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Monarch Crest Trail System - Mountain Biking on The Ragged Edge

Monday, September 22, 2014

Part 1: Planning an Epic Ride

On Wednesday, September 17th, myself and my three mountain biking buddies, Jason Andrew and Steve, lost our collective minds and decided to ride Monarch Crest. More specifically, our plans included:

(1) Taking a shuttle from Poncha Springs to the top of Monarch pass.
(2) Riding Monarch Crest Trail to Green Creek Trail
(3) Blasting down Green Creek Trail back to Poncha Springs
(4) Driving to Salida to get a burrito and a couple of beers at the Boathouse Cantina.

We did exactly as we planned. End of story. Uh, well, not exactly

Part 2: Hardcore Mountain Biking

Hardcore: (adj.) intense, relentless, tough, or extreme.

Mountain bike trails are rated in terms of difficulty.

- White Circle: Hard surface with no obstacles.
- Green Circle: Firm surface with 2" obstacles.
- Blue Square: Challenging single track with an average grade of 10% and 8" obstacles.
- Black Diamond: Very difficult technical trail with grades
steeper than 15% and obstacles up to 15".
- Double Black Diamond: Extremely difficult narrow technical trail with
grades steeper than 20% and obstacles taller than 15".

You can likely guess where the rating of the trails my buddies and I decided to ride. Here is a link describing the Monarch Crest trail.


Monarch Crest is rated as "Black Diamond" or "Very Difficult". Here is a shot of the Monarch Crest Trail I found on Google.

I really was not able to take photos on difficult trail sections, such as the one above, where one little mistake could get you serious killed.

Adding to the ride difficulty was the elevation of 11,963'. The ascent was 2,281', which is a little misleading. The first 1,600' of the ascent is in the first 2.5 miles. Riding where there is very little breathable air while climbing a steep grade for 2.5 miles is exhausting! Some climbing sections were 30% plus!

This is another Google photo of the climb up Monarch Crest. On steep grades, you have to shift your weight forward to keep the front wheel on the ground. But if you lean too far forward the rear wheel will spin-out. This is strenuous work and harder than it looks. Andrew's chain broke on this climb. Fortunately, we had a chain tool and an extra connecting link.

A broken chain was not the only "mechanical" we would have. We were prepared for breakdowns on the edge of the world.

At the summit of Monarch Crest we turned down Green's Creek trail. Here is a link to Green's Creek Trail.


Green's Creek Trail is a "Double Black Diamond" or "Extremely Difficult". You have to be crazy good to take on a double black. You also need a good bike. Here are some shots of Green's Creek Trail.

There are some monster drop-offs. The published average speed for Green's Creek Trail is 6 mph. We ripped down this trail at 13 mph! I know that does not sound fast. We spent a lot of time in the air and it seemed like we were doing 100 mph.

The dark timber made it hard to see obstacles. There were some sharp switchbacks on this trail that were hidden until you were right on top of them.

There is a trail here somewhere! Steve blew a front inner tube. Fortunately, he had a spare tube, tire tools and quite a few CO2 canisters.

This trail beat the living daylights out of me. My Santa Cruz Bronson is made for these types of trails. The bike could fly down Green's Creek trail.

"Brawny" requires a an athletic rider to give his best. I think I let him down. After 30 miles of tough riding, I was thoroughly exhausted.

Part 3: Photo Essay of the Ride

We had to be in Poncha Springs at 10:00am. The drive from Denver to Poncha Springs is 141 miles so we had to leave pretty early. We got to Poncha Springs with time to spare.

Here are Steve and Jason unloading the bikes from Steve's truck. Steve is the guy in white unloading his 29" Santa Cruz Tallboy. Jason is the guy in blue. Both Steve and Jason were professional mountain bike racers. Both guys are good technical riders. I can hold my own considering that both guys are 15 years younger than me.

I think my Specialized Stumpjumper "Ultra -Stumpy" may have been a better choice for this ride. Ultra-Stumpy is a lot easier to ride long distances than Brawny. However, Brawny is pretty flashy!

Here is the shuttle. We arrived at the top of Monarch Pass at 10:30am

The shuttle was full of 10 hardcore mountain bike riders and one really sweet Pit Bull. The dog belonged to the shuttle driver. This sweet and friendly dog confirmed my belief that a good owner can raise a good dog from any breed. She really took to me and wanted to follow me up the trail.

This is shot I took of Andrew, Jason and Steve. We are getting up to the elevation where the trees are sparse.

We are moving pretty well. We are still have a ways to climb.

Here is Shot of Jason and Steve at the top of the world.

The good news it is all downhill from here. The bad news is that going down is not going to be easy. Here is shot of some very good bikes plopped-down on the side of hill.

From Right to Left to is Jason's 27.5" Silver and Blue Giant Trance; my 27.5" Santa Cruz Bronson Carbon "C" X01; and Steve's Santa Cruz Carbon 29" Tallboy. Unless you are an extreme mountain biker, the combined value of these 3 bikes seems excessive at $24,000!

Here we are after we got down Green's Creek trail. We still have a long dirt road to follow back to Poncha Springs.

Andrew is the tall guy closest to me. He is less experience than Jason, Steve and me. Andrew made up for his relative lack of experience by being half my age with a lot better reflexes. He has just got married, bought a house and is getting ready for arrival of his first child. Yup, he is a just a kid! Great guy, though.

After Green's Creek Trail the ride back to Poncha Springs was a nice leisurely dirt road in the "green circle" category. We goofed off quite a bit. Here is Steve stopping just in time before running me down.

