekend, 2022 (9/1-9/5) Chris Matthews and Mike Griffin flew to Denver, CO to meet Brian Bebo Thompson. From there the trio of weirdos drove to Winter Park and Crested Butte for 3 days of mountain biking and a day of hiking and driving back to Denver.
Brian, Mike, and Chris. Brian taught us how to take an Usie.
For some reason that I couldn't remember until after I got back (an old friend's wedding i wasn't invited to then i was invited to once another friend asked them to invite me) I hesitated on whether I should take up Brian's offer to visit him in CO for a mountain bike weekend in Crested Butte (aka CB aka Crusty Butt aka The Butte). I've never flown for a mtb trip before and there's so much good riding in VT and NE that I didn't feel too motivated to spend the money and deal with the hassle of flying. If it's anything like flying for skiing in CO, it's probably not worth it because you'll get crummy snow half the time.
One night after cleaning my apartment and feeling sorry for myself i decided i need to live it up before I'm a crusty butt myself, so i put aside my pile of half baked excuses and committed to the trip.
I landed in Denver around the end of Brian's work day and he ditched his mice experiments to pick me up from the sketchy train station as the sun set. We drove towards town and got fancy pasta at a cool place I'd describe as an upscale hipster food court. It was expensive (reminds me i need to do some venmos to settle up) and there was accidentally some yummy meat in it, but someone came around with free donuts and that took the sting off. I didn't yet feel like i was oN vAcAtIoN and was allowed to splurge!
On thursday I worked from Britt's desk while Brian ran to the bike shop for a last minute derailleur replacement and he happened to pick up a Mike from Union Station. I worked away and as the minutes passed i grew more excited for one of them to come over and convince me to stop working. Unfortunately they respected my work schedule and I had to get up under my own power to suggested to Mike that I join him on a run in the 93 deg, -50% humidity Denver suburb. He put his phone down, we ran, chugged water, and walked to Illegal Pete's taco place for a strong marg and a strong snack until Brian finished his work. Tacos were followed by wicked good pizza at an ultra hip outside/inside/fancy/picnic table/string lights/neon lights pizza spot called Happy Camper. Pizza was followed by really bad cocktails at a speakeasy, and cocktails were followed by bedtime. We had to get an "early" start to the mountains on Friday!!
My first glance of the rockies since right before covid
"Early" for some of us means 4am. "Early" for others of us means 10:30am, which is precisely when we left Brian's abode for the hills. Necks were sore as we got out of the CX5 at winter park from a lot of craning our necks at mountains that were somehow, impossibly, larger than Mount Washington. Neck pain was replaced by relief from emptying our bladders, which was replaced with concern and dizziness as we got our first gasps of the 10000' oxygen!
Two Trek Sessions had the pleasure of being ridden by Mike and I for about 5 hours, which was plenty tiring for us all. Trestle Bike Park was super fun to explore! With so many trails we only repeated a few, and we progressed from blue flow to black tech and black flow by the end of the day, and we accidentally conquered some double black tech too! Crazy views, high speeds, big jumps, big bikes, big lifts, big smiles, big excitement for the rest of the weekend, and big thankfulness for no crashes!
Views from Trestle. As with most park days we didnt get any action shots due to how weenie they make us feel.
Before sunset on the 4 hr drive to CB from WP. A recurring theme early in the trip was taking out of focus pictures. I'm not used to my new lens which has an AF/MF switch on the side of the lens, and several great shots were ruined by forgetting to take it out of MF mode. I like this photo anyways.
This one cloud stole the show, and later faded behind a hillside. Both photos unedited, through a car window with my new Sony 85mm f1.8.
Bumpity bumpity goes the Fiat.
At 11PM, half an hour up a dirt road from CB, we found our Fiat that Brian had rented for us via Turo. We had no idea we were at a beautiful lake with campers all around it as he set off the car's alarm for 10 seconds. It was our shuttle vehicle used for retrieving the Mazda from the tops of the dirt roads and it had 2-3" of ground clearance.
Another "early" start Saturday morning had us at the coffee shop and bike rental shop at 9am and on the road at 11:45. A mind blowing half our drive through the mountains we didn't see on our way in the previous night had our wheels rolling at 1:27pm (let me know if you figure out how that adds up). Our first obstacle was about 200' into the trail: a river crossing. "You can't go under it, you can't go over it, oh no! you have to go through it! Squelch, squirch, squelch squirch..." in my Dad's voice played in my head, as it has done every time i encounter a soggy obstacle since the age of 4 (??) when he read me that children's book about going on a bear hunt. Brian cleaned it, Mike took his shoes off and slipped into the river, dropping his bike and both shoes. All was recovered except for a single darn tough. So as he continued search under the river grass i biked back up to the car to fetch a dirty sock from yesterday's ride that i left in the car. Lucky foot!!
