Winter Fat Biking Dry Gulch and Upper Flume

  • 9.86 Distance
  • 7 Difficulty (1-10)
  • 1266 Total Ascent
  • 10083 High Point

I first tried fat biking last winter and I learned a lot about what not to do. When to go out on the trail and how to maximize my experience in the snow. Those fat tires with their 4.6-inch-wide girth, didn’t seem to be wide enough, if you can believe that!  It turns out, I was doing it all wrong and didn’t even know it.  This story is the result of all that I have learned so you  don’t have to make the same mistakes I did.

Winter Fat Biking the Dry Gulch and Upper Flume trails is a consistent adventure for me this year but it hasn't always been sunshine and daisies. This year I have been watching the temps like a hawk and staying away from trails directly after the snow falls or when the temps rise too high at night. Last year the Gold Run Nordic Center, across the street from my house, used a snow mobile for their groomed Fat Bike specific trails. Even with snow grooming, I was choosing the wrong times and temps. I was sinking, post-holing, trudging, and generally putting WAY too much effort into small gains. To make matters worse there wasn't the snow shoe traffic to continue the packing process of the snow.

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This year is different! I have only been riding with temps in the teens and low twenties. I also don’t bring the fat bike out if the night time temperatures don’t drop into the single digits or below; this one is key!  The colder the nights, the firmer the snow!  The Gold Run Nordic Center has also improved their grooming process by moving from a snow mobile pulling a sled to a 4-track. They must have noticed the soft snow too!  I have yet to see the 4 track but, I have ridden the results, and the grimace of yester-year has been firmly replaced by a grin so big it nearly hurts!

In early January, Breckenridge saw temps below zero at nights and temps in the single digits to the teens during the day.  When I arrived home from work the temps started to warm up and I jumped on my Fat Bike for the first time this season. I still remember that ride even though it was a month ago!  The wide 4-track grooming at the Nordic Center became somewhat narrow at over 20 MPH on my way back from Dry Gulch, Upper Flume and Tom’s Baby!  The snow was firm and smooth, creating smiles like the Joker performing plastic surgery, without all the dramatics.  I also discovered that the town of Breckenridge has been running snowmobile grooming on Gold Run Road, Dry Gulch, parts of Upper Flume, and Tom’s Baby.  The one time I tried to ride that trail last year, it was packed by snow shoe and not nearly wide enough.

Now it’s nearly a month later and I have returned yet again from a successful fat bike ride through the Gold Run Nordic Center.  Adding Jumbo Overlook, Dry Gulch, Upper Flume, and Tom’s Baby!  What a blast!  Did I mention those trails are groomed this year by snow mobile and are now wide enough for flow! You do, however, need to keep an eye out for other trail users. The 4.6-inch-wide tires offer a larger contact patch to the ground which allow the brakess to work decently but you wont stop on a dime.

The Route comes out to 9.8 miles, 3.3 of which are downhill and 4.2 are uphill with the most sustained climbing up Gold Run Road, or Peabody Placer, if you’re looking at the Nordic Center trail map.  Here is my account of this incredible ride!

I start with the Bluemoon trail and head around the lower loop closest to highway 9. This loop is closest to my house and a convenient way to start from Tiger Road.  After a quick loop on the Gold Run Nordic Center’s snow packed championship bear course, it’s time to stop by the clubhouse and register in the daily log book for the season pass holders.  After a quick break, it’s off to the Hoochinoo trail which follows my favorite XC ski trail called the smuggler.  It’s also a good warm up loop to test the snow, as if Bluemoon wasn’t warm-up enough!

After finishing the Hoochinoo trail loop, it’s time to get serious and head up the Midas Touch trail in route to Peabody Placer where you will begin to climb 830 feet in elevation on your way to just above 10,000 feet.  A good place to stop is the Jumbo Overlook but let’s not get ahead of ourselves!

The willows of Midas Touch and the lower section of Peabody Placer are prime sections of the Nordic Center where you may see a moose.  The moose are very temperamental and may charge if you get too close.  Keep your distance and turn around if the animal is not leaving the trail.

A little over half of a mile from the road crossing on your way up Peabody Placer you will see mining ruins to your left.  The Jesse Mill is the only stamp mill left standing in summit county and has been preserved by the Breckenridge Heritage Alliance.  It dates back to 1892 when the Jesse Gold Mining and Milling Co. took over the property of the Gold Run Mining Co. and started to build a new mill at the Jesse Mine.  Take a break and ponder history!  This route will also have you riding through the Preston Settlement established in 1884 as E. C. Moody discovered the Jumbo Load.  A step back in time greats you as you climb higher and higher to the Jumbo Overlook and on over to dry gulch.

But not so fast, you need to leave the Jesse Mine to continue your ride through history!  A quarter of a mile up the road you will see signage and a trail to your right. This trail is where the Dry Gulch trail spits you out after one of the finest descents on snow in this area! Do not go up, You will not make it very far and from this point on, the Peabody Placer groomed double track starts to make you work for your pedal strokes.  Another quarter mile and you reach a switchback and a 13% grade!

Stay to the right, say hi to the cross country skiers as they pass you or you pass them and generate a rhythm in the climb.  Not much further and you will reach the trailhead for the Upper Flume!

