Posts Tagged ‘berthoud pass’

Rocky Mountain National Park motorcycle tour

Sunday, September 13th, 2009

This weekend my parents came to visit from Illinois and we decided to stay up in Grand Lake for the Labor Day weekend.  I had only been there one time, over three years ago when ‘Briguy’ and I tried to drive over Trail Ridge Road in the middle of February.  We were stopped when the yellow pavement lines terminated at ten foot wall of snow at the west entrance to the National Park.  That was the farthest I’ve ever been on the west side, although I have explored most of the terrain on the east side of the National Park many times since.

To save my Dad a couple of hundred bucks on a rental car, I agreed to hand over the keys to my trusted 1997 Ford F-250 Powerstroke to him for the trip.  That truck and I have been through heaven and hell together four seasons a year, but all I could think about what gaining the freedom to ride my 1989 Kawasaki KLR-650 for 200 miles through the Rocky Mountains! (of course, the fact that I still owe said Dad a few bucks on the generous truck loan, had little to do with the decision.)

I geared up at near 4:20 in the afternoon and made a final pit stop before heading out on my own.  I topped off the KLR with 87 octane and looked around for an air compressor.  I circled the entire parking lot before finding one that said “out of order”.  Without a guage, I estimated that I had about 40 psi in the rear tire and 30 in the front.  I figured it a worthy experiment for my first mountain trip. 

84 degrees in Denver with clouds rolling in

I got out of Capitol Hill as usual without a hitch, cruising out at top speed on U.S. Route 6 towards Golden.  I decided to continue on US-6 up into the mountains because it had worked well on my last motorcycle ride and was much more relaxing than Interstate-70 would have been regardless of the situation.  My Clear Creek detour proved once again to be a good decision, and I made my first stop at the infamous “Kermitts”, a saloon with a large “Tuaca” sign and a collection of the Harley-Davidson types parked out front.  I’ve seen this bar with my own eyes over 200 times by my estimates.  I snapped a few photos anyways., but had no need or desire to go inside.  Maybe next time.  Instead I put on the rest of my makeshift ‘cold weather gear’ I had brought to experiment with on this trip.  I had a light fleece on under my textile motorcycling jacket, which gave me excellent mobility and warmth.  I also put on some ‘waterproof’ (I use that term sparingly) EMS pants over my poly hiking pants. I kept on the leather ‘MLB-branded’ batting gloves although I still had some winter touring gloves in the tailbag.  Speaking of tailbag, that is also a makeshift idea using the legendary DaKine Heli-Pro backpack.  The bomber hip belt and cargo straps on the back secured the bag to my stock rear rack of the KLR.  I had found a motorcycling use to add to the multiple uses of my favorite pack throughout the snowboarding, climbing, mountain biking, city-trekking, and hunting seasons.

My KLR parked in front of Kermitt’s

When I got going again I was forced to pick up the interstate for a few miles.  Just as I ramped on I was stopped in gridlock Labor Day vacationer traffic not unlike the hellish ‘Bormon’ through Northwest Indiana on such an important American recreational holiday.  Strangely, I wasn’t the least bit annoyed by the traffic while riding the KLR instead of driving a ‘cage’.  After about ten minutes it opened up again and I exited onto US-40 to head up Berthoud Pass. 

The temperature started to drop quickly while heading up the pass.  I pulled over and changed into a super-warm pair of Tourmaster gloves I had bought in the bargain bin at Moto-Gear Outlet.  Now my hands were nice and toasty, and I continued up the pass.  I enjoyed making the hairpin turns around each switchback, climbing higher and higher up the pass.  I had read mixed reviews about riding a carburetted motorcycle up to high altitudes, but I didn’t notice anything out of the ordinary.  I parked at the top of the pass and took a few photos.  Without snow everywhere, I could see where the dirt road went up to the science station at the top of the mountain.  However, the road had a gate in front of it and a sign that said “No Motor Vehicles”.  That was a bummer, for I really wanted to rally up to the top on a short detour of my trip.

Looks like a perfectly good road to me!

Self photo on Berthoud Pass

I departed down the west side of Berthoud Pass, through Winter Park and Granby.  The air started to warm up again, and with the mountain pass behind me, I settled back and enjoyed the cruise. 

“Sweet Mary Jane!”

I may have gotten a little too comfortable out on that straight stretch of highway, and caught my eyes wandering away from the road and to the beautiful mountain scenery around me.  At one time, I brought my eyes back to the road just in time to see a large white van coming right at me in my lane!  He was apparently making a pass, and at the time I made eye contact with him he was already moving back into the other lane, but it was short enough to scare the crap out of me!  For the rest of the ride I told myself “eyes on the road!”

