Ride Report: The 401

by Laurel Runcie

Ride Report: The 401


by Laurel Runcie

The 401 (aka Trail Riders Trail #401) is arguably the most well-known mountain bike trail in the world. Search youtube for "401 trail" and you’ll find hundreds of videos (here's my favorite). If you played word association with a group of mountain bikers and said “Crested Butte,” most would say “401.” But, I had never ridden the 401 until last night. It’s shameful. I’ve always been a bit of a pansy on sidehills and I’d heard the 401 is full of scary ones. On Monday, I saw the weather forecast for the week and it called for a dry spell starting on Wednesday. It was time. I casually asked Tom if he wanted to ride 401 after work on Wednesday. He initially said he wasn’t sure I would be fast enough to get back before dark, but I pushed. He was in. Wednesday afternoon, right as Tom was driving home from work, the clouds moved in. I checked the radar and it looked like they might pass over in the time it would take us to drive to the trailhead, so we loaded up the truck and headed out. It rained on and off the whole way there, but we could see blue sky to the west, which is normally a good sign. road climb up to Schofield Pass and the 401 We got to the trailhead at 5:30 right as the clouds passed over, and then it was time to spin the road miles past Emerald Lake to the top of Schofield Pass and the start of the singletrack. It was absolutely glorious and we rode the 4.1 miles in about 45 minutes. Then it was up the singletrack. I found that the new trick I learned from Elinor and El about sliding forward on my seat for steep spots works great. I didn’t clean the whole thing, but the difference between how I’m riding now and how I was riding even 3 weeks ago is pretty shocking. After switchbacking through the trees, we popped out into the open with views of the Maroon Bells. Maroon Bells from the singletrack climb We topped out at 11,342 feet, had a snack, and got ready to ride down. I was giddy by this point and so excited to ride through the meadows of flowers we had seen on the climb. Tom hitting the top After a short down followed by a quick up, we curved around the side of Mount Bellview and then started the long descent. We rode in and out of handlebar-deep flowers and dipped into and climbed out of a few streams. Most of the streams were rideable. There is one that is far beyond my abilities. I’ve heard people ride it sometimes, but I don’t know how. It’s better to just scramble across holding tight to your bike. You'll know it when you see it. We were hit with views of the meandering East River on the valley floor below and the towering peaks above. Tom and I got a good look at a bowl he skied on Baldy this spring that isn’t visible from many places. Magical only begins to describe it. mountain views from trail riders trail 401 Then we started to switchback. Each time we’d make a right-hand turn towards the northwest, we’d turn into fields full of over-the-head backlit corn lily and delphinium that shimmered in the light. As a native Upstate-New-Yorker I felt completely at home in these “cornfields.” It also turns out that the thing about sidehills is they’re not nearly as scary if you’re riding through a tunnel of flowers. corn lily on 401 corn lily field

We descended the 4 miles of flowy singletrack and popped out at the Rustler’s Gulch parking area at 7:30. It was decision time: ride back to the road and skip lower 401, or go for broke and race the sunset to get the extra miles of singletrack in. We weren’t ready to be done, so we crossed the stream and started the climb up to the last downhill. bottom of upper 401 The climb up to the last downhill is no joke at 500 vertical feet and about a mile and a half. But after 20 minutes of hard work, it was over. While the upper 401 descent is pure flow with very few rocks, the lower 401 is a tiny bit more challenging. You’ll find three substantial rock gardens, the last of which is full of loose, sharp rocks. But just put your elbows and knees out, lighten up on the brakes, and you can flow right over them. That's why we have suspension, right? We made it back to the truck just in time to watch the clouds turn pink as the sun set behind Baldy. Riding 13.7 miles with 2,369 feet of elevation gain is a pretty great way to spend an evening after a day of work. From the top of the pass when we turned on to the singletrack until we got back to the truck at the end, we didn’t see a single other person on the trail. It’s hard to beat a completely private ride on the most famous trail in the world.
Get the map! Download the map for just the 401 or get the Gothic map so you can pair the 401 with some of the other classic rides out in the East River Valley.