This was the one ride that I regretted not doing last year. The classic Monarch Crest Tour is about 35 miles with a bulk of the riding over 10,000ft. When we woke on Tuesday morning down in camp, along the river, it was hard to see the weather in the mtns. So we weren’t quiet aware of how cold it was until we had committed ourselves to the journey. As we drove up Monarch Pass the temperature gauge in Bill’s F150 steady dipped through the low 40s to the upper 30s. While I had rain protection covered with JP’s awesome Core Active Shell, my knees and hands would be fair game to the creeping cold. When we eventually exited the truck at the pass it was 37, overcast, drizzling, and spitting snow. I think no one wanted to show weakness before we got started so we all kind of just jumped on the bikes and took off. As we climbed the initial 1,200 ft and 6 miles or so to the Green’s Creek shelter, I kept adding layers to adjust to the weather conditions. It was cold! Above the treeline like this there was no escape from the wind and rain/spitting snow until we reached the shelter. We had decided to make a call there on whether we would continue or not as it was about the last place we could reasonable detour and shorten the trip (misery). I was seriously considering it as my hands were hurting. Luckily right before we started the short descent to the shelter the sun broke out and the clouds dissipated. It warmed very quickly and without much discussion we were on our way to finish the full tour. Its funny looking back that most of the crowd tension was during this short cold traverse. I snapped a few times at Geritt and I blame the cold hands 😉
The first part of the journey is pretty awesome being above the tree line. Its that typical high alpine CO riding on a narrow ribbon of dirt through the tundra grass. As we descended to Marshall pass the spruce and pine started to pick backup and it was funny how all of us started to notice that our suspension was performing terribly. Each of us how our own issues, but low 40s and high altitude aren’t the best conditions for suspension dynamics.
Knowing that I am not an endurance athlete, my plan was to be the steady turtle. 35 miles above 10,000ft is not an easy ride especially for a “flat lander” from east Tennessee. While the trail its self was not technical by any description, the length and altitude make it difficult to complete if you aren’t smart and pace yourself. Well, for me at least.
Most of the trail from Marshall pass to the top of Silver Creek is pretty forgettable. But once the bottom starts to fall it gets much, much better. For whatever reason, Geritt pulled aside and let JP and I by. I really like following JP. He takes lines that regular humans can follow (unlike Geritt) and we can settle into a rhythm. I was ok, until the shale section of the scree field. The combination of the High Roller 2’s and my inexperience in scree and I start to slide everywhich direction and JP started to separate out on me.
At the bottom, we regrouped and started to tackle the last 10 miles of the Rainbow Trail section. This portion has a reputation as a will breaker and for good reason. After 25 miles of high alpine climbing and descending has taken it toll on your reserves, the Rainbow trail finishes the route in the same band of 500ft of elevation between 9,000-9500ft. Which means lots of short down and punchy climbs. Ugh.Again, I just settled and found a pace I knew I could maintain without killing the rest of the trip. Let me just finish by saying I probably won’t finish the Crest Tour on Rainbow again.