I was told the climbing was going to suck, and it did, for my lungs. But for my legs it was fine, and for my eyes IT. WAS. A . TREAT!!! All the pain and panting was hidden by the views. There were only a couple stretches when i really had to put my head down and focus (and hyperventilate), and besides that it was a constant stream of "oh my gawd"'s, "holy crap"'s, and "j-j-j-jeeeeeezum look at that"'s! Trying to describe how pretty the climbs in Crested Butte were is really a fools errand. I'm sure this is not a big deal anyone who's biked out there or in other semi-forested mountain mountain ranges, but it's fair to say my universe expanded that day.
"Do you guys mind if i put my seat up some more" -Brian
"..." - me
"Chris go ahead and get a photo while we faff" - Mike the peacekeeper
*note, many of these photos were edited on my phone in low res and will hopefully be replaced with high res versions once my craptop works again.
Dr Park the trail was amazing, and I was I had Brian's reaction to the first pitch on video. It plunged from an open alpine meadow into a rocky fall line rut that never really let up for the first maybe 2 miles. I expected the riding to be kind of tame, with the views as the main attraction, but that concept was quickly smacked out of my brain by the worm hole we blasted into. No time for scenery (even though i'm sure the forest was pretty) as we tried to keep the rubber on the dirt and the pedals away from the rocks. Somewhere in the rock garden Brian's bike computer clocked 34 (?) mph. I rode fairly conservatively but still went "fast" for a rock garden 11000 feet up and 5 miles from either trailhead. I had to dodge a 9 year old who wasn't fully off the trail and it sent me on a scary line at one point, but Brian and Mike just buzzed him and had much more enjoyable lines. The rock garden rut ended and turned into swoopy fall line ruts through tall grass and aspens that filter out so much less light that the woods of NE. It was hard to follow your buddy's rear wheel because the dust completely obscures the trail. We ended up doing a lot of leap-frogging within our own group due to the NEED to take pictures and to space out the dust while still stopping to fangirl with each other about how good the riding is.
Mike floating through the grass right at the drop-in for Dr Park. More photos will be added once they are imported to my computer. Again this is just transferred and edited through my phone.
The run ended in a fun roller that I spotted off the side of the switchbacks. Walked it, found a line, cleaned it, and it felt real good and even got a couple whoops from the parking lot! Brian got bucked from the line right an the top and ran it out like a mountain goat while his bike tomahawked down. Fortunately only the bike computer was lost and the Enduro was fine! I was SO stoked to see him get push his bike back up without hesitation to try again! Made me feel like a kid again, and he cleaned the line with a super stylish ending and cheers from the parking lot. I tried a slightly spicier line and got bucked but rode it out. Not a smart use of one of my 9 lives!
Snograss was closed due to landowner issues (WHAT IS THIS, KT?!) and I was pissed for about 10 seconds until someone suggested we do the other trail from that very location that I didn't even know existed! It was called meander, turns out, because it hovers on a hillside high above a ridiculously meandery brook with huge mountains on the other side of the meadow it carved. Sunlight was streaming directly inline with the hillside, making cool projections and shadows on the slopes we meandered up, either directly following a topo line or directly up a fall line. A beautiful climb up half the bike park past some deer had us on a knoll as the sun set past the peaks and a few nearby clouds exploded with pink and orange. Some high school girls were taking senior portraits and we thought they sounded so silly... then we dropped in and I sounded 10x sillier. It was a black diamond jump trail, and i was barely making the landings of these "big" jumps blindly, in the sunset, in cooler dry air, with two buddies in tow, and lasagne in my near future. LIFE IS GOOD!!!! A couple crazy features, a berm sunset photo sesh, and a bunch of hyper cased landings had us down at the bottom shaking our heads in disbelief that today was real.
Meander and Evolution Bike Park. Not bad for a consolation prize!!
