Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Mountain Biking Hartman Rocks

Before I moved to Colorado, I had never heard of Hartman Rocks.  The area consists of mostly BLM land just a few minutes south of Gunnison.  I think Hartman Rocks might be overshadowed by Crested Butte, north of Gunnison, which features miles of alpine riding. Hartman Rocks may not be surrounded by snowy summits, but it does offer miles of quality high desert singletrack riding.  The area has roughly 40 miles of singletrack open to mountain bikes and another 30 miles of dirt roads as well.  When many of the higher trails in the region are often unridable due to snow in the fringe season,  the trails at Hartman Rocks have a much longer season since most of the terrain is around a modest 8000 feet in elevation.

I have heard plenty of riders talk highly of the area and wanted to explore the singletrack the area has to offer.  Last week I finally decided to take the 90 minute trip to Gunnison and check out Hartman Rocks.  Planning the ride was a little tricky.  While there are plenty of trails to ride, most of them short.  I wanted to ride a loop on as many of the trails as possible without much overlap with the more singletrack, the better.  I studied a map and referred to a couple of websites to get trail descriptions to get an idea for my ride.  I came up with what seemed like a decent loop.

I got a relatively early start on Wednesday morning.  The area is high desert with nearly no shade the entire ride so I wanted to beat the heat and the worst of the afternoon sunshine.

From the main trailhead, I began my ride on Jack's Trail.  This singlerack winds uphill to the main area of Hartman Rocks covering less than mile.  Jack's ends at the upper parking lot.  Crossing the parking lot brought me to Tailpipe and The Ridge.  Tailpipe is less than a half mile and a good warm up for The Ridge.

Smooth section of Tailpipe
The Ridge was one probably the most technical trails of my ride.  It also had some of the best views.  There are several rock feature along the trail before it tops out on the namesake ridge.  The top of the ridge offers rocky riding over sections of slickrock and loose rock.  To the south, the high desert sprawls out for miles.  To the north is a large drop to the valley below.  The best views of the mountains in the Crested Butte area are visible from The Ridge.  The town of Gunnison is below only a few miles away.  Fun singletrack descends from the ridge with several technical moves and with some switchbacks.  Even though the trail was rated as difficult, I think most intermediate riders could negotiate The Ridge without too much difficulty.

Riding along Ridgeline
Looking toward the Crested Butte area
Smoother section of Ridgeline
Beginning of the downhill on Ridgeline
A short section of dirt road led to my next trail, Top of the World.  Top of World offered similar views to The Ridge but the riding was less technical.  There was a good mix of singletrack and slickrock and a few easier technical sections.  Even with the rockier sections, the riding wasn't too demanding.  The trail gained nearly 300 feet in the direction I traveled but was never steep.

Trail traveling between boulders
on Top of the World
Top of the World heading into
a rockier stretch
Following Top of the World I headed toward Water Treatment.  Water Treatment was in the process of being rerouted so I think the temporary relocation followed a combination of both Water Treatment and Fenceline.  This area in the northwest corner of Hartman Rocks was flatter than what I had ridden so far.  It was also one of the easier sections.

After leaving Water Treatment the trail rides through miles of sagebrush. The vegetation rarely rises more than knee high and you can see for miles with the occasional rock feature standing out in the vast sage ground cover. I moved onto Gateway followed by Josie's.  Both these trails were a mix of smooth singletrack with technical sections of rock features and slickrock thrown in to keep it interesting.  A couple of the technical sections sneak up on you and can be tricky to clear.  Both trails start out with climbs and finish with descents.  The downhill at the end of Josie's was particularly fun with a fair amount of elevation loss to finish off  the trail.

My only incident of the day occurred on Gateway.  My tire spun on a section of slickrock.  I drifted back about two feet so I could get better footing.  As I drifted, my rear tire hit a large rock and I flipped to my back.  It happened at very slow speed but surprised me since I didn't realize the rock was there.  My bike was fine since I broke its fall as the chainring managed to puncture the skin on one shin, while a pedal hit the other shin.  My legs were fairly dusty so it kept the blood from my chainring tattoo from running too much.  Both shins had nice lumps from the incident and stung for a few minutes.

Rock outcropping breaking up the sage
From Josie's a quick transition on Buddy Bear led me to Dirty Sock and Dave Moe's.  Of the more than 20 trails I rode at Hartman Rocks, Dirty Sock was one of my favorites.  Dirty Sock offered the perfect mix of singletrack with just the right amount of tech and a nice downhill at the end  The trail was only a mile unfortunately.  Immediately after Dirty Sock I hit Dave Moe's.  Dave Moe's starts at with a pretty steep but short hump out of the gate.  After the climb the trail continued similar to Dirty Sock with a little less technical riding overall.

Buddy Bear
Distant mountains
Dirty Sock
Start of decent on Dave Moe's
View from end of Dave Moe's
I followed a short section on another dirt road before turning onto Enchanted Forest.  A steep, rutted doubletrack drops from the road and the scenery changes.  After riding in a mix of sagebrush and rock for miles, the trail on Enchanted Forest drops into a section of Aspens.  The entire trail is less than a mile but the short respite from the sage is a nice change of pace.  By the end of the trail your back into the sage.

Road between Dave Moe's and Enchanted Forest
Aspens on Enchanted Forest
The next trails on my route were Outback and Back In.  Outback starts out briefly as a rough doubletrack before the singletrack starts.   Once on the singletrack the terrain gets interesting as it travels over a fair amount of slickrock features. The slickrock has some challenge to it but nothing too difficult for the average intermediate rider.  I saw my first rider of the day on Outback.  Another short stretch on a dirt road brought me to Back In.  Back In featured one short rocky section with a challenging move near the beginning.  After passing the rocky area the trail travels nearly level on a fine ribbon of singletack where you can pick up good speed.

