Video: Summiting Colorado's Tallest 14er With A Bike & A 50 Pound Pack in 'Chasing Altitude'

Jul 17, 2021
by Davis Yates  

The highest people in the state.

Elevation-wise, at least.

While Mt. Elbert isn’t the hardest 14er in Colorado to hike (in fact, it’s one of the easier ones), it is the tallest. Hiking the peak is one thing, but hauling a bike to the top, camping, riding back down, and making a film in the process is a whole different animal. Gravity racer Darric Roark and filmmaker Davis Yates learned this the hard way when they set out to create the short doc Chasing Altitude.


The hard way.
The hard way


Their mission was to capture Roark descending from the summit at sunrise – meaning an overnight camp at 14,000 feet was a must. A freakin’ intimidating must.

Sponsorship delays had pushed the trek out to October 2020. Weather at 14,000 feet would be dodgy and frigid, especially overnight.

According to Roark, “We probably each had 4-5 layers to sleep in because it was supposed to be 10 degrees that night.”

Roark shouldered his 50lb pack and 30lb Commencal Meta AM 29, Yates his 70lbs of camping and camera gear, and their helper Ben Corrado a 50lb pack of his own. The crew was well prepped for a late-Fall 5,000 foot trek up the Black Cloud Trail to the summit of the state.

Roark and his burden to carry 5 000 feet up the Black Cloud Trail.
Roark and his burden

“We had the stupidity to think, ‘oh this is going to be so cool, let’s do it.’ But once we got up there, it was just pain,” Yates recalled. “In the middle it felt like we were doing weighted lunges up a 40 degree slope.”

They reported the first few hours being bearable, but at much too slow of a pace. So as the sun got lower, the mountain got steeper; and these intrepid individuals had to climb faster.

Three hours in, they stopped for food and finally sat down for a break. The team looked at each other and asked, “Do we really want to keep going?” They decided that they may as well, having made it this far. They were deep in it now. With treeline in the rearview, the mountain opened up and got even steeper.

Roark pushing his 80 pound load up the side of Mount Elbert.
Roark with his cockpit at eye-level, AKA very steep

Speaking with Roark after the fact, it’s easy to sense anguish in his voice when recalling the ordeal. The pain stays with him. Intense physical strain was coupled with a healthy dose of mental strain.

Five hours in, the sun was lower, and the crew reached a false summit that rewarded them with a view of their end-goal; The Top. Roark said, “I teared up a little bit and started crying, because we had been hiking for 5 hours and I was getting a little delusional at that point. It’s just like, finally, this sight – we’re close. We got this now.”

But the mountain got steeper.

Roark said he felt he was “pushing his bike straight up into the air.”

Stairs of pain

It’s always easier to work toward a goal when the end is in sight. But to get to the camp spot, they had a thousand vertical feet to go and only an hour until sunset. The time crunch was growing more severe by the second, and the temperature was dropping fast. But a collective sense of commitment drove the group to camp just in time for sundown.

Camping atop South Mount Elbert in 15 degrees in October.
Campsite at 14,000 feet

A quick dinner for the adventurers, and then they attempted to sleep. No more than three hours of patchy sleep each. At 14,000 feet, oxygen was in short supply. Yates could feel his pounding heart reawakening him every 20 minutes or so. Roark hardly got any rest to recharge him for his coming freefall down the highest mountain in Colorado.

At 4:00am, the phone alarms rang, and it was time to climb the final 500 vertical feet to the summit. As Yates recalled, it was a struggle, but worth it. They saw things as they’d never seen before. “It’s so unique, the sky turns into this deep, deep blue. It’s just you and the rocks and the sky.” Yates recalled.

Roark hauling his 80lbs of gear to the summit of Mount Elbert at 6am.
The blue of a blooming morning

Fifteen minutes ahead of sunrise, the crew made it to the summit. Right in the nick of time. The dream shot was about to become reality for the highest people in the state.

