Epic MUni Ride - Monarch Crest Trail, Colorado

MONARCH CREST TRAIL
AUGUST 10TH, 2007

It was another early wake up call for this kid, 4:15 a.m. on Friday. Once again, I had no problem with rolling out of bed. Today would be the 2nd EPIC Uni ride for me in one week, and today I was playing hookey from work, more motivation to get my ass out of bed. The Monarch Crest Trail has been on my list of “Rides To Do” before I die, and it was high on that list as well. I had set up the logistics of the ride with Osmundo, from Golden, Colorado, earlier in the week. With one eye closed, I found my way down the stairs and poured the coffee beans into the grinder. Ah, the smell alone of the Organic French Roast/Kona/Mountain Harvest blend of beans was enough to pop open the closed eye. I like my coffee strong, especially at 4:30 a.m., so I poured a few extra beans into the grinder. I had packed the previous evening knowing that at this hour I would be useless. The coffee kind of folded out of the pot into my traveling cup, I wasn’t sure if I would need to spoon it out, so I took a utensil just in case. 
The drive over Independence Pass was awesome; I think I saw two cars the whole 45 miles that it takes to get to the highway 24 intersection. First light came on the summit, 12,095’ (3687 meters), by then I was wide-awake and driving like A.J. Foyt. A few deer and elk kept me alert, at least until the coffee kicked in. The sky was filled with puffy cumulus clouds, especially thick over the Continental Divide. I was beginning to wonder if it was going to be a rain day; those clouds don’t usually build till mid afternoon. The Monarch Crest Trail is not the place to be in thunderstorms. 
I made it to Poncha Springs right on time, Osmundo showed up and we were both totally pumped up. We did the shuttle, left my truck at the end of the ride, and drove to the top with his vehicle. To do the whole ride in one day on a unicycle with be totally huge, and someday someone might do it. Today was not the day for us to try that. We still would have 30 miles of MUni to ride, most of that singletrack. This would be the first time that any unicyclist would try and or complete this world class trail. We were hoping to start by 9:00 a.m., and at 8:00 a.m. we pushed off of Monarch Pass summit. This was really good; we would get off of the highly exposed terrain by normal thunderstorm time, and we would be alone for a while on the trail. This was another reason why we did this ride during the week.
The Monarch Crest Trail is one of the finest mountain bike rides in the Country, some have rated it top 5. Riding the Crest Trail is a serious backcountry undertaking. You need to be prepared for high elevation and fast moving storms. You have to bring tools, spare tube, food, and even sunscreen. If something goes wrong, you might be out for the night. 
        The weather was turning out to be absolutely perfect, a classic Colorado day. The earlier threatening cumulus clouds that I ran into on top of Independence Pass had burned off, and we were being treated to that deep Colorado blue sky. The morning temperatures at 11,312 (3448 meters), was only 55F (13C), but a slight breeze made it feel much cooler than that. We set off south, the primary direction of the ride, signed in at the register box, and immediately began climbing. 
From what we knew of the ride, it was mostly a downhill ride with intermittent climbs. This first climb was technical and steep, so we both took our uni's on a little walk. The climb ended rather quickly, and it was nice to be riding MUni again. Just 6 days prior, I rode 80 miles over 4 mountain passes on my 36er, it was EPIC for sure. As we ascended higher and higher, it became very apparent that we were at altitude, my breathing became more and more labored. The climbing did not seem like it should be that difficult, but being close to 12,000’ (3658 meters) above sea level, there was good reason why it was. 
The trail was singletrack, and sweet singletrack at that. Englemen spruce and sub alpine Fir dotted the landscape. We soon found ourselves above all the trees; this was unbelievable MUni at this point. The tundra was sparkling with rainwater from the yesterday’s thunderstorm, and the singletrack was tacky with the occasional mud puddle. Six miles into the ride a fresh spring was found on the left side. We were two hours into our ride at this point, not making great time, but we were in no hurry. The riding was so Epic, that we did not want to hurry. Both Osmundo and I refilled our camelbak’ s, there was no way were going to pass up fresh Rocky Mountain spring water. It was incredible how good it tasted and how it satisfied our thirst. I was stopping alot to take pictures along the way; it was just to classic not to. There were