Colorado hosts the greatest concentration of high peaks in all of the U.S. and the high alpine is a defining characteristic of the state. In our More Trail Landscapes series, we’re highlighting what makes the terrain of a few distinctive environments so unique. For this edition, we tapped Eagle, CO local and mountain biker, Karen Jarchow, to share what it is about the call of the mountains that many find so alluring.
Originally from Minnesota, Karen was wholly converted to the mountain lifestyle in her mid 20s after she worked on the Medical Crew for an all-women’s Race Across America Team. After befriending one of the riders, and being introduced to the trails in Vail Valley as a new mountain biker, there was no looking back; “You could say that my first few rides in the mountains changed the whole course of my life. We would often go at sunrise. It was getting off the road, getting into nature, the stillness, the views, the scents, the sense of accomplishment after the difficult climbs at higher elevation—you could call it a spiritual experience.”
What to Expect?
“Riding in the mountains is an all-sensory experience that also takes a (different) level of respect. I would compare it to if I were a surfer in the ocean—the ocean’s in control. There’s this sense that you have to be ready for anything. In the mountains, when the weather changes, it could be a life or death situation if you’re above treeline without all the major checklist items. It can get dangerous. It requires a different level of respect and preparedness. But, that’s also what makes it so fulfilling.”
As a state with a healthy appreciation for all-things cycling, there’s no shortage of variety in terrain. From flow trails, old mining roads, to more rugged backcountry riding (including the iconic Colorado Trail that stretches from Denver to Durango), the alpine delivers. For Karen though, the real joy is in the riding that brings Mother Nature to the fore, and demands your full attention, “You can seek out any type of riding you want but I prefer more natural trail—I’m not as much of a fan of flow trails. I look for more backcountry, more raw, more untouched terrain, where you don’t have time to check out and it takes all your senses to be present on your bike. You’re in the backcountry to experience it, not to rush through it.”
When asked to share a few favorites, Karen was quick to say that she’s always on the hunt for new-to-her terrain but that she does have a rotation of go-to trails; “From Eagle we have all the types of riding—fast, flowy high desert, and high alpine. In summer, my favorite trail is Ironedge—it’s a big road climb that takes you a little above 11k’ up to a 10th Mountain Division Hut and it’s so beautiful, especially when there’s wildflowers. And the descent is FULL ON. I haven’t cleared it (yet) in one run so I’ll stop to session different sections. When you pop out at the bottom, you’re like ‘Yes! I made it!’ Through covid, I’ve also been exploring the network of Forest Service roads, linking together different trails. Boneyard is my lunch lap—I’ve ridden it so many times (since before I had Strava) and I still never get tired of it!”
When is the Best Time to Ride in the Alpine?
Summer is the alpine’s obvious prime time to ride as Spring is typically known to bring a lot of precipitation but, if you’re a local, you can get outside all year. “With a fat bike, you can definitely ride year-round since there are fat bike trails. However, I do ride indoors in the Winter and I also do a lot of Nordic skiing to change things up.”
What to Carry
“A kit for flats, always some kind of rain shell, snacks (lots of snacks?), water and/or a water filter (I carry a small filter flask in the summertime), and sun protection—sunglasses, sunscreen and chapstick are all a must.”
The Best Part About Riding in the Alpine?
“The presence that it brings you. When I’m riding in the alpine, I’m not thinking about anything else and I’m not wanting to be anywhere else. There’s just something different about being in the alpine, especially above treeline, that completely centers you.”