The views from lake Granby were just amazing.  It was a little over an hour before sunset, and there were dozens of sailboats out on the calm lake.  The sun cast a warm glow over the entire scene.  I just had to pull over and take a few more photos before finally reaching my destination in Grand Lake.

Sunset on Lake Granby

On day two, we occupied ourselves by riding the mountain bikes and hanging out around town.  When I had a little free time to escape, I took the KLR out on my own to find some highly addictive dirt to play in.  By looking at my map of Rocky Mountain National Park, I identified a forest service road called “Kewanachee Road” that climbed up into the foothills on the southern end of the Never Summer Range.  When I got to the trailhead, it was packed with trailers.  A few guys were loading dirtbikes onto their trailers to ride back home in there cages.  I smiled to myself and was so glad I had a dual-sport motorcycle so I would never have to do that!

After I passed the parking lot, the road got pretty technical.  I was met with a long, steep hill immediately.  As I started up, I saw a train of “family-types” on ATVs coming directly at me!  I realized they had no concept of yielding to uphill traffic, I stopped my ascent halfway up the trail.  As soon as I did I groaned to myself about making such a bad decision.  It was going to be a pain in the ass to get started again.  When the “cotton-and-denim army” finally passed me I was all alone again and hit the gas.  I couldn’t handle the angle I was trying to get on, and the rear wheel started spinning wildly.  The next thing I know, I’m perpendicular to the road and going down!  I try to stick my left leg down but it was too steep.  I gave up my effort and the KLR slammed down on the ground.

Breathing heavily, I scrambled to pick it up before more ATV traffic came upon me and suffer any more embarrassment.  Not only is a KLR heavy to pick up on flat ground, the challenge was magnified by me being so far downhill and trying to push the bike up from below.  Grunting, I finally got it up and found that the end of the clutch lever was busted off, and the gear shifter was bent.  “Stupid!” I yelled to myself.  But instead of feeling pity for myself, I decided not to give up on the hill climb.  I got back on the bike and coasted back down to the flat area at the bottom.  This time, I aimed the tire directly up the hill and cranked on the throttle.  ATVers be damned, I wasn’t stopping!  Luckily, I made it up without incident and breathed a sigh of relief.

The remainder of the road was a lot of fun.  It wasn’t too steep, and offered plenty of winding curves as it climbed up through the desert forest.  It was a perfect evening for a ride, and I had some excellent views back to the east.  About halfway up, I stopped to look at my map and realized it had fallen out of my vest pocket.  Although I thought I could keep going, I figured the smart thing was to turn around and head back to meet up with my family.  Luckily, I found the map down on the trail on my way down.

Traveling on Kewanachee Road

Self photo from high up on the road, looking out towards the east

On day three, we loaded up the convoy (one car, one truck, and me on the motorcycle) and headed on our way through Rocky Mountain National Park.  It was a cool morning, and as I rode through the lower valley on the west side of the park, the temperature was dropping.  I changed into the warmer gloves, but as I started climbing up above the valley floor, the temps rose again.  I took in the sweeping views of the Never Summer range while winding up trail ridge road, and we all stopped at the Alpine Visitor Center at the top of the road for a short hike and some photos.

Wapiti….yum yum

Epic mountain views!

Afterwards, I mounted up again and continued over the pass.  The views from the top of Trail Ridge Road were epic!  I could see the distinctive flat-top of Long’s Peak to the southeast.  The craggy face of the continental divide dominated the view on my right side.  The upper part of the road was very crowded with tourists pulling over and getting out.  I rode very carefully and finally started to descend to the east side of the Park.  I also passed dozens of motorcyclists.  Most of them were on cruisers.  Not many people waved, but neither did I because I was focused on controlling my descent.  However as I came around a lower curve I saw a dual-sport rider coming up.  He gave me a big “thumbs up” as he passed me!

Self photo on top of Trail Ridge Road with Long’s Peak in the background

After making it through the Park we did an awesome hike up from the Glacier Gorge trailhead to “The Loch”, where I was able to show my dad one of my favorite snowboard descents, Taylor Glacier.  Then we went into Estes Park for dinner and finally got on US-36 and took that all the way back to Denver.

This was the first “long-distance” ride I’ve done on the KLR.  I learned a few things, but all in all I didn’t have any problems and had a lot of fun.  I may be in the market for a more comfortable seat, but other than that, the KLR is a great touring bike!

Recent Splitboarding Sessions

Sunday, January 4th, 2009

Arg!  Enough of the political blogs.  Although I like to publish my opinion on all the crazyness in the world, I was quickly reminded by my estranged heterosexual life partner: “I don’t give a damn about your political beliefs!  I want to see some mountains and powder.”

