Dreaming of Rogers Pass on a winter’s day
Mountain Biking with Keith
One of the hardest things about mountain biking in Winter Park is deciding what to ride. I think you know you are living/visiting the right place when this is a problem. Should I venture out on the hundreds of miles of cross country trails near town? Maybe I’ll take an excursion to do a bit of downhill biking at Trestle (Winter Park Resort) or Granby Ranch.
It may seem hard to think about summer rides now. I look at my outside thermometer and it is reading in the positive numbers at 1 degree. Having a positive temperature in the early morning is a sure sign that summer is only a few months away. Of course that may be the optimist inside of me who comes up with that logic.
One of my favorite rides is one that I don’t get to do as often as I like. This is the Rogers Pass trail. Rogers Pass is located on top of the Continental Divide more or less across from the Winter Park Resort.
One reason I like Rogers Pass is that it is a unique ride here or anywhere for that matter. The final summit is perched atop the Continental Divide and there are several routes to reach the last bit of the trail. In the midst of winter this can be a beautiful yet dangerous place. In the midst of summer on a warm July day this same place can give you the feeling of being atop of the world. Gazing west you see the Winter Park Resort below you. A bit farther to the west the mountains of Byers Peak, St. Louis Peak and Vasquez frame the valley floor. Turn to the east where Denver and the beginning of the eastern plains reach back from far away.
There are many options to reach Rogers Pass. My personal favorite is one that begins next to my house. A quick 30 second excursion puts me on the first bit of singletrack for the day. I’m able to ride through the maze of trails in the Idlewild area to reach the first real climb Twisted Ankle. Twisted Ankle is a singletrack that wakes up the legs while giving them just enough of a break in places to keep a smile on your face. A short distance from the top of Twisted Ankle is the trail Broken Thumb.
Broken Thumb is a multi-use trail that has some motorcycle and ATV use. In other areas around the country multi-use can mean a lot of traffic. Here you may occasionally see another user. Climbing Broken Thumb is not for the faint of heart. The bottom part of the trail is in great shape but is steep with the challenges normally found on a great singletrack. Just when you think the lungs are going to explode and legs about to surrender you reach the first false top. This false top traverses the mountain on an old logging road. Looking off of the trail into the forest you will see the remains of cabins where loggers and the like lived many years ago in what must have been a very remote setting. The final stage of Broken Thumb pitches up a bit more with another challenging section containing just enough rock and roots to push your limits.
You now reach Rollins Pass. Riding the old railroad grade gives the legs a bit of a reprieve. Your next trail is Riflesight Spur. This trail is part of the original railroad grade which was abandoned when the Moffat Tunnel was completed. Even though you are just a mile or so from the Rollins Pass road, this section of trail always gives me the feeling of being off on a remote adventure. Just below you streams begin their journey to the Pacific Ocean. Railroad trestles still stand in what appears to be an impossible place to build them. The trestles are still intact yet you find yourself nervously tip-toeing across them. A quick hike up the hill brings you to your last destination, Rogers Pass.
Rogers Pass starts innocently enough. The gentle smooth old road changes when you reach tree line. The two track now becomes one defined track. Gone is the smooth surface as this elevation gives way to much more rock than soil. Although the grade is not severe the lack of air at 12,000 feet more than increases the challenge. I stop more than once to take in the view. It also allows me to give the lungs and legs a rest without surrendering to the mountain. Near the top the trail levels as you go past an old uranium mine. A few snowfields still remain reminding us that winter is the dominant season here. I watch the water trickle down the mountain as it feeds Jim Creek which is now a few thousand feet below and will eventually be part of the Colorado River.
One of the best parts of the ride is the reward of the descent. Retracing the route seems to take no time at all yet 45 minutes or so pass before I return home. The challenging climbs seem much flatter going down. The rocky soil at the time turns back to dirt. As I roll my bike into my garage I can look into the distance and see Rogers Pass which while just there now seems again so far away. My mind begins to wonder what tomorrows adventure will bring.
Looking for more information? Like Grand Mountain Bike Alliance (GMBA) on Facebook. GMBA is your local mountain bike group. Check out Mountainbikecapitalusa.com. Great site by the Winter Park Chamber!
Keith Sanders is the President of the Grand Mountain Bike Alliance, 3x US National Mountain Bike Champion and owner of Beavers Sports Shop. You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org
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Due to current public health guidance, there will not be an in-person wilderness campsite lottery for Rocky Mountain National Park this year.