Sunday morning had us all psyched on a more reasonable 8:45am departure from the airbnb with bellies fully of Brian's awesome oatmeal, eggs, toast, bagels, probably some italian sausage, and ramen. We had a shorter drive to Teocali Ridge, which was settled upon after hours of trying to put together sensible loops and routes and shuttles via trailforks, mtbproject.com, and youtube. The runner-up plan was a 3500' climb to a trail we couldn't find much about. Biking above 12000' sounded great except for the part about it being at 12000' so I'm glad we decided to save that for next time!
Variable surface conditions for the 4x4 road up the valley with Mt Teocali in the background and our descent trail to the right.
Those with microscopes with see clearly Mike and Brian on the road below the peak. If anyone knows someone who can clean a camera sensor hit me up.
Brian putting the vert away once the road turned to singletrack.
A loo with a view and a glance down the mountain at some ponds we had no idea we biked right between!
Spruces and usies
The 4x4 road was mostly incredibly pleasant. Not very steep, smooth, scenic, comfortable temps. At the top it turned to single track which was incredibly hard, among other things. The beauty turned from pleasant to epic and the riding turned from safe to consequential even though it was technically vanilla. Probably the biggest risk was getting distracted by the view and toppling to the wrong side. When we hit the trees a man passed us who promised us we were close but still had a hike-a-bike. Mike and I tried to ride he hike-a-bike, but the roots and altitude won. At one point deep in a stretch of steep climbing that i challenged myself to my body started tingling, from what I'm assuming is a respiratory rate i havent hit since my ultimate frisbee days. We topped out at was not the top of the climb, and we topped out again at a great viewpoint into the neighboring valley we hadn't seen yet, and that wasn't the top either. The third time we topped out it was the top and we sure soaked it up. Mike lent me some cookie because i'm a moron and didn't pack ANY food even after not packing any food and regretting it the previous day.
Mike topping out for the second time. The reactions to this view were colorful.
Tunnel through the trees to where our cars are parked and where we came from.
Again we were too carried away with the high speed blam-o riding to stop and take any pictures. I regret not hiking some of the upper section's steep fast chonker ruts. They were sporty, super thrilling, probably (again i didn't get to look up much), and for sure would have produced some action packed photos. By the time i went ahead to find a good photo spot to capture that magic the trail changed tunes to smooth flowy natural narrow wiggles through spruces and aspens before being ejected into the middle of the sky at the surreal lookout half way down. After trying to figure out how to do this place justice in a photo (and failing predictably) we poked our way in to the aspen grove and out to the edge of the rocky cliff and back in. These switchbacks are a beautiful piece of trail that simultaneously want you to go as fast as you can and as slow as you can, both to savor it and not fall off a mountain.
Mike not falling off a mountain.
Heading back for the trees after the last reasonable opportunity to blast off a mountain. It's incredible how fast you lose vert in this section even though from above it looks flat, and the trails seen below from here are also even flatter and even faster.
Following Brian through the open meadows to end the ride was another time i wished i had found my gopro in time for this trip. Then fire road mobbing and a river crossing had us back at the Mazda. We packed quickly hoping to maximize our afternoon, which could consist of another big ride if we didn't dilly dally too much. So we crowded into the shade of a small kiosk to eat PB&Js and precooked italian veggie sausages, drove into town for a refuel of delicious tamales and gas station gallons of water, and headed up the same dirt road out of town that we found the Fiat on the first night. Our plan was the Dike trail, which starts from Irwin lake and lands 1500' below at a horse campground in the middle of nowhere. Setting up the shuttle took way longer than expected, and the whole drive up i had to pee worse than ay other time in recent memory. I seriously considered using one of the empty gallon jugs as well as jumping out of the moving car when Brian slowed to look at a squirrel or something on the side of the road. We were relatively efficient getting the wheels spinning past the lake that had campers, sup'ers, picnicers, walkers, and hikers scattered all around the shore and it took some effort to not bail on the ride in favor on sitting on a vary temptig rock that sloped into the water and faced directly into the sun, promising a relaxing afternoon, which is what my poor tummy would have preferred. But there was gnar to be had so we found the trail head and pushed some pedals down until we were looking out over another high alpine meadow with a perfect ribbon of singletrack, 13000' foot mountains all around, and shadows starting to make interesting patterns on our playground.
Lake Irwin and the Dike Trail headwaters.