Roark taking in the sunrise from the top of Colorado.

Darric Roark at the summit of Mount Elbert. Alone on top of the state at 7am on October 3rd 2020. 17 degrees Fahrenheit.
Dream shot no longer, it's happening.

Roark and Yates were totally shot by this point; it had been an ordeal. Running on fumes, they began to descend – Roark throwing his 50lb pack around with style, Yates capturing the magic of it all.

Corrado ran out of water and made a beeline for the bottom, while Yates and Roark used the last of their energy to shoot the downhill shots they came for.

Switchback after switchback, the dream became a reality for this crew. The shots and the riding in the film speak for themselves. Why read this when you can watch it?

Darric Roark ripping down the east ridge trail at Mount Elbert while wearing a 50lb pack.
Finally!

Roark, being a confident descender, chose to run a very heavy 500lb spring on his rear shock. The racer only weighs 135lbs – the extra spring weight was to compensate for his hefty pack.

According to Roark, due to the massive training weight strapped to his back, the hardest shot for him as a rider was jumping off the little rock in the trees. Which is saying something; Roark is a hard charger, one of the most confident descenders I’ve ever had the pleasure of riding with. The rock shots took 4 or 5 attempts. Pulling up with that heavy of a pack is not only scary, it’s nearly impossible. And then the slam of the pack against his back and shoulders as he landed was even harder to bear. Airtime was basically not an option for this purebred pilot.


Roark catching a small kicker while wearing his 50 lb pack.
Roark catching a small kicker while wearing his 50 lb pack

Incredibly, he managed to lift a few manuals on the way down. As for how the pack didn’t pull him down and loop him out? According to Roark, “(The pack) helped me get my weight back at least! It was certainly difficult to keep it there, ‘cuz it’s a lot of weight to shift back and forth and keep that wheel up.” Those micro-adjustments required to hold a manual were amplified by the 50lb pack on Roark’s shoulders.

Roark manualing his bike while wearing a 50lb pack.

Towards the end of the descent, water shortages became an issue. Yates admits he resorted to drinking collected snowmelt. Both guys were exhausted by the time the descent leveled out. A few punchy climbs, some retakes, and the boys were done. According to Roark, “We had some life-saving applesauce packets that kept us alive at the very end.”

“It’s so worth it in the end,” said Yates. And you and I can tell it was worth it. Because their finished product is downright insane.



Written by Jacob Penick

Posted In:
Travel Videos



76 Comments

  • 52 0
 50 lbs pack?! Filled with cans of soup or something? Should have borrowed some light stuff from one of those Colorado peak bagger nerds.
  • 7 5
 Camera gear.
  • 16 0
 @extratalldirtrider: it says 50lb + 50lb + 70lb = 170lbs of gear for an overnight film session lol. But they're in college so they get a pass, plus at that age who gives AF, really :0
  • 4 0
 @extratalldirtrider: I meant who cares about weight when yer 22 and in college haha.
I'm just of Utah on GM
  • 7 0
 Yeah agreed. I did the Colorado Trail with a hip pack and everything else attached to the bike. All up the bike (5010) was 50 lbs loaded up for 3-4 days out at a time. It didn't jump great but hot damn it cornered like a beast
  • 42 9
 Wasn't long before we got a taste of Outside... Great scenery and video... but come on, the narrative sounded like you were up K2 or Nanga Parbat when this was a quick overnighter. Chill out and find yourself a more packable sleeping bag (!), a tarp, and bring a couple of energy bars for the next time.
  • 8 2
 my thoughts exactly. its a cool video and some nice shots, but this is not some super extreme trip. Elbert probably had 500 people climb it yesterday.
  • 4 0
 @sooner518: yeah I did it a few years ago in about 4-5 hrs round trip (minus all the camera gear)
  • 2 0
 @fujisan
Harsh but fair.
  • 1 0
 @brandaneisma: ha exactly. ive never done Elbert because there are better hikes (or rides), with way fewer people on it.
  • 5 2
 @fujisan What up with the hate? He never claimed it was k2. That climb didn't look easy
  • 4 0
 "Don't compare yourself with other people; compare yourself with who you were yesterday."

