Going Places: Tales from the road: Telluriding, cont.

May 5, 2004
Outside Magazine
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One jeep-road ride leads
to the ghost town of Alta

The best of these is Tomboy Road, which connects Telluride to Ouray, the so-called "Switzerland of the Americas." The route climbs 4,300 feet in eight miles to the summit of Imogene Pass; at 13,114 feet, it's the highest drivable road in North America. The first five miles, to the ghost town of Tomboy, are relatively easy and make a great intermediate ride for someone in good to excellent shape. The views along the road are epic, and there are two waterfalls that flow until midsummer. The last two high-altitude miles are a different story, climbing an additional 1,700 feet on loose, shell rock road. From the summit, you can return to Telluride or arrange for a car shuttle and follow the road as it drops a full vertical mile over 11 miles into Ouray, an easy one-hour drive from Telluride. If you go to Ouray, bring a towel and swimsuit. The town is home to numerous hot springs, the biggest of which is the Ouray Hot Springs pool, where you'll pay $5 for a soak. It's open every day but Tuesday.

A picket fence of surrounding peaks makes for spectacular scenery
and some wickedly steep trails

Another great jeep-road ride is Alta Lakes/Prospect Basin, a three- to four-hour, 23-mile loop. Starting from town you ride on quiet, wide-shouldered, paved roads for nine miles before turning onto dirt roads and climbing to the ghost town of Alta at 11,000 feet. The views along the route are breathtaking and include three 14,000-foot peaks, some of the highest in the United States. From the ghost town, the route follows jeep roads (now closed to motor vehicles) and traverses the ski area. After this fat-tire feast, your dessert is the three mile, 2,000-foot plunge back into town.

Telluride's biking is by no means limited to old mining roads. Though there are only five major singletrack rides in the area, each is a joy. The best and longest is the 26-mile out-and-back Wilson Mesa Trail, 22 miles of which are fast, rolling singletrack. The trail begins by climbing stiffly through dense stands of aspen trees and then crosses two mesas with great views of the entire area. The trail is not overly demanding, physically or technically, but you'll have had a good spanking by the time you finish four to six hours later.

If you're coming from low altitude, a good ride to get you started is the Mill Creek Trail, an hourlong, seven-mile loop. Like most of the area's trails, Mill Creek starts right from town. All of the climbing is in the first two miles on dirt roads and singletrack. The trail tops out at a bridge where a cool waterfall is just a short hike upstream. The trail then contours a hillside along the valley above town, and loses all of its elevation on the last mile back into town.

A longer trail for strong climbers is Sheep Creek, a ten-mile, two-hour loop. This ride is a fall classic because of the dense stands of aspen trees. The trail starts with tough, technical climbing on overgrown jeep roads and singletrack, followed by an hourlong descent on fast, smooth trails. After weaving through a series of steep, tight switchbacks, you cross a meadow with commanding views of Dallas Peak (13,809 feet) and then continue for another five miles on flat and downhill trails all the way back to town.

The Wasatch ride is not for the faint of heart or lung, but when you roll into town you'll feel like raising your arms in victory
Expert riders in search of a challenge should head straight for the Wasatch, arguably the most difficult rideable trail in the country. The route starts by climbing 4,300 feet up the end of the Telluride canyon in seven miles, leaving you feeling not a little like a roller-coaster car clicking up the big hill. The physical difficulty of the climb is compounded by the terrain; the last five miles of the ascent are on a loose, rocky, relentlessly steep four-wheel-drive road. The road summits on a divide that splits two, vast, high-alpine basins with a jaw-dropping panorama. You then plummet back to town on hairy singletrack, negotiating the many challenges along the way. There are steep switchbacks, loose scree, and some serious exposure as you parallel Bear Creek, with a 500-foot cliff wall on one side and a 50-foot drop into the stream on the other. The ride is not for the faint of heart or lung, but the terrain is sensational and when you roll into town you'll feel like raising your arms over your head in victory. The Wasatch epitomizes the San Juan Mountains surrounding Telluride; it's hard-core, backcountry mountain biking at its best.

Perhaps the best part of a biking vacation to Telluride is the number of options just outside the immediate vicinity. You can easily add a one- or two-day trip to any of the famous, aforementioned biking towns surrounding Telluride. Or if you have an extra week, book a trip on the San Juan Hut System, which travels 240 miles from Telluride to Moab with stops at six huts along the way. The route follows jeep roads over the San Juan Mountains, across the Uncompahgre Plateau and into Utah's canyon country. Each hut has surrounding singletrack if you need more than the daily 40-50 miles from one hut to the next. For $350, the folks at the Hut System will stock the huts with sleeping bags and three meals a day, leaving you to carry only your clothes.

Freelance writer Dave Rich is author of Tellurides: The mountain bike guide to Telluride

©2000, Mariah Media Inc.

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