You heard it first...Bike the 14ers near its final descent.
From Sunday's Aspen Daily News by Jordan Curet - read the full article here.
Motto for trips: ‘You don’t know till you go’
It’s not unusual for outdoor enthusiasts to find inventive and rugged methods of exploration, but two local mountain bikers are pushing the limits by biking the fourteeners of Colorado.
Of the state’s 54,14,000-foot peaks, there are 18 not located in restricted wilderness areas, which prohibit the use of mountain bikes and mechanized vehicles. Ian Fohrman of Denver and Whit Boucher of Aspen saw a unique challenge and exciting biking in beautiful terrain and set out to bike all 18.
The idea started last summer when rumors were floating around that some bikers had taken to the trails on Mount Elbert. “We were skeptical, picturing a mountain of unridable scree and hours of hike-a-bike, but we decided to go for it anyway,” said Fohrman.
As difficult as the hike up was, the ride down was worth it. Biking in the high alpine terrain was a completely different experience than any biking they had done before. With one successful peak accomplished, it sparked the idea to see what else they could ride above treeline.
“We are skiers and ski mountaineers and love being in the mountains, but high alpine is missing from mountain biking,” said Fohrman. So the pair delved into the internet and poured over maps to see where they could bring bikes and what was not in a wilderness area. But as they tried to figure out what would be next, they realized that no information existed about most of the rideable 14ers.
“No one really knows which ones you can ride,” said Boucher, “First it was 18, then 14. Some are private. But we finally settled on our goal and started riding.”
The motto for the trips became, “you don’t know till you go,” according to Fohrman. Even though these peaks are open to bikes, they were not designed with bikes in mind, and some are hardly more than animal trails. The peaks presented different challenges, but both say they find a sense of exploration and accomplishment in each one.
“Nothing has been easy,” according to Fohrman. “It’s totally different from one to another, they are all physically and technically very challenging.”
He recalls a moment on Antero when the summit seemed unachievable, toiling through the forest for hours, only to reach tree line and see the summit still so far away over difficult miles of scree.
Other mountains have been less arduous, with the pair riding at the local Sky Mountain Park in the afternoon after summiting a fourteener.
“It would be impossible to ride from bottom to top,” said Boucher, explaining that they ride the sections they can, and when they can’t, they carry their bikes.
He continued: “It’s painful for sure but the notion of exploring these new trails and biking places where bikes have never been before makes you forget about the pain.”
As difficult as the hike up can be, the descent is worth all the work for Ian Forhman and Whit Boucher, seen here descending Mount Elbert. They are careful to stay on the trail in the fragile alpine environment, and always stop for a hikers.
According to Fohrman, “ ‘Hike a bike’ is just part of the project. It’s all part of the adventure and more than worth it for the descents.”
Boucher described the descent as the closest thing to skiing he can find. But it’s not quite like skiing powder, with the speed dependent on the technical degree of the terrain. Sometimes, it’s flowing down trails and other times it’s carefully plopping down big ledges.
On their most recent mission, the duo decided to add an extra level of difficulty. On the last Sunday in September, they went in the middle of the night under the Supermoon to summit Cameron and Lincoln.
“It was cold and windy at night, but the moon was so bright it was like daylight,” recalled Boucher, his face lighting up with a smile while describing finding great rideable trails up high before descending at dawn.
With 11 peaks down, they still have Evans, Pikes Peak and Huron to go, according to Boucher.
While both have full-time jobs, they hope to avoid the busy weekend traffic.
“It is absolutely insane how many people are hiking on these trails,” said Boucher, “Even on a Monday morning at 9 a.m. we thought we would be the only ones on the mountain, but we weren’t alone.”
Both bikers say they are cautious of hikers and staying on the trail to preserve the alpine tundra. Boucher says a lot of people recognize them and ask about the project.
“Everyone that we have encountered has been nothing but stoked,” he said, “we have yet to have a negative encounter on the trail.”
At the same time, as their personal project has gained traction, they have received some negative feedback on social media channels, people concerned they are damaging fragile high alpine environments as well as people not wanting to encourage more bikers on these peaks. Both say the most frustrating part is people who don’t understand what they are doing before they complain, like one detractor who said they were creating more scree.
But the passion for the project stems from their love of the outdoors and the desire to protect it, not harm it.
Despite critics, they hope to open up a better dialogue about biking laws.
Boucher said he can’t help but wonder about the Wilderness Act, which was put in place when mountain biking was in its infancy.
“No one ever envisioned people riding something like a fourteener,” Boucher said, hoping their project will start the discussion.
Now the end of the ride is in sight, as it becomes a race against time before the snow arrives. They are saving Pikes Peak for last. It has road access to the top and a 5,000-foot descent, which connects in to a biking trail system.
“I am looking forward to that one,” said Boucher, “I want to bring some friends and have a fun group ride day to celebrate the end of it for us.”