It's all relative, isn't it? For this dude, 14k ft, in that time-frame, with that gear, at that time of year, over-night, was clearly a tough experience. I used to think my ability to ride some of my high-exposure local trails was kinda legit until I saw that blind people have ridden them AND camped out. But so what? My hair still stands on end as I death-grip some off those trails. As for this video, and as a flat-lander, an overnight at 14k ft right now might just kill me. Just because someone else suffered or endured more, doesn't mean your experience or accomplishment isn't meaningful to you, and there's nothing wrong in sharing that. . .or making a really cool and inspiring video about it.

Also, this was one of the better edits I've seen on PB with great videography and hats off to the dudes that lugged that gear!
  • 3 0
 @jeremiahwas: i guess my main gripe is, clearly this guy is a really great rider, and is quite fit. theres no way he was dying climbing this, yet hes writing as if this was some monumental challenge. my issue is with his overdramatization of what he did. that said, its a neat video with some really pretty shots. i could just do without all the extra drama he added to it
  • 15 0
 Damn, hardcore for sure. Riding with a heavy pack is sketchy, any time you ride something steep you're way more likely to OTB. Also sleeping at that kind of altitude can be challenging even for people who live in 9000 ft mountain towns, friends of mine have experienced hallucinations coming in and out of sleep that high. Kudos!
  • 19 0
 Didn't Nate Hills do this with a couple bottles, a go pro and a drone?
  • 8 0
 Yup, did it like a hipster like he always does
  • 18 1
 When you have to tell people how gnarly it is, it isn't gnarly.
  • 3 0
 It’s hilarious it’s that obvious to you and you don’t even live here.
  • 15 2
 Hide these behind a paywall if you like…
  • 1 0
 LOL! Savage!
  • 1 0
 Legit laughed from this, thanks!
  • 12 1
 Couldn't they just use bikepacking gear, gopros and a drone?
  • 4 2
 When making a film there's a little more that goes into it
  • 6 0
 That had to be a hard climb. I know from experience that while I don’t find 6,000-7,000 feet bad, but 9,000 feet exponentially harder than the difference from sea level to 6,000. 11,000 leaves hard breathing to just push a bike up small grades. That is as high As I get. That next step up to 13,000-14,000 just has to be brutal.
  • 7 11
flag blackercanyons (Jul 17, 2021 at 7:50) (Below Threshold)
 maybe for a flatlander. if you live in Denver, your base level is around 5000'. If you live west of Denver, your home elevation can be 7000 or even 8000'. alot of the 14er trailheads start at 11000 or so. so you're doing a lot less elevation change than climbing a 6000' mountain from sea level. When I lived in the Front Range, I would go hike a 14er once a week. the elevation wasn't difficult. however, when I went from Denver to Mexico and climbed a 17er, i was dying at the top.
  • 3 0
 @blackercanyons: I live near 6000k feet (Green Mountain in Lakewood) and I can relate to what he stated. Anytime
I ride around 8-10k feet I really feel it. It depends on the person but typically most of us have a harder time at elevation.
  • 8 0
 I've done this ride 3 times. It used to be almost entirely hike-a-bike, but there was a trail re-route a couple of years ago and you can ride somewhat comfortably to around tree line at 12k. Above that it's still all hike-a-bike. The old route was a bit more fun coming down because it was legit double-black steep stuff, while the re-route is blue/black, so the climb is now easier but descent is also less fun. The last 500-1000ft have a good amount of loose rock scree and you have to be careful about punctures on the descent. I wouldn't want to camp up there, you'd be exposed above treeline, and you can easily do it as a day ride with a normal sized hydration pack without needing 50lbs of gear.
  • 2 2
 @blackercanyons: That's because pressure changes do exponential things when it comes to blood 02 diffusion
  • 6 0
 @dthomp325: yeah my first thought was why on earth did they not just go lighter/faster and ascend at night if they wanted the sunrise shots. Ppl do that all the time (maybe not with bikes tho). Seems like needless suffering to lug all that extra gear/water/food up there but I guess if they had fun who cares.
  • 2 0
 @extratalldirtrider: exactly — I live in Leadville and have done this ride a number of times, and the difference between 10k’ and 14.5k’ is dramatic!
