Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Mountain Biking Twin Lakes

In early June I injured my hand.  Because of the constant vibration and pressure, I couldn't grip my bike's handlebar with my left hand.  This was disappointing just getting into the mountain bike season, but luckily I enjoy hiking as well to keep me busy and active outdoors.  My hand healed quickly, and just over a month later, I was back on my bike. 

I started out with a couple rides close to home on BLM roads.  Although there is a lot of ups and downs, the riding isn't too technical or rocky.  With its constant climbing and moderate distance, this ride is good for working off the month long rust.  Even though I hiked a fair amount the past month, hiking and biking use different leg movement and I noticed a slight strength loss after my break from riding.

Although it has been a while since I posted about mountain biking on my blog, I have been still riding quite a bit before my injury.  Most of the rides were places that I have blogged about before however, so I didn't want to write about the same ride twice.  Now with midsummer trail conditions everywhere, I was ready to explore some new areas.

Originally I set my sights on the Crested Butte area.  Last year I rode there and was eager to explore more of the endless trails in that region.  The weather looked risky there however and I didn't want to drive so far to be washed out by thunderstorms early on my ride.

At the last minute, something came up requiring me to travel to Buena Vista, about an hour from home.  This led me to Twin Lakes.  Twin Lakes is less than a half hour from Buena Vista.  There was a ride I had on my radar there. 

Twin Lakes is a small village named for a pair of lakes that make up the heart of the area.  The town sits at elevation of 9200' just south of Leadville on the eastern side of Independence Pass.  Beautiful mountains seemingly rise from the lake making for dramatic scenery.  Mt Elbert, the highest summit in the Rockies, rises just a few miles northeast from the area and is visible from most points in the area.

Last summer, I attempted this ride.  I had a cue sheet for the ride and the local topo map for the region.  Unfortunately, the cue sheet was vague at places and routes that were named on my map weren't signed.  There is also a maze of dirt roads in the area that make route finding confusing.  I missed a key turn and ended up backtracking and taking several wrong turns.  I ended up giving up on my cue sheet and stuck to some singletrack around the lakes.  At the same time it was frequently showering to add to frustrating experience.

I found this route on a website called MTB Project.  The route followed a mix of Forest Service roads, BLM trail, a few miles on paved road, and a good chunk of the ride on the Colorado and Continental Divide Trails.  This time I referenced an online map at the website with my map to try to avoid route finding confusion.  I planned on following the listed route, I just started at a different point.

The view from the trailhead
Because of a high probability of thunderstorms in the early afternoon, I was riding before 800am.  I parked by the Twin Lakes Dam.  A couple miles on paved County Road 10 brought me to my first section of singletrack.  This singletrack is where I missed my turn last time.  The singletrack, is called "North Face Bypass"  on my cue sheet.  The next several miles are part of the Leadville 100 Mountain Bike course.

Near the beginning of North Face Bypass
Mt Elbert
Mt Hope, Twin Peaks,  Rinker, La Plata, and Elbert
Near the height of the land on North Face Bypass
After a couple miles of singletrack on "North Face Bypass", I started to follow a series of Forest Service roads.  Unfortunately, most of the roads aren't marked and have several intersections.  I stopped frequently to confirm my route with my map.  I still had some uncertainty on my route after conferring with my map, but I knew I could at least get to the Colorado Trail this time.  Much of this area passed through open fields and offered stunning views of the mountains, especially Mt Elbert, just a few miles away.

A close up of the peaks above Twin Lakes
Threatening clouds moving in over Elbert
As recently as a week before my ride, much of this area was closed.  A small wildfire called the Lodgepole Fire was burning and  was just contained about a week earlier.  The fire was considered officially "out" and roads reopened in the past week.  I skirted the burn area and passed along the edge of the main burn scar.  Much of the area had a charred smell in the air.  Fortunately, fire crews kept the burn area down to 35 acres.

Lodgepole Fire burn scar
Despite minimal signage, I seemed to be on the right track.  I eventually reached a signed junction and realized I was slightly off course.  The sign indicated that I just came off the end of FSR 160.  This was actually the road I was hoping to start.  I backtracked on FSR 160 and saw the sign for my next road and was back on track.  If anything this route seemed to be a little shorter that the cue sheet route.

I think this is the "wrong" road I took
After a few miles I reached a gate that confirmed I was on track and back on singletrack trail.  I soon reached the Colorado Trail (CT).  The Colorado Trail in this section travels just a few miles below Mt Elbert.  The singletrack in this section is in pretty good shape.  Just below Elbert, my route reached its high point at 10,600'.  Despite reaching the high point, the climbing is relatively easy.  Majority of the CT in this area travels though forest, so views were minimal.

