A mountain bike is the secret tool to bigger, more fun days in the mountains, no matter what sport you love. Mine has come in handy on many missions, from biking to surf to shuttling a section of a river. But to me, it’s most fun as an assist in summiting Colorado thirteeners. It’s so fun climbing a sweet trail to get to the point where you can begin a hike or climb to a summit.
One of many great peaks to bike assist is Engineer off of Molas Pass in southwestern Colorado. After summiting, you can set yourself up with a downhill of more than 3,000 vertical feet with a hitchhike to finalize things. For a trip like this, a light and fast approach is best, usually with a hydration pack stuffed with OR’s transcendent sweater to allow for keeping the body heat in while sitting on the peak.
The only thing that beats biking to hike up and down a peak is skinning up and skiing down a peak that you’ve accessed via bike, which I’ve been able to do on peaks from New England to the Rockies. My most memorable little mission was a day in September, when I found myself without a partner. I had thrown my bike in the old Volvo to help with the final push to snow from where I would park. I got such a kick out of biking along in ski boots, looking around and taking it all in, that I decided I needed to bike all the way from town the next day—I think it may have been the smallest carbon footprint for a ski day, considering the mileage and elevation covered that day.
The joy of pedaling out of town with ski boots on my feet, skis on my back and roots reggae blasting through my brain was fantastic. I was thrilled for the next six miles to where I would pick up the road from the day before, and hit snow a few miles later.
I would be a liar if I said it never felt a bit crazy, and or I never thought maybe I should have driven. But once I could pedal and look at the line ahead of me, I was chortling away about how great things were. I laid the bike at tree line and donned the skins.
Picking up the trail from the day before made for fast time, and it was easy to justify doing a couple laps. It started snowing as I returned to the bike. I remember like it was yesterday, the piercing of the snowflakes on my eyeballs, and needing to put my goggles down. “Yes! Storm riding!” I hollered out. It would have been great to witness that, because I was ridiculous, hooting and hollering with excitement. I had just ridden my bike to the bottom of a 2,000-foot shot and skied alone, crossing only my bike tracks on my way down.
The bike-access ski season is just beginning, and who knows how long it will last? The bike—or dirt bike if you go for that—keeps the high alpine roads open for weeks and months after they become impassable for cars, providing access to the wonderful snow that has had the agency dropping the gates.