Aug 27 2008

Denver to the top of Mt. Evans (and back)

Long overdue, but here’s an account of my recent bike ride from Denver to the top of Mt. Evans (elevation 14,264 ft) and back.

First some quick technical and summary data in case you’ve found this post looking to do a similar ride. I ride a lightspeed titanium bike with a standard front crankset (39/53) and a slightly climbing friendly rear cassette (13/27). The ride up took us 7 1/2 hour (ride time) and covered some 10,000 feet of climbing over 72 miles. While that’s a lot of climbing, the gradient actually didn’t kick up much past about 8% (and for most of the climb from Idaho Springs was more like 6%). My training had been pretty modest – I ride about 50 miles a week, including a hill ride at least every other week – and this ride was probably about 2 times the length (and difficulty) of any other ride I had attempted (which is to say that if I can slog it up – you probably can too).  I twittered my entire ride up, which turned out to be great way to keep my wife and friends informed of our progress while on route. The ride profile (until the battery on the GPS went dead) looked like this:


Below, for those that care to read on, are more details and some pictures of the ride. I rode with a friend – Walker Fenton – who has been making an annual tradition out of this trip for the last few years (and who planned the route for us).

4:00am, Denver: Rolled out of Wash Park and through downtown Denver, stopping at the "mile high" step at the state capital (I’m sitting on the step in the picture below). Temperature was a pretty comfortable 60 degrees, although the ground was still pretty wet from the torrential downpour the night before.


5:47, Lookout Mountain: We had made the trek out of Denver and were at the top of Lookout mountain by sunrise -some 20 miles of mostly flat riding in at this point.  We definitely had some strange looks from the few groups of people who appeared to be ending their night out drinking by watching the sun come up over Denver.

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Our route took us over Lookout mountain and up through Genesee. For the most part we stayed off of the major highways, however the small exception was a few unpleasant miles on I-70 from the Buffalo Overlook to Evergreen Parkway (which thankfully only took a few minutes).  From there we took the frontage road over Floyd Hill and down to Kermit’s where we hopped onto the old HW 6 (which is now a bike path) which took us all the way to Idaho Springs.

7:42, Idaho Springs: By breakfast we were 40 miles in and had reached Idaho Springs where we stopped for some coffee and a burrito. From here it was to be about 30 miles straight up to the top of Mt. Evans.


The road out of Idaho Springs isn’t particularly steep, but it climbs steadily uphill some 15 miles to the fee station for the Mt. Evans road.


10:06, Mt. Evans Road Fee station: Turns out that even on a bike you have to pay to get to the top of Mt. Evans ($3 for each of us). It was pretty amusing to wait in the line of cars to pay to get to the top part of the road.


11:51, Summit Lake: It’s 9 miles from the fee station to Summit Lake and for me these were the longest miles of the trip (and as you can tell from the time gap, we stopped several times, including a long snack break, on the way up).  The grade wasn’t that steep (probably about 6%) but with some 60 miles on my legs and over 5 hours in the saddle, it seemed interminable at times.  My body felt off and I found it really hard to keep my energy up (I was eating on the entire ride at least every 30 minutes – but at this part of the ride it wasn’t providing the boost I was looking for).  Making it up to Summit Lake I was elated that I was almost at the top, but a little fearful for the 5 hardest miles of the trip. I’m pretty tired in this picture taken at the lake (in case you can’t tell!)


I was wrong about those last 5 miles.  For me, at least, the increase in grade actually made the riding easier.  The views were spectacular – at times it felt like we were riding to the top of the world (see the picture below).  With the steeper gradient came more frequent switchbacks and the air at 14,000ft is noticeably thinner when you’re peddling along.  My body perked up and I was keeping up a great rhythm.  I think the storm that appeared to be rolling in pushed us a little harder as well.

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12:51: Summit at last!:  What a great feeling as we rode through the parking lot, literally to the end of the road. We were 7 1/2 hours of riding time into our ride (about 9 hours total elapsed time with stops and food breaks). The odometer read 72 miles and we were about 9,000 ft higher than when we started out that morning.


1:33, off the summit: We literally flew down the Evans road (trying to avoid getting stuck up high when the storm hit).  I like going downhill and you can really burn down the straights (thanks to some new break pads which quickly slowed me down as I hit the switchbacks).  At the fee station we turned right and headed up and over Squaw Pass (just couldn’t resist some more climbing).  Just as we crested the top of Squaw the skies opened up and we were hit by a classic Colorado rain and hail storm.  With the hail pelting us and pretty much soaked to the bone, we negotiated down the back side of the pass (trying to strike that elusive balance between going fast enough to make it down quickly, but not so fast that the hail pelting us in the face was going to do serious damage).  I wish we had taken the camera out during the storm, but we were just too focused on getting out of the rain and cold.  Eventually we managed to move past the weather and by 3:40 had made it to the relative dry ground of Evergreen.


4:19, Morrison: For us, Morrison was the end of the line.  With the storm bearing down on us again and the prospect of 20 more uncomfortable miles on wet city streets back into downtown we decided to call in the sag wagon (Walker’s wife Michelle) for a rescue. 

Final Ride Stats: 122 miles; somewhere around 12k of climbing; 10 hrs ride time; 12 1/2 hours elapsed time.  It was an amazing ride – I’m looking forward to next year’s already!