Fall. According to my social media feed, it’s everyone’s favorite season. I’m not into it. It means the end of summer and now that I live in the mountains, means that all the trails will be covered in bullshit snow soon. While all the tourons are walking around in a daze looking at leaves like suburban soccer moms at a yard sale, I’m in a goddamn hurry. There is an extra sense of urgency to cram more stuff into every day.
I was chilling at the Vail Outlier Festival on a Friday afternoon, doing some bike park laps and hanging with some good people. When I got the call from my buddy Liz. She is nomadic, living in a van, and her compass was pointing her towards me in western CO.
Liz: “We should meet up and do something dumb”
Dirty: “Seems reasonable. You ever climb a 14er with your bike? We should go up Mt Elbert”
Liz: “Nope, haven’t done that yet. I’m in. Drop me a pin when you get to camp. I’m probably five hours behind you”
Just like that. I knew what I was doing the next day. So I went home, grabbed the singlespeed (favorite and lightest bike for bad ideas), some camp gear and headed towards Leadville. I was really looking forward to this. I have been hearing so many great things about all the trail work that had been done there all summer long. It has been getting rave reviews from some very creditable sources. Might as well go have a look.
Liz met me at camp just as predicted. About five hours and a few beers behind me. We both agree that we are not in the “alpine start” mood. I teach her the term “Arizona Alpine Start” which is where you try real hard to get rolling before noon and pack lights. We proceed to stay up way too late catching up, howling back at the coyotes and staring at the camp fire. We set off the next morning at the crack of 10. I leave a little before Liz, since she is one of those athletes and on a geared bike and I am neither of those things. I head uphill right out of camp and it would be that way for most of the afternoon.
Mt Elbert is Colorado’s highest mountain at 14,440ft. Named after Samuel Hitt Elbert, the Governor of what was then known as the Territory of Colorado back in 1874. I love the history of the American west and shit like this make my imagination wander. I wonder if he was a good guy or just another scumbag politician. He was a republican and used to hang out with Ulysses S. Grant. What did they talk about? Winters must have really been shitty up here without puffy jackets. This is the type of shit runs through my head as I stomp on the pedals, wheezing up the hill and trying to embrace the suck. Things change the moment I turn off the dirt road and on to the trail. The trail was absolutely beautiful and covered in yellow leaves. There was no more suck, just work to go further up this mountain and see what I can see.
Liz caught up with me just below tree line. We spent the next couple of hours chatting away and stopping for lots of snack breaks. There was some riding, but once we were up high it was mostly hike-a-bike. It was a beautiful day and I didn’t mind leaning on my bike and going for a walk.
Somewhere around 13,000ft, Liz dropped me like a bad habit. It was nice of her to humor me for so long. I expected this to happen a lot sooner. At least she waited until the trail turned steeper and got considerably more rocky. Alone on the side of this beautiful mountain, I would stop often and make sure to look behind me. Hot damn, this is going to be so fun to ride down! I paused around 14,000ft to snap a photo of my bike laying on a perfect little piece of singletrack. I had a moment where I just laughed to myself. This is the stuff little mountain bike dreams are made of. Sixteen year old me would be really stoked on what 40-something me is doing right now.
“Alright. Enough emo bullshit. Let’s get this over with, my hands are freezing.” I say to myself as I look up and see Liz almost to the summit. I put my head down and march on. A half hour later, I push on up to the summit ridge to see Liz shivering behind a rock trying to get out of the wind. “I didn’t want to go to the summit without you. Let’s go”. Yes, ma’am. That was awful nice of her. We got to the actual summit and for some reason, the wind that was biting cold 100 yards earlier, was nonexistent. Pictures were taken. Summit beers were had. At one point, I jumped up on the tallest stack of rocks on the tallest mountain in the Rockies, did my best outdoorsy Instagram influencer pose and declared myself the highest mountain biker in Colorado!
Time to cash in all those feet of climbing and get the hell off this hill. We took exactly one photo of the descent because there was no need to stop having so much fun. I won’t even describe the downhill because I wouldn’t do it justice and you should go do it yourself some day.
We got back to camp, packed up and high tailed it into town. No activity in the greater Leadville, CO area is complete without a stop at High Mountain Pies for pizza and beer recovery snacks. Go there.
Riding and hiking at a casual pace, it took us about 6 hours to get to the summit and about 45 minutes to get down. That is a pretty good ratio, in my opinion. Especially for getting to the top of something so goddamn cool. This isn’t something ground breaking. Many have done it before and many more will do it after. But it is one badass weekend warrior objective and I would encourage any mountain biker who likes huge views and beautiful singletrack to give it a shot. I (We) owe that local trail crew a whole bunch of beers and high-5s for all the great work they have done. I hope I run into them next season. I can’t wait for all this stupid snow to melt so I can go up there and do it again.