Crested Butte to Aspen: Mountain Biking Epic

Written by on March 9, 2010 in CO Outdoor Adventures - Comments Off on Crested Butte to Aspen: Mountain Biking Epic

Pearl Pass
On a cool September day in 1976, a group of die-hards took off on their bikes to conquer the grueling trek over Pearl Pass. Little did they know, they would pioneer the legendary tour from Crested Butte to Aspen, which draws dozens of mountain bike fanatics to the quaint mountain town every year.

Originally opened as a mule train pass, the rocky route covers over 39 miles, topping out at an altitude of 12,705 feet. Nobody had ever dreamed of crossing the dangerous terrain until 1976, when a band of boisterous motorcyclists from Aspen decided to try. As they swooped down into the lazy town of Crested Butte, they celebrated the seemingly impossible feat, parking their bikes in front of the Grubstake Bar. The locals thought this was an invasion of pretentious Hollywood glitz, and vowed to outdo the intruders by repeating their journey. On bicycles!

The following weekend, a group of about 14 local men and women pedaled and pushed their classic “town bikes” up and over the pass, along with kegs of Coors beer. After two days, they hurtled down into Aspen, threw their clunkers in a pile outside the ritzy Hotel Jerome, and the reveling began. Their ambitious tour was finally over, and they had won the ultimate bragging rights.

Word spread quickly, and since then, many famous mountain bikers have made the pilgrimage to Crested Butte for the annual “Pearl Pass Bike Tour”. Only two years after the inaugural ride, in 1978, a group of auspicious Californian bikers (including Gary Fischer and Joe Breeze) arrived in Crested Butte to join the epic tour. They made the front page of several local newspapers, and the event quickly gained notoriety. This brand of hippie-rebel cycling became a grass roots phenomenon, and eventually was enshrined by the Mountain Bike Hall of Fame.

Today, the event only lasts one day, but it is just as grueling and rewarding. There is no monetary cost, but your legs and lungs will certainly shell out their own currency as you traverse icy streams, hike your bike up rocky slopes, and careen down winding single track. Passing groves of golden aspen trees in the sunshine, with a cool breeze sweeping through the meadows, this ride really is a celebration of fall in Colorado.

The tour begins with a few easy miles winding out of the town of Crested Butte and down a smooth dirt road. As the elevation increases, the scenery becomes more stunning, passing along the side of a lush valley and several rushing creeks. The terrain becomes rocky and unpredictable, and many people have to dismount on their way up to Cumberland Basin (the overnight campsite of the original group). The final push of the 4,000 foot climb is grueling, the thin mountain air only adding to the challenge, before you reach Pearl Pass. After a rest break, then comes the fun part. The 19 mile long descent is fast and harrowing, taking you down twisting mining roads littered with rocks larger than bowling balls, passing through the old mining town of Ashcroft, and skidding to a halt at Aspen’s edge.

Riders of this majestic and technical journey often still stop at Hotel Jerome for a celebratory drink, pausing to let the adrenaline fade and remember those who traveled before. If you think you’re up for the challenge, the 34th annual Pearl Pass Tour will be taking place September 10-11th, 2010. Bring your legs, your gear, and a good attitude, and prepare for the ride of your life!

For more information on the Tour, call 970.349.6817

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