This is your bailout point if you lack the legs or the lungs to continue further. It is only another half mile to the top Jumbo Overlook. You can rest here, grab a quick bite and then continue on.  This is the longest sustained climb of the route. Remember to pack out any trash you generate, we want to be a part of the solution, not the problem!

A few more minutes of climbing and you will start to see the building remnants of the Preston Settlement.  You are literally climbing through history! That first snow covered building you see to your right lets you know you are near the top of your climb up Peabody Placer and close to the flat stretch of double track that leads you to the Jumbo Overlook.  As you stand and marvel at the view you can also admire the work done in reclamation efforts to this and other mining ruins in summit county in order to protect our water sources.

From the Jumbo overlook to the historic buildings at Dry Gulch, there are some ups and downs but nothing too big to mention. Head back the way you came from the overlook a few hundred feet to where the trail goes downhill again and look to your left. You will see a snow mobile track heading to your right which is where we start the Dry Gulch trail.

After the first 30 to 40 feet of climbing you will come to an intersection, stay left and enjoy the downhill and flat riding on snowmobile track until you begin climbing again. Three quarters of a mile down the trail you will see a gate and signage for Dry Gulch.  (Note:  In this area, this year 2020, there was an incident with a moose a few meters before this sign.  I did not witness the event but I saw the tracks and the aftermath, even the dragged fat tire tracks and the body print in the snow.  Be very careful of moose.  keep your eye out and hopefully you will be able to see it before it becomes a problem.  If you are able to stop and  turn around with plenty of distance from the animal do it.  Never try to push it by closing your distance and never get close.)

It’s not long now and you will reach Dry Gulch, a remarkable group of restored historic buildings that I have yet to get the history on. You will also be out of the trees and the views will make all the climbing worth it as you stand in awe of the 10 Mile Range covered in snow.

Once you climb the hill out of Dry Gulch you will be in for one of the best downhill snowmobile track descents I have ridden.

It’s only a half mile long with a 400-foot drop but it’s crazy!  I am unable to give you an average grade yet and looking at the GPS Profile seems a bit deceiving as up top, above tree line, I lost the trail due to wind blown snow.  I couldn’t tell if the faint line I was looking at was the left or right side of the trail.  To make matters worse, there was a small crust layer that made it hard to get going.  Gravity also played it part in finding purchase in the middle of the trail as it was constantly dragging my bike down off trial as I traversed toward the safety of the trees. I ended up burying my front tire close to 5 times and falling into pillows of powder!  It was fantastic, and a bit sketchy to be honest!  Once I could see the trail again, down in the tree-line where I knew it was, my tires hooked up perfectly and the grin of riding downhill on snow returned.

Back on the Peabody Placer double track again, it was back to the grind of climbing again, up and around that 13% switchback, and onto the Upper Flume where more downhill shenanigans ensued.  The half mile of additional climbing to the Upper Flume trail was worth it.  The upper Flume trail is flat for a half mile before it starts to descend but the relatively flat ground lets you get used to the snow and how your tires will hook up.  This will dictate your speed on the decent because if you miss this area of testing, you will pay for it when you miss a turn and fly into the trees. Let’s NOT do that!  You can reach some good speeds down the trail BUT always pay attention to the conditions of the snow.  If you go off trail your front tire will stop, and you will go over the handlebars into the trees with no change in speed.

The descent to Tom’s Baby is just shy of a half mile and once you pass the intersection to middle flume to your left you will have entered Tom’s Baby and will want to slow down and gear down for a sharp right hander and sweet section of undulating and twisting trail. It’s a quarter mile of sheer bliss and you will love it! Tom’s Baby ends at the Gold Run Trailhead Parking lot and from there you are back on the Peabody Pacer cross country ski track making your way back towards Midas Touch and the Gold Run Nordic Center club house.  I recommend going down the eastern loop of Midas touch and climbing up the western loop.

I am a season pass holder for the Gold Run Nordic Center. I cannot, in good faith, recommend parking at the Gold Run Trailhead Parking.  Access to the groomed Peabody Placer cross country ski track requires a season pass or a day pass for access which pays for the grooming and the winter operations.  The town snowmobile tracks are free and are not groomed daily as a result.  The day use pass for the Gold Run Nordic center for the 18-19 season is $25. If you can see yourself riding more than 6 times then a season fat bike pass is also available for $150.00. If you already own a season pass for cross country skiing at the Gold Run Nordic Center than Fat Bike access is included.  They are grooming their fat bike trails with new, heavier, equipment and the trail conditions are excellent if the nights remain cold, or there is a good freeze thaw effect going on.

It is super important that we are courteous and accommodating to the cross country skiers we see while climbing and descending Peabody Placer. If you ride in groups, please stack up in a row on the far right of the trail. There are lots of blind corners and you are sharing the trail with XC skiers using Skate, Classic, or BC skis. The BC Skis have metal edges and can stop or maneuver easier than the others.  The Skate and Classic skis do not have medal edges but can handle speeds of 20 miles per hour or more.  You do NOT want to be in a group, in the middle of the trail, and leave a skier with no room to avoid you.  The resulting collision will increase the existing animosity some people have and get our access removed.  Please, be smart about how you ride and when you ride as this is a new sport and our access to some vital sections of trail could still be under review. The best answer to everything is courtesy and care.  We are all outside to enjoy the trails in whichever fashion we choose.  Let’s enjoy the trails and admire the efforts all around, in each discipline, growing community and support one ride at a time.

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