The hype was a little too real at the top, and a weird combo of fatigue, loose ruts, and luck had me sliding on my elbow through the meadow about 50 feet from the beginning of the descent. We AGAIN fell victim to waiting too long to get the photo of the cool trail instead of hiking back 100 feet, so the pictures begin after the first phase of the trail, which was winding high alpine meadow singletrack. Once it ducked into the woods we had a hard time finding flow; the trail was unsterilized and there were too many rocks trying to grab your pedals to open it up. Brian went OTB after airing a blind rock and landing a pedal right onto another rock. His shin was bloody but since he's a soldier it didn't seem to slow him down or dampen his spirits neeearly as much as it would have for a lesser being. After that crash we rode pretty conservatively. It was getting late, we were tired and crashy, i hada stomach ache from my Tamale, and the trail was out for blood. We were tested further by undulating terrain, which was fine, but not what we had hoped for, and then a pretty long hike-a-bike stretch. Aspens were glowing around us so it was hard to be disappointed in the ride even though things weren't going our way at this point.
Trail seen on the left below the moon. A longer, funner down in our ups-and-downs before the hike-a-bike.
When the trailforks crystal ball finally told Brian it was time to kill the climb switch we were excited but hesitant to get too excited since the rest of the trail wasn't up to our expectations. Keep in mind our high expectations are based on absolutely nothing. We didn't have a single hint beyond the trailforks caption that this was a good trail, but it was shuttleable and the right length for the amount of daylight we had dealt ourselves.
A couple supportive corners that hopped between meadows and spruce groves were a hint that we were wrong about this trail being a disappointment. We dove into an endless aspen grove with consistent smooth supportive corners, just enough chonk to keep the rear wheel skipping around, sunlight streaming through the thin wall of aspen leaves and sticking to super clean white trunks. The trail was windy enough to be blind, which is scary, but rewarding when turn after turn ends up being not a trap of rocks that want to smash you pedals the way the first section of the Dike trail did. I could ride conservatively and still have a great time coming out each corner with a healthy boost of G's. It got steeper, looser, chunkier, sunnier, twistier, and faster. All while keeping a wild and natural feel. The green horse poop added another element of uncertainty; if we startled a horse back rider in this way we could be in for physically and socially dangerous situation. I pulled off and chucked my rental sentinal into the flowers so i could hike up and try to get my camera out in time for Bebo and Mike to pass by this incredibly cool corner, and it worked. I love run-n-gun photography like that and when i get a good photo of a friend in un-staged action it totally justifies carrying all the camera junk with me.
Look at that face!! And then look at that butt.
Death by a thousand paper cuts put us past our return time for the rental car, and the amateur photographers of the group appreciated Brian's patience as we hiked a couple more irresistable patches of sunshine in the aspen groves. This trail might be just as fun as Dr Park or Teocali, even though it's lower down and not as high profile, but the sense of reward the Dike trail gave me proves that suffering and earning your turns really does make the sweeter because i think i might have been the most hyped of the whole weekend after finishing this trail. We were all buzzing as we mobbed out of the dirt road and into a the weird horse campground.
It took some time to round everybody up from the shuttle retrieval and returning the Fiat to town. Our only goals for the night were to eat food and go to a bar, but it was already past closing for most spots in town. We whipped up some mac n cheese at the airbnb and rallied to go to town even though i think we secretly all wanted to stay and watch TV. Only two places were open and we were pleasantly surprised by The Talk of the Town. With a name like that we thought it would be tacky and touristy, but it was all super lively people that seemed like locals, kind of like the ones in Out Cold. It gave my a glimpse of what i thought my life was going to be like for the short period that I worked at Killington. I had a tummy ache and we were all tired so we only lasted two rounds before crawling back up the hill and firing up the Roku to fall asleep to rally car racing and dirtbike hill climbs.
Monday was for sad, slow packing, drinking CO's best coffee, and driving back to Denver. We did two small hikes up on the continental divide at Cottonwood pass, 12000'!
The Fiat crawled up the washboard dirt road taking great care to avoid the large rocks sticking out and 45 minutes later we were back down to pick up Mike from the road between awesome looking climbing and the awesome looking Taylor river. It was like 5:30 at this time and we decided to book it back to the airbnb to do the Snodgrass trail out our front door because it was shorter and didn't involve shuttling. We wanted to be out riding for sunset but REALLY didn't want to get caught in the dark and Snodgrass looked like just the right amount of outing to accomplish that given our timing. We were only in the Airbnb for 5 minutes before pedalling up the road to the trailhead. Shadows were already growing so i was getting antsy, both for avoiding the darkness and for scoring picturesque turns brown pow!!