The big climbs, Marshall & Indiana Pass

Trip Start Jul 15, 2009
Trip End Jul 15, 2010

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in dem hills

Flag of United States  , Colorado
Sunday, October 11, 2009

Wind is the one thing that gets to me. I believe it has the ability to drive a person crazy, like, if it never let up and it was constantly hounding you, you'd hit breaking point and turn insane!

We couldn’t leave Salida due to the roaring winds, so strong they were bringing down trees, so we decided to have a rest day and hit the public pools. It had been seven days since my last proper shower in steamboat springs. The piercing cold nights of fall / autumn in the Rockies meant the rivers were not welcoming for swimming and neither matty nor I were brave enough. The pools were magic and we spent the afternoon there. We decided to camp at the park next to the pools but were awaken by the police at 4am to say we couldn’t camp in the city limits. Luckily our previous spot, outside the city limits, was only a mile away. What really sucked was it was freezing, and we actually felt like bums being moved on. Some cities (small towns) allow camping and some don’t, some will fine you but in our case he said sorry but I got to move you on. No worries buddy, I said sleepily, just happy not to get a ticket.

In the morning the air was still so we set off asap. The days riding was going to be a tough one even without wind. A 4000ft climb over 25 miles. A little tarmac to get us up the first 1000ft then hard pack gravel. We set out and after ten minutes the wind started to blow. Not as strong as the previous days but still a hard push into head on wind. After we turned off the tarmac we had shelter for most of the ride up. Marshall pass was 10840 ft, At the top we stopped for a quick bite, spoke to a guy who had driven his wife up to look at the view, then suited up for a cold descent down 18 miles to the small town of Sargents but not before asking the old man to take some not so great pics of us next to the Marshall Pass watershed sign (he had bad eyes). One side was to the Atlantic and the other to the Pacific and also the split of two national parks.  It was much colder on this side of the mountain, the Aspens had lost their leaves but the ride down was beautiful all the same, once again the scenery changing slightly as we conquered our way south. We camped next to farm land that night, it was so cold all our water bottles froze, even in the tent! We had to melt a little on the stove then pour it back into the bottle over and over until we had enough for porridge.

The next pass was 65 miles away over rolling desert and rocky clusters, pushed up 100’s of millions years ago. Often reminded of how insignificant we are to Mother Nature, I thought about what would happen if such an occurrence repeated itself.  Tectonic plates shifting, land breaking up and volcano’s erupting with such magnitude could do what to the rest of the world? I’m not sure how quickly the Rockies formed, probably over many years like the Himalaya’s, which are still rising. But the Rockies look like they were torn abruptly by their angles and formations. Another thing I’ll have to look up on Wikipedia. (I did look it up and wow! The younger ranges of the Rocky Mountains uplifted during the late Cretaceous period (100 million – 65 million years ago), although some portions of the southern mountains date from uplifts during the Precambrian (3,980 million – 600 million years ago) That’s Rodinia time, when the land was one!) The Himi’s are just new born compared.

That days riding we chatted and over lunch I loaded mattys iPod with the Spanish audio program I was learning. Este moy bien! We camped roadside, in a meadow half way up Cocehtopa pass, 10067ft. There was a small steam but it wasn’t fast flowing and was a Gardia party for anyone who dared. We didn’t even want to boil it so we used our drinking water for dinner.

As campers, we are limited to what we can carry and therefore eat, especially given the small town supplies available. Being inventive can help the boredom of eating the same shit everyday and just to disgust you here are two of our latest creations.

1.       Semi stale white bread, pan fried in slice of butter, sprinkled with sugar and hot chocolate while soft then toasted a little more.

2.       White rice boiled to death, throw in as much coffee mate (whitener) as you have left, throw in loads of sugar packets (collected from gas stations and cafes), throw in hot chocolate and stir.


