Ride, Interrupted to Mt. Evans

Mt. Evans Smugness
Smug on Mt. Evans.

Wednesday, I got myself up relatively early, with the goal of riding up Squaw Mountain Pass, to Echo Lake. The ride is a big batch of gentle uphill roads, starting in Golden as you go up HW 40, cross over into Evergreen and take Squaw Pass Road to Echo Lake. This line is comprised of almost 25 miles of uphill road, taking you from ~5,200 feet to 10,600 feet and at the door of the Mt. Evans Scenic Byway – a road that goes all the way up 14,254 foot Mt. Evans. 

This road isn’t scheduled to open until May 25th – a full month away, but snowfall this year has been inadequate, and I wanted to check out the conditions and hell, maybe spin up for a few switchbacks, before heading home. 

The ride up Squaw Pass Road was fun and my legs were spinning it without too much difficulty. I’ve also been attempting to not wear headphones while riding anymore – I think they just filter me out of my setting and degrading the experiences I have. I’m always scared that long slogs like this road would be just boring to do, but instead I’ve found that the roads become slogs only because of the headphones – especially a road like Squaw Pass, as there’s a bounty of wildlife on the edges of the road to be aware of: deer and antelope, birds and squirrels and all sorts of surprises. The road is also somewhat narrow and it’s a good idea to pay attention to passing traffic. 

Made good time – 3hr, 45 minutes to the start of the Mt. Evans Scenic Byway from my doorstep. A few other riders were at the gate, which was closed, so I tried to get any beta they may have about the road. They said that the road was basically open and people have been going up already. Great news for me. They also said they saw me in Golden, as they were driving up the Idaho Springs side to ride up, starting from there. Heh… guess my time was pretty good… 

So, I took the ride up. Again, spinning up felt great – a little windy, but you would expect the conditions to get a little more harsh in a very real alpine setting. Passed a few maintenance workers on the road – apparently, they were plowing right then and there and I was worried I’d get to the point of the road that became impassable. 

Sure enough, I did – a few miles from Echo Lake – all the way up to Summit Lake, really and I could see a large maintenance vehicle blowing snow off the road, several large snow plows and a few trucks. I stopped at one of the trucks and asked if I’d get in the way if I tried to pass by. He was extremely polite about it, but I think what he wanted to say was simply, “Um, yeeeah”. I have this feeling this road is sort of an oddity. Since it’s in basically a Wilderness Zone, the road itself is under a different set of rules on what you can and cannot do. They can close it to cars when they want to, but not to bicycles and if I, on a bicycle want up, I might have the right of way. But! This right of way is completely under a, “at your own risk” type of deal – including dealing with a snowplow in the way, just like taking a hike in a Wilderness Zone. I also got the feeling is the last thing these maintenance people wanted was to have the responsibility for my over-adventurous foibles. Understandable. 

So instead of going further, I just decided to stop right then and there – 

and proceed by foot straight up the mountain via the North East Face route. It’s about a mile in distance and 1500 feet in elevation gain straight up the rocky tundra, instead of riding up the last few miles of switchback roads. I’ve gone down this way before, but never up. I ditched the bike at the road, and put on some running shoes I *cough* just so happen to bring alone (always be ready!) and started up!

But, even when starting up the route, I knew something was wrong. I was having a hard time catching my breath and had to stop for several seconds, after every 5 steps or so. In the middle of the face, I decided to simply Take a Nap – and I did, for almost an hour. Woke up less tired, but was starting to get a bad headache, and didn’t feel like eating much – big signs I was experiences an altitude-related problem. But like the stubborn person I am, I kept the pace to the top and eventually got there. 

Stayed for a few minutes – snapped some photos – the register was broken, so didn’t sign in. Left to grab my bike, and thankfully going down was much easier, but I still wasn’t feeling too good. Headache only worsening and it was getting to be a few hours, before I had eaten. I knew what this meant – I was about to crash and burn, metabolically. 

The problem with doing that (as if I had a choice) is that I was literally no where near a place to get some food, I just had to grin and bear it. The only food I brought were some cheap granola bars and it was those bars my stomach was upturning against. The downhill off Evans – without any cars is sort of what cycling dreams are made out of: Take the entire road, not worrying about traffic at all – unreal views. 

Getting back to Squaw Pass Road, I needed to get up and over the Pass itself – a few miles of uphill and then a ton of downhill and home. My body wasn’t really having it with going uphill, I had bonked. I just dealt with it though, and did my best to turn the pedals until I was up and over the top of the pass and was on the long, long downhill. My headache worsened on every bump of the badly maintained road, but eventually I was back down to Evergreen. I stopped at the first gas station I found and allowed my body anything it wanted. It picked out a giant Coke and a bag of Potato chips. Consuming both, I felt quite a bit better – headache abating and fatigue lifting and made good time home – 11hr and 45 minutes in total – pretty close to my personal record of getting up to the top of Mt. Evans and back home. 

It’s still sort of unreal to think that one can simply ride to, and hike up a 14er from Denver, without being completely super human. There’s many things to stop you, most especially bad weather, turning to Very Bad weather, but sometimes the mountain affords one safe passage. It does make me think about how most all my rides are local rides, starting from my doorstep and how these rides are quite amazing in of themselves. 

We’re told to eat local food, shop local stores – perhaps, “have local adventures” should fit in there somewhere as well? I get a fair bit of guilt whenever I join up with people to hike something not so local in Colorado, as it inevitably means we’re driving up. We all carpool for the trip, but it’s always a fairly long ride up and another ride down. I think of all the trips, people in Denver do to these mountains and it comes up to a lot of driving, under the guise of doing something healthy in the, “backcountry”. People have just so much time – say, their weekend, to hike when they want, so every weekend, it’s a drive up the I-70 corridor, turn off to a smaller highway, hike the mountain and come home, backtracking some of the same highways. Maybe this type of thing is so familiar for people who commute by car between towns/cities, but to me, that seems wasteful. 

I’ve ridden up and climbed most of the 14ers I’ve done in my walking-up-hills career by bike and given maybe 3 or 4 days, I could ride to almost any one in the entire state – but a good 1/3 of these mountains can be ridden in a Very Long Day. Perhaps in the summertime, when conditions are the most mildest, and you can bring a minimal pack, without being without something important,  it’s not ac
tually a requirement to drive to any of these mountains and enjoy them, without this first-world guilt of polluting in the very areas of the state we find so beautiful. How “local” is a local adventure? 

Pano looking West on Mt. Evans