Lead King Basin Loop: A charming but grueling beast
It had been years since I had done the Lead King Basin Loop, and that was in a vehicle, so I wasn’t sure what to expect on a mountain bike Sunday.
And now I know — I underestimated the effort a bit, thinking, “How hard can a ride on roads be?”
My riding partner and I parked in Marble and headed counterclockwise on the loop toward Crystal. Our first mistake was not parking at or near the top of Daniels Hill, a rather ugly grunt just past Beaver Lake. We sweated, cursed, breathed in dust and gas fumes from passing four-wheelers and even suffered the indignity of pushing on a particularly steep stretch coated with softball-sized rocks.
The stretch between Lizard Lake and the Crystal River was a treat — the dazzlingly clean Crystal River was off to our side, big peaks soared overhead and the route was challenging but doable. We soaked in the scene at the always-delightful Crystal Mill before paying the price again on the stretch between Crystal and Lead King Basin. Steep pitches, loose rock and granite shelves had us questioning our selection of rides.
The doubts evaporated when we made it into Lead King Basin. I don’t know that I’ve seen a prettier view than Geneva Lake Basin, with its cascading creek, Snowmass Mountain (the fourteener not the ski area) and the surrounding tall peaks and lush, high-elevation parks.
After a break, we shifted into granny gear, got into a groove and grunted our way up my favorite part of the ride. The switch-backing road up to Lost Trail Divide was never too steep to climb and relatively smooth. While facing north we had great views of the Geneva Lake area, and while facing south we gazed at the helter skelter of Bear Basin toward Crested Butte. After climbing 2¾ miles and 1,300 feet in elevation on that stretch, we reached the promised land (that being the top) and our thoughts shifted to Slow Groovin’ BBQ in Marble. We were back in Marble after a rip-roaring, 4-mile descent on mostly steep, rock-strewn roads. The final tally, about a 3,000-foot elevation gain over 14 miles.
Not sure I’ll do that ride again any time soon, but I’m sure glad I’ve got it under my belt.
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There might be part of Hailey Swirbul that is finally beginning to believe she belongs. The 22-year-old cross-country skier is coming off quite a stretch with the U.S. ski team, one that includes her first career World Cup podium and a successful go in the notorious Tour de Ski stage race.