On the Colorado Trail
Nice singletrack along the CT
Wildflower along the CT
Traveling along the CT in what appears to be an old burn
After the high point near, the turnoff to Mt Elbert, the travel was generally downhill all the way to Twin Lakes.  Just before the South Elbert Trailhead, there was a decent descent to a bridged creek.  A few feet before the creek, hidden in the tall grass, were some railroad tie sized planks.  Since they were hidden in the grass, I never saw them.  I hit one directly with my front tire and went part of the way over the handlebars.  Because it happened so quickly, I was unable to disconnect from my one pedal.  I had a hard time getting up with one foot in the pedal and my bike laying on me partially.  I was okay with a minor scuff on my ankle.  I checked my bike over and there was no damage.  I continued on my way.

Trail sign near South Elbert trailhead
Aspens along the CT
After a half mile or so from my mishap, I turned off the CT and descended a trail to Twin Lakes Village.  This trail dropped at times on very narrow singletrack on a steep sidehill.  At the steepest places, the tread was quite loose.  Near the beginning of the trail there was one spot in particular that required a stretch of threading the needle to avoid a slide down the slope.  The hairy stretch was short lived however.  The trail eventually turned into an old, loose road as it descended quickly to the village.

Nice view of the Twin Lakes from above
Loose, nasty sidehill
Along the trail to Twin Lakes Village
Mellow singletrack
Views through the trees
A short 1.5 miles on paved CO 82 brought me to the Willis Gulch Trailhead my next segment of the ride.  I crossed Lake Creek on the bridge and began my ride along the south side of the lakes.  The first mile after crossing the bridge is probably the most technical of the entire route.  The trail climbs fairly steeply and features several rocky stretches.  Although short lived, this stretch may test the intermediate rider.  It seemed like there were endless water crossings in the first couple miles from the bridge.

Lake Creek
Bridge crossing Lake Creek 
A more technical section of trail
One of the many water crossings
After a mile from the bridge, the trail joins the CDT/CT Collegiate West.  The riding is relatively flat and smooth interjected with short elevation changes and brief areas of rock.  I had to dismount for a few fallen trees as well.  The riding was quite enjoyable south of the lakes.  Much of the trail passed through the forest, including nice groves of Aspens.  When the trail passed through open areas, I was able to enjoy the mountains.  The further east you travel, the more frequently you get lake views, often riding just a few feet above the water.

A brief open section on the south side
of the lakes
One of the lakes coming into view

Looking back at Mt Elbert
Open area near Interlaken
About half way along the southern side of the lakes, there is an interesting historic site worth checking out.  The old resort of Interlaken is accessible by a short spur from the main trail.  Interlaken was a relatively short lived resort during the last 20 years of the 1800s.  During its peak, it was a luxury, destination resort.  Sometime around the turn of the century the lakes were dammed.  When the lakes were dammed, they expanded, creating large pockets of stagnant water.  People at the time feared malaria from the stagnant water and the resort quickly faded.  Many of the original buildings still stand however and were restored.  The main hotel, the owners cabin, and numerous other buildings stand on the grounds with several interpretive signs.  The site is just a couple hundred yards at most from the main trail, and I highly recommend taking a few minutes to explore the grounds.

The main hotel
Building at Interlaken


Old stable?

The owner's private residence (Dexter House)
From Interlaken, the trail continues along the southern shore of the lower lake.  The terrain seems somewhat more rocky and rolling along the lower lake.  The trail regularly travels close to the shore, offering constant lake views.  Since Interlaken is a somewhat happening destination only two miles or so from the road, I began to see a fair amount of people hiking on this stretch

A nice stand of aspens
Riding along the lake
Another lakeside stretch
After 7-8 miles of singletrack since crossing Lake Creek, I reached the Twin Lakes Dam .  I was parked at the other end of the dam.  I still had some energy left however.  There was another 4 miles of singletrack on the CT leading to CO 82.  I rode this section last year and knew it was a relatively fast trail.  Since I was feeling good, I rode this stretch of the CT as an out and back.

Riding along the north side of the lower lake
View across the lake
Closeup view over the lake
I wrapped up my ride at just over 36 miles, my longest ride of the year.  I spent just over 4:20 on my bike, although I was actually out longer with stops to take photos and check my map.  I also took some time to explore Interlaken.  I climbed around 3000' over the duration of the ride.  Despite the elevation gain, this ride never had any long sustained climbs.  Over half of my riding was on singletrack.  Most of the singletrack had decent flow.  I would consider this technically an intermediate ride.  I would consider only a few brief stretches advanced.  If you're up for a shorter ride, ride the 14 miles or so around the lakes.

View from North Face Bypass
(L-R, Mt Hope Twin Peaks, Rinker, La Plate Peak)
This was quite a scenic ride with its lake views and high alpine mountains.  Although the clouds looked a little ominous over the mountains, I managed to avoid any threatening weather.  Navigation is a little tricky north of CO 82.  I believe MTB Project has an app that might make navigation a little easier, but I like to travel old school with just a map to navigate.  Nearly all of the singletrack on this ride overlaps with the CDT and CT.  Be vigilant and courteous of other trail users.  Since I hike more than I ride, I consider myself a courteous rider, but I still got a snippy reaction from a hiker. 

Nice singletrack on the CT
For a map and ride description from MTB Project click the link Pipeline to Twin Lakes Loop
Click Interlaken, for a description and a more detailed history on the resort.

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