mountain ranges surrounding us in all directions, all with 14ers towering above. Our elevation was between 11,600 and 12,000 (3,500 –3,600 meters) above sea level for hours. This section is called the Crest Trail, and is a connector to the other single track found in this mountain range. This is part of the Continental Divide Trail, which traverses the complete state, north to south. We ran into a woman with three Lamas’, really cool animals that thrive in this environment. This section of the trail is under review right now as I write this, and has a chance of being closed to bicyclist. It will be a total bummer if it closes, it is vital to the whole system, and is so unique. There are very few areas in the world that have this much single track riding at or above treeline, let’s hope it stays open. 
       The Crest Trail section was totally epic in every way. It is about 11 miles long with good climbs, screaming descents, and endless awesome singletrack. The views are world class, sometimes you are looking at mountain ranges 30 or 40 miles away, and other times, a 13,900’ peak is starting at you in the face. High mountain lakes, with fresh springs fill the landscape, along with some sweet peaks and beautiful tree’s. To the north is Tabeguache Peak, and Mount Shavano, both 14ers, an awesome sight to see.                                                                                                          Hawks, eagles, and some unknown birds soar to heavens above you, singing their songs as they catch the thermals. Brilliant flowers that grow at high elevation are covering the tundra, I try hard to stay on the narrow single track, as I would hate to accidentally damage this fragile environment. I am in awe of this place; I have only found one other ride in Colorado that is this special. That one I found in the San Juans, south of Telluride. We are in the Sawatch Mountain Range, and can see the San Juans to the Southwest. 
The next section of the ride was one of my favorites. You descend down to Marshall Pass, where the bailout options begin. You can take some 4wd roads down to Hwy 285, or continue on the Continental Divide Trail. We wanted to do the whole 30-mile trail, so we continued on the CDT. It was 3 miles until Silver Creek Trail, almost all climbing. But oh boy, was it sweet singletrack climbing, smooth north facing shady singletrack. 
    We met some bicyclist at the intersection with Silver Creek, only the fourth and fifth people that we had seen in 4 ½ hours. Of course they were blown away to see unicyclists this far into the ride. To this point we had gone 15 miles (24 km), and climbed 4,000’ (1220 meters).
Silver Creek Trail is the connector trail from Marshall Pass to the famous Rainbow Trail. The first few switchbacks were sketchy, but very rideable. The GB4 29er was excellent in going smoothly over the rough terrain. I had nailed the air pressure perfectly early on in the ride and was so enjoying it. It’s all about air pressure in MUni and I had it. The single track in this section was epic as well, sometimes riding next to silver creek, and sometimes riding through loose scree fields. At one point, coming off of Sheep Mountain to the right, was an avalanche chute that crossed the valley and creek, and ran up the other side hundreds of feet, the aspen trees were all facing uphill! By the bottom of Silver Creek trail, we had gone 20 miles (32 km) and were out for 6hrs. 
What was left was the Rainbow Trail, another 9 miles of sweet singletrack, which included close to 1500’ (457 meters) more climbing. The legs were still feeling pretty darn good, so we went for it. We could have bailed out and gone down a 7 mile 4 WD road. This single track was just as much fun as the rest of the ride, lower elevation, but great climbs and descents. There were multiple creek crossings, all of which had an oasis at the crossing. There were many excellent views of Mount Ouray 13,971 (4258 meters) as we curved in and out of the mountainside. We had actually made a huge circumvent of Mount Ouray, for about 24 miles of the ride. We were treated with every angle possible of that spectacular mountain. As the weather started to turn, thunder was heard, and raindrops were felt; we came to where you could hear Hwy 285. The end of the ride was just as exciting as the beginning, with steep switchbacks and big exposure. Osmundo and I had completed the first unicycle attempt on the Monarch Crest Trail, including Silver Creek and Rainbow Trails. It was a very long day, lots of stops though for pictures, etc. I was able to ride probably 95% of it, not sure how much Osmundo rode. He did awesome, as it was his longest MUni ride ever. I highly recommend this ride, it is a classic, and it is in jeopardy of being closed soon, so DO IT. 

