Scott and I first rode the Crest back in 2009 and have ridden it several times since. Though any version of riding Monarch Crest is typically a shuttle adventure, we have always ridden out-&-back from Monarch Pass for an all-high-elevation ride that we call “The Best of the Crest”. However, after hiking the South Fooses Creek Trail a couple weeks ago, we decided to recruit our friend Steve for our first Monarch Crest shuttle ride… this time on our fatties.
This was the first time on the iconic Crest for Steve, the first time for the fat bikes, as well as first time riding down Fooses (well, mostly riding; we walked down the first steep, rubbly bit and some of the more rocky, tech stuff). What a great day for it… we all had fun, there were tons of amazing views, we finished the ride with zero blood or injuries and topped it off with beer at Elevation Beer Company, accompanied by food truck carne asada nachos. Life is, indeed, GOOD!
The Monarch Crest Trail is a well-known high country mountain bike ride in central Colorado. Most rides are done as a shuttle, starting at the top of Monarch Pass at 11,312′ and descending any one of numerous options with varying ride lengths. We chose the shorter South Fooses Creek Trail as our introduction to shuttle riding.
All rides beginning at Monarch Pass start up a short road, a bit of lovely singletrack, then a steep half-mile climb on a rutted dirt road before the real singletrack begins. That half-mile of road can be a lung-searing initiation to visiting sea-level bikers who frequently believe that Monarch Crest shuttle rides are “all downhill”. For us, riding the fatties on that climb was sheer heaven! Compared to our previous mt. bike ascents, the cushy traction was awesome, allowing us to start the “real” ride with calm breathing and normal heart rates.
The day was gorgeous up high: calm, warm and sunny, though there was a definite smoke-haze blurring the distant views. Fires across the west have been sending smoke to the Sawatch Range, which has been fortunate to escape any local fires.
Most of the singletrack on the Crest is smooth and flowy, but there are some rocky bits. All of us were immensely pleased with the cushy ride on the fat bikes.
Steve & I looking pretty tiny.
Silhouette-ish views with the smoky haze.
They’ll be coming ’round the mountain …
A Wednesday morning in August is quite nice, crowd-wise, we only encountered a handful of bikers & one group of backpackers. If your only option is to ride this epic on a weekend, do be prepared for many trail-users of all kinds. The Monarch Crest Trail is open to hikers, backpackers, trail runners, mt. bikers, dirt bikers, e-bikers and equestrians… all of whom must share a single strip of trail. That does not automatically create conflict, and we have never experienced any, but it certainly could if folks aren’t prepared to share. A set of new signs at the trailhead reflect a collaborative effort between US Forest Service and diverse user groups to encourage everyone to get along. The primary message is: “Respect Gets Respect – Treat other users how you want to be treated. Be safe, be friendly, have fun!” Seems like good advice for life in general, eh?
We rode past the Fooses descent junction, so we could ride another mile on the Crest, before turning around and heading back to the junction to start our descent. That made for two additional view-filled Crest miles on the day. It is important to note that the South Fooses Creek Trail does NOT allow dirt bikes, but can have numerous backpackers since it is part of the Colorado Trail.
Steve savors his fat-tired traction.
The first few clouds of the day begin to appear.
We had planned to do this ride while the wildflowers were still majorly going off, but life conspired to make us wait. Still, this section of the South Fooses Creek trail is totally amazing.
What a beautiful trail setting. We all expected that there would be bits that pushed our somewhat-limited technical skills & some that would be well above those limited skills. We were pleased when we met challenges and succeeded, but were just fine with walking some stuff that might have involved broken teeth. None of us consider ourselves technical riders and are all fairly risk-averse.
Some places involved a little creative “bridge” riding…
… some involved luxurious bridge-riding.
From the end of the singletrack at the South Fooses TH, there was a wonderful 3-mile dirt road ride back to the shuttle car. I sat with the bikes & watched the gazillion vehicles speed by on Hwy 50 while Scott and Steve drove nine miles up the pass to fetch the other vehicle.
Now THAT is a fun elevation profile! The high point was 11,950′ up on the Crest. The little upward tail at the end is a final climb up the road to the parking area on Hwy 50.
A Monarch Crest ride can be easily tailored to meet the desire and technical ability of just about any rider. It is impossible; however, to escape the elevation and the high country weather. This particular route starts at 11,312′, reaches a high point of 11,950 and ends at 8,500′. Though there is not much climbing, about 740′, it is mostly via a couple steep climbs at high altitude. The total elevation loss is about 3,500′, with the gnarliest, steepest descent at the very beginning. We were happy to hike-a-bike the initial part, but sure did enjoy riding the long segment of flowy goodness that makes up the last half of Fooses. If you choose to ride Monarch Crest, be sure to carry warm clothes and rain gear, plenty of water and snacks, a first aid kit and navigation tools. Mountain weather is fickle and can be extreme and you are a long way from help.
A bit of advice to fully enjoy your Monarch Crest ride: Stop to enjoy the scenery; this is no ordinary ride. Research before you go, be sure that you plan the best route for YOU. Absolute Bikes in Salida is a great resource https://www.absolutebikes.com/about/the-monarch-crest-trail-pg126.htm For the full Monarch Crest experience, stop in at Elevation Beer Company for your apres bike beer https://elevationbeerco.com/