Looking back on a section of slickrock
on Outback
From Back In, a couple hundred feet on a dirt road leads to Sky Line.  Sky Line continued in the wide open sage similar to Back In with a fast, section a relatively narrow singletrack.  It was easy to pick up speed on the gradual downhill with berms in just the right places to keep the flow.  Every now and then I needed to tap the brakes to keep from getting too fast on the sandy corners.

From Sky Line I followed Broken Shovel to Josho's.  Josho's was my favorite trail at Hartman Rocks.  After a half mile of climbing, the trail began a mile descent on a fun section of flowy singletrack with a few twists and steeper sections to add to the fun.  The landscaped changed from the endless sage to a brief section of meadow and aspens as I descended through gullies.  From Josho's low point the trail begins a .75 mile climb.  This was mile favorite climb of the day.  The climb is fairly steep at spots and takes momentum to clear patches of rocks.  The scenery in this section is also neat as the trail climbs toward some interesting rock formations that are rather large which adds to appeal of this trail.

Climbing next to a rock
outcropping on Josho's
Near the end of Josho's
After the climb at the end of Josho's, I had plenty of time recover on Sea of Sage and Luge.  Sea of Sage is a mile of gradual downhill on an easy ribbon of singletrack.  It's nearly possible to ride the entire trail from Josho's to Luge without pedaling if you choose  There are a few turns that make you keep your speed in check but otherwise Sea of Sage is a good place to catch your breath and rest your legs for a few minutes.  From Sea of Sage there is a short climb to Luge via a connector.  Luge starts with a short climb before another run downhill.  The elevation loss is gradual but consistent on Luge, which is a fairly straight trail with no obstacles that is easy to bomb down.  I guess the person that named the trail felt they were on a luge track.

Cows are fairly common when
riding on BLM land
Sea of Sage
After a couple easy miles on Sea of Sage and Luge I headed for Alonzo's.  Alonzo's is a fun intermediate trail with some rock obstacles mixed in to keep the trail interesting as it starts with a decent climb. The trail started with a nice little climb punctuated with a few rock obstacles before leveling and beginning a descent to its end.  By the time I hit this trail I was more than 25 miles into my ride and was starting the feel it on the climb.  Alonzo's sits near the northern end of Hartman Rocks and from its high point I got a good look back over the vast sage desert from which I had ridden.

View from Alonzo's
Another view from Alonzo's
I followed Behind the Rocks next.  At only half a mile in length, I wish this trail could have been longer.  It rode over some of the bigger stretches of slickrock mixed between moderately technical pieces of singletrack.  Much of the trail traveled below a rock outcropping which added to its appeal.  Behind the Rocks was a fun little trail that unfortunately ended much to quickly.

Near beginning of Behind the Rocks
Approaching a slickrock section
A look back over the main area of Hartman Rocks
Riding Behind the Rocks
Leaving Behind the Rocks I faced my only area with difficulty route finding.  The trail ended at a junction of roads.  My intentions were to connect to Tech Beck's, a short advanced trail that would take me to Beck's.  On my particular map, the detail wasn't the best, and I couldn't tell which way to go to find this short trail. I ended up taking the wrong road.  This road took me to Beck's in just a couple minutes, I just missed the more challenging Tech Beck's connection.  Beck's is short with a fairly steep, but easy drop toward the upper parking area.  From the end of Beck's my goal was to ride over Notch and drop back to the trailhead.  Notch started out promising climb over some challenging slickrock areas toward an impressive rock outcropping.  Unfortunately, after crossing one of the slickrock sections, I met several trails that were unmarked and none  particularly well traveled.  A couple of the trails had signs indicating use, but none were marked with a name.  I tried a few of the trails to no avail before reaching another dirt road.  Since the area on my map (see map link at bottom of page) wasn't clearly marked, I decided to head back the road a short distance toward the upper parking lot.

My last trail of the ride was on Collarbone Alley.  Collarbone Alley was signed as an advanced trail at the end of Jack's.  The trail dropped steeply before quickly transitioning into a steeply bermed bank and a quick rise before repeating itself.  Collarbone Alley was a fun roller coaster full of aggressive whoop de doos.  The trail is short though, and after .6 miles connects back up with Jack's for an easy wind down to the trailhead.

The riding at Hartman Rocks far exceeded my expectations.  I rode nearly 29 miles and never was bored.  Of the nearly 29 miles, somewhere around 27 miles traveled on singletrack, and at most .5 miles were repeated trail.    The trails generally had great flow with just the right amount of technical obstacles thrown in.   While there are plenty of other places to ride that are more challenging.  The vast trail network at Hartman Rocks allows you to put in a long cross country ride.

Behind the Rocks
There are more challenging trails shown on the map that can be added for a more technical ride. Skull Pass, Ring Dike, Sawtooth and Rattlesnake offer 4 more miles of advanced terrain that I didn't ride.  Rocky Ridge adds another mile of intermediate terrain and the Aberdeen Loop was closed for summer sage grouse habitat and features another 7 miles of intermediate terrain.  This is just a sample of some of the additional singletrack in the area.  My goal was to ride as many trails as possible to get a good feel for the area.  I will definitely be riding the area again and I will hit more of the technical trails next time.

Even with so many trails and dirt roads in the area, route finding was fairly easy with the exception of the end of my ride.  Nearly every trail is signed on both ends and at the trailheads, as well as several key road crossings which feature kiosks with maps.  I highly recommend the area as a side trip  to any mountain biker visiting Crested Butte on a mulitday trip.  Hartman Rocks is even a worthy mountain bike destination by itself.

To see a trail map of the area click the link below.
Hartman Rocks Map

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