Bikepacking the Grand Traverse

Bikepacking has been off my radar for a few years now.  With a trio of failed Colorado Trail Race attempts, the opportunity to head out bikepacking never fell well into the work and racing schedule until now. In a few weeks Karen is racing the Grand Traverse MTB Race from
Aspen to Crested Butte.  With a desire to preview the course, no better time than now presented itself to scratch that backpacking itch as well as introduce Karen to this adventure side of the sport.

There are a few ways to go about bikepacking; super lightweight omitting some comforts (ie: sleepless racing) or traveling a tad heavier to maximize the comfort of the journey (ie: adventure tour).  We opted on the heavier side.  We were not in any hurry and we wanted to be comfortable out there. I’ve had a few folks ask me about the gear carried on this tour.  Here is a list of what I had along for the 2 day 1 night ride.

The Bike

Ergon BX4

Topeak Fuel Bag Large

  • Assorted food for the day

Topeak Fuel Bag Medium

Revelate Designs Viscacha seat bag

Revelate Sweetroll handlebar bag, size M

I don’t think I am forgetting anything above.  Eitherway, these are the basics, the things Karen and I used on the trip.  Trying to keep the weight off of Karen’s 110 lb body, I was the pack mule for the trip.  She was decked out as well, but I carried many of the co-used items, like the Big Agnes tent and sleeping pads, food, stove, etc.  This was my first trip using a handlebar bag.

On Saturday AM we made the short 90 minute drive from Eagle to Aspen and found a parking spot to leave a car overnight.  No easy feat if you know the parking circus that goes on in Aspen.  The outbound route from Aspen to CB was that of the Grand Traverse MTB Race.  The event provided the GPX file from their website, so this was the Day 1 plan.  Needless to say, this is a burly route.  Nearly 90 minutes of steep climbing (20%-30% grades) up Aspen Mountain greeted us right from the car.  Soon we found ourselves off the ski resort and in the backcountry heading towards Taylor and Star Passes.  While the 13-miles from the car to Taylor Pass is “road” - it was burly.  More than once we were pushing due to rocks or steep terrain.

Taylor Pass was a good push from the car….a nice warm-up if you will.  By this point in the ride it was time to filter up some fresh water for both Karen and I.  The next objective was Star Pass.  From Taylor Pass to Star Pass, the route would become a bit more rugged and turn from “road” to more singletrack.  The sweet thing was once we gained Star Pass it was literally all down hill to Crested Butte.

Once into Crested Butte, we stopped at a local sandwich shop for some real food - a round of sandwiches, chips, cookies, and Pelligrino.  I also swung into the grocery store to load up on a few nutritional supplies for the return trip.  A quick stop at Chopwood Mercantile to say hi to some friends…..and then we were off on our return trip.  The plan for the return trip was to go back to Aspen via Pearl Pass.  A pass, when mentioned to locals, got mixed reviews….

“Steep and lots of rocks!”

“You’ll walk the descent to Aspen.”

“We don’t ride Pearl….ever.”

“Have fun with that.”

We ended up pedaling about 10-mile back out of Crested Butte on our return trip route, then setting up camp.  It was a good spot!  A nice meadow with a stream running by for fresh water and good views all around.  Camp set up was quick and for the most part mosquito free.  Karen and I slept well for about 10 hours.  Actually, it was the best I have ever slept on any overnight bike ride.  I am sure a lot it was contributed to the Big Agnes sleep system and the fact we were not pushing too hard during the day while moving forward.

I was up the next AM at first light, around 6 AM.  I started preparing breakfast and coffee while Karen slow came to life for the day.  It wasn’t until around 9 AM that we got going on the bikes for our return trip to Aspen.  The return trip, just like the out-bound trip, would be new to both of us.  We knew the route over Pearl Pass was rocky, based on a Google search prior to leaving on the trip.  Boy, we were in for a treat!  Just like on Day 1, once we left camp we started to climb….and we would climb for 2.5 hours straight over a lot of chunky terrain.

Early up the pass the riding was pretty straight forward with a huge serving of buff jeep road.  The higher we got, the worse it got with a rock littered road.  We knew what we were in for, so we just settled in….pushing….hiking….taking pictures….resting.  Late in the climb we were passed by some folks from the motorized community. All of them giving a friendly gestures as they passed, some even joking about giving us a ride to the top.  As mentioned above, it took us 2.5 hours to go from camp to the top of Pearl Pass, some 7.5 miles.  The views did not disappoint.  We sat up at the pass for a bit, longer than normal to soak it all in.

Next up we had a 6 mile descent off of Pearl Pass. This was tricky.  The “road” was a mess of basketball sized rocks.  All of them moving pretty much the second a tire touched them.  Great caution was taken to get down to the ghost town of Ashcroft without making a mistake and getting injured or risking a mechanical to the bikes.  Mission accomplished, but we had a few close call bobbles.

The remaining 14-miles to Aspen were paved and mostly downhill.  This was a welcomed way to finish the 2 days after all the pushing and rough terrain we had ridden.  Overall, this was a great bikepacking route….for the beginner and veteran alike.  It offered up everything you would want in a big backcountry loop through Colorado.  As I finish up this quick report, I am already looking forward to the next trip! If you are interested in trying the route for yourself, here are the Day 1 and Day 2 gps routes via Strava

Using Format