Photo Essay: High Altitude Chunky Perfection on the Monarch Crest
For the last few years with our Monarch Crest trip, we’ve scheduled it at various times over the summer (always sometime in July or August) and without fail, it seems to be the rainiest weekend in Colorado. The monsoon undoubtedly kicks up, the rain forecast is 80-100%, and we’re scrambling to make alternate ride plans to maximize our time on the bikes. Going into last week’s trip, this one was no different… the monsoon moisture was picking up, rain was in the forecast every day, and high temperatures were barely hitting 70*. In our pre-trip email, I made sure everyone was coming prepared with layers, jackets, rain pants, and the expectation they were probably going to be wet and cold at some point.
But then something strange happened… despite crazy rain forecasts and starting morning rides with temps in the 40’s, we ended up with near perfect weather. Not once did our groups get hit by storms, despite them being all around us. Sure, we had some sloppy trail conditions, but that’s more the norm in the Colorado high country during the summer. But with cool temps, mostly tacky trail conditions, and a super fun group of riders, we managed to get our entire itinerary of rides in; and they were fantastic.
Make no mistake, the Monarch Crest Enduro is a tough, physical trip that will challenge even the most experienced riders… over four days (counting the “bonus” ride on the first day), we covered 94 miles with 9,000′ of climbing and just over 20,000′ of descending. Here’s a breakdown of our rides over the four days:
Day 1: Starvation Creek
Used as a “warmup ride” on our Monarch Crest Enduro, Starvation Creek is one of the last trails to drop off the Monarch Crest / Colorado Trail that starts from Monarch Pass. After a series of climbs and descents on the ridge, Starvation Creek proper drops about 2500′ over 5 miles and is tight, techy, and twisty. In the summer, the vegetation can be overgrown which makes for some interesting corners! Today’s ride was 21 miles with 1500′ of climbing and around 5000′ of DH. A few of the riders optioned into the bonus ride that afternoon on the Cottonwood trails, which added about 9 more miles!
Day 2: Canyon Creek
Likely one of the hardest days on a bike on any Chasing Epic trip (rivaled by our Crystal-Star Pass loop in Crested Butte), this one will have you hating us on the climb, but once you top out at 12,500′ with 360* views and a 10-mile downhill in front of you, you’ll forget all the suffering. The ride starts with a ~8 mile climb up a dirt road that gets steeper and rockier as you make your way up, and then ends with a 45-minute hike a bike above treeline. However, the juice is always worth the squeeze as you get incredible views, a huge sense of accomplishment… and a descent that’s up there with the best in the west. Chunk, exposure, high-alpine meadows, creek-side flow, kickers, and a few tough tech moves – you get it all on Canyon Creek. Today’s ride was 19.5 miles with 3800′ of climbing/descending.
Day 3: Greens Creek and Fooses Creek
Our “double shuttle” day, this one is always a fan favorite… today we ran two shuttles and combined these two trails for just under 30 miles of riding with 8000′ of descent, but only 1500′ of climbing. How’s that for a climb/descend ratio?
Greens Creek is first and is much more physical and rowdy, especially the top section that seems to be a never-ending rock field… and especially when it gets sloppy and muddy, and you’re struggling to stay upright! The trail progressively becomes more flowy as you make your way down this 8-mile descent, but it always keeps you on your toes. For the second lap, Fooses is steep and loose up top with the drop-in, but then mellows out and is much more flowy in nature than Greens. But make no mistake about it, after these two laps, you’ll be totally worked and ready for dinner… and bedtime!
Day 4: Methodist Mountain
A new addition to our itinerary for 2022, the Methodist Mountain trails sit directly south (and above) Salida, and make for a super fun last day of riding. Not only are the trails more mellow in nature but they’re super fast and flowy, and a perfect contrast to the three days in the high alpine. Starting with a quick shuttle, we still needed to climb to the top of Guts, a steep, technical and flowy downhill that seemed to go on forever. Mix in some flow trails like Sol Train and Solstice, and cap things off with Lost (a super fast trail that dips into gullies and up onto ridgelines), and we ended with a 13 mile ride with 1700′ of climbing and around 3000′ of descent. As always, we were done around lunchtime so the riders could start their journey back home… everyone needed the rest after these four days!