  • 5 1
 @dthomp325: They're trying to make content for outside.
  • 11 3
 Production like a Travis Rice movie. Content like an Outside Magazine feature. Needs more steeps and exposure danger for my GenX desensitized brain.
  • 7 0
 Lights are way easier to haul than bivy gear. Do the work when it’s cold and skip trying to sleep at 14k. Bivy low/climb high, the old adage. Power to you for suffering so hard with that needless load.
  • 5 0
 When I climbed all the 14ers there was a guy riding his bike up/down them as well. He carried water and a granola bar and I spent the night on only about 3/58. Another guy was attempting to paraglide off them all too. It’s a zoo up there.
  • 5 0
 Four times on the east ridge now 80-90 percent rideable up and 100 percent down, dep on fitness. Camping is cool but this is 2.5-3hr climb and 20 minute descent, making it a great day trip. October is also a killer time of year to do it as the colors are great in the aspens toward the bottom. Last time up, there were easily a dozen bikes at the summit. You’ll get some looks from the hikers for sure.
  • 4 0
 I rode Elbert last August. Pretty much just riding the brakes down the top two thirds of the mountain. Not very fun. Couldn’t imagine doing it with 50 pounds of bullshit on my back. The bottom third of the trail is super sick though!
  • 8 2
 “Yates admits he resorted to drinking collected snowmelt.” Are you not supposed to do that? I don’t understand why that’s a big deal.
  • 3 0
 Insane undertaking but what incredible visuals! Ascent must have been hell. Can’t help but imagine the descent with a 50lb backpack isn’t exactly the best feeling. And then stopping every 2 minutes for the film crew to catch up. Looks like it made for easy wheelies though! Should have let the camera guys carry the pack down haha.
  • 3 0
 As a sea-level dweller, It takes me an hour or two to adjust to 6000 ft. in altitude.. I'm impressed with these guys. Highest I've ridden is from the midpoint stop on the gondola at Mammoth up to 10,500 ft. My vision was beginning to tunnel at that point, so I thought it best to descend.
  • 3 0
 is that a sleeping bag dangling down the back of the backpack ?! Its definitely a bit on the heavy side and I do think there is a lot improvement to be made at the equipment but in the end this I a great story and I don't have something equivalent so well done !
  • 3 0
 I did the hike a bike then ride off the summit in 2018. It was the hardest thing Ive ever done in my life. Above 13000 was pure hell…but somehow made it up there. Silly people at the top asked me if I was going to ride it back down…lol. The decent was very technical up top but super fun. From tree line down it was as good as it’s gets. Top 5 rides of my life for sure.
These boys are insanely dedicated to carry all that extra weight. Respect that. I’m sure the footage is crazy judging from the pictures. Way to go boys!
  • 2 0
 I’ve taken the Barr trail down from Pikes Peak at 14k. Definitely not optimized for bikes and definitely gave me a new respect for how hard altitude can be. Carrying my bike down the initial mile of hike a bike was unbelievably hard and I had an altitude hangover for two days. 8k of descending in 12 miles was definitely worth it. Pretty insane trail that gets more rideable the lower you go.
  • 1 0
 Plenty of people ride even the top of barr. We do it every year.
  • 5 0
 Cool accomplishment. The narrative in the video, though, is a bit.....over the top.
  • 6 1
 You mean all of it is over the top. He started crying? LOL. Plenty of guys do this ride.
  • 2 1
 @Frontrange: 5 mins into the video I also started crying when I realised I'd wasted precious life time watching this "Grey's anatomy on a bike" sadness. Cringe.
  • 8 3
 Super overly dramatic. Hopefully on purpose for the article or the next generation is as soft as baby shit.
  • 5 1
 You seem pleasant.
  • 3 0
 He tried to do something different at an age when a lot of young people don't, so that's cool. But he could pat himself on the back less and cut the excess fat off the narration.
  • 5 0
 sponsorship delays huh? Bummer
  • 2 0
 Just like every other company in the pandemic... supply was low demand was high
  • 3 0
 Great shots, great video.... but the narrative was mind numbly filled with dribble. Next time add a little silence and let your video do the talking.
  • 1 0
 Meh, I did it 9 years ago, didn't bother filming it but some hiker saw and recorded me out there: youtu.be/jrPCYsOGK5M