RIDE STATS

Aspenmike Uni – GB4 29er w/shimano 175 mm cranks no brakes THIS WAS THE PERFECT MUni FOR THIS SINGLETRACK, WOW WHAT FUN J

Osmundo Uni - Surly 26 x 4.0 cranks?? No brakes

Distance - 31.32 miles (50 km) of MUni at least 90% of it single track, of that approximately 15 miles (24 km) at or above treeline

Average riding speed - 5 mph (8 km/hr)

Climbing - 5,351’ (1631 meters)

Descending – 8,128’ (2477 meters)

Average riding elevation – over 10,500’ (3200 meters)

Average heart rate - 134 bpm

Highest point on trail - 11,958’ (3645 meters) above sea level

Rating of trail – 9.8 out of 10 A MUST RIDE

The 1st pic is towards the beginning of the Crest Trail

This is Osmundo getting some of the kind single track

First unicyclists to complete the Monarch Crest Trail - Aspenmike & Osmundo. This is about the high point of trail, 11,958’ (3645 meters), note the trail marker.

Mike Monarch Crest 11001P1050172.JPG

And one more… :slight_smile:

Get out and ride!

That looks fun! :smiley: I didnt read the whole story, but i looked at the pictures :stuck_out_tongue:

I wanna do Muni but the closest ive done to that is riding at my camp ground :angry:

… Awesome, gentlemen, just awesome.

I love to read about journeys like this. With knee and back issues, I doubt I will ever get to experience such a vast and beautiful wilderness on one wheel. Through stories like this, it allows those like me to experience it as well.

Thanks so much Mike for sharing this and keep them coming.

Cheers.

Excelent write-up! Sounds like an awesome ride. I would love to ride out west some day, it sounds like a blast!

If anyone else wants to ride this trail they had better do it quick or help the IMBA, because there are moves to ban cycling along its length. From reading that and looking at those pictures that would be a tragedy!

Bike Access Under Fire on 3,100-Mile Continental Divide Trail

Phil

Mike,

You should definately write up some of this for Unicycle magazine, if you haven’t already. What a cool place.

You absolutely must also come to the BC south Chilcotin sometime. It would be just your style of riding. Here’s a link to a ride I hope to do later in September, called the Shulaps traverse:

Kris

Mike,

What sort of camera are you shooting with? If that ain’t an SLR, it’s a darn nice Point ‘n’ Shoot. :slight_smile:

-Tyler

Mike, what an incredible ride. Those stats would be impressive for a road ride! Man I would love to do that one with you so much. Reading it, I was thinking, “Man this guy really loves Colorado!”

Counting down to our next Muni ride (4 hours!)

—Nathan

Thanks for yet another writeup of yet another fantastic ride. Congrats to aspenmike and Osmundo in your pioneering ride of the CDT! Oh, and some sweet pics, too.

That’s one great thing, maybe the greatest thing, about this sport. You can often be the FIRST to do any given trail or ride. Even on the more mundane trails around here, we can usually claim first unicycle rider status.

Thanks Nathan, you would just eat this stuff up, it is soooo incredible to uni on top of the world for hours. I trust my Garmin for the stats, it felt like a ton of downhill, and a fair amount of climbing. It was the last 9 mile Rainbow Trail section that put it into the “incredible” stat ride. And yes, Colorado Rocks, especially on a uni!

