• Mountain Bike from Copper Mountain over Searle Pass, Kokomo Pass to Camp Hale

    Dave Newman in the distance, riding the Colorado Trail near Guller Creek heading to Searle Pass. 

    This ride has been on my bucket list for a while now and I was able to talk my buddy Dave Newman into doing the ride with me. In this column, I’ll share photos from our day and some tips to help you succeed if you want to do this ride.

    Though we didn’t make it this easy on the file link I’ll provide later, the easiest way to connect to the Colorado Trail is via the east overflow parking lot at Copper Mountain, Colorado. Follow the paved trail south until it ends at Highway 91. Directly across the highway is the Colorado Trail Segment 8 — Copper Mountain to Tennessee Pass Trailhead.

    Another option that includes some road warm-up is to take an easy spin through the resort to the A-Road on the west end of Copper Mountain. Ride the A-Road until the Colorado Trail crosses it and take a right to begin riding the trail towards Searle Pass. To find a map of Copper Mountain summer trails, go to the resort site.

    My husband agreed to pick us up at the end of the ride, rather than dropping a car at the endpoint. It is important to know that there are two potential pick-up sites. The first pick-up point is at Camp Hale. There is a campground as well as a small memorial south of the campground entrance. “Small” means a parking lot and a couple of wooden signs. The only way you will know you are at the Camp Hale Memorial is by looking at the map on one of the wooden signs and it says “You are here. Camp Hale Memorial.”

    Getting to the Camp Hale Memorial at the end of your ride means leaving the Colorado Trail at Forest Service Road 171 (also known as East Fork Eagle Road) and making your way to Camp Hale Spur 18 to access Highway 24 (also known as the Tenth Mountain Division Memorial Highway.)

    If you decide not to stop at Camp Hale and continue on the Colorado Trail to the end of the Colorado Trail segment at the top of Tennessee Pass, it is roughly a 7-mile climb from Camp Hale to the top of Tennessee Pass where there is a memorial commemorating the Tenth Mountain Division. This location is also along Highway 24 and is a potential place to drop a car or have someone pick you up.

    The first part of the ride out through Copper Mountain and past the ski area boundary, tucks in and out of trees along Guller Creek. Though it is mostly a climb to Searle Pass, there are some rollers and short, poppy climbs with a few rock gardens and tree roots. We rode on a nice, dry fall day in late September so most of the trail was dry. Even this late in the season, there was still running water above tree line. If you ride in the early summer, expect some wet areas and potential snowfields along the trail. In mid-summer, be sure to leave early enough to avoid lightning storms as the ride includes roughly 8 miles above 11,000 feet. (Treeline is roughly 11,500 feet.)

    Click on any photo for a bigger view and press esc to get back to the column

    Dave getting ready for a Guller Creek crossing

    Gale in alpine forest - photo courtesy of Dave Newman

    Getting ready to leave the alpine forest, looking back toward Copper Mountain

    Above treeline with Searle Pass in view

    Part of the hut system, a sign for Janet's cabin

    Janet's cabin is tucked in the trees

    Dave's final push to get to Searle Pass

    I'm coming Dave! - photo courtesy of Dave Newman

    Searle Pass view toward the mine tailing ponds

    Searle Pass view toward Copper

    Between Searle and Kokomo Passes (Photo courtesy of Dave Newman)

    What wasn’t obvious to me prior to the ride is that after reaching Searle Pass, there is a high-alpine traverse and more climbing to the high point of 12,288 feet. Then, there is a short descent to the sign designating Kokomo Pass. On a side note, Kokomo was once a thriving mining town.    

    High alpine traverse pano view

    We made it to Kokomo! (Photo courtesy of Dave Newman)

    Neither of us expected the descent into Camp Hale to be so steep - another heads up!

    Dave is surrounded by fall gold

    Late season wildflowers!

    Waterfall near Camp Hale

    You can find a Relive video of the ride at this link. In the locations where two photos appear, in general one was taken with a view one way and the second photo is roughly 180 degrees the other direction. Some of the photo labels might be confusing.

    Strava file for the ride – You can download a gpx file from this link. Know that we rode around trying to find my husband at the end of the ride. In that process, we took one wrong turn. You can see wrong turn comment in the Relive video. Unless you feel a need to add more miles, just end your ride at the Camp Hale Memorial.


    Things to know before you go

    • Cell service and tracking: I was able to get cell service (Verizon is my carrier) at Searle Pass. I didn’t have service anywhere else along the route. Dave had no service anywhere along the ride (his carrier is AT&T.) If someone is tracking your location for safety reasons or to coordinate picking you up, a cell phone is useless. We had a pick-up snafu with my husband and the kind people (Nate and Sam) at Nova Guides on Highway 24 helped us out. (Beautiful venue and location too!)
    • A long way from help: For many of the rides I do in Summit County (including high mountain passes), there are roads close to the trail. This ride does not include that luxury. Have a plan in case of emergency. What will you do if you have a mechanical problem or you get injured? (Keep this in mind when trying to ride tricky sections of the trail.)
    • Weather changes quickly at altitude: We had a little of everything during our ride – sun, clouds, sleet or graupel and wind. A good part of the ride has exposure. High winds and rain or hail would be really bad – check the weather before you head out.

     More about Gale

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