The trail used to be more raw before all the reroutes but the riding was still kind of boring compared to other trails. Would always bike 14ers (when allowed) over hiking them though as the downhill is way easier on the knees.
  • 3 0
 Beautiful video, let’s keep the mountains and adventure in mtb. Well done!
  • 4 0
 Gonna be chasing a chiropractor soon...
  • 3 0
 Good documentary. High elevation feels like you are breathing through a straw when doing anything physical.
  • 2 2
 What's up with all the hate in the comments? They never claimed it was K2. Anytime you hike, bike, and especially camp at 14K it's a serious mental and physical challenge. I feel like the P'bike comment section is becoming as cynical and jaded as the rest of social media. This was a nice adventure accomplishment, beautiful footage, and overall a great video!
  • 2 1
 Very cool. Seems like most mountains that tall, at least in the west, are in wilderness areas and you can't even get close to them on a bike.
  • 4 0
 Colorado mining history made it so a lot of big mountains have dirt roads to nearly the top. Some like Pike and Evans have paved roads to 14,000 feet.
  • 5 2
 not really true. Colorado has 58 14ers and 600+ 13ers, and a whole lot of them are accessible by bike. a couple years ago, a dude rode his bike to ski all the 14ers.

however, having climbed about 27 of the CO 14ers, including this one, I don't really get the appeal of trying to bike them. You'd end up hike-a-biking almost the entire thing.
  • 2 0
 @blackercanyons: most of the 14ers legal to bike suck to ride, but Elbert is super fun. Some hike a bike going up but the descent is rowdy and fast
  • 1 0
 @blackercanyons: I've hiked 18 of the 14ers. This was the only one I biked. It was a lot of hike-a-bike, but was rewarded with one of the best descents of my life. I took the East route so it was class 1 with the least vertical, but made for an absolutely awesome riding trail! Don't know it till you try it :-P
  • 3 0
 Write-up and pics were better than video. Zzzzz
  • 3 0
 This is very burly. That's a heavy load of gear.
  • 1 1
 I know they all can’t be as fun to watch as a Voreis edit but this is something you’d show someone in an effort to repel them from mtb forever.
  • 1 1
 "highest people in the state"
Its Colorado bra, my buddy tanner was hitting his dab rig all night, no way these amateurs were more lit than him..
  • 3 0
 Was this satire?
  • 1 0
 This dude literally created his account to post this story. Account: Member since Jul 12, 2021. lolz
  • 1 0
 I did white mountain over the weekend. It wasn't as tough as Shasta. It was honestly really mellow but pretty.
  • 1 0
 Just jacked my preload after this
  • 2 2
 Sorry but this video sucked! focus more riding footage than cinematics. FAIL!
  • 1 0
 Did that last year without a pack and it was great
  • 1 0
 Cool story bro
  • 2 3
 Props. No small feat

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