Back when I was still making noise about wanting to scout and maybe attempt the Nolan’s 14 route (back before I realized I lacked both the skills and confidence to make an honest attempt at it…but I’m working on it), Scott thought up a big trip for himself, a trip that I deemed in my head, The Worst Bikepacking Idea Ever: Start in Salida and ride to all of the semi-ridable (and legal) 14ers and push bikes up and ride down them, then keep on bikepacking to the next peak.
I expressed exactly zero interest in having anything to do with the trip, mostly because a) I’m not a huge fan of massive hike-a-bikes b) I don’t have the tech skills to ride down most of those trails anyhow and c) I’d been up most of the peaks he wanted to do.
Scott enlisted Kurt to do a variation of the trip with him – the original loop minus Pikes Peak, which would have involved a significant ride to and from. Once they set the dates, I immediately started planning my own solo trip down in the San Juans.
Then the day before their departure, the weather forecast in the San Juans turned to shit.
Grumble. Grumble Grumble.
Maybe I’ll come bikepack with you guys for a night, hike Shavano and head over to Tabaguache (which I hadn’t done before), and then I’ll cruise back to town in the morning, I told Scott. It was a nice ride up there, they were two nice mountains, and I could make a judgement call on the forecast afterwards.
Plus, the weather forecast for the Arkansas Valley didn’t look too great, and I figured it would be good if I stuck around for a few days in case Scott and Kurt needed to bail from the trip.
Bromance at its finest
We left Salida at the crack of 1:30pm, headed up towards mountains that were definitely holding storms. ‘It’s okay, it’s going to be several hours until we actually get up to treeline,’ we joked.
Shavano. Center peak. Firmly in a storm.
This was only partially funny because as we were making the joke, we only had about six hours of daylight left. Oh well, we all had headlamps.
We took the satisfier camp spot where the trail up Shavano branched off of the Colorado Trail. We dumped my bike and the bags off of Scott’s and Kurt’s bikes behind a tree and started up the rubbly mess of a trail. I, personally, was pretty stoked to not have a bike, just some music, walking sticks, and a pair of shoes.
Looking back down the valley searching for boys. No sightings.
The summit of Shavano came quickly, but it was 5:05 when I got there. I’m generally not much of a time watcher, but I didn’t want to have to do the entire descent in the dark. Tabaguache looked so close…I had to try. I gave myself a hard turnaround time of 6pm, unless 6pm had me close to the top of Tab, then 6:15 was good enough.
It took a surprising amount of time to get to the saddle between the two peaks, but then it was a quick hop skip and jump up to the second summit. I was surprised when I stumbled upon the summit register. 5:47, plenty of time to spare.
Top of Tab. Looking back towards Shav.
I reversed my path, looking for the boys on the top of Shav.
Golden Hour from 14,000 feet. That’s pretty special. White Mountain in front and Antero in the back.
Down went quick. The ridge on the way up went quick. No boys on the summit Had I missed them? I was halfway hoping for a summit party with them. I was a little crestfallen that they hadn’t waited for me, so I may have been pouting a little bit as I started down.
Then around the corner, still a little ways from the top, a lone figure with a bike on his back. Still hiking up. It was Kurt. It was 6:30.
Scott wasn’t far behind. He was questioning the validity of the whole idea. It probably didn’t help that it’s a solid 7,000 feet from Salida to the top of Shav. That’s a big climb however you slice and dice it. A rough way to start a trip…especially when racing darkness.
I gave them both a little bit of grief about the absurdity of hauling bikes up there and continued my descent.
‘Make us a fire!’ Scott requested as I left.
It didn’t take long to get down, though the rubble at the bottom in nearly darkness gave me pause. I so desperately didn’t want to pull my headlamp out!
Sheeps! Baby sheeps!
Back at camp, I immediately set to work gathering firewood while there was still a little bit of light. I built a little fire ring. I made the teepee of kindling. I put some pine needles underneath and held a lighter to them. Nothing.
It had rained pretty solidly earlier the day.
I scrounged around for anything that would burn. Pinecones. Dead aspen leaves. Tiny twigs. Nothing would catch. Gah! While I had a firestarter in my Oh Shit Kit, complements of the required gear list for Ouray 50, I didn’t want to use it for an optional fire.
It wasn’t long before I heard giggles from deep in the dark woods. The type you’d hear from little girls telling funny secrets to each other. Slowly, the giggles got louder and I could hear the rattling of bikes over rocks. Then the headlamps emerged from the woods.
Both boys dropped their bikes, sat down, and wouldn’t stop laughing. It didn’t seem to be a problem that I had completely failed to get a fire going. They’d had a brilliant descent and were riding high on life.
We did finally get the fire burning, complements of chain lube as a fire starter (for the record, chap stick does not burn) and we sat around it warming our hands and feet. Eventually, as the fire burnt itself down, we retreated to our tent.
‘That was fun,’ I thought, ‘Maybe I’ll join them for another day. I’ve got nothing better to do.’
And that’s how terribly awesome ideas get started.