4th of July 2018 started off like most others in Crested Butte. A bit of traffic, a funky and fresh parade, and then an escape into the backcountry. Shortly before the end of the parade, and before we got doused in the massive waterfight that ensues, my friend Shaw and I loaded our bikes and struck out for the Crest for a ride down Agate Creek.
An hour or so later we were dropping bikes at the top, and I drove the truck back down to set the shuttle with a short hitchhike. Once I locked up the truck it took all of five minutes for one of US 50’s many travelers to pull over and get me back to the top. Pretty spectacular, and some very nice people as well.
We started riding our bikes on the Monarch Crest trail, following signs for the Continental Divide and Colorado Trail. Both of these famous trails run right along the top of the Continental Divide and the views are excellent. Overall the ride on the Crest was incredibly pleasant. In the 7 or 8 miles from the Pass to the turnoff to Agate we didn’t have to dismount once. I will admit though that this would be grueling for anyone coming directly from low elevation or without any acclimatization.
At the junction with Agate we switched gears from well-packed trail on the Crest to loose, dusty downhill. The first 2.5 miles contains the most elevation drop, and you can tell it’s well-loved by the moto crowd, especially for riding uphill. It was a ton of fun, but also a bit nerve-wracking to feel your tires floating through the moon dust and loose rock on the steeper sections. I definitely wish I owned a pair of kneepads for this one.
Shortly after the first intersection with Lime Creek Trail (#485) the trail changes character. At this point you’re in the thick of the forest and deep in the Agate Creek drainage. Some short, punchy uphills start to dot the descent, and I’m not afraid to admit we walked a handful of them due to their steepness and lack of good lead-ins. The steep sections of descents also changed character with lots of large rocks in the trail. There were a couple times we just got so bumped around that we just got off and walked for a bit. Where the trail isn’t steep, there’s usually some excellent track through the trees. And then there are the creek crossings.
This particular season has been very dry for us. Typically it’s only recommended that you ride Agate in August or September once the water levels have dropped. The reason being is the 9+ creek crossings you’ll make on your way through the drainage. This year the levels were never more than a foot deep, but it could easily be knee or waist deep if you didn’t time it right. Some of these creek crossings were rideable, but for the sake of our drivetrains and the dust that lurked on the other side, we walked most of them. We were still pretty gunky and dirty by the end of the ride though.
Towards the bottom of the ride, you start to notice a few weird things that seem out-of-place in this little sanctuary of woods and trees. A tire here, a mirror there, and then you see the cars. We only saw a few, but they’re the remnants of several fatal crashes from high up on US 50. Honestly it’s a little creepy to see them there thinking of the horror that must have occurred years ago.
Another mile or so of track leads to a final uphill that brings you back to the trailhead where hopefully you left a couple cold ones and some snacks.
Overall this was a much longer ride than I expected. I clocked it at 18.75 miles and about 1500′ of climbing in total. Timewise, it took us about 3 hours to go from the top back to the truck, but we didn’t stop much. I would bet the average time is closer to 3.5 or 4 hours for most groups.
One other note is on lightning and storms. We left late in the day because of a pretty favorable weather forecast and our continued dry weather. Most of the ride on the Monarch Crest, and the first 1.5 mile of downhill on Agate are very exposed and open. Get an early start and consider a plan B if you start to get threatened with big puffy clouds.