When we got back to the truck, we did a quick change of clothes and wiped most of the crusted sweat off using wet wipes. We made the quick drive to the Boat House Cantina in Salida.

I think we made the 7 mile drive to Salida in 4 minutes! Beer and burritos were calling us.

The Boathouse Cantina is in the historic district of Salida and overlooks the Arkansas river.

The bar section of the restaurant actually hangs over the Arkansas river. The food was good, the beer was great and the view was spectacular. There was a paved bike path that follows the Arkansas for many miles.

Water in Colorado is clear, cold and fast moving. You can see the smooth concrete bike path in the foreground.

Nice atmosphere. We were there very early and almost had the place to ourselves.

The food was great.

I had the Chicken Taco Salad, which likely had a bazillion calories. I also downed a pitcher of water and a couple Elevation Brewery First Cast IPAs for medicinal purposes only. Elevation is mini-micro brewery in Poncha Springs. I think they only make enough beer for local restaurants.

Part 4: Hard Lessons Learned

(1) Bring More Liquid:
The most important lesson I learned during this trip is to bring more hydration liquids. I had a 64 ounce hydration pack and 24 ounce frame bottle. I thought 64 ounces of water and 24 ounces of PowerAde was enough. I was wrong. The extreme dryness at 12,000 feet dehydrates a rider quickly. I have ordered a 100 ounce bladder for my pack. I may also get a bigger pack so I can throw in some bottles.

(2) Bring More Quick Energy Foods:
I had brought one package of Jelly Belly Sport Bean and one GU Energy Gel pack. Again not enough.

For lunch on the trail I brought a good turkey sandwich, chips, apple and 2 Cliff Bars. I needed to bring 5 Cliff Bars.

(3) Test Changes to the Bike Prior to an Epic Ride:
I changed my front tire from a Maxxis High Roller to a Maxxis Minion DHR II ("Down Hill Racer") the night before. The Minion worked great on the descent, as I expected. However the Minion had increased rolling resistance on climbs. The marginally better traction on the descent was not worth the extra effort on the climb. I have ordered a new High Roller for the front.

I had to change tires. The original tires were shot. My Bronson is hard on tires. Of course, if I didn't take the bike into the jaws of death every time I ride, the tires would last longer. BTW, we saw two other riders with flat tires on the trail.

(4) Be in Better Cardio-Vascular Shape prior to an Epic Ride at 12,000 feet:
By the time we hit the wicked descent down Green's Creek Trail, I was already very tired. I had to ride very conservatively to save my strength. I know how to ride conservatively. I just don't like to!

Jason is a triathlete. Steve is a kettlebell and spin instructor. Andrew is 28 and is a technical mountain climber. My skill level is appropriate for extreme mountain biking. I was just tired and dehydrated so I lagged behind.

Part 5: Parting Shot

I call this photo "Edge of Forever".

The sky, clouds and mountains seem to go on forever. This is a pretty place that was eerily quiet. In a few weeks this place will be covered with deep snow. The birds are gone and the squirrels have headed to lower elevations. We actually ran into a dusting of snow at the summit.

Thanks for reading my epic blog!
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Member Comments About This Blog Post
    Am emoticon
    1630 days ago
    1630 days ago
  • GHK1962
    1st - WHAT trail?!?!?! Trail? I see no trail in many of those pics.

    2nd - Uhmmm ... you are comparing yourself to the tri/instructor/young'un? They, my mountain biking friend, should be comparing themselves to you!

    3rd - That cantina place looked awesome. But ... what kinda brewski did you get?

    At any rate, looks like you had a blast ... and learned some things that also ended in you getting to buy some new goodies. Win all around!!!
    1670 days ago

    Those ratings are just like skiing.
    1672 days ago
    There was actually a trail in those pics?? Haha... hardcore is not quite the word... :-) Another epic adventure and great pics. By the time I finished reading I wanted a beer too! emoticon
    1673 days ago
    Thanks for sharing your adventure!
    Great pictures. I'm all for beers at the Boathouse Cantina :)
    1674 days ago
    I'm not sure how I ended up at your blog but I am glad I did. Ninety percent of what you are discussing here is completely foreign to me (my bike is pretty and has a basket for my books and a bell). But I completely loved this! Thank-you so much for sharing all the photos and for explaining all the technical details so carefully. You made it accessible. I really get a sense of how much fun you had in spite of the many challenges. Green's creek trail is scary--------but damn that must have been a blast! I might look into this not-previously-considered sport when spring arrives here.

    1676 days ago
    It was all good! You definitely deserved the food and beer after that ride! I would have thought that would be enough for hydration too! Glad you said it wasn't. Awesome ride! COurse not one that I would try LOL. But you have experience and like those and I love that you share those photos with us. Get some rest before the next ride! And before taking on someone half your age ha ha.
    1676 days ago
    emoticon very entertaining read! Thanks for sharing because I'll never experience it. You are a wild guy!
    1676 days ago
    I love this blog!!
    As I read this I couldn't help but feel an overwhelming sense of peace and accomplishment for you. You have totally come back from your bike accident and are on top of your game! You are riding on 6"wide trails up and down stone, sticks, mud, rock and gullies with professional mountain bikers 15 years younger than you!
    I love your determination and perserverance!! I know it was so hard for you for a while.
    YOU DID IT!!

    PS I love the pictures too!! What an awesome place!

    1676 days ago
    Yikes!! You guys are crazy and totally earned your food and beer!!
    1676 days ago
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