We've been wanting to try a muti-day, unsupported bikepacking trip for a while now, but were a little intimidated until we found an interesting route in the Gunnison National forest on bikepacking.com, and we found a small group of women who were willing to join in on the adventure! We did the 65-mile route over 3-days. Below is a review of day two's segment as we did it.
See Day One's route and review here.
See Day Three's route and review here.
The first 12.5 miles are downhill and on pavement. Weeeee! Enjoy the ease and speed of this portion because the rest of the day is dramatically different. Even though there are no services in Ohio City, it is worth a stop to check out their old City Hall, Jail, and School House. Towards the end of this paved section you will pass the Indian Head Rock (a landmark that’s conveniently located on the road side and marked by a big sign).
The dirt begins when you turn onto County Road 44, and for the next three miles the dirt is packed, smooth and super enjoyable to ride. There is a quick climb where you can catch a view of the Tomichi Dome, then a fast descent to the next turn.
There are stunning rock formations, cottonwood trees and lots of fragrant sagebrush on County Road 802 where the double track begins. Don't miss opportunities to stop and take photos! It has a nice gradual grade in the first few miles of the climb, and picking your line on the double track was a good challenge. We didn't see a single vehicle from here to the end where we camped- Amazing!!
The views getting to the top of the climb are pretty spectacular. Even in September, wild flowers were still abundant. You will see the Uncompahgre Range to the southwest the the Elk Range to the north west.
It was really nice to not have to contend with vehicles from mile 15.5 to the end, but it did feel exposed and desolate. Our group of 6 decided to stop every few miles or so to regroup. That way, we could all ride our own paces and also not feel like we were going to be left alone out there.
Around mile 19 the road surface gets both rockier and looser, and grades kick up to 10-15% in places. A few of the earlier steep grades were doable for some riders, while others walked. Between mile 20-21 up to the top, everyone was walking their bikes. Even though there are some little aspen groves, it was hot, there is very little shade and we went through most of our water supplies.
The descent from the top of Greathouse Gulch was similarly rocky, sandy, exposed and steep. Picking a line didn't feel fun- it felt treacherous and painfully slow. (Between all of us, we had a variety of tire widths ranging from 36mm gravel tires to full-on mountain bike tires. Obviously, the larger tires did much better rolling over big rocks on the downhills.)
There was a flooded creek crossing at the bottom of the decent which was about knee-high and had a sludgy clay-like bottom which was unsuitable for riding through. Luckily, there was a shallower area nearby that we were able to cross on logs and rocks and lift or roll the bike across safely.
Do this ride if you are willing to go through a couple of miles of really steep and challenging terrain (and sections of hike-a-bike) for rewarding views and the satisfaction of conquering the route. Expect to enjoy the first half which is a fast, 12-mile paved downhill section that takes you past the old town of Ohio City and the Indian Head Rock. Take your time on the challenging second half, enjoying the views and knowing a good night sleep awaits you!
The PIkin Campground has vault toilets and a potable water pump on site, so we were able to use the bathroom and fill up water bottles and camelbaks for the day before heading out (which was necessary since it was a hot day and there wasn't running water to filer on route till the very end).
The town of PItkin has a little general store that opens at 8:00 am, so you can pick up extra snacks and supplies if you didn't do that the night before. The small town of Ohio City (at about mile 8) has no services at all, so don't count on that for any resupplying. They do have an old City Hall, Jail and School House that is fun to check out when you pass through.
Cell phone reception was spotty. Don't forget to uploaded the GPX file at home! The turnoff onto the double track section on County Road 802 would have been easy to miss, but having a Wahoo bike computer made navigation simple.
If you want the security of knowing that you could get help even if you don't have cell phone service, we recommend carrying a Garmin InReach Mini (or similar satellite device).
We camped right after the creek crossing at the bottom of the decent. Watch out for cow pies! The creek was flowing, but it was pretty dirty from lots of cows in the area. We were able to skim top water and filter it for cooking and drinking, but we definitely recommend back flushing your filters afterwards to clean out the sludge you'll collect.
We did this in early September. Day temps were warm (especially in the exposed areas), and night time temps were cool (low 40's). We started out in the late morning because we expected to be cold on the downhill, but the day heated up really fast. We wished we'd gotten an earlier start and been able to avoid the harsh mid-day sun on the harder climbing section that was so exposed. (Don't forget your sunscreen and lip balm!)
Keep in mind that the route goes up to nearly 10,000 feet. Snow still often occurs well into June and again as early as October, so this is best done in Summer and early Fall.
Curious about the bags and gear we used? Check out the bikepacking section in our shop.
Laura Karpinski and Rose Barcklow are the creators of Gravel Bike Adventures. Click on the About page to learn more about them.