Lithgow to Mittagong Day 3 - Tuglow River Campground to Mittagong, 130kms.
Colorado 10th Mountain Division Hut Trip - Day 1 - Uncle Bud's Hut

Colorado 10th Mountain Division Hut Trip - Preparation

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I planned to visit Vail in Colorado in July 2016 and wanted to do an interesting bike trip. I had already heard about the 10th, Mountain huts as places to stay in the Winter when you were travelling cross-country on skis. But then I read this article which opened my eyes to the idea of bikepacking between some huts.  I booked online at Huts.org and arranged for maps and a guide book to be sent to Vail, to wait for my arrival. 

Ahead of the detailed route planning, I needed to do two things:

  1. Try to get some high altitude cycling practice.
  2. Organise a bike to ride.

I live pretty close to sea level in Australia, and even though I did some cycling in the hills, it was only 300m above sea level, whereas I would be cycling above 10,000ft (over 3,000m), ten times that altitude. The only solution was to get to Vail with  few days to spare, and train from there.

In terms of bicycle. I found a bike shop in Leadville, about the closest town to the 10th. Mountain Huts. It is called Cycles of Life.  I got excited as when I called them they said that they would rent me a 'hardtail' mountain bike from Salsa. The model they selected was 'El Mariachi'. This was one of the most favoured bikes in long distance bike packing events, so I was interested to find out what it was like. I told the guys in the shop that I planned to bike-pack, and they said they would have to tape up each part of the bike frame where the bags might touch. So I'd need to allow plenty of time.

The route I planned to undertake was the same as that followed in the online article which had initially inspired me. First night at Uncle Bud's hut, second at Skinner's Hut and the third at Betty Bear's. Then on the fourth day, cycle all the way back to the starting point.  The reason for selecting this route was mainly because I felt it would be achievable, and as such, be one fewer thing to have to plan. I really had no idea of what the cycling terrain would be like, how the altitude would affect me, and what the weather would be. These huts are all at over 11,000 ft and I had read plenty of warnings about the speed with which the weather can change, and how serious things can get in the mountains. There is also the possibility of developing a mechanical problem which would either force me to abandon the trip, or slow down my progress.

 As I was staying in a hut, I wouldn't need a tent, stove, sleep mat or cooking utensils. But I would need a sleeping bag, food and water, and also I would need to be prepared to go and find water and treat it for human consumption. As this was my third bikepacking trip, and each have been quite different in terms of weather, season, terrain, remoteness, there was a bit of decision making to be done in terms of what gear to take. 

Here were some of the decisions I had to make:

  1. Water. Unlike my trip from Lithgow to Mittagong, where water would be scarce. Here the water would be plentiful, but require treatment. By treatment I considered purifying tablets and boiling to be adequate. I had a low throughput, in-line water filter which I could use, but it was only really practical for drinking cold water while cycling. 
  2. Food. I would need enough food for three days. I chose sachets of quick porridge oats as my breakfast, various snack bars for during cycing, and some freeze-dry 'Mountain House' meals for the evening. I had a few apples as dessert. I also took some tea bags (Yorkshire) and some coffee bags, and my luxury item was a hip flask full of cheap whiskey.
  3. Clothing. I had one set of cyling clothing, and one set of camp clothing. Also, some wet weather cycling gear and colder weather cycling gear. In terms of footwear, I have flip-flops for the hut and hiking boots for the cycling. I assumed I would be hiking for some of the time, so wanted the best footwear for that. 
  4. Navigation. I had the topographical maps of the areas I was travelling in, downloaded inside the Backcountry Maps app on my phone. But also had the 'old school' setup of physical maps and Silva compass. Also had my Garmin Forerunner 910XT. This would keep track the distance and actual route I took. 
  5. Other electronics. I knew there would be no power for several days, so I needed to take a battery power pack to keep my phone working for the duration. I did not take any lights for my bike, but did include a head torch, just for finding things at night in the hut.
  6. Bears! I became somewhat obsessed with the thought of meeting one of these, and what I would do in that event. I bought the 'Bear Aware' book from a Ranger Station in Minturn, and read it from cover to cover. The result of that was that no matter how unlikely it was that I would meet a bear on the trail, I should really have some bear spray and possibly, also a firearm. Well the firearm was out of the question, and in the end, it turned out that so was the bear spray. I just could not find anywhere that sold it. So my final item of purchase for my trip was a set of bells and some wire to enable me to attach the bells to my right hiking boot. My reasoning was that whether I was cycling or walking, I would still be able to make a jingling noise, and if the book was to be believed, then bears would hear me coming and make themselves scarce. Thus I would avoid the real problem with bears; happening upon them when they are least expecting you. (I have to note here that some of the people I subsequently met, made a bit of fun out of my bells, and said that the sound told the bears that lunch was on the way!).

 I arrived in Vail on July 14th and would be on my hut trip between July 19th and 22nd.

I had brought a road bike with me, and after getting settled, I built the bike up and took it for a spin to climb from Vail village at 8,150ft up to Vail Pass at 10,600ft. I found I was stopping every 500 ft of climbing, and catching my breath. I could not drink water as I cycled as the time when I was swallowing and not panting, would almost make me faint. I only made it half way. But I was not disheartened as I was well aware that this would be one of the hardest aspects of the trip.

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On day two, July 15th. I did not cycle, but instead did some shopping in preparation. But I did cycle on day three, July 16th and again on July 18th. Both times reaching the top of the pass, and each time cycling faster and stopping less frequently.  The roads around Vail are very cycle friendly, they are either nice quiet roads with good quality shoulders or cycle and hiker only roads.

Here was my training route:

 

For many people the fitness and acclimatisation would not be a problem, but when you are nearly 57 years old, have quite severe jet-lag and lets be honest, are not in peak shape. You need to build up to things properly, and rest between days of exertion. Then you can get fit enough, without exhausting yourself.

By the end of July 18th, I knew I was physically going to be up to the job, just about. Providing I went at my own pace, and was not threatened by a bear.

That night I did not sleep well, and the bear issue was the problem. I wondered why I would willing put myself in harms way. I wondered whether my children deserved this sort of selfish behaviour.  In the end I drifted off, and my phone alarm seemed to go off as soon as my eyes closed. 

 

 

 

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