Desert Southwest (CO,AZ,UT,NM), Trip Reports » Vapor Trail Minusby wildersfam
The first day began in Poncha Springs, riding up paved and dirt roads to a section of the CT between the Shavano TH and Chalk Creek. From there, I planned to head up Chalk Creek to the ghost town of Hancock. The CT in this stretch suprised me with its rideability, with just a few hike-a-bike sections. I met a half-dozen CT racers, who were weary from all of the wet weather.
From Chalk Creek, I turned westward towards ATV land following an old railroad grade and then a dirt road to St. Elmo. I had decided to try to make it to the old mining ghost town of Hancock that evening, but my plans seemed to unravel as I encountered barriers and keep out signs erected by the forest service on the road I had planned to take. The road had been washed out and, according to someone, the road was now sliced by an impassable 40′ gulley . I thought to myself, “This is where the adventure begins”. I continued on, a little cautiously, and was able to slide across the gulley and the side (with possibly only a little deviation into non-public land).
I spent the first night in Hancock at the Alpine Tunnel trailhead. The next morning I followed this beautiful trail up an alpine drainage to the collapsed tunnel entrance. From there, I hiked up a steep trail 1/4 mile to the top, then rode down to the unique and historic Alpine Tunnel station.
Until that point in my adventure, I had only done a minimal amount of hike-a-bike. The next several hours, however, began progressively more difficult due to steep, rocky terrain chewed up by ATVs. I had now entered ATV land where anything other than a personal 4-wheeler was an oddity.
I rode/hiked up to Tomichi Pass, then onto the single track Canyon Creek Trail. The first mile or so nearly killed me, it was extremely rocky and steep and I had to lift my loaded bike up to the top of Paywell Mountain. I couldn’t believe these last few stretches were part of the 150 mile Vapor Trail Race; it took me about 1.5 hours to climb the mile to the summit and I felt completely crushed at the top. It would have taken me even longer but I was nervous about getting to the top before the lightning started.
From the top, it was all downhill through some of the sweetest single track I’ve ridden. Mt. Paywell was appropriately named after all.
It’s a great trail, with a good little stinger at the end up a steep, loose motorcycle trail. From Canyon Creek I rode out along the Tomichi Creek road to Highway 50, bypassing the Vapor Trail route which climbs up the Old Monarch Crest road. Frankly, I was beat and just wanted to get some junk food at Sargents and find a good campspot.
I camped along Marshall Creek up the Marshall Pass Road. The next day I climbed up the MP Road, which has a great easy railroad grade up to the Monarch Crest Trail.
The rest of the day I followed the CT to the standard Silver Creek Trail, then Rainbow Trail out to the highway and back to Poncha Springs.
All in all, it was a great 3 days with lots of mountainous terrain and scenic vistas. My GPS reported over 14,000 feet of climbing, and 115 miles total (I can share my gps file if desired). I learned to moderate my expectations about how much distance I could cover – with this terrain, 35 miles a day was more than enough and took me around 8 hours with a lot of short breaks. There are plenty of other possible loops in the Salida area for bikepacking. In particular I would suggest explorations of the area southwest of Sargents, which appear to have an extensive network of trails bisecting the Colorado Trail.