I appreciate that you can re-live my experiance in the wilderness, sorry to hear about the back and knee’s, and I promise I will keep the stories coming. I enjoy sharing my uni adventures, both in words and pictures. Colorado is beautiful, I am grateful to live here, so the least I can do, is share with you this place and its wonders. Thanks again for the kind words.

My original point and shoot, a Nikon coolpix has seen better days, so I purchased a Panasonic DMC-TZ3. It is bigger and heavier than the Nikon, but still fits nicely in my little pouch that I attach to my Camelbak shoulder strap for easy access while I am riding. The lens is the best in the industry, made by Leica, and is equivilent to a 28mm - 200mm SLR. It is fast as well, so the range is awesome. This was really the first adventure that I have taken photos with it, and I am very pleased. Price was very reasonable as well.

Steveyo, thanks man, glad you like this stuff. Get yourself out on some long rides, Vermont is calling you. When I rode Mt. Washington in 05’, I spent almost two weeks in Vermont riding around. WOW, that is some incredible riding. New Hampshire was chill to, but Vermont was spectacular :slight_smile:

Mike, I bought the same camera in May for the Mediterranean Unicycle tour. The camera is great, awesome really, for outdoor shots. Macro mode works so well too. I took 1000 shots with it just on the tour. It isn’t so great indoors, but who cares. You have great taste in rides and cameras!

A month ago I managed to drop the TZ3 into a mountain lake! It was in about 1’ of water for 3 seconds or so. Of course it didn’t work after I took it out. But after drying it out, it came back and was good to go. Amazing. Then the sad news, a week after that, I stupidly was using it as a coaster-cam (one of John Foss’s favorite uses of a camera!) and smashed it really hard when the coaster jolted to the side. The camera didn’t survive that one. So what to replace it with? Obviously another one of the same.

—Nathan

I guess the camera has at least 2 lives, one wet and one dry. That’s great that it came back from immersion, wow, built tight eh. Coaster-cam, not to much of that here, Denver yes. What makes it a coaster-cam?

I took it on this 83 year old roller coaster: http://www.beachboardwalk.com/02_giant_dipper.html Not a good idea. If you want to see a smooth (attached to the car) video of the ride, it’s here: http://www.beachboardwalk.com/03_giant_dipper_ride.html

—Nathan

Nice!!! Denver Six Flags has an old wooden coaster just like that one, it is such a classic ride.

Awesome ride! I wish I could have made it out to Colorado sooner to join you guys (I was flying out from Huntsville, Alabama as you guys were riding!) Let’s plan something next time. Anyhow, I managed to make the ride on Wednesday the 15th of August. Me and my 2007 KH24 (stock except for odyssey pedals) hit the trail at a little before 9:00 a.m. Unfortunetely, due to time contraints, I only had time to ride the Monarch Crest Trail to Marshall Pass and then took the Poncha Creek 4x4 road down to the Shirley Site where my wife and dog were waiting to pick me up a distance of right about 19 miles in slightly less than 5 hours (spent some time talking to some amazing mountain *ikers). I felt pretty good and really wanted to complete the longer route through Silver Creek / Rainbow Creek trail. Perhaps next year (if this route remains open to mountain *ikes/muni) I will post a more detailed write-up w/ stats after some rest… after being waay off the grid in Lake City, CO for a week we just drove 27hrs straight back home! I quickly posted a few photos to:
http://www.unicyclist.com/index.php?page=gallery&g2_itemId=554897

Have a lot more, unfortunetly no “riding” photos as I was going solo!

Hey MuniSano -

Nice pics and congrats from a jealous easterner that you got to ride this awesome trail.

Where did you drive 27 hrs home to?

That ride looks epic for sure! Hopefully they don’t close it, that would be a huge waste of some awesome trail. I do suggest that all Municyclists check out IMBA and get to know about trails and such.

Great write up too. Yeah, you should write for UNI mag.

I do have some questions, how do you like those cranks? Does the length work well on the 29er? How does it make climbs and how is the speed. Also, are those not bike cranks? How did you get a right crank without a spider?