Well here you go, fans.  I present to you my first turns, all earned without the use of mechanical power and rewarded by the splitboard.


Sunday, November 23rd — Aspen Mountain

Aspen was not yet open for business at this time, but snowmaking crews crews had been working day and night to build the racecourse for the annual opening event of the Women’s World Cup competition.  Naturally, I just had to get up extra early before the crews started and skinned up the course for some fresh corduroy…my first ride of the year.

Looking past the snowmaking machines towards the upper racecourse.

I started skinning up the course just after dawn, passing many snowmaking machines that had been running all night long.


View of the jobsite from up on Aspen Mountain

As the sun began to rise, I had a great view of the town below.  In the middle of the photo, with plastic on the roof, is the building that I’ve been working on all year long.  It is almost to completion and looks amazing.


About to head down

Having climbed nearly 1,000 feet up, I decided to put the snowboard on and make some turns.  Here, right before the descent.  It was an incredibly fast racecourse, and I had a little taste of what the professionals were about to compete on in a few days.

Sunday, Dec 21, 2008 — Backcountry near Ashcroft, CO

This weekend I took an AIARE Level 1 Certification Course.  On the final day of class, my group of 7 were charged with putting together a short tour, where we evaluated the terrain and snowpack and practice safe decision making.

The avy class crew heading up the skin track

I met some cool people in the class. Here, the whole crew is heading up the mountain.

Across the valley, we observed the crown of a large avalanche that had occured a few days earlier.  (The crown is visible in the shady area in the middle of the photo)

Lunch in view of the elk range

After hiking a few miles and a few 1,000 feet up Devaney Creek, we stopped for lunch.  To our south, the Castle Creek valley spreads out across the horizon.

snow pitcompression testcompression testcompression test compression testcompression test

After lunch, we found a safe spot to dig a pit and analyze the snowpack.  Here, Brian demonstrates a compression test.  It took over 20 taps for the column to fail, but it failed all the way down to the lowest layer of depth hoar.  Not a good sign for avalanche safety in the area.

Paul\'s first runIanDave

Having made a collective decision on the danger level, we agreed to play it safe and ski in the low-angled trees.  The payoff was some incredible untracked powder, and well worth the work.


Saturday, January 3, 2009 — Mt. Evans

Today Vanessa and I took a very short trip from Denver to a “secret stash” near the Mt. Evans road.  I’ve had some good conditions in years past, when the front range saw above-average snowfall.  This year, prospects were not as good.

Vanessa heading up

Vanessa hiking up through the trees south of the road.  We could see rocks and deadfall.  This caused us to be discouraged of actually snowboarding down.

Mt. Evans road

Usually, if conditions in the trees are not ready, we could snowboard down the road.  Unfortunately, too little snow in the front range left us hiking all the way back down.


looking down the route

I did a little scouting to find a good descent line, but after just having spent $100 on repairs to my splitboard, I didn’t think it was worth it to try to ride down with such little snowcover.


Sunday, January 4, 2008 — Berthoud Pass

Discouraged but not defeated, V and I paired up with a Josh, a bud from, and headed up to the ever-popular Berthoud Pass.  We had an early start, and it was a sunny, blue-sky day.

a train of skiers heading up Berthoud Pass is easily one of the most popular backcountry ski areas in the state.  An alliance of enthusiasts has done an excellent job in making improvements to the old ski area.  While all the chairlifts are gone, there is an expanded parking lot and hut complete with multiple composting toilets.  Here, a train of skiers heads up the established skin track to the west of Highway 40.


view from the west side of the pass

From the top of the west side of the pass, we had an excellent view of the surrounding terrain.  Avalanche danger was considerable near treeline today, so we took some very conservative lines.  Still, my mind wandered in awe at the extreme couloirs at the headwall across the valley.


Vanessa Vanessa Vanessa On the descent, we found a few inches of powder over some hard crust.  Still, we made some good turns.  Here, Vanessa shows how it is done.


JoshJoshJoshJosh is rocking the custom splitboard.


Vanessa Another great pic of my stellar girlfriend!


JoshJosh got some great blasts of front-range pow.


Vanessa taking a coffee breakAfter a good 2000′ of vertical, we rode right to the highway and stuck our thumbs out.  Hitchiking is the standard practice on Berthoud Pass, and anyone with an empty truck bed would be wise to pick up skiers.  With multiple slide paths the threaten highway travellers here, good karma  is well respected.

It was a cold day up there (my thermometer was reading single digits).  Fortunately, we took a coffee break before heading out for a second run.


That’s all for now!

The first month of splitboarding has had its ups and downs.  January looks promising, and I have some trips to Vail Pass and Rocky Mountain National Park in the works…. STAY TUNED!