Day 6: Beartooth Pass, MT

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After idling around Red Lodge, I was feeling antsy to do something, I am not great at doing nothing.

Since this climb starts pretty much from the hotel I am staying at, there was no real reason to roll out super early, so originally I was going to ride at 7:30, but after my experience on the motorcycle with the tourists, I went ahead and stuck to my early riding schedule and got out around 6.

Technically the road is “closed” until 8 AM according to the signage, for road work.. but I felt like it was a reasonable gamble. Nothing on this side of the pass looked like it needed eminent repair.

This a long climb – 30 miles, I haven’t done a sustained climb that long since Haleakala in Hawaii, but it is also not very steep. It also ends about 900 feet higher than Haleakala.

The first hour takes you along the valley floor, at a very gradual 3-5% grade before turning up. What’s sort of weird is right out the door my heart rate was elevated, I don’t know what your body needs to do to get acclimated to elevation, but I hope it gets onto it quickly.

There was very little wind, and pretty much zero traffic (!) – I took most of my photos on the way up, which usually I don’t do – figuring there would be more traffic later and I wouldn’t want to mix it up with cars descending at 35+ mph over and over while taking photos. That added about 20 minutes to my climb time, but hey, I’m a tourist here anyways.

Valley at sunrise
Starting to see mountains

After nearly an hour of 3-5%, you can start seeing where you’re headed, and things get more serious.. but not a lot more serious. The big switchbacks mean the grade never gets too fierce. This is the 2nd climb I didn’t touch my granny gear!

Looking up
Looking down – not a place for people scared of heights or prone to vertigo!
Kinda hard to see, but that’s a switchback up there
The views get pretty spectacular as you get up toward the plateau
The plateau is basically arctic tundra

Shortly after leaving Montana, you reach false summit with a ski left.  Unfortunately, you get to do a 1.5 mile descent before the final, REAL summit of the pass.  The whole plateau section is pretty rough, since you’re well over 10,000 feet, and it goes on and on.

Lies! This is not the top.
Nice views along the plateau, even if it goes on forever.

Finally, you get a view of the final set of swithbacks that take you to the true summit.

There are actually 4 sets of roads in this picture, stacked on top of each other
I don’t know which one is the tooth, but there’s a sign!

I hiked out to a small overlook that lets you peek over the other side (after attempting to ride through some snow and mud, which is apparently tricky)

View down toward Yellowstone

Obligatory hero shots below – there were tourists who could take my picture so I get to be in these ones.

With nerd
Without nerd

After returning the favor and taking a few other people’s pictures (and being told I am a lunatic several times, but I’m used to that part) – I put on my windbreaker and started the descent, including wallowing up that annoying 1.5 mile descent to the false summit.

On the way down, there was a herd of mountain goats right near the road, so I stopped briefly to take their picture.

Mountain goats mowing the lawn
Yes, that’s a baby goat in the upper right! They were very scampery.

The rest of the ride was pretty uneventful – since the grades on the descent are pretty mild, you can pretty much just air brake the whole way down, I barely touched my brakes after the goats! And, amusingly, despite my car concerns, not a single car passed me until the valley floor.

Tomorrow I end up in Greybull, Wyoming. Undecided yet on when (or which) climb I will be doing.

The weather, again, remains the wild card.

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