Scenic single-track trail added in Aspen’s backyard
A new trail in the Hunter Creek Valley is getting cyclists and hikers off an old jeep road and onto a highly-coveted singletrack route.
The Hummingbird Traverse, also known as the Hummingbird Trail, was completed July 31 and opened with little fanfare to buy time for loose dirt to get packed down before hordes of users flock to it. Word of mouth, however, attracted numerous riders last weekend.
The 2-mile trail climbs 450 feet in elevation from the Hunter Creek Valley floor to the North Hunter Creek Toll Road’s intersection with the Lower Sunnyside Plunge Trail. Planning started four years ago.
The trail starts in the valley floor about one-half mile upstream from the pedestrian bridge that’s farthest upstream. It draws cyclists into an area of the Hunter Creek Valley that isn’t as heavily visited.
From the lower trailhead, the Hummingbird Trail switchbacks through an aspen grove before ascending into oak brush for long, relatively flat stretches broken up by a few switchbacks. One minute a rider is staring up Hunter Creek Valley toward the Williams Mountains, the next minute the orientation reverses and the Maroon Bells and surrounding peaks loom in the distance.
“I think the views are darn epic,” said Mike Pritchard, executive director of the Roaring Fork Mountain Bike Association.
The mountain bike association has a vision of providing more single-track options to reduce the need for using steep jeep roads, Pritchard said. “Really this is just the beginning,” he said.
The trail was originally envisioned to start farther north in the Hunter Creek Valley floor, but the plan was adjusted during deliberations of the Hunter-Smuggler Mountain Cooperative Plan, which was negotiated by the city of Aspen, Pitkin County, Aspen Center for Environmental Studies, Wilderness Workshop, Roaring Fork Outdoor Volunteers and the Roaring Fork Mountain Bike Association.
“That was a compromise pretty early on,” Pritchard said. The new alignment preserves more wildlife habitat and limits the amount of the valley floor where bikes will travel to get to the trailhead.
Based on the realignment, Pritchard said using “Traverse” in the trail name is a misnomer because it is more direct than initially planned. Roaring Fork Mountain Bike Association maps will refer to the route as the Hummingbird Trail.
Pitkin County Open Space and Trails as well as the city of Aspen Parks and Open Space budgeted $40,000, evenly divided, for the project. The final price will be higher because the contractor encountered bedrock for a significant stretch, according to Austin Weiss, city open space manager.
A company called Progressive Trail Designs, which has a Boulder office, used a mini-bulldozer to cut the trail. The same firm also created the popular Airline and Deadline trails and part of Cozy Line at Sky Mountain Park.
All the trails tend to be accommodating with short, steep pitches, then chances to recover. They are rarely technical.
“Obviously riders are enjoying the new style of trail,” Pritchard said.
The climb is never overwhelming. The trail ascends short, steep stretches before offering relief, Pritchard noted. On the lower stretch, there are two major switchbacks that are a blast to whirl around while traveling downhill and a handful of looser switchbacks.
Weiss said it was designed as an intermediate trail with a couple of challenging switchbacks.
There are good view lines so downhill riders can cut loose when they see no approaching hikers or bikes.
Pritchard said the upper third of the trail follows an old, brush-choked mining road that provided a platform for the trail to snake along.
Weiss said the new route might lure more riders back to the Hunter Creek Valley-Smuggler Mountain trail network because it offers an alternative to the North Hunter Creek Toll Road, which is typically a sunbaked grunt. The Hummingbird Trail gets riders into the forest and single-track options such as the Hobbit Trail and the Hunter Creek Overlook Trail.
“The character of the riding is so different from Sky Mountain Park,” Weiss said. Sky Mountain Park is mostly on sun-drenched slopes covered with oak brush.
Across the valley at the foot of Smuggler Mountain, the Lollipop Trail was extended to intersect directly with the Iowa Shaft Trail. That eliminated the need to go on a short stretch of the Hunter Creek Cutoff Road, which is popular with hikers.
The Roaring Fork Mountain Bike Association helped design the extension. Roaring Fork Outdoor Volunteers organized the labor. The work was completed in mid-July.
Pritchard said the mountain bike association is lobbying for another single-track route that would connect from the upper Hummingbird Trail to the Hunter Creek Overlook Trail, eliminating shorts stretches of the North Hunter Creek Toll Road and the Van Horn Park Road. There is no specific timeline for that project.
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