Next was Carnero pass, 10166ft, another 4000ft climb and descent. I tried to remember the last time I was below 2000 meters???? The pass was quite easy going. As an old stage coach line there are moderate ascents, descents and cornering but this also meant a lot of washboard. New species of trees were mixed in with the Aspens and pines now, leaves turning really orange and yellow if not already on the floor. After dropping down from the pass we cycled through the bad lands. Bad lands is and rocky canyon like environment.  I spoke to a few hunters along the ways. They were lazy hunters, just cruising in their massive pickups, pulling over to peer through binoculars and then grabbing the rifle. It was enough to make me put my orange hunters vest on. Most hunters say it’s good of me to wear it and some look at me like, you think I don’t know what I’m shooting at! Bottom line is... get stuffed mate! I’ve heard too many stories of people getting shot to give a dam what they think. After a while the road turned off onto a 4wd trail. This was a welcome change from the hard pack gravel roads I’d been on for days. It was smooth quite a while then rough as guts, then smooth again as it winded around the rocks. This path ended in a sweet single trail down a gentle desert slope to the town of Del Norte.  Del Nort, as one local called it, was reasonably populated at 1700. I hadn’t eaten out for a while and felt like some good old grub, American style! Free corn chips, free refills of coffee and coke, large portions to boot. The town had a choice of two cafes, I went to the busiest. I had the burrito and a side of fries and bottomless coke. Matty had the bacon cheese burger. After free corn chips, burrito, fries and three big glasses of coke I thought I was going to die! I couldn’t walk properly and waddled like i’d been in a pie eating competition. Matty had to get the supplies from the supermarket while I sat on the curb, eyes and stomach bulging. The ride out of town was slow and I swear I had stitch on both sides of my guts. After 10 miles I started to come right. No dinner was needed for me at our cute camp side under the tall, rusty leaved trees. Matty and I watched the movie, Nick and Norah’s infinite playlist in my tent. In the middle of the night the wind was picking up. I had to get out of the tent to peg it down properly. We are vulnerable to the elements out here and I felt like I may blow away in the wind. Lucky we are under trees tonight, or are we!

So today was our highest pass. Last night’s wind didn’t stop but the morning wasn’t looking to bad. There was frozen rain slightly spitting but we thought we’d give it a crack the ride was a huge one and we wanted some distance under our belts. Once again a 4000ft climb to 12000ft or roughly 3700m. We starting out in frozen rain and by the time we reached the summit we were frozen ourselves, stopping every half hour to put our hands inside our jackets and under arm pits and taking shelter from gale force, sub zero winds. My hands totally numb but still stinging which is the first stage of frostbite! At the top of this beast of a pass was a quarry, maybe gold, Iron or other minerals. Matty and I discussed what would be valuable enough to hold an operation this big. We were starving, a couple of workers stopped in there pick up to say hi and ask were we came from and going to, then recommended some old ruin cabins to shelter in for lunch. The huts were from the hay day of mining and weren’t exactly weather proof but were better than nothing. We wanted down as quickly as poss after eating and scooted down with frozen rain stinging our faces, hands and feet numb. We were trying bagel bags over our socks and inside our shoes to keep our feet dry and heavy duty latex gloves to keep the wind off our hands. I’m sure it was helping but in this weather they felt useless. In the dramatic attempt to get down we missed a turn and had to back track 2 miles then slipped into a not so windy valley. The hail turned to snow and before we knew it we were riding through 2 inches of powder. It was stunning, everything went quiet and peaceful. All I could hear was the crunching of snow and ice under the tires. The bike handled well in the conditions but sudden braking was risky. Our goal was to get to the town of Platoro but there was no way we’d make it that night. A jeep came along and a couple said they could put our bikes in the back.  We um’d and ah’d then said no thanks. We would have before, but the trail was much better now and a camp ground was 2 miles away, which conveniently had an old log cabin to shelter in. It wasn’t anything more than 4 walls and a roof but it was heaven after such a hectic day. What we had forgotten was we were out of water. The map instructions said all river and creek water was contaminated due to the rich iron and minerals in the rock so we collected some snow to use for dinner. It didn’t look that great, with bits of pine needle and shit in it, but dinner tasted fine.

I couldn’t believe my eyes looking at the cloudless sky the following morning. We waited for the sun to soak its way down the hill to us, then put our bikes out to defrost. My rear cogs had all but stopped in the snow. Completely jammed full of ice, I was running on two gears. The sun didn’t help as the air was still freezing.

It was 5 miles to Platoro, a great little log cabin community, old original houses from the late 1800’s. We stopped at the lodge for defrosting and burgers. Lunch time wasn’t ready so we lounged by the huge fire place and relaxed a while taking in all the locals looks and conversations. Obviously a hunting community, everyone had camouflage on of some type. Our waitress had a tee; a young guy talking about sharpening his knife with some 500 buck piece of military grade porcelain had a hoody, and all sorts of jackets and vests on others. After burgers we had cherry crumble and ice cream (crumbles went by the name Cobbler) Super rich and tasty.

The ride was all downhill for the rest of the day except the last 5 miles up a pass. The downward journey was delightful, beautiful colored rocky valleys set a nice atmosphere. At the bottom we had to stock up for at least three days as we would hit the New Mexico ridge the next day.  According to others the hardest part of the trail!
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