The Archives: Mount Sopris The Hard Way

June 2002.  3.30am. Am I really getting up this early? In a stupor, I eat a bowl of cereal and make a sandwich for later. PB&J. Of course. Double-check my pack. Double-check my bike. Double-check my will to do this.

Headlamp on. Geeky red lights hanging on my pack and my seat. On the road. Glenwood Springs, Colorado, my home for the past 3 years. Elevation 5,740 feet. Further up valley, the summit of Mount Sopris, elevation 12,953 feet.

My half concocted plan? Bike from Glenwood past the town of Carbondale, turn right on Hwy 133, then left up Prince Creek road to the Mount Sopris trailhead. Bike to the wilderness boundary, ditch my bike, hike to the summit, glissade down the bowl, hike back to the trailhead, then bike home.

Mount Sopris from Red Hill. I lived in the valley for 12 years, and never managed a good photo of Mount Sopris, one of the prettiest mountains in the state. When you live somewhere, even scenes as beautiful as this unfortunately become ordinary background.

This summer and the summer before, solo multi-sport high-mileage days have been a new passion.  One day the previous summer I biked into Glenwood Canyon, hiding my inline skates at a trailhead, then rode to a different trailhead. Leaving my bike, I hiked a loop up into the canyon and back to my skates, enjoying the relatively effortless miles skating back to my bike.  A good day.

4.00am. Riding south on Hwy 82. A surprising amount of traffic on the road. Not much, but I thought it would be empty. Mostly trucks. It’s hard to see details on the road. In 2002, headlamps are not very bright. But no matter. On a mountain bike, fully loaded daypack on, I am hardly breaking speed records. Eleven miles to Carbondale. It comes surprisingly quick, but this was the easy part, with only 400 feet of climbing. First twinges of light start to appear in the sky.

A short break. Then on again. Have to keep pedaling or my will might depart. Prince Creek road. It turns to dirt. Crap. Riding up these washboards is not fun. My enthusiasm wanes.

Then I remember a few friends who did a similar trip up Sopris, only their adventure included pulling a raft, snowboarding, and then floating the Roaring Fork river home. Way more badass than what I am doing.

When in doubt, go higher.

The road gets steeper. I slow down. Steeper still. That means I am almost at the trailhead. Finally. Only I am not done biking. This part will be tough, but it will mean a better downhill. I continue biking up. Trail junction and wilderness boundary. I ditch the bike in the trees, and head up on foot.

Thomas Lakes. First big landmark. I filter water, filling a water bottle. Now the trail switches from dirt to rock. And becomes steeper. Sun is fully up now. Getting warmer. The summit comes into view. Except it’s not. Not really.  False summit. I’m glad I know the climb, and knew to expect this. Rocks. Flowers. Lichen.

The false summit. The trail leads down temporarily. Have to go down to go up. I still haven’t seen anyone since I left the highway. The beauty of having mid-week off. The summit.  Finally.  I enjoy the view. The quiet. An apple. The leftover piece of pizza from last night I saved for the summit.

On the summit, home spread out below me

YAY for glissading! This was taken on another trip on the mountain with friends. And yes, it’s way more steep than the photo makes it appear.

Then. Down, the fun way.

In June, the bowl is still full of plenty of snow. 1,500 feet of sliding down on my feet and butt. Halfway down, my ass is soaked. But I have a big grin on my face. And I’ve saved much time and energy. Down, down. I’m tired. My knees ache. Still tired.

Thomas Lakes again. I filter more water for the trip home. And, as I discover later, leave a pair of prescription sunglasses sitting on the trail. Back to the bike. Glad to be done hiking.

A bumpy ride down. Wishing I had front suspension on the bike, but I have just an old school fully rigid mountain bike. Past the trailhead. Onto the road. My pace picks up. I fly down the washboarded dirt road, not even pedaling. Carbondale. I’m exhausted. Eleven more miles to go. I look back at Mount Sopris, at the summit that towers over the valley. I’m shocked I just came down from the top. Back on the bike. I pedal, trying not to think. I’m a bit stupid with exhaustion. Home.

Home. 12.5 hours later. 40 miles roundtrip biking, 12 miles hiking. Approximately 3,200 feet climbing on bike. On foot, approximately 4,100 feet. I eat. Shower. Eat more. I walk to the hot springs pool and soak.

I deserved it.

Mount Sopris from Prince Creek Road

Once upon a time I used to revel in these marathon days.  Not so much anymore.  Am I turning into a wimp?  Is it just a function of getting older?

Who’s up for joining me for one in Washington?