There's a sublime appeal to standing on the summit of an iconic mountain, taking in 360-degree views of the Rocky Mountains. It's a Colorado pastime that rivals mountain biking. When that summit hike begins and ends by pedaling single track, it's all the sweeter. Plenty of folks hike up mountains, but very few can say they did it completely under their own power. No driving to the trailhead needed here, just walking out the front door and ending up on that tippy-top point that I see from my pillow every morning.
Byers Peak stands watch over Colorado's Fraser Valley, the tallest and most prominent mountain on the west side. Its summit is 12,804ft above sea level, and over 4,000ft higher than the valley floor. Named after an early politician and Colorado's first newspaperman, the mountain is visible from nearly everywhere in the area and dominates the skyline to our west. So what better way to spend a day on 4th of July weekend than to tire my legs with a couple good friends?
Earlier in the week, I got a random knock on my door— unexpectedly my old biking/camping pals and bike-packing aficionados Eszter Horanyi and Scott Morris were passing through my area and decided to drop in. Our paths cross a couple of times per year it seems, and they more than most anyone are always looking for a good long day outdoors. Usually the part of the outdoors that is much higher than where they're currently standing.
Sunday morning rolled around and I hopped on my bike at my doorstep. I'm fortunate to have trail access literally a quarter mile down the road, and I began the steady climb out of my backyard and into the woods. The three of us met at the top of Zoom trail, as they were staying a few miles away with similarly easy access. From there we set off towards Byers, taking the long way so as to maximize our single track and minimize our Forest Service roads.
Some fun, twisty descending down Broken Spade and Chainsaw led us to a gentle climb up Flume which parallels St. Luis Creek, still rushing with late season snow-melt. As we entered the Fraser Experimental Forest, our singletrack options expired, but churning up dirt roads is always a good opportunity to catch up on life, share stories and shoot the breeze.
Eszter soon began to regret her decision to bring her singlespeed rig, but Eszter also competed at Single Speed Worlds during her racing career. So it's all relative. As usual, I was happy to have gears. Ez and Scott have taken an interest in bird watching lately, and as Scott said, “Bird watching is a great excuse to take a break in the middle of a long steep climb. ‘Wait, what's that? I think I see a rare bird in that tree! Stop and get the camera out!'”
As we passed the gate at the end of the line for motor vehicles, a family of four was unloading bikes from an SUV so they, like us and many others, could pedal the last 1.8mi of steep road that terminates at the Byers Peak Wilderness boundary, where the 3-mile summit hike begins. The pitch of this section makes bike pace roughly equivalent to hiking, but the real reward comes later when you coast back down approaching 30mph.
Three hours after leaving home, it's lovely to find a bike rack at the Wilderness Boundary. Here we changed into trail shoes, locked the bikes, ate a snack and set off on foot for the middle third of this adventure. The trail meanders through dense forest until gaining treeline, and from there it's essentially straight up the north ridge of Byers. I'm a better cyclist than hiker, and I was jealous that Ez and Scott have also taken up trail running, making the steep ascent a lot easier for them. They've got a lot of things figured out.
Near the top is a bit of Class 2 rock scramble and then there you are, overlooking hundreds of other peaks in all directions. We spent a while on the summit, pointing at things, pointing at places we'd been and places we intend to explore. And we had the summit all to ourselves even on a busy holiday weekend.
“I like being lazy and starting late, because all the ambitious people are already done,” Eszter mused half-jokingly. After a quick summit lunch and with some iffy weather approaching from the northwest, we said our goodbyes to Byers's apex and headed back down. The thing I never like about hiking is that the way down is almost as grueling as the way up. We were eager to get back to our bikes, to let gravity and wheels do their harmonious dance.
The rain mostly missed us, and soon enough we were saddled up and ready to rip back down. And boy did we, so quick that we caught a truck and the driver pulled aside for us to get ahead of him. We spotted a family of two adult moose and a calf near the river, we talked about bikepacking routes and about the pizza we were about to consume in town.
After several miles on the road, we were back to singletrack and soft-pedaling along the gently descending Creekside and Givelo trails, depositing us right in town only a few blocks away from the aptly named Elevation Pizza because as you know, most every good adventure ends in pizza.
All told it was about 40 miles round trip with 5,400ft of elevation gain. 3K of that being hiking and a slight majority of the mileage came to us on trails. I'd be hard pressed to find a better way to spend a day than with good friends, old bikes, and high mountains. Or is that old friends and good bikes? It's all of the above. Oh, and pizza.